Pressed for Time

by Aragon

First published

Vinyl and Octavia need to hug for eight hours – or the building explodes.

Vinyl and Octavia need to hug for eight hours – or the building explodes.

A commission for Dakastan, edited by MrNumbers. Special thanks to him, and to Crystal Wishes for the ornithological help.

Patreon. Ko-fi. Picture of me looking handsome

Chapter One – A Sight to Behold

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Vinyl Scratch knew a lot about Destiny, which is why she never really stopped hating it.

This is a story about many things. Both Vinyl and Octavia could tell you—but it changes depending on who you ask. See, the way Vinyl tells it, this is a story about sacrifice, and vanity, and how hard it is to know what’s right. The way Octavia tells it, it’s a story about love, and discovery, and just how great she is as a pony, in general.

Neither of them is completely right. But, then again, neither is completely wrong.

Ultimately, when you really get to it, this is a story about being a hero, and the dark side of courage.

Everything started at Pony Joe’s, a wonderful little Canterlot diner, as long as you didn’t mind grease on the walls and a coffee that made it very clear that the owner would rather you bring your own drinks. Just ask for the donuts—those are good. It was a sunny peaceful afternoon, of the kind that comes right before a terrible storm that has nothing to do with the weather.

It was exactly twenty-four hours before the bomb would go off, and Vinyl Scratch already felt like she was going to explode.

“So you’re telling me,” she said, as she leaned over the table and looked at Bon Bon, sitting in front of her. “That the only way I can fulfill my dreams is to commit high treason and do something illegal.”

Bon Bon was sipping on some horrid coffee. “Uh-huh.”

“Like. Extremely illegal.”

“And they know who you are, so if they catch you, you’re going to jail. Probably for life.” Bon Bon arched an eyebrow. “You think you might survive that?”

Vinyl blinked. You couldn’t see it, she was wearing her shades, but she blinked anyway. “Survive what? Jail?”


“Hahah. No. Celestia, I would super die in there, are you kidding me?” Vinyl took a deep breath, and then looked down at the table, ears flat against her head. “Okay, so. Chase my dream, and in exchange I run the risk of ruining my life forever. What an offer.”

“There’s more though, so don’t rush to make a decision yet.” Bon Bon sipped some more coffee. “There’s a catch.”


Vinyl took her shades off, so her eyes were out for everypony to see. They were nothing special. “There’s a—there’s a catch,” she said.


“What do you mean, a catch. Is the fact that I’m probably going to ruin my life counted as a plus or…?”

Bon Bon smirked.

Now, Bon had a hell of a smirk. The kind of that made you think, this mare knows how to rock a tuxedo. This mare enjoys martinis. This mare knows how to make pretty girls cling to her hooves.

But more importantly, it was a smirk that meant danger, and many monsters threatening Equestria had learned this the hard way in the past. It was a smirk that meant, things are getting interesting.

It was a smirk that gave Vinyl chills on sight. And that was absolutely the right reaction.

“Listen to me, Scratch.” Bon Bon put the coffee cup down, and gave her friend a good look. She was dressed as a civilian during this meetup, but she still managed to sound like a government official when she talked like this. “I wouldn’t bring anything like this up if this weren’t a real chance for you. This can be your big shot. If all goes well, you might score yourself a meeting with Record Label.

Vinyl nodded. “You’re absolutely counting me ruining my life as a plus, aren’t you.”

Record Label, Scratch. Record Label.

Record Label. What to say, really.

Record Label was one of those wealthy, important, cohesive ponies. Their name alone could tell you what they did, why they were so rich, and why they were so important. Record Label was the reason why the word ‘monopoly’ had become trendy in Canterlot twenty years ago.

He wasn’t just the best at his job. He was the only one at his job. If you were a musician, getting to Record Label’s good side was like winning the lottery, only the lottery can also break the kneecaps of those who don’t buy a ticket.

Which is why Vinyl hesitated. “…It is kind of a big deal. Gotta give you that,” she said.

“Oh, you gotta give me that and more, Scratch,” Bon said. “Record Label never attends public events, precisely because desperate musicians like you would make his life impossible if he did. This is a one-in-a-million chance that I’m offering you.” She shot Vinyl a wink. “And that is why I’m counting you risking your future as a plus!”


“That makes absolutely no sense whatsoev—”

“However,” Bon said, raising a hoof to interrupt Vinyl, “keep in mind that this is ridiculously confidential. Matter of national security, and all that, right? Nopony else knows who’s invited to tomorrow’s party. I think we’re officially expecting some kind of attack or something.”

“Right, right. Of course.” Vinyl nodded. “Of course.” And then she frowned, and took off her shades. “Wait, but you’re allowed to tell me of all ponies?”

“What?” Bon blinked, legitimately surprised. In that moment, she looked like any other mare, rather than like a government worker. “Allowed? Oh, wow, no. Not at all. This is, like, a huge crime I’m committing right now.” She nodded to herself and took a sip off her coffee. “Just being here with you while on duty is, I mean. High treason.” Another sip. “At least.”

“Ah. Well.” Vinyl put her shades on again. They made her face rather hard to read. “Bon, you’re a terrible secret agent, did you know that.”

“Nah, I’m the best.” Bon waved a hoof and winked at Vinyl, and she was brimming with so much confidence she almost made it work. Almost. “That’s why it’s high treason, instead of regular treason, right?”

“Of course.”

“Yeah I’m even talking about it in public? Like...” Bon looked around, waved at some of the regulars that were sitting at neighboring tables, and never lost her smile. “Hoo boy. Equestria is in so much danger right now. We’re really bad at national security, have you ever noticed that?”

“Somehow it always slipped my mind.”

“Fancy that, really.” Bon stopped waving and took some more coffee, then winked at Vinyl again. “So that’s the good part. Now, here’s the catch.”

Vinyl nodded. “Shoot.”

“There’s gonna be a lot of dragons attending that party, too.”

Vinyl had to blink twice before the words made it to her brain. “Wh—” She choked. “What?”

“Dragons,” Bon said. “Like, pretty much all of them? All the ones that fit in the city at least. So, yeah, a lot of dragons.”

“All the ones that fit the—okay. Okay. I mean.” Vinyl had to cough to clear her throat, then flashed her horn and floated Bon Bon’s cup of coffee towards her mouth. She only managed to speak after a long gulp. “Dragons. You mean, the lizards. The ones that breathe fire.” She looked at the cup. “Also, this is terrible.”

“Isn’t it?” Bon said, smiling. “It’s a guilty pleasure.”

“It tastes like dish soap.”

“Tastes like adventure. I like the sense of danger it gives me.” Bon shrugged. “Anyway, yes, I mean those dragons. Big things, scaley, full of murder? The ones that sorta go…?” Bon Bon waved a hoof in the air, put on a scary face. “Raaargh? And then they murder you?”


“Those ones. That kind of dragon.”




“What the flying horsef—why would you have dragons there?” Vinyl stared at Bon Bon. She took another gulp of coffee. It made her cringe, but she swallowed. “Why in Equestria would anypony bring dragons to a fancy party? Those things eat ponies for breakfast!”

“Actually, they don’t?” Bon perked up her ears, and swapped the cup of coffee from Vinyl’s grasp. “Eat us for breakfast, I mean. They can survive off gems and fear alone.”

“Right. Right.” Vinyl nodded. “But they still eat ponies.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely. But they don’t do it for the nourishment. It’s purely for the entertainment value.”

“Well! That’s just perfect, then!” Vinyl actually had to stop herself from grabbing the cup of coffee again. It was terrible, she was not lying, but some very unpleasant memories were coming back to her. Drinking dish soap was, if anything, a pretty good distraction, and she needed anything she could get at the moment. “They don’t even need the nutrients, they just do it for the cruelty of it all. Much more understandable.”

“Actually, yeah. You laugh, but that’s good news for us.”

Vinyl flared her nostrils. “Oh, I’m not laughing.” Then she got up and waved at the counter. “Joe! Two more coffees, please!” A glance at Bon. “This is where you explain yourself, by the way.”

Bon Bon gave Vinyl another of her signature smirks. “Knew it. Can’t resist the call, after all, eh?”

“I can resist it any time I want. But I know you wouldn’t talk like this unless you actually had a big thing going. I know you, Bon.” Joe came to the table, carrying two cups of steaming brown water with him, and set them on the table. Vinyl smiled at him. “Thanks.”

Joe didn’t smile back. “You could ask for some donuts, y’know? They’re actually pretty good.”

“Nah, we’re good.”

Joe left grumbling under his breath.

The moment he was out of earshot, Bon Bon grabbed the new cup of coffee, and nodded at Vinyl. “If they ate us because they need to, that would be a sticky situation, sure. But they don’t. They just do it because they seem to genuinely think murder is funny. And that’s great!”

“Every word that comes out of your mouth makes you sound more and more like a sociopath.” She took a sip of the coffee, cringed again. “By all means, go on.”

“If they just do it for the thrill, it means that they can stop doing it if we convince them to. There’s nothing forcing them to eat ponies, see?” Bon Bon took a sip, too, but her face remained perfectly neutral as she swallowed. “Dragons have never really been very into, uh. Friendship? Peace? Really, anything remotely civilized. But it’s hard to blame them—I’m not saying that murdering ponies is good by any means, but friendship has traditionally been the most effective dragonslaying weapon in History.”

“So they’re biased against it, is what you mean?” Vinyl asked.

“Yeah. They’re also genetically predisposed to try to eat any princess they stumble upon, so that’s another nasty habit. Blue blood’s tasty, turns out. But.” Bon Bon put the cup down. “They’re not stupid. They can learn, you can reason with them if they’re willing to listen—and Princess Celestia thinks there’s a chance there, because she’s too powerful to be eaten anyway, right?”

“Seems to me Princess Celestia is being really optimistic here.”

“She’s been in a very good mood ever since Princess Luna returned, leave her be,” Bon said, shrugging. “She thinks we can get them to stop being, you know. Heartless monsters. Maybe we can get them to go ‘Raaaargh’, and then not murder you. That’s what this party is all about.”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow. She was still wearing those shades, mind you, and they covered most of her face—but she arched her eyebrow so much, it became visible behind the glasses. “And you’re telling me the dragons agreed to do this? The same dragons you just told me like to eat ponies to have a giggle?”

“Actually, I don’t think they giggle. They cackle. They’re really good at it too.” Bon Bon shrugged. “And they did, actually. You have to admit, Princess Celestia does have a point.”

“Oh, do they.” Vinyl’s voice was harsh. “Does she. Really now.

“Come on, Scratch. You’re from Ponyville too. You know what I’m talking about.”

This made Vinyl pout, and drink some more coffee in protest. Because, much as it pained her, she knew what Bon was talking about.

Because Bon Bon and Vinyl weren’t just friends, they were neighbors, and they didn’t live in Canterlot. They both came from Ponyville, a little town near the Everfree, a town that Twilight Sparkle had been calling her home for the last few years.

And with Princess Twilight Sparkle came…

“Spike the Dragon,” Vinyl grumbled, taking off her shades so she could rub the space between her eyes. “Right. There’s a precedent of dragons not being monsters, I guess.”

“It’s not just Spike. I mean, sure. He’s the best example we’ve got—but there are more.” Bon drank some more coffee. “There’s a new Dragonlord. Name’s Ember. Good guy. She’s never killed anyone.” Pause. “That we know of.”

“You’re really bad at your job, Bon.”

“I might not be good, but I’m still the best.” Bon gave Vinyl another of her tuxedo winks, the ones that made you realize this mare could sweettalk your mother into burning your house down if she wanted to. “I don’t know how good you are at math, Scratch, but that’s two dragons who understand the concept of not-murder, and counting. We might be onto something here.”

Vinyl liked to think of herself as a civilian nowadays, but she still remembered a couple things from her previous work. So she had to nod here. “They go ‘Raaargh’ but they don’t murder you. That’s our current goal.”

“Yeah. See what I mean? This is not as baseless as it sounds.” Bon tapped the table. “There are high chances of a dragon-pony alliance in the future, and that would be huge for Equestria. We would have a lot to gain.”

“Why. What do we have to gain. What could we possibly get from something like a dragon-pony alli—

“They would stop killing every pony they find, Scratch.”


“Shoot.” Vinyl slouched on her seat. “That’s a good point, actually.”

“The only ones I make, girl.”

“But—just. Dragons!” Vinyl rubbed the space between her eyes again. “Dragons at the party. Celestia forbid my life be easy for once. Why is Record Label going to the murder party, again?”

“Because rich ponies are insane?”

“Right, sure, yes. But, like.” Vinyl joined her hooves behind her chin. “Aside from that?”

“Oh? Well, you know. He’s nobility. The party will be a social gathering of sorts. And to be fair?” Bon Bon shrugged. “Greedy, giant figures of power and death—I can see them getting along.”


For a moment, Bon looked at Vinyl, and she didn’t look like a secret agent anymore. The smirk went away, her ears went flat against her head, and she just looked like a good friend, worried for somepony she cared about.

Then she talked, and her voice came out surprisingly sweet. “…Scratch,” she said. “Jokes aside, don’t feel forced to do go there and risk, well. Anything, I guess. You said you didn’t like the idea of going to jail either, right?”

“Bit against it.”

“Right. So that’s also bad.” Bon Bon swallowed. “As rare as it is for Record Label to get out, you don’t… have to do anything. Sneaking into the party is—”

“Oh, please.” Vinyl put her shades on again. They covered most of her face, so it was hard to read her expression. “I’m not an idiot. You’re risking your job right now, all for my sake. The least I can do is return in kind, don’t you think?”

Bon Bon nodded, said nothing.

And then Vinyl lifted her shades with her magic. Just a little, just enough to show off her eyes.

They were shining.

“Trust me,” she said, “I’ll make it out.”

Then the smirk was back, and Bon Bon looked like a sexy secret agent once again, ready to save the world and look dapper in the meantime. “Atta girl,” she said. “Listen, the backdoor to the Castle Garden will be open for ten minutes after eleven. The Royal Guards won’t appear till three minutes past that because there’s been a—” Bon winked “—scheduling error.”

“Wait.” Vinyl’s ears perked up. “Did you actually weaken the Castle’s security when you’re waiting for an attack just so I could get in? Bon, I don’t think that’s—”

“Hey.” Bon frowned. “Don’t insult me. I would never do such a thing.” She waved a hoof in the air. “This is literally just Princess Celestia being terrible at national security, is all.”


“Like, that wasn’t an euphemism. There is a scheduling error in the guarding of that backdoor gate. I keep telling you, we as a species are really bad at this whole thing.”

“Right.” Vinyl’s ears perked down. “Well. That’s only slightly more concerning.”

“Also, uh. A bit awkward but…” Bon Bon bit her lower lip. “Daring Do will be at the party. She’s investigating something related to the dragons, and—”

Vinyl shook her head. “Whatever. I’ll avoid her.”

“...Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’ll do that. Thought you would like to know beforehand just in case.”

“I do. Thanks for the warning; I appreciate it.”

“Right.” Bon Bon nodded. “So anyway: backdoor. There will be no Royal Guards. There will be birds around, but they owe me one, so they won’t blow your cover. You’ll see a small brown pathway that the gardeners use—follow it and you’ll make it to the main gazebo. The party will be right there, so just blend in.”

Vinyl nodded, smiling, too. “Right.”

“Place will be full of dragons, sure, but it should be easy enough. You got it all?”

“Uh-huh.” Vinyl nodded again. “Sneak in, bushes, path, gazebo, no birds. Then I just blend in, impress Record Label, and carve myself a future.” Vinyl’s voice was full of bite. She had butterflies in her stomach. The good kind. “Sounds easy enough.”

“So you think you can manage?”

“Oh, definitely. What could possibly go wrong?”

The next day, Vinyl didn’t make it two steps past the backdoor.

“Good morning, mysterious stranger who sneaked into the party without an invite!” Princess Luna said, as she jumped from behind one of the bushes to look at Vinyl with a bright smile on her face. “I am here to tell you that you just committed a crime, and you are probably going to jail!”

There was a tiny pause. Luna’s words echoed across the Garden.

Vinyl stared.

And then Luna offered Vinyl a hoof. “Also, hi! I am Princess Luna. How are you doing. My sister is terrible at security but I am also a Princess here now. We work well as a team. I am charmed to meet you!”

Then her horn flashed, and the backdoor behind Vinyl closed with a loud CLACK!

Vinyl looked at her only escape route, now closed off, and then at Princess Luna. She put on her best smile, and took Luna’s hoof. She gave it a fair shake. “Uh, hi,” she said. “I’m, uh, I’m Vinyl Scratch. Charmed to meet you too.” She swallowed. “So. ‘Probably’ going to jail, you said?”

“Yes! I did say that! And since I know who you are, Vinyl Scratch, it is almost guaranteed that you are going to die in there! It is a very nasty place.”

“Of course. Of course.”

And that’s why, ten minutes before the bomb entered her life, Vinyl Scratch met Octavia Pianissimo.

She did not like what she saw.

Octavia was, from the very beginning, a sight to behold. A show-stopper. She was gray, groomed, and gorgeous. She was sitting like a true lady—pony knees don’t bend that way; Octavia was apparently too elegant to care—and she was sipping tea from a teacup that was just tacky enough to be expensive.

She was, in other words, a purebreed Canterlot elite. That’s why Vinyl didn’t like it: Octavia wasn’t just a noblepony. She was someone whose blood had more gold than iron.

And then Octavia smiled, a huge, cheery smile that didn’t seem to fit such an elegant frame, and chirped: “Thank you! That’s not true? But I’m taking it as a compliment!” She had an exquisite accent, a voice of cinnamon and rosewater. “Plus, it’s true that I am ridiculously aristocratic.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh,” she said. “Wait, shoot. Did I say all that out—”

“You did say all that out loud, yes!”

The place was Luna’s study. Octavia was sitting by the northernmost corner, on an expensive-looking sofa, by the table. She was sipping tea, of course, and looking right at home amidst the wealth.

Not like it was hard, though. Luna’s study was a room on top of the Castle’s second-highest tower.

There was enough space in that room to house a crowd and still feel empty—but the carpet was soft and fluffy, and the chairs were of old wood. The fire was cracking, the windows were wide open. The walls were cream-colored. There were sofas, there were bookshelves, there were portraits hung around.

There was a dragon standing in the middle of the room.



It wasn’t a big dragon. It was rather tiny, in fact—barely taller than a pony—and young to boot. His scales were red, his teeth were sharp, and he was wearing a white, oversized lab coat.

By his side stood Princess Luna.


Also cackling.

This had been going on for several minutes.

“…Hey.” Vinyl sat down on the sofa, too, by Octavia’s side. “Out of curiosity, have you ever looked at something, and thought ‘wow, I’m going to get murdered today’?” She pointed at Princess Luna and the dragon. “Because I look at that, and, you know. Wow, I’m going to get murdered today.”

“Hm.” Octavia glanced at the dragon and princess, still sipping from her cup, frowning slightly. “I don’t think I’m familiar with that feeling” she said. “But thank you for opening the door to your mind like that. It’s a very fascinating outlook!”

“Trust me, the pleasure is mine.” Vinyl let out a frustrated grunt that was probably intended to sound like a sigh, but in practice just sounded like she had just punched herself in the stomach. “Also, I’m assuming here that you would get murdered too. Hence the comment. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh, I don’t! By all means, keep hoping. I didn’t know commoners were so keen on murder, but in a twisted way, it does sound pretty fun!” A smile, the hint of a wink, and Octavia put the cup down and offered Vinyl a hoof. “I’m Oct—”

“Octavia Pianissimo, yeah,” Vinyl interrupted. “Princess Luna mentioned you.” Then, she reached for Octavia’s hoof…

And then she stopped.

There was something peculiar in the way Octavia was holding out her hoof—and it took a moment for Vinyl to see why. It was because Octavia wasn’t expecting Vinyl to shake it. She was expecting her to kiss it.

It was then that Vinyl noticed for the first time—definitely not the last—that she had absolutely no idea how old Octavia was. She didn’t look young, or old, or anything in between. Between her grinning eyes, and the gray coat, and the bowtie, she had a strange air of timelessness. She was something you’d see in an old postcard.

So Vinyl shook her hoof anyway, because sometimes you just need to make a statement. “Whatever,” she said. “Vinyl Scratch.”

Octavia blinked, at looked at their hooves. Squinting a little, she moved her leg up and down in slow motion before letting Vinyl go. “Aaah-hah! I see. Miss Scratch!” And then she smiled. It looked genuine. “It’s a pleasure.”

“Yeah. Say, Miss Pianissimo?”

And then Octavia chuckled, and this time, for sure, it was genuine. “Oh, please,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Just ‘Octavia’ is good! ‘Pianissimo’ is the name of—”

“The name of your mother, neat, original. Octavia. Any idea when we can get out of here?” Vinyl shifted in her seat, looking around, trying to get all of the room at once. In the background, Luna and the dragon stopped laughing for a moment, took a deep breath, and continued. “I sort of have plans, and I’m not digging this whole murder thing, to be honest?”

“Well!” Octavia closed her eyes and went for the teacup again. She took a long sip before answering. “I hate to give you bad news, Miss Scratch, but—” She paused and tilted her head to the side slightly. “Say,” she said. “Do you mind if I just call you ‘Vinyl’? It’s is bit tacky to ask that, but I just hate formalities.”


“Miss Scratch?”

“Do I look like I care about tacky.” Vinyl’s voice was a monotone. “Like. In the slightest.”

“Hmmm.” Octavia took a sip to buy some time. “Well. I don’t know! Is that how you usually style your mane? Willingly?”


“Vinyl it is, then!” Octavia said, face lighting up like a starry night. “And you said you had other plans?”


And Octavia made a face. It was a pretty face—this was Octavia doing it—but not in a good way. “Well, that is… unfortunate?” She looked at Luna and the dragon. Still cackling. “I do not think we’ll be able to leave any time soon. Princess Luna is lovely! I really like her. But, she only dances to her own beat? You know how us aristocrats are.”

Vinyl’s frown furrowed on its own, pretty much. “Ugh. A massive pain.”

“In a way! We do routinely oppress you in all social matters to establish our dominance. It’s a pride thing!” Octavia said. “So I don’t think she is going to respect your schedule. I know I wouldn’t!” Another sip of tea, and then Octavia blinked, and gave Vinyl a little smile. “Um. No offense.”

“No, no, none taken. Nobleponies are evil, I get it.” Vinyl jumped off the sofa with surprising grace, and took off her glasses to give Luna a good look before turning to face Octavia again. “Do you think they’ll mind if I just leave?

Octavia blinked. Her eyelashes fluttered quite beautifully. “I don’t think they’ll let you!”

“Sneaking out, then?”

Octavia cocked her head to the side. She had such an easy smile that you could see it in her even when she was serious. “I wouldn’t recommend that either” she said.

“What. You gonna snitch on me?”

“Oh, Vinyl, I would never! I wouldn’t need to, mind you. But I would never!” Then Octavia pointed at Luna and the dragon. “Apex predator! You don’t make it to the top of the food chain letting ponies sneak by. It is a really big faux pas, I’ve been told!”

“Uh.” Vinyl frowned. She looked at the two cackling figures, and then at Octavia, and then she frowned a bit more. “Um.”


“Are you pointing at the Princess or at the dragon?”

“At both!”


Vinyl let out another grunt and sat down again. “Wow, we’re going to get murdered today.”

And Octavia let out a springwater laugh, and then rested her back on the sofa, scooting slightly closer to Vinyl.

There wasn’t much to talk about after this, and neither mare really tried to strike up any conversation. They mostly just looked at each other and waited, Vinyl significantly more uncomfortable than Octavia, who was honestly having a lot of fun.

Because Vinyl was also a sight to behold, in her own way. She wasn’t the prettiest mare around, but she moved in a strange way to Octavia, Canterlot born and raised, used to nothing but the most graceful of gestures, courtesy of years and years of formal education. In comparison, most commoners moved like absolute brutes—which was great for the nobles; more fuel for the fire—but Vinyl wasn’t like that either.

She didn’t really have grace, but she didn’t seem clumsy either. Vinyl Scratch moved as if she were careful to make no unnecessary sounds at all times, as if she were stronger than she looked.

This alone was interesting enough—but that mane, too! Those glasses on her face! It was definitely a change from the usual Canterlot fashion, and while Octavia didn’t like it, well. It was fun to look at.

So she sat there, and had the time of her life. Three minutes passed in silence.

Luna and the dragon didn’t join them.

“Boy,” Vinyl eventually said, looking at Octavia. “These two are happy to be here.”

“Aren’t they? It’s so cute! I am slightly troubled that Mister Labcoat the dragon might eat me, though, but I’m sure he’ll ask for permission first.” Then Octavia shot Vinyl a side glance. “Say, Vinyl? Why are you here? You don’t really look like you belong in this little gathering. I wouldn’t want you to feel unwelcome, but—”

Vinyl waved a hoof in the air, dismissive. “Trust me, I already feel unwelcome. I feel unwelcome everywhere.” She pointed at her mane. “Natural color, remember?”

“I do! I do remember. That is a horrible color.”

“Thank you, you too. And,” Vinyl added, arching an eyebrow, “I didn’t want to be at this little gathering, actually. Princess Luna kinda dragged me here against my will.”

“Oooh. Oooh, yeah. She does that a lot, doesn’t she?” nodded sagely. “It is always very unfortunate when she does that. Still, it is a surprise to hear that about you!”

“Yeah, I know,” Vinyl said, opening her eyes wide, pressing a hoof against her chest. “I didn’t actually consent to a meeting with two psycho killers! Shocking.”

“It is! It is shocking. I do not think they are psycho killers, though?” Octavia shook her head and frowned at Vinyl—but it wasn’t an angry frown. If anything, it was just cutesy. “In fact, I find them to be very pleasant!”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow at this, and looked at Princess Luna.


Then, she looked at the dragon.


Then at Octavia. “Very pleasant,” Vinyl said. “Do you have any idea why they’re laughing, exactly?”

“Oh, they’re just happy to be here, is all. That’s how those two show their glee.”


Vinyl took off her shades again. “They’re just,” she said, “happy to be here. They cackle maniacally whenever they meet. That’s how they show their happiness.”

“That is actually a very accurate description of them, yes!” Octavia said, nodding again, this time with more enthusiasm. “They are terribly maladjusted to modern society. Most ponies think they’re psychopaths. Just like you!”

“…You mean that I believe that, or that I myself am one?”

“I don’t know! I really don’t like your mane, so it’s hard to judge. But you sound very nice, too! So anything goes.”

“Right.” Vinyl sighed. “Thank you, I guess. Were some of your ancestors cousins, by any chance?”

“Chances are! That is how nobility tends to work.” Octavia cocked her head to the side. “How did you know?”

“Something in the way you speak just screams ‘inbreeding’ to me.”

“Hahah. I’m going to take that as a compliment.” And Octavia said this with such cheerful glee that Vinyl couldn’t help but think she was being sarcastic, even if literally nothing in her face or attitude indicated anything of the sorts. “Well, I’m sorry you were dragged here against your will, Vinyl. I did come here because I wanted to, though. So at least that’s that!”

“Sorta figured that last one out by myself, yeah,” Vinyl said. “Odd way to spend the morning.”

“Oh, well. Princess Luna asked me personally, and I couldn’t just say no.” Octavia looked at Vinyl. “She’s an old family friend, you understand.”

Problem with taking your shades to react to something is—you can only do it once. Vinyl just looked at Octavia after this, maybe squinting a little, to give the gesture more of a bite. “Princess Luna,” she said. “Old family friend.”

Octavia showed Vinyl the most brilliant of smiles, a twenty carat grin. Positively wonderful, in the most obnoxious of ways. “Why, yes!”

That Princess Luna.”

“I don’t think there’s any other!”

“I don’t—I thought she was banished for a thousand years?” Vinyl squinted. “She came back, like, three years ago. And she’s an old family friend?”

“Mmm.” A nod. “I think I had already said that I’m… how was it?” Octavia tapped her chin. “Ridiculously aristocratic?”

“Ah.” Vinyl blinked. Her ears went down. “Right. Old blood.”

“The oldest!” Octavia said. “It is very convenient overall.” And she put down her cup, and got off from the sofa. “If you’re in such a hurry, I believe there’s only one sensible thing to do!”

Vinyl thought about it for a second or two.

“Jump off the window?”

“Speak with the dragon!”

“Okay, but what if I just jump off the window. Like.” Vinyl squinted. “What if we try that first.”

“Hahah. We are not going to do that. And Mister Labcoat is perfectly safe!” Octavia shook her head and let out a laugh, and as she trotted towards the dragon, she shot Vinyl a funny look. “I assure you nothing bad is going to happen. Trust me!”

“…You know, due to recent events, I’m pretty sure that’s, like, the worst thing you can ever say in a situation like this? So what if we calm down and consider the window thing a bit harder first—”

Octavia Pianissimo was already walking towards Luna and the dragon.

Princess Luna and the dragon—who looked bigger now, that’s for sure, although the labcoat he was wearing still looked oversized—kept on cackling through it all, seemingly unaware of anypony approaching them.

Octavia got to them, and greeted them with a perfectly symmetrical smile. “Excuse me!” she said. Then, again: “Excuse me! Princess Luna, Mister Labcoat? I am very sorry to interrupt your cackles, but I have a question! What is going on? Also, can we move on with whatever it is that is going on?”

Then, she had the audacity—the audacity—to point at Vinyl.

“That mare is named Vinyl Scratch! She sounds really nice, and also thinks you are…” Octavia frowned, tapped her muzzle with her hoof, lost in thought, and then looked at Vinyl. “What was it again? Psycho killers?”

Vinyl’s eyes were so wide open you could see them behind the shades. “I—”

“Psycho killers, yes! That’s what she said. I’m so good at remembering.” Then Octavia looked at Princess Luna and the dragon again, huge smile on. “So! This would be a great chance to prove her wrong! You can cackle more later if you want to. I might even join!”

Both Luna and the dragon stopped cackling, and glared. At Octavia, at Vinyl, at everything. They both just glared. It was terrifying.

Octavia turned to face Vinyl again, winked at her, and mouthed the words: “You’re welcome.”

Vinyl froze.

Dragons are apex predators. They’re murder made flesh, they’re bloodshed incarnate, they’re what happens when Mother Nature rolls up her sleeves and thinks, okay, now it’s time to get funky.

They’re big without being clumsy, they’re sharp without being brittle, and the only sure way to slay one of them is to make sure you’re poisonous when they eat you. Some say pride is their main flaw, perhaps the only one they have. But, then again—when you’re a dragon, you have a lot to be proud of.

All this to say that, look, when the red dragon moved, Vinyl Scratch kind of saw it coming. She’d been there before. But, she only saw it in the same sense that you can see lightning coming: it’s like a hunch, as if the air felt strange somehow and you could feel it before it even happens.

But even though you know it’s going to come, this doesn’t mean you can react to it. And, most importantly, this doesn’t mean lightning is a thing you can get away from.

So the red dragon moved, and Vinyl saw him coming, and it didn’t matter because he just picked her up off the ground like one picks up a stray toy, and then left her dangling from one of his claws.

Then he spoke. “My apologies,” he said, in a baritone that burned hotter than fire. He was wearing a labcoat and spoke with the intonation of a university professor. “I was just happy to be here. I will cackle no more.

He shot Vinyl a dashing smile.


Vinyl immediately started screaming.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—She tried to struggle away from the dragon. No use. She flashed her horn to try to pry his claw open. No use. She went on screaming. “—AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—” Mixed results.

Octavia reacted to all this in the way you’d expect a normal pony to react—shock, surprise, a bit of an empathic whimper—but Princess Luna was honestly too busy being herself to notice anything.

“So was I!” she said, and she was as chipper as a chocolate cookie. “Happy to be here, that is. It is a joyous occasion! But my apologies anyway, Octavia Pianissimo. I have still not mastered cackling, it seems. The timing is complicated.”

It is said that thirty seconds to one minute of pure laughter seem to indicate peak levels of…” The dragon produced a notebook from his breast pocket. “Non-murderous glee. That is why we cackled.”


No, no. There is no need to scream. Look.” He showed Vinyl his notebook. “Non-murderous is underlined.


“Ah, um. Uh.” Octavia looked around, visibly puzzled—and she had to straighten out her bowtie for luck before she could dare to face the dragon. “Mist—Mister Labcoat?”

The dragon looked at her, still holding Vinyl up. “Yes?


“May I ask why are you… doing that?” Octavia pointed at Vinyl. “Because it looks rather ominous. Right, Princess Luna?”

Princess Luna looked, frowning. “Hmmm. Slightly.”

“Right, yes. See? She said it too! I don’t think grabbing Vinyl against her will is an appropriate gesture at all, Mister Labcoat.”

The dragon blinked, and looked at Octavia. Then, at Vinyl—who was desperately pawing at the air. The grip was too strong for her to wiggle properly.

I do believe she’ll escape if I let her go,” the dragon said then. “I prefer to hold her now. Chasing her would be a bother.” Again, looking at the notebook: “There is a seventy-five percent chance that she will try to run away after I have shown my might. Ninety-eight if I intend to devour her.


The dragon looked at Luna. “Do I intend to devour her?”

Luna shook her head. “No, that is murder.”

Even if I eat her alive?


“Yes! Because that is actually worse. They do not enjoy getting chewed. Or…” Here Luna frowned, and cast a side glance at Octavia. “Um. You do not enjoy getting chewed, right?”

Octavia blinked. “Well,” she said, scratching the back of her neck. “I can’t speak for Vinyl, obviously…”


“But I do have an inkling.” Octavia didn’t even look at Vinyl, she just kept doing her thing. “A faint intuition. And it tells me that she may not like it? So, just to be sure…”

“Right.” Luna nodded. “Thank you.” She turned to the dragon. “Mister Labcoat?”


“They do not like getting eaten alive. It still counts as murder.”

I see. That is good to know.


“So there is only a seventy-five percent chance then.” The dragon put the notebook in his breast pocket again, and regarded Octavia and the hysterical Vinyl. “I apologize,” he said. “We dragons aren’t good at this whole peaceful civilization thing. Princess Luna is aiding me in my studies on the art of not killing ponies. Or mawing ponies.

Another pause.

The dragon squinted, and looked at Luna again. “…Or devouring ponies?

“Yes! You are a fast learner.”


Yes. Good.” The dragon nodded and lifted Vinyl to eye level. “I do not devour ponies also. There is no need to keep screaming.

“OH.” Vinyl stopped wiggling, and flashed her horn to take off her shades and reveal her eyes. She looked manic, as if her eyes were going to pop out any moment. “OH, NOW YOU’RE TALKING TO ME?”

I am, yes.


You kept screaming. It was uncomfortable.

“It was kind of annoying,” Princess Luna added, nodding.

“And a little bit rude!” Octavia said. “But I’m sure you meant well. You’re a nice pony!”


Vinyl gave up and stopped struggling. She put her shades on again. “I hate you all so much,” she said. “So much.”

Luna cocked her head to the side. “Oh?”

“I believe it’s a commonner thing, Princess,” Octavia said. “She’s being sarcastic!”


And then Octavia winked at Vinyl and mouthed the words “you’re welcome.” Again.

“I am helping Mister Labcoat!” Luna remained completely unaware of any whisper or secret communication between the two mares in front of her. “That is what is happening, Octavia Pianissimo. You see, dragons are not good at the art of not killing, but the new Dragon Lord is fond of peaceful societies, and wants to give friendship a shot. My sister believes it possible, too.” She nodded to herself. “So I am teaching them how it goes. I once, too, felt the urge to murder everypony in Equestria. I relate to their struggle.”

Yes, she relates. She relates very well.” The dragon nodded. “Us dragons solve everything with murder and wanton violence. But there are other ways. There are better ways. And we would like for friendship to stop being so good at slaying us.

“Ah-hah. I see.” Octavia looked around, and found that there was no seat in sight—they were all standing in front of the fireplace—so she just sat on the carpet. She still made it look gracious. “Helping the dragons learn the meaning of friendship! That is a noble task. Probably.” She made herself comfortable. “Don’t you think, Vinyl?”

Vinyl was still being held by the dragon in midair, although her limbs were all limp now, hanging in the wind. “Octavia.”


“We’re totally getting murdered.”

“Right. Yes.” Octavia looked at Luna. “That’s a bit of a concern, actually! Are we going to get murdered? Because it certainly feels that way.” She pointed. “Especially for Vinyl.”

“Yeah, especially for me.”

“No murder!” Luna said. “That much I can promise at least.”

No murder,” the dragon added. “It is not your destiny to die today.

“Good! Good. That is a relief. Did you hear that, Vinyl?” Octavia looked at her friend, who was still meekly pawing at the air, and still held by a dragon against her will. “We’re just taking part in Mister Labcoat’s lesson of friendship! No murder at all.” She nodded. “Also, Mister Labcoat, her name is Vinyl Scratch. Vinyl, this is Mister Labcoat!”


But Vinyl didn’t reply.

Something very interesting happened here, and it was perhaps the very first time that Octavia really saw Vinyl Scratch. Saw her for real, at a level that went beyond the mere surface.

And it was a very interesting surface! Vinyl was fit, and she moved in strange ways, and she wore those glasses, and she had that mane! One could get lost in those mannerisms. Octavia certainly had.

But there was much more to Vinyl Scratch, there was a level of complexity cleverly hidden behind those sunglasses. Character is not just in the things that we are, and it’s not the things that we look like. Character is, and has always been, the sum of all the things we do.

And in that moment, after Octavia had brilliantly introduced the dragon and solved every conflict in the room with her insane social skills, Vinyl Scratch just got very, very quiet, and very, very still.

She spoke with fear.

“What did you say?”

Mister Labcoat picked this up, too. “There are better ways to solve conflict?” he said.

“No. Not that. You said it was my destiny not to die today?” Vinyl swallowed, and then cleared her throat with a cough, and then she spoke more normally. “I need to get out of here. I need to get out now!”

But I just promised that I will not do that.”

“Look, no offense, but I’m like seventy-five percent sure that you’re going to burn me alive at some point, and you’ll have no idea why that’s a bad thing.”

Labcoat heard this, frowned, and looked at his notebook. He paged through it a little.

Then he answered: “Seventy-three, actually.”

“Right. Octavia, when you tell my loved ones how I died, tell them that I called it? Because I called it so hard.”

“Will do!”

“No, no, no.” Luna took a step forward here, and something in her made everyone stop and stare. It was something about her presence; it always seemed to fill the room, no matter how empty. She was smiling, and it looked sweet, and motherly, and non-threatening. “I do not think you are going to die yet, Vinyl Scratch. At least not at the hands of Mister Labcoat. We have plans for you!”


“Yes! My sister has been planning this for weeks. And!” Luna pressed a hoof against her chest. “I helped! Which is why I also intend to teach Mister Labcoat that any conflict can be solved in a peaceful manner! No bloodshed. Just dialogue, politeness—”

And,” Labcoat said, “a lot of hugs. Hugs are good for empathy.”

Then he moved again, and he reached for Octavia.

Octavia saw it coming, too, but she couldn’t react either. She was sitting on the carpet, right next to Mister Labcoat—already hard enough to dodge, and this was, lest we forget, a dragon.

Something you might not know unless you’ve encountered a monster yourself is that, unless you go through some severe training, there is no real survival instinct kicking when a dragon reaches for you. Because your instincts are wiser than you, and knows there is no chance for survival.

So you just turn off. Go limp. You paw the air a little bit, meekly, trying to look at least a little bit poisonous. You grab whatever non-lethal surface that comes by, in the hopes of the dragon leaving you there. You go on total autopilot.

Which means that, when Mister Labcoat stood there, one pony in each paw, and then pressed them together, well. They grabbed each other. They hugged each other, because that was the natural thing to do.

Princess Luna knew they were going to do this, so she flashed her horn and slid something between them. A thin, metallic rectangle, made of solid gold.

There was a


And that’s how Vinyl and Octavia found out about the bomb that would change their lives forever.

Chapter Two – I Feel like I Should Be Concerned

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Let’s talk about hydras.

Hydras are strange. They’re terrifying, but not as terrifying as dragons. They’re strong, but not as strong as dragons. They’re good at killing things—but they’re not as good at it as dragons are.

They are, in other words, the red-headed stepchild of the universe. They’re eternal runner-ups, living under the shadow of the most perfect beasts Mother Nature ever created. They have multiple heads and eight times more teeth, but they can’t spit flames. They are bigger, but they can’t fly.

Here’s the thing, though: they have always killed more ponies on average than dragons.

This is because dragons are a no-win scenario. You don’t face a dragon, plain and simple—you lay down, close your eyes, and say your prayers. There is no survival instinct when you face a dragon. You just give up.

But hydras? Hydras only got a silver medal at the death race. You have a chance against a hydra. You can at least stand tall, grit your teeth, and face the monster. You can hope, you may make it home.

And then you don’t. Because the hydra tears you to pieces. Because a silver medal just means that you’re better than ninety-nine point nine percent of the population.

“And you’re telling me this, because…?”

Bon Bon frowned from behind her sunglasses, and glared down at Lyra. “I’m telling you this,” she said, “so you understand that what we’re doing right now is important.”

Lyra looked around.

Hot sun, muddy road, green water, lots of mosquitoes.

Total silence.

It smelled foul.

“Bon Bon.” Lyra stopped looking around. “We’re guarding a swamp.”

“We’re guarding the swamp the hydras would cross if they dared come to Canterlot,” Bon Bon said. She was wearing her full gear—top of the line black suit, expensive sunglasses, no body armor whatsoever—and standing at attention. “With the dragons out of their territory, they might very well do a straight bee-line towards the city and attack it.”

“Isn’t the city literally full of dragons as we speak.”

“Yes. But if anything, that makes it worse.” Bon Bon shook her head. “We don’t want that kind of conflict at our door.”


Two minutes passed.

Lyra looked at Bon Bon again. “Bon?” she asked.


“Why am I here?”

“Because this is a mission of utmost importance, Lyra. Canterlot is already full of monsters at the moment. If by any chance the hydras decide to join—”

“No, that’s why you are here,” Lyra said. “I’m asking why I am here.”

This made Bon Bon stop. She didn’t exactly lose her cool, but she did relax a little, and took off her glasses. “Because,” she said, matter-of-factly, “this is really boring. There is no way the hydras are attacking, and if I’m going to waste my entire day patrolling a completely empty place, I’d rather keep you by my side.” Then she arched an eyebrow. “There. I just like you a lot. Happy?”

Lyra heard this, and smiled. “Aaaw,” she said. “You’re so full of it, aren’t you.”

“No clue what you’re talking about.”

“You’re seriously trying to tell me that’s why you brought me to the dumbest swamp in Equestria? Because you’re in love with me or something? Please. You’re cute when you’re dumb, but this is pushing it.”

“Aren’t we dating, though?”

You’re cute when you’re dumb, but this is pushing it,” Lyra repeated, although she did elbow Bon Bon in a rather suggestive manner. “Seriously, I get that you’re trying to flatter me, but I’ve known you for years, Bon. You’re a workaholic. You’re not going to drag me to your workplace without a real reason.”

Bon Bon had to smile at this, because Lyra was—obviously—right, but also because she kind of wanted to talk about this from the get-go. “Right. Well.” She sighed. “It’s about Vinyl.”

Lyra Heartstrings nodded. “Oh, now we’re talking. Come on, lay it on me. What did good ol’ Vinyl do this time?”


Lyra blinked. “Nothing?”

“Yeah. Nothing. It was me who—uh.” Bon Bon frowned and looked ahead, suddenly alert, business face on. Almost absent-mindedly, she put her sunglasses back on, and suddenly she was a secret agent from head to toe. “Did you hear that?” she asked.

Lyra’s ears perked up. She had seen her girlfriend go full government worker mode enough times to recognize that tone anywhere. “No,” she said, hiding behind Bon. “I—I heard nothing.”

“Sounded like a roar.”

“Right.” Lyra shrunk her shoulders, clinged to Bon’s leg a little. “Are we in danger?”

Bon nodded. “Probably.”


“Vinyl, no.”


Vinyl tried to run. Octavia held her in place, close enough to stay alive. Between them, there was a bomb.

The idea, as they’d been told, was simple—it had this straightforward logic that serial killers absolutely adore. The bomb was a thin metallic rectangle of golden hue; it had felt cold to the touch at first, but after some minutes of severe body contact, it’d warmed up quite quickly.

Octavia and Vinyl were, to put it simply, laying on each other’s arms. Vinyl’s head was resting on the crook of Octavia’s neck. Octavia’s front legs were wrapped around Vinyl’s back. Their back legs were kind of a mess; now and then Octavia would wrap them around Vinyl too to get a better grip, and other times she would let her go and kick around freely.

And she was doing this, of course, because the moment they stopped hugging the bomb would go off, and blow up the entire building.

“Which is why I think you should stop!” Octavia was toeing the line between hugging and wrestling, laying on top of Vinyl and keeping her in place, but her voice still sounded elegant, chipper, perfectly rational. “I would very much like to keep the Castle intact, yes? It’s got sentimental value. Plus, that would probably kill us all, too!” Octavia looked at Mister Labcoat. “Would it kill us all, too, by any chance?”

The bomb?



“I see! Good.” Octavia looked at Vinyl again, and hugged her harder. “See, Vinyl? We’re all on the same boat! You should probably stop trying to kill us all.”

Vinyl was rolling around, trying to crawl towards the window, utterly failing because Octavia was there. “I REFUSE!”

“To kill us all?”


“Ah.” Octavia frowned. “You refuse to stop killing us all.”


“Well! That is just not nice in the slightest.”

Hmm.” Labcoat was looking at the two mares—wiggling and wobbling and wrestling—with a slightly disappointed look in his face. He made absolutely no effort to move them, to go away, or to stop Vinyl from blowing up the entirety of the Castle. He instead looked at Luna after writing something in his notebook. “I do not think this is working.”

Luna seemed unaffected. “Not enough time has passed,” she said, and then she smiled at Labcoat, confidence all over her face. “I am sure this will work out in the end! Friendship works in mysterious ways, you see?”

They are saying they want to murder us all. That is the literal opposite of what we want.

Mysterious ways, I said.”


“Vinyl, no. No.” Octavia frowned, and smacked Vinyl on the back of her neck lightly. “Stop threatening our lives. And, Mister Labcoat?” Octavia looked at Labcoat again, still struggling to keep Vinyl in place. “I don’t want to murder us all! The opposite, rather. Right, Vinyl?”


“She means yes.”

“It is futile to struggle, Vinyl Scratch!” Luna said, raising her voice to be heard above Vinyl’s screeches. “I have personally closed the window so that you cannot get out! And you cannot break it, because I specifically asked for a very sturdy window in here!” Then she winked at Labcoat. “I saw this coming,” she said. “I am very good at planning.”

I see. That is good.

Vinyl stopped struggling, and Octavia could breathe a sigh of relief. It did not last long, however, because Vinyl immediately glared at Princess Luna—she rose her shades and everything to stare better—and muttered:

“Get me out of here or I’m blowing this whole place up.”

Princess Luna cocked her head to the side. “Have you not been trying to do that for the last ten minutes?”

“She has!” Octavia said.

“I have not.”

“Yeah! Wait, what.”

“Trust me, if I wanted to get Octavia off me, I would’ve done it already. She’s not exactly strong.” Vinyl rolled around so she would be laying on top, and held Octavia against her chest, too, shooting her a quick look. “Also, sorry for that. Was trying to bluff back there.”

“You mean, I have been struggling for the last ten minutes for nothing?”

“Kinda? You have the strength of a puppy. Kinda cute, actually.”

“Oh.” Octavia pouted. It honestly looked kind of good. “Well! I am cute. So I take that as a compliment!”

“Yeah! It was! Kind of? Atta girl anyway.” Vinyl looked at Princess Luna. Her expression was intense. She said: “Let me go, or this good girl dies.” Then she looked at Octavia and added: “Sorry again for that, by the way.” Back at Luna: “She dies a horrible death, Princess, extremely painful, and it will all be your fault.” Back at Octavia: “Really can’t stress enough how much I’m apologizing here.”

Octavia was still pouting, although now she was squinting too, and it didn’t look as good. “It’s fine! It’s fine. As long as you don’t kill me. Which I hope you don’t!”

“Desperate times, desperate measures, I’m sure you’ll forgive me in time.” Back at Luna: “I’m already a criminal, Princess. I don’t care if I’m making things worse. Consider Octavia a hostage.” To Octavia: “Like, I’ll buy you a coffee later or—”

“I get it!”

“Neat, thanks.” Glaring at Luna: “Princess. If Octavia dies, your Castle and you two go out with it.”

Luna nodded. She looked serious now. “That is not a very good threat,” she said, softly. She unfolded her wings slightly, and in that moment she looked bigger than ever. Stronger than ever. “I do believe that you will die in the explosion, Vinyl Scratch, but you would be foolish to think,” and she did not quite snarl, but she did show her teeth more than necessary when talking, and a fang showed, “that a mere bomb could hurt me.

It could, actually.”


Luna blinked, all the might vanishing from her face, and she looked at Labcoat. “It could?”

Oh, yes. I filled it with dragonfire myself. It would absolutely kill us all.” And Labcoat stuck his chest out, smug grin in his face. “It would even kill me. Very destructive. Really good bomb.

“Oh. I see.” Luna frowned. “I do believe I am immortal, though?”

Severely maim you, then.


I am very good at murder.

“It shows! It really shows. That is not a good thing at all actually.” Luna smiled at him, and then went back to Vinyl. “Okay. I was wrong. That was a very good threat.”

Vinyl nodded. “Thank you. Now, let me go.”

“I will not.” Luna took a step forward, looking as perfectly calm as ever. Vinyl tensed up—and, in her arms, Octavia tensed up too. Both their pulses quickened. Both could feel the other’s heartbeat. “I will not, Vinyl Scratch. I apologize for underestimating your threat, but I will still not listen to it.”

Quick breaths. Octavia held to Vinyl as tightly as possible. Vinyl let her go slightly, and got ready to jump away. She was still not wearing her glasses; her eyes were bare.

“Because,” Luna said once she was right next to them, lowering her head so she could whisper into Vinyl’s ears, “I can recognize a bluff when I see one. I am not a fool, Vinyl Scratch. You should do well in remembering that.”


Vinyl relaxed, and gripped Octavia a little better. Octavia let out another sigh of relief. “I thought you were going to murder me!” she whispered, accusatory, pouting again.

Vinyl cast her a last glance, insecure smile on. “An extra large cup of coffee?”

“Vinyl, I am ridiculously aristocratic! I own more money than you’ll ever see in your life! Do not think that just buying me an extra large cup of coffee will earn you my forgiv—”

“Two cups of coffee.”

“Oh. That’s a pretty good deal!”

“That is a pretty good deal,” Luna said, nodding. She was still at whisper distance, looking at Vinyl with approving eyes. “Vinyl Scratch is a good pony, Octavia. Which is why I knew she was not going to murder us all.”

Also you’re immortal.”

“Also, I am immortal.”

It sounds very convenient for when others threaten you.”

“It is!” Luna said, taking a step backwards to give the two ponies some privacy. “Now! I am sure you two want to know why we are doing this!”

“We do!” Octavia said.

“We don’t,” Vinyl said. “If you tell us, we’ll get involved. If we run away now, there’s still hope.”

“Good!” Luna said. “I am ignoring you again, Vinyl Scratch.”


“The reason why we are doing this is…” And then Luna frowned, and took a step to the side. “Mister Labcoat?” she said, in the tone of a schoolteacher who just remembered there’s some homework due from the day prior. “I believe you should be the one saying it?”

Labcoat blinked once he realized he was in the spotlight. Despite Vinyl’s complaints, she didn’t say anything as she saw the dragon step up, cough, and produce the notebook from his breast pocket again. She just stared, flashing her horn to cover her eyes with her shades once again, and rolling to the side so Octavia wasn’t under her at all times.

Mister Labcoat started reading from the notebook. “I am currently researching,” he said before turning the page, squinting, and bringing the notebook closer to his eyes. “Hugs. And body contact. It is good for creating affectionate bonds.

Princess Luna gave him an encouraging look. “Good,” she said.

Labcoat seemed to like that. His squint became more confident. “Pony bonding,” he specified. “It is not the same as dragon bonding. You do not partake in the buying and selling of mortal souls.

Luna waved a hoof in the air. “We do not, we do not. And you were saying…”

Right. Yes.” Labcoat cleared his throat with a cough again, went back to the notebook, and faced Vinyl and Octavia. “We do not tamper with the Realms Beyond. But we do hug. That is how pony bonding works.”


That is all.

Vinyl couldn’t help the sudden scream again. “WHAT.

“Um.” Octavia blinked, and then looked at Labcoat with genuine confusion. “Excuse me, but—did you just say the buying and selling of souls?


“I was not aware dragons bought souls? I was not aware souls existed. Should I be concerned?”


“I feel like I should be concerned.”

“You should not be concerned, Octavia Pianissimo!” Princess Luna said, waving a hoof dismissively in the air. “The matter of souls is not what we are discussing at the moment. It is completely inconsequential.” Pause. “That said! Souls do exist, there is an afterlife, and you will be judged upon death. It is a very complicated thing.” She looked at Labcoat. “Also, ponies can partake in the buying and selling of souls!”

Do they?

“Yes! But it is a great secret. We need to drink the blood of an innocent first, it is a hassle.”

Oh. I like that a lot.

“Yes, that is pretty bad actually.”


“I… Well?” Octavia frowned harder. “That is even more concerning, actually! What with you drinking blood to do it in the first place I mean—is this common knowledge? Afterlife? Souls? What even is a soul? I—”


Octavia looked at her hug companion. “Vinyl?”


“I don’t know! It’s just, there is a whole system out there that I was not aware of! So what is a soul really? How will we be judged after death?”


Octavia thought about this. Her ears went down, and as she couldn’t rub her chin—her hooves were busy hugging—she simply rubbed her face against Vinyl in a pensive fashion. “Hmmm. Good point, actually.” She glanced at Luna. “Princess?”


“Why are we hugging a bomb?”

Princess Luna arched an eyebrow. “I believe I have explained it already, at least in part,” she said. “I am teaching Mister Labcoat how to understand friendship without using murder or wanton violence.”

So I designed the bomb,” Labcoat added. “I wanted to see how hugs react to murder and wanton violence.


“He is a bit of a slow learner.”

I am trying my best.

Octavia blinked and looked at Luna. “Well. I see! That is—.”


“—not a great explanation! That is not a great explanation at all. I agree with Vinyl!” Octavia looked at Vinyl, eyes shining. “See? We’re agreeing now! Isn’t that nice? It’s like a silver lining.”


“You did! You sure did, yes.”

Hugs seem to be an effective tool to show affection,” Labcoat said. “I wish to research their exact effects. If we take two ponies who will never get along and they hug. What will happen?” He nodded to himself, and closed the notebook. “Also, there is a bomb.

“It was my idea!” Luna said, grinning. “Well. Not really. It was my sister’s idea first—but I thought about bringing Mister Labcoat! Because I believed this would be a great opportunity to study hugs under extreme circumstances.”

I am also very good at murder.

“He is also very good at murder, yes. Which is bad, but also means his bomb would suffice. He is a very resourceful dragon.” Then Luna started pacing around the room, looking around. At the pictures in the walls, at the fireplace, at the cozy carpet that Vinyl and Octavia were laying on. “My sister herself decided it had to be you two, however. I did not choose that.”

At this point, Octavia and Vinyl had been laying on their side for what felt like at least twenty minutes, and Octavia’s neck hurt from all the turning around to look at whoever was talking. So she tugged from Vinyl and rolled over until she was on top. Vinyl moaned a complaint, but Octavia gracefully chose not to hear it. “Princess Celestia said we had to be the ones to teach friendship to Mister Labcoat?”

“Pfft.” Vinyl felt something cold drop in her stomach at the mention of Princess Celestia—but she tried her best to ignore it, and sound dismissive instead of absolutely terrified, when she talked. “Good luck then. No offense, but Octavia and I aren’t really going to become buddies just for this.”

“Oh, yes! That’s unfortunately true.” Octavia nodded, and her ears perked up when she spoke, because she sounded legitimately happy while saying this: “I’m afraid nobility doesn’t really do friendship! We consider it a form of labor.”

Vinyl frowned. “You what now.”

“It can technically slay dragons, right?”


“Yes,” Princess Luna said.

Yes,” Labcoat said.

“Yes!” Octavia repeated. “So it counts as a tool! And using a tool counts as labor. We don’t really like that—it’s why we created social strata to begin with! Commoners work, and we just lavish in our own decadence.”

“Charming,” Vinyl said. “Say, how come you’re all still so evil if you’re self-aware enough to realize this?”

Octavia fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Like, you used the word ‘decadence’ yourself.”

Luna was still pacing around. Now she was toying with some files on her desk. “Ah, yes. Politics are a wonderful thing. However…” One of the files seemed to get her attention, and she grabbed it with her magic before looking back at Octavia. “No friendship. But you can do pleasant acquaintanceship, right?”

Octavia beamed. “Absolutely!”

“Perfect, then. Mister Labcoat?” Luna flashed her horn and the document—a series of miscellaneous documents all haphazardly thrown together in one thick brown folder—came floating behind her when she approached the group once again. “Slight change of plans! You are to learn pleasant acquaintanceship from these two ponies.”

I see.” Labcoat didn’t produce his notebook again, but he did pat his breast pocket, maybe to reassure himself before talking. “I do not have notes on that.”

“It is similar to friendship but far less fulfilling.” Luna then faced the two mares, brandishing the file. “And—ah-hah! Here it is! My sister’s plan, with all the details that I need. You are not merely a tool for friendship—”

“Casual acquaintanceship,” Octavia said.

“—or casual acquaintanceship. I must send you two on a quest!”

Vinyl’s eyes went wide. Her pupils turned the size of peas. “No. No, no, no.”

“Yes!” Luna said, opening the binder and paging through it. “Yes, yes, yes. See? It is all in here! It is a matter of—”


“—Destiny,” Luna finished. “You two are set to—save the world? Or die trying, but that will be a horrible death. Huh.” Luna looked at Labcoat. “Mister Labcoat, did you know anything about this?”

I was not informed of Princess Celestia’s plans for the evening.

“Well, they apparently involve saving the world. That seems to be the reason why my sister wanted them hugging a bomb too. I like that! It is elegant. Two birds with one stone.” Luna closed the binder, and then looked at Vinyl. “Is that enough to answer your questions?”

Octavia was the one who answered, however. “We’re saving the world?” she asked, blinking. “How quaint. It sounds interesting!”

“You might also die a horrible death,” Luna added, waving the file in the air. “But that does sound interesting!”

“No,” Vinyl whispered. “No, we’re not saving anything. We’re absolutely not saving anything. We’re out of here.”

And something about that last line made Octavia look at Vinyl again, really look at her, because she was the only one who heard it. It’d been something in the tone in which Vinyl had spoken—but also something in the words she had said. Because, true, Vinyl had been talking about getting out of there for a while now?

But that had been the first time she had used the plural ‘we’ when talking about it.

“I do not know if you can choose not to save the world?” Luna, completely oblivious to the fascinating shifts in Octavia’s mind, was still showing her brown file around, right before opening it again, and grabbing a very small yellow note from it. “You two live in it, do you not? It would seem counterproductive!”

“Somepony else can do it,” Vinyl said, whispering again—but slightly louder this time.

So Princess Luna heard it. And she did something funny with her face: she looked understanding, but also kind of uncomfortable. “Ah, well. Yes. I understand your plight, Vinyl Scratch. But I swore I would protect my sister at all costs when I came back. I simply do not care to risk her wellbeing, unfair as the situation must be.”

Vinyl plainly looked horrible by this point, what with the whispering, and her shoulders being so tense, and her being honestly kind of pale—a feat, seeing how she had white fur. So Octavia rubbed her back reassuringly and poked her cheek with her forehead. Just a little bit of affection to show support in one way or the other.

Vinyl seemed startled by this, and then looked at Octavia with confused eyes. Counting it as a victory, Octavia looked at Princess Luna. “Princess Celestia?” she asked. “Princess Celestia may suffer if we don’t save the world?”


Uh. Even I think that’s kind of obvious. And I’m me.

“Is it?”


“Octavia.” Vinyl back at it with the whisper. She wasn’t looking at Octavia when talking—she simply looked to the ceiling, her eyes hidden behind her glasses. “On the count of three, we break that window and get out.”


“I’m serious. Somepony else can be the hero; I couldn’t care less. And neither could you.” Vinyl frowned, glanced at Labcoat. “And honestly, I think neither could him?

I am here to study friendship.

“The fact that all the living things in Equestria may die isn’t really changing your outlook in life, huh?”

I do not know. Does it count as murder?

Octavia’s mouth became a thin hard line. “I think I know what you mean,” she said. “But—I don’t follow. Are we advocating for the end of the world now?” She had to think about this a little bit. “I don’t know if I’m aristocratic enough to reach that level of nihilism yet, to be absolutely honest.”

“Right. To make things clear.” Vinyl finally looked at Octavia. “I want the world to be saved, I just don’t want to be the one doing it. That clear enough?”

“Absolutely not! But please keep talking.”

“Sure. On three.” Vinyl nodded towards the wall. “Window. One.”

“You cannot escape like that,” Luna mused, still reading the yellow note she’d gotten from the file.


Princess. She is counting very seriously.

“She is! But I do not believe you can run from this kind of thing so easily. I still have some things to tell them, apparently.” Luna finally put the yellow note down and looked at the two mares with a smile on her face. “Also, I already told you! They cannot jump out of that window. It is very sturdy! Very, very sturdy. I got it installed myself!”


Vinyl never got to finish her countdown. They never got to jump out of the window.

The outer wall of Luna’s study exploded in sudden burst of dust, glass, and rubble.

If you’re close enough to the source, you don’t really hear an explosion as much as you feel it. That’s what happened here; they all felt the explosion in the rattling of their teeth, in the way their stomach turned upside down, and so all of them flinched and moved away from the flying rubble on instinct.

All of them, except Luna.

Luna just stood there, impervious, and when one particularly nasty piece of wall went by so close to her face that her mane got ruffled, she didn’t even blink. She simply stared at the wall and waited for the dust to settle to see what had caused it.

Then it did. And Luna saw:

At the other side, peeking through and perched on the outer wall of the Castle, there was a hydra. A giant, drake-like monster with big stompy legs, slimy scales, and terrible breath. It had four heads, but the hole was only big enough for one of them, which was staring at the inside of the room with a viciously yellow eye and too many teeth to count.

The hydra then roared, and it sounded like this:


But a million times louder.

Vinyl and Octavia flinched again—but not Luna. She still stood there, unmoving, looking at the monster. Then she looked down at the broken glass by her hooves, and pawed at it a little.

“It was a very sturdy window,” she mused. “I quite liked it.” Then she put on a smile, and looked at the hydra. “You should not have done that! It is going to be very bothersome to fix it all. Mister Labcoat?”

Labcoat was snarling, now, showing his teeth at the hydra—but still standing on his hind legs, still looking somewhat civilized with that labcoat of his. When he spoke, his voice sounded normal. “Yes?

“Would you say we are under attack?”



The room shook again.

Luna nodded. “Yes, that sounds like we are under attack indeed! Mister Labcoat?”

Labcoat snarled a bit harder. “Yes?

“Do you mind taking care of it?”

I do not mind.

Labcoat took care of it.

Octavia and Vinyl stiffened—easy to tell, when they were hugging like that—and while in the background Labcoat breathed a fire that was completely black and hotter than the sun, Luna approached the two huggers with a tiny smile on her lips.

“Ah-hah!” she said once she was close enough, crouching a little so they could hear her. She was still carrying that file, that yellow note. “It is a secret, you see? Why it was you two in particular. You are not supposed to know! It is all part of the quest.”

The blast of black fire was so strong, the shockwave almost sent Vinyl and Octavia flying. The only reason they stood there was because Luna held them with her magic. Luna herself didn’t seem to notice the show behind her.

I took care of it.

“That is good!” There was smoke everywhere, and half the roof was in flames. Luna turned around and gave Labcoat a wink. “Now take care of it again a couple times, I am doing something.”

Okay. That sounds reasonable.

Labcoat breathed more black fire.

“I like it when he listens to me. I am such a good teacher.” Then Luna looked at Vinyl and Octavia again, who by this point were just staring at everything, eyes wide, utterly lost. “Do not mind the hydra! I am sure it is not relevant to our current discussion. We were expecting them anyway. What matters now,” and here Luna poked Octavia’s side, causing her to go eep! a little, “is the bomb. I apologize for the trouble, but I did this for my sister. I hope you understand.”

“Well! Um.” Octavia looked at Vinyl—frozen—and then at Luna (she was smiling) and then she swallowed. “That is actually really confusing? I have no idea why we are suddenly saving the world for no reason.”

“We are not,” Vinyl said.

“Or why we are not. I also don’t understand that! I don’t understand many things. It is getting very annoying.” Octavia frowned at Vinyl. “Very annoying. It would help if somepony please explained why she has such a strong opinion in the matter!”

Vinyl nodded. “Three coffees if you shut up.”

“I’m shutting up.”

“Good!” Luna nodded. “It is good that you shut up. I have much to tell you.” Then she rubbed her chin with a hoof, pensive, and looked at Octavia. “I am going to poke you again now.”

“Wait wha—eep!

“Ah-hah! You are soft! Very pleasant to poke.”

“Good! I am taking that as a compliment. Also, please never do that again?”

“I cannot make any promises.”

“Princess Luna. Your Highness.” Vinyl finally spoke, through gritted teeth. “Why did you strap us to a bomb, and why are you asking us to save the world.”

“Hmm.” Luna smiled that little smile of hers, and waved the yellow paper in the air some more. “Some of the details I cannot tell. Sister was clear about it, you see? Discovery is part of your journey. But, at least some of it should be obvious to you, I think?” Pause. “Also, a factor is obviously that you are to show what friendship looks like to Mister Labc—”

“Casual acquaintancesh—eep!

Luna stopped poking Octavia. “To show what casual acquaintanceship looks like to Mister Labcoat,” she said. “I find it strange that you are this surprised, Vinyl Scratch. Did your friend not talk to you about this party? About the threat of the hydras, which we were already expecting?”

“I—uh.” Vinyl blinked, squinted. Her face relaxed, but just a bit. “She… might have.”

“Then I do not see why you are confused. Surely it all makes perfect sense to you?” Pause. Luna arched an eyebrow. “Your very presence here? It is a matter of Destiny, I believe, and it has to be yours.”

Vinyl sucked air through her teeth. “Destiny? What do you mean—”


“—it has to be—okay, can you stop poking Octavia like that?”

“Thank you!” Octavia whined.

“I cannot! She is very plump!” Luna said, with a smile, getting up. She put the yellow note away in the file and then closed it. “Which is good! Really good! I am so good at picking chosen ones. I should do this more often.”

Vinyl gawked. “Chosen ones?”

Octavia frowned. “Plump?

Mister Labcoat whispered. “Princess.”

And something in his voice made them all immediately forget what was going on; the whiplash of the sudden mood in the room was almost physical in nature. Suddenly, they could hear something in the distance, coming from outside the Castle, in the city of Canterlot.


The sound of something burning.

Stone splitting, and a hundred beasts roaring in unison.

We have a problem.”

The black fire had produced smoke—the kind of smoke that gets in your lungs and stays there—but it was fading, now. The little flames that had been licking at random parts of the room were dying out one by one.

The giant hydra was still there, perched at the wall. Untouched by the fire.

What happened next, neither Vinyl nor Octavia would ever forget. What happened next was, in their eyes, the picture perfect definition of fear, in one very simple scene:

Princess Luna turned around, looked at the hydra, and her pupils shrank, and she said: “Oh. Oh, no.”


The hydra roared again and her one free head lounged inside the study, quick like a viper. Labcoat was faster—he crouched and jumped, just in time to—


—be swatted away like a fly.

“Mister Labcoat!” Luna whipped her head to the side, and her horn glimmered—a flash, and Labcoat was back on his feet, the hydra was retreating. “Careful!”

But Labcoat wasn’t having it. “You!” His voice had changed. It was deeper now, darker. Something primal shining in his eyes. He fell to all fours, black flames coming off his nostrils. “I WILL SKIN YOU FOR THIS!

“Mister Labcoat!” The hydra attacked again, Luna flashed her horn—there was a clash and Luna grunted, took a step backwards. “Careful! It is not what it seems!”

The hydra was observing them again, not moving. Mister Labcoat looked at Luna and made a guttural sound. “Careful?” he then asked. “Since when do WE need care?! I will not let this insult pass! Not from a hydra!

“But it is not a hydra, that thing.” Luna was panting. Sweat ran down her neck. Whatever magic she had cast—twice—was taking a toll on her. “Not on the inside. Not where it counts. It is a half-breed!”

This calmed Labcoat, somehow. His voice went back to normal. A spark of curiosity came to his eyes, making him look much more sentient, much less like an ancient demon aching for some reaping. “What? A half-breed? How come? What of?

And Luna swallowed, and glimmered her horn once again.

Octavia and Vinyl had rolled away as soon as they had seen a chance, and were currently hiding under the table—but they could see the hydra. And what they saw was this: the hydra was smiling. There was intelligence in its eyes.

“What else of?” Luna took a step backwards. Labcoat imitated her, seemingly on instinct alone. The hydra hissed. “To be this strong, it can only be one thing. The only beast who can fight a dragon.”

And then the hydra hissed again, but it wasn’t a hiss, it was a word. A word full of poison, and the hydra’s nostrils flared with blue flames.


Then it sniffed around, as if looking for something, and its smile got even wider, more full of teeth than ever. The other three heads were out of sight, but one could tell—they were smiling too.

It was then that Octavia felt the urge to whisper. “Vinyl?” she asked, and her voice sounded delicate, fragile.

Vinyl didn’t reply with words. She just tightened the hug, reassuringly, around Octavia’s shoulder.

Octavia acknowledged this by pressing herself against Vinyl a little. But then, she continued. She said: “Is it me, or is that thing… Sniffing…?”

And Vinyl finished her sentence:

“…in this direction?”

As on cue, the hydragon started drooling, just a little. A single drop of saliva fell from its mouth to the carpet—and there it hissed and produced bubbles and steam, until there was nothing left in there but a dark circle of burned fabric.

The hydragon roared again:


Then, chaos. The hydragon moved all of a sudden—not with its neck, but with its whole body. It moved backwards, then forwards, and then it hit the Study, and the entire tower, with all the strength it could muster.


The tower collapsed.

What followed was too messy to remember, Octavia would explain later. A lot of noise, a lot of screaming. Rubble hitting them, and then suddenly, the floor gave up under them.

And they fell.

The hydragon roared above, Mister Labcoat roared back, black fire and blue flames colluding. More heat than the body can withstand, confusion, the sound of something boney snapping in half, and then—a flash of blue magic, and Luna’s voice, clear as day:

“Look for my sister,” it said. “That is your quest! Do not let go! You are the chosen ones! Discovery is part of the journey! You must remember that!

Octavia tried to reply, but failed. She couldn’t hear her own voice through the howling of the wind against her ears as she fell. So she just hugged Vinyl, and Vinyl hugged her back.

Then the noise stopped, and everything went white.

Chapter Three – Would Recommend to my Friends

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The hydra dwarfed Twilight Sparkle. Drool dropped from every one of its mouths. Dumb rage in its eyes. Murder in its breath.

Twilight Sparkle looked up at it. “Okay,” she said. “So what is it going to be this time, Mister Hydra. Killing me or eating me?”

The hydra didn’t really reply. It just sort of went “RAAAAAARGH.”

“Uh-huh. I can’t understand that, so let’s go with murder.” Twilight had bags under her eyes, and sounded utterly bored. She cleared her throat with a cough and then said, slightly louder: “I am officially telling you that there’s no need for violence, and that we can simply talk about your feelings if you want. Also, please don’t try to murder me and all that.”


Around them, war went on.

Canterlot was a city of excess; it was dominated by an immortal almighty goddess wearing gold and only got more decadent from there. The Outer Gardens of Canterlot extended through most of the mountain; there were cliffs, rivers, entire forests held within. All of it tended with care across millenia, carefully arranged to maximize its beauty for absolutely no reason other than to flex at the rest of Equestria.

To walk through the entirety of the Canterlot Gardens took months. To appreciate it fully took years.

And they were currently bursting with hydras and dragons fighting it out.

You could see it in the distance. Dragons flying all around the mountain, like scaly birds of prey, spewing fire and destroying the countryside. Hydras snatching at anything that came close, tearing everything to pieces with their four jaws. Forests were burned, rivers ran red.

All the beauty of the mountain got destroyed that day.

And Twilight Sparkle, who had been born and raised in Canterlot and loved the mountain, was forced to live through this in real time, and she was not happy about it.

“I mean it.” She was standing between the gigantic hydra and Canterlot Castle, still sounding utterly bored. There were no dragons nearby, they were all fighting around the mountain. “I am telling you to stop this because I promised Fluttershy I would be nice: you really shouldn’t try to murder me.”

If the hydra understood Twilight, it certainly didn’t show it. It just kept staring with four dumb pairs of eyes, drool still dripping from its mouths. It growled, and the earth trembled.


Twilight squinted. “Is… Is that a yes, or…?”


The hydra moved.

A blur, four blurs, the sound of something sharp breaking the air—suddenly, a million teeth appeared in front of Twilight. One mouth to grab the prey, the other three to tear it to pieces; you don’t get to fight toe-to-toe with dragons without being impossibly fast.


And before it could even get close to Twilight, a giant boulder fell on top of it, crushing it completely.

“Okay, I take that as a no, then.” Twilight looked up. “Rainbow Dash! Thanks!”

Another blur—this one blue—and Rainbow Dash made it to the ground. She still had a lever in her mouth. “You’re welcome!” She spat the lever to the side. “Did you try to talk to it first?”


“Because Fluttershy is going to get angry if you didn’t try to talk to it first.”

“I did try to talk to it first. It immediately tried to murder me, though.”

“Okay, cool.” Rainbow Dash turned around and gave the giant boulder—and the hydra underneath it—an appreciative look. “By the way,” she said, “I am loving this. Remember when hydras were scary?

“They still are, we just got used to it.” Twilight looked at the boulder, focused—and her horn flashed. Next thing you know, neither the boulder nor the hydra were there anymore. There was just a crater on the ground. “There. It’s back on the roof, so go and drop it on the next hydra you see getting close to the Castle. I’m going to go check on the others, see how they’re doing?”

“Sure!” Dash grabbed the lever again, and took off—but she paused before disappearing. “Wait, do I talk to the hydras before dropping the boulder?”

“I mean…” Twilight frowned. “I don’t know. Do you want Fluttershy to be mad at you?”

Dash saluted. “Gotcha. I talk to them before dropping the boulder.”

Twilight Sparkle had been standing guard by the east wing of the Castle—the part that overlooked the Gardens, and so the most dangerous one—to look out for any wandering hydras that managed to get out of the dragons’ reach.

An extremely concerning amount of them had managed so far.

“Um.” The sound of wings flapping came from above, and Fluttershy landed in front of them, down from one of the highest towers in the Castle. “I heard you talking about me being mad at Rainbow Dash?”

“Hey, Shy.” Dash spat the lever once more. “All good by the north wing?”

“Mmm. Yes.” Fluttershy gave Dash a nod, one of those nods that she had that was both a gesture of affirmation and a way to hide her face from others. “We just saw two hydras come running, and, and I talked a lot with them.”

“So they’re out?” Dash asked.

“They were dealt with.”


“Yes,” Twilight said, and then she shot a side-eyed glance at the Gardens. She could see smoke rising. “I have to say, if it weren’t for the fact that my childhood is burning to the ground? I’d say this plan is going pretty smoothly!”

“Rainbow Dash? Uh.” Fluttershy swallowed, and then looked at Dash, still hiding behind her mane. “Why were you saying I was going to be mad at you?”

Dash shrugged. “We’re splattering the hydras with giant boulders.”


Fluttershy immediately stopped hiding behind her mane, and she looked at Dash with a full-on frown. “What.”

“We’re totally talking to them, though, so it’s cool.” Dash looked at Twilight. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Twilight said. “We only splatter them afterwards.”

Fluttershy’s frown did not go away. “Did you ask the hydra if they wanted to talk about their feelings, Twilight?”

“It kinda tried to murder me.”

“Yes, but did you ask?”

“Okay, wait.” Dash dashed towards Shy and floated above her, front legs crossed in front of her chest. “Like. For real—is there any point to this? Whatsoever? Are you seriously telling me that the hydras listen to you, or…?”

That got Fluttershy to stop frowning. “Um.”

Which, in turn, made Twilight arch an eyebrow. “Fluttershy?”

“Well, I make sure that they tell me that don’t want to talk first,” Shy explained, looking down and pawing the ground with a hoof. “They aren’t really nice.” Then, spirit back up, she looked at Twilight. “But I’m sure not all hydras are like that! There must be one or two that are good, right?”

Twilight squinted. “Uuuuh…”

“Okay, so you’re like—what? Dropping boulders on them, too?” Dash asked, still looking at Fluttershy. “You said you dealt with two hydras, didn’t you?”

“Hmm-hmm.” Fluttershy did another of her hiding nods. “I flew away and led them to Applejack and Pinkie Pie.”

“And Ah took care of it!” a voice came from afar.

Twilight, Fluttershy, and Dash all turned around. Applejack was racing towards them from the southernmost corner of the building. She was fast enough to get there in no time, and then she tipped her hat at them. “Everythin’ clear on the South, Twi.”

“Thank you.”

“Um.” Fluttershy looked at Applejack, and then she looked at the corner from which Applejack had popped out—all the way to the south. “Did you… hear us speaking all the way from there?”

“Yeah!” Applejack said, grinning at Fluttershy. “Acoustics in these Gardens are crazy! Must be all the destruction the hydras are bringin’.”

Twilight grumbled under her breath.

“Makes it easier for the sound to travel! ‘Cause everythin’s either burned or broken to pieces, see?” And AJ tipped her hat. “Why, this is gonna take centuries to regrow! At least!”

Twilight grumbled harder.

“Oh yeah, and speakin’ of that.” Here Applejack got serious, and shot Twilight a look. “Bad news. Rarity found somethin’ weird.”

“Applejack bringing bad news!” Dash was hovering above Applejack now, glaring down with all she had. “What a shocker, huh.”

“Now, what in tarnation do you mean by—”

“Wait, you’re still fighting?” Twilight cut, frowning. “Girls, we’re at war! Can we please focus? Applejack, what do you mean, bad news?”

“Rarity found somethin’. She’s—” Applejack turned around, and then blinked. “She’s still all the way over there? RARITY! COME HERE ALREADY!”

Rarity popped out from the same corner Applejack had turned minutes ago—but she was definitely not in a rush. She just walked with her usual delicate trot, and nothing else.



Applejack glared up. “Did you just laugh?”

“Who, me?” And Dash floated backwards, perfectly innocent expression on her face. “Not at all!” Then she grinned at Applejack. “So how are you taking care of the hydras anyway? Bumming them out until they give up?”

“Ah actually just throw giant boulders at ‘em, matter of fact,” Applejack said, squinting hard at Dash. “‘Cause unlike others, Ah don’t need gravity to do my job.”

“Now what does that—”

“Twilight!” And just in time, Rarity made it to the group. She was wearing a golden necklace—some odd, uneven shape that looked ugly as sin. “Oh, darling, I think I know why the hydras are attacking! And it’s terrible!

There was the sound of stone creaking in the distance, and the hill of the south got blown to pieces. Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Gosh,” she said. “That’s a shock.”

“I am serious! This might be more complicated than we thought. See this terrible necklace here?” Rarity grabbed the thing around her neck. It looked half-done, like a puzzle with missing pieces. “The hydra we stopped was carrying it around. It tried to hide it from us!”

This made Twilight frown, and approach Rarity. She looked at the necklace, but nothing rang a bell about it. “Odd. Did they say where the other half was?”

“Inside of the Castle! Which is why we asked Applejack to throw a giant boulder at them.”

“And Ah did!”

“Ah-hah.” Twilight nodded. “Elegant solution.”

“A necklace?” Fluttershy hovered above Twilight and looked at it. “Um. The hydras I talked to did not mention a necklace. They did talk a lot about pretty rocks, but I thought it was about the ones Applejack kept throwing at her friends.”

“Apparently not.”

“They said they had to look for some inside the Castle.”

This got Twilight’s attention. She looked at Fluttershy. “Another what?”

“Rock.” Fluttershy shrugged. “I thought she was still talking about Applejack. We are protecting the Castle, right? Or… maybe it meant a stone? Is there any difference?”

“I mean, yes, we’re protecting this place.” Twilight flashed her horn and took the necklace from Rarity, then grabbed it with her hooves. “But I think we just found out why they’re trying to get in—wait.” She blinked, looked around at her friends. “Wait a minute. Rarity?”

“Twilight, dear?”

“You said that the hydra you stopped was carrying this?”

“I did, yes.”

“And Applejack.” Twilight looked at AJ. “You threw a rock at it, and Rarity took the necklace.”


“But Fluttershy talked to two hydras. Right?” Twilight looked at Fluttershy again. “And then you led them away after talking to them. Two hydras that were trying to get in the Castle.”

“…Uh-oh.” Fluttershy’s eyes got big. “You… you don’t mean…”

“Yes. I mean it.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Girls? Please, tell me at least one of you can tell me. Where is that other hydra, and where is Pinkie Pie?

Nopony replied.

Then, suddenly, out in the northern part of the Castle—an explosion. A hydra screaming. The entire Castle trembled, and the sound of rubble falling. The acoustics of the Gardens were so good that they could even hear some of the ponies inside screaming with high-pitched voices.


Twilight frowned. “Okay then, that sounds like a good place to start looking. Fluttershy, fly to that tower and look out for hydras. Rainbow, you drop a boulder if they come from here, Applejack, you throw rocks if they come from there, and Rarity—” She threw the necklace at her friend “—you’re in charge. Keep this safe.”

Then she flashed her horn, and she was gone.

Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing uncomfortable about losing consciousness. When you get knocked out, you barely feel it. A flash, a hard knock on the head—and then nothing but nothingness.

Regaining consciousness, though. That’s why concussions get such a bad rap.

“Vinyl! Vinyl, are you awake?” Nudge, tap, nudge. The voice came like cotton floating down the river. “Oh, dear. Please tell me you are not dead, or else this is going to get really uncomfortable. Vinyl?”

Vinyl tried to speak. She tried with all she had. “Hrrrg.” Close enough.

“Ah! Vinyl!” More tapping, more nudging. “I saw you move!”


“Vinyl, wake up! Wake up! Rise and shine?” Nudge nudge. “You don’t have to shine if you don’t want to. Please?”

Vinyl opened her eyes. She immediately regretted it.

The room was mostly dark, but whatever light lingered was enough to hurt Vinyl’s eyes. Everything was musky and smelled like dust. Vinyl was laying on cold hard rock, surrounded by rubble, and feeling thunder inside her head. Something soft and warm by her side.

The ceiling was of stone, and way too low to be comfortable. There was a single window with no glass and iron bars blocking it, but the sunshine came dimmed through it. A muffled sound in the distance — screams, and fire, and the sounds of war.


And the voice.

The voice came from Vinyl’s right, the place of soft and warm. So she turned, expecting something, and something she saw: Octavia. Face like an angel, bowtie ruffled, mane full of dust. Worry in her eyes, but a smile in her lips. The room smelled of dust, but she smelled of old wood, and rosewater, and strawberry tea. She was holding Vinyl.

She asked: “Vinyl? Are you okay?”

And she looked beautiful, in that moment between sleep and wake, in that dimly lit place of cold stone and low ceilings.

So Vinyl grimaced and looked to the side, then said: “Blegh.”

“Ah-hah! I knew it!” Octavia’s smile was bright enough to light up the room, and give Vinyl an even worse headache. “You were breathing too hard to be dead. How are you feeling? Does it hurt? Do you know who I am?”

“…What happened.”

“A monster attacked us!” Octavia’s voice was not exactly high-pitched, but it still stung Vinyl like a needle through her brain. “It climb all the way to the princess’ study. And then it fended off Mister Labcoat, and Princess Luna both! It was terrible.”


“And also I believe Princess Luna called me fat? And I don’t know what to think about that. She said I’m plump!

Vinyl closed her eyes and sighed, trying, and failing, to control her migraine. “Okay,” she said. “Okay. That’s a lot to take in.”

“Right? I have a reasonably good figure. I exercise a lot!” Octavia was squinting, twisting her head around to examine her own side. “Would you say I’m plump? I would not say I’m plump.”



“Shut up.”

Octavia’s voice sounded sympathetic enough to be frustrating. “Oh,” she said. “My apologies. Concussion not treating you well?”

“Concussion not treating me well.”

“Happens to the best of us! Nothing to be ashamed of.” Pause. Octavia looked to both sides, then cleared her throat with a cough. “I have to say, ah, I would love to give you some space? But, well.” And she grimaced. “I’m afraid I cannot.”

Vinyl tried to blink, but she had trouble coordinating both eyelids. Everything still hurt. The thunder in her head echoed.

“Right,” she said. Then she held her breath and did the old party trick: she focused on her horn, as if to cast a spell, then shook her head as hard as she could without letting it go. It hurt like hell for a while, then it got so much better. “Right,” she repeated, “of course. We don’t want to explode.”

“Oh?” Octavia had moved her head away—only a bit, they were still hugging—to give Vinyl room to shake around, but now that that was over she was close and personal once again. “So you remember that? I am not going to lie, I was fully expecting you to suffer some kind of minor memory loss. You know.” She nodded towards Vinyl’s head. “Because of your head trauma!”

“Yeah. Nah.” Vinyl grunted, and then rested her head on the cold hard ground. It did not help. “Not enough brain damage. So, that’s the good news. Sorry if I’m grumpy, my head just hurts a lot.”

“Don’t worry! I won’t hold it against you.” Then Octavia frowned. “Also, I’m glad you bring up brain damage? Because that was not a soft fall you took.”

“So what happened, anyway?”

“Well, you hit the floor head-first and it made the most peculiar noise.”

“No, no, not that. I mean more…” Vinyl looked around, at the dark room. There wasn’t enough light to really tell, but the rubble, the dust, and the oddness of the ceiling made it clear the place wasn’t in pristine condition. “Where are we? What happened up there? Did the tower collapse?” A pause, and then as an afterthought: “Also, are the princess and the dragon okay? There was a, a hydragon…”

Octavia nodded, still looking at Vinyl with those worrying eyes, that angel face. “Hmmm.” She tapped Vinyl’s head once again, as if trying to find a wound—but eventually she gave up. “Indeed! The—how did you call it? Hydragon?”

“Called itself that.”

“Right, I suppose.” Octavia looked down, pouted a bit, frowned. “What is a hydragon, even?


“Take a guess, Octavia.”

“I will! I will take a guess.” Octavia made a thinking face—like a pout, but more intellectual—and then hummed a little. “Hum hum hum. Some kind of terrible monster?”

Vinyl took a moment to think about this. Then she said: “You know what? Yeah. Yeah that’s actually a great description.”

“Thank you! I am very intelligent.” Octavia stopped with the thinking face and smiled at Vinyl. “Well then. That terrible monster tried to get inside Princess Luna’s study, but it was simply too big. So, yes, to answer your other question—the tower collapsed! With us still in it.”


“Mister Labcoat and Princess Luna flew away to safety. They have wings, you see? They can just do that! But we don’t. So we plummeted to our death!”

It took a moment for Vinyl to catch this. “We what?” She asked. “We plummeted?”


“To our death.”

“Yes indeed!”

If Vinyl had been able to massage her temples, she would have. Her front legs were busy wrapping Octavia, however, so she just kept laying on the ground and made a face. “Okay,” she said. “So, like. We’re dead now, or…?”

Octavia chuckled, and bopped Vinyl’s muzzle with her forehead. “Of course not! Princess Luna teleported us to safety before we could die. Then you hit your head and got knocked out! And now we’re here.”

Vinyl got stiff the moment Octavia touched her muzzle. When she spoke, she pronounced every word very, very slowly. “She,” she said, “teleported us to safety.”


“And then I hit the floor and got immediately knocked out.”

“Princess Luna is very bad at dealing with mortals! It’s because of all the talent she has for murder, I think.”

“She does look like somepony who’s tasted blood.”

“She does! She really does. I love her, but she is terrifying.”

“Told you.” Vinyl made a face. “We’re super getting murdered today, one way or the other.”

Then Octavia examined Vinyl, really examined her. Looked her in the eye and so on. “Are you okay, though? Are you sure? I would hate it if you got really hurt. I was very worried!”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow. “Don’t wanna be hugging a corpse?”

“Indeed! Especially one with that mane.” Octavia looked at Vinyl’s hairdo and made a face. “It looks terrible. But I also do not want you to die! We are casual acquaintances, right?”

“We super are. But don’t tell that dragon.” Vinyl squinted. “I’d hate to give him the satisfaction.”

“Oh, absolutely! Just call me an inbred again as soon as he’s around, and he’ll absolutely believe we don’t like each other.”

“Yeah, tha—ah?” Vinyl blinked, looked at Octavia. “Wait. You were aware that was an insult? Have—have you been playing dumb all this time?”

And Octavia smiled, and fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

It took a moment for Vinyl to reply. She just stared at Octavia for a little while first, digesting everything, thoughts slowed down because the headache was terrible.

Ultimately, though, she returned the smile. “You know, you’re kinda fun to be around.”

“Thank you! I absolutely am. It is one of my best qualities.”

“You could really stop going after my mane so hard, though.”

“Oh, no, no. I have to draw the line somewhere.”

If they both felt that they were dancing about the issue, it’s because they were. If Vinyl was trying to make Octavia smile to get some weight off her chest, she could hardly be blamed. If Octavia was a little too relieved to be able to talk to Vinyl again, well. How could she not?

It’s difficult, sometimes, for those who were not born in Equestria to understand what the Princesses, the alicorns, mean. It’s such an internalized thing that the moment Princess Luna came back, she was immediately accepted. The moment Princess Twilight ascended, she joined the pantheon, and nopony ever doubted why.

This was not because they were perfect—they were not. Too many mistakes to account for already to believe that particular lie. But they were immortal, and they were powerful, and they were reliable. Monsters were dangerous, and they could hurt you, but they could not hurt the alicorns.

But Princess Luna had been visibly distressed in front of the hydragon. Labcoat—a genuine dragon himself—hadn’t been able to immediately kill the monster.

It was not an easy thing to take in.

Which is why they were simply not thinking about it.

Vinyl rolled her eyes, but there was a bit of a smile tugging to her lips. She suppressed it rather nicely. Then she looked around. “So where are we right now, exactly?”

Octavia frowned. “Say. Are we avoiding the fact that we are the Chosen Ones and seemingly fated to save the world?”

“We are super avoiding that fact, yes.”

And the frown went away and a beaming smile took its place. “Okay! That sounds like a reasonable thing to do.” Then Octavia started looking around, ears perked up. “And these are the lower dungeons! Light up your horn, please? I can’t see properly.”

“You know, my head kinda hurts.”

“Oh?” Octavia looked up at Vinyl, down from her chest. The little light that came to the cell reflected in her eyes almost perfectly, and they looked—for a second—wide, and deep, and full of stars. “So you can’t?”

Vinyl’s left eye twitched.

Here’s the deal, in plain terms: Hugs are not to be taken lightly.

You hug someone, and you feel their warmth, their heartbeat, and they feel yours. Hugs are special things. Hugs are powerful things.

Vinyl wasn’t hugging Octavia—she was holding her. But Octavia wasn’t holding Vinyl.

She was hugging her.

Which is why Vinyl’s left eye twitched, and why she looked away, grumbled, and then said: “Whatever.” And in spite of the throbbing headache it gave her, she lit her horn.

And Octavia smiled after one look around. “Ah-hah!” she said. “The lower dungeons, indeed! I am so good at this. It is probably due to all that inbreeding.”

“You went all the way around from insult to flattery again with that one, huh.”

“And the dungeons seem intact, I might add!” The only sign that Octavia had heard Vinyl was the light slap the latter got on the back of her neck. “I assume the Castle is maintaining its structural integrity, then, towers aside.” Octavia looked smug while saying this. “That’s good news! Nothing is down except for the ceiling, which you pretty much blew away with your head!”

Vinyl looked up. Now that there was light, she could see that the ceiling wasn’t as low as she’d thought—it’s just that big chunks of it had collapsed. There was a big hole right above them, too. “Oh. Wait, did we do that?”

“Yes!” Octavia nodded with enthusiasm. “And we caused very little damage, all things considered! Far from my intentions to toot my own horn, but the craftsmanship of this Castle is amazing! Don’t you think?”

It took Vinyl a moment to understand this. “Toot your what?”

“Oh. Is that offensive? I’m very sorry! I won’t use it again.” Octavia looked up, at Vinyl’s horn, then frowned. “It’s an old Canterlot saying, but now that I think about it, it does sound insulting towards unicorns.”

“No, I’m not—well actually it is a bit offensive, not gonna lie?”

“Ah-hah! See? That’s probably why it became a saying in the first place. Canterlot is terrible.”

“Right, fully agree—but I’m not talking about that.” Vinyl squeezed Octavia by the shoulders and looked around. “Why are you being smug about this?”

Octavia’s turn to look confused. “Excuse me?”

“About the Castle not being blown up.” An explosion outside, and the whole building shook slightly. Some dust fell from the ceiling. Vinyl cringed. “Yet.”

“I’m not smug!” Octavia sounded genuinely distraught. “I am just proud of my heritage!” Then her ears perked up and she raised her chin, and in that moment she looked more noble than ever, and almost a thousand years old. “My family, you see, is the one that built this Castle in the first place. Thousands of years ago! And it’s still up!

“What. What?” Vinyl’s eyes got wide. “Are you kidding? Your family built this?”

Octavia raised her chin even more. More smug than ever. “Indeed!”

“…Isn’t your name Pianissimo, though?” Vinyl tilted to the side a little and caught a peek of Octavia’s flank. “Unless bricks play in the treble clef, I am pretty certain you’re supposed to be a musician.”

“And I am! But I am the second daughter, so I can afford diversifying my family’s field of expertise.”

“Right, but you are called Pianissimo.” Vinyl looked at Octavia again for a second, saw her eyes, then immediately looked somewhere else. “Like, that’s your actual name.”

“I am a Pianissimo, yes! We’re a pretty famous dynasty, actually.”

“The Pianissimo dynasty, then. And you’re architects.”

“We build things very quietly.”


“You know what? I’m not brain damaged enough to have this conversation either! So let’s just—” Vinyl squinted, and while doing that, she noticed, for the first time, that her eyes were bare. “Ah. Shoot. My shades.”

Octavia blinked. “Beg your pardon?”

“Beg, then. My shades?”

“Your sunglasses?” Octavia looked around. “I think they’re over there,” she said, nodding towards one of the corners of the room. Indeed, there was something purple there, reflecting the light of Vinyl’s magic. “I saw them when—!”

“Shades, shades.” Vinyl licked her lips, braced herself for the pain, and floated her glasses to her face with a flick of her horn. It barely hurt at all, which was the first pleasant surprise she’d had in at least twenty-four hours. “They’re shades.

Octavia cocked her head to the side. “What?”

“Not sunglasses. The Secret Equestrian Service uses sunglasses. These,” Vinyl lifted the shades for a moment, to make sure it was clear what she was talking about, “are shades.”

“Oh,” Octavia said. Then: “I didn’t know there was a difference!”

“There is.”

“I didn’t know we have a Secret Service either. Do we?”

“We do.” Vinyl put the shades on. It felt good, even if it meant she could see absolutely nothing. “Huge deal.”

“Never heard of them! Are they well-known?”

“They’re called the Secret Service, Octavia.”

“Ah. I see, I see.” Octavia nodded. “Are you supposed to be telling me this?”

“Not at all, actually! It’s quite literally a State secret. This is high treason I’m committing right now. I have no idea why I ever brought this up.”

A small pause.

“Is it me, or did you actually suffer a lot of brain damag—”

“I’ve actually suffered a lot of brain damage, let’s get out of here.”

“You know, far from my intentions to nag you on this,” Octavia was saying. “But you didn’t say anything, when I complained about Princess Luna calling me fat?”

Vinyl nodded. “Uh-huh. So do we turn left or right now?”

“Left! We have to go left. And one would think that, you know, reassuring me that I am indeed in quite good shape is the socially expected response?”

“Sure is.”


Vinyl clicked her tongue. “Okay!” she said. “Going left, then!”

Vinyl got a light slap on the back of her neck.

An hour had passed since the bomb had entered Vinyl and Octavia’s lives, and now they were at the bottom of Canterlot Castle, trying to find a way up.

The lower dungeons were mostly made of harsh cold stone, although once you got away from the cells the walls were painted white and the floor was reasonably smooth. It was dark, sure, there were no torches around, but Vinyl could light up her horn without much trouble, so rolling around was more or less comfortable.

The dungeons were, to be honest, mostly there out of a sense of obligation. Nobody ever used the place. When your entire culture is based on the idea of literally weaponizing friendship, taking prisoners is not something you do very often. Ponies classified threats in two broad categories: there are future friends, and then there are victims.

“Well, that is a good way to put it, yes,” Octavia said when Vinyl mentioned something of the sorts. “Say. Do you think it is possible to befriend a hydra?”

Vinyl frowned. “Not really? We mostly use friendship to slay them. Also, I don’t think hydras even understand it.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah.” Vinyl thought about it for a moment, and then repeated something she’d heard Bon Bon said once: “I think that, when it comes to brains, hydras kind of choose quantity over quality?”

“Aaah. Of course.” And Octavia nodded. “Happens to the best of us, really!”

So, by the end of the day, they both expected the dungeons to still be empty, the hydras to still be the enemy, and also a lot of dead lizards all around Canterlot.

In the meantime though, no prisoners meant no reason to lock any doors. Only then, of course, there was the issue of actually getting out. Turns out, hugging is a bit like handling scissors: doesn’t mesh well with running.

“Ouch! Stop! Stop!” Octavia winced, and she forced Vinyl to go still, then rubbed her forehead against Vinyl’s chest while moaning in pain. That made Vinyl stiff up again, but Octavia barely noticed. “There was something on the ground!”

“I—uh—what?” Vinyl shook her head a little, and then looked back—there was indeed some rubble on the ground. “Ah, yeah. Did you roll over it?”

“It poked me right above the tail! It stings!” Octavia squirmed, trying to both press herself against Vinyl to keep the bomb stable and look to her own back at the same time. It didn’t work, because anatomy doesn’t work that way, but she still tried. “Ow! I think there was something sharp over there, and we passed right over it! Do you mind rubbing my lower back to see if there’s anything stuck to it?”

Vinyl didn’t reply for a couple seconds. She just stood there, completely still, while Octavia kept moaning softly.

Then she cleared her throat with a cough and said: “Uh. Sorry. You’re asking me to do what?

So here’s how it goes: if you’re hugging somepony with both your front legs, and kinda with your back legs too—a little, now and then, it was a very case-by-case thing—the only way you can reasonably move around is either flying or just rolling around doing your best impression of a tumbleweed or a very strange hula hoop.

The latter is extremely uncomfortable unless you’re doing it on a carpet. The ground in the lower dungeons was cold harsh stone, rocky as can be.

Neither of them had wings.

So the two musicians did not mind the rock and rolled, and neither appreciated the irony in the slightest.

Only, of course, the Castle shook every time something big happened outside, and Vinyl was now realizing that maybe they should’ve been a little bit more careful in looking where they were going, instead of just trying to roll away as fast as possible.

“I am asking you to gently caress the area around my tail to see if there’s anything stuck to it!” Octavia said.

“To c—?” Vinyl choked. “To. To caress the are around your t—you know what? I’m rather sure that is just not going to happen.”

“What? Vinyl, it hurts! What if there was s sharp rock and it stabbed me? I can’t see!” Octavia was pressing herself hard against Vinyl now, and wiggling around, and moaning of pain, and—oh boy.

Oh boy.

She sure was, okay. She sure was something all right.

“Oh, Celestia, what if I’m bleeding?” There was alarm in her voice, mind you, but her accent was pleasant enough for that to almost make things worse. “You have to hurry! Just rub it a bit to see if there’s anything there?”

“Right, look, I can just—” Vinyl squirmed a bit too, tried to look over Octavia’s shoulder down to her lower back, utterly failed because that is, once again, not how anatomy works. “See? Perfectly fine!” she said anyway. “No need to gently caress anything!”

“Vinyl, I swear to the stars! I’m worried! Come on, you are already hugging me! I’ll buy you three coffees myself!”

“That’s still—wait, you’re going straight for three?”


“Boy, your ass must hurt a lot.”

“It does! Which is why I’m asking you to check it!” Octavia kept hugging Vinyl with one front leg, but took the other out and pushed Vinyl’s hoofs downwards. Towards her backside. “Just lower your hooves a little bit, gently lift my tail and go to town with—

“Okay you don’t nee—OKAY OKAY WOW WOW STOP HEY.” Vinyl moved her hooves up, away from Octavia’s tail. “HEY THERE.”

“What?! Vinyl, this is an emergency!”


“Vinyl, I don’t understand what—” And then Octavia blinked, and her ears perked up, and her mouth became a perfect ‘o’. “Oh, dear,” she said then, voice completely different. “Oh my. I am so sorry—is this making you uncomfortable?”


“Because if this is making you uncomfortable at all, you don’t have to—”

“HAHAH, WHAT? Me? Uncomfortable? Please!” Vinyl’s voice was so tense you could have wrapped it around a racket and played tennis with it. “Please! Not at all! See? Look at me, just—” she lowered her hooves “—just, rubbing your ass! Like there’s no tomorrow! Just, circular notions, playing with your tail a little, see? Perfectly fine! Nothing wrong with that! Hah! Hah, hah!

Octavia was, indeed, being rubbed rather well. Bit of an odd sensation, she would explain much later, when narrating this scene. Interesting. Rather peculiar. But Vinyl was looking like she was trying her best, so she tried to encourage her. “So you are!” she said, smiling. “Uh, now, can you check if I’m bleeding or if there’s anything right above my tail? Because that’s where it hu—”

“Just gently caressing everything! Look at me go! I could do it all day!”

“Ooor just stay over that bit for a while! I suppose! If that’s what you want.” Octavia looked at Vinyl dead in the eye. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’re acting fishy.”

“Absolutely! I’m just an adult mare, gently rubbing another adult mare, in a completely appropriate fashion! Because she asked me to do so, and what is just a little bit of fondling between friends, right? Hah! Hah!” She rose her hooves back to Octavia’s back. “There you go! See? Just copping a feel! Like one does!”

And Octavia gave Vinyl a small smile. “Thank you!” she said. “Sorry for making you do this.”

No need to! Nothing to apologize for! And, hey, now that I have touched your ass, we can finally move on!”

“Sure! Although, um.” Octavia frowned. “So, was there anything stuck there or…?


“Right. Give me a moment.” Vinyl lowered her hooves again, copped another feel, slapped something away, rose her hooves. “Right yes something stuck but there’s no blood. I think it was just tangled with your tail. Does still hurt?”

Octavia was grimacing. “A little! I think I’ll have a bruise tomorrow. You didn’t have to be so rough!”

“Right, I—”

“But at least I’m not bleeding! Right? You didn’t feel anything wet down there.”

Vinyl’s shades covered most of her face, but it was still painfully clear that she was blushing. “And look at the time!” she said, looking away, at the wall, where there was nothing remotely resembling a clock because they were in the dungeons and why would you have a clock there. “Time to leave and shut up for a while!”

“Okay!” Octavia nodded, and started to roll around and nudge Vinyl to the side… and then she stopped, and her ears perked up. A devious glint made it to her eyes. “Although,” she said. “I say! Seeing how you just inspected my curves rather thoroughly—that thing Princess Luna said, you know, it’s still bothering me a little bit…?”

Vinyl nodded. “I am ignoring you.”

“Aw, come on! Can’t a mare just get a compliment when she needs it?” Octavia made a huff, but then just kept talking, pout still on. “Alright. Let’s see, if I remember the layout correctly, we need to go over there, and then reach the—do you think we may be able to climb stairs like this?”

Vinyl looked at Octavia. The blush was going away from her face. “What, like, roll up some stairs?”


“You just rolled over half a pebble and almost broke in half, you tell me.”

“Ah-hah! Perfectly fine point to make!” So Octavia frowned, and looked down. “Let me think for a moment. If we want to avoid the stairs, we can probably go to the dumbwaiter and use it…”

Something nagged at Vinyl here, and she took the chance to ask aloud as soon as she saw it—anything to distract herself from everything that had just happened. “Say,” she say. “How come you just know all this?”

“Hmm?” Octavia came back to reality, and looked at Vinyl face to face, which made Vinyl blush again, but neither of them acknowledged it. “Sorry?”

“Like. Uh. Why do you know the layout of the dungeons? Like, I get it, your family built them, but… Do all Pianissimos know about this, or something?”

“Oh?” Octavia snickered, cutesy, and then admitted: “In a sense! Building Canterlot Castle is not a small feat, right? So my family…”

“Is really smug about it?”

“Yes! Exactly! We don’t say it so openly, though.”

Vinyl nodded. “Gotcha. It is a feat, I guess, so congratulations on that. Go on.”

“I will!” Octavia winked at Vinyl. A hint of mischief made it to that angelic face, and Vinyl had to look away for a moment to compose herself. “So we just hung the original blueprints of the Castle all around the walls of our mansion. They’re quite priceless!”

Vinyl gulped, and then looked at Octavia, testing if it was safe now. She wasn’t winking anymore, so probably yes. “Right,” she said. “You just proudly expose the blueprints of the building where the leaders of our kingdom live.”

“We do!”

“Riveting. Then again, I guess that when you’re as bad as Equestria at homeland security, at one point you just legitimately stop caring.”

“Mmm-hmm!” Octavia frowned again, lost in thought once more, trying to remember. “So. If we want to avoid the stairs, we need to go over… there!” she said.

Looking at the way they were already going.

Because they had already turned left a while ago, and they had only stopped after the accident with Octavia’s back.

Octavia kept talking anyway. “Then I suppose we can take the dumbwaiter and the lift. There’s a lever, if I remember correctly… Right, and that would bring us up to the hall.” She capped it all with a smile. “And then we can search for Princess Celestia!”

“Perfect.” Vinyl nodded. “Also, no.”

The smile dropped from Octavia’s face. “No?”


“No what?”

“We’re not looking for Princess Celestia. We’re looking for a friend of mine—she’s probably in the Castle right now—because she’ll be able to deactivate the bomb. And then you hide somewhere, and I—”

“What? But Princess Luna told us to find her!”

“Princess Luna also said we need to go on a quest to save the world, and we’re not doing that either,” Vinyl grunted, and rolled around. Now she was on top, looking down at Octavia. Pretty suggestive pose. Not the wisest thing to do. “Looking for Princess Celestia is just an extension of that. They’re trying to fool us into becoming heroes.”

Octavia gasped. “The fiends,” she said.

“Yeah, see? You’re getting it.”

“I am! I am getting it.” Then Octavia rolled around until she was on top, looking down on Vinyl and oh, hey, that was even worse. Her mane cascaded around her face, caressing Vinyl’s cheeks. Smelled nice. This was terrible. “Okay no, that was a lie. I thought we were avoiding this topic? Why do we not want to be heroes, again?”

Groan, roll over, Vinyl on top. “Okay, Octavia. Do you have any idea where I come from?”

Roll over, Octavia on top. “I do not! Where do you come from?”

Vinyl on top. “You getting dizzy too?”

Octavia on top. “This is very fun! But also yes I feel like I’m going to vomit at this rate.”


They stopped rolling, and simply lied side to side.

“Okay.” Now that they weren’t frolicking like little lambs in a grass field, Vinyl had a breather and thought really hard about what to say. “You need to understand that, like… You’re from Canterlot, right? But I’m not. I’m from Ponyville.”

Octavia took this without reacting, at first—then her right ear twitched with recognition. “Ah,” she said. Then: “That Ponyville?”


“The one that keeps attracting disaster? Literally right next to the Everfree?”

“That one.” Vinyl nodded. “Now. Me being from there, here’s a pop quiz for ya: How many world-saving adventures I’ve had by now, like, just by proxy?

And Octavia made a face. “Ooof,” she said. “Yes, I suppose that’s—one a month?”

“Average is one a week.”

Technically not a single lie so far. Vinyl felt rather proud of herself.

“I see! I see.” Octavia sighed, and nodded. “You have had your fill for harrowing quests in your lifetime, then?”

“I’m a musician by trade and I haven’t had a gig in ages because I keep getting involved in postponing the apocalypse.” Vinyl’s face darkened. She started biting her lip. Certain memories always came back whenever this topic was brought up. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff, Octavia. I have—hnng!

Octavia had been nuzzling her cheek. When she saw Vinyl stiffen, she cocked her head to the side. “What?”

“What the—what was that?!”

“I nuzzled you!”


“Hmm.” Octavia shrugged. “You were saying? No more saving the world, right?”

“I—” for a moment Vinyl felt like pressing the issue some more, but to be absolutely honest, in hindsight that had been a welcome distraction. “…Yes. No more adventures.”

“Riiight.” Octavia didn’t seem to mind Vinyl’s furrowed brow now, fancy that. She was just lost in thought, which was interesting, because all of a sudden she looked elegant again, rather than cutesy. “Is that the right thing to do, though?”


“Won’t it be bad if we refuse the call like that? We are the Chosen Ones!” Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Princess Luna might be better at cannibalism than she is at socializing, but she does hold some ancient wisdom. I think she might be right in that regard!”

“Yes, bu—cannibalism?”


“…She does that?”

“Not anymore! And that’s the important part.” Octavia nodded, both to herself and to Vinyl. “You were saying?”

Vinyl squinted, but let that pass. She took off her glasses to make the next bit more genuine: “…Right. Look, Octavia—Destiny literally gives us tattoos on the flank when we approach puberty, okay? Everypony is a Chosen One.” Vinyl sighed. “And I don’t mean to be disrespectful towards Princess Luna? But she sort of tied us to a bomb first, asked questions later.”

“She did that! She absolutely did that. But won’t it be dangerous?” Octavia sat on it for a bit. “If we… refuse the call?”

And Vinyl shook her head. She still looked a bit troubled, but this time she sounded convinced. “Nah, not really. I’ve seen a lot of ponies ‘refuse the call’ before, actually.”

Technically not a lie either.

Octavia’s eyes went wide. “Wait, really?”

“Yeah. I told you, I come from Ponyville. It’s not the first time I refuse the call myself.” Vinyl sighed. “And all that happens is that the Elements of Harmony appear out of nowhere and just get the job done anyway? That’s sorta what they’re for.”

“Aaah, I see.” Octavia was nodding now. “I see! They are Destiny’s last resort?”

“More like Destiny’s handyman, but yeah. So, we get the bomb deactivated, and you just hide and don’t die, and I do whatever.”

“That sounds like you are going to die, actually!”

“Whatever, I said. I stand by it. Sounds like a plan?”

Octavia thought on it. She was the one who knew the way, so she was aware that Vinyl actually needed her. It wasn’t a rhetorical question; Octavia had to be part of the plan. She could say ‘no’ and screw up everything, and force her to fulfill their destiny. So she said:

“It does sound like a plan, yes!”

But then added:


And Vinyl flinched so hard it was a miracle the bomb didn’t immediately go off.

“You know, I really do not want to be seen as naggy, buuuuut.” Octavia looked to the side demurely. She stopped hugging Vinyl with one of her hooves just so she could play with her mane a little bit, in a casual way. “That comment that Princess Luna made, I have to say, it does make me wonder if I’m actually plump…?”

“Oh, for the love of—no, you’re not fat! You’re the opposite of fat. You’ve got a wonderful figure! Okay?”

“Really? I do?” Octavia immediately turned to Vinyl, and she lit up like a million stars at night. The smile she put on crossed her entire face. “Oh, but you don’t have to say that, you sly, you!” She gently, playfully slapped Vinyl’s shoulder. “Come on, tell me the truth! I can take it.”

“No, no, like, I copped a feel and all that. Really nice figure, ten out of ten. Would do it again. Would recommend to my friends. Amazing texture, soft in the right places—”

Octavia arched an eyebrow, face suddenly hardening. “Soft?”

“—in the right places. It’s a good thing. Like, you’re pleasant to hug. In a, uh, conventionally attractive way!”

“Ah, shush, you. Now I know you’re just flattering me!” Pause. “You can keep talking, mind you.”

“Blegh. You’ve got a good ass, I don’t know what else to say.” And with a flash of her horn, Vinyl put on her glasses again. “Now. Are we doing this, or not?”

“Sure! Definitely! You’ll hear no qualms from me whatsoever!”

“Great, so. No hard feelings about us not saving Equestria or any of that. We’re on the same page. Screw Destiny, and let the world burn, and all of that?”

“Absolutely!” And the smile on Octavia’s face was the most honest, most beautiful, most innocent think that Vinyl had seen in her entire life. “You got a terrible concussion back there, right? That counts as an adventure already. Especially because I didn’t get one! I’m sure Destiny won’t mind if we take the rest of the day off.”

“Neat. Okay, then. Let’s roll on this rock.”


“And I hate how I worded that last bit.”

“Me too!”

They made it to the dumbwaiter.

“Ooooh,” Octavia said. “This is bad!”

“This is super bad,” Vinyl added.

It was bad.

The thing about the dumbwaiter is that it had been mostly designed to bring food to the Royal Guards attending the lower dungeons. And as far as that went, it was perfect! It was able to get a bowl of hot soup from the kitchens all the way to the dungeons. Extremely efficient method of transportation.

“As long as you’re a bowl of soup yourself,” Vinyl added, glaring at the ridiculously tiny entrance to the dumbwaiter. “Which we are not, I gotta add. No way we fit in there.”

“I agree!” Octavia was still talking in that peppy way of hers, although she did flinch a little when they heard another explosion outside, and then she tugged at VInyl until they rolled closer to the dumbwaiter. It was by the left wall of the Guard post, right next to a door that led to stairs they couldn’t climb, and in front of a table full of things they couldn’t reach. “But open it anyway? I think we might make it work!”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow, but let herself be rolled. She flashed her horn to open the dumbwaiter’s door, wordlessly, already looking around for other ways to leave. None in sight.

“Ah-hah! See?” Octavia tapped her on the back to get her attention, and pointed at the dumbwaiter. "It’s actually pretty big inside. It’s just the entrance that’s a tight fit. But we can make it work! Come on, let’s try it!”

Vinyl looked. “We super don’t,” she said.

“Nonsense! I’m exceptionally slender, you yourself said that.”

“…Did I?”

“You did!” Octavia sounded serious. “My memory is very good.”


“Now let’s get in!”

They couldn’t get in.

Vinyl popped her head out, sweating, and groaned. “Okay,” she said, blinking hard to shoo the headache away. “Not so slender after all. Do we write the dumbwaiter off?”

Octavia, equally sweaty, glared at her.

“I meant me,” Vinyl said. “You’re still slender.”

Octavia immediately brightened up. “Good!” she said. “That is a clever thing to say. I’m glad to see you’re learning so fast!”

“You aren’t exactly subtle.”

“I am not! Oh, but also?” Octavia winked at Vinyl. “Don’t undersell yourself! You’re toned, it’s pleasant.” And she gave Vinyl a little squeeze to sell the point.


“Hahah. Still, it’s such a shame we can’t fit in. It would be perfect!” Octavia leaned in and looked at the inside of the dumbwaiter again. “Vinyl, can you try to use your magic here? Give us an extra grip?”

“Depends,” Vinyl said, arching an eyebrow. “Want me to squash your head?”


“Is that a rhetorical question or are you actually—?”

“Rhetorical question, Octavia.”

“Ah.” Octavia frowned. “Then I… don’t?”

“That is not how rhetorical questions work.”

“…Oh. Then I do?”

“I—what?” Vinyl blinked, and took her shades off a second to arch an eyebrow at Octavia. “Uh. No?”

“Is that a rhetorical question too?”

“Octavia, do you even know what rhetorical means.”

“Pfhah! Silly question.” Octavia nodded a little, to butt heads with Vinyl, forehead against forehead. A cutesy gesture; how exactly did she manage to dodge Vinyl’s horn while doing so, Vinyl would never know. “I have no idea.”

“At least you’re honest.”

“I am! Us aristocrats can afford to be true to ourselves, see? Everypony else has to put up with us anyway, so we might… as…” her eyes suddenly gleamed, and a devious smirk made it to her face, and moved her face away from Vinyl’s. “Well…”

Vinyl saw that, and followed Octavia’s gaze. “Oooh, what?” she asked. “What are you looking at?”

Octavia was looking at the table.

The dungeons were rarely used, but that didn’t mean they were abandoned. There were some things around the office—a chair, some buckets and an old broom by the corner… And of course, the table that was too high for them to reach. That’s what Octavia was looking at—or rather, everything on top of it.

An empty bowl, full of dust. A spoon and a lost knife. And down from the floor it was hard to see, but the thing right next to it seemed to be bottles and condiments, and among them…

“…Olive oil,” Octavia purred. Purred. It gave Vinyl shivers; if good or bad, she had no idea. “Vinyl?”

Vinyl didn’t like the way she said that. Or she liked it a lot. Whatever. “Octavia?”

“I think I know what we need to do now!” Octavia looked at Vinyl now, trickster smile on her face, showing just a tiny bit of teeth. It made her look like a little devil. “What do you usually do when you find a very tight hole?


Vinyl squinted. “Is that a rhetorical quest—”

“You use lubricant!”


They covered themselves in olive oil.

Octavia and Vinyl dashed through the inner wall tunnel.


“This was a terrible idea!” Vinyl yelled.

Octavia squinted. “What?!”

I’m saying this was a terrible idea!”


“I can’t hear you! But this was a great idea, right?!”

No! No, it wasn’t! I’m fairly sure this legally counts as torture!

“Hahah! Yes!” Octavia grinned. “Like a rollercoaster!”



About that dumbwaiter.

The good news was that it was, indeed, a marvel of engineering, able to get a bowl of hot soup from the kitchens all the way to the lower dungeons and deliver it while still warm. The bad news was, the lower dungeons weren’t used often, so the dumbwaiter hadn’t been properly tested on installation, and nopony had bothered to fix it afterwards.

Sure, it would deliver the bowl in time. The soup itself? Not so much.

So Octavia and Vinyl were completely blind at the moment—not a lot of light in there—and they were racing so fast that too much contact with the speeding walls would grate them until they looked like soup, ironically enough. They stank of olive oil and felt slimy and slippery. The base of the dumbwaiter was full of old food spills. And the chain mechanism was...


Loud. It was loud.

“I think we should be arriving to the kitchens soon!” Octavia yelled. She had an almost manic smile on her face—sheer terror, if Vinyl had to guess. “In less than a minute!”

How is this thing even going to stop?! Isn’t the impact going to, like, immediately kill us?

“I have no idea what you’re saying! But, on a completely unrelated note, I sure hope the impact doesn’t immediately kill us! Because it probably will!”


They made it to the kitchen.



The one thing that saved their lives—and their bones—was nothing other than engineering ingenuity: while the dumbwaiter on the dungeons had been designed to make it easier to take the bowls of soup out, the one in the kitchen had been made to facilitate placing the bowls in.

Which meant there was a noticeable slope at the end of the tunnel on the kitchen’s side, leading out. The olive oil and the inertia did the rest—Vinyl and Octavia didn’t hit the dumbwaiter’s roof and kill themselves once they got to the kitchens.

They simply got slingshotted out at supersonic speed.




“Oh, we are flying! How quaint!” Octavia looked around, marvel in her eyes, as they soared through the kitchens with grace. “This is definitely an experience I was not expecting to have when I woke up this mo—whoops there’s the ground.”


And upon impact, they slid across the floor, leaving behind a trail of olive oil, and producing the most undignified noise Octavia had ever heard.

It took them a while to be able to speak again.

The Canterlot kitchens were, all in all, rather nice: white walls, white floor, exceedingly clean environment, and a slab of meat hanging from a hook over there even though ponies were herbivores. The meat was labelled “beef”, which made even less sense, since as far as Octavia was aware, cows were herbivores also.

The place was empty, but big enough to fit a dozen ponies, because if the Pianissimos were good at something, it was at wasting space. There were multiple counters, each one of them with stoves. Kitchen appliances—pans, pots, the odd misplaced saucer, another slab of meat, what was up with that seriously—hung slightly above eye level all around.

Octavia was the first one who managed to get her voice back. “My,” she said. “We made it!”

Vinyl was wide-eyed, laying on her back—Octavia on top—and staring into space. Her muzzle was red. “I think I broke my face.”

“That was way more exciting that I thought it would be! And also terrifying. I almost died! Let’s never do it again?”

“I’m with you. Is my face broken?”

Octavia looked. Vinyl’s glasses had flown away, and her eyes were bare. “Not from here,” she said. “You look as handsome as ever! Shame about that mane. Let’s move on now!” She nudged Vinyl and pulled her to the side, trying to roll around—but they just slid in place. The olive oil was too slippery to roll; not enough traction. “Oh. Uh-oh.”

Vinyl was still staring into space. “Hmm?”

“I think we need to get the oil out.” Octavia frowned, smelled her own shoulder. Nice fragrance, at least. “We can’t roll like—” she looked at Vinyl—“oh my gosh! Vinyl, your face! It looks terrible!”

“What?!” Vinyl blinked, and stared at Octavia now. “You just said it was okay!”

“Yes, but it got worse! It’s so red! It doesn’t fit you at all.” Octavia kept on hugging Vinyl with just one hoof—they were laying on their side—and caressed Vinyl’s nuzzle with the other; Vinyl flinched. “What happened? Did you land on it?”

“Uh. Yeah?” Vinyl blinked, then frowned at Octavia. “Oh, Celestia. I’m starting to taste colors. Everything else seems fine, though. You okay?”

“I am! Thank you for worrying.”

“Nothing broken?”

“Not at all! Your face broke my fall.” Octavia then rolled—struggled a bit; the oil made it almost impossible—until she was on top, and then looked around, ears perked up high. “Let’s see if we can find some ice to stop the swelling! This is a kitchen, that—uh.”

Vinyl was trying to look at her own muzzle. It still hurt. “Ice would be nice. Also, I’ve been meaning to ask for a while—is my mane really that bad?”

Octavia’s ears went flat against her head, and she swallowed. “Um. Vinyl?”

“Like, I was going for a bit of an eclectic feeling, but if it really looks that terrible, I’ve been looking into red dyes lately? And there’s a surprising amount of things you can do if you don’t mind looking like your entire head is bleeding, it’s pretty neat.”

“Vinyl, we have a, uh, a little bit of a problem?”

Something in Octavia’s voice made Vinyl focus. She tensed up, and immediately forgot all about the pain. “What,” she said. She tried to roll around to be on top, but they just slipped around for a couple seconds until she gave up. “What? What is going on?”

Octavia pointed with her head towards the left side of the room. “There seems to be a hydra there.”


Slowly, Vinyl turned around and managed to get a look in the direction Octavia was facing.

“Huh,” she said. “There is.”

They looked at the hydra.

The hydra, standing right next to a giant hole in the wall that it had made itself, probably, stared back at then.

And Octavia lowered her head and whispered: “Just to make sure—are we in mortal danger now?”

Vinyl nodded. “Hmm-hm. Start screaming.”

“Right. Of course.” And then Octavia cleared her throat with a cough. “Ahem. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”



The hydra charged, smashing anything that stood in its way.

Pinkie Pie was an interesting character, but she wasn’t that hard to figure out when you got to it. Vinyl Scratch would always put it this way—if you want to understand Pinkie, you need to look at how she moves around:

She doesn’t walk.

She skibbity bops.

It takes twice as much effort and it is half as efficient as using her legs like Nature intended. But Pinkie is too busy having fun to give a single hoot, and she gets to the place where she wanted to be anyway. So, who cares, really?

All this to say: at the moment, Pinkie was supposed to be protecting Canterlot Castle from any wandering hydras. She tackled this task by absolutely ignoring her orders and doing a beeline towards the pastry because she kinda felt like eating cake. She was about to open the small door that led to the cake depository when she heard something strange, coming from the kitchens.

In order:

Bite sound.


Wet sound.




And then roaring.


So that was weird enough to make Pinkie Pie arch an eyebrow by itself. But, and this was the super duper weird part, once the roaring was done, the cycle started all over again.





Bite sound, wet sound, screaming, roaring. And then, of course, a third time, for luck:




So Pinkie, having absolutely no idea what the words “self-preservation” meant, immediately opened the kitchen doors with a kick and a huge grin on her face, and she yelled:

“Hi there! What’s going on? I’m Pinkie Pie!”

And then she saw what was going on.

So what Pinkie found at the kitchens was—of course—Vinyl, Octavia, and the hydra. More specifically, she witnessed the single most miserable struggle any of those three characters had ever lived through, which had been going on for the last five minute or so.

In order:

The two ponies screamed.


And the hydra, of course, roared.


Then it threw itself at Vinyl and Octavia and tried to bite them in half.


But the hydra was a total idiot and hadn’t noticed that the two ponies were covered head to toe with olive oil—and a lot of saliva too—and so they were so slippery they slithered out of the jaws at the slightest amount of pressure.


Then the two ponies started screaming again.


And then Pinkie had opened the door.

This caused everybody to stop screaming for once, and silence fell on the kitchen. The echoes of the screaming vanished little by little, and the hydra—stupid as it was—turned every single one of its faces towards the door and the pony in there.

A pony that didn’t look like it would slither out of its mouths if it tried to bite at it.

“Oh. Hahah. Whoops.” Pinkie looked at the hydra, head cocked to the side, huge grin still on her face. “Now I’m going to die.”

“PINKIE!” Vinyl Scratch’s voice came from the other side of the room—not as much a word as a screech, but it still managed to carry meaning. “RUN! RUN!

“Hi, Vinyl!” Pinkie looked at her friend and waved a hoof in the air up high. “Didn’t think I’d see you here! How’s it going?”


“Oh right there’s a hydra here too. Hi, Mister hydra!”


The hydra charged at Pinkie Pie.


“I don’t know! I probably should.” Then something off the side caught Pinkie’s eye, and both her ears perked up. “Oh, wow. Is that a whole bag of cinnamon?”


“It is! Look!”

Pinkie grabbed the bag and held it above her head, a good ten kilograms of pure ground cinnamon. The hydra tried to eat Pinkie.


The hydra missed.


And bit the entire bag of cinnamon powder instead.


“Ah.” Pinkie just stood there, looking at one of the hydra’s four heads suffocate amongst a cloud of brown lethal deliciousness. “You probably shouldn’t swallow cinnamon like that. It’s really bad for your throat!”


And Pinkie blinked. “Oh, hey, you guys are okay? That’s so cool! I guess having four heads has its advant—IS THAT THREE WHOLE BAGS OF CINNAMON?!

By the time Octavia and Vinyl managed to catch their breath and try—and fail—to roll their way to Pinkie, the hydra was rolling on the ground, blind, deaf, tearing up, gasping for breath, and begging for mercy.

“That was fun! I like how I didn’t die in the end.” Pinkie gave it a single customary look and then walked away, her eyes as sparkly as ever. “Hi, Vinyl! Hi, Octavia!”

“Uh. Hi.”

“Hello, Pinkie Pie.” Octavia was panting, her coat was a mess, her mane was a disgrace, but she still maintained an air of quiet dignity—and when she looked at Pinkie, she looked genuinely happy. “I am so very glad to see you here.”

“So am I! I think I just saved your lives, too.” Pinkie trotted towards the two ponies, as they were clearly not gaining much ground in their struggle to roll around, and grinned. “So what are you doing here?” She stopped mid-trot and looked at them. “Wait. What are you covered in?”

“Oh, this?” Octavia let out a shy chuckle. “It’s olive oil! Very unpleasant, although it does smell nice.”

“Hahah. It does! Wait.” Pinkie frowned. “You’re covered in oil? And you’re hugging? Why would you—gasp!” She took a step back and pressed a hoof against her chest, eyes wide. “Oh, no! Am I interrupting something?!

“You’re not.”

“You’re super not.”

“Because Rarity told me that if I keep interrupting somethings, she’s going to have,” Pinkie shuddered, and spoke the next three words with horrified reverence: “a Little Talk with me!”


Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Was that supposed to sound ominous?”

“I have no idea.”

“I get the feeling that was supposed to sound ominous.”

“You have no idea how bad are Rarity’s Little Talks!” Pinkie whined, jumping in place but in a very nervous-not-quite-happy way. “They’re terrible! She’s been practicing with Sweetie Belle for years! And Sweetie Belle is actually little herself!

Another pause.

Octavia looked at Vinyl again. “I have no idea who or what Sweetie Belle is. What is she talking about?”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow, but she looked more bemused than annoyed. “It’s cute how you think I can understand Pinkie Pie.”

“Thank you!” Octavia said. “That is a nice thing to say.” Then she cocked her head to the side. “But I thought you knew each other?”

“We do!” Vinyl said, nodding. “We totally do. It’s still cute how you think I can understand Pinkie Pie.” Then Vinyl tried to roll around—again: olive oil, not happening—and with some effort managed to make herself face Pinkie Pie while keeping Octavia close to her chest. “You can’t really live in Ponyville without knowing Pinkie Pie. Premier party pony, and all that? She’s been throwing me birthday parties for the last five years.”

“That’s right!” Pinkie said, winking at them.

“Even though I never actually, you know. Asked?”

“That’s double right!” Pinkie said. Then she lost her grin and went back to looking scared. “Seriously though, please don’t tell Rarity I interrupted something again? She’s not going to forgive me after what I did to the Cakes.”

“We won’t!” Octavia said. “Also, you didn’t interrupt anything, actually. So Rarity is not going to have a Talk with you. Little or Not!”

Pinkie gave them the puppy eyes. “She’s not?” she asked.

Vinyl rolled her eyes. “No, Pinkie, she’s n—” She blinked. “Well. Actually, you’re you? So, like, statistically she’s totally going to yell at you at some point.”

“Vinyl!” Octavia immediately inched closer to Vinyl and managed to do that thing where you whisper and you yell at the same time. “I understand Pinkie Pie can be awfully obnoxious, but she just saved our lives!”

“Look, do you want me to be nice to her, or do you want me to be honest.”

“I want you to be nice!” Octavia hush-yelled. “And she’s right there! If you don’t whisper, she can hear you!”

“Hahah. You’re like five feet away from me. I can hear when you whisper like that, too.” Pinkie stopped with the puppy eyes and sat down on the floor, right next to them. “But as long as you’re not telling Rarity, I’m okay with it! Good friends aren’t really honest anyway. That’s why we like Rarity.” Pause. “Don’t tell Applejack, though. So what are you two doing here? I didn’t know you knew each other!”


“Also why are you covered in olive oil? Or hugging?”

“We literally just met this morning,” Vinyl said, shrugging at Pinkie. “Not really part of the same crowd. And we’re hugging because of an extremely long, extremely stupid story that involves Princess Luna.”

Pinkie Pie nodded. “That sounds likely! She’s super duper maladjusted to society. ”

“Sure is, we almost died. So.” Vinyl then looked at Octavia. “You two do know each other, then? She’s called you by your name a couple times.”

“We do!” Octavia said. “It is pretty hard to live in Canterlot without knowing Pinkie Pie. She keeps saving the city! Or burning it down.”

“Or both!” added Pinkie.

“Or both!” Octavia agreed, nodding. “It never ceases to be terrible. She also organised my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary!”

“Huh.” Vinyl frowned. “Did you ask her to do that, by any chance?”

“Hmm?” Octavia blinked. “Uh. I did not, actually! She just showed up one day and did it by herself?”

Pause. Both Vinyl and Octavia looked at Pinkie.

Pinkie beamed. “I’m so good at my job!”

“You are!”

“You super are.”



The doors to the kitchens opened with a deafening blast of purple light, and Princess Twilight Sparkle dashed into the room with the speed of somepony who was clearly born without wings, but is not going to let that stop her. She made it to the pink pony in less than three seconds, and barely sprawled herself all over the floor.

“Pinkie!” she repeated, gasping. “Pinkie Pie!”

Pinkie waved. She was working on one of the cooking stations, rolling something massive over a huge mountain of flour. “Hi, Twilight!” she said.

“Are you okay?! Fluttershy told me there were two hydras, and there are monsters everywhere, and we lost track of you and—uh.” Twilight stood up, blinked, and looked at the other side of the room. “Is… Is that a hydra over there?”

“Yes!” Pinkie said. “It tried to eat me!”

“And it’s… suffocating?”

“Yeah! It tried to eat me!”


Twilight fixed her mane and looked at Pinkie, relieved smile on her face. “You know what? I count that as an explanation. I’m glad you’re okay, Pinkie Pie. You had me worried. You also probably left your post even though we’re at war, by the way.”

“Sure did! And, aaaaw.” Pinkie gave Twilight a sweet look. “Thank you for being worried!” She kept on rolling that giant flour thing, which was big enough to taint her hooves completely white, and then she scooped up a tiny bit and put it in her mouth. “Yuck.” She pursed her lips. “This tastes horrible.”

Twilight sighed. “Pinkie, what are you doing here?”


“That’s not what I’m asking.”

“It’s what I’m answering, though!” Pinkie produced two shakers from her mane and sprinkled some generous amounts of salt and pepper on the batter before taking some more and tasting it. “Oooh, much better.”


“What? I’m helping Vinyl and Octavia!” Pinkie tapped the roll of flour twice. “Say hi, girls!”

Twilight blinked. “What?”

And the roll of flour suddenly moved, and shifted, and turned around to face Twilight. It had two faces.

“Hello!” Octavia said.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Vinyl said. “And this is exactly as stupid as it looks.”

“They were covered in olive oil!” Pinkie chirped above them, throwing some more flour on top of the two ponies. “So I’m helping them!”

A moment of silence. The sound of the hydra choking over the other side of the room was the only thing they could hear—and then something exploded outside, and the Castle shook again.

Twilight simply looked at Vinyl and Octavia, who by now looked like a really strange cannoli, and then at Pinkie. “Pinkie Pie,” she said, voice perfectly calm.


“Are you interrupting something again.”

“No!” Pinkie’s voice immediately rose two octaves and her eyes went wide. “No no no no no! I’m not!

“Because you know the rules. If you interrupt something, I’m calling Rarity. And she is not in a good mood lately.”


“Ahem!” Octavia didn’t cough, she literally said the word ‘ahem’. Her mane was a single clump of wet flour that framed her face and made her look like a sentient pastry. “Your Highness? Princess Twilight?”

Twilight looked at Octavia, apologies all over her face. “Yes, yes, I know,” she said, flashing her horn and floating Pinkie away from the working station and towards her. “We’ll be leaving now so you can continue doing… Whatever this is. I’m not judging!” Then she forced a smile and floated Pinkie even closer. “We’re leaving now.”

“Twilight, noooo! Aaaaaaah!”

“No! No, no, there’s nothing to apologize for! Or to judge. Well, maybe Vinyl’s aesthetic inclinations. But that’s beside the point!” Octavia wiggled around, although it was hard to move while covered in flour like that. “Pinkie Pie did not interrupt anything! Princess Luna played a prank on us and—”

“There’s a bomb strapped to us!” Vinyl yelled from under Octavia. “If we stop hugging at any point for the next seven hours, it will explode!


And then Twilight Sparkle took a step back, business all over her face, and she simply looked at Pinkie and arched an eyebrow. “A bomb,” she said. “They’re strapped to a bomb?”

“And they came here covered in olive oil! They were fighting a hydra.”

A flash of Twilight’s horn, and Pinkie fell to the ground. Twilight still looked serious. “They were fighting a hydra and they’re strapped to a bomb. Right. Chosen Ones?”

“Chosen Ones!” Pinkie chirped. “The one under Octavia is Vinyl Scratch!”

“Oh, is she?” Twilight flashed her horn again, and the Vinyl-Octavia cannoli started floating in midair. Flour fell down from them like snow, only less pretty, and Twilight took a good look. “Ah,” she said then. “She is. Good morning, Vinyl Scratch.”

Vinyl looked exactly as amused as one would expect her to look. “Twilight.”

“Running from Destiny again, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Twilight.”

“That explains a couple of things. Okay!” Twilight then sighed, and she sat down on the floor next to Vinyl and Octavia. Behind her, Pinkie did the same. “Canterlot is under attack, but hydras are easy. I don’t know if we can shoot a bomb with friendship. What’s exactly going on?”

“…And then Pinkie Pie said, the best way to take olive oil off is with flour!” Octavia said. “And then she just dumped us on the cooking station and started, uh. Kneading us?”

“Mind you, she never asked for permission.” Vinyl had her glasses on again, and they hid most of her face, but it was still pretty clear she was glaring at Pinkie. “She literally just started kneading us like that and then laughed a lot.”

“It was really kind on her part!”

“It was terrifying and has literally done nothing but worsen our situation.”

“That’s right!” Pinkie Pie said. They were all sitting—or lying—on the floor, but Pinkie got up with a hefty bounce at this point. “But now I can do this!” And she got closer to Vinyl and Octavia and pawed some of the clumpy flour off. It peeled away seamlessly. “See? Oil and flour off!”

Twilight frowned. The bags under her eyes looked darker than ever at that moment. “Pinkie,” she said, sounding tired. “You could have used soap.”

“But this is much more fun!” Pinkie licked the bit of flour she had pawed off, and grinned. “And the flavor’s perfect, too! You can’t get that with soap.”

“That’s not—”

“Ah!” Pinkie’s ears perked up, and she looked to the right. “Wait! Mister Coughie is getting up!”

Twilight blinked. “What?”

“The hydra!” Pinkie pointed at the hydra at the other side of the room. “I call him Mister Coughie. And he’s getting better!” She pointed at Vinyl and Octavia. “Peel the flour off. They’ll be squeaky clean in no time! Meanwhile I’m going to force some more cinnamon down Mister Coughie’s throats.”

And Pinkie left.

Octavia, Vinyl, and Twilight all watcher her go in silence.

“…Your Highness?” Octavia finally said.

“Twilight is fine.”

“Good! I can’t stand formalities..” Pause. In the background, Pinkie Pie was laughing and the hydra was suffering. Octavia talked again: “So. Twilight?”


“What is Pinkie Pie doing?”

“I have no idea, but she took care of that hydra all on her own, so who am I to judge?” Then Twilight shrugged, got up, and flashed her magic. Vinyl and Octavia went up in the air. “Close your eyes just in case,” she said as she did this. “There’s a lot of pepper in that flour and I wouldn’t want you to go blind by accident. And, Vinyl Scratch?”

Vinyl didn’t need to close her eyes, since her shades were big enough to protect them—which gave her ample room to look at Twilight with perfectly innocent eyes. “Yes?”

“I can’t say I was expecting you to be a Chosen One again so soon.” Twilight started peeling off the flour off them. “But on the other hand, this does explain why Applejack and Rainbow Dash are rediscovering the meaning of friendship for the fourth time in a row.”

Vinyl and Octavia were floating at an angle so they could both look at Twilight, which meant that Octavia got a perfect first-row sight at just how hard Vinyl flinched at this comment. “Oof,” she said. “Right. Did Destiny force the call on you guys?”

“Sure did.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean that to happen.”

“Um.” Octavia leaned slightly closer to Vinyl and whispered in her ear. Her breath tickled. “I was under the impression this was literally the plan? Do not answer the obvious call to adventure and let the Elements of Harmony deal with the catastrophic aftermath?”

“Yes, that’s the plan,” Vinyl whispered back. “But I am lying, see.”


“Heroes don’t mind doing your dirty work for you as long as you make it look like an accident. I’m just playing with her.”

“I see! That is very clever!”

Twilight was arching an eyebrow, hard. “You guys do realize I’m five feet away from you and I can hear everything you’re whispering, right?”

“We’re aware!”

“We’re super aware.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh, great. You get along. Hold on tight, please.” Then light surrounded her horn, and Vinyl and Octavia felt themselves rise and twirl in midair as Twilight peeled off the flour in bigger chunks. “Huh,” she said. “This is pretty effective.”

“Hi!” Pinkie Pie made it back to them and sat down next to Twilight, content smile on her face. “I’m back! Coughie ate the cinnamon again. I think he’s starting to like me! That, or he’s given up hope already. Either way, good news!” She then poked Twilight on the side. “What are we talking about?”

“They’re the Chosen Ones but they’re forcing us to do their job,” Twilight said. Peeling Vinyl and Octavia felt and looked like peeling a giant, oddly-shaped, sentient orange—but it was also oddly satisfying. “Also, the flour actually worked!”

“Of course!” Pinkie said. “This is just like cooking but without a fire. And they’re not saving the world, huh?” Pinkie rubbed her chin. “That does sound like Vinyl Scratch.”

“It really does.” Twilight kept on peeling, but took a moment to give Vinyl a meaningful look. “Dash and Applejack are butting heads, so I guess that part of what Destiny had in mind for you two was that you would rediscover the true meaning of friendship.”

“Ooooh.” Pinkie nodded. “That’s a classic!”

“It doesn’t seem like you two are having any problem in that regard, though. What’s exactly your relationship at this point?”

And Vinyl blinked. She looked at Octavia. “Uuuuuh…”

“We are casual acquaintances!” Octavia said, after looking right back at Vinyl. “We had a rocky start because I insulted her mane and she called me an inbred. But then she gently lifted my tail and gave me a massage—”

We get along,” Vinyl interrupted, words harsh. “We get along fine, yes.

Twilight flashed her horn one last time, and Vinyl and Octavia were lowered to the ground once and for all. They looked rather messy, but no trace of olive oil or flour left in them. “Right,” she said. “On the one hoof, annoying as it is, this might mean that the key to defeating the hydras is just friendship again. Which is good news!”

“It is!” Pinkie said. She grabbed the salt and pepper shakers and stuffed them back in her mane. “We are really good at friendship!”

“We really are. On the other hoof…” Twilight blinked really hard and suppressed a yawn before continuing. “There’s the whole bomb business, and I have no idea what that’s about, or why Princess Luna would force that on you of all ponies.” She was looking at Vinyl when she said this.

Vinyl noticed this, so she replied. “Princess Celestia’s idea, apparently.” Her tone was bitter. “Ask her.”

“I will, once I see her. But still—why? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Octavia had also noticed the strange looks Vinyl had been getting, so she was frowning. Still, when she talked, her voice sounded normal. “Because we’re the Chosen Ones!” she said. “That’s why we almost died twice in an hour.”

“Thrice,” Vinyl said.


“I’m counting the dumbwaiter.”

Twilight waved a hoof in the air. “Yes, sure, you’re the Chosen Ones this time—but why? It’s not like Destiny can pick whoever. The Chosen Ones are always special.” Twilight pointed at Pinkie and herself. “The only reason why we keep getting selected is because we’re actually a pretty well-balanced group, so we fit most archetypes.”

Pinkie nodded, big smile on. “Yeah! I’m the oddball who never learns anything!”

“No, no.” Twilight shook her head, and tapped Pinkie’s hoof. “You’re the oddball who never needs to learn anything.”

“Ah.” Pinkie blinked. “Aaaah. Then who’s the one who never learns?”



“Yeah. And, you two.” Twilight went back to looking at Octavia and Vinyl. “You must have something special we’re not thinking about, something that only works if you’re friends. That’s why Applejack and Rainbow Dash are arguing, so they can make up later. But the bomb, and the dragon… Hmm.” She looked at Vinyl. “Have you tried disassembling that thing?”

“No can do,” Vinyl said. She lifted her shades. “A dragon named Labcoat made it, and he said it’s charged with dragonfire. The only alloy strong enough to support that kind of power is coltpixie gold, and I don’t know if you remember what happened at the Cowliphate…”

“Hmm.” Twilight squinted. “The rise of the coltpixies,” she said. “That explosion that blew up half the country? Was that the alloy?”

“Yes. We tried to disassemble their machine. Turns out, it was made of coltpixie gold. Not our brightest idea.” Vinyl took a deep sigh, and then put her shades on again. “The bomb works with a pressure plate that I assume has some kind of magical component. Knowing the coltpixies, the only way to disassemble it safely is with a stray of silver-salt, or enough Wendigo ice to cool off the mechanism and…”

The words died in her mouth.

Octavia was looking at her with eyes the size of plates.

“…And. Uh. Ah-hem.” Vinyl looked away, and fake-coughed. “Ah-hem.” Twice. “If, uh. If we try to touch the bomb, it, uh. It’ll go boom boom?”

Twilight looked at Vinyl, then at Octavia, and then at Vinyl again. A bit of a smirk made it to her face. “Yes,” she said. “It’ll go boom boom.”

“Vinyl?” Octavia was staring at Vinyl still, with that angel face of hers. “This feels significant!”

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“That is a lot of information about explosives I was not expecting from an electronic musician.”

No idea what you’re talking about.”

“All that matters is that we can’t disassemble the bomb.” Twilight spoke, and immediately, Octavia stopped paying attention to Vinyl. The Princess sounded exhausted. “If I had the time and the materials, I could give it a try, but right now I don’t think it’s safe.” Pause. “Also, there’s a war outside.”

“Oh, yeah!” Pinkie looked around. The Castle, as if on cue, shook slightly after something big hit one of the outer walls. “I forgot about that. Twilight, we need to find more cinnamon! It’s really important!”

And Twilight blinked, and looked at Pinkie. “We what?”

“To find more cinnamon!” Pinkie pointed at them. “I have a plan. We’ll give it to Mister Coughie!”

Twilight turned around to look at the suffocating hydra, blinked for a second time, and then: “Uh. Sure. Why not? Better than teaching Dash the value of honesty for the fourth time this week.” Then she got up, but before she walked to the hydra, she turned to Octavia and Vinyl one last time. “I’m sorry I can’t help with the bomb business, by the way.”

“No need to apologize!” Octavia immediately replied, ever-so-sweet. “Thank you very much for saving the world for us! We would really rather not.”

“I know. I’ve known Vinyl for a long time.”

Vinyl had an awkward smile, but she still looked back at Twilight. “We’ll just hide and wait this out. Bon is probably around, right? What with the hydras.”

“Probably? Also, uh...” Twilight frowned, and looked at Octavia before continuing. “I think A.K. Yearling is here too, in case you wanna see her?”

Octavia blinked. “A.K. Yearling?”

“Nah, I don’t wanna see, uh, Yearling,” Vinyl said. “But Bon? Maybe she can help me with the bomb.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage!” Pinkie said, giving Vinyl a wink. “But you should leave soon! Mister Coughie is getting better at choking. I think he can’t feel pain anymore.”

“Reassuring, Pinkie.”


“Wait.” Octavia squirmed a little, resting her chin on Vinyl’s shoulder to give Pinkie and Twilight a better look. “We’re leaving? Wouldn’t it be safer for us to stay near you?”

Twilight looked at Vinyl before answering. “…Not a great idea,” she said. “We could try to find you a good place to hide, but—”

“We’re all caught up in an adventure!” Pinkie chirped. “And Vinyl can’t get involved. Or else Destiny will grab her!”

“Oh!” Octavia frowned. “I… see? I think.”

“You’ll be safe, anyway,” Twilight said. “I promise. I mean, you have Vinyl with you. Go through that door and then through the corridor to the—”

“The Ballroom?” Octavia asked, ears perked up. “Right on top of the Throne Room? Good idea! That is the sturdiest part of the Castle! The walls being thicker in the west wing after all.”

“I—uh.” Twilight made a face. “What? How…?”

“Octavia Pianissimo,” Vinyl said. “Her family still has the blueprints.”

“What? Of the entire Castle?


“We actually put them up as decorations all through our house!” Octavia added, with not a subtle hint of glee to her voice.

And Twilight grimaced. “Ugh. I need to talk to the Princesses about tightening our national security.”

“You really do,” Vinyl said. “Thanks, Twilight.”

“Don’t mention it. And…” Twilight gave them a stern look. “This goes without saying? But don’t go rediscovering the true meaning of friendship while we’re not looking, you two. That would put all of our efforts to waste.”

And to this last point, Vinyl Scratch replied with a cocky grin, and a smug look, and as much swagger as she could put in her voice. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “I am absolutely sure that is not going to happen.”

Chapter Four – Fun to Be Around

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It’d been three hours since the bomb had entered their lives, and Vinyl and Octavia were having fun.

“Look,” Vinyl was saying, eyes hidden behind her shades. “I’m not defending the buying and selling of souls to the afterlife, okay? I get your complains. I’m just saying, it isn’t technically evil, when you get to it.”

Octavia was making that face of hers that was pretty but also annoying. “Vinyl.”

“Like, at worst it’s neutral. Completely out of the moral spectrum.”

“That sounds like an interesting argument!” Octavia said. She was still making the face. “It also sounds like you’re trying to fool me. Or maybe fool yourself. But that is an interesting argument!”

Vinyl pouted. “Oh, come on.”

“I am! I am coming on.” Octavia frowned. “And you’re talking about selling souls. To Hell! To literal Hell, Vinyl!”


“A place whose only purpose is to torture pony souls for all eternity!”

“Spiritual semantics.”

They were rolling down a massive corridor by the west wing of the Castle, slowly but surely getting closer to the Ballroom, as Twilight Sparkle had asked them to do.

A massive corridor, and this wasn’t an understatement—the thing was wider than Vinyl Scratch’s apartment and at least two or three stories high, a completely useless waste of space that served no other purpose than just being an extremely impressive corridor.

The floor was covered in a red fluffy carpet that made it easy to roll around, however, so that was nice. What wasn’t nice were the giant stained glass windows on the right wall, which didn’t depict any particular scene of the past because, as far as Vinyl was aware, the past wasn’t cubist in nature. They were just odd ugly geometric shapes that tinted sunlight with strange colors and made everything look terrible and gave you a headache.

They rattled loudly every time the Castle shook or something exploded outside. The sounds of war could be heard clearly through them.

Vinyl Scratch didn’t like that corridor at all.

“Really?” They were still rolling around—Octavia was driving, she was the one who knew the Castle by heart—but Octavia still managed to take a look around anyway. “I think it’s quite nice myself! Very modern.”

“Oh, did I say all that out—“

“You did! You did say it out loud.” Octavia then looked at Vinyl again with a frown. “But we were talking about selling souls.”

“Yes, right. Where were we?”

“I was calling you immoral! I make very good points.”

Vinyl nodded. It made hear head hurt even more, but she did it anyway. “Right, look—when you get to it, it’s just purchasing stuff, right? It’s a transaction, not that big a deal. Or, what?” And here Vinyl flashed her horn and lifted her glasses so she could give Octavia both a smirk and a smug look. “Is the literal billionaire going to complain about the ethical connotations of the free market, now?”

“Well!” Octavia lifted her chin in a dignified way. “First of all! That was a good smug look.”

Vinyl wagged her eyebrows. “Thanks.”

“I appreciate the craftsmanship of it. Second of all!” She lifted her chin even more and closed her eyes. “I am ridiculously wealthy indeed, Vinyl, yes—but I am also ridiculously aristocratic! And that one is much more indicative of my personality. I don’t know if I’ve brought it up before?”

“You might have hinted at it,” Vinyl said, putting her glasses on again. “I don’t get why you bring it up now, though. Like, what does that mean in this context?”

“Many things!” Octavia opened her eyes and smiled at Vinyl. “Like how I believe inheritances should never be taxed, and that any rich bourgeoise with no noble blood is a personal offense.” Pause. “It also means I care about my legacy a lot!”

“Ah. Right, and this bothers you because ponies are selling souls to—”

“Selling souls to Hell! Yes!” Octavia pouted. “That’s why it bothers me indeed! Why are you even defending this? I don’t get it.”

Vinyl thought about how to answer this. Eventually, she settled for the truth. “The Secret Service sells souls to Hell a lot as part of their job, to be honest. A friend of mine works in there, so…”

“Oh. Oh!” Octavia blinked. “A friend of yours? Well, that explains it all! You’re personally involved in the situation!” And here, even though they were rolling down that corridor, Octavia took a moment to stop and poke Vinyl’s forehead with her own. How she avoided the horn, Vinyl never knew. “I’m sorry for implying your friend was immoral. I didn’t mean to!”

“No, no, don’t worry, I get it. I didn’t take offense to that at all.”

Octavia beamed. “Good! Because to be honest what you just said just makes this whole thing even more concerning.”

Vinyl nodded. “That the Secret Service does it?”


“Yeah, I see your point. That’s a lot of responsibility for a government worker. It’s just really useful, though?” Vinyl shrugged. “You sell a couple souls and things get done for you. Sometimes it’s the only way they can finish a job. You can’t really blame them for that.”

Octavia frowned. “I can’t?”

“…I mean, you can, but—“

“Good! I’m so glad to hear that. I was blaming them already!” Octavia shook her head and then made Vinyl tilt to the side so they could roll around a corner. “But, I don’t get it. If they keep selling souls, then are they really working for the greater good? I don’t think good ponies work with Hell.”

“Yes, but damnation only gets you once you die. And hey, you can always sell souls to a slightly stronger demon so he frees the ones you sold to the old one, right? As long as you make sure everypony’s got their soul back before they die, you can keep the ball rolling. Especially if you’re good at haggling.”

“Interesting!” Octavia said. “Every single thing you said just made this even more disturbing! I didn’t know the souls were sold to demons.”

“They are.”

“How quaint! I’m absolutely terrified. How do you even sell a soul in the first place?”

“Well, if I remember it right, first you drink the blood of an innocent—”


And they stopped rolling.

“What?” It took Vinyl a couple moments to get her thoughts back in track, because she’d kind of gotten into the conversation. Now that they had stopped, the weird lights caused by those stupid stained windows—there was a particularly ugly one by their right now—she noticed that her headache was really bad, actually. So she blinked hard and looked around. “What is going on? Why did we sto—ah.”

And she saw it.

“Stairs?” Vinyl asked.

“Stairs,” Octavia answered.


Around a hundred steps, give or take. Really steep, really stony, and covered with the same red cushy carpet that covered the floor. It failed to make the steps look less sharp and dangerous, though—especially when you were laying right next to them, instead of looking at them from standing height.

This wasn’t as weird as it sounds. One must always remember that Canterlot Castle is a place with extremely high ceilings, to give it that regal decadent air that makes it such a work of art. Stairs were, then, both a necessity and stupidly dangerous if you were to fall down them.

“Yeah, you can say that again,” Vinyl said, letting out a low whistle as she checked the stairs. “This is, what, three stories worth of stairs all in one go?”

“Yes!” Octavia said. “Three stories exactly, in fact. They go all the way up!”

“How does that make any sense whatsoever though.”

“It’s faster this way! You can always climb down if you want to go to the second floor anyway.” Octavia then flattened her ears and looked at Vinyl, biting her lip. “That said, these stairs are rather steep, and we’re laying down. I am so sorry, Vinyl. I completely forgot about it! I was too distracted by almost dying.”

Vinyl was already opening her mouth to make a remark—and then she closed. “Ah,” she said instead. “True. Today’s been your first time almost dying, hasn’t it?”

“It has!”

“Yeah okay no reason to be ashamed then. Happens to everypony. By the fourth time you think you’re going to get murdered it gets easier, so look up to that.”

“I will!”

“Neat.” Vinyl nodded, took off her glasses, and looked at the stairs again. The headache was killing her. “From your reaction I’m taking this is the way to go?”

“It is! I am so sorry. If we want to go to the Ballroom, we need to climb these stairs.” Octavia nodded at them, and then at the corridor they had just rolled down from. “We could always turn left at the intersection! But then we’d end up at the West Library. And we would probably die!” Octavia pursed her lips. “And I’m not at my fourth time yet.”

“At this rate you will be before the sun goes down,” Vinyl mused. Then she looked where Octavia was glancing. “Why are we going to die if we go to the West Library, again?”

“Books are highly flammable!”

In the distance, something exploded. They could hear a monster screeching so hard the stained windows cracked slightly.

And Vinyl nodded. “Good point.”

“Thank you! It is a good point.”

Boy, we’re gonna get murdered today. Maybe this is Destiny trying to get back to me.” Vinyl sighed. Octavia was on top of her at the moment, so Vinyl rolled around until their positions were reversed and she could look at the stairs again. “Say,” she said, “how come the Ballroom is on the second floor? Shouldn’t it be down here?”

“Um. Not really!” Octavia said. She was looking at Vinyl with a bit of a strange face—call it concern, but maybe a bit less intense—which is why it had taken her a bit to reply. “The first floor has the Throne Room! And you can only have one massively oversized room per floor. Otherwise there’s no balance to the building!”

“Ah.” Vinyl clicked her tongue. “The Ballroom is immense too, of course.”

“Massively oversized, yes.”

“Any reason for that?”

“Practical? None! It even makes dancing more difficult, actually.”

“Charming.” Vinyl sighed again, and then flinched when her head throbbed. She grunted, took off her glasses, and rubbed one eye with a hoof while hugging Octavia with the other. “Ugh, this light is killing me. Doesn’t your head hurt?”

“Not really!” Octavia said. “Yours?”

“A lot.”

“All that brain damage from earlier?”


“I see,” Octavia said. “You should probably go see a doctor!”

Which was an absolutely reasonable thing to say, so Vinyl immediately grinned and said: “Naaah. No need to.” Then she swallowed, frowned, and focused on her horn. It started to glow. “We unicorns have this old party trick, see? I just build up some magic, and then I shake my head real hard…”

Vinyl was on top. Octavia was at the bottom.

Octavia had a really long mane. Elegant when standing up, sure, but this also meant that at any given moment during the hug, there was hair everywhere. Which to this point had never been a concern, but then Vinyl shook her head. She shook it really hard.

And she accidentally whipped some of Octavia’s hair away with her muzzle as she did so.

What she felt when doing that, she wouldn’t forget it soon. Octavia’s mane smelled like olive oil, like dirt and sweat, but also like cinnamon, and rosewater, and old wood. It smelled like Octavia.

It also smelled really, really strongly, of pepper.

And it went straight into Vinyl’s nose, who then did the one thing no unicorn should ever do when focusing a lot of magic in her horn:

She sneezed.


Explosions are a bit like music. You can read about them, you can study them, you can understand everything about them—but you need to experience it to get it.

The shockwave that sent Vinyl and Octavia flying—at speeds that until then only Rainbow Dash had achieved, since Rainbow Dash lacked the mental capacity to understand the abstract concept of death—came after a burst of flames and a booming sound so loud that they didn’t hear it as much as they felt it rattle inside their ear canal and make their brains dance the mamba.

And when the smoke cleared and the dust set, they found themselves hugging each other, trembling, and hanging from the banister by their literal teeth, halfway up the stairs that led to the Ballroom.

Vinyl’s head hurt too much to speak at first, so Octavia was the one who talked.

“Um.” She didn’t stop biting the banister while she said this, but her words came out perfectly clear—showing the skill of a race that’s been forced to manipulate stuff and talk at the same time for millennia, and yet still has not evolved thumbs. “Vinyl?”

Vinyl’s sunglasses had flown away during the explosion, so it was perfectly visible just how wide her eyes were when she looked at Octavia. “Yes?”

“What just happened?”

“Uh. I think I sneezed. I might have released all the magic at once by accid—”

“We almost died, didn’t we?”

“We super just almost died. Shock not settling in you yet?”

“Not really!”

“Yeah, that’s the fourth time almost dying for ya.” Vinyl gulped, and looked down. They were hanging from the banister—it was rather high—but their back legs almost touched the stairs under then. “Okay. On three, we let go of the banister, and for the love of Celestia try not to roll down the stairs after that?”

“That sounds both difficult and painful. I’m in!” Octavia smiled around the bannister. “One, two, three?”

They let go.

The stairs that led to the Ballroom were, again, extremely steep, and three stories high. Rolling down looked like a recipe for disaster—the kind where breaking every bone is your best case scenario—and just landing on them from a height of like three feet was enough to hurt Vinyl’s back pretty badly.

Which actually meant that the only reason they had survived the explosion had been because they had bitten the banister on instinct and stopped their fall. If they had actually landed on the stairs directly, that would have been it.

“And the bomb didn’t explode either!” Octavia tried to look between her chest and Vinyl’s, to check the metallic rectangle held between them, but she was unable to do so because that is not how anatomy works. Vinyl was on top, Octavia was underneath, so she had to look up. “How quaint.”

Vinyl made a face and looked around. They were laying on one of the steps now, a hundred-and-something steps up from the first floor, ninety-something down from the second floor. She groaned. “Bit too much for dumb luck if you ask me.”

“Even more quaint, then!”

“No.” Vinyl frowned. As she had no shades on whatsoever, Octavia could see that she looked both angry and kind of scared—her left eye winced shut, and despite the frown, her eyes were wide, showing a lot of white. “This more than quaint. This is terrible.” She gulped, and her breathing quickened. “Destiny is—HNNNG.”

Octavia stopped nuzzling her. “What? Sorry, I was distracted. You were saying?”

“Would you stop doing that already?!”

“Probably not!” Octavia did that thing where she smiled and closed her eyes at the same time and looked like an angel. “But don’t let me interrupt you! I believe you were saying everything is terrible and we’re going to die?”

“No.” Vinyl tried to spit the word, but to be completely honest she couldn’t quite pull it off. As annoying it was, the nuzzling—which had made her go stiff, because what is life without absolutely exaggerated reactions to mundane gestures, really—had calmed her down a little. Hard to have a panic attack when you’re busy getting the smell of cinnamon and rosewater away from your nose. “I fear we’re not going to die.”

Octavia beamed. “I see!”


“Also, it just registered you said you fear that we’re not dying! Which somehow only makes this situation even more terrifying.” Octavia couldn’t quite look around because she was under Vinyl, but she still tried. She looked downstairs, and let out a low whistle. “Oooh, we can’t roll down these. Not enough brain damage to think that’s a good idea.”

This made Vinyl raise both eyebrows. “Oh, you too, now?”

“I just survived an explosion! I have a horrible concussion.” Octavia tapped her forehead against Vinyl’s shoulder. “Knock knock! I have no idea how I’m still conscious.”

“Welcome to the authentic Vinyl Scratch experience, then! And I am so sorry.”

“Me too!”

Vinyl had to smile. “If we make it through this, tomorrow is going to be the worst day of our lives.”

“I absolutely believe you. We should be roommates at the hospital! It will be fun!” Octavia smiled back. “So what are you afraid of?”

And immediately, Vinyl’s expression clouded. Not too much; she had almost had a small crisis just thirty seconds ago or so, and she rather not do that again. So, she made a point to stay detached and avoid thinking too hard about it. “Well,” she said. “Just, think about it. The bomb not going off? Okay, we hugged tighter when I sneezed—”

“You exploded.”

“Let’s compromise and say I did both.” Vinyl rubbed Octavia’s back. “So we’re hugging and didn’t let go, okay. That makes sense. But, biting the banister? As we fall? Miraculously surviving by an inch of our lives? Do I even need to tell you what’s going on?”

Octavia thought about this. She looked at the banister, and the teeth marks they had left on it.

Funny thing, though—the banister was old wood, grey oak. Hard as a rock. Slapping it too hard could very well break your hoof, if Octavia remembered correctly, and it was still full of bite marks.

And their teeth didn’t hurt at all.

“Ah-hah.” Octavia looked at the banister, then at Vinyl, then at the banister. “Ah-hah-hah.” Back at Vinyl. “I have absolutely no idea what I’m looking at! Do you mind if I just say it’s quaint and then you tell me what’s going on?”

Vinyl nodded. “Sure.”

“But act as if you thought I knew what we’re talking about? I am very prideful about this kind of thing.”

“I’ve noticed! Is it, like, a noblepony thing or…?”

“Kind of!” Octavia beamed, showing all her teeth. It was quite nice. “Mostly it’s a me thing. Just, assume at all times that I already know everything you want me to know? But also tell me because I probably won’t.”

“Okay! Okay, we’re doing honesty now, I can live with that.” Vinyl looked at Octavia’s forehead and felt a smile tug at her mouth. “Concussion not treating you well?”

Octavia winked at her. “It is not! I am in terrible pain right now.”

“Yeah, happens to the best of us, nothing to be ashamed of.” Vinyl nodded, and looked at the banister. “So, anyway, yeah. That banister. We bit it just in time to avoid hitting the staircase, and also somehow the whiplash didn’t immediately break our spines.”

And Octavia looked at the banister again and put on a shocked, yet elegant expression. The face of a mare who knows what’s going on, but still lets her companion tell her in detail, probably for the companion’s sake. “My,” she said, voice rich with Canterlot accent. “How quaint.”

“Which should not be possible, right? Physically.” And Vinyl’s expression clouded, but only a little. She was resting her head on Octavia’s shoulder still, and she was not looking at the banister anymore. “But I guess Destiny doesn’t really play by the rules most of the time. You don’t have to, when you’re the one who made the game.”

Octavia paid close attention to Vinyl here, but her breath didn’t quicken and she didn’t seem to tremble at all. Octavia relaxed.

And then nuzzled Vinyl anyway, twisting her neck a little so she could reach her cheek.


“So!” Octavia went back to a normal position. “Destiny!”

Why do you keep doing that!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Octavia kept on hugging Vinyl with one hoof and used the other to pat her on the head. “Knock knock,” she said as she did it. “So! This is related to Destiny?”

“…Yes. It wanted us to be here, and so here we are. Who knows what’s going to happen now?” Vinyl snorted. “We’re the Chosen Ones again; I guess meeting with Twilight did get us involved in the whole ‘saving the world’ thing after all. Might as well just call her so she can get us out of here and go straight for Princess Celestia, because—”

“Hmm. Hmm!” Octavia hummed at such volume she managed to cut Vinyl’s words in half. When she saw that Vinyl was looking at her, then, Octavia made a small pout. “My back hurts a lot.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh. Sorry, what?”

“My back!” Octavia said, looking down at her. “My head is agony at the moment, so I didn’t notice it at first. But I think I might have dislocated something! Probably.”

“I hope not.” Vinyl frowned. “Dislocated somethings aren’t a joke.” Then she looked at herself—she was, after all, on top—and then squinted at Octavia. “…That was the fall that hurt your back, right?”


“Because, like, I’m not that heavy myself.”

And Octavia smiled at Vinyl. “You’re not! You’re, in fact, quite light. I am just very sensitive down there at the moment!”


“You’ve been very rough, see.”

“Right. You’re talking about your back, right.”

“Of course! Absolutely.” Octavia nodded. “But you’re not heavy at all! Just like me! We’re both very slender, how wonderful.” She patted Vinyl’s back, rubbed it a little to check it out. “You’re not particularly soft, either! As I said, very toned.”

“I work out.”

“It shows! Good for you.”



“You know, you can stop rubbing, like. Whenever. Feel free to.”

“I will! I will feel free to. Eventually. Anyway!” Octavia looked at Vinyl while her front hooves kept checking Vinyl’s back, because—and it’s interesting how she hadn’t really paid attention to this earlier, but then again, they had been rather busy—it was a muscular back. “Vinyl?”

Vinyl endured the rubbing with a rather stony expression. “Octavia.”

“How come Destiny got us if we’ve been refusing the call all this time?”

The rubbing never stopped at any moment whatsoever. Vinyl kept making sure not to make any weird face while talking, though it was hard to concentrate like this. “Uh.” She swallowed, took a small breath. “I mean—Destiny’s kind of sneaky like that. Just because you refuse the call doesn’t mean the call won’t find you. I told you, meeting with Twilight probably… She did say she couldn’t stay with us because we’d get involved, remember?”

“Hmm.” Then Octavia blinked. “Wait. Is the rubbing making you uncomfortable?”


“Because if it is, I can go back to nuzzling!”

“—Yeah, okay you know what just keep with the…” Pause. Blink. Vinyl felt a little bit of warmth around her overall face. “Octavia. Are. Are you lowering your hooves right now?”

“If you want me to!” Octavia said. “Do you want me to?”

Boy does that feel like a loaded question.”

“Well.” Octavia shrugged, and her face was still that of a mare who knows exactly what’s going on. “I suppose your gentle rubbing of my lower back really helped me relax earlier! So I’m just returning the favour.” Octavia reached. “Now let me gently lift your tail and—”

“Go back to nuzzling.”

“—And I’m back to nuzzling!” Octavia gave Vinyl another wink and stopped moving her hooves. “I just wanted to make you comfortable!”

“What an interesting way of doing that,” Vinyl muttered, trying to swallow down her blush. It didn’t really work. “I appreciate it, mind you, but… Why are you doing all this, again?”

“Because I think you need to be comfortable!”

“Uh-huh.” Vinyl nodded. “That explains nothing.”

“I want to ask you a question! And I think you need to be relaxed when I ask it, just in case. You’re pretty sensitive today, too.” Octavia said this with the kind of voice one uses to announce they’re going to the supermarket, do you want something. “And this one is loaded!”

Vinyl nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“The one about me lowering my hooves was also loaded, by the way.”

“I know.”

“I was trying to do a thing!

“I’m aware.” Vinyl arched an eyebrow. “Are you going to ask your question now, or…?”

“I am! I absolutely am.” Octavia patted Vinyl’s head again. “Say. You do know a lot about explosives! And Destiny. And saving the world. Which is a bit strange?”

Vinyl felt her pulse quicken. Octavia felt it, too—such is the power of a hug sometimes. “Uh. Well—”

“And you said it was because you live in Ponyville, and you’re used to saving the world. That makes sense!” Octavia nodded to herself. “But I have also noticed you react in a very particular way when talking about Destiny? And I just realized, I don’t really know anything about you!”

“We’ve known each other for like, not even four hours. We get along, but it’s not like—”

“Vinyl Scratch.” Octavia was absolutely ignoring everything Vinyl said. She even spoke louder than necessary to drown her words. “Who are you?”


Vinyl bit her lip. “Uh—”

“Or what are you, rather. Aside from a pony! And a musician.” Octavia looked at Vinyl’s mane. “And tacky. Say, how come the olive oil did not heal your mane in the slightest? It’s usually wonderful for taking care of hair that’s been damaged by dye.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh.” She looked up at her own mane, and moved her tail side to side. “I… don’t dye it?”

“What? What.”

“This is my natural color, Octavia.”

In the distance, something exploded. War went on outside the Castle.

The staircase shook slightly.

Then suddenly Octavia squeezed Vinyl so hard that Vinyl felt her ribs make a very particular noise, and lost the ability to breathe. “Dear Celestia,” Octavia whispered, and the passion in those two words would have set an entire forest on fire. “I am so sorry to hear this, Vinyl.

“You know.” Vinyl was having trouble breathing. She quickly patted Octavia’s back, but Octavia didn’t let go. “That is actually really insulting.

“I know, and I am so sorry you have to be this way. Nopony deserves that.” Octavia stopped squeezing and then looked straight into Vinyl’s eyes. And Vinyl wasn’t wearing any shades anymore—so she received the full Octavia beam without any protection. “But seriously, what are you? I know nothing of you! And I don’t believe my parents would approve.”

Vinyl could breathe now, and she celebrated this by coughing a lot and feeling terrible. “Agh. Your what now?” She grimaced. “Your parents? Why do your parents need to approve of me, again?”

“Well, we have been hugging for the last four hours. I despise formalities, but even I like to show some decorum!”

Vinyl looked away, still short of breath. “I—”

“Ah, and remember.” Octavia was chipper, but her words had a little more weight than usual now. “We’re being honest now! You said that yourself, they’re your words, they’re legally binding.”

“They super are not.”

“They are! I’m an aristocrat, I know all about unfair contracts, social or not.” Octavia arched an eyebrow and stared at Vinyl. “So?”


Many things went through Vinyl’s mind at the moment. Her first instinct was to either lie or tell a half-truth—it was the easy way out and it would probably suffice.

But, and she discovered this without much surprise, she didn’t really want to do that. She had already revealed enough State secrets to Octavia already, so this was somewhat justified—but there was more to it.

All in all, the truth was: when Vinyl had seen Octavia for the first time, she had not liked what she’d seen. But once they’d started talking, Vinyl had discovered she kind of liked this mare. She was fun to be around. She was cool to talk to.

They had been hugging each other for three hours and a half. Not holding each other. Hugging each other.

And hugs are not to be taken lightly.

So Vinyl Scratch said the truth.

“So,” she said. “I kind of lied to you earlier, sorry.” She did not look at Octavia when saying this. She just rested her head on Octavia’s shoulder. “You were right.”

Octavia blinked. “Beg your pardon?”

“Then beg. Remember when I lost my shades in the dungeons? And you called them sunglasses?” Vinyl nodded. “Yeah. They are sunglasses. They aren’t shades actually.”


Octavia squinted. “Is… Is that supposed to be ominous?”

“It super is.”

“I have no idea why that’s supposed to be ominous.”

Vinyl nodded. Then she arched an eyebrow. “Want me to just pretend that you know while I tell you anyway?”

Octavia smiled with relief. “Thank you very much!”

“Right.” Vinyl kept on talking with the same tone, the one that’s used to say, I am your father, or the like. “Okay so, as you already know, I made, like, a big deal out of it? The whole calling them ‘shades’ and not ‘sunglasses’?”

“I do! I do remember it.” Octavia nodded. “You were being silly and calling me an inbred. But in a good way!”

“You know what, we’ve talked so much about my mane that I think you’ve earned that. So, yeah, I was calling you an inbred. But!” Vinyl shot Octavia a glance, finally. “Remember why I made a big deal out of it?”

“I do! I think it was because you said sunglasses are only for members of the—”

Octavia gasped.

An explosion in the distance.

Vinyl snuggled against her shoulder a bit harder.

“Oh.” Octavia said, her voice soft. “Right. I suppose that explains some things.”

“Yeah.” Vinyl peeked up, just for a moment, just to make eye contact as she spoke before going back to snuggling again. “Up until two years ago, I was a member of the Equestrian Secret Service.”

“Okay!” Several minutes had passed, but Vinyl and Octavia hadn’t moved much, out of fear of breaking every bone in their bodies if they rolled down the stairs. However, Vinyl had relaxed considerably; now she wasn’t hugging Octavia as much as she was just laying on top of her, head snuggled against Octavia’s shoulder. “Okay. So you’re a secret agent.”

“Ex-secret agent. I dropped off the Service.”


“Also, I can call Twilight any time. Like, we don’t have to stay here.” Vinyl didn’t bother unsnuggling from Octavia, but she did move her head a little to poke her shoulder with her horn. “Just, shoot some fireworks with her cutie mark or something and I’m sure she’ll come here.”

“Any moment now! Any moment now.” Octavia nodded, looking up rather than at Vinyl, but patting her head nonetheless as she talked. “I need a little bit of time to process this, right? Concussion and all.”

“Oh, yeah, true.”

“It is true! And I am so glad you understand this point. I knew your brain damage would prove itself useful someday.” Octavia too a deep breath, and patted Vinyl’s head again. “So, you were a Secret Agent!”

“I was.”

“And that’s why you know about explosives and Destiny. I see!” Octavia squinted, still looking up. “Also why you know about selling souls, I’m guessing? Because you’ve sold some yourself?”

Vinyl was at such a state of giving up that she just shrugged and snuggled harder. “You got it, girl,” she said. “All cards on the table, who cares anyway. I’ve sold so many souls to Hell, Octavia.”

“Wonderful!” Octavia’s voice was sweet like a cherry and fresh like peppermint ice-cream. “Wonderful. That is absolutely horrifying!”

“Hey, we’re technically not damning anypony unless we mess up, so—”

“I’m an aristocrat and you’re an ex-government worker, Vinyl. Take it as a compliment.”

“Right, yes. Right.” Vinyl nodded, frowning a little. “Good point. So anyway, yeah! Full disclosure here. Please don’t tell the princesses I’ve told you any of this, because I will not survive jail.”

“You will not!” Octavia chirped. “I’ve heard it’s a really nasty place.”

“Although when you get to it, I mean.” Vinyl was still frowning, and her voice got a little bit more confident. “It’s kind of their fault? They’re the ones who forgot the memory-wiping protocols.”

Octavia nodded. “Exactly! They’re the on—the memory-what?”

“So like, if they let an ex-secret agent out with tons of sensitive information, it’s kind of their fault? How am I not going to share this. I’ve already demonstrated I’m not cut out to be a secret agent, why would I be cut to protect the safety of—”

“Vinyl? Vinyl.” Octavia stopped looking at the ceiling and then looked down at Vinyl, snuggled against her shoulder. “Did you just talk about memory wiping?”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow and looked at Octavia, too. This meant she wasn't snuggling against anything anymore, but she still looked rather relaxed. “Yeah.”

“I see!”

“Horrifying also, huh.”

“Absolutely! I’m so glad you catch up to my train of thought this fast, it’s really reassuring. So! The government is able to wipe memories out. That sounds morally reprehensible!”

Vinyl shrugged. “Octavia, why do you think it’s called Secret.”

“I was under the impression they tried to avoid being seen!”

“Well, yeah, but, I mean. You’ve seen how good we are on average at trying to protect our homeland.” Vinyl made a broad gesture with her hoof. “Like, as a species.”

Just as Vinyl said that, a monster roared in the background, and the stained windows by their right rattled.

“I see! I suppose that is an explanation.” Octavia stopped hugging Vinyl for a moment to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “For a moment, I thought we were actually dealing with a scary situation! But ineptitude? I can live with that!” She gave Vinyl a reassuring squeeze. “How do you even wipe the memories anyway?”

Vinyl bit her lip. “You’re not gonna like it.”

Octavia cocked her head to the side. “Oh? How come?”


“Well, see.” Vinyl put on a professional tone, like that of a schoolteacher explaining the birds and the bees. “First, you drink the blood of an innocent, and then—”



“You sell the soul of a pony to wipe their memories out? That’s almost as bad as literally everything else that’s been said in this conversation so far!” Octavia’s eyes went wide. “And that’s a bold claim to make!”

“Hey, if it helps, you don’t have to sell the soul of the pony whose memory you’re wiping.”

“Oh! That does help—”

“Usually you sell the soul of a completely unrelated, yet perfectly innocent pony instead.”

“—Never mind! Never mind. That does not help, and I am probably going to have nightmares now. At least you dropped out! That’s good. That’s really good!”

“If it helps? You probably won’t have any nightmares!” Vinyl snuggled against Octavia’s shoulder again. She was so relaxed even her ears went flat against her head, and her tail was waggling slightly. “I don’t think you’ll have enough energy left to dream by the time you hit the bed. Concussion and all.” Vinyl gently tapped Octavia’s shoulder with the side of her head. “Knock, knock.”

“Oh, true! I’ve got a debilitating injury. I forgot about that!” Octavia snuggled Vinyl back, curling up as much as she could without letting the bomb go off. “Honestly, at this point that’s almost good news. I can probably rationalize this as me hallucinating the whole thing!”

“And that’s your better option here?”

“It’s either that or acknowledging that I live in a dystopia and I’ve never noticed!” Octavia said. “Admittedly, I’m from the higher social strata, so it probably won’t affect me? But I like to pretend I have morals!”

Vinyl blinked, and her ears perked up. “You do?”


“That’s a new one.”

“I know! I like to avoid being overly predictable. So!” And here she patted Vinyl’s head again, until Vinyl gave up and looked at her in the air. “Why did you drop out of the Secret Service? Please say it was moral qualms.”

“Kinda more like self-preservation.”

“Ooh. How quaint.”

“It was… It’s a bit of a silly story.” Vinyl took a deep breath, and wiggled until she was face to face with Octavia, rather than face-to-shoulder. “I was good at being a secret agent. I did save the world a couple times, I was—not the best? That’s Bon Bon. But I was good.”

“I see!” Octavia smiled. “That’s good to hear. I’m so proud of you! Of course, given the context, I also think that is literally terrible and kind of monstrous.”


“But at a personal level? I’m really happy for you!”

“You’re such a great acquaintance.” Vinyl backed up the sass with some eyebrow-arching of the finest quality, but to be honest, a bit of a smile made it to her face. So she kinda looked like an idiot, when saying all this. “But, yeah, I was… miserable.” She closed her eyes. “Let’s leave it at that.”

Octavia’s ears perked up, and she watched Vinyl carefully. “Right.”

“So I… well, it was actually Pinkie Pie who made me realize I had to get out of there. I didn’t even know that was an option before that. Like, I like music,” she nodded towards her flank and rose her back leg a little, so Octavia could see her cutie mark, “but Destiny wants me to be a secret agent. Just like how Rarity is a world hero but also a fashionista?”

“I’m a Pianissimo! I get how that works.”

“Hmm-hm. Anyway.” Vinyl lowered her leg. “I think Pinkie Pie didn’t even know I was a secret agent? But, well, you know her already I guess. You can never know what she’s aware of, because she knows everything, but also she’s kind of an idiot?”

“She is! She is absolutely that.” Octavia took a moment, and then her ears perked up. “But we love her anyway!”

“Oh, totally.”

“Wonderful mare. So, what did she say?”

“That I didn’t have to be unhappy. That was it.” Vinyl sighed. “That was literally it. I guess it showed in my face? I—I don’t know, it sounds silly.”

“It does! But that doesn’t mean it is silly.” Octavia kept squeezing Vinyl. “So don’t worry.”

“Ah… Well. I guess there’s more to the story.” She swallowed, and then thought for a little, and then her breath started quickening. Not a lot, but definitely a bit. “I—look, saving the world is not exactly a laughing matter. You’re only adjacent to Destiny trying to catch me, and you’re already, what? Strapped to a bomb, chased by monsters, brain damaged, horrified by the bleakness of the reality you inhabit and of which you were unaware until today?”

“And I also know Hell exists!” Octavia said. “It’s been quite the existential morning!”

Yeah. I told you that I’ve saved the world enough times to get tired of it, but that’s not really it.” Vinyl’s eyes were pressed shut. Her ears were flat against her head. Her breath quickened even harder. “I’ve—I’ve seen a lot of things, Octavia. Ponies like Twilight, or Daring Do, they thrive on that, but I can’t. I—HNNNG.”

“See? I’m back to nuzzling!” Octavia stopped nuzzling Vinyl and gave her a cheery grin. “I am not rubbing anything inappropriate! I’m so considerate.”

Vinyl was still from the nuzzle, but she was glaring at Octavia. “You’re doing it on purpose, aren’t you?!” Her eyes looked normal, though, and panic-free. “Like, this is conscious on your part!”

“It is! It absolutely is.” Octavia squinted. “It is honestly slightly worrying that it’s taken you four hours to notice? I’ve been doing this for a while.”

“But why?!

“You look like you need it! It’s also fun.” Octavia nuzzled Vinyl again, and Vinyl stiffened a second time. Octavia laughed, a springwater laugh that smelled like rose petals. Maybe more like a giggle, kinda. “See? It is so predictable!”


“And it also means you stop talking, which means I get to talk more! It is literally an improvement over any possible situation we find ourselves in. I’m very resourceful!” Octavia then stopped squeezing Vinyl so tightly and just patted her back a little. “Do you really need to tell me what you went through?”

Vinyl winced a little and tried to get her mind back in track. “Ah-huh.” She blinked, shook her head. “What?”

“Details about your harrowing, obviously traumatic past, Vinyl. Do I ever need them?”

“…I guess not? It’s not like there was a big, uh, a big thing that went on.” Vinyl spoke without really thinking, not focusing on the memories, not really. “It’s more like a lot of tiny things together. I don’t like saving the world. Doing it time and time again—HNNG.”

“Hah, ahahah. It’s funny because you’re awkward! I love it.” Then Octavia stopped nuzzling Vinyl and have her a reassuring look. “I am very sorry you had to go through that. It sounds horrible! And you don’t have to go through it again just to tell me; I trust your word. Plus, you’re fine now, right?”

Vinyl blinked. “I kind of have a bomb strapped to my chest, Octavia.”

“So do I! How quaint.”

“Like, I’d be okay if I had managed to escape Destiny. It keeps chasing me, is the thing. I guess I’m still supposed to do one last quest for the sake of the world. The big one, maybe? The Universe doesn’t like Chosen Ones retiring, so sometimes it sends them into one last stupid mission so they can sacrifice themselves to—” Vinyl’s eyes went wide. “Wait! Hold on! No nuzzling!”

Octavia frowned, frozen half-nuzzle. “No?”


“No need for it?”

“I’m just talking, not having a panic attack. Like, thanks? But I’m trying to focus here.”

“Well, you seem awfully focused in talking about Destiny.”

“Because it’s got us! I’m not panicking, but look at the banister again, Octavia.” Vinyl nodded at it. “This situation we’re in is statistically impossible, which means Destiny has gotten us in its claws. It’s stupid not to think about it when it’s the reality we’re living.”

“You sure?” Octavia asked. “Because I’ve been not thinking about reality for a long time. And it’s worked pretty well for me!”

“Octavia, you were born with more riches than I’ll ever see in my life.”

“And it’s worked pretty well for me!”

“Right, but nepotism aside,” Vinyl wished she had her shades with her again so she could put them on and then take them off in a smarmy way. As she didn’t all she could do was waggle her eyebrows and hope for the best. “We’re already clearly going on a quest, and if I’m going to go back through all that, I rather be rational about it and try to do it on my own terms.”

This made Octavia frown. An actual frown, almost as if she was angry. “Which means?” she asked.

“Which means that I’m calling Twilight,” Vinyl said, focusing on her horn already, making it glow with magic, “and I’m asking her to help us find Princess Celestia, and we’re going to save the stupid world.”


And Octavia slapped Vinyl’s horn shut.

“Octavia!” Vinyl recoiled a little from the pain, and then glared at her friend. “What the—do you want to blow up again? Because this is how you blow up again!”

“I thought that other thing had been just a sneeze?”


“I don’t want you to call Twilight!” Octavia pouted. “It feels dreadfully stupid! And not even in a lovely Pinkie Pie sort of way. I would allow that. But, this?”

“Okay, I’m glad we’re both on the same page regarding messing with Pinkie for no adequate reason? But—”

“She kind of threw pepper at us and made us explode, Vinyl.”

“—I don’t—okay, good point, we have an adequate reason then—but what are you talking about?” Vinyl looked around. “What, do you want to stay in this staircase until Destiny comes to get us?” Pause. Blink. “Even though it’s technically already gotten us. Sorry, it’s a bit complicated a metaph—what are you doing.

“Twilight clearly wanted to help you!” Octavia chastised, frown still on, pout still pouty. “You said she’s saved the world in your place many times already. You probably didn’t force her to do it, either!”

“Kinda held the world hostage, if we’re being technical.”

“Right,” Octavia said. “But we’re not being technical, are we? We’re being honest.”


Vinyl looked down. “Twilight was the one who suggested I drop out of the Secret Service, yeah. She’s the one who discovered the Elements would answer the call if I refused it.”

“Ah-hah!” Octavia’s triumphant smile could have brought a puppy back to life. “I am so glad that’s the case, because I have no idea what I would have done otherwise. But that was the case! So.” And here she got serious again. “Don’t call her if that’s going to make things worse! There is no reason to give up just yet.”

“Octavia, we’re already—”

“Maybe!” Octavia said. “But we’re also hugging the bomb, and we didn’t let that stop us! I have been dodging social responsibilities all my life, Vinyl Scratch, and I’m not going to stop doing that because of a staircase!” Octavia pressed her forehead against Vinyl’s. “Especially if that means my casual acquaintance is going to have a terrible time in the meantime!”

And Vinyl’s eyes went wide.

In the distance, the sounds of war kept on.

“Casual acquaintances,” Vinyl whispered, pressing her forehead against Octavia’s, too. She managed not to poke her with her horn. She had no idea how. “We’re… Are we casual acquaintances?”

Octavia blinked. “Well, I definitely feel that we’re close, so—”

“No, no, I don’t mean that. It’s more like…” Vinyl took a deep breath. Her brain was going into overdrive. “There’s this thing Princess Celestia says sometimes—we’re not the things we say, or the things we look like, but rather…”

“Ah!” Octavia smiled. “Yes! I know the saying. Character is not the things we say or look like, but rather, what we do?”

“That one!”

“I knew it! I am so smart.”

“You are, you’re brilliant. Right.” Vinyl looked at Octavia again. “A rose by other name, I guess—and we’ve been calling each other a casual acquaintance? But I don’t think that’s what we are.”

Octavia blinked again, although this time she made sure to flutter her eyelashes too. “My,” she said. “How suggestive.”

“Shut up. Octavia, come on, I’ve been spilling my guts at you for the last forty minutes. We’re not casual acquaintances.” And Vinyl sneaked a smirk into her speech. “We’re friends.

Confusion. Surprise. Shock. “Vinyl!” Octavia said, all flutter gone from her lashes. “You can’t say that! That’s what Destiny wants us to be! Oooh.” She looked to the side, hurt in her eyes. “Yet another life ruined due to my relentless, hypnotic charisma. Such is my curse!”

“No! No, listen.” Vinyl shone her horn and forced Octavia to look back at her. “Listen, remember what Twilight said? Destiny want us to rediscover the true meaning of friendship. That’s why Princess Luna forced us to hug each other, right? To teach that to Mister Labcoat?”

Now only confusion, in Octavia’s face. “I… think?”

“Yeah!” Vinyl was full-on grinning now. “But that’s not what’s happening! I mean, think about it—have you rediscovered anything at all?”

“Uh.” Octavia frowned. “Well, I have certainly found out that I live in an authoritarian dystopia where memory is just a commodity, I suppose?”

“Oh, come on, it’s not a commodity. We always tried to wipe as few memories as possible.”

“But the rest is accurate?”

Vinyl thought about it. “Well,” she said. “I mean, Princess Celestia is benevolent? But she is also kind of a supreme leader that only governs because she’s stronger than any of us? And also immortal. I certainly didn’t vote for her.”

“Aaah.” Octavia nodded. “So she’s a tyrant?”

“No, no. She’s benevolent. If we’re being pedantic, she’s just an autocrat.” Vinyl arched an eyebrow. “Are we being pedantic?”

“I don’t know! We’re being honest.”

“Autocrat it is, then.”

“Ah.” Octavia smiled. “But we love her, right? She’s a wonderful pony.”

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. Great motherly figure too, now that we’re at it. I’m so glad she’s not crazy, else we’d all be dead.” And then Vinyl blinked. “Wait. See? She what we just did here? This is what I meant!”

Octavia was taken aback. “What?”

“This thing right here! We’re not talking like casual acquaintances, we’re talking like friends. But we’ve been talking like this from the beginning! Don’t you see?” Vinyl let out a small laugh. “We’ve been friends from the beginning! We got along immediately! We’re not discovering anything!”

“Oh. Oh!” It took a moment, but soon enough, Octavia was smiling from ear to ear, too. “I see! So we’re refusing the call still?”

“We’ve already done it! Destiny wants us to get close to each other, but we already did it! Don’t you see it?” Vinyl squeezed Octavia tight; tight enough to almost hurt a little. “We don’t have to do anything! The true dodging of our responsibilities was the friends we made along the way!

“Wow!” Octavia squeezed Vinyl back. “That sounds incredible! So you’re not giving up, then?”

“Why should I? I can’t believe I haven’t seen this.” Vinyl laughed again, and looked at Octavia. “You can’t befriend the same pony twice. I guess we could get in a fight, like Applejack and Rainbow Dash? But come on, we get along way too well to do that anyway.”

“Okay! That sounds like a reasonable assumption.”

“So Destiny can’t grab us anymore!” Vinyl looked at the banister, and blinked. “Uh. And I guess us surviving the explosion was…? I have no idea what it was.”

“That sounds reassuring!” No hint of irony in Octavia’s voice as she looked at Vinyl. “And I am so happy we’re best friends! And also that we’re not saving the world.” She nuzzled Vinyl. “Yet another life saved thanks to my relentless, hypnotic charisma! It’s such a blessing.”

“Hahah.” Vinyl patted Octavia’s back. “Glad you’re cool with it, too.”

“Of course I am! Oooh, I’ve never had a best friend before. Us aristocrats, we only do casual acquaintanceship, right? And I am ridiculously aristocratic.”

“Somehow, that rings a bell.”

“It does! It definitely does. Ooh, best friend!” Octavia squeezed Vinyl again. “We’re going to be roommates at the hospital tomorrow, I can just see it! I am going to be so clingy to you from now on. It’s going to be amazing!”

“…Well, at least you’re self-aware, I guess.”

“So what are going to do next?” Octavia’s smile wavered for a moment as she looked at the horn. “You’re not calling Twilight Sparkle, are you?”

“Nah, not risking it. And honestly, I have no idea what to do next. We’re still trapped. But I don’t care!” And Vinyl grinned, and her voice was brimming with confidence, with trust-worthiness. “Because I am absolutely, one-hundred-percent sure that we’re out of Destiny’s reach. So no more brain damage, no more bombs strapped to us, and no more monsters chasing us! Whatever happens from now on, I’m sure we’ll be just fine!”

And then a giant four-headed figure busted through the wall at the top of the stairs.


It was the hydragon, stained with dragonfire and covered in ashes. It stood there as the wall crumbled around it, a rain of dust and pebbles falling down, Vinyl trying to cover Octavia and protect her under her body.

The echo of the explosion that had broken the wall faded. And then, the hydragon spoke:


And its voice made the earth tremble.

Octavia and Vinyl stared at it, perfectly still. The hydragon stared at them, hunger in its eyes.

Then Vinyl frowned. “On the other hoof, you know,” she said. “I guess this is also a possibility.”

Chapter Five – They Always Do This

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The hydragon roared like this:


But a million times louder.

The way the stairs were built, Vinyl and Octavia were laying on a step roughly halfway up to the third floor. To the right there was a banister made of old wood, full of teeth marks; to the left, a stone wall. Downstairs, the kind of fall that you only take if you really hate your internal organs. All illuminated by a horrible, ugly, cubist stained window. Upstairs, well.



So Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Best friend!” And she nodded towards the hydragon, although she never directly looked at it. “I’m a little bit lost here. Is that Destiny, too?”

Vinyl squinted. “Probably?” she said. “Probably.”

“So us becoming friends was a mistake?”

“Call it a happy accident? But, yeah. Kinda.” Vinyl swallowed. “We’re back on the quest now.”

“Ah-hah. So we're in danger?”

“We’re super in danger.”

“Good!” Octavia gave Vinyl a winning smile. “Good. How quaint. I can’t wait to see wh

The hydragon charged.


And Octavia shut up.

If they survived—and they barely survived—it was because of the stairs. Because while they were wide, they weren’t wide enough for the hydragon to fit its massive body and reach the two mares. The monster itself noticed this soon enough—and had to spare a moment to break down the banister to the right to make way.

Which means only one of its four heads managed to reach the ponies, and barely at that.

But that’s the thing about the hydragon…

“OCTAVIA!” Vinyl still made sure to cover Octavia’s body with hers, laying on top and forcing the mare to press her head against Vinyl’s chest. “BE CARE—”


One time is all it needed.

A wet sound came from Vinyl’s mouth and ate up her words. Wasn’t a pretty one.

Octavia felt the impact too. Worse: she felt something inside Vinyl moving, something that felt like bone, something that shouldn't move at all. The hydragon had been reaching as far as possible with one of its freakishly long necks, and even though it couldn’t quite reach them with its mouth, it could do with its chin.

And it had slammed down.

Straight on Vinyl’s back.

Something red and hot started to drip down the side.



The hydragon wasn’t stupid. It knew its prey couldn’t move, and it wasn’t going to risk hurting itself by slamming its face repeatedly against a staircase. Instead, it kept blowing the banister to pieces, the wall to the side, the entire corridor. It made way and tried to move down the stairs to reach them better.

“VINYL!” Octavia’s voice was nothing but ragged panic. “VINYL! ARE YOU OKAY?”

Vinyl’s voice was little more than a squeak. Her heart was racing, she was struggling to breathe, but she still talked. “Shoulder’s messed up. I don’t think it’s broken but it kinda feels like it. Come here.”


The hydragon went for them, four heads racing each other to see which one would chew the ponies to pieces first—but before they could do anything like that, Vinyl held Octavia tighter than ever and placed a hoof on the back of her neck, forcing Octavia to look up into Vinyl’s naked eyes.

“I said come here.” And she buried her face in Octavia’s hair.

The hydragon bit.

Octavia cringed.

Vinyl took a deep breath. Octavia smelled like cinnamon, and rosewater, and old wood, and—


Vinyl felt her nose itch.


Once the smoke cleared, the hyragon noticed that its four heads had bitten into nothing. Among the fire and the dust, it missed the dark blur that Vinyl and Octavia had become, flying away against the wall on the right, as far away from the stairs and the hydragon as possible.

Perhaps it was chance, perhaps it was Destiny, or perhaps it was Vinyl’s calculated nod right before she sneezed. Octavia would never know, and Vinyl would never tell. All that matters is, they didn’t go in a completely random direction. They flew away, shaken and hurt by the explosion, towards one very particular point.

The ugly, stained window that Vinyl hated. The one that led outside.


And through it.

It all became a blur to Octavia. The explosion still rang in her ears, and then the cold sting of glass breaking against her skin and Vinyl yelling something she could not understand. They were outside now, fresh air and the loud sounds of war coming from all directions, and then they were going down one, two, three stores, faster, faster, faster.

Vinyl twisting her head to the side, yelling again. Purple light coming from her horn, and then her grip loosening.

Octavia yelled.

The ground came to meet them.



“Vinyl Scratch,” said Daring Do.

Okay, on second thought, you know what? Darkness is nice. Let’s do darkness and don’t come out until Daring Do is gone for good—

“Scratch, I can see you frowning. You’re not fooling anyone. Open your eyes.

Ah, dang it. Vinyl grumbled under her breath, and listened to Daring Do.


There are things the pony brain is not wired to do, and regaining consciousness more than once a day is definitely one of them. Waking up from a nap is already unpleasant when you’ve slept too much; now picture that the nap was caused by severe brain trauma. It’s the sensory equivalent of realizing you actually paid for that Liberal Arts degree.

So Vinyl grumbled, and mumbled, and groaned, and whined, and it was all entirely earned and perfectly understandable. Octavia said something but Vinyl ignored it because, quite honestly, she was too busy complaining.

Then she looked around, and had to arch an eyebrow.

They weren’t outside. That was a surprise, as she clearly remembered that they had smashed through a window and ended somewhere between the Castle and the outer ramparts. Also, there was no hydragon in sight as far as she could see, which was a hell of an improvement. They were in a completely new room. With white walls and a nice wooden ceiling. A giant window with normal glass.

A lot of beds.

White curtains.

It smelled like latex and sanitizer.

“What the—are we in a hospital?” A genuine smile made it to Vinyl’s face, and she felt a huge weight leave her shoulders as she looked at Daring Do with newfound affection. “You carried us to a hospital! This is the first nice thing you—!”

Of course you’re not in a hospital,” Daring Do replied, dryly. “This is the Castle’s infirmary. You wish I were that responsible.”

Daring Do, sitting by the bed. The real deal, just like in her books. Hat and everything, whip hanging from her saddlebag.

Vinyl shot the pegasus a burning glare, and Daring Do glared right back. Outside, a hydra screamed, and through the window on the wall a sudden flare could be seen, and then black smoke rising.

“Vinyl!” Octavia, still clinging to Vinyl’s chest, looking up with those bright beautiful annoying eyes of hers. “Best friend! Vinyl, we survived!”

Vinyl couldn’t help but give Octavia a smile, and a reassuring squeeze. “We did, yeah.”

“And I barely feel anything! I’m completely emotionally numb at the moment. Just like you said!” Octavia let out a little giggle and then snuggled up against Vinyl’s chest—although, gently. “The thought of living is scarier than the thought of dying! Is this how you commoners feel all the time?”

Vinyl was still too groggy to even entertain this. “Uh, sure? Great that you’re okay.”

“It is! It is great!” Then Octavia blinked, and her smile went away to be replaced by a frown. “The monster did get to you, however. Your shoulder, right? How are you feeling? Are you okay? Am I hurting you?”

This honestly took Vinyl by surprise. She remembered her right shoulder hurting—although now that she looked at it it looked a bit weird—but her head felt so light she couldn’t really care. “Actually, I don’t feel any pain,” she muttered. Then: “Wait.” She squinted and looked at her right side. “Bandages?”

“You were bleeding! The hydragon cut you on the side. It’s very shallow though, so don’t worry! It will barely leave a scar.” Octavia then looked at Daring Do. “Is it normal that she’s not hurt? Because I felt her bones move around when the hydragon hit us. That is not something bones should do.”

Daring Do shook her head. “She’s so in pain she doesn’t even feel it anymore. Tell her to move her neck.”

“Okay!” Back to Vinyl. “Vinyl?”


“Move your neck!”


“Screw it, sure, why not.”



Daring Do snorted by the side. “Idiot.”

“Oh, that looks horribly painful.” Octavia frowned and tried to hold Vinyl as she squirmed around. “Quick! Move your neck again!”


“It’ll probably make the pain disappear! Right? That sounds reasonable.”


Through the pain, Vinyl squinted. “You know, that does sound reasonable, actua—”



“Ah, hahah.” Octavia looked at Daring Do. “We’ve both got so many concussions.”


“I’ve honestly lost count of how many times we’ve gotten brain damaged today! Which sounds kind of worrying now that I say it out loud.” Octavia nudged Vinyl. “Isn’t that right, best friend?”


“Yes! You are!”

Another explosion, and the Castle shook some more. The bed creaked under their weight, and Daring Do sighed. “I get that right now you two are the perfect mixture of dumb and stupid, but, please. Don’t move your neck a third time. That’s not how necks work.”

Vinyl found it in herself to stop squirming, and shot Daring Do the most venomous of glares. “And why,” she said through her teeth, “are we even here?!

“Because there is a war out there, Scratch,” Daring Do said, tapping her hat and giving Vinyl a wild glare, one that spoke of fire in the savanna and blood pumping in your ears in that way only veterans truly know. “And I’m not going to abandon Canterlot when it needs me the most.”

“I’m injured, Daring Do!” Vinyl said.

“Me too!” Octavia said. “It’s terrible.”

“And I’m responsible, Scratch,” Daring Do replied.

“Me too!” Octavia said. “That’s also terrible.”

Neither mare looked at her when she said this, though. Both Daring Do and Vinyl Scratch were too busy growling at each other, like a dumb dog staring at its reflection in the mirror.

And then Octavia noticed—as one does when hugs happen—that Vinyl was kind of having trouble breathing. Not as much as when the hydragon had appeared, not in the least, but still. She was doing shallow breaths.

So she immediately went for the nuzzle. To add insult to injury, she added, in the softest voice she could make: “Vinyl? Best friend?”

Vinyl, what else, stiffened at the nuzzle. Her ears perked up rather suddenly, and her growl went from furious to annoyed. But, her eyes immediately snapped from Daring Do to Octavia, and all the tension went away from her face.

So, as far as Octavia was concerned, hey. That was a win. That’s the best thing about dumb dogs: you give them a treat, and they’re yours for life.

But instead of saying that, she just said: “May I ask you a question?” and then she cocked her head to the side because Octavia was just cute like that.

“Uh.” Vinyl squinted. Their faces were pretty close, so it was easy for Octavia to see that Vinyl was making a conscious effort not to look away, and she was doing a poor job of it. “I mean, I guess? What are you going to do if I say no.”

Octavia thought about it for a moment. “Ask anyway! Maybe I’ll nuzzle you a little first to soften you up.”

“Ask away.”

“I can nuzzle you anyway, though! Don’t worry, that gesture’s not really going anywhere.”


Octavia shot Vinyl a cute smile, and then she looked at Daring Do. “So. You know Daring Do?”

Daring Do grumbled. “Sadly. What’s this about the nuzzles, though.”

Vinyl was still looking at Octavia. “Yeah, I know her. We go back a long way, actually.”

“Like, is this a couple thing? Are you making out in front of me to assert dominance or something?”

Octavia nodded. “Right, charming, you have such a rich personal history—why do you know Daring Do, though?” Pause. “And since when is Daring Do real, come to think of it?” She glanced at Daring. “No offense.”

Daring Do tipped her hat, and smirked. “None taken,” she said. “Happens all the time.”

“Right. So.” Octavia looked back at Vinyl. “First Hell, then the Secret Service, mind-wiping, and now pulp characters are real, too? What’s next? Do I need to think twice about Santa Hooves?”


Vinyl looked at Octavia.

Daring Do looked at Octavia.

Octavia blinked. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

“…We are.” Vinyl looked at Daring Do. “Are we?”

“We definitely are. No, uh, no secrets here.”

A second pause, longer still. Octavia glared at the two mares, her face completely unreadable. A dragon screamed outside, and a mare’s fierce yell matched it, and then the sound of stone splitting and something going splat.

Then Octavia let out a brilliant smile. “Okay! That sounds convincing. You two are so interesting!” Then, to Vinyl: “No, seriously, Vinyl. I need you to understand that I am having an existential crisis here.”


“I am in great distress! Today has been such a tasking morning, emotionally speaking.”

“Saving the world does that to you, yeah.” Vinyl shrugged. “Daring Do’s always been real, by the way, it’s just that—”

“Scratch? Agent Scratch.” Daring Done spoke slightly louder than necessary, and both Vinyl and Octavia looked at her after it. Daring rested her front legs on the bed and leaned forward, strained smile on her face. “Little question. Did this civilian just nonchalantly spew out like, five State secrets in a row for no reason?”

“I did!”

“Yeah, she super did.”

“Agent Scratch.” There was an inherent sigh-like quality in the way Daring Do said Vinyl’s name. She didn’t sound angry or disappointed, inasmuch as she sounded like a third unheard-of emotion that combined the two and added chilli pepper on top. “I knew you were an idiot, don’t get me wrong, but this is a new low even for you, and I do not say that lightly!

Vinyl nodded at Daring Do, and then turned back to Octavia. She hugged her a bit harder, too, as if seeking comfort. “Yeah, that’s Daring Do, and she’s real. The books are just her novelizing her real adventures—not many ponies know about it. Haven’t you… like, asked her?”

“Oh, I thought it would be rude, you know.” Octavia shrugged. “The existence of the self is a sore point for some ponies, yes?”

“Hey!” Daring Do leaned harder on the bed, and she took off her hat to give her frown more emphasis. “Are you two ignoring me?”

“We are!”

“We super are.”

“So.” Octavia looked at Vinyl again. “Daring Do saved us from the hydragon! She came and swooped in right before we could hit the ground!” She was gripping Vinyl harder now, and her eyes were shining. “It was incredible!”

Vinyl smirked. She made a point of only moving her eyes when she glanced at Daring Do, because she could feel sharp needles running through her back and it was not exactly pleasant. “I thought I was calling for Twilight Sparkle?”

Daring Do waved a hand in the air. “So sue me. I saw the flare, I heard the explosion, and I ran as fast as I could. Didn’t really have the time to analyze the hue of the light; I’ll apologize for taking her spotlight as soon as I see her.”

“Right.” Vinyl made a face. “I honestly would rather you didn’t—”

“Vinyl.” Octavia spoke softly again, almost a whisper in Vinyl’s ears—because she could feel Vinyl was tense again. She did not go for the nuzzle, though, since she understood all good things must come in moderation. Then she looked at Daring Do. “Thank you for saving our lives, Daring Do! It was very kind on your part.”

Vinyl groaned, but looking at Octavia had seemed to calm her down. “Right.” She took a deep breath. “Thanks. I guess.”

This got Daring Do to react. She looked at Vinyl, ears perked up. “You guess?! You ungrateful little idiot—

“Excuse me!” Octavia turned her head around and looked at Daring Do with a rather flaring frown. “I understand you are under a lot of pressure! And we are so grateful for not letting us die like that, Daring Do. But—I would rather you don’t go insulting Vinyl that way?” And she clinged to Vinyl some more, which was a feat, seeing how they had been hugging each other for five hours by now. “You see.” Pause for emphasis, striking smile. “She’s my best friend. Aren’t you, Vinyl?”

“I super am,” Vinyl said, smiling. “Eat dirt, Daring Do.”

Something exploded outside, and the Castle shook.

Daring Do arched an eyebrow at Octavia, and then looked at Vinyl. “Okay. Who’s this, again?”

Vinyl patted Octavia’s back. “Octavia Pianissimo,” she said. “Friend of mine, city-slicker noblepony, ridiculously aristocratic but in a good way. Also, kind of terrible?”

“But in a good way, too!” Octavia added, still clinging to Vinyl.

“But in a cool way, yeah.” Vinyl chuckled. “We met this morning.”

“This morning.”


“She got attached fast, didn’t she.”

“It’s been a long day.” Then Vinyl patted Octavia’s back again as she looked at Daring Do. “Did she tell you about the bomb and how we have to hug and all that?”

“She did.” Daring Do nodded, and put on her business face. Suddenly she looked serious, non-nonsense-like. “Labcoat, right? Small dragon, red scales, wears one?”

“You got it.”

“Yeah. Familiar with his work. Don’t stop hugging her any time soon.” Then Daring looked at Octavia. “Octavia Pianissimo. from the Canterlot Pianissimos? You built this place, right? Blueprints all over your manor?”

Octavia lit up. “We did! We absolutely did! It’s so nice to finally find a cultured mare in this Castle that’s not of royal blood. I quite like that!” Pause. Cling to Vinyl. “Insults to my friend notwithstanding.”

“I’ve been in your manor a couple times, great library—but, listen, kid.” Daring Do lowered her head a little, so that she could look at Octavia eye-to-eye, and she put on her hat again. “I don’t know what Scratch’s been telling you, but she’s not a mare you should—”

“Did you just call her kid?” Vinyl asked, making a face. “What, are you, like, a grandpa now? A corrupt cop. Gruff detective?”

Daring Do closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “Scratch.”

“How old are you anyway? Because I’m sure you’re at most, like, a couple years older than—wait.” Vinyl looked at Octavia. Beautiful, perfect, timeless Octavia. “How old are you again?”

Octavia fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, a lady never tells.”

“Right.” Vinyl went back to Daring Do. “Yeah she’s, like, significantly older than you. ‘Kid’ is out.”

Octavia stopped the coy act immediately. “Vinyl!” she yelled. “You take that back!”

“Is it wrong, though.”

That is not what we are currently discussing!

“You’re such a slender, conventionally attractive old mare.”

“I—! That’s—!” Octavia blinked. Frowned. Fumed. “You’re on thin ice.”

“Aren’t I always.”

Daring Do looked at Octavia. “Yeah, see this? See what I mean, kid?” This last part she only added after a little spiteful look at Vinyl. “Agent Scratch’s bad news.” A Frown. “And I’m still waiting for an explanation on the whole State secrets thing. There are things civilians should never know about.”

“What, like the business of souls?” Octavia asked. “She told me all about that, too! It was quite terrifying.”

“Also, I’m a civilian too,” Vinyl said. “Just saying. Stop with the ‘Agent’ thing, it’s getting old.”

Agent Scratch.

“Look,” Vinyl said after taking a really deep breath, “they forgot the memory wiping protocols, it’s not my fault—but I’m not part of the Service. I have no official reason to keep State secrets, so if anything, this is their fault, not mine.”

Daring Do could have melted steel with here eyes. “Those things are a secret for a reason, Scra—Agent Scratch. And I wouldn’t trust a Pianissimo of all ponies with all this. You know how nobleponies are, there’s a reason the Princess won’t let them hold any real political power.” She tipped her hat to Octavia. “No offense, kid.”

Octavia giggled. “None taken! I am going to be terrible at keeping all this to myself anyway.”

“Oh hey, look.” Daring Do had a weird smile on her face, and she looked at Vinyl like a father looks at his kid after catching him with a cigarette. “She’s self-aware! Isn’t she cute?”

“I am! I am very cute.”

Please, Daring Do.” Vinyl rolled her eyes and squeezed Octavia a little bit. “I know it’s hard for you not to be an idiot, but can you at least try? I mean…” She nodded towards Octavia. “You hug this mare for more than three hours and then try not to spill the beans. I mean, look at her! Octavia, give her a smile.”


“Scratch,” Daring Do said, “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but thi—oh. Oh, huh.” She blinked, and after giving Octavia a glance, she looked at Vinyl. “Okay, yeah, I see what you mean. Does she smile like that all the time?”



“I’m taking that as a compliment!” Octavia chirped. “Thank Celestia I’ve got such old blood. Keeping your self-esteem high is so easy when you’re genetically perfect.” Then she fluttered her eyelashes. “By the way! Is your existence a State secret too, Daring Do? You seem to be oddly familiar with everything related to the Secret Service.”

Daring Do was fuming, but she still answered. “It’s not—”

“It’s not a State secret technically,” Vinyl interrupted. “She just likes to hide under her civilian identity, and Princess Celestia likes her, so we let her. She used to work with me a lot back in my days, which is why we know each other.”

“But she’s not part of the Secret Service?”

“Nah, she’s too good for that, are you kidding me? The Secret Service is a mess!” Vinyl shook her head. “Daring Do’s like Princess Twilight, she does her own hero thing and only appears when something big enough comes around” Vinyl flinched when the Castle shook a third time and made the bed tremble enough to send shivers down her spine. Celestia, her shoulder hurt now. “Like, say, hydras attacking Canterlot, I guess. How’s that going, Daring?”

“Everything is going terribly, and we’re all gonna die. Also you’re not helping.”

“Wow, crazy.” Vinyl patted Octavia’s shoulder. “So yeah, she gets access to secret intel because, let’s be honest, she’s the one who came up with half of it in the first place. I’m sure she even knows why the hydras are attacking. If only we cared.”

Daring’s ears perked up. “I believe the hydras are after—”

If only we cared.

“I hate you so much, Scratch.”

“I know you do.”

Octavia blinked twice, and frowned at Vinyl,pawing at her chest to get her attention. “Well! You certainly don’t look like you get along.”

Daring Do snorted, and she took off her hat for a moment. “You’re a bright one—”

“I am! I am bright. Thank you!”

“—but I’ll let you know, we haven’t always—okay.” Daring Do frowned and looked at Vinyl. “Is she always like this?”

“I am!”

“She super is.”

“This is going to be such a long day. Okay.” Daring Do rubbed the space between her eyes before talking again. “Okay. We haven’t always hated each other, kid.” Then she did a double take, and Vinyl could see it in Daring’s eyes—she was remembering Octavia’s smile. “Kid…” she repeated, playing with the word as if it tasted funny. “Miss? Madam? How do I refer to you?”

“Just Octavia is fine! I hate formalities.”

“Ah. Okay. So. We didn’t always hate each other, kid.”

Vinyl squinted. “Don’t.”

“Do.” Daring Do shot back. “It’s literally my name, Scratch. You go eat dirt.” Then, at Octavia: “We were friends, once. Really good friends. Emphasis on the once.”

Vinyl looked to the side.

In that moment, she wished she had her shades with her to hide her face, too.

And Octavia caught this up, because she was quick at stuff like this. She talked with a small voice when she asked: “Did something happen?”

“We had a fallout,” Vinyl said, simply, still squeezing Octavia. “The less we talk about it, the better.”

“Was it because saving the world made you misera—?”

And suddenly Vinyl’s eyes were wide as plates, and she looked at Octavia with an almost pleading expression. “No!” she whispered. “Don’t tell her anything about that!”

Octavia frowned, and whispered back: “What?”

“I agree, kid,” Daring Do said, speaking with a normal voice. If she had noticed the whispers, she didn’t let it show. “Some things are better left in the past.”

“I don’t want her to know! I told her I left the Service for different reasons. Just, go along with it?”

And Octavia looked into Vinyl’s eyes. “..Why?” she said.

“Just, trust me.”

Two seconds passed.



Daring Do threw her hat at the floor. “DANG IT, SCRATCH! STOP NOT SAVING THE WORLD ALREADY!”


Octavia cringed. “Oh, dear.”





Octavia cleared her throat. “Ahem!” she said immediately afterwards, since she didn’t really understand redundancy. “Daring Do! May I interrupt you for a second?”

Daring glared. “YOU MAY NOT!”

“Good thing I was going to interrupt you anyway, then!” Octavia nuzzled Vinyl and blew a little bit of air in her ear, because she sensed she was also going to talk. And then Vinyl got all stiff, and that was that for that. “Life is so easy when you simply don’t listen to others. Wouldn’t you agree, Vinyl?”

Vinyl was still in Dreamland, stiff as a stone, dealing with the nuzzle.

“Vinyl, I asked you a question.”

“Hnng.” Vinyl blinked. “What?”

Octavia bumped her with her forehead, lightly. “Just say yes!”

“Ah. Um. Yes?”

“Exactly!” Octavia smiled at Daring Do. “See? Flawless argumentation. I’m so good at this. Anyway! I’m sure you’re indeed successful, and quite good at saving the world, seeing how we’re still here. But!” And she clinged to Vinyl again. “My best friend can’t keep saving the world, and that is final! Haven’t you seen what it’s doing to her?”

“What is doing to… what?” Daring Do blinked, and relaxed a little—now instead of anger there was confusion written all over her. She looked at Vinyl. “What, the shoulder? That’s barely a scratch!”

“Octavia, don’t.” Vinyl spoke weakly. “She won’t get it.”

“I think she will! You were friends before. Right?” Octavia looked at Daring Do. “Right? Just say yes.”

Daring Do squinted. “Uuuuuuh—”

And Vinyl sighed. “Just say yes, Daring Do. Let’s get this over with.”

“—uuuh, yes?”

“Ah-hah! Yes indeed. I am the best at friendship, and I have literally just started! So talented.” She pawed at Vinyl’s chest as she looked at Daring Do next. “Vinyl Scratch was miserable during her time at the Secret Service, Daring Do! I don’t know what she saw, but it deeply affected her.” She shot Vinyl a glance. “She had to get out! Haven’t you see how she winces whenever she even thinks about Fate?”

Vinyl winced, but only slightly, and she pushed Octavia’s pawy hoof away. “Octavia, seriously. I’m glad you’re trying, really, but there’s no use.”

“Wait, no, you don’t get to say that.” Daring Do leaned on the bed to get closer to them. “What’s this about wincing? You had to get out? What?” She looked at Octavia before glaring back at Vinyl. “Didn’t you leave because you wanted to focus on your music?”

“She did not!” Octavia said. “She’s deeply traumatized. But not in a cute way, like my concussion! More like in a harrowing way. Music had nothing to do with anything!” Then Octavia paused to think. “Probably? I have no idea. Vinyl, I don’t mind putting words in your mouth, but in this case, I would love hearing what you have to say about it!”

“What I have to say about it,” Vinyl said sighing again, and patting Octavia on the back, “is that I’m trying to make it as a musician nowadays, which is all that matters.”

“Is this kid saying the truth?” Daring Do was still laying on the bed, looking at Vinyl with strange eyes. “Was it that bad? All the time?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”


Daring Do looked down. “You were good, Scratch. You were really good. I loved working with you.”

“Hey, you said it yourself. Some things are better left in the past.” Vinyl made an effort here; Octavia could tell because her body tensed. She looked at Daring Do. No glare, no frown, just an honest face-to-face. Octavia gave her a little pat on the back as a prize. “Besides, it’s not like you need me—last time I checked you were more competent than the entire Secret Service combined. How did you deal with the hydragon down there? Punched it till it dropped?”

“I didn’t deal with it. I just ran away.”

It took Vinyl Scratch a moment. Then, her eyes went wide. “You ran away?” she asked. “You?

Daring Do snorted. “What, did you think I was being flippant earlier? That I was joking?” She leaned away from the bed, picked up her hat from the ground, and put it on again. “You can’t take a hydragon lightly. That thing—look. We have dragons on our side. Three different princesses are actively fighting in this fight. We’re destroying the hydras. And yet?” Daring Do squinted. “Everything is going terribly, and we’re all going to die.”

The weight in those words got Vinyl to close her mouth and not say another word. She just hugged Octavia—she didn’t hold her, she hugged her—and let herself be hugged back.

Octavia managed to speak, once she was sure Vinyl was okay. “Well,” she said. “That sounds serious! And terrifying. Mostly terrifying!”

Daring Do nodded. “Yes. To all those things.”

“Good! I just wanted to be sure. That sounds horrible, and I am absolutely panicking now!” Octavia looked at Vinyl. “You?”

“Honestly? I could do a nuzzle right now.”

“Okay!” Octavia complied. Vinyl stiffened. All was good in the world. Then Octavia looked at Daring Do. “You don’t look scared at all, though! How quaint.”

“I don’t really panic.”

“Even more quaint!”

“Yeah.” Daring Do smirked. “Also...”

She reached inside her shirt, grabbed a necklace, and placed it on top of Vinyl and Octavia’s bed, far enough so that they could see it but not touch it.

It was made of gold, and it looked half-done. Like a puzzle with missing pieces.

“This is the left half of the Can of Wyrms,” Daring Do said. “It’s a tool for dragonslaying. It’s the reason we’re at war.” The smirk in her face looked too big for her face, now. “And it’s our one and only hope.”

They moved slowly, sure, but it was still faster than rolling around. Much to Vinyl Scratch’s displeasure.

“This is so fun!” Octavia was saying. “It reminds me—ah, to the left, go for the stairs, thank you—it reminds me of when I was a little filly!”

Vinyl nodded. “Octavia. I am in excruciating pain.”

“I used to ride on my father’s back through the manor quite often, you see. So this is very nostalgic!”

“I don’t know, I just feel like my injury might be a more pressing matter than—wait, you rode on your dad’s back?”

“I did!”

“That’s… actually surprising?” Vinyl arched an eyebrow, and for once Octavia could observe the expression at its fullest, since Vinyl had never found her shades after all. “Like, no offense, but knowing you I would have expected you having a designated riding servant or something.”

“Oh, no, not at all!” Octavia shook her head. “I’ve always been really close to my father. He always found time to play with me when I was a filly!”

Vinyl smiled. “That’s pretty cute, actually. You were Daddy’s little girl?”

“I was! I only ever rode his back, there was no need to play with the servants.” Octavia frowned a little frown, deep in thought. “I also went through a phase of not touching any commoners back then, if I remember correctly? I was a very spoiled child.”

“Right. Slightly less cute detail, that.”

“It is! It is less cute. But I turned out wonderful anyway!”

“Okay.” Then, suddenly, Daring Do spoke, glaring at them over her shoulder. “For real. Are you two ever going to shut up.”

“We’re not!”

“We’re super not.”

“I hate you two so much.”

The place was the Art Galleries—a series of rooms and corridors that weaved into each other like an architectural knot in the third floor of the Castle, far away from the clinic. Statues waiting for you around every corner, the kind that are so old you see them as art rather than pornography, even though they’re clearly both. Paintings every seven feet or so, portraying boring ponies with dead fish eyes. The light that came through the windows was tinted golden, and bathed everything in the dusty glow museums are known for.

And Vinyl and Octavia were riding Daring Do.

“I am literally breaking my back for you two,” Daring Do was saying at the moment. She stopped walking to give her words more weight. “Quite literally.”

Vinyl and Octavia were hugging each other on top of Daring Do’s back. They’d been secured with a spare blanket to make sure they wouldn't slip out whenever Daring had to turn around sharply or climb any set of stairs.

Octavia, who was the one lying directly on Daring’s back—with Vinyl laying on top of Octavia herself—batted her eyebrows at the adventurer. “We know! And we are so grateful. This is fun! Isn’t it, Vinyl?”

“Octavia, I am fairly sure I have mentioned my excruciating pain already.”

“You have!” Octavia gleamed. “But this is still fun. Daring Do, go faster!”


“Okay, you know what? You’re right, this is fun. Daring Do, rear up!”

“Prance a little!”

“Fly around! I want to see how that feels when you’re not about to die.”

“Oooh!” Octavia’s eyes light up. “Yes! That does sound exciting. You should fly around, Daring Do!”

“I should kick you two off the window, is what I should do.” Daring do sighed, grunted, and kept on walking again. She did it with confidence, as if she knew the way by heart, but she was sweating quite a lot from all the weight. “You know, I’m glad that you’re having fun up there, but I didn’t drag you out of the clinic just so you could have a chat about literally nothing. We have important things to disc—”

“Oh! Vinyl!” Octavia suddenly perked up, which made Daring Do flinch, and Vinyl grunt with pain. “Look! That painting!”

“What? What are you—Oh. That one?” Vinyl blinked, squinted. She couldn’t really turn around fully because of the shoulders and the bandages on her right side, but she just barely managed to see what Octavia was pointing at anyway. “Wow. Is that you?”

“It’s a painting of my great-great-grandmother!”

“She looks exactly like you! It’s amazing!”

Daring took a deep breath. “For real, now?”

“Hey, if you looked, you’d think the same,” Vinyl said. “Seriously, they’re like twins, it’s eerie.”

“Scratch, I don’t care if they’re like—” Daring blinked. “Oh, wow. Okay, yeah, its eerie.”

Octavia was pretty much glowing with pride. “I am a purebreed Pianissimo! Very inbred!”

“And wow you just said that. You just said that?” Daring Do, eyes wide, glanced at Vinyl. “She just said that.”

“Yeah, it’s a whole thing.”

“It is! I am very inbred, we’ve decided.” Octavia said, still sticking her chest out. “It means that I’m better than you!” Then she gave Vinyl a quick wink. “No offense.”

“Uh.” Daring Do arched an eyebrow. “Actually, it just means your family tree’s messed up? And that you’re genetically predisposed towards idiocy.”

“I know!” Octavia said. “And I’m still better than you! It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“The power of genetics. Amazing.” Then Daring turned her neck as much as she could to look at them, and added: “But seriously, we need to talk about you two saving Equestria.”

Immediately, Vinyl frowned. She felt the cut under her bandages itch. “No deal.”

“I side with my best friend!” Octavia gripped Vinyl a bit tighter and pushed their cheeks together to show Daring how serious she was. “We said we are not doing the harrowing quest, and we stand by that decision. It’s why we do chit-chat! Oh, look at that statue!”

“I’m not looking at that statue,” Daring Do said, and she turned a corner to make sure Vinyl couldn’t do it either. “And I think that’s not your decision anymore.” She reached under her shirt to get the half-complete golden necklace. “Scratch, look at this. The Can of Wyrms is—”

“That was a great statue, Octavia.”

“It is!”

“You know what? I’m just going to keep talking,” Daring Do said. “You’ll have to listen at some point, Scratch, and I don’t care if you don’t want to.” Daring shot a glance at the two mares before looking forward once again as she walked. “Also, kid, I’m probably going to ignore you from now on.”


“Hope you don’t mind it.”

“I won’t! I respect your boundaries.”

“Right. So, the Can of Wyrms.” Daring pawed at it, and it jingle-jangled, still hanging from her neck. “An ancient coltpixie legend, right? They say it can kill anything, even a dragon, if used well. And it was split in three pieces so that nobody could misuse its power.”

“I don’t care about—”

Daring kicked back a little, made Vinyl jump in place. A satisfying clack came from her shoulder, and Vinyl shut up, too busy trying not to scream to say anything.

Daring had to hide a petty smirk after that, so she just kept going. “That’s what the legend says, at least. Three pieces—the dragons guarded one, the ponies guarded another. The third was for the coltpixies, but the hydras stole it.” Daring pawed at the necklace again. “This is the piece that the dragons guarded. Dragon Lord Ember gave it to me after we had a talk.”

“That is so entertainingly quaint!” Octavia said, trying to give the Can of Wyrms a look, and utterly failing because it was as far as possible from her line of sight. “I also have no idea why you’re telling us any of this. But it is so entertainingly quaint!”

“Because the hydras are looking for this. Ponies and dragons reuniting for the first time in centuries? It’s a perfect opportunity to snatch all the pieces of the Can of Wyrms and lay some waste to the land.” Daring Do let out a low whistle. “Hydras are dumb, kid, but they’re also cunning, and I can assure you—nobody likes being second-best.”

Vinyl had regained her voice, but it still sounded wary. “I don’t want to get involved in that,” she said. “If you want to, I don’t know, gather all the pieces of the necklace and stuff it where the sun don’t shine, be my guest? But I’m not going to help you.”

“Yeah!” Octavia said, putting on a fierce smile. “You tell her!”

“I literally just did, Octavia.”

“And you were great at it!”

“Oh, but that’s the thing, Scratch,” Daring said. They turned a corner again. “You’re already involved. Think about it—something that can kill a dragon? That’s a lot of magical energy to store in a physical object.” She put the Can of Wyrms under her shirt again. “Made by the coltpixies? Ancient? That sounds like—”

“—Like coltpixie gold,” Vinyl finished. Her ears went flat against her head a second time. Her eyes went wide. She swallowed. “Oh, no. Oh, please tell me that’s a coincidence.”

“Please, Scratch. When has anything in this line of work ever been a coincidence?”

Octavia, however, did not have that extreme a reaction. “What?” she asked. “What? What are you talking about?” She looked at Vinyl. “What is coltpixie gold? That’s… I’ve heard that name somewhere. What is it?”

Daring cleared her throat with a cough. “It’s—”

“The hug bomb that the dragon made,” Vinyl whispered. She looked at Octavia, and hugged her against her chest, rather than simply holding her—and in that moment, she became keenly aware of the cold rectangle of metal that stood between them. “That’s what it’s made of. It was golden, remember? He stored dragonfire inside, he said, and the only thing that can hold dragonfire like this is—”

“Coltpixie gold. Which is an extremely rare material, mind you,” Daring Do mused. “How did Labcoat describe the bomb again, kid? What did he say about the explosion?”

Octavia frowned. “…That it was strong enough to kill even him? But I don’t recall the bomb being golden, I think. Was it?”

“It was,” Vinyl said.

“Does it matter? It’s strong enough to kill a dragon, that’s all we need.” Daring Do stopped dead in her tracks, and then frowned while looking ahead. “Uh. Where are we?”

Octavia’s ears perked up, and she looked around. Vinyl did the same—the place looked identical to the room they left a couple minutes ago. She could even see Octavia the Second’s portrait over there by the wall.

“That is not the portrait of—why would she be Octavia the Second if she’s my ancestor? Vinyl, I know we’ve talked a lot about incest, but that is really not how families work.”

Vinyl blinked. “Ah. Did I say that out l—”

“You did say that out loud, yes.” Octavia tapped Vinyl’s back before looking at the painting. “Also, if you would be so kind to look at the portrait with just a tad more attention, you would notice that her eyes are a shade or two lighter than my great-great-grandmother’s?”

“Yeah I’m just gonna take your word for that.”

“And you would do right in doing so! It’s ridiculously hard to notice.” Octavia smiled so much her eyes closed. “That is actually my great-great-grandaunt.”

Daring Do was looking at the painting, too. “She looks exactly like your great-great-grandmother. Were they twins?”

“No, we all just look like this. My sister is also strikingly similar to me—or rather I look like her, yes? Since she’s the older one.” Octavia nodded. “Aside from the eyes and the fact that she is willing to continue the bloodline? We might as well be the same pony!”

Vinyl blinked. “Wait, what?”

“Now, going back to my point, if that painting is there it means that if we pass that door,” Octavia pointed, “and go to the right, we’ll make it to the—”

Daring Do’s ears perked up. “West wing?”

“Yes! Exactly. Right above the Ballroom, in fact.”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!”

“Wait, no, what was that?” Vinyl was squirming now, nudging at Octavia so she would look at her. “Octavia, did you just imply you won’t have any children?”

Octavia fluttered her eyelashes at Vinyl. “I did! I suppose adoption is always a possibility, but that’s about it. I’m certainly not getting pregnant any time soon!”


“A lot of reasons! Now if you excuse me, I’m distracted.” Octavia looked at Daring Do again. “Why are we here, actually? There’s nothing important in this spot aside from the portraits of my family. Which are pretty great! But not very useful when we’re at war.” Then Octavia frowned and looked at one of the windows. “…Are we at war? I haven’t heard anything in—”

Something exploded in the distance.

“Ah-hah! Yes, we are still at war and everything is terrible. Phew!” Octavia swept the sweat off her brow. “I got hopeful for a moment, how embarrassing.”

Daring Do, true to her word, ignored like eighty percent of everything that came out of Octavia’s mouth. “This is our destination,” she said simply. “Jump off.”


“Hold on a minute.”

Getting off Daring Do’s back turned out to be much easier than getting on—she simply laid on her side until Vinyl and Octavia were laying on the floor, and then she untied the blanket and got up again.

“There,” she said once that was done. “Perfect. You comfortable there? Scratch, you okay?”

The question immediately made Vinyl squint. “Why are you asking.”

“Oh, no reason. You know me. I just care a lot.” Daring Do looked at Octavia. “Mind getting under her for a moment? I need Scratch to be on top. I need to… help her.

“Okay! That only sounded slightly ominous, I like those chances.” Octavia rolled around quite happily, until Vinyl was on top, making sure not to touch her bandages or scratch them against the ground. “Like this?”

“Sure, yeah. Good job.” Vinyl seemed like she was going to say something, so Daring Do waved a hoof to keep her quiet and kept on talking. “Right, so—you’re carrying coltpixie gold, Scratch. You are already involved with all this mess, even if you don’t want to be.”

Vinyl squinted even harder. “…We’re not sure of that.”

“No, I’m not. And, sure, if I expected someone to get a hold of a bunch of coltpixie gold somehow, and to build a completely stupid bomb out of it—Labcoat and Princess Luna would be my best guess?” Daring Do shook her head. “But, well. I think it’s safer to assume the worst here. You’re carrying the pony share of the Can of Wyrms with you.”

“I don’t—”

“Maybe not!” Octavia said, and her voice was so loud that both Daring Do and Vinyl flinched. “I have a perfectly functional memory, and I do not remember the bomb being golden.” She looked at Vinyl. “Coltpixie gold is golden, right?”

“Yeah. So’s the bomb.”

“We don’t know that!”

“We totally do.”

“Nonsense!” Octavia shook her head so hard they both moved a little. “This is the kind of thing we ought to investigate, let me just—” she looked down, and tried to peek at the bomb. Completely useless, since that is not how bodies or perspective or physics work, but she still tried. “Gaagh. I can’t see it!”

“Right, but—”

“Wait! I know what to do!” Octavia fluttered her eyelashes again. “Daring Do? Would you be so kind as to lift Vinyl’s tail and take a peek?”


Vinyl was completely wide-eyed. Octavia’s face was completely serious.

Daring Do, though. Daring Do just looked confused.

“Beg your pardon?” She asked, lifting her hat so she could look better at Octavia. “You want me to what?”

“Gently lift Vinyl’s tail and take a peek under it!” Octavia said. Then, she blinked. “Ah, but please tell me everything you see? Spare no detail! I’m very curious as to what’s down there. Under Vinyl’s tail.”


“Just.” Vinyl’s voice rose, and she was talking to Daring Do. “Just ignore her. She does this sometimes, don’t think too hard about it, she just—.”

“…She just what? Gently lifts your tail now and then?” Daring Do cocked her head to the side, looking at Vinyl. “Is this like a thing you two have got going or something?”


“Actually, it was Vinyl who lifted my tail earlier!” Octavia chirped, glancing at Vinyl. “After massaging my lower backside.”

Vinyl closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Octavia.”

“She was very gentle though! Very pleasant.”

“Octavia, please shut up.”

“Why? I’m just trying to help!” Octavia looked at Daring Do. “You can surely see the bomb if you lift Vinyl’s tail, yes? Is it golden?”


Daring Do looked at Vinyl. “Say, Scratch, do you mind if I—”

“You touch me and I blow everything up.”

“Figured.” To Octavia: “Just take her word, kid. Scratch’s got a good memory—if she says the bomb is golden, it’s golden.” She sighed, and walked closer to the two mares. “Honestly, the real question here is if the Can of Wyrms is really a bomb that will go off if you stop hugging? But again, if I were to guess at anybody crazy enough to turn an ancient weapon into a modern friendship-empowering explosive? Labcoat and Princess Luna are still the answer. So, play it safe.”

Vinyl’s eyes got shifty. “Why are you stepping closer.”

“Mm. So.” Daring Do had a strange look in her eyes. “Good news and bad news. Which one do you want first.”

“None,” Vinyl said.

“The good ones!” Octavia said.

“Gotcha. Congrats, kid, I’m listening to you now.” Daring Do kneeled right by Vinyl and Octavia and gave them a happy look. “Your shoulder isn’t actually broken! You got a nasty cut, yes, and I’m sure it hurts a lot—but if it were broken you wouldn’t be able to move your neck like that. I can tell from here that you just dislocated it.”

“My!” Octavia’s grin widened, her eyes started shining. She looked at Vinyl. “That is wonderful news! You heard that? Your shoulder is going to be okay!”


“Which brings me to the bad news. Octavia, hold her.”

“Okay!” Octavia held on to Vinyl even more tightly. “That sounds like a perfectly normal thing to ask. Why, though?”

“You’ll see.”

“Wait. Hold on.” Vinyl’s pitch rose, and when Daring Do grabbed her front leg—the one that hurt the most—and pulled from it, her voice kept going up until it became a screech. “Hold on. Hold on! What are you going to—?!”

“I’d tell you this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you?” Daring Do mused, firmly gripping on Vinyl’s leg, “but I’d be lying.”


Daring Do did not wait.

She pulled.


By the time Vinyl was done screaming in pain, her throat was more sore than her shoulder.

It still stung, mind you—it would sting for a while after this—but she could move it. She did not have as much strength as earlier, but she would get it back. And most importantly, her shoulder wasn’t actually broken.

“And that is probably the best thing that has happened to you today,” Daring Do was saying as she kept checking Vinyl’s shoulder. Octavia was still holding her, patting her mane and muttering soft words to calm her down—Vinyl, on her part, was too groggy to really do anything. “Broken shoulders are not something you just laugh off.”

“There, there, you’re fine now, you’re fine. Daring Do? Is she actually fine”

“Hmm-hmm. As fine as she’s ever gonna be.” Daring Do stepped away from the two mares. “Don’t see anything else. Shoulder’s okay now. Careful with the cut, however.”

“Good! Good.” Octavia gently patted Vinyl’s back—as far away from the shoulder as possible. “See? You’re fine. I’m great at this.”

“Ggggh.” Vinyl raised her eyes slightly and looked at Daring Do. “And why didn’t you do this earlier?”

“You kind of had a minor concussion. Wanted to make sure you were okay first. Or maybe I’m a petty mare! Who knows.” Daring Do frowned. “Are you okay now?”

“I hate you so much.”

“Taking that as a yes.”

“As you should!” Octavia chirped. “Thank you for healing her! I am so happy for you, Vinyl. Your shoulder is okay!” She nuzzled Vinyl on the cheek, eyes closed with happiness. “Oh, I felt so guilty about your injury after what happened at the stairs. But now you’re fine, and everything is okay!”

“HNNG—” It took a moment for Vinyl to unstiffen, and then: “Octavia, I can’t even begin to describe the pain.”

“Yes! But everything is okay!

“You’ve got a hell of a double act going on, don’t you,” Daring Do said. She turned around and walked to the nearest wall. There was a window there, one that clearly had not been designed to be open. Daring Do looked for a latch anyway. “Please send me an invite for the wedding, I can’t wait to throw it in the trash.”

Vinyl was too tired to glare, but she still managed to look wrong at Daring Do. “You know, Bon Bon would have probably found a way to heal me without putting me through Hell first.”

“Go gently lift a tail, Scratch, I’m working.” No latch. Daring Do sighed, and looked at Octavia. “Kid.”

“Daring Do?”

Vinyl grumbled. “Stop calling her kid already.”

“Mademoiselle. Lady Octavia. You.” Daring Do pointed at the window. “Is there any way to open this?”

“Not really!”

“Wonderful.” Daring Do started pacing around the room, looking at the paintings, at the statues, at the lamps on the roof. “Absolutely wonderful. So—Scratch. That was the hydragon, I got told? Hit you with one of its heads?”

Vinyl was making a conscious effort to breathe slowly, to slow her heartbeat down. “Yes.” It still hurt, but it was a different kind of hurt—the one that burns hard and goes away, rather than the lingering needles under your skin. “Came out of nowhere.”

“You got really lucky, then. The hydragon is not exactly keen on leaving survivors.” Daring Do stopped in front of an extremely stuffy painting of an old grey pony with an oversized coat. “Which is what annoys me the most, really. What do you know about that thing?”

This made Vinyl glare up. “Why are you asking?”

“Because, and I don’t know how many times I need to tell you this, coincidences don’t exist in our line of work, Scratch.” Daring Do turned away from the painting and kept on pacing around the room. Next, she stopped right by a statue of a pony doing something uncouth with a dolphin. “If you are here, there’s a reason for it. The hydragon’s after you. Why?”

“It is after us?” Octavia’s voice rose half a pitch. “My! That is extremely distressing. Are you sure?”

“Why else would you find it twice in a row? Don’t say it’s a coincidence.” Daring Do tapped the statue and pushed it, just enough not to topple it. Then she turned around to face Octavia and Vinyl. “You’re carrying a piece of the Can of Wyrms. I’m guessing that’s why it’s after you. But why are you carrying it? That’s the real question.” She tipped her hat. “So, I’m asking you. What do you know about the hydragon?”

Vinyl made a face. “Nothing. It appeared and tried to kill Princess Luna and that dragon.”

“Labcoat,” Daring Do said. “You sure it tried to kill them?

“I mean, I guess? It just sorta roared at us, and then the tower went down. It didn’t exactly lay down its plans in a dramatic monologue.”

“It said its name, though!”

“Oh yeah, it yelled ‘hydragon’ at us for no reason. Then the tower went down.”

Daring Do frowned. “Shame. I love the monologues, they’re really useful.” She looked around, and made a beeline towards the next statue: bigger, better, and this time there were two ponies doing uncouth things to a dolphin. “To be honest, it would make sense for the hydragon to go after Princess Luna, too. I don’t want to assume too much.” She touched this statue, too. “Okay, let’s try a different approach—why are you here?”

“Me?” Vinyl asked.

“Both of you. She’s also carrying the Can of Wyrms.”

“You mean here in the Castle?” Octavia asked. “Why! I am—”

“She’s ridiculously aristocratic and happy to tell you,” Vinyl interrupted. Octavia looked at her, annoyed, and slapped the back of her neck. Vinyl took a moment to blow a raspberry at her before continuing. “She got invited to the party and Princess Luna picked her from the crowd.” Pause. Blink. Vinyl looked at Octavia. “Right?”


“Hm. So Princess Luna knew you’d be here.” Daring Do pushed the statue once more, and this time it didn’t move at all. This seemed to satisfy her, as she immediately turned around with a big smile on her face. “So chances are, you were supposed to end up strapped to that bomb from the very start. Why did Princess Luna pick you to do this, did she tell you?”

Octavia took a moment to think about it. It had happened a mere six hours ago, but it felt like an eternity had passed. “She… said I had a bright future? And that I was a purebreed! And that it had to be us.”

“She told me I’d die in jail, and then blackmailed me into helping her, in my case,” Vinyl added. “What a charmer, Princess Luna is.”

“She is!” Octavia said, giggling a little. Then, she noticed Vinyl’s expression. “Oh, please. There’s no reason to still be annoyed. The Princess is a wonderful pony, and that was probably merely a slip of the tongue! She meant no—”

“Called you plump, too, didn’t she?”

“—On second thought, she does need to work on her manners. Urgently.”

“Blackmailed you, Scratch?” Daring Do asked, giving them a quick glance as she knelt down. She reached for the blanket on the floor, the one that had been tying Octavia and Vinyl to her back minutes ago. “What did you do?”

“That is also news to me!” Octavia chirped, pawing at Vinyl with a hoof. “Did she catch on you committing a lot of high treasons or something? Because that’s actually very likely. You talk a lot.”

“Eh. Not really.” Vinyl would have loved to shrug here, but her shoulder didn’t agree with her body language, so she just looked at Octavia. “I snuck in to talk to Record Label, he’s a—”

“Oh, I know him! Good little Label.” Octavia nodded. “I could probably get you a meeting with him if you want to?”

“You could? Wow. That would actually be pretty neat.”

“You snuck in and she caught you?” Daring took the blanket and tied one corner to the statue, frowning all the while—not as much in anger as like somepony who’s deep in thought. “Awfully convenient. Why this party, of all things?”


“Because Record Label makes almost no public appearances!” Octavia said. She then stuck out her tongue to Vinyl before continuing. “Record Label is a darling as long as you’re rich or famous, but he is not exactly social. It’s hard to catch him in public.” Octavia rose her chin up with pride. “Why, not even I knew he was attending this event until I saw him at the hall!”

“Ah, see. That’s interesting.” Daring Do stopped fiddling with the blanket to look at them. “That is very interesting. How did you learn that Record Label was here, Scratch?”

Vinyl didn’t immediately reply. She simply frowned at Daring Do. “I don’t like what you’re implying.”

“Tell me how you learned that information, Scratch.”

“That’s not—”

“The mademoiselle,” Daring Do pointed at Octavia, “just said that Record Label is a recluse. But I’m guessing the Princesses could ask him to attend this event as a personal favor. Who told you that he was coming? Was it Bon Bon?” The smile in Daring Do’s face was more cutting than steel. She was carrying the blanket with her, the extreme that wasn’t tied to the statue. “It was Bon Bon, wasn't she?”

Vinyl flinched. “…It was,” she said.

“Right. So the Princesses knew both of you were here. Princess Luna didn’t pick you at random—this was planned. It had to be you two, for some reason.”

“They did say that!” Octavia said. “Princess Luna said it had to be us two, yes. We have no idea why!”

“Exactly,” Daring Do said. “Why you two of all ponies, to carry the Can of Wyrms?” Pause. Squint. “And why turn it into a bomb?”

“Hey!” Vinyl snapped so fast she made Octavia yelp, and she hurt her own shoulder—but in all honesty, she did not care at all. “Bon Bon told me about the party as a personal favor! There’s nothing to read into it!”

“Oh, yeah. The government worker just shared some secret intel with her friend, and it just happened to cause this entire mess,” Daring Do said, rolling her eyes. “What a coincidence, huh?”

“We’re colleagues! Bon would never betray me like that!”

“I thought you were a civilian now? Get a grip, Scratch. Princess Luna herself said it had to be you two, this was planned.” Then Daring Do looked at Octavia, and offered her the corner of the blanket. “Mademoiselle, hold this.”

Octavia frowned at her, and did not reach for the blanket with her mouth. “I do not like how you talk to Vinyl.”


“She is my friend, and you are being particularly hurtful.” Octavia nudged Vinyl. “You okay?”

“Bon knows how—she’s the one who told me I had to leave the Service. She knows how much this matters to me.” Vinyl nuzzled Octavia back, almost without looking, just to get her confidence back a little. “So, like. Go jump out a window, Daring Do.”

“Sure, just give me a moment,” Daring Do said, still holding the blanket. “And take this, it’s important.”

“I do not see you apologizing for—”

“Look.” Daring Do’s voice rose just enough to get Octavia to shut up immediately. Her face was really close now, and Octavia could see the bags under her eyes, and the way she twisted her mouth with something that seemed a little bit like anger. “I’m under a lot of pressure right now, okay? There are ponies in danger. You want to play house and avoid your responsibilities? Be my guest! You want to deny the obvious! Good!

Octavia blinked, and looked at Vinyl. Vinyl said nothing.

So Octavia said: “Um.”

“But.” Daring Do got up, still carrying the blanket, and started pacing around the room again. She approached the window and tried to open it again, to no avail. “In the meantime, you two, there are ponies in danger. There’s a war going on!”

As on cue, the sound of rock breaking in the distance. Screams followed—very far away, absolutely, but they were there.

“Do you think this is a joke? There’s a hydragon on the loose. A hydragon.” Daring Do sighed, her shoulders slouched, and then she looked at Vinyl and Octavia, resting her shoulder on the window. “My assistant is out there, helping the dragons against the hydras. I didn’t want her entering the Castle when that monster is here, I—I need her to be safe.”

That got to Vinyl. “…Sugar Song is here?” she asked.

“Yes. She’s fighting the hydras.”

“You wanted her to be safe and you left her with the hydras?

Daring Do smiled a little at this. “She works for me. For her, that’s a cakewalk.”

Octavia tugged at Vinyl’s mane ever-so-slightly, to get her attention. “Who is Sugar Song?” she whispered.

“Daring Do’s secretary. She’s like a librarian, but without the inevitable emotional baggage.”


“She’s also able to fight hydras, apparently. I’ve met her a couple times. Daring and her are…” Vinyl wiggled her eyebrows. “You know.”

And Octavia’s eyes went wide, and her ears perked up. “Oh!” she said. “Oh! My!

“I can hear you, you know.” Daring Do was arching at eyebrow at them. “Song is just an employee. But she’s a good employee, and I don’t want to lose her. Have you seen the hydragon in action?”

“We have!”

“We super ha—wait didn’t you literally pop my shoulder back into place yourself? The shoulder the hydragon messed up?”

“You absolutely have seen the monster. Right.” Daring Do sighed again. “Want me to be honest? I don’t think you have. I think you’ve been really lucky, and you haven’t seen what a hydragon is able to do. That thing is more dangerous than an actual dragon.”

Octavia blinked. “Beg your pardon?”

Vinyl frowned. “That thing is what now.”

“Dragons are apex predators.” The bags under Daring Do’s eyes were darker than ever. “They’re the top of the food chain. They can afford being complacent.” She got up, then, and her shoulders hardened. “But the hydragon is part hydra. It knows what it is to be preyed upon, and it knows what it is to fight hard. It’s slightly weaker than an adult dragon, and that is precisely why it’s the most dangerous thing in Equestria right now.”

Then Daring Do took off her hat and threw it to the side, and approached the two mares with a steely face, and never breaking eye contact with Octavia.

“So,” she said once she was, again, kneeling by their side. “Take the bloody blanket, Mademoiselle, or I’m going to nail it to your forehead.”

Octavia took the blanket.

“Good.” Daring Do got up. “So Princess Luna got you two in the same place and strapped a bomb that also just happens to be an ancient magical artefact to your chests. And made you hug it out.” She nodded to herself. “Sounds dumb enough to be a brilliant plan that we don’t understand yet. Something that involves me—but I can’t see what role I’m playing yet.”

“Or,” Vinyl said, as Octavia was too busy holding the blanket with her mouth, “maybe it’s just all, you know. Just. Really dumb? And that’s it?”

“No. I know the Princesses. They always do this, it looks dumb up until it doesn’t, and then it all wraps up nicely, and it always involves me.” Daring Do went back to the small statue and, with a grunt and some effort, gave it a big hug—and then lifted it. “Hnnng. There must be something going on I’m not—hnnng. I’m not seeing. Why else would they call the dragons here? Why else make sure I get a piece of the Can of Wyrms?”

“Uh.” Vinyl frowned. “Well, Bon Bon said something about an alliance between dragons and ponies? Spike the dragon and all that. So, I guess they—okay, what are you doing?”

“Hnnng.” Daring Do took a couple unsteady steps towards the window, then put the statue down and looked at Vinyl. “Dragons are biologically inclined to eat princesses. Do you really think they would invite them here and risk a conflict just to chat about hypotheticals?”

“Well, it’s not like they’re going to eat Princess Celestia, right? That’s crazy.”

“No, they’re not, but you’ll notice how neither Princess Cadance nor Princess Flurry Heart attended. You know, since they have a crippling lack of omnipotence?” Daring Do took a deep breath, and lifted the statue again. “Hnnnnng. I guess Twilight is here, but she doesn’t count, she’s really hardcore—hnnng what is this thing made of.

“I think it’s stone.” Vinyl looked at Octavia. “Is it stone?”

Octavia nodded with enthusiasm, still holding the blanket with her mouth.

“Right.” Back at Daring Do. “It’s made out of stone.”

Hnnng. You’re so helpful aren’t you. Hnnnnnnng.

“Seriously, what are you doing?”

Ooof.” Daring Do placed the statue down again—this time, right next to the window. “Okay. So they have a plan, and Princess Luna asked you to go looking for Princess Celestia. Do you have any clue where she might be?”

Vinyl made a face. “I’ve kinda been avoiding figuring that out, to be honest.”

“Right. Of course. We wouldn’t want you being useful for once in your life.” Daring Do swept the sweat from her forehead, and then rested her back against the statue and looked at the two mares. “Okay. Do you know where Record Label is?”

And Vinyl looked at Octavia. “Well, I have a suspicion, but to be honest, it’s just that. Octavia knows more about the Castle than me—and I guess she’s seen the guy today, too? So she’s more likely to know…”

Octavia still had the blanket in her mouth, so she couldn’t really talk. She did, however, nudge Vinyl with her forehead.

“Right.” Vinyl nodded. “I see. I guess that makes sense.”

Daring Do arched an eyebrow. “You understood what that means?”

“I have absolutely no idea. I think she’s just trying to be cute.”

Octavia gave them both a huge grin.

Daring Do unarched her eyebrow. “Right.”

“However,” Vinyl continued, this time looking away from Octavia and around the place, “Twilight Sparkle did say that the Ballroom was the safest place in the whole Castle, so I guess he could be there? It’s just an idea, though. I haven’t really been asking around.”

Octavia pawed at Vinyl’s face.

“I’m guessing she means my assumption is correct.”

“I can see that happening,” Daring said, nodding. “The Ballroom is on the second floor, so the hydras can’t reach it, because they’re too dumb for stairs. It’s also probably big enough to host every noblepony at the party…?” She looked at Octavia, and when she saw the mare nodding, Daring smirked. “Good. So the chances of him being there are high. Typical.”

This made Vinyl look at her. “Typical?”

“We were going there already. I knew it was the safest place in the whole Castle.”

“And you’re dropping us there while you fight the monsters?”

“Hah. Hah, hah.” Daring Do shook her head. “Oh, Celestia. No.” Then she turned round, pawed took a deep breath to hyper herself up, and grabbed the statue a third time. “Hnnnnnng!

“Okay.” Vinyl rose her voice a little, and it had an annoyed ring to it. “For real! What on Equestria are you doing?!


Daring Do let out a scream, lifted the statue all the way above her head, and hurled it towards the window.


The sound of broken glass filled the room. The statue was solid stone, and exactly as heavy as it looked—the window, fancy as it was, never stood a chance.

Then the sound of the stone breaking against the ground below—eerily similar to the sounds of war that could be heard in the distance, whenever they paid any attention.

Then Daring swept the sweat of her brow, picked up her hat, and put it on. “I’m listening to your advice, Scratch.”


“I’m throwing myself out a window.” Daring shot them her most wonderful smile. “Mademoiselle?”

Octavia raised her head. “Mmmmf?”

“Hold that blanket tightly.”


It was the second time that Vinyl and Octavia had seen themselves crashing through a window, although this time it hurt significantly less. The lack of an explosion behind them helped—so did the fact that Daring Do was using her body to shield them both from the broken glass.



Didn’t stop them from screaming, though.

The Ballroom was enormous. It easily took over a fourth of the West wing of Canterlot Castle, and it had enough room for five hundred ponies. There was a huge chandelier hanging from above, red curtains around every window, and intricate filigree across the dance floor. To the right, a marble stage for the musicians; to the left, long tables to accommodate only the best of foods.

The stage was empty, and the tables were all upside down. Three hundred ponies were huddled up around the dance floor, sleeping soundly. Some of them were snoring.



And Octavia, Vinyl, and Daring Do landed right in front of them.

“Okay, you two can stop screaming now.” Daring Do flapped her wings, and they landed quite gracefully on the ground. This was the first time she had flapped her wings in a while—they hadn’t flown out of the Art Gallery, they had thrown themselves out of the window.


And Octavia had been holding one corner of the blanket, while the other was tied to the window above—so they had swung downwards and towards the Castle, straight through the Ballroom window.

Daring Do let the two mares go and then looked at Octavia. “You can spit the blanket now, Mademoiselle.”

“MMMF—ptoo.” Octavia did so, and then she grinned from ear to ear. “Daring Do!” she said. “That was terrifying!

“You absolute psychopath!” Vinyl yelled, not as much gripping Octavia as clinging to her. “You have wings! What was the point of—”

“It was also really fun!” Octavia continued. “In a sort of, suicidal kind of way? We should do it again later!”

“—Octavia. Octavia, no.”

“Octavia, yes!”

“The point of it, Scratch, is that I don’t really have the strength to carry two mares and fly hard enough to break through a window. This was faster.” Then Daring Do straightened her back, and looked to the sleeping crowd.

They were all nobleponies—easy to tell; they were all clothed and looked dumb. Lots of monocles, lots of hats, that pink mare over there who was never seen without her saddle.

And they were all still sleeping. The ruckus hadn’t woken up a single one.

“And please,” Daring Do said, glancing at Vinyl for a moment, “act like an adult for once in your life. We’ve got company.”

Vinyl didn’t even bother looking at the crowd, she was too busy glaring at Daring Do. “What, the nobleponies? Who cares about them!”


“You don’t count, Octavia.”

“Good! Good. I have more noble blood than all of them combined, though?”

“Which is why you don’t count.”

“You don’t have more noble blood than every single one of them,” Daring Do said, not looking at them but rather facing the crowd. “Come on, Scratch, use your head. Why do you think we’re even here? The Ballroom is the safest part of the Castle, but there’s a war out there. She’s the protector of her people. She’s not going to leave something like the nobleponies’ safety up to chance.”

Octavia blinked, and her ears pointed up. “She?” she asked. “Who’s she?

But Vinyl Scratch didn’t have to ask. She felt a familiar presence behind her, and she heard what Daring Do had said, and she immediately knew what was going on.

So she turned around to face the crowd.

And her worst fear became a reality.

“I told you,” Daring Do said by her side. “They always do this. They love to wrap everything up nicely. Hi, Princess.”

And Princess Celestia, standing in front of the crowd, tall and beautiful and ominous, replied with the sweetest smile any pony ever smiled.

“Good afternoon, Daring Do. And good afternoon to you too, Octavia Pianissimo and Vinyl Scratch. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Chapter Six – Kind of Heart

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Vinyl Scratch was an ex-secret agent. Octavia Pianissimo was a noblepony. Both of them had met Princess Celestia many times before, and would do so many times afterwards.

It never stopped being breathtaking.

True power had a name, and it was Celestia. She moved through the world with careful confidence, aware that she could break it in an instant. She spoke like a mother because next to her everybody was a child. She allowed herself to be vulnerable around others—because she knew that you couldn’t hurt her.

Princess Celestia was standing in the center of the Ballroom, looking at them, and she was beautiful and eternal.

And Daring Do clicked her tongue and said: “I really want to punch you right now, Princess. How’s it going?”

Princess Celestia smiled at her. “My kingdom is under attack, and I fear for the fate of my subjects, in spite of all my careful planning. I’ve had better days, Daring Do.” Then she cocked her perfect head to the side. “And, it seems, you want to punch me on top of it all. I must admit, I do not understand why.”

In the distance, clearer than earlier but still muffled by the walls of the Castle, came the sound of something exploding.

Daring Do’s face was hard as stone. “Gee. Take a wild guess.”

Daring Do’s voice echoed across the entire room. The Ballroom was gigantic—there were at least a hundred nobleponies sleeping there and there was absolutely more than enough space for three hundred more. Far away, in the middle of the room, there was a huge chandelier that swung every time the Castle shook.

There were red curtains in every window, but they were all open. The sound from the war outside came through them rather well.

“Interesting proposition. Perhaps later, Daring Do.” And Celestia shot her a wink before turning to Vinyl and Octavia. “But right now, there are more pressing things to consider. Vinyl Scratch.” She closed her eyes, and lowered her head slightly. “I believe you have something to tell me.”

Vinyl immediately arched an eyebrow. “Honestly, I kind of want to punch you too, Princess?”

And Celestia opened her eyes. “Ah.”

“So, like—we can change the topic, I guess, but it’s just going to be delaying the inevitable.”

“Well.” Celestia let out a sigh. “I cannot say it surprises me, Vinyl Scratch, nor that I do not deserve it. What I have done to you today is not something I am proud of, and I apologize. But, I understand that might not be enough. I must accept the consequences of my actions.” Then she looked at Octavia and in the same motherly tone, she said: “I assume you want to assault me too, Octavia Pianissimo?”

Octavia grinned at her. “I don’t know! But if Vinyl starts, I might join the fight anyway. I’m a mare of action!”

“Oh. I was not aware of that.”

“Me neither!”

“All I ask for, then, is for you to mind the crown.” Celestia stood there, closed her eyes again, and offered her cheek at them, leaning it so she’d be closer to their hooves. “It is quite delicate, and too much beauty has been destroyed today because of my failures already.”

Daring Do got visibly awkward when Celestia leaned in like that, so she flapped her wings and moved away from her. “Uh. That was just a manner of speaking, Princess. I’m not actually going to punch you.”

Celestia opened one of her eyes and looked at Daring Do. “You are not?”

“What!” From the ground, Vinyl frowned at Daring Do. “Come on! Way to get your hopes up!”

“That—what. What?” Daring Do looked at Vinyl. “I’m actively trying to save the world here! Do you really want me to waste time assaulting the princess just because I’m angry?”

“We do!”

“We super do.”

“We want to see what happens!”

Daring Do waved a hoof, and looked at Celestia. “I am angry, Princess. It would be great if you actually went and told me about your stupid plans beforehand, instead of just hoping that I jump in and fly blind like this. It’s extremely stressful, and my assistant is out there fighting hydras. But I don’t think that deserves a punch. Yet.”

Celestia nodded, and offered her cheek again. “I am glad to hear that, Daring Do. However, I believe you cannot speak for Vinyl Scratch.”

“Uuuh.” Daring Do scratched the back of her neck and frowned. “I… guess? Scratch, I don’t really get all the Mademoiselle said, so I don’t know exactly how this is supposed to go. Do you want to…? I don’t know, punch her or…?”

Vinyl Scratch considered this. More importantly, Octavia watched her.

Octavia Pianissimo was, essentially, an aristocrat—which meant that she was not one to let an absolute lack of any relevant knowledge cripple her ability to immediately develop strong opinions on issues she knew nothing about. And she knew nothing about Vinyl Scratch’s mind, or what went through it whenever Destiny was brought up.

But she had seen her wince and have difficulty breathing. And it always looked like this was against Vinyl’s own will—that she didn’t want to freak out like that, that she hated it, but something else forced it on her.

And Princess Celestia had put Vinyl in a position where that had happened very often.

In the distance, something exploded, and Vinyl close her eyes shut and opened her mouth to say something.

So Octavia, wasting no time, pressed Vinyl’s face against her chest, and talked: “We do! We do want to punch her. I do wonder what will break first, my hoof or her cheek?”


Daring Do looked at Celestia.

Celestia lowered her head, ashamed. “Your hoof,” she admitted.

“Perfect! That sounds absolutely unfair. But also very cathartic! I’ve already got a concussion, I don’t really mind more time in the hospital.” Then Octavia patted Vinyl’s back and whispered: “You don’t have to deal with this now if you don’t want to.”

Vinyl, whose face was against Octavia’s chest, simply squeezed Octavia. “Thanks.”

“Good! Good.” Then she looked at Princess Celestia. “But we’ll do it later! We should probably end the war first, so we can escape Destiny and not save the world? That would be great.” Pause. “We’re totally punching you later, though!”

“We’ll use a hammer,” Vinyl muttered.

“We’ll use a hammer!” Octavia repeated, chipper like a chocolate cookie. “That will probably break too, though.”

Celestia lowered her head even more. “…It will.”

Daring Do frowned, but she saw the look Octavia gave her, so she just nodded. “Uh. Okay. You do… you. Scratch?”

“Let her be, Daring Do,” Octavia said.


“I am, for the record,” Vinyl said, speaking louder now, still pressing her face against Octavia, “not freaking out right now.”

“You are not! It’s why I’m not nuzzling you.”

“Not talking to you, Octavia.”

“I know! I’m still not nuzzling you. Don’t be greedy.”

Daring Do saw all this, and then looked at Celestia, who still had her head down. Seeing how nopony else was talking, she hovered closer to Celestia. “Uh,” she said. “Are you… actually ashamed of being able to break a hammer with your face?”

“It makes penitence particularly difficult, Daring Do.”

“Boy. I wish those were the kind of problems that kept me awake at night.”

“Do not wish for what you do not understand, Daring Do,” Celestia said then, raising her head once more and looking—if not fine, at least not as hurt as earlier. “I pray you may never find out.” Then she looked at Octavia and Vinyl. “I will accept whatever you feel I deserve, hammer or not. And I will not play coy with you. This was all part of my plan. I am not proud of it.”

“Save the world first,” Vinyl grumbled, not looking at her. “We can go about this later.”

Daring Do hesitated a little. “…You sure, Scratch?”

“Why are you being so considerate all of a sudden? I’m already here, right? No escaping from Destiny anymore.” Vinyl grimaced. “i just want this to be over. You said Canterlot is in danger. This place is full of innocent ponies. Get to it.”

Daring Do still hesitated some more. However, after getting a good look at Vinyl—and noticing how Octavia was rubbing her back in a reassuring way, out of Princess Celestia’s line of sight—she looked at the nobleponies.

They were all huddled up together, their expensive clothes stained and tattered. Their sleep was so deep they weren’t moving at all, and there was a subtle glow to them.

Celestia followed her gaze and nodded. “I put them to sleep,” she said. “I promised safety for them, and my Royal Guard is taking care of the city, protecting it from the hydras. It was the best way to go about it.”

So Daring Do bit her lip. “Right,” she said. “Innocent lives in danger. Gotcha.” Then she reached down her shirt, still flying above everypony else. “Princess?”

Celestia looked up at her. “Daring Do.”


And Daring threw the Can of Wyrms at Celestia.

The princess’ reaction was immediate. She caught it with her magic, quick as a viper, and then brought it close to her face to inspect it. Any hint of a smile had vanished completely. “…It has been a long time since I saw this,” she said, and her voice had steel in it.

“Centuries? Figured.” Daring Do landed right in front of Celestia, frown on her face. “The legendary Can of Wyrms, Princess—or at least one third of it. The finest coltpixie gold you’ll ever see. I’ve been looking into its legend for some time, so imagine my surprise when I heard that this reunion was going to happen, and the whole thing was going to come together in one place.”

Celestia still held the Can of Wyrms tightly, but she glanced at Daring Do. “How did you…?”

“Find it? I had a little chat with Dragon Lord Ember.”

Celestia frowned. “And she deemed you worthy of carrying the Can of Wyrms?”

And Daring Do shrugged. “I punched a hydra.”

“And that was enough to convince her?”

“I punched a hydra really hard. And now,” Daring Do winked at Celestia, “there are two pieces of the Can of Wyrms in this very room right now. Am I right?”

This made Celestia almost flinch. She didn’t quite do it, but she came close, and that was enough to paint a smirk in Daring Do’s face. “I was not expecting you to know that, either,” Celestia admitted, looking down, frowning slightly. Then, she sighed. “I must apologize to you too, Daring Do. It seems I have underestimated you. Today is not my day.”

“Hah.” Daring Do’s expression was so cocky it could have sung at sunrise. “Happens often. Don’t sweat it.”

“I will not. But it will not happen a second time. That, I can guarantee you.” Celestia then flashed her horn, and the Can of Wyrms went flying towards Daring Do’s face. “Catch,” she said, half a second too late.

Daring Do caught it anyway, using both her hooves to hold it instead of her mouth. The cocky smirk went right away. “Wait, what?

“It is safer with you than with me.”

What?! But—but you’re Princess Celestia!

“Exactly.” Celestia’s smile did not reach her eyes; she glanced at Vinyl and Octavia for a moment when saying this. “You, however, are Daring Do. And I will not underestimate you anymore.” Pause. Celestia nodded, to herself. “Plus, I do believe punching a hydra hard enough has its merits.”

“Wait, but—okay.” Daring Do landed on the ground and put the Can of Wyrms around her neck again. “Okay. So I’m keeping this now? I’m keeping this now.” She tucked it under her shirt. “That was the plan all along? Because I actually didn’t see this coming.”

Celestia arched an eyebrow, and then looked at Vinyl and Octavia. Octavia glared at her. Then Celestia looked at Daring Do again, and squinted. “…Plan?”


“I do not… follow. What does this have to do with any plan?”

And something in the way Celestia said this made Vinyl come back to the world of the living. Her ears perked up and rolled until she was on top of Octavia, eyes as wide as plates, manic grin on her face. She looked at Celestia. “Sorry, excuse me, what? What was that?” She nudged Octavia so they could roll all the way around until they stood right next to Daring Do, and then she spoke again. “What was that I just heard?”

“I—the Can of Wyrms wasn’t part of your plan?” Daring Do made a point of ignoring Vinyl and just stare at Celestia. “Then…?”

“I am afraid it was not, Daring Do,” Celestia said. “I was aware, of course, that the only reason the hydras might attack today would be to find the other two pieces. I put my best agents on the field to try to stop them—it did not work.” Celestia sighed. “I have to admit, however, that that was expected.”

Daring Do nodded, and hid the Can of Wyrms under her shirt. “Right. Because of the hydragon?”

“Agent Sweetie Drops is the best at her job, but not even she can stop such a monster by herself. The hydragon is as cunning as it is dangerous, and it is the one leading the hydras towards the Can of Wyrms, yes.” Princess Celestia looked at Daring Do. “But that was all I had planned. That you would find out about it, much less retrieve one of the pieces, was… completely unexpected.”

“But—so, so you being here and me finding these two…?” Daring Do looked at Vinyl and Octavia, then at Celestia. “The nobleponies? Record Label being here?”

Celestia cocked her head to the side. “I have no idea what you are talking about. I am merely here to protect the nobleponies. I would not dare to leave them alone.”

“So you weren’t expecting me to get the piece from Dragon Lord Ember?” Daring Do asked, her voice getting increasingly more desperate. “Isn’t there any kind of—of masterplan I’m not seeing, that involves me in some ridiculous fashion?”

“Um.” Celestia was still cocking her head to the side. She hadn’t stopped doing that. “No.”

“Oh, my!” Again, Vinyl hollering from the ground. This time she looked at Octavia. “Would you believe that! Did you hear that, Octavia, best friend?”

“I did!” Octavia said. “I did hear that! How quaint!

“It is almost as if it was all a stupid coincidence all along!

Celestia nodded. “It was just a silly misunderstanding, yes.”

“A silly misunderstanding! Turns out! It’s all just really really dumb! You hear that, Octavia?”

“I do!”

Daring Do spoke behind gritted teeth. “Scratch,” she said. “I’m going to punch you.”

“Man and to think Daring Do believed there was some kind of conspiracy here! How utterly embarrassing!

“It is!” Octavia was getting into the mood, bobbing up and down slightly, or at least as much as she could while still hugging Vinyl. “It is embarrassing!”

“…A strange belief to hold, my dear Daring Do,” Celestia muttered. “One must admit it. I am already juggling too many things in the air as it is. Why would I complicate the matter further by adding you to the picture?”

Fair is fair: Daring Do took this without breaking down. She simply stood there, cheeks burning, and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before talking again. “Okay,” she said. “Okay. Severely overestimated you there, Princess.”

“Do not sweat it, Daring Do.” Celestia nodded. “It happens all the time.”

“Right. Right! Okay!” Daring Do looked around. “So! Any reason for me to be here right now? Any at all?

Celestia looked at her.

Vinyl and Octavia looked at her.

And Daring Do sighed. “Me being here is literally a coincidence, isn’t it.”


“I am absolutely not included in the plan whatsoever. I’m not going to play any part in saving the world today.”

“…Not as far as I am concerned, at least.” Celestia squinted. “I am… sorry?”

Daring Do nodded. “Right. I—I’m just. I’m just going to walk over there.”

Then she turned around, walked away some twenty feet away, and just stood there. Looking away from them, head hung low.


“Well.” Celestia was the first one to speak. Vinyl and Octavia looked at her. “I suppose Daring Do can have a very… literary view of life sometimes.”

“It’s funny because she’s miserable!” Octavia said.



“It’s you saying stuff like that what makes us best friends.”

“Thank you!”

“So I guess this is it?” Vinyl rolled on her side again so she could squeeze Octavia a bit better, and then she looked at Celestia. Never had she missed her glasses so much as in this particular moment. “This is where we punch you, Princess.”

Celestia sat on the ground next to them. “Yes. If you so wish.”

“Is that also part of your plan.”

“It is.” Celestia looked around, at Daring Do, at the sleeping nobleponies. “I apologize again, Vinyl Scratch. I understand that you wanted to stop saving the world, that you wished to escape from Destiny. I forced you to fall back into its arms. I do not know if I deserve forgiveness.”

Octavia patted Vinyl’s back and started looking around the Ballroom with squinty eyes.

“Only if you want to, of course,” Celestia said. “But I do believe you two deserve an explanation. I fully intend you to save Equestria today. You are the Chosen Ones. You cannot escape it anymore.” Pause. Celestia frowned. “Octavia Pianissimo.”


“Are you looking for a hammer to break against my face?”

“I am! I was lying earlier, I really don’t want to hurt my hoof. It is quite exquisite.” Octavia looked at Vinyl, and then at Celestia. “Do you perhaps have a hammer with you, Princess?”

Celestia seemed to give this some actual thought, but eventually she shook her head. “I can summon one for you,” she said. “But I would prefer to talk first.”

Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Do we talk first?”

Vinyl looked to the side. “Sure. I don’t care anymore.”

“Good!” Then, to Celestia: “We’ll allow you to talk!” Back to Vinyl: “We’re angry, Vinyl. We have to sound authoritative.”

Vinyl replied to this with a warm look and a small snuggle, and then they rolled around so she could look at Celestia. It took her a moment to talk, but eventually she managed. “Why?” she asked. Her eyes were bare, and her voice was normal, if with some raw undertones. “That is all I want to know. Why me? Why would you do this?”

“It had to be you two.” Celestia closed her eyes. “I am sorry.”

Vinyl’s eye twitched. “It did not have to be us two. That was the whole point why I stopped following Destiny. It does not need to be me, or Octavia.” She looked at the mare in question. “She’s been in danger, too.”

“I know.”


Princess Celestia didn’t make a sad face, or in fact change her expression at all. Her voice still sounded royal and composed, her wings were slightly spread, making her look even larger.

But the way the light bounced off her when she talked—that changed, somehow. It felt gray, toned down. She looked as delicate as the sleeping nobleponies behind her, and even the crown on her head seemed to lose its shine when she said:

“Because otherwise it would have been Twilight Sparkle.”

And then, suddenly, everything made sense.

Vinyl Scratch felt herself shrink a little, she felt her breath quicken, but still she said: “She’s the one who told me to leave the Secret Service—”

“I know. I speak the truth when I say I may not deserve forgiveness, Vinyl Scratch,” Celestia said. “This plan was nothing but a selfish action of my behalf. That is why you two are here.”

“…Twilight doesn’t know your plan,” Vinyl muttered. “Twilight didn’t know about me being forced into the call.”

“She does not. And it speaks greatly of her, to sacrifice her own life so that you may achieve happiness.” A smile made it to Celestia’s face, but it was not a happy one. “I taught her well. Too well, in fact. Every time you dodge your Destiny, Vinyl Scratch, Twilight Sparkle is forced to save the world in your stead.”

“Because they are Destiny’s last resort?” Octavia asked.

Celestia nodded. “Indeed,” she said.

“But—” Vinyl Scratch was visibly struggling to speak. She cleared her throat with a cough before continuing. “I… thought that she didn’t mind it. That it didn’t bother her.”

“I know. She told me the same. But…” Celestia shook her head. “I know better. Vinyl Scratch, you are a young mare. You are too young to have children yet, I assume?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“But you may have them, one day.”


Vinyl blinked, and her eyes went back to normal. She looked at Octavia—Octavia gave her a cute smile—and then at Celestia. “Uh.” She gulped. “Uuuuuh. I’m… probably not?” She glanced at Octavia again. “That would be a, uh. A really big surprise, all things considered.”

Octavia caught that, and giggled. “It would! It would be a surprise. I already said that earlier.” Then she snuggled against Vinyl’s chest. “But we still have adoption left, if we really want to!”

“Well, yeah, but—wait. Did you just say we.”

Octavia blinked charmingly. “What?” she asked. “I do not follow!”

Celestia’s ears perked up, and she straightened her back. “Oh,” she said, speaking a little louder than earlier. “I… did not realize you two were…?”

“Wha—uh. We’re not. We’re not!” Vinyl rolled around so she would be on top of Octavia and gave Celestia a look. “I mean, if you’re implying what I think you’re implying, at least? Because if you are, we’re not that. As for you,” Vinyl looked down, “you’re… probably implying something completely different.”

“I am!”

“And you’re wording it horribly.”

“I may be!”

“Right.” Vinyl looked at Celestia again, and licked her lips. “I, uh. I do not plan on having a relationship with… a stallion? Any time soon. If you catch my drift?”

Celestia blinked. “Yes, I understood that, Vinyl Scratch. I may be old, and I might be flawed, but I am not blind.”

“Yeah you’re not exactly making it hard to guess, Scratch.” Daring Do, seemingly out of nowhere, popped up next to Vinyl and gave her a funny look. “I mean, come on.”

“Agh!” Vinyl flinched, and then glared at Daring Do. “What?!”

“That mane.”

“Shut up! Why are we talking about this!”

Daring Do frowned. “You brought it up! Look, can you like, focus for once in your life, or…?”

“I’m trying! Okay. Look.” Vinyl sighed, and then let go of Octavia with one hoof—she made sure to hug her tightly with the other one—so she could point at herself. “Me? Gay. Explicitly. Her?” She pointed at Octavia. “She’s, uh.” Vinyl looked at her, on top of pointing at her face. “Probably that, too, apparently? Octavia, is that what you were implying?”

Octavia had a mysterious smile on. “Mmm.”

“Are you seriously playing coy now.”

“Mmm. A lady never tells!”

“I just did that myself!”

“A lady never tells.” And Octavia made a face. “Seriously, Vinyl. You’re my best friend, but… that mane!”

“I somehow feel,” Celestia interrupted, raising a hoof in the air to catch their attention, “that we got sidetracked. I understand you two may have many things to talk about, but this topic does not seem to be relevant to the current situation.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh.”

“Children!” Octavia chimed. “And adoption. That’s why it’s relevant!”

“Right, I—You know what? You’re absolutely right, Princess. This has nothing to do with the current topic. Let’s go back to—what were we talking about?”

Celestia nodded, and her body language became serious again. “My betrayal of your trust and your consequent heartbreak, Vinyl Scratch.”

“Right yes let’s go back to that. And you.” Vinyl looked at Octavia again. “Shut up.”


“Princess.” Vinyl managed to make a straight face when looking at Celestia. “Twilight Sparkle told me that she did not mind it, that she barely felt the difference once I stopped saving the world.”

“And you believed it?” Daring Do asked before Celestia could say anything. She sounded annoyed. “Scratch, are you daft? Do you ever stop to think about the consequences of your actions, or do you merely set things of fire and then wonder why it all smells like smoke?”


“My dear Daring Do.” Celestia was gentle but firm when speaking, and she looked at the pegasus with motherly authority. “I understand you are… emotionally invested in this argument. But Vinyl Scratch is an adult, and so is Twilight Sparkle. If they so desire, they may do as they want with their lives.”

Daring Do took this as a hit, and she took a step back. “I mean,” she said, “I know that. But that’s a stupid—”

“It may be, or it may be not,” Celestia said. “It is not my place to say. Just like it is not your place to tell Twilight Sparkle or Vinyl Scratch what they are allowed to do in the pursuit of their own happiness.”

“And yet,” and it was Octavia who talked, and it was merely a whisper, but her voice still carried across the entire room and it seemed to echo against the walls, “you didn’t ask any of them before forcing Vinyl to follow her Destiny against her will today.”

Everybody shut up at once.

In the distance, something exploded.

Vinyl Scratch didn’t look at Celestia when this happened. She looked at Octavia.

The mare didn’t look cute or elegant, now. She was gray, and groomed, and gorgeous, but she looked detached. Aloof. She looked every little sign as purebreed as she was, and for a moment Vinyl felt chills down her spine.

“Have you seen what happens to Vinyl when Destiny sneaks up to her, Princess?” Octavia kept on talking. Her voice had lost all spice; now it was nothing but steel. “Because it is not pleasant. I didn’t know memories alone could bring physical pain, but apparently, they can. And you felt you were in a position where you could force that on her?”

It took Celestia a moment to reply. When she did, her voice sounded as maternal as ever.

She did not dare look at Octavia when speaking, however.

“I did,” she simply said. “It was not easy. Agent Sweetie Drops threatened to leave the Secret Service when I gave her the order to fool Vinyl Scratch into coming, but I was able to convince her. It was our only choice.”

Vinyl didn’t dare look at Celestia either. She felt something cold in the pit of her stomach. “So it was Bon Bon, then.”

“She threatened to leave?” Daring Do frowned. “That’s… That must have been so hard for her.”

Octavia was the one who replied, again. “I sure hope so,” she said. “Princess, I am waiting for an explanation as to why you did this.”

Celestia nodded. “The hydragon has reached maturity,” she said. “And it is far, far more vicious than any dragon, and unhinged by shackles such as honor, or dignity. There was no way to predict what damage it could cause on Equestria, or even the world as a whole.”

“So you held a party with the dragons and made sure they would all attend,” Daring Do said. “Because that means two of the three pieces of the Can of Wyrms would be together, and that would be—”

“—Impossible for the hydragon to ignore. Yes. I must admit, however, that the prospect of peace talks with the dragons also held a certain attractive quality. My sister is trying to teach them the merits of friendship.” Celestia looked up. “Luna has a wicked sort of wisdom, one that I sadly lack. I trust she might be on to something.”

“She’s not,” Octavia said.

“She’s super not,” Vinyl whispered.

“She’s probably not,” Daring Do added.

“Oh, well. It is always wise to hope. What is left, otherwise?” Celestia swallowed, and then forced herself to look at Vinyl, and Octavia. “The hydragon, in here, could be defeated. With enough planning, with enough foresight, I can set a powerful enough trap. But that is not a quest to be taken lightly, that is not a task any pony could take—”

“You needed a hero,” Vinyl said. Octavia looked at her, but Vinyl nodded, and so Octavia didn’t interrupt her. “And Destiny to be involved.”

“Yes. I cannot be the one to carry the bomb, Vinyl Scratch. I wish I could. Octavia Pianissimo is the only one, as far as I know, and you are here to protect her.” Here Celestia straightened her back, and her voice got some confidence back. What she said next, she said without shame. “Twilight Sparkle could have, perhaps, but she has too much on her plate already. Most of which, I must say, came from yours.”

In the distance, a creature screamed in pain. Smoke rose in the horizon.

Vinyl rolled around to look at Celestia. Octavia let her. “What?”

“Destiny does not give up easily, Vinyl Scratch,” Celestia said, looking straight into Vinyl’s eyes. “Every time you dodge the call, somepony else must answer it.”


“How many times?” Celestia leaned forwards. “How many times do you refuse the call, Vinyl Scratch? How many times do you feel Destiny asking you to save the world, only for you to force that responsibility on Twilight Sparkle?”

It took a moment for Vinyl to find the words. When they came, they came almost on their own, without her input. “…Average is once a week,” she said.

“Once a week,” Celestia repeated. She did not sound angry, but she did sound stern. Strained. “Once a week, Vinyl Scratch. Once a week. Twilight Sparkle is forced to go on a quest to do the job you could not finish. Once a week she puts her life in danger for her own sake. But that is not all she has to do.” Celestia looked at Daring Do, who lowered her hat to cover her eyes, and then back at Vinyl. “She has responsibilities of her own, too.”

“I…” Vinyl looked at Octavia—who nuzzled her—and then back at Celestia. “She told me that she didn’t mind it, she said—”

“She is kind of heart, and I could not be more proud.” Celestia nodded, but her eyes were still piercing at Vinyl’s own. “But how long can she keep this? Two quests a week, three? Every time you refuse the call, it falls on her and her friends. Have you seen her lately, Vinyl Scratch? How tired she is?”

The kitchens.

Twilight, sounding utterly bored—or perhaps exhausted—as she talked about Destiny and Vinyl running from Destiny. Running from Destiny again.

The bags under her eyes.

“I have,” Vinyl muttered, looking down. Her voice was just a little whisper. “I have seen it.”

“I figured. So have I.” Princess Celestia took a deep breath, and kept on talking. She kept on staring. “It was only a matter of time until she cracked under the pressure. No matter how talented she is, no matter how much I have trained her—there is only so much a pony can do. And the hydragon is too dangerous. I do not think she would have made it. I do not think it was a risk I could afford to take.”

Vinyl couldn’t reply. She remembered everything she had seen in her years at the Service, and thought of Twilight seeing the same every week. Time and time again.

Vinyl’s fault.

Her ears were flat against her head. She started breathing in quick, shallow breaths; her heartbeat started—


Octavia stopped nuzzling her, and stared at Celestia. “The hydragon was too dangerous for Twilight Sparkle—so you threw Vinyl under the bus?”

“Yes.” Celestia nodded, looking at Octavia, now. “I believed Vinyl Scratch would not be alone. She would be well-rested. She was properly trained, and she was the one Destiny would call first anyway.” She pressed a hoof against her chest. “I do not ask for forgiveness, and I understand that what I did was wrong. I hate that you have to go through this. But I would be lying if I said that I would not do the same again, if I had to.”

“You didn’t tell Twilight this either,” Octavia said. “You made this choice in her place.”

“And she might grow to resent me. If she does, so be it. I will accept the consequences of my actions.” Celestia looked at Vinyl, now. “It was not an easy choice, and I deserve your anger. But I do think you might one day appreciate what I did as an act of love.” She took a deep breath. “If you ever have children on your own.”

True power had a name, and it was Celestia. She allowed herself to be vulnerable around others—because she knew that you couldn’t hurt her, no matter how you tried.

“An act of love?” Octavia asked. “That is what you call it, Princess?”

Celestia nodded. “Flawed as it may be.”

“I see.” Octavia looked away. “Then I suppose that explains why your sister betrayed you a thousand years ago.”

Octavia knew exactly what she was doing.

There was nopony to nuzzle Celestia back.

She didn’t cry or yell, however. She didn’t start breathing quickly. She just winced, and pressed a hoof against her chest again, and looked broken.

Daring Do took a step forward and opened her mouth—but Celestia saw her, and rose a hoof to interrupt her. She didn’t say anything, simply shook her head and gave her a quick smile, but Daring Do got the gesture. She shut her mouth and looked at Octavia and Vinyl instead.

When she spoke, she spoke softly.

“The Secret Service is everything for Bon Bon.”

Vinyl gulped. She avoided looking at Celestia, but she did not shy away from Daring Do’s face. “It is,” she said.

“So she knew why you left the Service, too. She knew about you, and about... “ Daring Do tipped her hat and looked down, so her eyes were out of sight. “About all this. You told her.”


“And Princess Celestia, too. And Twilight Sparkle. You told everypony but me. All I got was some music nonsense.”

Vinyl drew a sharp breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—I couldn’t just—”

“I can read between the lines.” Daring Do lifted her head. “If you really don’t trust me enough to let me be a part of this, then Princess Celestia was right. It’s not my place to tell you anything.” She looked at Octavia. “Guess you’ve made your choice.”

“It’s not about me not trusting you, it’s—”

“Whatever, Scratch. You’re an adult. If you want me out, I’ll be out.”

“I don’t want you out.”

“You’re really not making a good job showing that.”

“Daring Do,” Octavia said, “I’m sure she had her reasons. Right not might not be a good moment.” Then she looked at Vinyl, and all the steel was gone from her. Her voice had that old spice again. “We should go now! We can probably wait the bomb out at this point.”

Vinyl frowned, and looked at Octavia. “I… Octavia.” Then she looked at the Princess, who was simply sitting there, quiet. “You… I’m really grateful that you stood by me, but you really didn’t need to go that hard.”

“I disagree!” Octavia chirped. “You didn’t have to go that hard. I, however?” And then she snuggled against Vinyl a little bit. “I told you, did I not? You need to speak with authority when you’re angry.” She looked at Celestia. “It’s the best way to make sure others try not to make you angry again.”

And to this Celestia reacted, although her voice was a bit wavy when she talked, at first. “I cannot deny it is an effective method, Octavia Pianissimo.”

Vinyl swallowed. “Princess, I’m—”

Something exploded in the background, and Vinyl shut up. Celestia shook her head and gave her a motherly look. “There is no need to apologize, Vinyl Scratch. I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions. I did not ask for your consent, or for Twilight Sparkle’s, and I am sorry. But what is done is done.” She looked at Daring Do. “Daring Do? May I ask for your assistance?”

Daring Do straightened her back. “Always,” she said, saluting. Then she frowned, and said: “Princess, I—you know you’re my friend. I don’t think Princess Luna’s fall was your—”

“Thank you, but that will have to wait. There are still more pressing issues at hoof.” Celestia looked at Octavia. “You may not leave yet, I am afraid. The world still needs saving. But I learn from my mistakes.”

Octavia arched an eyebrow. “Do you?”

“I do.” Celestia turned around, and unfolded her wings. “You have been through too much already; I understand that now. And if neither you nor Twilight Sparkle fulfil your Destiny today, perhaps I will suffice.” She rose her head up with dignity. “It is not a risk I like taking.” She glanced at the sleeping nobleponies when she said this. “But it is the least I can do.”

Daring Do flapped her wings and flew right next to Celestia. The princess was looking at the westernmost wall of the Ballroom, the one that led outside, to the Gardens. “So is that what I’m helping with?”

“Yes.” Celestia nodded. “Your instructions were to find me here, Vinyl Scratch. You did so. All the pieces are in place.” She took a deep breath, and readjusted her crown. “What follows is the difficult part. I have laid a trap for the hydragon, but it involves you. I will try not to use it. Which means…”


The outer wall was blown to pieces.


At the other side of the hole, the hydragon roared.

And Princess Celestia looked at it. “Which means that now it is my turn to fight.”

Outside of the Castle, overlooking the war destroying the mountain bit by bit, Rarity felt chills down her spine. Suddenly, the unfinished golden necklace around her neck seemed to weigh twice as much, and she felt compelled to grasp it. By her right, Applejack was throwing an giant boulder at a hydra and laughing about it, but Rarity didn’t even notice it.

“Something… weird is going on,” she said, frowning, looking at the necklace. “Applejack, dear?”



“HAH—HAH! TAKE THAT, YOU DARN TOOTIN’ SON OF A—Wha?” Applejack turned to face Rarity, still making a rude gesture with her front legs. “Rares? You called?”

“I did, yes.” Rarity frowned, put the necklace down, and then observed Applejack’s work with a modicum of interest. The attacking hydra was currently trying to swallow the boulder, or maybe take it out of its mouth. No way to know. “I am glad to see you’re having fun, by the way.”

“Ah sure am! Ah like how they yell when Ah hit ‘em.”

RAARGGHGHGHGHG,” the hydra choked.

“Somethin’ like that, yeah.”

“Hmm-hmm.” Rarity looked at the hydra again. “I have to ask. How do you know it’s a male?”


“You called it ‘son of a’ something, if I recall correctly,” Rarity said. “And I do. As it literally just happened.”

“Sharp one, aren’t you,” Applejack said with a tip of the hat. “Ah don’t really know? ‘Daughter of a—’ just lacks somethin’. Ah’d call anypony a ‘son of a—’ if Ah had to insult ‘em, really.” She shrugged. “Ah’d call you—”


Rarity arched an eyebrow. “No, no. By all means, finish that thought.”

“—a lady?” Applejack gave Rarity her most charming smile. “Yeah! Ah’d, um, Ah’d probably do that. You’re a special case, Rares.”

“You’d do that if you had to insult me.”


“You would call me a lady.”

“Ah would be really condescendin’ about it.”

Rarity thought about this for a moment, and then gave Applejack a second, equally charming smile. “I can see that, actually! It does work, doesn’t it?”

“Sure does! Ah would call Dash a ‘son of a—’ though, if you still want an example.” And then Applejack took a step towards Rarity and gave her that look she could give that disarmed you completely. “And, don’t get me wrong, Ah don’t mind talkin’ about this—but this ain’t what you wanted to talk about. Right?”

“As delightful as it would be to say that yes, I in fact intended to start what is doubtlessly a long diatribe on the many ways in which you can insult Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said, pawing at the necklace again, “I’m afraid that’s not it, no.”


“Applejack, did you…?” Rarity looked around, then bit her lip and rubbed her forearm in an accidental, but still pretty good, Fluttershy impression. “Did you… feel that?”

“Feel what?”

“Chills. Like—something important happening. Something bad happening.” Rarity had to scratch the back of her neck to avoid feeling too embarrassed; she would later tell Octavia and Vinyl that she felt extremely silly while saying all this. “My, I think I just felt something terrible going on somewhere in the Castle, and I can’t help but fear that our dear Twilight might—”

The west wing of the Castle exploded, dust and rubble cascading downwards into the inner Gardens. The distinct sound of mares screaming, and the sound of something roaring, something that felt like both a dragon and a hydra at the same time, followed.

“—be in danger,” Rarity finished, mouth hanging slightly open, looking at the Castle.

Immediately afterwards, another explosion, this time smaller—and light started flashing from the west wing. Golden light.

Then, more screaming.

By Rarity’s side, Applejack took off her hat and pressed it against her chest, eyes wide in horror. “You know what,” she muttered, eyes big as plates. “Ah do think somethin’s goin’ on in the Castle after all.”

“Rarity!” A sudden blue blur, and before you know it, Rainbow Dash was fluttering above both of them. “We’ve got trouble!”

Rarity felt a weight drop in her stomach. “Oh, dear,” she whispered, sweat running down her face. “Not this, too. What happened?”

“What happ—what?” Dash blinked, and the worry left her face for a moment. She looked back at the Castle—smoke rising now—then at Rarity. “Uh. The Castle exploded? Rarity, are you blind?”

“Ah. Ah, you meant that?” Rarity let out a sigh. “Oh, thank Celestia. I thought you meant something else was going on.”

“Is the Castle exploding not enough for you, or…?”

Rarity rolled her eyes. “It—! Never mind.” Then she turned around to look at Applejack—and found it was a little bit harder than expected. The necklace still weighted more than usual, but it also pulled from her, as if it were magnetic, as if it wanted to go to the Castle. “Oh?”

“Rainbow Dash?” Applejack put on her hat again, and took a step forward, looking up to the pegasus. “You son of a—what are you doin’ here? You were supposed to take care of Fluttershy! Did you just leave her alone?!”

Rarity blinked. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no, please, we don’t have time for your silly arguments—”

“There was an explosion! That’s what I’m doing here!” Dash complained, turning around and pointing at the Castle. “See? Hydras can’t do that!”

“Ah agree,” AJ said, nodding. “But Ah mean why are you here.”

“Well, to talk with Rarity, I guess?” Dash arched an eyebrow. “Twilight said she’s in charge! Fluttershy’s hiding among the trees, and there are no hydras nearby, okay? And this kind of looks like an emergency!”

Applejack looked at Rarity, then at Dash. “Huh. Twilight did do that,” she said. “And this is an emergency. Y’know, Dash, you’re makin’ a lotta sense, come to think of it.”


The sudden burst of purple light made the three mares cringe in place. It came from the west wing, too, but this time it had a distinct shape, that of…

“…Twilight’s cutie mark,” Dash muttered, rubbing her eyes to get back her vision. “Eugh. That was Twilight’s cutie mark, wasn’t it?”

“Ah think so.”

“You think that’s a bad sign?”

Both mares looked at Rarity.

Rarity was also rubbing her eyes—but more than anything, she was thinking. Thinking really hard.

Twilight hadn’t appointed her leader for nothing. Applejack was better at using common sense, Fluttershy was better at dealing with the hydras, and Rainbow Dash was the best at teamwork as long as she was the captain.

But Rarity was a romantic. Rarity believed in the beauty of little details and in passion being enough to move mountains. Rarity knew how to overanalyze and become obsessed, but she also knew when to stop thinking, when to become rationally irrational. She understood that taking important decisions was one part skill and two parts art.

And more important than that, she knew how ponies worked. So she turned around to look at AJ, ignoring the necklace’s pull. “Applejack, dear?” she asked, trying to keep her voice as soft as possible.


“By all means, correct me if I am wrong, but—did you just say Rainbow Dash was making a lot of sense?”

Applejack frowned. “Uh. Yeah. Ah mean, she was!” Then she looked at Dash. “Sorry for snappin’ at you back there, Dash. Been a bit stressed lately Ah might’ve been too harsh to you today.”

Dash waved a hoof dismissively. “Nah, I’ve been annoying lately, I get it. We good?”

Applejack smiled. “We good.”

By the side, Rarity was staring.


“Did you two,” she eventually asked, vocalizing every word as carefully as possible, “just make up? Like that?”


“Ah guess?”

“Right.” Rarity nodded. “Even though you have been arguing all day. Just like that—no lesson learned, no big revelation, just… Normal communication. Like two actual adults recognizing that there’s no real reason to fight.”

“We are kinda tryin’ to save Equestria right now, Rares,” Applejack said, a hint of annoyance making it to her voice. “It’s about priorities. Dash?”

“Yeah, we’ve been a bit silly, I guess. But hey.” Dash shrugged. “Better late than ever.”

“Right.” Rarity nodded, swallowed, touched the necklace. It kept pulling. “Right. Dash?”


“Go get Fluttershy. There are no hydras nearby aside from…” She pointed at the one Applejack had forced to eat a boulder mere minutes ago. “And I know more might come at any moment, but I am willing to risk it.”

This caught Dash so off-guard she actually landed. “What? Why? Where are we going?”

And Rarity pointed at the Castle, at the Ballroom, at the black smoke rising. “There,” she said, face tense. “It is not the first time I see you two fight, Rainbow Dash, and you didn’t even learn a friendship lesson right now. Whatever is happening in the Castle, it was not a hydra, and it is big. So go get Fluttershy. I think Twilight needs our help.”

The moment the hydragon managed to slip into the Ballroom—which was sadly big enough to accomodate the monster—Daring Do jumped and lifted into the air, grabbing Octavia and Vinyl and moving them as far away from the danger as possible. She was fast; she was arguably the fastest pegasus alive at the moment, with that kind of visceral speed that only comes when dodging bullets has become part of your daily routine.

And still she was slower than Princess Celestia, who immediately unfolded her wings, and shone her horn. All the nobleponies got unceremoniously lifted and carried around with golden magic, and then dropped at the leftmost wall of the Ballroom. They were all screaming, they were panicking—but Celestia kept them in place.

Then she pointed her horn and shot one single burst of light, in the shape of Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark, through the hole the hydragon had carved.

And the hydragon…



“Princess?” Daring Do left Vinyl and Octavia on the ground and then rushed towards Celestia, who was currently flying to the left and shining her horn to catch the hydragon’s attention and drive it away from the sleeping nobles. “Little question, if you don’t mind?”

Celestia sounded perfectly calm when she looked at Daring Do—a smile even made it to her face for a moment—but she kept on focusing on the hydragon. “Yes, my dear Daring Do?”

“Is this going to work? Like, at all?”

“It was not part of my plan to fight today, Daring Do. But.” She looked at her. “I did not know you would be here. Perhaps, your help is all I needed. Perhaps you can help me fight Destiny itself. If it is not much to ask.”

This took Daring Do by surprise. She actually stopped looking at the hydragon for a moment, and glanced at Celestia. “I mean, you’re my friend, I don’t mind helping. But… You didn’t really answer my question?”

“The answer, Daring Do, is—is this going to work?” Celestia smiled one last time, and then looked at the hydragon. “I do not know. But I am certainly going to try.”

The hydragon had four faces, a million teeth, and infinite ways to kill you. It was slightly larger than a normal hydra, and it had—Vinyl and Octavia could see this now; they hadn’t really been able to give the monster a good look earlier—tiny wings on its back. Its eight eyes were yellow and gleaming with disgusting intelligence, its four mouths were salivating, and it moved way too fast for something its side.

Celestia snapped her neck and shot some kind of light straight at one the hydragon’s face.

The hydragon dodged it.

Daring Do tried to fly around and punch it one of its heads.

The hydragon smashed her out of the air with a well-timed head-butt.

Celestia teleported, moved close to Daring Do, shone some light on her. The hydragon head-butted them both into the ground.

And that was the end of this fight.

From the other side of the room, next to the sleeping nobleponies, Octavia and Vinyl were looking, eyes wide. Octavia was the first one to talk. “Well!” she said. “That was absolutely unimpressive!”

“Boy,” Vinyl said, squinting. “We’re going to get murdered today.”

“And you’re taking it very well!” Octavia said. “I’m so proud of you. Want a nuzzle anyway?”


“I’m going to nuzzle you anyway!”

“I’m good as long as I’m not the one fighting the monster.” Pause. Vinyl looked at Octavia. “Well, actually, I’m not? But at this point I’m too emotionally exhausted to care.”

“Also the concussion! Come here anyway.”

“Also the concu—HNNGG.”

Octavia stopped nuzzling her, and looked at the hydragon again. “But! I don’t think the fight is over. That was probably only slightly stronger than a hammer. I might be angry at the Princess still, but she is royalty.”

At the other side of the room, the hydragon slammed its four heads against Celestia and Daring Do.




And again.


Octavia looked at Vinyl. “We’re going to get murdered today,” she said.

“We’re super gonna—“


A dark cloud of gas appeared out of thin air, choking the hydragon, making it stumble and cough.

Then, a booming voice:

Do not touch my sister.

With a blink of magic, Princess Luna appeared right in front of the nobleponies, Vinyl, and Octavia.

And everything became so much darker.

Powerlessness is hard to describe. It’s ice in your throat so you can’t scream, it’s weights on your ankles so you can’t run, but it’s also so much more. Because ultimately, what powerlessness means is that—no matter what you do, no matter how you try, it’s not up to you. Who lives, who dies, it’s not up to you.

That’s what Vinyl and Octavia felt when Princess Luna appeared, and all the talk died away. Ice in their throat and weights on their ankles—because even though she was fighting the hydragon, it was clear she wasn’t on their side.

Luna looked at the hydragon, eyes sparking like lightning, mane floating behind her, framing her face to make it look sharper. She seemed taller than usual, darker than usual. Her fangs were long and sharp when she spoke.

Try again and your world will be ashes.

And her voice didn’t seem to come from her mouth—but rather, from everywhere at once, every single direction.


The hydragon shook its four heads, glared at Luna, and started to run. The entire Castle seemed to tremble with each one of its steps. Princess Luna faced this, but she didn’t flinch, or cover. She simply rose, her hooves not touching the ground even though her wings were not flapping, her horn lighting up with a light that was dark…

And then another flash of magic and Celestia appeared right next to Luna, carrying Daring Do on her back. “Luna,” she said, voice soothing. “I am okay.”

Immediately, the pressure went away, and Vinyl and Octavia felt that they could breathe once more. Luna’s eyes went back to normal as soon as her hooves touched the ground again—and she became smaller, lighter, her voice as chipper as always. “Sister!” she said, grinning at Celestia. “That is pleasant news!”

Celestia nodded. “It is.”

“It is always such a pleasure to see you are safe! I was ready to lose control and destroy everything in sight.”

“I know, Luna. We need to talk about your propensity to do that.” A glance at the hydragon—still charging, this was a large room—and Celestia grimaced. “Perhaps later today? There seems to be a more pressing issue at hand.” She looked at the pony on her back. “Daring Do, are you hurt?”

“Ggggh.” Daring Do cracked her neck to the side, then jumped off the princess. “Bit sore. Thanks for the ride.”

“You are so very much welcome.”

“Neat.” Daring looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “You two okay?”

“Bit traumatized, not gonna lie.”

“Thanks for asking, though!”

And Daring nodded. “Neat.”

Once again, the hydragon got to them.

Daring, Luna, and Celestia charged back.

What followed could have been described as a ballet, as long as whoever was describing had never seen a dance, and was also both blind and criminally stupid. Princess Celestia was the most powerful thing alive, Princess Luna was a close second, and Daring Do could move really fast and hit really hard.

It wasn’t even a fight. The hydragon was just smashing them all to the ground.

Because sure, it had issues hitting anything—Luna and Celestia had no issue teleporting away from danger, and Daring Do could’ve raced lightning and won—but it had stamina to spare, and it only needed to land a hit once. The ponies, however, couldn’t dent the hydragon at all, no matter how many times they got to it.

So Princess Celestia raised her horn, and light came from it and pierced the hydragon—


Which was just enough to leave a scorch mark..

“Well.” Celestia had to stop and stare after this, the glory and quiet dignity of her posture stuttering somewhat. “That was unexpected.”



A flash of dark light, a teleported Celestia, and the hydragon smashed one of its heads against a wall instead of against the princess—but it came close. Way too close.

“Sister,” Princess Luna said, hissing. “You must be careful!”

“Yes, yes. I am sorry. It is just…” Celestia looked at the hydragon, roaring wildly, and fired some more light.


“It seems to be immune to magic,” Celestia mused, frowning.

“We already knew that, Sister.”

Another flash of light. Celestia and Luna were standing on the other side of the room, now. The hydragon was foaming at the mouth.

“We did, yes, but not to this degree,” Celestia said. She was rubbing her chin, squinting that the hydragon. “Luna, would you mind try grabbing it? You have always been better at magic than me.”

Luna smiled, and blushed a little. “You are teasing me,” she said. “We both know that is a lie.” Nevertheless, she tried. Her eyes went white again, her horn flashed, a blue glow surrounded the hydragon…


“So we can’t grab it either,” Celestia said. “As I feared. ” Then she blinked, and looked around. “Where is Daring Do?”




Luna pointed. “She’s over there. Punching the hydragon.”

“Oh.” Celestia frowned. “I see.”

“I do not think it is working, though.”




Daring Do had to fly away in a hurry to avoid getting smashed to pieces by one rogue head.

Magic did not work, period. No matter what the princesses tried, it would just bounce against the hydragon’s scales and vanish as if no spell had been cast at all. Daring Do tried her best, she really did, but punching really hard could only carry you so far.

“How has she not broken her hoof already?” Vinyl whispered, still hugging Octavia tightly by the asleep nobleponies, seeing Daring Do try to knock the hydragon out for the nth time in a row, and failing horribly yet again. “There is no way that hoof is not broken.”

“Perhaps she thinks she can dent its armor if it keeps trying!”

“What, with a broken hoof? There’s a limit to how stupid you can be, even if your name is Daring Do.”

In the background, Daring Do flew in circles to gain momentum, then darted towards the hydragon.



“Then again,” Vinyl said, “maybe not.” Then she felt that Octavia was snuggling against her chest, and looked down. “You okay down there?”

“I am! I am okay. Relatively speaking? It is fun to see somepony else be knocked around for once!”

“Agree.” The next words took a little bit to come out but, Vinyl figured, they were kind of over with playing coy with each other at this point. “Octavia, I—”


“Thank you. Just… Thank you.” Vinyl started caressing her head as she talked, not quite looking at Octavia but not quite looking away either. She missed her shades so much. “I don’t know how I would have faced Princess Celestia without you doing all the heavy lifting for me.”

“I know! I am quite amazing.”

“You are.” Vinyl smiled. In the background, the hydragon was beating the living heart of the leaders of their land. Vinyl literally paid them zero mind. “You kind of are, actually. You didn’t have to get angry for my sake like that.”

“I disagree!”

“I know you do. But I think I understand that Princess Celestia was put in a very difficult position, and… She’s at least trying her best. I don’t really blame her that much.”

Octavia frowned, and looked up at Vinyl. “You don’t?”

And Vinyl looked back at Octavia.

She looked timeless. She always did, honestly, but now more than ever. Her mane was a mess, full of dirt and bits of flour and salt and pepper. Her fur, once silky and smooth, was rough and dirty. Her bowtie was an absolute disgrace.

Vinyl had known this mare for less than eight hours and she already meant the world to her.

“I don’t. Not really.”

“Well, you’re a better mare than me, then!” Octavia waved a hoof. Then she frowned, and looked at Vinyl for a moment. “Relatively speaking, of course. In general terms, I am vastly superior.”


“I have a fantastic bloodline.”

“Never change, Octavia.”

“I won’t!”

“I know you won’t.” Vinyl chuckled again, and kept caressing Octavia’s head. “I guess it’s easier to get angry for somepony else’s sake. I’d get defensive about you too if Princess Luna, I don’t know. Burned down your manor or something.” Then she hummed a little under her breath. “You know what’s funny?”

“That Daring Do is still trying to punch the hydragon?”




“Yes. Absolutely. But also.” Vinyl tapped the back of Octavia’s neck, causing her to look up. “I think meeting you has been the only good thing Destiny has ever done for me. I’m almost thankful for that. Thanks for everything you’ve done. For real.”

And to this Octavia replied with one of her perfectly symmetrical smiles. “You’re welcome! For real, too. And don’t worry, I think the same about you!”


“Yeah! You’re going to buy me three coffees still, after all.”

In the meantime, and completely unaware of the conversation that was taking place, Princess Celestia was growing restless. Her being herself, the only visible proof of this was the fact that she hadn’t blinked in the last seven minutes, and probably would not blink in at least another hour.

“Daring Do.” She moved next to the pegasus in a rare moment of respite, when the hydragon was busy trying to chase Luna around. “I fear for your safety. Are you okay?”

Daring Do was sweating, flapping her wings a little harder than necessary, and gripping her hoof. “Yes,” she obviously lied, eyes full of fire. “Perfectly fine. Any moment now I’m going to find its weakness and I’m going to punch it so hard.”

“I do not believe a mere punch will be enough.”

“Yeah, it always looks like that, and then wouldn’t you know it? Bam! And they’re out.”

Celestia shook her head. “I suggest something less harsh on your body. My sister is distracting the hydragon. I ask you to do the same.”


“I need it to move over there.” And Celestia pointed, but she pointed upwards—at the roof of the Ballroom, that exquisite work of art, full of drawings that depicted glorious events from the past…

…and a giant golden chandelier, hanging from the very center of the room.

Daring Do’s face was puzzled, up until the pieces clicked, and then a huge grin appeared instead. “Ah,” she said. “I like the way you think, Princess.”

“I do not. I like that chandelier.” Celestia sighed, and then took flight herself. “I need you to get the hydragon over there without it noticing our intentions, and without endangering anypony else in the room. I trust you will be able to do as such?”

“Oh, definitely.” Daring Do waved the hoof that hurt in the air to get the pain away, and then she rolled up her sleeves and tucked her hat on. “This is not my first rodeo, Princess. The trick is to fight smart, instead of fighting hard. Give me twenty seconds.”

“Thank you so much, Daring Do. The future of Equestria relies on your shoulders.”

“Yeah, happens all the time.”

And exactly eighteen seconds later, Daring Do was punching the hydragon and failing for the millionth time in a row, and definitely breaking her hoof for real.

“ARGH! YOU DUMB THING!” And then, instead of moving away, she simply dodged to the side when the hydragon tried to bite her off the air and kept punching. “WHY!” dodge, punch, “WON’T! YOU!” dodge, punch, “DIE!

Dodge again—only this time, a bit too slow.


The sound echoed across the entire Ballroom. It was similar to the sound of a nail tearing through fabric, but much meatier, much wetter. Daring Do wasn’t hit squarely by one of the hydragon’s heads, but she did get grazed—grazed enough for there to be blood.

She fell from the air, her face so full of shock one couldn’t even tell if she was feeling pain anymore—but when she landed, she did it gracefully, rolling around to avoid any further injury, splashing red across the ground, flinching in pain.

Then she just stood there, looking at the hydra, red on the side of her shirt, favoring her left side, and she dared a smile that was danger incarnate.

She said: “Lucky shot. Don’t get cocky.”

The hydragon roared, and chased after her—and Daring Do, still smiling, turned around.

And ran.

That was it. That was what made everything happen, that very moment with Daring Do running away from the hydragon, limping a little.

Because all in all, this was the very first time that the hydragon stopped paying attention to one of the princesses and focused entirely on the lowly commoner who’d been punching it for a while. And, while doing so, it happened to face in the direction of Vinyl and Octavia—and they caught the hydragon’s eye.

There was no doubt about this in Vinyl’s mind. The hydragon was chasing Daring Do, but it was looking at them. Explicitly, all four heads focused on her and Octavia, smiling that stupid grimace that spelled nothing but death.

And then, of course, Celestia shot the chain that was holding the chandelier in place, and it fell down, crushing the hydragon under it.

It went like this:


But a million times more satisfying.

The chandelier was an old, gigantic thing made out of gold, and glass, and candles, and ornamental bloated sweetness. It was the kind of chandelier that’s less put in place to light up the room and more to tempt any daredevil pegasi that feel like swinging from it at some point.

It wasn’t even pretty, it was simply decadent to the nth degree. Probably weighed a ton. Enough to kill anything.

It landed on the hydragon squarely, right down on its four necks.

The hydragon shrugged it away and threw it to the side.


Daring Do stopped on her tracks so suddenly she slid across the polished marble floor for a couple meters before slowing down. She looked at the beast, completely covered in broken glass and gold and clearly barely feeling it, with wide eyes.

A flash, and by her side appeared Celestia. “Oh,” she whispered, and then added: “no.”

“Princess.” Daring Do swallowed, and looked at Celestia. “Please tell me that was just the first half of your plan.”

“It was not.”

“Throwing the chandelier was our last resort?”


A second flash, and by Daring Do’s other side, Luna appeared out of nowhere, huge smile on her face. “Okay!” she said. “This has been fun. I hated that chandelier.” Then she looked at her sister. “What do we do now?”

“I do not know, Luna.”

“You did not think of a second part for this plan?” Princess Luna frowned. “Was the chandelier all we had under our sleeves?”

Princess Celestia bit her lip. “Indeed.”

“Oh. I see.” Then Luna rubbed her chin, looking at the hydragon shake the broken glass off its scales. “What if we punch it?”

Daring Do’s ears immediately perked up. “I like how that sounds!”

“Luna,” Celestia’s voice was patient, but she did look concerned when she talked. “I do not think a punch will be enough to defeat the hydragon. It is a legendary beast. There have been prophecies written about it. A punch will not suffice.”

“I see. What if we punch it really hard, then?”


The hydragon’s voice tasted like charcoal and pierced like needles. It was fire in a forest and the howl of a wolf at midnight. It came from four different throats, harmonising with each other.

And it was looking at Octavia, and Vinyl, while speaking like this.


Hell, made noise.

Vinyl froze, and Octavia gulped. Call it instinct, call it a premonition—you can’t face a monster like the hydragon so many times in a row without developing a sense of incoming dread whenever you look into its eyes. When the eyes look back, one feels like nothing can save you.

In that moment, Vinyl and Octavia could very well had given in to despair. But they didn’t.

Because then, at the opposite side of the Ballroom the northernmost wall exploded inwards.


Rubble and dust flying everywhere, a gust of wind that filled the room; even the hydragon flinched and looked around in surprise. A stark silhouette stood in the middle of the new hole in the wall.

When the dust settled, she walked in. She was riding a hydra, commanding it with the ease of somepony who’s been born to rule. She had Pinkie Pie on one side and Twilight Sparkle on the other—two of the most powerful, versatile heroes in the land, and they looked at her with a mixture of respect and adoration.

Her tuxedo was impeccable. Her sunglasses were dark.

Her name was Bon Bon.

“My apologies for the wall, Your Highnesses,” she said, hopping off the hydra, bowing slightly at Celestia and Luna, absolutely ignoring the hydragon. “You can take it out of my salary once I’ve dealt with this thing.” Behind her, Twilight and Pinkie Pie stepped off the hydra’s back, too, and Bon Bon gave the whole room a perfunctory look before looking at them. “Pinkie? A favor?” Bon asked.


And Bon pointed at the hydragon. “Take that thing down.”

“Sure!” Pinkie looked at the hydra they’d been riding. “Hey, Coughie! Take that thing down!”



The hydragon was nothing to laugh about. It was bigger than a normal hydra, stronger than a normal hydra, smarter than a normal hydra. In a fair fight, nothing could stand a chance against it.

But that said, no matter how strong you are, an adult hydra charging at you from across the room by surprise is slightly hard to react to. The hydragon planted its feet on the ground and tried to withstand the impact, its four mouths snapping in the air—but it still felt the impact.



And toppled backwards.


And hit the wall with the window that Daring Do, Vinyl, and Octavia had bursted through not that long ago. The outer wall, the one that led to the inner Gardens.

The weight of the two struggling monsters, combined, was too much for the ancient stone to withstand.

So it cracked. And it broke.


Both monsters fell. The sound of them hitting the ground was loud, and fleshy, and disgusting. The hydragon’s roars, and the hydra’s cry, could be heard for a while—but they were muffled, and weak, and soon enough they got drowned by the more varied sounds of war in the distance, and then nothing but silence in the Ballroom.

Pinkie was the first one to break the silence. “Uh-oh,” she said, and her high-pitched voice resonated across the room and made everypony’s ears perk up. “That looked bad. You think Coughie will be okay, Twilight?”

Twilight blinked. “Um. Probably?”

“I wouldn’t worry, Pinkie Pie. Hydras are tough. I’m sure Coughie barely even felt that.” Bon Bon then took off her sunglasses, and calmly stored them on the front pocket of her jacket. “This is like a game for them.”

“Hahah. Phew!” Pinkie swept some nonexistent sweat from her brow. “Good to know! Got worried for a second there.” Then she waved a hoof in the air. “Hi, Princesses! And Vinyl! And Octavia! Oooh, and Daring Do! I wasn’t expecting you here.”

“Right. Uh. Hello, Pinkie Pie.” Daring Do was still grabbing her side, drops of blood falling on the ground by her side. “I… wasn’t expecting you here either.”

“Today’s just full of surprises, yes,” Bon Bon muttered, looking at Princess Celestia. “Out of curiosity—how much of this was your plan, Princess? In general?”

Princess Celestia, Octavia would always comment later, reacted with surprising etiquette, keeping her dignity intact when she replied: “Almost absolutely nothing. At no point had I thought that you would ever come to our rescue while, um.” She did crack a little, here, when she squinted and cocked her head to the side, but she still managed to look regal. “While… riding a hydra? To battle?”

“Right. Well. What can I say.” And here Bon Bon gave them all a smile with so much swagger it was almost impossible to believe it could all fit in one single mare. “I’m the best at my job.”

Stunned silence.

Then, Bon Bon blinked. “Wait, why is Vinyl hugging that mare like…? Oh. Oh, no.” And her face twisted. “Don’t tell me—did I just interrupt something? Oh, Rarity is going to kill me!

Chapter Seven – So Good at Being Best Friends

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Bon Bon was not sharp. Sharp things are brittle.

Bon Bon was polished.

It had taken her exactly fifteen seconds to get rid of the hydragon. Her mane was bi-tonal, and not a single hair was out of place. Her suit was black as a beetle, smooth as a snake. She was not just a cool pony. She was a mare that, were you to catch her sneaking out of your mother’s bedroom in the morning, you would immediately high-five.

And, at the moment, she was doing the secret agent equivalent of paperwork.

"Civilian morale is high." Bon produced a file from the inside pocket of her jacket and started paging through it as she spoke. "But there was a minor scare in Main Street when a hydra snuck past the dragons and burst into the Canterlot Bank."

Princess Celestia's tone was grave. "Casualties?"

"None. It got really close to devouring the manager, though." Bon turned a page in the file, and arched an eyebrow. "Which actually raised morale, so call that a happy accident?"

"Oh." Celestia blinked, and frowned. "That sounds… uncharacteristically morbid for my subjects."

"I think it sounds rather fun!" Luna said, standing behind Celestia, smiling.

And Celestia nodded at her. "You are right, Luna. I stand corrected." Then she looked at Bon Bon. "That sounds uncharacteristically and worryingly morbid for my subjects, Agent Sweetie Drops."

"The manager was a nouveau riche and this is Canterlot, Princess."


"Ha-hah!" And from the ground, Octavia wagged her tail rather outrageously. She was laying on top of Vinyl, and looked at her right after her outburst. “I love this city! Even the commoners hate the bourgeoisie. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Vinyl nodded. “You’re aware that they would’ve cheered harder if it had been you being almost eaten, right?”

“Well, yes, I’m better than him. I still count it as a victory!”

“Scratch.” Bon Bon stopped her folder fiddling and glanced at the two mares laying on the ground. “I’m really, really sorry. I need to talk to you as soon as possible, but—”

Vinyl looked away. “Work first. Got it. Get it over with.”

Octavia saw this, and immediately rolled until they were both laying on their side and behind the princesses, slightly outside of Bon Bon’s line of sight. “Vinyl!” she chirped, but she was soft when saying so. “Is that your friend?”

“Mm-hmm.” Vinyl snuggled against Octavia’s shoulder. Octavia let her. “That’s Bon,” she said. “Agent Sweetie Drops when she’s working.”

“The one that betrayed you?”


Octavia patted Vinyl’s head. “Want me to take care of it? You can just snuggle up and avoid all your problems!”

Vinyl gave her a sweet look. “Thanks,” she said. “And I mean it. But—what, I’m going to just keep running forever?”

“Yes! Exactly! I knew you’d get it.”

“Nah.” Vinyl shook her head. As she was still snuggled against Octavia’s shoulder, this meant she rubbed her face against her friend’s fur—and she didn’t mind it one bit. “I can’t keep avoiding everything that’s slightly unpleasant for the rest of my life.”

“Are you sure? That’s only a step away from total moral decadence!” Octavia patted Vinyl’s head. “We could almost turn you into an honorary noblepony if you do that!”

“And play second fiddle to you?” Vinyl stopped snuggling Octavia just for a moment, just so she could blow her a tiny raspberry. “Never, I’ve got my pride.” Pause. “Plus, I like Bon Bon. She takes her job seriously. I’m angry at her, but I don’t know if I can really blame her or anything.”

“Hmm.” Octavia said nothing for a moment or two, simply caressing Vinyl’s head as she snuggled, and looked at the princesses, still talking. “Vinyl!” she said finally. “That’s a bit silly.”

“…I don’t think it is. Bon and I go a long way, we—”

“You’ve been playing second fiddle to me for a long while, now! I’m really obviously the one in charge here.”


Twilight, Pinkie, and Daring Do were to the side, half-listening to Bon Bon’s reports. Mostly, though, they were talking to each other.

“Okay.” Daring Do had tucked the Can of Wyrms under her shirt again, and was toying with her hat as she spoke. “I’m not going to lie—riding a hydra to battle? That’s dumb but effective, that’s got Bon Bon written all over it. But having a hydra lying around to begin with? That’s just dumb. Like.” Daring Do rubbed the space between her eyes. “That’s incredibly dumb. So I’m going to go and guess that was you two.”

Twilight frowned at Daring Do. Not a lot, but at least a little. “Hey!”

“Okay.” Daring Do rose a hoof. “Let me rephrase it. Was it you two?”

“Yeah!” Pinkie said, bouncing up and down by Twilight’s side, huge grin in her face. “Like are you kidding me?”

“Just because you’re right doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.” The bags under Twilight’s eyes gave her a disheveled look. It was just messy enough for you to believe she’d stab you if you ticked her off. “We can be efficient when we’re dumb, too, sometimes.”

“Yeah!” Pinkie nodded. “We’ve saved the world tons of times!”

“Half of them we weren’t even dumb at all!” Pause. Twilight squinted. “Kind of.”

“They were only moderately silly!”

Daring Do nodded. “Right. Sorry if that came out wrong—you are good at your job, you two.” Then she looked at the hole that the hydra and the hydragon had fallen through. “This one time you were really stupid, though, right?”

“Oh, yeah, no, this was just monumentally dumb,” Twilight said.

“Yeah!” Pinkie said.

“We had no plan whatsoever? We just spent forty minutes in the kitchens doing nothing. Huge waste of time.”

“It was really fun!”

“I am very tired, Daring Do.” Twilight took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes. They were slightly bloodshot—not enough to be worrying, but enough to be noticeable. “I am good at this, and I enjoy going on adventures, and saving Equestria? But I have no idea how long I’m going to be able to keep it up.” She looked at Pinkie and smiled. “And Pinkie Pie is great to have around when you need to take a break.”

“I am charmingly naive yet childishly wise!” Pinkie said, grabbing Twilight by the shoulders and giving her a good ol’ squeeze. “It’s great to cheer up your friends sometimes. We’re just going through a rough patch, is all! It’ll all get better soon.”

Twilight sighed. “I hope so.”

“Hmm.” Daring Do scratched at her neck, around the chain that held the Can of Wyrms, and glanced at Vinyl for a moment. “Right,” she said, addressing Twilight and Pinkie again. “You still really haven’t explained the hydra, though?”

“Oh, Coughie?” Pinkie grinned at Daring Do. “It was easy! We’re friends now!”

“What?” Daring Do had to blink and look at Pinkie a second time to parse this. “You—what? You taught friendship to a hydra?


“Uuuuh. No.” By Pinkie’s side, Twilight shook her head and patted Pinkie on the shoulder. “No, we really didn’t. We just choked Coughie seventeen times in a row? And by the end of it all he was so terrified he was willing to take orders.”


Daring Do arched an eyebrow. “You tortured and brainwashed a hydra just for fun?”

“If it helps, we mostly did it in self-defense. It kept trying to eat us.”

“And it kept missing!” Pinkie added. “It was a whole process.”

Twilight nodded. “Huge waste of time.”

“And then Bon Bon arrived!” Pinkie pointed at the mare, still talking to the princesses. “Out of nowhere! And she said, let’s ride this puppy!”

“And we saw that somepony was calling for me,” Twilight said, pointing at her horn. “My cutie mark exploded in the sky?”

“And we rode that puppy! And now we’re here. It’s been a pretty cool day so far!”

“Coolness?” Bon Bon stopped talking to the princesses and her ears perked up. “You three over there talking about me behind my back?”

“To your face, Bon,” Daring Do said, tipping her hat at Bon Bon and approaching her with two slow steps. “I was just asking for details on your little personal odyssey. Do they train you to ride monsters at the Secret Service or were you just too lazy to walk?”

“I noticed something had blown up half the Ballroom, and I figured bringing a hydra to a knife fight could be a good idea.” Then Bon winked at Daring Do. “You’re welcome, by the way. Hydragon grazed you?”

Daring Do frowned, and scratched the bloody side of her shirt, on the right. “Lucky shot,” she muttered. “Doesn’t count.”

“Mine was a lucky shot too, and I still won, didn’t I?” Bon Bon winked at her and then went back to her file. “Don’t underestimate luck. Our job is only, like, five percent skill.” Her tone warmed. “And go to the hospital as soon as this is over, okay? Lyra would get sad if you were to kick the bucket. She finds your books mildly entertaining.”

“Right. You and I need to spar some time, Bon Bon.” But Daring Do was smiling again while saying this. “Would love to teach you some modesty.”

“Sure! I’ve heard being humble can be great sometimes. Never felt the need myself.” Bon Bon smiled back at her, and then pointed at her file. “I’m in the middle of something, if you don’t mind? I’d rather get this over with.”

“Right, sure. Go away.”

“Hmm.” Bon Bon looked at Luna and Celestia. “Apologies for that, your Highnesses. You know how friendly rivalries go.”

“There is no need to worry,” Celestia said.

“I was not aware you knew Daring Do!” Luna added, popping her head from behind Celestia. “I do wonder who would die first, were you to fight each other?”

“Right. Luna.” Celestia looked at her sister, sweet smile on. “What did I say about worryingly morbid things?”

“That I like them?”

“Right. Of course. Let me start again.” Celestia looked at Bon Bon. “Agent Sweetie Drops?”


“Please never fight Daring Do. I hold you both in quite high esteem, and my sister would probably enjoy it too much.”

“Agreed.” Bon Bon looked at the file again. “We’re almost done anyway, Princess. A hydra managed to throw a boulder at the city. No casualties, but part of Donut Joe’s was destroyed by the boulder.” She turned to the last page of the file. “Which raised morale even more. Overall, not a bad morning.”

Celestia frowned. “Donut Joe’s?” she asked.

“Yes. The diner by the food district? Old, greasy, cozy in a bizarre sort of way?”

“I know Donut Joe’s, Agent Sweetie Drops. I am a regular myself.” Celestia looked at Luna. “And I was under the impression that Joe was beloved among the subjects. It is worrying to see the citizens rejoice at his misery.”

“Oh, no, no.” Bon Bon closed the file, stuffed it in her inner pocket, and looked at Celestia. “No, Joe is popular. It’s just—the boulder just smashed the coffee machine? And the rest of the diner is pretty much intact.”


“Sister.” Luna’s tone was grave. “Is it unbecoming to rejoice at that ourselves?”

“I am wondering that very same thing, Luna.”

“And what a merry bunch we all are, then. I’m sure Joe will find brand new ways to disappoint us.” Bon nodded to Celestia and stepped to the side. “Report over, Princess.”

“Thank you. I lack the words to express my gratitude for your service.”

“It’s my job, Princess, there’s no need.” Then Bon softened. She stopped looking professional for once—and she just looked like a normal mare. One that could absolutely rock a tuxedo, mind you, bust still somewhat relatable. “Scratch!” she said, and she rushed towards Vinyl and Octavia, kneeling by their side so she could be closer to their heads. “I’m really sorry for making you wait like that, I had to get thaaa—” she squinted “—aaand you’re still snuggling this mare. You’re still snuggling this mare?”

“She is!” Octavia said. “Hi!”

“I super am. Hi.” Vinyl was so cozy she had closed her eyes at some point, like a cat being scratched under the chin. “How’s it going.”

“Hi.” Bon waved at them. Octavia waved back, but with her tail, since her hooves were busy petting Vinyl. “Gotta say, Scratch.”


“I expected to find you in way worse shape than this.”

“Hmm?” Vinyl opened one eye and looked at Bon before closing it again. “Oh, no, no. I’m completely broken.”

“I’m teaching her how to be decadent!” Octavia added, waving her tail some more. She wasn’t patting Vinyl’s face anymore as much as she was gently caressing her, and looking fine while doing so. “Because I’m really good at it.”

“It was that or having a nervous breakdown,” Vinyl said.

“And my muzzle was getting itchy!”

Bon took this like she would take a punch: stoically, but you could tell she was shaken. “Ooookay,” she said. “Okay. You’re perfectly aware that answered nothing, though, right?”

“Oh, yeah.”


“We just kinda consider this part of the whole decadence thing? It’s a whole process.”

Bon blinked. “Uuuuuh.”

“Yeah, don’t mind them.” Daring Do made her way to the side of Bon Bon and shot Vinyl and Octavia a look that could have been friendly in another timeline, probably. “They’re just like that. Hell of a double act.”

“Thank you,” Vinyl said.

“We’re taking that as a compliment!” Octavia added.

Daring Do squinted. “I really don’t mean it as such.”

“Okay, are we sure that I didn’t interrupt anything when I came in here?” Bon Bon got up and looked around—pretty much every pony was looking at them anyway, princesses included—and then pointed at Vinyl and Octavia over her shoulder. “Like, I’m aware that there’s a bomb between them, but are we sure.”

Vinyl opened an eye again, still all snuggly, and glared. “We’re friends,” she said.

“Best friends!” Octavia said, still caressing Vinyl.

“Really stretching the meaning of that term, here,” Bon mused, arching an eyebrow. “Okay, but, for real. If Rarity comes, it’s official that I haven’t interrupted nothing, right? Because she was very explicit about what she was going to do to me if I ever—”

“Oh, for the love of Celestia!” That finally got Vinyl to open both eyes and stop snuggling. Octavia stopped caressing her at once, too. “You just kicked out a hydragon, Bon. Literally, what’s the worst thing Rarity can even do to you?”

“Okay, yeah, you’ve clearly never seen Rarity angry for real,” Bon replied. “After the last time I walked in on the Cakes? She was livid.”

“Oooooh. Are we talking about Rarity being angry?” Pinkie bounced in their direction and then rested her elbow on Bon Bon’s shoulder. “Because tell me about it!”

“Right?” Bon nodded and looked at Pinkie. “Like, why is she invested in protecting the love life of the Cakes, of all ponies? What’s in there for her?”

“I have no idea!”

Twilight had been looking at both Pinkie and Bon Bon for a while, now, and she found the chance to speak at this moment. “Uh,” she said, frowning. “I… I’m sorry, but, how are you two walking in on the Cakes so often that this has become an issue?”

“I have no idea either!” Pinkie said.

“At this point I think it’s kind of their fault?” Bon Bon said, squinting. “But if I say that, Rarity yells that’s victim blaming, and then she hits me in the face with a rolled-up newspaper.”

“Best secret agent, you said,” Daring Do asked, eyebrow arched, looking up and down at Bon Bon. “Best at your craft.”

“Go eat dirt, Daring Do.”

“Go get whapped with a newspaper! Seriously!” Daring Do looked at Celestia. “Am I the only normal one here, Princess? Is everypony who works under you either weird or a total idiot or something?”

Celestia frowned when she heard this, and opened her mouth to reply. But then she blinked, and closed it.

She looked at Luna, behind her, smiling. Twilight by the side, looking like she hadn’t slept in at least three weeks. Pinkie Pie and Bon Bon, still leaning on each other. Vinyl and Octavia, practicing decadence.

And Celestia nodded to herself, and looked at Daring Do. “…I think the only thing I am allowed to say,” she said, speaking very slowly, “is that our way to handle national security would do with some improvements, Daring Do.”

“I can’t believe I keep risking my life for this kingdom.”

“It’s our job, Daring Do.” Bon Bon pushed Pinkie away, and Pinkie stopped leaning on her. “It’s what we do. Stop complaining. And speaking of that…” She turned around and faced Vinyl. “We need to talk, Scratch. For real.”

Vinyl sighed. Her eyes were open now, and she wasn’t snuggly anymore, but Octavia was still patting and caressing the back of her neck as she talked. “We really do, I guess.” She glared at her friend. “So. Cat’s out of the bag. I know everything.”

Bon Bon nodded. “I am really, really sorry. I had no other option. It wasn’t easy, and I almost left the Service over it, but in the end it was all I could do.”

“Betray me like that? Lie to me and force me to follow my Destiny again?”


Vinyl nodded. She didn’t want to ask, but she asked anyway—if only, to get closure. “Why?”

“Twilight is my friend, too.”

Vinyl winced a little at this. Not as much as earlier—Octavia felt no need to nuzzle her, that’s for starters—but still, Bon said it all in a very matter-of-fact way, and that’s what sold it, in the end.

Because Twilight was standing right there, and now that she could see her, Vinyl wondered how come she hadn’t noticed earlier. The bags under her eyes, the way her mane was all over the place, the way she twitched.

So she nodded. “Right. I’m friends with her too. I get it.” She looked at Bon Bon. “I’m still angry, but I get it.”

“And I’m sorry, but I would probably do it again.” Bon Bon rubbed the space between her eyes. “Honestly, Destiny is the one we should blame here. Nopony’s really at fault.”

“I disagree!” Octavia chirped, and she spoke so suddenly that she made both Bon Bon and Vinyl flinch. “I think Princess Celestia is very much at fault. She could’ve tried not to manipulate everypony!” She gave Celestia a little pretty smile. “What a novel concept, huh?”

And Bon Bon frowned. “Miss Pianissimo, I don’t care how old your blood is, you can’t talk like—”

“Just Octavia, please! I hate formalities.” Then Octavia looked at Twilight. “Twilight! You should ask the Princess what’s going on and why it’s going on! I cannot wait to hear what you think about it.”

“Uuuh.” Twilight blinked—slowly—and looked at Celestia, who looked troubled. Then at Octavia, and Vinyl, and Bon Bon. “What? Why do I keep popping up in this conversation? I’m not following.”

“I…” Celestia swallowed. “I made a mistake, Twilight. I suppose I am merely paying for it, now.”

“Yeah, a bit too much, maybe,” Daring Do said, stepping in front of Celestia, literally shielding her from Octavia. “You’re sticking your nose where you shouldn’t, Mademoiselle. When it comes to Scratch, you do you, but here you’re clearly stepping over the line.”

“Am I? How quaint! Because I think I’m really not.” Octavia’s accent was of spice and rosewater, but at the moment, more spice than roses. “I’m a noble! I manipulate others for a living. But I would never be delusional enough to think I’m doing it for their own good.”


“Octavia Pianissimo.”

Like ice. Like cold steel against your throat.

Princess Luna’s eyes were bigger than normal. They weren’t completely white, not yet, but the irises were paler; grey, rather than black. She took two steps forward, and the temperature of the room went down two degrees.

“Octavia Pianissimo,” she repeated, staring at the mare in question. “You are an old friend of mine, and I hold your family in high esteem. But speak to my sister like that again,” she showed her teeth when she talked, and she had fangs, “and there will be blood.”

Celestia rested a hoof on Luna’s shoulder. “Luna,” she whispered. “We do not—”

“You are a graceful ruler, Sister. That is your burden to bear.” Luna kept on staring at Octavia. Her eyes grew paler still. “But I fell from grace once already. I do not mind doing it again.”

Octavia did not really shy away from that look, however. “And I wonder, Princess Luna,” she said, “who will be responsible fo—HNNGG.”


And Vinyl looked at Octavia. “You done, now?”

And Octavia stared, eyes wide. “Did you just nuzzle me?!”

“Call it karma.” Vinyl patted Octavia’s head and rolled around until she was on top. “Look, I dig the whole ‘manipulative noblepony’ schtick you’ve got going on? But you’re playing it way too hard.” Then she looked at Celestia. “Sorry for that, Princess; didn’t mean no harm. Octavia’s just really defensive of me.”

And the smile Celestia gave her in reply was warm enough to bring the room temperature back to normal. “Do not worry, Vinyl Scratch,” she said, pushing Luna closer towards her with a wing. “I understand.”

Luna, eyes back to normal, looked at her sister. “She spoke ill of you,” she said.

“And you threatened them with murder, Luna. There were mistakes on both sides.”

She spoke ill of you!

Vinyl and Octavia were observing the conversation with varying degrees of interest. Eventually, Vinyl leaned closer to Octavia’s ears, and whispered: “Octavia?”

“I can’t believe you nuzzled me! That is not how this friendship works.”

“It super is.”

“Yes! It is! But you’re not supposed to know that!

“Look, remember how earlier this morning I—HNNG.”

Octavia stopped nuzzling Vinyl. “Ah-hah!” she said, triumphant. “Much better! I’m so good at being best friends. You were saying?”

Vinyl glared before continuing, although to be honest she kind of half-assed the gesture. “Right,” she muttered. “So. Remember how earlier I said that, boy, we’re super getting murdered today?”

“I do! I do remember that. I am very smart.”

“Sure—so, can you, like, not take that as a challenge? If you don’t mind?”

“Hah! Ah, hahah.” And Octavia, coy, pawed at Vinyl’s chest. “Probably not.”

Far away from them, Twilight Sparkle was staring at both the princesses and the private nuzzlefest. Her face was the visual equivalent of nails scratching a blackboard. “What is… going on?” She looked at Bon Bon, at Pinkie, at Daring Do. “Is anypony else following this?”

“I am,” Daring Do said, and then she looked at Twilight. “Did you know why she left the Secret Service?” she asked, pointing at Vinyl. “Something about having flashbacks?”

Twilight blinked. “I…”

“Cat’s out of the bag over here, so if you knew, please say.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded. “I knew. We all did.”

“Gotcha.” Daring Do looked at Vinyl again before facing Twilight. “So it was really noble of you to take that load off her shoulders, but you really can’t keep up, judging by the fact that you’re clearly familiar with the act of injecting caffeine straight into your eyeballs.”


“Hahah.” Pinkie Pie looked at Twilight, grinning. “Twilight?” she said. “This is where you say you’ve never done that.”

Twilight gulped. “Uh. Um.”


“Yeah, my point exactly.” Daring Do waved a hoof in the air. “So this time, Princess Celestia figured you were going to get yourself killed, because Destiny is pulling no punches. So she got Scratch to save the world instead, but that was unpleasant, and overall the moral is we all hate Destiny and only Bon and I are good at our job. That right, Bon?”

Twilight was looking at Celestia. Celestia was not looking at Twilight. “Princess…” she muttered, her voice strange.

And by her side, Pinkie Pie was having the opposite of an emotional crisis, because Pinkie Pie was a pony with priorities. “Hey!” she said, elbowing Daring Do. “We’re good at our job too! Twilight is just really bad at not accidentally getting close to dying.”

“Uh-huh,” Daring Do say. “That is the definition of being bad at this.”

“What! No, it is not!”

“Pinkie Pie, I respect you and your friends, and I consider you all amazing ponies? But you’re all, like. Massive idiots.” Daring looked over her shoulder. “Bon? Some backup? I’m trying to establish dominance here.”

Bon Bon was staring at Vinyl and Octavia. “Hm?”

“Saying we’re the best at what we do?” Daring Do frowned, and punched Bon Bon’s shoulder. “Come on, focus! What are you, daydreaming?”

Bon Bon rubbed her shoulder, still not looking at Daring Do. “Honestly?” she said. “Kind of? I mean, like.” She squinted. “Are Scratch and that psycho noble in a constant nuzzle kind of relationship now? Is that a thing?”

“Kind of? They’ve been gently lifting each other’s tails for a while, from what I’ve got.”

“Right. That’s weird. That’s weirding me out.”

“What!” Pinkie gasped, and pressed a hoof against her chest. “Whaaaaat! So there was something to interrupt after all! I knew it! It was—”


And the sound made everypony freeze.


“Pinkamena Diane Pie!” Rarity came in from, of all places, the hole that the hydragon and the hydra had crashed through on their way out. Fluttershy was carrying her, red in the face and obviously struggling. “What did you say?!” Rarity roared.

“Nooooo!” Pinkie immediately jumped up and dashed off to hide behind Princess Celestia—this made the Princess flinch and go ‘whoop’, but softly—and then she cowered. “No, no, no, no!” she whined, ears flat against her head. “I didn’t mean to, it was an accident!”

“Oh, no! Don’t you—ah.” Fluttershy managed to land in the middle of the room with a big huff, letting Rarity go and then flopping on the ground with absolutely zero grace. Rarity looked at her with a perfectly fine smile. “Thank you very much, dear.” Then she turned to Pinkie and the rest again. “Young lady! Don’t you dare hide from me again! Come here!”


Twilight was looking at this with the kind of face that clearly showed she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to smile or to frown at the moment. “Rarity,” she said, getting up and approaching the mare. “She didn’t actually interrupt—”

“Twilight.” Rarity’s voice was so cutting Twilight froze mid-step. “I love Pinkie Pie as much as you do, but you are too soft on the poor dear. This is for her own good—and don’t you think I can’t see you hiding over there, Bon Bon!

“Crud.” Bon Bon poked her head from behind Princess Luna, and looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “You know, this would be a great time for the both of you to like... clarify what’s going on?”

Vinyl and Octavia looked at Bon Bon. Then at each other.

“That sounds like something we could do,” Vinyl said.

“It does! It does sound like it.”

A small pause.

“Okay!” Octavia beamed at Rarity. “You can continue with your yelling now if you want to. We’ll just be nuzzling each other over here!”

Wait no you can’t—

“Thank you, darling, I will. Have fun!” Rarity gave Octavia a smile before turning around, and immediately steeling her gaze. “Pinkie Pie! Bon Bon!” Her horn lit up. “Come here this very instant!

“No no no no no no n—”

“Rarity, I am an adult mare, and I am a government worker in the middle of a mission, and I refuse to be treated like a ki—OH NO! NOT THE EAR! NOT THE EAR! AAAAARGH!”

Both Pinkie Pie and Bon Bon were dragged away from the princesses by their right ears, glowing with Rarity’s magic. They tried to paw at the ground to stop themselves, but there was no use.

“I have told you many times!” Rarity started, pulling from their ears still and walking away from the group and towards one of the walls, “that you cannot keep doing this! I thought I had been clear enough with that last time with the Cakes?!”

Bon Bon and Pinkie were both released and stood in place, looking down, rubbing their ear.

“I asked you two a question!”

“Yes, Rarity,” both mares muttered.

“Good! Well then! What are we supposed to do when we walk into a room?!

“We’re supposed to knock first, Rarity.”

Far away from them, in the foreground, Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Hahah,” she said. “We’re so petty. So, are we angry at Bon Bon?”

And Vinyl looked at Octavia. “You didn’t even know?”

“I did not!”

“That’s my girl.” Vinyl patted Octavia on the back. “And nah, we’re cool with Bon Bon, she hated this as much as us. And she apologized as soon as she could, right?”

“I see! I see. I’ve no idea why we’re being mean to her, then, though.”

“Oh, me neither. Friendship’s complicated sometimes.” Then Vinyl looked at Fluttershy. “Hi, by the way. How’s it going.”

“Um.” Fluttershy had already caught her breath, and had been waving at the princesses and her friends by the time Vinyl had talked to her. “Hi.” And then she blinked. “It’s… going fine?”

“Good for you! I’m Octavia Pianissimo.”

“Fluttershy.” Twilight approached her friend just as she was opening her mouth to ask further questions. “What are you doing here? How did you find us?”

“Um.” Fluttershy looked around. “You kind of blew up half of the Ballroom.”


Twilight nodded. “Right. Dumb question. Why are you here, though?”

“Because you blew up half of the Ballroom!” came Dash’s voice.

Everypony turned around to see the newcomers—Rainbow Dash, carrying Applejack, looking like a million bits and landing with the grace of a ballerina.

Both mares rushed towards them, and Dash kept on talking. “Seriously, you can see smoke from outside and everything, we thought you were—heeey there. Hello?” Dash stopped mid-step and glared at Vinyl and Octavia. “Uh. Mind getting a room or…?”

“We do not!” Octavia said. Then she looked at Vinyl. “Or wait, do we?”

“Octavia, why would we even need a room for.”

“Oooh, you.” Octavia fluttered her eyelashes and pawed at Vinyl’s chest. “A lady never tells!”

“Princess Luna put a bomb between them and it’ll explode if they stop hugging,” Twilight said. “Just to get you girls up to date.”

Fluttershy blinked. “Oh.”

Dash’s eyes went wide. “Oh, wow.”

And Applejack frowned. “What. What?” She looked at the two hugging mares, then at Twilight—Twilight shrugged—then at Princess Luna. Who just smiled at her and waved a little. So Applejack frowned even harder. “Why would you do that, Prin—”

“And why is Rarity yelling at Pinkie and Bon Bon?” Rainbow Dash’s left ear perked up as she looked at the scene. Bon Bon and Pinkie were both looking down, looking miserable. “And why are there like a million nobleponies sleeping over there?”

Applejack frowned at the interruption, but once Dash shut up, she took a deep breath, and looked at Princess Luna again. “Why would anypony get a bomb and—”

“And is that Daring Do? Daring Do!” Rainbow Dash’s face lit up, and she rushed towards the pegasus. “Hi! It’s been so long! It’s—whoa!”

Applejack had to take another deep breath. “Okay,” she muttered, more to herself than to anypony else. “You just made amends, Applejack. No issue gettin’ worked up now. Dash is dumb. You already knew this. You can deal with this.”

This got Twilight’s attention—her ears perked up and she looked at Applejack. “What?” she asked. “You two made up? You’re not fighting anymore?”

“Hm?” Applejack’s ears perked up. “Not anymore! We didn’t even know why we were fightin’ anymore, so we figured—”

“Daring Do!” Dash yelled. “You’re hurt!

Daring Do didn’t reply. She had been quiet for a while, gripping at her chest—and the necklace under it. She kept eyeing Rarity, still yelling at Bon Bon and Pinkie in the background. On her right side, her shirt was redder than ever. “Please tell me I’m hallucinating,” she muttered.

“What do you mean, you two made up?” Twilight was asking to the side, still glaring at Applejack. “You’re not supposed to—did you learn a friendship lesson while at it?”

Applejack thought about it. “Not really? We just realized we were bein’ silly. Especially Dash, but don’t tell her that.”

“Twilight?” Celestia looked at her protégé, something strange in her voice. “Is something wrong?”

“Princess, Applejack and Rainbow Dash were fighting earlier.” Twilight turned to look at Celestia, full frown on, now. “But it wasn’t a normal fight. It was the kind of fight we have when we need to rediscover the meaning of friendship, the kind that—”

“—The kind,” Celestia finished, slowly getting up, “that comes with a harrowing quest, perhaps?”

“Yes! But if they did not learn a friendship lesson along the way, then… Destiny doesn’t work like that, does it? If somepony doesn’t answer the call, somepony else must do it in their place.” Twilight swallowed. “And if we’re not doing that anymore…”

“I’m okay,” Daring Do muttered then, pushing Dash aside. “It’s just a scratch.”

“Daring Do, you’re bleeding!” Dash said. “Oh my gosh!”

“That doesn’t matter. I think I’m not hallucinating.” And Daring Do reached inside of her shirt and took the Can of Wyrms out. It was clearly moving. “Princess Celestia! Princess Luna! Look!

Celestia looked at the necklace with fear. Princess Luna, however, did it with surprise. “The Can of Wyrms?” she asked, getting up from the ground too, approaching Daring Do. “Why would you possess such a thing, Daring Do?”

“Dragonlord Ember gave it to me. And now it’s moving.

“Wait a minute.” Twilight looked at the necklace too. “I have seen that before.”

“Um. Yeah.” Fluttershy stopped hiding behind her mane to give the Can of Wyrms a good look. “That’s… That looks like the necklace Rarity found.”

“Sister. The necklace is calling for its second piece.” Princess Luna’s back got perfectly straight, and her pupils shrank. “This does not look good.”

“It does not,” Princess Celestia said. “The Can of Wyrm, a pending friendship lesson…” She looked at Twilight, and Vinyl and Octavia. “The situation is looking more and more fateful, by the second.”

What followed was harrowing silence. The only thing that broke it was the muffled sound of Rarity, still lecturing Bon Bon and Pinkie in the background—but even her voice got weaker.

Then, Twilight spoke, and there was a little bit of fear in her voice. “Applejack?” she asked.


“You said you came here because you saw the Ballroom exploding?”

“And somepony signallin’ for you, yes.”

“Right. But I asked you to wait for me outside for a reason.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Applejack, is there anypony out there, making sure no hydras enter the Castle? Anypony at all?”

Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack all looked at each other.

Then Applejack looked at Twilight. “Uh,” she said. “Um. Whoopsie?”


The sound made everypony flinch—except for Fluttershy, who got so startled she actually jumped several feet in the air and then she stood there flying for a bit.

No wall had been broken this time, but something else had come through the one hole that Rarity and company had used earlier. A gigantic, multi-headed monster, laid on the ground right next to it, completely inert. Wounds around its whole body. Barely breathing.

Pinkie Pie’s voice, then:


And, as if echoing it:


But a million times as loud.

The hydragon came again, landing on top of Coughie the unconscious hydra—but it was not alone. Behind it, climbing over its body, were two smaller hydras, looking exactly as vicious. By its hooves, three more could be seen.

On the other side of the room, four more hydras came through the hole that Coughie had bursted into the Ballroom when Bon Bon and company were riding it.

They all roared in unison.


But the hydragon’s roar drowned them all.

And once the echoes faded, and everypony started to internalize the scene that was happening; as the hydras poured into the room and approached them with death in their eyes and thirst for blood in their throats, the ponies felt instinct take over. The one that fills your throat with ice. The one that says, you are the prey, and you are surrounded by hunters.

Among the silence, then, a voice. Applejack’s; the only one grounded enough to remember how to speak in such a situation.

So she said the only thing she could say:

“Oh, son of a—”

Chapter Eight – The Most Important Pony in her Life

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Let’s talk about hydras.

In a world like Equestria, where harmony reigns sovereign, predators need to be intelligent to survive—they need to outsmart reality itself. Some, like the changelings, make do with disguise and subversion. Some, like the dragons, thrive in ancient wisdom and hard-earned might.

Hydras don’t do any of that.

Hydras are dumb, and slow, and can’t breathe fire. They’re so stupid they think the sun sets on its own. And that’s precisely what makes them so dangerous: against a dragon, you either run, or give up. Against a hydra? Hey. You might have a fighting chance. You might get lucky.

Only, luck makes people stupid. That’s why lotteries always run at a profit.

The Ballroom was gigantic. It could fit all the nobleponies of Canterlot and still leave enough room for half a cathedral—empty space was the most profound statement of decadence you could make in a city where rent was measured in the GDP of poorer countries. And yet, at the moment, the room looked absolutely packed. Reptiles as far as the eye could see. Eyes glinting. Mouths drooling. Teeth sharp.

Hydragon in front.

That was the real kicker.

“Oh, dear. This looks bad.” Rarity looked at the monsters rushing towards them, and had to cover her mouth with a hoof. Then she fluttered her eyelashes, and looked at Bon Bon. “Bon, dear? Mind carrying me out of here?”


“Yes, like that exactly!”


Bon was fast. Fast enough to pluck Rarity like a flower, and get out of there before the first hydra could eat them both. Fast enough to survive.

Not fast enough to get Pinkie out of there in time.

“Bye, Rarity! Bye, Bon Bon! Be careful out there! Oh wow wait my legs gave out too.” Pinkie Pie frowned at her own hooves, and then looked up at the hydra towering in front of her. “Do you think I should try to run away anyway?”


“Hahah. You’re going to eat me. Okay!” Pinkie nodded and started rummaging through her mane as the hydra lashed at her, teeth-first. “I better drop some weight then! Like this whole bag of cinnamon powder that I was storing in my—

And far away from them, Daring Do looked at Twilight as the hydra choked. “And you’re telling me,” she said, “that you did that for half an hour?” she asked.

Twilight nodded. “Yes.”

“Oh, no!” In the background, Pinkie was still yelling. “That was not enough! I’ll have to also get rid of these three other bags of cinnamon powder I always carry with me at all ti—

“It’s been a really long morning,” Twilight admitted.

The rest of the hydras rushed forward, all at once.

Moving your right leg and then your left leg was the greatest feat of large-scale coordination your average hydra could manage. When they first entered the Ballroom, they all ran roughly in the same direction—this didn’t last for long.

So some hydras rushed for Celestia, because she was closer to them, and hydras were legitimately just that stupid. But other hydras did not. Other hydras saw that there was a rather numerous amount of nobleponies sleeping by the wall, and figured, hey.

Free food.

“Hah-hah! But this is a formal event!” was the one-liner Princess Luna chose to use when she suddenly appeared in front of the sleeping nobleponies and shone her horn, confident grin on her face. “You must use a knife and fork to taste the appetizers!

And then she shone her horn, magically grabbed the hydra that had gotten closest to the nobleponies, and lifted it.

The hydra noticed that it wasn’t walking on the ground anymore, and so it tried to run in the air. Couldn’t. Tried some more. Couldn’t again.

Looked at Luna.


Luna shook her head. “Yes! We do take formalities seriously in Canterlot. It is a very decadent city, you see. Away you go!”

And she threw it away, right towards the hydragon.


It didn’t work. The hydragon just tossed the hydra to the side when it went flying towards it.

“Ah-hah!” Luna repeated anyway, never losing her smile. “We have projectiles now! This will be easy. I am so good at—wait no!

She had to snap her head to the side. Two more hydras had made it to the nobleponies.

“I said wait!” Luna repeated, lifting them both in the air too. “I did not think of a witty one-liner this time, and I consider myself a fan of the classics, which—stop it!

Third hydra. It took Luna almost an extra second to grab this one while keeping the other two in the air. The monster almost made it to the nobleponies.

Some sweat started to run down her forehead.

Half a room away, the hydragon took another step forward—and Princess Celestia was there, burning hard enough to blind.


Celestia spoke. “Twilight!”

And Twilight stood to attention, horn blaring already. “Princess?”

“Fire! Now!

They fired at the same time, with everything they had. White, and purple, and all the colors of the rainbow at once. It was a star, distilled in one beam; lightning, brought forth with fury. Another three hydras also went flying towards the hydragon, courtesy of Luna.


It did nothing, and the hydragon took another step.

Twilight gulped and took flight. “Okay! I’ve no idea how to stop this monster! And I don’t have any bags of cinnamon powder with me at the moment, and as far as I know that’s the only thing that—”


“A barrier!”

“Ah, a barrier, right.”

Both horns flared again. A giant, semi-transparent bubble came out of thin air, surrounding everypony in the room, keeping the hydras away. It was thick and purple-looking, and the air inside smelled like rain and ash.


A lone hydra bounced back after hitting the barrier with its four heads. Another, by its side, tried the same.


And then the hydragon roared.


And it bashed the barrier with its four heads at once.

There was no comical clonk this time, no bouncing off the barrier. Instead, what happened was a slight shimmer around the area the hydragon hit, and a strange hissing sound, like a cigarette pressing against bare flesh. Smoke, some, rose from the hydragon’s heads.


And the barrier disappeared.

The sudden pull was like a concussion but in the opposite direction, and it took Twilight all she had not to grab her head in pain. “Agh! Ooh, this is going to hurt tomorrow.” She looked to the side, bags under her eyes deeper than ever. “Princess?”

Celestia was biting her lip in pain. Smoke was rising from her horn. “Twilight Sparkle?”

“You don’t have any bags of cinnamon powder with you, right?”

“I do not.”

“Right. Right.”


As soon as the pain receded enough for them not to faint at the slightest amount of effort, Celestia and Twilight erected the barrier again. But the hydragon had already taken another step—and some hydras had slipped by and were now inside the bubble.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash rushed the moment they saw one single hydra sneak past the barrier. Daring Do joined them, still bleeding but clearly not caring. “Scratch!” she yelled over her shoulder. “Protect Octavia! Take care of the one on the right!”


“Would a nuzzle help?” Octavia asked.


“You’re a professional, Scratch, you’ll figure it out!” Then Daring Do took flight, and reached into her saddlebag. She took out the old curtain they had used to rappel into the Ballroom earlier, the one that was tied up like a rope. “Applejack, please tell me you’re a stereotypical enough cowgirl to carry a lasso with you at all times!” she yelled. “And Dash, catch!

“Oh, hey!” Dash caught one end of the curtain. Daring Do was still holding the other one. “We’re using something fancy as a weapon instead of for its intended use?”

“Yes!” Daring Do said.

“Destroying it in the process, too?”

“Probably! We’re gonna lasso the hydras and tie them up!”

“See, this is why you’re the best.”

And Applejack grinned as she produced a lasso from her mane—all rolled up, ready-to-use—and started running towards the hydra alongside Dash. “Ah can see why you like her! She called me stereotypical.”

“Uh. AJ, I’m pretty sure that was meant as an insult.”

“Nah, when they call you a cowgirl, it ain’t!”

Vinyl’s voice, shaken, in the background, as Daring Do and the rest ran away: “Boy. We’re going to get murdered today.”

“Say.” Octavia was frowning. “Is it a good moment to say I resent how Rainbow Dash showed glee at destroying part of the Castle? Because I really resent how she—oh, is that a hydra rushing towards us from the right?”


“So it is! How quaint.” Octavia nodded, and looked to the other side. “Princess Luna? Some help, please?”

Princess Luna was grabbing hydras, then either throwing them or teleporting them away from the nobleponies. More kept coming. She was actively struggling. “Not at the moment!” she said, not even looking. “Later, perhaps?!”

“Absolutely! Take all the time you need.” Octavia gripped Vinyl a bit tighter, nuzzled her cheek again. “We should probably run.”


Vinyl screamed, wordlessly. She felt her heart exploding in her chest, she felt the noise piercing her ears, and then it all became too much.

Something in her brain flipped.

She shut down.

Twilight and Celestia were barely keeping up.

The hydras were swarming into the room—more were coming every second from the holes in the walls. Running towards the nobleponies, towards Vinyl and Octavia, towards everypony in the room. They trampled each other, pushed and pressed as hard as they could. They widened the holes in the walls, they made the floor crack with their weight, and they all bounced off the barrier.

Kind of. The hydragon was there—and every time there was a barrier, it would smash it to pieces. Every time, Twilight and Celestia would cast a new barrier, they would keep the hydras at bay…

…But some slipped through, in those precious few seconds where nothing could stop them.

Octavia noticed that something was wrong immediately. Vinyl was covered in cold sweat, and trembling like a leaf.


And there was a hydra running towards them.

“…Vinyl?” Octavia rubbed her cheek against Vinyl’s in such a way that, were any of them to turn their head and face the other, the gesture would probably turn into a kiss. “Vinyl. We need to run away.”


The hydra was there, right there, but Octavia—heart hammering, panic settling in—managed to keep her voice calm, reassuring, warm. “Vinyl,” she said, whispered, purred. “We need to run away. Vinyl. Vinyl Scratch, we have to go.”


Vinyl wasn’t reacting.

She was curled up like a cat. Her eyes were darting around, but she clearly couldn’t see—she kept breathing hard, but was still suffocating. Vinyl gripped at Octavia, rather than hugging her, she winced with actual physical pain at every sound. Tears fell from her eyes but she didn’t seem to notice.

Octavia tried to nudge, roll away and drag Vinyl with her—but she was neither strong enough nor fast enough. “Vinyl. Vinyl. You have to help me, Vinyl.”

Vinyl couldn’t help.

The hydra lunged at them.


And then Fluttershy’s voice, meek and weak and soft and gentle: “U-um. Uh. Rawr. Raar-rargh? Rawr rawr.


The hydra stopped, dead in its tracks, inches away from Octavia—and looked at Fluttershy.

The pegasus had come flying from their back, and was now standing right in front of the monster, visibly trembling.

When the hydra roared again, it did so almost softly. “RAAAAAAAARGH?

Rawr, rargh-ra! Rarrargh. Rrrwrarrgh.”


“Oh.” Then Fluttershy looked down at Octavia and Vinyl. “Um. I’m trying to ask her about her feelings? But she says that you need a certain degree of detachment to argue anything remotely sentimental, and she can’t, uh, not be emotionally…” she looked at the hydra again. “Invested? Rwar-rwar?”

RAAAAAARGH.” The hydra nodded with its four heads at once. “RAAAAAAARGH.

Fluttershy nodded back. “Invested. Right.” Back at Vinyl and Octavia. “She can’t not be emotionally invested when she’s angry. So she’s asking if you would mind being eaten?”

“We do!” Octavia said, straining her smile a little bit as she kept on nuzzling, patting, caressing Vinyl. Then, when she saw that there was no echo coming from her friend, she repeated: “We super do. But, thank you very much for asking that! I feel I have learned so much about emotional burdens today. It is such a fascinating topic!”

“Oooh, yes.” Fluttershy nodded again, smiling at Octavia. “It is interesting. Did you know I have social anxiety myself?”


“Thank you! I have been working on it a lot. It’s a slow process, but I try.”


“Oh. Um.” Fluttershy looked at Octavia again. “Well. She says she is going to eat us both anyway, and that it is futile to run. But, I think we made a lot of progress today!”

Octavia’s smile became even more strained. “Okay!” she said, and then she patted Vinyl’s head again. “Vinyl, I am aware that you can’t hear me, but I want you to know that I have been in the ‘saving the world’ business for less than eight hours, and I already hate it! So much!”


The hydra lunged again.

And then Bon Bon popped up from behind the hydra. It had climbed on its back while Fluttershy was distracting it, and she was now grabbing one of the hydra’s necks. She had her sunglasses on.

“Yeah,” she said. “Keep dreaming.”

Then she punched the hydra on the side of the neck

The hydra toppled down with the grace of a sack of potatoes being kicked off a cliff.

Bon Bon jumped off the monster and to the ground, readjusted her tie, and looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “There, done. You two okay?”

“Thank you!” Octavia said, this time smiling for real. “We’re really not.”

“Sorry. I had to climb all the way up the thing’s neck.” Bon Bon shrugged. “By any chances, did the hydra tell you anything interesting? Any kind of secret plan or hidden motivation as to why they’re doing all this?”

Fluttershy thought about this for a moment, and then she looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “Well,” she said. “The hydra did say that Octavia looked, um. Like a tasty snack. I guess that counts as a hidden motivation?”

Bon clicked her tongue. “Not really.”


“Oooooh!” Octavia’s eyes lighted up, and then she looked at Vinyl, actually wagging her tail slightly. “Did you hear that? I’m a tasty snack!” she said, nuzzling Vinyl again. “Do you think that’s a compliment? I think that’s a compliment.”

Now that there wasn’t a hydra roaring right next to it, she seemed to have calmed down a little. She wasn’t wincing, though her shoulders were shaking still. She whimpered something that might have been a response, or may have just been a whimper.

So Octavia made a face, and hugged Vinyl against her chest. “Well, I’ll ask you again once you wake up! I’m sure it’ll be a constructive conversation.”

“It’s been a while since she’s been this bad.” Bon Bon had her sunglasses on, so it was hard to read her face, but she was looking at Vinyl with something that definitely did not look like happiness. “I’ll find a way to get you out of here. Keep trying to calm her down?”

Octavia nodded. “Of course! It’s either that or have a breakdown myself, and we really don’t have the time for that.”

“Ah-hah. A pragmatic mare. I can see why Vinyl likes you.”

“Yeah! I like myself a lot, as well.” Octavia nodded. “I’m great.”

“Say! Sorry to interrupt, but, Bon Bon? Dear?” Rarity, of all ponies, made her way to them from behind the unconscious hydra. She was pressing a hoof against her chest, and her mane was an absolute mess. “Was it really necessary to throw me away like a dirty sock? Because I get that it was quicker than the alternative, but, my mane!” She pointed at it. “Look at what you did!

Bon Bon arched an eyebrow, and pointed at Vinyl and Octavia. “I mean. Did you want these two to die?”

“Well, I—!” Rarity blinked, looked at Octavia. Frowned. “I… I mean… Not to be offensive, but—”

“I’m not offended!” Octavia chirped. “Your mane looks hideous. And I’m the one saying that! I’ve been hugging Vinyl Scratch for the last seven hours, my standards are extremely low at the moment.”

Rarity winced. “Ouch.”

“Oh, no, don’t worry, we’re best friends. I can say that.” Octavia patted Vinyl’s back and nuzzled her again. “Right?”

Vinyl whimpered.

“She means yes! Again. I’m very good at putting words in Vinyl’s mouth. I should do it more often!”

“Right. Look, this is a fascinating conversation that we’re having, really, don’t get me wrong,” Bon Bon said, after rubbing her temples a little. “But, Rarity were you actually going to ask something, or did you come here literally just to annoy me?”

“Both, actually! I am very offended about my mane. But also…” Rarity stopped pressing that one hoof against her chest—and a golden necklace was revealed underneath. It was an ugly piece, incomplete, and it wasn’t hanging down. It was pulling, as if attracted by a magnet, and it was pulling towards—

“Daring Do,” Bon Bon muttered, frowning, looking back at Daring Do. She was currently tying up the hydra Applejack had lassoed to the ground.

“Indeed!” Rarity said, covering the necklace again. “Odd, isn’t it? Do you have any idea why this is happening, by chance?”

“That’s…” Fluttershy blinked. “Daring Do had a necklace just like that, didn’t she? Right before the hydras…?”

Octavia perked up. “Why,” she said, looking at Rarity. “Isn’t that the, what was it?” She looked down, nudged Vinyl. Vinyl whimpered in response, but that was it. Octavia nodded anyway. “The Can of Wyrms, yes?” She looked at Bon Bon. “Ancient artefact, able to kill pretty much anything?”

Bon frowned. “Rings a bell. Kind of. Where did you find that, Rarity?”

“Why, two hydras were carrying it and trying to walk into the Castle,” Rarity explained. “Can of Wyrms, you say? What a strange name.”

“It is! It is pretty terrible.” Then, Octavia looked down at her own chest. Tried to. Vinyl was kind of in the way. “But, why isn’t it pointing at us, too? We have the third pi—”


Bon Bon stood to attention, eyes perked up. A second hydra was approaching. “Fight first, talk later. How does Vinyl feel about explosions?”

“At this point we don’t even register them anymore!”

“Just what I wanted to hear.”

The hydra made it to them, and Bon Bon jumped at its four necks. Hooves-first.

At the literal opposite side of the room, another hydra was on the ground, coughing, all heads tearing up. “GGKGHACGKH.”

“Hahah. I’ll call you Coughie the Second!” Pinkie Pie said, poking one of the hydra’s heads. “Will you let me ride you, now?”


“Is that a yes?”


Pinkie blinked. Frowned. “Huh,” she said. “That did not sound like a yes.” Then she turned around, and saw that there was another hydra behind her—and this one looked much bigger than Coughie the Second, too. “Ooooh,” Pinkie said, eyes going wide. “You look deadly!”


“Yeah! Like that! I have no idea what you just said.” Then Pinkie looked at Coughie the Second. “Hey! Can you understand what your friend is saying?”


“Is that another yes?”

RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!” went the other hydra.

And Pinkie rolled her eyes, and started rummaging through her mane. “Yes, yes, I’m going to die, oh no, somepony help, etcetera, what am I going to… Uh. To…” She stepped to the side, dodging the hydra’s mouths, frowned, and kept looking. “To—give me a moment, please?”


“Just one moment! I’ll—huh. Huh!” Pinkie blinked again, and then took her hoof out of her mane. “I don’t have any more cinnamon powder left!” she said, and she sounded genuinely surprised, which in Pinkie Pie was nothing short of a miracle. “Would you believe that, Mister?” she asked, looking at the hydra. “No more cinnamon! This has literally never happened to me before.”


“Oh, right, you were going to eat me!” And Pinkie’s smile got a little bit strained. “Hah. Hah, hah. Whoopsie.”

The hydra lunged forward. Again.

Pinkie screamed.

A bit to the south, Fluttershy was frantically flying around a hydra, rawring as loud as she could.

Rawrawra! Wrorrorrghraaa! Raaargh?”


“He’s saying he’s willing to listen!” Fluttershy said, looking at Rarity. “He still wants to eat you first, but he’s willing to listen! Isn’t that great?”

“Dear, you know I love you.” Rarity was walking slowly, horn glowing. In front of her, Vinyl and Octavia were floating, curled up in a snuggle. “I would go to the moon and back for you, or at least I’d fool Rainbow Dash into doing it—but can we please focus less on the big picture and more on the small details? Like not getting eaten?


And the hydra that’d been chasing them toppled and fell, unconscious, right on the spot Rarity had been occupying a second ago. Bon Bon jumped down from one of its necks, readjusted her tie, gave them a salute, and bounced away to get another one.

Fluttershy looked at her go and then nodded to herself. “I helped.” Then she looked to the side, and blinked. “Oh! Rarity, you should move to the left a little!”

Rarity turned around. “What?”

Too late.

The light brown blur came too fast to sidestep away from it, and it caught Rarity right in the chest, taking the air out of her lungs with one meaty:


Rarity fell, and tumbled backwards.

Her magic dissipated.

Vinyl and Octavia fell, too.

Momentum does weird things when magic is involved. Only Rarity got hit, but Vinyl and Octavia went rolling on the ground anyway, hitting it face-first, then bottom-first, and so on, so forth. It was exactly like a summersault, only instead of athletic ability they were showcasing misery.

Meaning, Vinyl hit her head. It hurt.


And like that, she was back.

“MY HEAD.” The yell came naturally, and suddenly Vinyl was able to think, and talk, and move on her own. Everything hurt still, and it was terrible, but it was still like getting out of the water after a deep dive. “WHAT THE HELL.”

“Vinyl!” The moment they stopped tumbling around, Octavia—who had never let Vinyl go—nuzzled Vinyl rather strongly on the cheek. “You’re back! You’re okay! Are you okay?”

“I’M NOT!”

“Me neither! But I am so happy that now you’re miserable in a way we can shamelessly chitchat about. It’s much more fun this way!” Then Octavia winced. “Also, ouch, my head.”

Vinyl grumbled, and took a moment to look around. They had rolled all the way to the sleeping nobleponies, and were now laying right behind Princess Luna, who was keeping the hydras at bay. Fluttershy was coming, and Rarity was whining about something nearby.

A hydra roared in the distance, and Vinyl made the conscious decision to focus on Octavi, lest she started hyperventilating again. “Octavia,” she said.


“I’m so sorry.” Vinyl took a deep breath. “I—I couldn’t move, and that hydra almost… I could’ve gotten you…”

“What?” Octavia, ever cutesy, cocked a head to the side and rolled around so they were both side to side, clinging to each other. “You mean that first hydra? You remember!”

“I wasn’t unconscious. I could hear everything, I just couldn’t really do anything else.” Vinyl swallowed. “Octavia, for real, I am so sorry, it’s all my fault, I—”

“So, did you think it was a compliment?”

Vinyl opened her mouth to reply, and then she thought about it, and she said nothing. She took a second. Then: “The what now.”

“What the hydra said! It called me a tasty snack.” Octavia made a face. “I think it might have been a compliment! But I’m not sure. See, on the one hoof, it was trying to eat me. But on the other hoof, it was trying to eat me! That sounds flattering, in a way?”

“Octavia, I don’t—eating you is flattering? You consider a monster devouring you alive flattering.” Vinyl felt her heartbeat calm down, as her eyebrow arched almost automatically. “Am I getting this right?”

“Well, I don’t know! It’s why I’m asking. This sounds like the kind of thing a commoner should know about! You’re all very degenerate in your own way.”

“Okay, Octavia, did this whole adventure awaken something new in you or…?”

And Octavia beamed. “It absolutely did!” she said. “I don’t think it’s what you’re talking about, though.”

Vinyl blinked. “What.”

Octavia smiled. “What?”


Vinyl relaxed her shoulders—she hadn’t even noticed they were tensed up—and let out a small chuckle. “You don’t even care, do you? That my freakout nearly got us killed.”

Octavia gave her a wise smile and a playful wink in response. “I do not! I had everything under control, you see.”

“Oh, yeah?” Vinyl nudged Octavia on the side, playfully. “And what was the plan if Bon Bon hadn’t appeared in the nick of time?”

“Easy!” Octavia said. “Somepony else would have rescued me instead. I am very resourceful!”

“And if nopony rescued you?”

“What! Why wouldn’t they? Vinyl, have you met me?”


Both of them flinched at the same time. Right behind them, Luna had grabbed a hydra and throw it against the wall—hard enough to carve a hole. Hence the sound.

Vinyl saw this, and then sucked air through her teeth before looking at Octavia. “Right. Forgot we’re at war there for a second.”

“It’s amazing how we keep doing that! We’re so good at this.”

“Oh, for Celestia’s sake.” A sudden third voice, weak, came from the side. It was almost a whimper. “Please, would you mind not getting lost in each other’s eyes for a second, at least? I would love to die without feeling nauseous. You know, for a change of pace?”

Vinyl’s ears perked up, and she rolled around until she was on top. “Daring Do!” she said. “What are you—”

Then they saw how Daring Do looked.

And Octavia said: ‘Oh, that is not good.”

Daring Do was laying under Rarity; she’d been the brown blur that had hit them and thrown them tumbling. She looked pale, there were bags under her eyes, and her shirt was completely red.

Blood kept dripping as they looked.

“Daring Do!” Vinyl said, rolling closer to her. “Are you okay?”

“Do I look okay to you, Scratch.”

“What happened?!”

“Ugh.” Daring Do swallowed, and closed her eyes. “You know, my plan of fighting hydras while bleeding out?”


“Not my brightest idea.”

“And Rarity is okay!” Octavia said. “I hope. Right, Rarity?”

“Oh, I feel wonderful, pain aside.” Rarity gave Octavia a little smile, and tried to get up without disturbing Daring Do. “And thank you very much! I know it’s not really necessary to ask me, when Daring Do is the one hurt, but I still appreciate the detail.”

“You’re welcome!”

“Yes, ye—wait.” Rarity stopped as she looked down at herself. “Is this blood?”

“It is!”

“It super is.”

“I’m going to die surrounded by idiots,” Daring Do whispered, squinting at the ceiling, eyes glassy. “And Rarity.”

“Why, thank you, darling.” Rarity said, moving to the side. “ And we need to bring you to a hospital. This does not look—”


Sudden silence, only broken by the fork-related expletives Luna was spouting by their side, and the roar of the hydras as they got thrown away. Daring Do and Rarity looked in horror at their respective necklaces.

They had fused. They were now only one big, ugly, golden piece; the chain that Rarity had been using had broken, so now the whole thing was hanging from Daring Do’s neck. It looked almost complete—except for one big hole in the center.

“The Can of Wyrms,” Daring Do hissed.

Vinyl felt her heartbeat accelerate again, she felt herself hyperventilate, and added: “Destiny.”

And in the background, Twilight yelled: “PINKIE PIE!”

Celestia and Twilight had not given up. They were still flying, still casting barriers, still keeping the hydragon at bay. The monster was anxious—it showed in the way it snarled, in the way it roared, in the way its eyes seemed to gleam more than usual—but they were tired, Twilight had a headache, Celestia was sweating.

And then Pinkie Pie came in, screaming at the top of her lungs, three hydras chasing after her.

“THIS IS NOT FUN THIS IS NOT FUN THIS IS NOT FUN oh hi Twilight! How’s it going?”


Twilight was tired. She hadn’t slept in way too long, she had overworked herself to the point where caffeine had replaced oxygen on her lungs, and she had been struggling with a hydragon for the last ten minutes.

It’s not that she couldn’t think straight. It’s that technically speaking, she didn’t have a functioning brain anymore.

So she blinked, saw that her friend was in danger, and turned around. She forgot the barrier, focused on her horn, and teleported Pinkie Pie away to safety. It took her less than two seconds.

That’s all the hydragon needed.

Celestia was fast, she really was, but this was a job for two alicorns, not just one. The hydragon smashed the barrier once more, and then—unfairly quick, in a way that tricked the eye—smashed one of its heads into Twilight.


But this time, a million times louder.

The scream that came from Celestia’s throat when she saw this happen was broken glass, it was rusty iron stabbing flesh.

It was a mother who might have just seen her one child die.


Twilight ricocheted off the ground from the hit and hit the roof, then the ground again, then tumbled around until she stopped.

Celestia teleported next to Twilight, quicker than thought itself.

The barrier was no more.


“Ah… Well. I guess there’s more to the story,” Vinyl had said at the staircase, a million years ago, it felt like. “I—look, saving the world is not exactly a laughing matter. You’re only adjacent to Destiny trying to catch me, and you’re already, what? Strapped to a bomb, chased by monsters, brain damaged, horrified by the bleakness of the reality you inhabit and of which you were unaware until today?”

There was a flash! and Celestia teleported both herself and Twilight out of the hydragon’s face—and next to Luna, next to the sleeping nobleponies, next to Rarity, and Daring Do, and Vinyl, and Octavia.

Celestia looked like she was about to cry.

“Twilight Sparkle,” she said, voice rough. “Are you—are you hurt?”

“Hnng.” Twilight flinched, but she managed to get up with Celestia’s help. Her left leg was weak, so she had to favor the right. “Yes. Are we done with the fight? I really need to take a nap.”


“Sister!” Literally by Celestia’s side, Luna was zapping her horn left and right, keeping what looked like thirty hydras at bay. At the same time. “I cannot do this on my own!

“Yes.” Celestia’s ears perked up, and she let Twilight go. “I promise, I will find you the best bed in all of Equestria once this is over.” She faced the hydragon, standing next to her sister.


The hydragon advanced.

Luna saw what they were facing, zapped some more hydras to the side, and shot Celestia a quick look. “Sister,” she said. “I have run out of witticisms. I do not know what to say in this situation.”


“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” And then Bon Bon walked into the scene. Her suit was impeccable. Her sunglasses were dark. Her right hoof was searching for something inside her jacket. “Princess Luna, how about this?”


And Bon Bon gave the hydragon a cursory glance before facing Luna, Celestia, and behind them, Twilight.

She said:


And then she threw a pocketful of pepper at the three alicorns.

“Like, I’d be okay if I had managed to escape Destiny,” Vinyl had said at the staircase back then. “It keeps chasing me, is the thing. I guess I’m still supposed to do one last quest for the sake of the world. The big one, maybe? The Universe doesn’t like Chosen Ones retiring, so sometimes it sends them into one last stupid mission so they can sacrifice themselves.”

Explosions are a bit like music. You can read about them, you can study them, you can understand everything about them—but you need to experience it to get it.

They all went flying. The hydras, against the walls and through them. The ponies, in the opposite direction, shielded by the bodies of the alicorns themselves. They scrambled, and bruised, and tumbled, and stopped—painful enough to feel lethal, not lethal enough not to be painful.

But the hydragon?

Even though sneeze happened right in front of it, it got thrown to the side. To the side and through the hole in the wall, away from the Ballroom and towards the mountain.

Vinyl and Octavia followed. The shockwave pushed them backwards, but they were thrown forwards.

“Which should not be possible, right? Physically,” Vinyl had said. “But I guess Destiny doesn’t really play by the rules most of the time. You don’t have to, when you’re the one who made the game.”

Vinyl Scratch felt the explosion in her body like a punch to the gut—and then everything was too blurry, too windy, too noisy to understand what was going on.

They’d been shot upwards through the hole in the wall.

Upwards towards the sky, and out of the Castle bounds, out of Canterlot. Upwards, above the clouds above the Mountain, where a war was being fought. They were flying without wings, and soon they would start falling, and not even the fastest pegasus in Equestria would be able to save them.

And then, with sheer horror, she heard the hydragon roaring. Right behind them.


But a million times as loud.

Daring Do was not a stranger to bleeding. She had been stabbed by Redcombs in North Equestria, she had been kicked by ictiocentaurs down in the Lake of Silver Linings, she had been bitten by the Nemean Lion in the Mean Den. There was more Daring Do blood across all of Equestria than inside of her body, at this point in time.

It never got any easier.


And Rainbow Dash was yelling at her. How come Rainbow Dash was always yelling whenever things went south? What was up with that.


“Yes,” Daring Do muttered, eyes closed. She was surprised at how dry her mouth felt. “I am.”


For a second or two, Daring Do really thought about answering that question with exactly the kind of vitriol it deserved. But, annoyed and dying as she was, Daring Do had always had a soft spot for eager fans. Plus, Dash was a good kid. Better be polite.

“Dash,” she whispered.


“You’re really, really dumb.”


Daring Do opened her eyes.

She was laying on the ground, using a sleeping noblepony as a pillow. There was a lot of general fussing around. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity, tending to Princess Twilight. Luna and Celestia over there looking around, whispering to each other.

“Where…?” It hurt to speak, but Daring Do was bleeding out, so who cares about pain. “What is going on?”

“Daring Do.” A familiar voice, and Daring Do blinked, only to see Bon Bon enter her line of sight. “You look worse than usual. Please tell me all this blood is not yours.”

Daring Do smirked at her. Oh Celestia, it actually made everything hurt more. She smirked harder. “Gonna disappoint you there, I’m afraid.”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes, pushed Applejack aside, and started tearing Daring Do’s shirt to take a look at the wound. Her face dropped. “Oh, yikes. I haven’t seen anything like this since the Redcombs.”

“I am so glad you’ve got medical training, Bon. Celestia knows if I would’ve been able to figure that one out myself.” Oh, wow she was going to die. Daring Do was going to die. This was it, wasn’t it. “What happened back there? I was sorta groggy. Did we win?”


“Ah.” Daring Do stopped smirking, because she really couldn’t keep it up, and then looked at Bon. “What did you do?”

“I made us all explode. Got rid of the hydras and the hydragon.” Bon Bon glanced at Daring Do’s face just in time to give her a cool smirk. “All in a day’s work, how about that.”

“You know, before you even arrived here, me and the Princesses tried to fight it for like half an hour. It thrashed us.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m on their payroll and you’re not.”

And then it came, rumbling across the room, a hundred throats at the same time, echoing each other:


The sound of the hydras roaring. Weakly, from afar, clearly affected by the explosion.

But getting closer.

Daring Do saw the color leave everypony’s faces, and looked at Bon Bon. “So,” she said. “All in a day’s work, huh.”

“Shut up.”

“Really earning that pay check. See, this is why essential services can’t be government-funded. You just lack the competitive edge of privatised servi—” she choked, coughed. Spat some blood. “Egh. Oh wow, I’m going to die.”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes, and started bandaging Daring Do. “I’ll just make them explode a second time. Shut up.”

“And you’re not dying,” Dash muttered by the side. “We’ll ask Princess Celestia to teleport you to the hospital, and I’m sure over there they’ll be able to—”

“Say,” Applejack said, frowning. “Are we government funded?”


Dash looked at her. “We what now.”

“Government funded! Are we that?” Applejack asked, nodding towards Daring Do and Bon Bon. “Like are we offering’ a public service or…?”

Dash took a deep breath. “Applejack, my personal hero and overall favourite pony in the world is dying, there’s no—wait, don’t you, like, run a farm?”

“Ah do!”

“Right. So that’s a private business, right?”

“Ah, mean, yeah, but it was a direct gift from Princess Celestia to my family.” Applejack looked Dash. “We didn’t pay for any of it! Don’t that make it a bit wishy-washy?”

“I think that’s just nepotism?” Dash rubbed her chin, and looked at Bon Bon. “Bon? Is that nepotism? I don’t really know what that word means.”

In the distance:


Closer yet.

Bon didn’t even flinch. She just kept working on the bandages. “Say,” she muttered. “You were absolutely right, Daring Do.”


“They are really dumb. This is as much as I can do for now,” Bon muttered, tying up the bandages and getting away from Daring Do, giving her space to breathe. “It’s…”

“Bad,” Daring Do said.

“It’s a work in progress. Dash is right—we’ll ask Princess Celestia to teleport you to the hospital, and there you can—”


“—get treatment. Shut up.”

But neither of them were smiling. Daring Do was pale enough to look completely white, and Bon Bon had given the wound a good, thorough look. Truth was: one of them was fooling herself, and the other was being brutally honest, and neither liked which one was which.

“You shut up,” Daring Do retorted, weakly. “And take my last words already, this is getting awkward.” She stopped to swallow and breath some, and then looked to the side. “By the way, Dash?”

“Daring Do!”

“You’re not getting paid when saving the world, so that’s volunteer work.”

“Aaah. But it’s not nepotism?”

“Well, you got a magical element of loyalty to shoot lasers whenever you’re in danger, and I just got a pat on the back and some encouraging words,” Daring Do said, squinting. “So, a little bit of nepotism, I supp—” she winced in pain, and had to stop talking.


The hydras were right around the corner. They could feel the ground shaking again. Bon Bon nodded, and turned around. “Princess Celestia! We—”

“Wait.” Daring Do opened her eyes and looked around as best as she could. “Where is… Scratch?”

Bon Bon blinked. “She—”

“She’s okay!” Dash said, getting closer to Daring Do, reassuring smile on. “She just rolled to the side with Octavia and—”

“Got blown up with the hydragon and are probably either dead or worse,” Applejack said.


Bon Bon and Dash both glared at her.

And Applejack frowned. “What?” she said. “Ah never lie. That’s my whole thing! Ah don’t get why this is surprisin’ to you.”

“Bon.” Daring Do winced again. “That—”

“I know,” Bon said, nodding once. “I tried to make sure they were safe from the shockwave, but Destiny was playing some dirty tricks. Nothing we could do, and nothing we can do now.”

Daring Do really didn’t have any strength left. “But…”

“I’m as worried as you are, but we need to take care of things one by one, okay? Right now, Scratch is out of reach. Hospital, then hydras, then Scratch.”

Daring Do tried to get up. Utterly failed. Kept trying anyway until Dash physically held her in place, and then she closed her eyes. She was falling asleep. “You idiot, that… Not…”

“Daring Do.”

The voice was clear as crystal, proud as the roar of a lion. Daring Do opened her eyes again. It took a lot of effort.

“Princess Celestia,” she whispered.


Daring Do saw the way Dash, Applejack, and Bon Bon reacted, and swallowed again. Seems like the hydras were finally there, on sight.

“There is little time for explanations, but I do not think you need one. I told you that I would not underestimate you again, and I am a mare of my word.” Celestia nodded at Daring Do’s chest. “Look down.”

Daring Do did so, almost without thinking. The Can of Wyrms was still hung from her neck—but it was pointing forward, towards…

“I thought Scratch had the third piece,” Daring Do whispered. “The bomb. Coltpixie gold.”

“Ah, a perfectly safe assumption,” Celestia said. “But your necklace never pointed at them, did it? Even once it was complete. I would have never trusted Mister Labcoat with a piece of the Can of Wyrms. Too much power for someone with his curiosity.”

The floor was shaking around them now. Bon Bon, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash got up. Out of the corner of her eye, Daring Do saw that everypony else was doing the same—except for Twilight.

But she focused on Celestia. The Can of Wyrms was pointing at her. “So.”

“One piece for the hydras. That is the one Rarity had.” Celestia spoke slowly, and flashed her horn, and she took off her crown. “One for the dragons. Dragon Lord Ember gave you that one.”

“Princess!” Bon Bon yelled. “The hydras! We need your help, now!”


“And the third one.” Celestia flashed her horn again, and cracked her crown in two. The largest gemstone in it—the purple one, roughly the size of an eye—came out. Celestia floated it towards Daring Do. “The third one was for the ponies. In my possession.”


The gemstone touched the Can of Wyrms.


And Daring Do felt the fire come back to her body. She felt her muscles sparkle and her eyes become stars. She felt her bones crack like thunder and flow like water.

She opened her eyes.

Everything went white.

Vinyl Scratch hugged Octavia Pianissimo through it all.

They weren’t falling in a straight line, but rather, at an arc. Canterlot was far away from them already, and it would be a while until they hit the ground—but there was no stopping now. The wind cut through their ears, howling wildly. They had to scream to hear each other, and even then, it was a struggle.

“Oh my gosh! Vinyl!” Octavia was doing her best; Vinyl still had trouble hearing her. “Vinyl! Vinyl Scratch!”

Vinyl didn’t know she suffered from vertigo, but apparently, she did. Her stomach was upside down. Her head was dizzy. The bandages on her left side felt wet—the shockwave had reopened the cut the hydragon had given her at the stairs. “Octavia!” she managed.

“Vinyl! We’re falling”

“I know!

“Vinyl!” Octavia’s eyes looked bigger than ever. They reflected the sky, and the hydragon falling behind them. “Are you okay?! Do you need a nuzzle?!


Vinyl had to blink. “I—what?!”

“A nuzzle! I mean, we are falling to our death, yes?” Octavia looked down, nodded, looked back at Vinyl. “I am not completely unsatisfied with it, mind you! Very poetic! I live as I died!”

In spite of herself, Vinyl snorted. “Falling from grace?” she ventured.

“Above everypony else, but dragged down by the uncultured masses!” Octavia shot Vinyl a smile. “No offense! I’m sure you’re rather cultured for a commoner!”

“None taken!”

Octavia nodded to herself. “That said, poetic as it is, this situation is rather stressing, and I can’t really tell if you’re hyperventilating, what with all this wind! I would love to say that the explosion also scared you, probably? But we both know we don’t even register those as a threat anymore!”

It took Vinyl a couple seconds. “You’re asking me if I’m having an episode?”

“Yes! Usually I would just nuzzle you anyway, just to be sure? But I can’t really move with all this wind!” Octavia shook her head, and her mane flapped around. “So I kind of need your collaboration if we’re going to do this!”

“You’re worried that I might be having an episode!” Vinyl repeated. She was absolutely terrified, and starting to hyperventilate, but she also had the dumbest grin on her face. “We’re falling to our death, and you’re worried I might be having flashbacks!”


The sudden yell made Octavia wince and twirl around in midair to get a look at the hydragon.

The monster was falling after them, alright, but it had wings, and it was flapping them furiously—to fly down.

It was trying to catch them.

“Okay! That is also a concern, then!” Octavia looked at Vinyl again. “So! Nuzzle time or what?”

Vinyl burst out laughing.

She couldn’t help it. The ground was getting closer by the second, the hydragon was getting closer by the second, they were absolutely going to die horribly, and Octavia was thinking about nuzzling her. That’s how her brain worked. Oh, no, bad things are coming. Nuzzle time or what.

“You’re an idiot!” Vinyl said between giggles. “You’re an absolute idiot!

And then, before Octavia could say anything else, Vinyl leaned closer to her, as close as possible, and kissed her on the cheek.

Kissed her on the cheek one, two, three times, four, five, too many to count. She landed kiss after kiss after kiss—sloppy, clumsy, all over the place. She moved from cheek to forehead to eyelid to anywhere she could reach while twirling in the air and falling down at terminal velocity.

Because that’s all she could do. Because she’d known this mare for seven hours and fifty-seven minutes, but she was already the most important pony in her life. Because she was an absolute idiot, and completely impossible to predict, and she worried over the dumbest stuff, and she hated Vinyl’s mane. Because she looked timeless and had an accent as sweet as chocolate, with a hint of spice.

Because she was a joy to be around.


“Bwhahaha! Okay! We’ve moved on from the nuzzles then! That’s a great—wait, is that thing getting closer?” Octavia looked at the hydragon. “I think it’s getting closer!”

“It is!”

“Well, that’s a way to kill the mood!”

Vinyl winced. “Sorry!”

And Octavia shook her head. “No, no, you did your best! Honestly, I’m kinda surprised it took us this long to get to the kissing phase? But I suppose your kind is slow at everything! So—”

“No, not that! I mean more the whole, Destiny thing? The hydragon is probably only chasing me! If it weren’t for me, it—”

And then, it clicked.

“Yes,” Celestia had said. “I cannot be the one to carry the bomb, Vinyl Scratch. I wish I could. Octavia Pianissimo is the only one, as far as I know, and you are here to protect her.”

Vinyl snapped to the side, to look at the hydragon. The hydragon, that horrible monster, that mass of muscle and death whose scales could dispel magic, that terrible beast that they had ran away from so many times already.

So many times.

Almost as if it had been chasing them all this time.

Bon Bon had said it. Bon Bon had said it when they had met at Donut Joe’s, back when meeting Record Label was still important. She’d spelled it for Vinyl, word for word.

“Dragons are genetically predisposed to try to eat any princess they stumble upon, so that’s another nasty habit. Blue blood’s tasty, turns out.”

Blue blood was tasty. Eating an Equestrian princess would be a stupid move, most of them were either omnipotent or really hardcore—but blue blood was tasty.

That’s why Celestia had gathered all the nobleponies in the Ballroom, why she’d put them to sleep instead of teleporting them somewhere safer. She couldn’t take any risks, and the hydragon might have found one of them and eaten it instead.

But it hadn’t. It’d been chasing them all this time instead.

“What, the nobleponies?” Vinyl had asked. “Who cares about them!”


“You don’t count, Octavia.”

“Good! Good. I have more noble blood than all of them combined, though?”

“Because you are,” Vinyl muttered, staring at Octavia, “ridiculously aristocratic.”

The hydragon roared behind them.


Vinyl laughed again.

She knew what to do, and she didn’t like it.

It wasn’t fire. Fire burns.

Maybe it was light in solid form. Maybe it was lightning moving slowly. It wasn’t magic, that’s for sure, because magic is a tool, it’s limited by the skills of the user. The false fire worked by itself, had a mind on its own. It twisted and turned, it danced in the air, it reached every corner of every room at the same time. It was alive, as much as any pony that had ever lived.

But in the end, that didn’t matter.

Daring Do moved a hoof.

The false fire followed.

Over a hundred monsters in that room, and every single one of them got quiet all of a sudden. Even Celestia and Luna felt a shiver down their spines. The false fire filled the Ballroom and sharpened, even though it had no edge. Some of the hydras tried to scream, but the false fire got in their mouths.

Daring Do’s very coat was as golden as the Can of Wyrms itself; her eyes were silver. She brought forth the false fire with slow and steady breaths, and moved it with her eyes and mind.

The hydras were struggling. Daring Do lifted them, toyed with them, moved them around. She felt a smirk creep up on her face. Easy to let it get to her head, easy to kill them and save herself some trouble. Too easy. Not really a challenge, not worth the trouble.

A blink, and the hydras went away. To some swamp, perhaps; maybe down a cliff. The false fire had a mind on its own, and Daring Do neither cared nor needed to know what had happened. One minute the Ballroom was full of monsters, then it wasn’t, and everypony was safe. And that was that.

Now. Bigger fish to catch.

She talked, and her voice reverberated, as if many things were speaking at once. “Princess Luna. I need to know. Why a bomb? Why them?”

And Princess Luna looked at Daring Do, golden and powerful, and spoke the truth.


“It has to eat us, Octavia!” Vinyl said, clinging to Octavia, sneaking a kiss here and there. “That’s why we’re carrying a bomb! Because the hydragon has to eat us!”

Octavia didn’t immediately reply. She just looked at Vinyl, and then at the hydragon.

It was as ugly as ever, with its four massive necks stretched as much as possible, all four heads opening their mouths and salivating wildly. The wings on its back were flapping so hard Octavia could hear the meaty flop flop flop they made every time they moved.

Then she looked at Vinyl. “WHAT?!”

Look, didn’t you say that being eaten alive could be seen as a compliment? There you go! You can be flattered and save the world at the same time!”

“Well, while I do admit that saving the world while indulging my own vanity is rather appealing—I DIDN’T MEAN BEING EATEN BY THAT!

“Okay, now you’re just being picky!”


“Vinyl Scratch!” Octavia made a huff. “I will not go down in history as an appetizer! Can’t we just wait thirty seconds and splatter against the ground, preserve some dignity?”

“That’s not an option!” Vinyl said, and she meant it. “Listen—remember what Daring Do said?” She looked right into Octavia’s eyes. “Princess Celestia always does this! Everything is extremely complicated and then it all comes together, and it’s obvious! This is the little bow wrapped around it!”


“We’ll make it out! Okay?” Vinyl wasn’t shouting; she was pleading. “Trust me! Please! It’s the only way to survive this!”

Octavia blinked. “Why!” she said. “We can survive this?”

“Yes! We can! If we get eaten! Why do you think I’m so desperate for you to listen to me?”

“Some sort of repugnant attraction to the idea of being digested?”

“Okay, now you’re just projecting!”

What a lady does behind closed doors is nopony’s business but her own!” Octavia said, and then she clinged to Vinyl’s chest. “How is it going to work anyway? What is your plan?”

“It’s been almost exactly eight hours! Can’t you see it?” Vinyl shook her head, looked at the hydragon. “This was the plan from the start! We get shot out of the Castle and detonate the bomb, and we take out that thing from the inside out without destroying the whole Castle! And if we don’t do it now, the bomb will turn off, and we’ll have missed our chance!”

“But how are we going to detonate it?”

“You have to let go!”

“But then—!”

“Listen!” Vinyl swallowed. “The bomb won’t explode after eight hours—it’ll turn off, right? We have to let go beforehand, make it go off! It has to be a conscious choice! It has to be a wilful sacrifice!

“Friendship has traditionally been the most effective dragonslaying weapon in History.”

“The hydragon is immune to magic! But, the bomb and an act of friendship? There’s no way it’ll survive that!”

“What are you talking about! No!” Octavia shook her head and clinged harder against Vinyl. “No! I outright refuse to do that! Do not kill yourself for my sake!”

“I have no choice!” Vinyl then let Octavia go with her right arm, and poked the bandages on her left. Hard. Needles of pain made it through her entire body, and she screamed.

But then she just looked at Octavia. She wasn’t wearing her shades anymore, so the wind was cutting at her eyes and making her cry. They’d been falling for minutes already—the ground was getting closer and closer. Now or never.

Octavia yelled something, but Vinyl didn’t listen. She just smiled at Octavia, and hugged her tightly.

“Take it as a compliment,” she said.

And then she took a deep sniff of Octavia’s hair.


It smelled like pepper.

The sneeze was weak, but still a discharge of magic. Still strong enough to halt their fall, or slow it down, for a second or two.

Enough for the hydragon to catch up, open one of their four mouths, and swallow them whole.

As soon as the teeth closed around them, Vinyl let go of Octavia.

The bomb exploded, and Hell followed.

Hell is a very unpleasant place.

It is, for starters, full of fire. What little light the flames bring—they’re the short that burn hard but not bright—doesn’t make things better, because all you can see, you would rather not. Demons are real, and they do not like you. Souls walk the place, in the same way pirates walk the plank.

To draw a picture of Hell would be like making a map of a mind. Whatever is there that you think makes sense, is merely a projection of what you want to see.

Vinyl Scratch was in Hell.

In front of her was a demon.

“My Name Is Forneus. Great Marquis Of Hell.” The demon talked, and its voice was like a million bees stinging your ears. He was difficult to describe—it had mouths, and horns, and tails, and arms. None of them were in the right place. “I Have Been Summoned.”

Vinyl was lying on the ground—never comfortable, not in Hell at least—and she pawed at her chest for a moment or two, looking for something that wasn’t there, before she realized that she was free, and she could simply get up. So she did, and it felt wrong. “Right,” she said. “My name is Vinyl Scratch, and I have summoned you. How’s it going, Forneus. What is up.”

Forneus smiled, or at least Vinyl thought it was smiling. “You Used Your Own Blood For The Ritual. How Vain Must You Be. How Proud. To Believe It Would Suffice.”

Vinyl looked around. Hell had never looked good, and that hadn’t changed lately. “I mean,” she said, arching an eyebrow, desperately missing her shades, looking at the blood on her hoof. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Because I Willed It So.”

“Oh, pffft. What, I don’t count as an innocent now? I’m a good guy!” Vinyl pointed at herself. “I’m saving the world as we speak! Come on!”

“Innocence And Bravery. They Are Not The Same Thing.”

“Those are the same. Those super are the—”

“I Have Seen You. Gently Lifting Tails. Caressing What Lays Underneath.”

Absolute silence.

Even the penitent souls around stopped their moaning to stare.

Vinyl choked with her words, and it took her a little bit to reply. “That’s—!” she finally said. “I—! That is wildly out of context!”

“I Have Been Watching You. All This Time. I Know What You Have Been Doing All Morning. With That Mare”

“Okay! First of all, that is a terrible violation of my privacy!” Vinyl said, taking a step backwards, pressing a hoof against her chest. “And second of all, you’re wording that terribly! You’re giving the damned souls of Hell a completely wrong impression of what we—WE JUST CUDDLED! OKAY?” She looked at one particularly curious-looking soul. “NOTHING MORE! AND WHY AM I EVEN TRYING TO EXPLAIN MYSELF TO YOU? I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT WITH MY LIFE! I’M AN ADULT!

“Out Of Wedlock,” Forneus said. “You Barely Know Her.”

“SHUT U—wait. What? Wedlock?” Vinyl stopped yelling. Probably out of shock. “What the Hell. Forneus. Really?”


“I’m out of wedlock? That’s your big gotcha?” Vinyl looked at the demon up and down, eyebrow arched again. “What are you? My mother?”

“I Am Eternal. I Value Tradition.”

“I can’t believe I’m doing business with you.”

“Ah. But You Are.” And here Forneus’ tone became much darker, and some of its many mouths smiled, or grimaced, or at least did something that showed a lot of teeth. “Because You Have No Other Choice. You Need To Save Her. That Is Why You Licked The Blood. That Is Why I Watched.”

Vinyl’s expression darkened, too. Any trace of levity left her voice. “…How much do you know already?”

“Time Works Differently Here. But You Don’t Have Much Anyway.” Forneus bsaid. “She Will Die. Soon. You Detonated The Bomb.”

“She doesn’t need to die,” Vinyl said. She was not looking down, or looking away. It was horrible, but she was looking at Forneus dead-on. “Not if you save her. Teleport her away before the explosion hits. You’re a Marquis of Hell, you can probably do it without lifting a finger.”

“I Can,” Forneus said. “I Can Save Her. But Why Should I.”

“…I know how this goes.” Vinyl took a deep breath. “A life for a life. You save Octavia, you can take my soul. Immediately. Deal?”

This made Forneus stop and think. The demon’s body language was not exactly easy to decipher, but Vinyl didn’t need to be a genius to realize that he was interested. “The Soul,” he said, “Of A Hero. But You Will Die.”

“Yeah. Fancy that.” Vinyl scratched her muzzle, tried to look nonchalant. “Which brings me to my next point! Save me and you get, I don’t know, the soul of eight heroes? It’s a great deal for—”


Vinyl clacked her tongue. “Figured.”

“If I Save You, And You Survive.” Forneus twisted and turned. He was probably gesturing in a way that made sense to him. “You Will Get Your Soul Back. Eventually.”

“…That’s the plan, yes.”

“No. You Are Out Of Options. You Tried To Dodge Fate.” Some of Forneus’ mouths smiled. “No Deal. I Will Not Save You. You Will Die, Immediately. And You Will Be Condemned. Your Soul Is Mine Forever.”

Vinyl scrubbed her eyes. She wasn’t hyperventilating, not yet. Hell did strange things to your head—but she was a visitor at the moment. As a condemned, she assumed, things wouldn’t be as pretty.

“Right,” she said. “I knew that. Just—had to try it, right?”

“You Need To Sacrifice Yourself. To Slay The Monster.” Forneus said. “Because You Love Her.”

“Princess Celestia doesn’t leave anything to chance. I’m guessing she knew I’d get attached.” Vinyl sighed. “Octavia is my best friend. If I can save her and kill the hydragon in one single move, then I’m happy with that.”

“I See.” Forneus paused again, contemplating the offer, before stating: “I Accept. Your Life For Hers. Immediately.”

Vinyl swallowed again. “Right. Then, according to the laws of Hell, I offer you my—”

“See! That’s the problem with secret agents! You’re so predictable! Something bad happens, and what do you do? You immediately summon a demon. Seriously, get better material, Scratch.”

Forneus didn’t have a face, but he still managed to frown. Vinyl turned around, eyes wide, not believing what she had heard. It was…

“Daring Do?!”

Daring Do.

Her coat was golden. Her eyes were silver. She was floating in place, even though her wings were not moving, and the Can of Wyrms was hanging from her neck. False fire around her, coming forth whenever she breathed.

“You are not the only one who bleeds, Scratch.” Daring Do raised a hoof. It was red with blood, just like the right side of her torso. “We all have some battle scars here and there.”

Vinyl had many questions. A million, really. But she had just spent an entire day hugging Octavia Pianissimo, and that had taught her a couple things about priorities. So she said: “Wait. Really?” and she turned to look at Forneus. “She counts as innocent, and I don’t?”


Forneus looked at Vinyl. “She Did Not Gently Lift Any—”

“Okay, you know what? On second thought, don’t answer that question.”

“Scratch.” Daring Do again. There was something strange in her voice, as if there were more than one pony talking at the same time. When she approached Vinyl, with that eerie floaty flight of hers, Vinyl couldn’t help but to take a step backwards just in case. “I don’t like it here.”

Vinyl made a face. “Me neither.”


“Well, mostly, because Hell is literally engineered to torture—”

“No.” Daring Do shook her head, and looked straight into Vinyl’s eyes. “Not that. Why didn’t you tell me?”


Vinyl looked to the side. “…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What Is Going On.” Fernous’ voice, from behind Vinyl. He sounded annoyed. “We Were Doing Business.”

“Everypony else—Twilight, Bon Bon… Even the Mademoiselle!” Daring Do said, showing her teeth. “You went and told every single one of them why you were leaving the Service—but I just get some weak excuse about you being a musician?”


“Do you just not like me, did you think I would tell everypony or write it in one of my books…?”

“No! I just—” Vinyl let out a sigh, and looked back at Daring Do. “I didn’t want to tell anypony. Have you ever had an… You ever been through that?

Daring Do’s expression didn’t change. “A panic attack?”

“It’s not that, exactly. It’s more… Shock? Shame? I just, I can’t deal with this kind of stuff. I break down. And I don’t like to talk about it.” Vinyl ran a hoof through her mane, felt how her arms twitched, wished Octavia was there to hug her, or at least nuzzle her some. “I freaked out once at work, and Bon Bon was there, which is how she knew. She had to save my ass, and I almost got both of us killed.”

Daring Do closed her eyes. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, because I don’t want you to know. I get that this is a, a sickness or something, but I wanted to… I don’t know.” Vinyl kicked the ground. “Preserve some dignity? At least pretend I was in control, and that I had taken the decision to leave the Service by myself?”

“And you never told me.”

“No! Because I didn’t tell anypony, they just found out! I live in Ponyville, Daring Do. It’s a nice town, but we get attacked every other Saturday! They caught me freaking out under a table after a dog knocked down some pots and pans, and then Princess Twilight just connected the dots with Bon Bon’s help. I didn’t—” Vinyl rolled her eyes at herself. “I didn’t want you thinking less of me just because I’m broken now. Okay?”


Daring Do didn’t move. She just kept staring at Vinyl. “I don’t think less of you.”

“Oh, for the love of—”

“I love my job, Scratch,” Daring Do interrupted. “I do it because I like it, and because nopony else can. But I get that it’s not for everypony. If it wasn’t your thing, then that’s that. I would probably break down if I had to spend my days trapped in an office. No shame in that.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Isn’t it? Scratch, you made me think that you had just left. That you had forced Princess Twilight to go through Hell because you were bored with your duties.” Daring Do glanced at Forneus. “Full offense.”

“I Am Surprised You Remember I Am Here.”

“Not because I want to. I don’t like your type.”

“Unwise Words.”

“Unwise mare,” Daring Do replied, and then she looked back at Vinyl. “But if you left because you had to? I’m not a monster, Scratch. I’m your friend. Of course I’m gonna understand it.”

Vinyl opened her mouth, closed it. Opened it again. “I…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m not a fan of this kind of talk either.” Daring Do gave Vinyl a weak smile. “Look, there’s no need for us to go all emotional. Just—explanation accepted. There’s no need to apologize. I’m guessing you weren’t exactly in a good mindset when you told me you’d left the Service?”

Vinyl let out a weak laugh. “I hadn’t slept in weeks.”

“So yeah, I’m guessing you’re finally getting why I got angry.” Daring Do stopped, and frowned. “And I’m guessing me being angry at you leaving didn’t make you telling me the truth any easier?”

Vinyl nodded, and smirked, too. “You got it. We’re cool now? Friends again?”

“As cool as we’re ever going to be.”

Forneus was looking at them both. “Would You Like Some Privacy. Or Something.”

“Nah, I think we’re done.”

“Not yet, not yet.” Daring Do raised a hoof when she heard Forneus sigh in frustration. “Just give us a minute— Scratch? Now that we’re cool again—what are you doing here?”

“Selling my soul to save Octavia.”

“She Is Sacrificing Herself. To Me.”

“Wonderful—why are you doing that? You’ve left the Service, this is not your place anymore.” Daring Do shook her head. “Call it therapy or whatever, I don’t care. Let the professionals do this.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh—”

“That means I’m not letting you save the world again, and also no heroic sacrifices. You idiot.” Daring Do floated forwards and placed herself between Forneus and Vinyl. “You’re not selling any souls today, Scratch. And you, Marquis of Hell, you’re going to save both of them. Not just Octavia.”

This made Forneus tilt forwards, closer to Daring Do. It did that thing with the teeth again. “Am I, Now.”

“Yeah. You are.” Daring Do pointed at Vinyl. “Bring her, and Octavia, to a safe place. They escape the explosion, the hydragon dies, they’re found by their friends immediately and get out of this whole mess without getting hurt in any way. That’s the deal.”

“I See. You Ask For Many Things.”

Forneus, the Marquis of Hell, seemed to expand after saying this. His amorphous body got bigger, and bigger, until it dwarfed the two ponies and every teeth was the side of a mountain. He became infinite, all-powerful, all-burning.

And when he talked again, his voice was unrecognizable.

And Which Soul Do You Offer In Exchange?

Daring Do didn’t have to move. She just blinked.

False fire, or perhaps solid light—it didn’t matter. It didn’t burn, but it got sharp, and it had a mind on its own.

It surrounded Forneus in his infinity and went inside his mouths, inside his eyes, across his fingers and around his necks. It pierced the darkness that covered the Marquis of Hell. It enveloped him like an iron maiden, drawing a moan and a whine out of Forneus. It had no edge, but still, it sharpened.

And in the middle of Hell, it made a demon bleed.

Daring Do talked, then, and her voice was many voices.

“Which soul?” she asked, dragon-slaying smile on her face. “Yours.”

The explosion was brighter than the sun. The shockwave cleared the sky of clouds, leaving it naked and blue. What little remained of the hydragon fell down to earth as smoking flakes of ashy flesh.

There was still a war going on. Not every hydra had been banished by the Can of Wyrms—some, the ones that hadn’t been inside the Castle, remained. The dragons were keeping them in check, but there were a lot of fires, of the real kind. The one that burns.

But that didn’t matter to Vinyl.

What mattered to her was that, when the smoke cleared, she found herself laying on the grass of the inner gardens of the Castle. Right next to the Ballroom, and in fact, right under the big hole in the wall that they’d been shot out.

The grass felt fresh and clean against her fur. Vinyl couldn’t really move, her entire body was numb, but it was the good kind of numb. The pleasant one that comes right before a good sleep. She was still bleeding a bit, she could see the cut if she wiggled, but it was superficial. It would heal.

Sounds of war in the distance. She didn’t pay attention.

She found that, a couple feet away, Octavia was laying face-up on the grass, too. Her eyes were closed, and her expression was peaceful, and she looked like she was sleeping, rather than knocked out.

Not a single injury in sight. Not even a hair out of place.

The smile in her face was so wide that it hurt Vinyl’s cheeks.

They were found by Twilight and company some time later. The way Bon Bon told it, both Vinyl and Octavia were sleeping peacefully, looking better than they had all morning. The bomb was gone, but they were still hugging tightly.

Nopony tried to split them apart.

Epilogue – Hey, Come Here a Second

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Octavia took a sip and swished the drink around in her mouth. “Hmm. Hmm!” Her ears perked up and she looked at Vinyl. “Hmmm!” And then she swallowed, huge grin in her face.

Vinyl grinned back, and nodded. “Is it bad?”

“It is!” Octavia took another sip of the coffee, holding the cup with both her hooves. “It is quite bad.”

“It is super quite bad.” Vinyl nodded, and looked up. “Never change, Joe.”

Joe was unimpressed, and also squinting. Hard. “You know,” he said, holding up a tray with two more cups of coffee. “You can just ask for donuts. My donuts are really good.”


“We’re not going to do that!” Octavia chirped, right before taking a third sip. “Oh wow this really is the worst coffee I’ve ever had.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I know I am!”

Joe mumbled something offensive under his breath.

Three days had passed since the bomb exploded. And, in the distance, there were no more sounds of war.

The place was Canterlot Hospital, room 206. The air smelled like latex and sanitizer, and the walls were white and sterile—but the bed was queen-size, the pillows were comfy, and the sheets were silky. The windows showed off some amazing vistas, and there was a minibar by the corner.

Vinyl and Octavia were sitting in the middle of the bed—Vinyl, with her back straight; Octavia, curled up.

“I have to say.” Joe put the tray with the two coffees on the bedside table and looked around, frowning. “I didn’t know hospitals did private suites.”

“They don’t!” Octavia said.

“They super don’t,” Vinyl added. “This is really just the hospital giving us special treatment.”

Huge health hazard!” Octavia sounded extremely proud when saying this. “The doctor wanted to punch us when we said we wanted the queen-size bed, but I’ve never listened to bourgeois scholars in my life, and I’m not going to start now. The minibar was my idea!”

Joe frowned, and looked at the minibar Octavia was pointing at. “Do you have drinks in it?”

“Yeah!” Octavia said, nodding, sipping from her coffee again, making a face at it. “Much better than this one, too. No offense!”

“Full offense,” Vinyl said.

“Oh, we can do that?”

“Joe’s a friend. Bon and him go a long way.”

“Oooh. I didn’t know that!” Octavia gave Joe a huge, brilliant, innocent grin. “Full offense, then! You are terrible at your job. I am only drinking this because I know your deliveries are awfully expensive!”

Joe sighed, nodded, and rubbed the space between his eyes. “Alright,” he said. “Scratch.”


“Why am I here.”

“Because your deliveries are awfully expensive!” Octavia chirped again, finishing her coffee with a ladylike long sip, and putting the cup down. “And Vinyl is paying.” She looked at Vinyl. “Full offense!”

“Love you too, Octavia.”

“I know you do!”

“Right. Right.” Joe nodded again, took the bill out of his breast pocket, and placed it on the bedside table next to the other two cups of coffee. “I’m just going to leave.”

And he left.

“Say,” Vinyl said once they were left alone again. “I heard his coffee machine got busted during the hydra invasion? I was afraid that his coffee would get better with the new one.” She flashed her horn, and one of the cups went floating towards her. She took a sniff, and her entire face crumpled. “I’m glad to see he hasn’t lost his touch.”

“He has not! He has not lost it at all. The terrible coffee was inside him all along.” Octavia cocked her head to the side, all cutesy, and nodded towards the bedside table. “Pass me another cup, please? I want to see if it is an acquired taste.”

“It’s really not.” Vinyl took the empty cup from Octavia’s hooves, but did not give her a new one. Instead, she just arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to drink them that fast? They pack quite a punch.”

“Oh?” Octavia’s eyes went wide, and she pressed a hoof against her mouth. “You won’t give me another coffee yet! How quaint! What shall I do!”

And Vinyl frowned. “Ah. Are you going to do the thing again.”

Octavia ignored her, and started rubbing her chin, as if deep in thought. “Mmm. Maybe I should go and sell my soul to Hell, and then sacrifice myself to get it! Yes! That is a perfectly reasonable course of action! Don’t you think?

Vinyl rolled her eyes, flashed her horn, and gave Octavia the coffee. “Yes, yes, I’m sorry for that. Look, I’m clearly alive and not in Hell, so can we just call it even? I did save your life.”

“You did! You did save my life. You also got us eaten, and tried to die.”

“I told you to take it as a compliment! See, I wouldn’t just sacrifice myself for anypony.”

“You would not! In spite of your mane, you have good taste sometimes.” Then Octavia sipped from her coffee, and had to blink. “Oh, this really is dreadful. Anyway!”

Vinyl nodded. “Anyway.”

“Do not kill yourself for my sake ever again. Flattering as it was!”

“Right. So you did take it as a compliment.”

“Vinyl, I am angry, not stupid.”

“Right okay. I can’t really win this argument? So this is what we’re going to do.” Vinyl flashed her horn. “I’m going to hit you in the face with a pillow.”

Octavia blinked, and cocked her head to the side. “You what?”


“Ah!” Octavia wobbled, and looked at Vinyl with fake despair. “Vinyl!” she said. “I’m holding coffee!”

“Oh, right, you are. Hold on.” Vinyl flashed her horn again, and Octavia’s cup floated to the bedside table. “There! Much better.”

“It is! It is much bett—”




Octavia grabbed the pillow and tore it from Vinyl’s magical grasp, pouting. “This is not the proper way to win an argument!”

Vinyl winked at her and leaned closer. “Thought you hated formalities?”

“I do! But I like them a lot when they’re working in my favor. I’m a hypocrite.”

“And proud, huh?”

Octavia smiled. “Always!”

“Well, I don’t know what you were expecting then.” Vinyl inched even closer—they were sitting right in front of the other now—and gave Octavia a knowing look. “I’ve worked for a corrupt government for years! Violence is my go-to solution in any given conflict.”

Octavia rolled her eyes, and inched closer to Vinyl, too. She was hugging the pillow now. “Beautifully despotic, don’t get me wrong, but—wait, corrupt government?”

Vinyl nodded. “I worked for the Equestrian Secret Service, yes.”

“We have a corrupt government?”

“I mean.” Vinyl looked around. “I don’t know, we’re in a private suite in a hospital, just because we felt like sharing a room? You do realize this is being paid with taxpayers money, right.”

Octavia’s eyes went wide. “You choose to pay taxes?

“I me—wait, you don’t?”

“Of course we don’t!” Octavia seemed genuinely distraught at the thought. “We aristocrats have way too much money, so we felt it was worth it. I can’t believe you willingly give the government part of your income for no reason?”

“Uh.” Vinyl frowned. “No, that’s—that’s fraud. You’re describing fraud. You don’t choose if you’re going to pay taxes or not, you just do it.”

“My. How quaint.” Octavia shook her head. “I don’t think I know a single noblepony who pays taxes.”

“Well, that’s just wonderful, then.”

“It is! It is wonderful.” Octavia nodded, pensive. “You know, it makes one wonder how come you peasants haven’t rebelled already? But then I remember—hah!

And then Octavia suddenly perked up and tackled Vinyl—who was leaning towards her, so it wasn’t exactly hard—and then pinned her against the bed, grabbing the pillow with her teeth.

“We have social strata!” Octavia continued, eyes sparkling, huge grin on. “Which are lovely! And that means we’re constantly on top of you and we oppress you just enough to keep you down. Like this!


Vinyl laughed, and tried to paw away at the pillow, but Octavia wasn’t letting her grab it. “Oh, no, no!” she said, poking Vinyl’s face with the pillow again. “Oppression time! Here comes the aristocrat!”


“Pfft, ah! Ahahah!” Vinyl kept pawing at the pillow until she managed to get it out of her face, and then she grinned at Octavia. “Okay!” she said. “Okay—like, good one-liner and all that? And I appreciate how you’ve clearly been setting this up for a while now. But, like, is this really how we do playful chit-chat now? Sociopolitical commentary?”

Octavia stood with her back straight, still on top of Vinyl, pinning her down. She wagged her tail a little. “Tee hee.”

“Right, see, this is not a giggling moment. This is not the kind of conversation that should end in giggles—GOT YOU!

She flashed her horn, and another pillow came flying from the side and hit Octavia on the side of her head, causing her to lose her balance.


So Vinyl rolled around, and she was now the one pinning Octavia. “Ah-hah! The revolution has started! The masses shall rise! Down with the—oh wow okay we do talk like this all the time. What’s wrong with us? This can’t be—whoa!” And she narrowly dodged Octavia’s swinging pillow. “Hey, I’m doing some serious introspection here!”

“And I’m trying to hit you with a pillow! I don’t see any conflict of interests.”

Then she weaselled out of Vinyl’s pin and hit her in the back with the pillow.

From there on the witty banter died, and they just kept throwing pillows at each other. They laughed aloud, and rolled around, and almost fell off the bed twice. Finally, when Vinyl had managed to pin Octavia down again, and was about to give the decisive blow—

Someone knocked.

Vinyl’s ears perked up, and then she looked at Octavia, who shrugged, still giggly. So Vinyl winked at her, and then moved to the side and sat down, trying to regain some dignity, panting a little. By her side, Octavia did the same. “It’s open!” Vinyl said.

The door opened, and Daring Do came in, followed by Bon Bon. “See what I mean?” Daring Do was saying, favoring her left side as she walked. She was fully clothed, hat and everything, though she wasn’t carrying her saddlebags. “You can just knock.”

Bon Bon frowned. She wasn’t wearing her suit or her sunglasses—although she was carrying saddlebags with her. “It’s not that easy.”

“How is it not that easy? You just punch the door until it opens? This should be second nature to you.”

Vinyl smiled at them and did a little wave, but she did not get out of the bed at all. “Hi, girls. What’s—“


The pillow bounced off her face and dropped on her lap.

By her side, Octavia smiled at her, and then turned to the visitors. “Hi!”

“Uh.” Daring Do arched an eyebrow. “Hi? What was that?”

Vinyl shot Octavia a glare. “We were talking about politics,” she said.

“In a fun way!” Octavia added.

“So what are you two doing here?” Vinyl asked, right after blowing a little raspberry at Octavia, and looking at Daring Do. “And what are you doing out of your bed already? Didn’t the doctor tell you to spend a week in here?”

“Bah. Doctors.” Daring Do waved a hoof in the air. “I’ve never listened to them before, I’m not going to start now.”

“Ooooh!” Octavia gave Daring Do an elegant smile. “I like that.”

“Octavia, shut up.” But Vinyl said it with love. “Daring Do—I don’t know. You were kinda hurt. Maybe this once?”

“Bah,” Daring Do repeated, closing her shirt, tipping her hat at Octavia. “I only came around to say my goodbyes. Sugar Song’s already taken all my things—I’m leaving Canterlot for a while. There are some nasty rumors about Caballeron doing weird stuff in the south, and I wouldn’t want to miss that.”

Bon Bon gave her a nudge with her shoulder. “Workaholic. Send me a message if you need a hoof.”

“I won’t, so I won’t.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Shut up.” Daring Do looked at Vinyl. “So that’s that. Just wanted to check on you one last time.”

“I’m not going to lie,” Vinyl said, frowning at Daring Do, “that sounds like kind of a bad idea? You lost a lot of blood. Is the wound even closed already?”

“Yes,” Daring Do said.

“No,” Bon Bon said, rolling her eyes. “But she doesn’t care.”

“I used the Can of Wyrms to cauterize it.” Pause. Daring Do looked to the side. “Kind of. It’ll be okay—I can take care of it on the road; Sugar Song’s got first aid training.”

Octavia had been silent for a bit now, turning her head to look at whoever was talking at the moment, and eventually her neck started to hurt. So she just shrugged, and reached over for the coffee Vinyl had taken from her hooves earlier.

She did this by literally leaning over Vinyl to reach the table without getting off the bed. This meant half-hugging half-standing on Vinyl’s head, and at no point did Vinyl react in the slightest. She just kept talking.

“So.” Octavia was now hugging her from behind, but Vinyl was looking at Daring Do. “I’ve been meaning to ask, actually, but Sugar Song didn’t let me ask job-related questions while you were convalescent…”

Bon Bon and Daring Do said nothing. They were just staring at Octavia.

“…But I guess she’s not here now, so—what happened to the Can of Wyrms? You’re not—” Vinyl trailed off when she saw that Octavia was getting closer to knocking off the coffee than to grabbing it, so she flashed her horn, and floated the cup to Octavia’s hooves. “Here.”

“Ah! Thank you very much!” Octavia grabbed it, gave Vinyl a cutesy look, and then curled up on Vinyl’s lap. “I wanted to see if it gets better when it’s not burning my tongue!”

Vinyl nodded, and caressed Octavia’s mane like one would a cat. “Does it?”

Octavia sipped from it, and made a face. “It does not! It very much does not. This is dreadful.” And she took another sip.

Vinyl smiled. “Figures.”

“Uh.” Bon Bon had taken a step backwards, and was staring at Octavia and Vinyl with a weird face. “Uh. Okay, is there another bomb I haven’t heard of in the room or something?”


“Not that we know of!”

“So you’re just.” Bon made a broad gesture towards them. “Cuddling. Like you just—that’s just a thing you do now.”

Vinyl looked down at Octavia, using her lap as kind of a pillow, and then at Bon Bon. “Yeah.”

“Right. That’s weird.” Bon Bon nodded. “That’s weirding me out. I always thought you weren’t really touchy, Scratch?”

Vinyl shrugged. “I got used to it. Octavia is very soft.”

Octavia glared.

“In the right places.”

Octavia kept glaring but in a good way.

“Anyway.” Vinyl looked at Daring Do again. “I was saying—whatever happened to the Can of Wyrms? You’re not omnipotent anymore, right?”



“I split it in three pieces again. Princess Celestia and Dragon Lord Ember got theirs back.” Daring Do pulled at the neck of her shirt—she was wearing a golden, ugly necklace. “The coltpixies are gone, so the third one is for me. I’ll keep it safe.”

“You’re gonna wear that around your neck?” Bon Bon was looking at the necklace with a professional eye—meaning, she looked angry, but in a cold way rather than in a hot one. “While you go around battling monsters and megalomaniacs? Doesn't sound very safe to me.”

Daring Do rolled her eyes, and put the necklace back under her shirt again. “I’ll keep it in my hideout,” she said.

“You have a hideout?”

“You don’t?”

“So you just gave that power away?” Vinyl asked, looking down and pointing at the coffee in Octavia’s hooves, then at her mouth. “Sounds like a bit counterproductive. Feels like it would be helpful in your job.”

“Just one sip,” Octavia whispered as she offered Vinyl the cup.

“It would, but that kind of thing goes to your head. I’d rather do things the old fashioned way and not risk going mad, with power.” Daring Do scratched the back of her head, and glanced at Bon Bon, who nodded sternly. Then she took a deep breath and looked at Vinyl. “So… how are you two doing?”

Vinyl drank a large gulp of terrible coffee before answering, and then she returned the now-empty cup to Octavia with a smug grin. “We’re fine? I guess? Octavia’s moving to Ponyville.”

Octavia looked at her cup with annoyance, and then gave it back to Vinyl, who floated it to the bedside table. “Next one.”

“Your stomach is going to hurt.”

“It is! It is going to hurt. But I don’t want to risk you enjoying any more of it. And you’re paying for it!”

Vinyl frowned. “So I can’t enjoy things that I paid for?”

“Not if you bought them for me!”

“Wait, hold on. What.” Bon Bon leaned closer to the bed and frowned at both mares. “You’re moving to Ponyville?”

“I am!” Octavia said, turning sharply to Bon Bon.

“She super is,” Vinyl added, floating the cup towards Octavia and offering her lap to her. Octavia shook her head, though, so they just sat shoulder to shoulder. “We’ve been talking about it a lot, and I think I’m not going to meet with Record Label yet. I’ll go back to Ponyville, take it easy for a while—Octavia can help me refine my material, so we have something to do.”

“I’m a musician!” Octavia said, pointing at her flank. “And I have been teaching Vinyl how to be decadent! The first step is to never work, ever.”

“Some commoner lifestyle will probably be great for Octavia’s character, too.”

“So she’s, what, going to move with you?” Bon Bon asked. “Does your apartment fit another pony in it?”

“Oh, there’s no need for that! I can just buy a house,” Octavia said. “Or build one! I’m a Pianissimo after all.” Octavia looked at Vinyl. “We’ll still live together, yes?”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh. Will we?”



Vinyl smiled. “Sure, why not. As long as you hire some lackeys to move all my stuff, I’m game.” Then she looked at Daring Do. “So yeah, we’re fine, don’t worry. And thanks again for saving my soul in Hell, that was—”

“My job,” Daring Do said, smiling at Vinyl. “Don’t sweat it. And, uh.” She cleared her throat with a cough. “Right. I meant what I said in Hell. It wasn’t just the Can of Wyrms talking—I hope we’re cool with each other.”

“As cool as we’re going to be.” Vinyl leaned towards Daring Do, and rose a hoof. “Which is pretty good, given it’s us two?”

Daring Do nodded, and bumped Vinyl’s hoof. “Right. Send me your new address when you move. I’ll send you postcards or something. And don’t go saving the world while I’m not around. Let the professionals take care of that.”


Daring Do nodded, and tipped her hat to Octavia. “Mademoiselle,” she said. “Pleasure to meet you. I might need to pass by your family’s manor at some point in the near future, check some documents you’ve got stored in your private library?”

“That sounds like a great idea! I’ll tell my big sister you’ve been invited.” Octavia pointed at her own face. “She looks exactly like me, but with green eyes!”

“Right,” Daring Do said. “The inbreeding, I take.”

“Indeed! Indeed.” Octavia nodded before taking another sip of coffee. “We’re all very inbred, the Pianissimos.”

“And owning it. I suppose it’s better than the alternative.” Daring Do shrugged, and tipped her hat one last time. “Well then, see you around.”

And with that, Daring Do left.

Bon Bon watched as the door closed behind her, and then let out a sigh. “You’d think she’d learn to be less awkward around ponies, but once she can’t keep the snarky bravado up, she crumbles.” She looked at Vinyl. “She’s really worried about you. Feels a bit guilty, I think.”

Vinyl frowned. “Oh.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry. It’s just—you know Daring Do. To me this is just a job?” She pointed at the whole room, and then at herself. “But for her it’s a lifestyle. She wants to help others, so the fact that she hurt you without noticing it, that’s… It’s a little insecurity of hers.”

“You know, that sounds like the kind of thing you bring up before she leaves, so I can talk to her about it.”

Bon Bon shrugged. “I suppose, yes. I did talk to her before we came here, but she chickened out. Send her a letter or something—she does more good than bad, when you get to it, but she’s…” Bon shook her head. “I think she enjoys going on adventures so much she’s afraid it might be wrong, somehow? That she’s hurting people?”

Octavia arched an eyebrow, and looking at Vinyl. “That sounds awfully stupid,” she said.

“Daring Do is awfully stupid,” Vinyl said, nodding. “I’ll send her a letter. Or we can go talk to her when she visits your manor, I guess?”

“Oh, that would be wonderful! You can meet my family, too.”

“Sure, that’ll be a blast.”

Bon Bon was looking at them with a soft smile. “How nice,” she said after a while, causing both mares to look at her. Then she immediately stopped smiling. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still really weird to see you like, this, Scratch. But, I’m glad you two get along.”

“We do, yeah.”

“We’re best friends!” Octavia chirped, resting her head on Vinyl’s shoulder. “Right?”

“Oh, definitely.”

“Uh-huh.” Bon Bon nodded, arching an eyebrow. “Best friends. That’s how you call it nowadays. Remind me to tell Lyra about it, she’ll love it.” And then she blinked, and looked at the door, frown on. “And speaking of Lyra, she should’ve been here five minutes ago. Did she get lost?”

“Lyra?” Octavia asked, looking at Vinyl.

“Bon’s girlfriend.”


“Lyra!” Bon Bon poked her head out the door and yelled at the corridor. “Where are you?! It’s room two-oh-six!”

“Uh.” Vinyl saw Octavia finishing her coffee and floated the cup to the bedside table before talking again. “Bon? Lyra’s here?”

“She is.” Bon Bon got back in the room. “Would love you to tell you that we’re here just to visit? But—”

“I was about to ask that,” Vinyl said, frowning. “I’m not sure if Lyra should come here? Like, how are you going to explain anything?”

Octavia licked her lips to get the last drops of coffee off her muzzle, and then she nudged Vinyl with her head until the later gave up and opened her arms. Once Octavia was comfortable—resting her back on Vinyl’s chest, Vinyl hugging her from behind and resting her chin on Octavia’s head—she talked. “Is this Lyra not a secret agent?” she asked.

“Nah,” Vinyl said. “She’s a civilian. She knows I used to save the world, she just doesn’t know about the—”

“Bon!” the door slammed open, and Lyra Heartstrings made it to the room, eyes wide. “Oh my gosh, I’ve barged in so many rooms already, this is a—wait is this a private suit?” She blinked and looked around at the luxury. “I didn’t know hospitals did private suites?”

“They do now,” Bon said.

“Wow! Sounds like a terrible idea.” Then Lyra grinned and turned to the bed. “Hi, Vinyl! Long time no—uh.” She blinked. “Um.”

Vinyl waved at her. “How’s it going, Lyra.”

“Uh.” Lyra was frowning, and her eyes went from Bon Bon to Vinyl to Octavia a couple times before she squinted and looked at her girlfriend. “Is there another bomb you haven’t told me about?”

Bon Bon shook her head. “No.”

“Right. So they’re just cuddling because…?”

“They just do that now.”

Lyra’s squint got even squintier. “Vinyl cuddles? Willingly?”


“Right.” Lyra nodded. “That’s weird. You’re weirding me out, Vinyl.”

“Somehow I had the feeling that was the case, yes.”

“So are you going to…” Lyra gestured at them. “Like, keep cuddling like that while we talk, or…?”

“Probably!” Octavia chirped, grinning at Lyra while wrapped in Vinyl’s arms. She looked smug while doing so. “Also, hi! I’m Octavia Pianissimo. Of the Canterlot Pianissimos! But just ‘Octavia’ is fine.”

“I know. I’m Lyra Heartstrings,” Lyra said, nodding. “I’m Bon’s girlfriend.”

“I know!”

“Bon.” Vinyl was frowning now, looking rather serious. “You were saying…?”

“Ah, yeah.” Bon Bon nodded, and then patted Lyra’s shoulder. “I gave Lyra back her memories, so she knows about the Secret Service and everything that happened.”

“Oh.” Vinyl blinked. “Isn’t that high treason?”


Lyra winked at them. “She likes me that much.”

“Yeah, you wish.” But Bon Bon said it with love, and Lyra smacked her with her tail after she said this. Bon Bon didn’t react, and just looked at Vinyl. “I told her about everything and brought her with me to try to stop the hydragon because I had to tell somepony that I had betrayed you. Couldn’t keep it in my chest.”

Vinyl shook her head, and waved a hoof. “Water under the bridge.”

“You were simply following orders!” Octavia said, smiling at her. “Everypony knows responsibility doesn’t apply when you’re following orders.”

Vinyl looked down at her. “You just solved all of morality in like three seconds, didn’t you?”

“I know! I am a natural at intellectualism.”

“The fact that I knew I had to do it didn’t make it easier.” Bon Bon looked at Lyra. “Anyway, I brought her here to—”

“Wait, I thought you hated anything erudite?” Vinyl asked, looking still at Octavia. “Didn’t you talk about never listening to scholars earlier?”

“Yes, but only the ones who don’t have any noble blood in them! I’m not a barbarian. Education is important!” Octavia nodded to herself. “It’s just that inheritance is more important.”

“Aaah. So our doctor…?”

“Merchant family! Petite bourgeoise. I only like them when they stay in their lane.”

“Uh-huh.” Vinyl patted Octavia’s head. “Octavia?”


“You’re so lucky you’re pretty.”

“I know!”

“No, seriously.” Lyra looked at Bon Bon again, making a face. “If you told me I’ve died and I’m in Purgatory, I would believe you.”

“Wait, what?” Octavia’s ears perked up, and she stopped giving Vinyl the eyes to look at Lyra. She even sat upright, so Vinyl—still hugging her from behind—had to rest her chin on Octavia’s shoulder, rather than on her head. “Purgatory?” Octavia asked. “There’s one of those, too?”

“Yeah!” Lyra said.

“Really boring place,” Vinyl said. “Nothing much happens. Hell’s more lively.”

“Well! That’s just—well!” Octavia blinked, looked at Vinyl, at Lyra, at Bon. Then she frowned. “I don’t even know why I am surprised anymore! This is starting to become routine.”

“Welcome to my life,” Vinyl said.

“Thank you! I really hate it.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Right, see? See?” Bon Bon pointed at Octavia. “That? That’s why we’re here. Octavia, how many State Secrets do you know by now? After spending four days with Vinyl?”

Octavia grinned. “I’ve lost count!”

Bon Bon nodded. “And how many State Secrets have you told the doctors already?”

“I’ve also lost count!”

“At least you’re honest about this.” Bon Bon took off her saddlebags and left them on the ground, then started rummaging through them. “Okay, Scratch, here’s the deal.” She took a small black case and threw it at Vinyl’s face. “Catch.”

Vinyl grabbed it with her magic right before it hit her, and then opened it. “Huh.” she said, looking inside. “My sunglasses?”

“Shades,” Bon Bon said. “They’re shades. The distinction is important.”

Something in her voice made Vinyl and Octavia stare at her. Lyra looked at it all with a knowing look.

And Bon Bon sighed. “I need to erase your memories. Anything related to the Secret Service, and Hell, and so on.”

“What!” Octavia yelled. “No!”

“Oh.” Vinyl simply looked at her shades. “Hm.”

“Vinyl! You can’t let them do that, that’s nightmarish!”

“Nah, it’s really not,” Lyra said, shaking her head and grinning at them. “They’ve erased mine a million times! It’s never that big a deal.”


Octavia looked at Lyra and her grin, and then back at Vinyl. “Vinyl,” she said. “You have to stop her.”


“Lyra is not kidding, Octavia,” Bon said. “It’s why I asked her to come? I figured you wouldn’t believe me since, you know.” She pointed at herself. “Government worker?”

“Yes, you are not exactly trustworthy,” Octavia said. Then she smiled. “Full offense!”

“…I didn’t know we were that close already?”

“We are! Vinyl’s friends are my friends.”

“Cute. Anyway.” Bon Bon looked at her girlfriend. “Lyra, take it away?”

“Aye Aye.” Lyra saluted, and then looked at Octavia. “They’re not really going to erase anything, so don’t worry. They’ll just modify some details so you don’t know there’s a Secret Service? But you’ll remember the bomb and everything else.”

“But…!” Octavia grasped at her chest, and looked at Vinyl. “But Vinyl…!”

“You’ll remember her too.”


Octavia blinked. “Ah. Will I?”

“Yeah! And you’ll remember that she has a dark past and everything.” Lyra shrugged. “It’s just the specifics you’ll forget. I’m guessing they’ll just make it so Vinyl saved the world a bunch of times because…?” she looked at Bon. “Because…?”

“Volunteer work,” Bon Bon explained.


“Yeah, you’ll still remember that Destiny was terrible to you guys, it’s just that, well.” Bon Bon shook her head. “No Hell, no Secret Service, no memory-erasing protocols… You get the drill.”

“I always remember our trips,” Lyra said. “I just stop thinking they’re related to the Secret Service.” She winked at Bon Bon before continuing. “Most of the time I just think Bon’s a very adventurous baker, who knows martial arts for some reason.”

“You find it cool,” Bon said.

“Sure do! It’s also literally the only reason we haven’t been killed yet, which is a plus.”

Octavia still looked unconvinced. She looked at Vinyl. “But…”

“Some bits are going to be hard to modify,” was all Vinyl said, looking at Bon Bon—but still hugging Octavia from behind. “I went to Hell to save Octavia.”

“We’ll work it out,” Bon Bon said. “But, yeah, Scratch. This time it’s final, and we’re not forgetting to delete your memories. You’re leaving the Service for real this time.”

Vinyl nodded, quiet.

And Octavia frowned. “Well! I suppose that is good.” Then she blinked. “Wait. Are you going to erase our memories by selling souls to—”

“Don’t finish that sentence and I’ll let you choose what you’ll remember instead of Vinyl talking to a demon.”


Octavia frowned. “Vinyl pleaded to the hydragon because I was too thin and conventionally attractive to die, and the hydragon accepted.”

“What.” Vinyl frowned and looked at Octavia. “No.”

“Deal,” Bon said.

“What! No!” Vinyl glared at Bon Bon. “Don’t humor her! I pleaded at the hydragon? How does that even work?!

“I have no idea.” Bon smiled. “We’ll figure it out. I want you to remember the conversation you had with Daring Do, so we’ll say the Can of Wyrms saved the day after you pleaded, how’s that?”

“It sounds like a terrible idea!”

“Well, nothing I can do about it.” Bon Bon pointed at Octavia. “She called dibs on choosing your new memories.”

“She did not!”

“I did! I did call dibs.” Octavia gave Vinyl a brilliant look. “You’re welcome!” Then she looked at Lyra. “I have no idea what dibs are.”

“It means you’re better than her,” Lyra explained.

“Oh! Well, I already knew that.”

“Okay, so I see you’re both convinced. Scratch.” Bon Bon nodded at Vinyl. “This is for the better. You’ll still remember your trauma, but—”

“I’ll stop feeling guilty about leaving the Service,” Vinyl said, frowning at her shades. “It feels a bit like cheating.”

“I think after all you’ve been through, you deserve a shortcut, for once.”


“Right. So that’s that.” Bon smiled at her girlfriend. “Thanks for the help, Lyra.”

“You’re welcome! I literally did nothing.”

“I know, but I figured you’d want to see Vinyl before we leave.” Bon looked at Octavia. “Her memories will be erased too.”

“Again! It’s like the tenth time. I keep finding out her secret identities,” Lyra explained.

“Yeah, it really never sticks.” Bon Bon headed towards the door and opened it. “Anyway, we should be leaving. Scratch, Octavia, we’ll come pick you up tomorrow, we’ll delete your memories, and then we can—”

“Wait.” Vinyl put her shades away and looked at Bon Bon. “You’re not doing this now?”

“Direct orders from above,” Bon Bon said. “No memory-wiping until tomorrow. Somepony else wants to pay you a visit.” Then she looked at Octavia. “Which means that, seeing how we already have to wipe the memories of half this hospital, it would be great if you could stop spilling State Secrets left and right?”

“I can’t promise anything!” Octavia said. “I’m very bad at national security.”

“I mean, we all are, but you could at least try.”

“I could! I definitely could.” Octavia waved at her. “Close the door on your way out!”

Bon Bon sighed, but obeyed. Lyra followed her.

Vinyl and Octavia were left alone.

“So!” Octavia wiggled around until she was facing Vinyl, still clinging at her chest. “We’re to lose our memories! That’s slightly traumatic.”

“Hmm.” Vinyl was looking at her shades, making them float in front of her face. “I suppose. I don’t know if this is good for me or…”

“It’s convenient!” Octavia grabbed the shades and took them away from Vinyl's magic. She looked at them a bit—they were identical to the ones that Vinyl had been wearing the first time they met. “Ah-hah. They’re horrendous. They go well with your mane!”

“Uh.” Vinyl frowned. “I take that as a… compliment?”

“You should! I meant it like that.” Then Octavia put the shades on Vinyl’s face. They fit like a glove. “I like seeing your eyes better, but you can wear these in public,” she said. “At this point, I give up when it comes to your aesthetic!”

“Pff.” But Vinyl kept them on. “So you think that it’s good that I just forget…?”

“It’s convenient!” Octavia repeated. “I don’t think you will forget the trauma, but it’ll probably be easier on you if you just thought you were volunteering, yes?”


“Then that’s good enough! Didn’t I teach you how to be decadent? This is what decadence is all about!” Octavia patted Vinyl’s head. “Convenience.”

“…Yeah.” It took Vinyl a moment, but then she nodded, and smiled at Octavia. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“I am! I am right.” Octavia tapped her chin as she looked at Vinyl’s face with sudden concentration. “Hmmm. I want to try something. Take off your shades, please?”

“Uh.” Vinyl flashed her horn, and her face was bare again. “Like this?”

“Yes! Perfect!”


The pillow bounced off Vinyl’s face.

“Tee hee.”

“Oh, now you’re gonna get it.” The wild grin in Vinyl’s face showed a bit more teeth than necessary, but it was still the best thing Octavia had seen all day. Vinyl flashed her horn and two pillows started floating by her side. “Come here! Liberté, Égalité—

“Tee hee hee!”

And the sounds of war could be heard through the whole hospital for almost an hour. But they were pleasant, and sprinkled with laughter.

The visit came later that very same evening, way after the visiting hours had ended. The door to their room opened gently, the doorknob shining with a dark blue light. Princess Luna entered the room.

Behind her, Mister Labcoat, the dragon, followed.

And according to my investigations…” He was looking at his little notebook as he walked, scratching the side of his head. “That is how hugs react to murder and wanton violence.

“I see!” Princess Luna nodded. “That is good!”

That is how hugs react to murder and wanton violence so far.

“And that is unnecessarily ominous! You are such a good student.”

“Luna.” Princess Celestia was the third one to enter the room, and she closed the door behind her. “We have talked about this.”

“Oh.” Luna blinked, and bowed slightly at her sister. “You are right.” Then she turned to Octavia and Vinyl. “I apologize! It is not advisable to be unnecessarily ominous in the presence of our subjects. We do not want to scare you away.”

“We’re not scared!” Octavia said, smiling.

There’s a dragon in the room,” Vinyl whispered, terrified.

“Unnecessary ominousness is bad no matter the circumstance, Luna,” Celestia said, but her tone was pleasant, and then she, too, turned to face Vinyl and Octavia. “I apologize for the untimeliness of our visit. Pressing matters kept us busy until now, I am afraid.”

“Uuuuuh.” Vinyl, never looking away from Labcoat—who was still looking at his notebook—grabbed Octavia by the shoulders and hid behind her. “Right. Uh. No need to apologize.”

“Princess Luna, Mister Labcoat.” Octavia patted Vinyl’s hoof and gave the visitors a warm smile. “It is good to see you!” Then she turned around, not smiling so much. “And you are also here, Princess Celestia.”

That made Vinyl look away from the dragon. “Octavia.”


“Could you not.”

“I could! I could not.”

Vinyl was going to say something more, but Celestia interrupted them with a light laugh, one that brightened up the room. “Do not worry, Vinyl Scratch,” she said when she saw Vinyl looking at her and Octavia with confusion in her eyes. “It is refreshing, to know that some ponies are not scared of showing open hostility towards me. I should be held accountable for my actions, just like anypony else.”

“Yes! It is good to be reminded that we, too, make mistakes.” Luna gave her sister a warm smile before looking at Octavia. “That said, Octavia Pianissimo.”


“Do not talk to my sister like that.”

“Luna.” Celestia rose a hoof, and Luna stopped talking. “That is in the past. I did something I should not be proud of, and they are right to be angry. Nothing more to say.” Then she turned to the two mares. “I hope that you two are well, and that the treatment you have received has been pleasant?”

“It has! It has been wonderful,” Octavia said, after shooting Vinyl one look and noticing that she was still eyeing Labcoat with suspicion. “The minibar was a candid gesture, Princess Celestia.”

“I am happy to hear that.” Celestia arched an eyebrow. “Vinyl Scratch?”


“Is something the matter?”

“Uh.” Vinyl gulped, and crouched a little bit more behind Octavia. She flashed her horn, and put on her glasses before saying anything else. “There is, actually! Why is he here?”

And she pointed at Labcoat.

Luna and Celestia followed her hoof and looked at Labcoat, who was still lost in his notebook, clearly unaware of anything. Celestia took the matter into her hooves, clearing her throat with a cough.



What. Yes.

“Vinyl Scratch was wondering why you have felt the need to visit them,” Celestia said. “Perhaps you could offer them an explanation?”

Yes.” Labcoat looked at Luna—got a reassuring nod from her, which made him smile and close his notebook—and then faced Vinyl. “I have finished my investigations on casual acquaintanceship. For now.

Pause. Luna waved a hoof in the air. “Keep going,” she said.

Yes. Also I wanted to apologize for.” And here Labcoat looked down and had to open the notebook again and give it a quick read. “Almost murdering you. That was not nice.”

“Good!” Princess Luna said.

“Excellent, Mister Labcoat,” Celestia said, nodding. “It is a great start.”

“Casual acquaintanceship!” Octavia perked up when she said that, and looked at Vinyl. “I had forgotten about the casual acquaintanceship!”

“Oh, yeah, that was a thing.” Vinyl frowned. “Hold on. Octavia?”


“Didn’t you say aristocrats don’t do friendship?”

Octavia nodded. “It counts as labor!”

“But you keep saying we’re best friends.”

“I know! You’re a terrible influence.”

Yes.” Labcoat nodded, and looked at Vinyl. “You are. It says it here. I have also found out hugs do not cause casual acquaintanceships.” And he pointed at Octavia. “She is not your casual acquaintance.”

“I’m not!” Octavia said.

“Yeah, we’re way closer than that, to be honest.”

“We’re going to move in together!”

I did not know that.” Labcoat nodded, writing something down. “Pony hugs are more powerful than I expected. I wanted to thank you. You have taught me valuable things about friendship.

“They have!” Luna spring up at this, ears perked up, and she looked at her sister with excitement. “Did you hear that, Sister? It worked! We taught friendship to an adult dragon! It can be done!”

Celestia blinked, and looked at Labcoat. “It… seems like it,” she said. Then she smiled. “I always knew you could do it, Luna.”

Yes. We dragons have been suspicious of friendship for a long while. Since it kills us.” There was a weird glint in Labcoat’s eye as he looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “But you have taught me it can be used to kill many other things. Bigger things. Powerful things.” Labcoat stopped writing and closed his notebook again. “There is no need to study friendship through murder and violence. Friendship is murder and violence.


Luna grinned at Celestia again. “Sister! We have taught friendship to an adult dragon!

Yes. You have.

“Right. Uh.” Celestia’s smile got a bit strained. “It’s… a start, I suppose.”

“A great one! We should pursue this idea, Sister!”

“Teaching friendship to other species? Ehm.” Celestia looked at Labcoat—who gave her a thumbs-up—and then at Luna again. “Perhaps. It is an interesting concept, Luna—but maybe we should let somepony with a little more… experience? And less, ah.” She squinted slightly. “Murderous intent?”

“Hmm.” Luna frowned, and looked down. “Twilight Sparkle, perhaps?” she ventured. “She has a remarkably low tolerance for assassination.”

“It is a possibility. Perhaps in the future? I will talk to her.” Celestia looked at Vinyl. “That said,” she said, “Mister Labcoat is trying his best to learn our ways, and he does not desire to harm any other pony. While the hydra attack did pause the negotiations slightly, I do believe we have gone a long way in our official relations with the dragon lands.”

We are learning civilization. And non-murderous solutions.

“I know it might sound… futile,” Celestia said. “But I wanted you both to know, the bomb was my idea. Mister Labcoat and my sister helped me, and Luna was the one who selected Octavia Pianissimo…”

Octavia nodded. “Wise choice.”

“…But I was the one who selected you, Vinyl Scratch. Luna simply thought this would be a chance for Mister Labcoat to learn. We hit two birds with one stone—but it is still very much my plan that we followed.”

Vinyl frowned. “I know.” She was still hiding behind Octavia. “And no offense, Princess, but… Why are you telling me this again?”

“Because I would not want you to unfairly accuse Mister Labcoat of something he did not do.” Celestia’s face was calm, but her eyes were intense. “I do not think that is fair.”

Vinyl frowned harder. “I—”

“It’s not! It’s not fair in the least.” Octavia looked a Vinyl. “You could say Mister Labcoat is exactly as guilty as Bon Bon! They were both following orders, yes?”

“Somehow I feel he wasn’t exactly going through emotional turmoil when he put our life in danger, Octavia.”

“Well, yes, but he’s trying to be good! You should give him a chance.” Octavia looked at herself, and then at Vinyl. “Also! I’m happy you would choose to rely on me for protection, instead of selling your soul to Hell as soon as a threat appears?”

Vinyl grumbled under her breath. “One time…”

“We both know that’s a lie!” Octavia moved to the side so Vinyl would stop hiding behind her. “And the fact that you’re using me as a shield is slightly disturbing. Understandable! But still disturbing.”

Vinyl cringed away from the dragon, and felt her breath quicken a little—but then Octavia grabbed her hoof.

“There’s no danger!” she said, smiling at Vinyl.

So Vinyl took a deep breath, and looked at Labcoat. “Right,” she said. “I suppose I—you’re not going to use us to experiment on friendship again, right?”

No.” Then Labcoat, frowned, and looked at Luna. “No?

Luna shook her head. “No.”

Right. No. I will not.

“Okay.” Vinyl swallowed, and inched closer to Octavia so she could feel her against her side. “Then I guess I can—forgive you? Stop treating you like a monster, seeing how you apologized and this wasn’t even your idea. We, uh.” She squinted. “We cool?”

Yes. We are cool.

And they bumped hoof and fist. Vinyl still flinched a little, but Octavia was by her side, so she was somewhat calm—and Labcoat was smiling.

Luna looked at all this with unmitigated pride, but then she looked out the window, and blinked. “Sister,” she said, turning to Celestia. “Time is running out. Duty calls.”

“Ah, yes.” Celestia looked out the window too, and frowned. “I must lower the sun soon. Vinyl Scratch, Octavia Pianissimo—it was good to see you. I apologize again for dragging you on an adventure against your will, and I wish you the best. Mister Labcoat, Luna, we should go.”

And with that, they all said their goodbyes, and left. However, before Celestia could leave—


Vinyl stopped her.

Celestia nodded, as if she’d been waiting for this. “Go without me,” she told Luna and Labcoat, and then she closed the door behind them and turned to Vinyl and Octavia. “Yes, Vinyl Scratch?”

“I…” Vinyl felt Octavia leaning on her shoulder, and smiled at that. Then she looked at Celestia. “How is Twilight Sparkle doing?”

Celestia smiled. “She is fine. She will leave for Ponyville tomorrow—nothing more than a sprained ankle, and some bruises, I have been told. There is no reason to worry. Her friends are staying with her, in a room very much like this one.” Pause. Celestia looked around. “With more beds, however, I hope.”

“That’s not what I—”

“I know that is not what you meant,” Celestia said, before closing her eyes. “I had a talk with her. I explained everything that had happened—and exactly how much of it was my fault. I also told her why I did it.”


“Sounds like a pleasant conversation!” Octavia said.

“In a way, it was,” Celestia said. “But while Twilight did appreciate my efforts to try to protect her, she did not like me doing it behind her back. She is not a little filly anymore, and she can take care of her own problems. She made sure to remind me of that.”

“That sounds like her!” Octavia said.

“Yes. She said she understood me, but still. She graduated long ago, when I sent her to Ponyville. It is time I learn to be comfortable with her making decisions that I do not approve of.” Celestia took a deep breath, and opened her eyes again. “We all learn something every day, no matter how old we are.”

“But then—what do we do?” Vinyl frowned, and rubbed her forearm. While doing so, she grazed the bandages that covered her side—they barely hurt anymore, but they were still there. “Destiny is still going to force her to save the world whenever I refuse the call. And if my memory is erased…”

“Twilight Sparkle is a very capable pony,” Celestia said. “And there are ways to solve this issue. She has been thinking about taking some more students of her own, under her wing. Somepony that could help lighten the load. Searching for more Chosen Ones. Somepony that is not you.”


“It is her choice to make, Vinyl Scratch,” Celestia said, taking a step forward. “As well as yours. If your memories are modified, you will be less likely to return and save the world. But at this point?” And she looked at them like a mother looks to her children. “I believe you have earned it. You went above and beyond the call of duty, Vinyl Scratch, and saved my city. I cannot thank you enough for that.”

“Plus, it’ll be convenient! Never forget that.” Octavia said, causing Vinyl to chuckle.

“That, too,” Celestia said. “Vinyl Scratch, I believe our true Destiny is the one we build ourselves. You were willing to sacrifice yourself for the cause, even after meeting somepony,” and here Celestia looked at Octavia, “who made you wish to stay alive as long as possible. A somewhat easier life from now on is more than well-deserved.”

“…I wanted to talk about that,” Vinyl said, frowning. “Actually. When Octavia and I met Twilight in the kitchens, she told us that Destiny wanted us to rediscover the meaning of friendship.”

Celestia arched an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Yeah. That’s what Applejack and Rainbow Dash were fighting about. But then we figured—Octavia and I weren’t rediscovering anything. We had just met.”

“I remember that!” Octavia said. “We thought we were dodging Destiny quite well! And then the hydragon came anyway and almost killed us.”

“Yes, but—right after that,” Vinyl said. “We met Daring Do.”

“Ah.” Celestia’s eyes went wide. “I see where you are going, Vinyl Scratch.”

Vinyl nodded. “Destiny wanted an act of friendship, and we used it to kill the hydragon. And I thought that’d be me sacrificing myself for Octavia, but it wasn’t, right? Because we weren’t rediscovering anything.”

“No,” Celestia said. “The true act of friendship was that of Daring Do. Chasing you to hell, forgiving and asking for forgiveness. All for the sake of a friend that she did not know loved her anymore.”

“She also fought a demon,” Vinyl said.

“She used one of the most powerful artefacts of all time,” Celestia said, “to fight a demon to save you, indeed. That was the true act of friendship.”

“Right. And that’s why we met her right after we realized that we couldn’t become friends and follow Destiny like that—because that’s when Destiny figured it out, too.” Vinyl frowned. “But that’s what bothers me, Princess.”


“It’s too… elegant? Too clean. Was it really a coincidence that Daring Do was here to begin with?”

“She said she was looking for the Can of Wyrms!” Octavia said.

“Yes, but—I know you said she was not part of your plan, Princess,” Vinyl said. “Back at the Ballroom—that she had nothing to do with anything. But I keep coming back to what she said, that with your plans nothing makes sense until they do. And…”

Celestia nodded. “I understand your worries. But that was not part of my plan. I did not manipulate you or Daring Do, Vinyl Scratch—I simply gave Daring Do the Can of Wyrms, and hoped for the best.”

That made Vinyl stop, and blink. “Oh.”

“Indeed.” Celestia looked up, at her crown. It was complete again—big gemstone included. “Sometimes, when Destiny gets involved, everything tends to happen in a very specific order, Vinyl Scratch. But I was saying the truth when I told Daring Do that I had not taken her into account.”

“So the plan was simply to have us eaten?” Octavia asked. “Sounds terrible!”

“Not entirely. I asked you to find me, because I knew the hydragon would follow you.” Celestia sighed. “I expected you to become friends, and to come to the Ballroom. There, the hydragon would fall into the trap, and try to eat you—and one of you would willingly try to sacrifice herself for the sake of the other. That would be the act of friendship.” Celestia looked at them. “And I would be there to teleport both of you out, to safety.”

“So pretty much what happened,” Vinyl said.

“But simpler!” Octavia said. “And we still get eaten, and you still sell your soul to Hell.”

“I guess.”

“I don’t like that plan.”

“Me neither,” Celestia said. “I was not lying, either, when I told you I had learned my lesson. After our little…” She looked to the side. “Our little conversation at the Ballroom, I realized it was not right of me to force you to sacrifice yourselves like that. That is why I tried to fight the hydragon on my own. Many times.”

It clicked, then. Vinyl opened her eyes. “Ah. We were the last card under your sleeve,” she said. “But then—”

“Then Twilight Sparkle got hurt, yes.”

Silence fell.

Vinyl and Celestia both looked down. Octavia patted Vinyl on the back, silently.

“She was right next to me,” Celestia said. “Under my watchful eye, and following my commands. And she still got hurt. It was nothing too extreme, simply a sprained ankle, but—”

“But it still got us eaten,” Octavia finished.

“I had promised Daring Do that I would not underestimate her ever again,” Celestia said. “And I made the right call. I could not leave Twilight’s side anymore, and I did not know what else to do.” She smiled again, and she looked vulnerable. Smaller. “It was not wise on my part, or responsible—but some day, I feel, you might understand.”

“If we ever have children of our own,” Vinyl said. “Right?”

“It will be refreshing to adopt! A member of my family who does not look exactly like me? Such a novel concept.” Octavia said, looking at Vinyl. “I am sure our family painters will appreciate the challenge!”

“Subtle, Octavia.”

“I know!”

“Destiny makes fools of us all, sometimes,” Celestia muttered to herself. But she did it with warmth in her voice. “But I am glad everything ended well. Daring Do is a very capable hero, and I do believe, her and Agent Sweetie Drops deserve the praise for this victory.”

“Agreed,” Vinyl said.

“I helped a lot too! But I am humble enough to let them have this.”

“And, Vinyl Scratch?” Celestia flashed her horn and opened the door, but gave them a last look before leaving. “Our national security is…” she frowned. “Notoriously flawed. So, in spite of whatever Agent Sweetie Drops might have told you, the possibility of you keeping your memories still exist. That is, unless you remind the Secret Service yourself.”

Vinyl looked at Octavia, and then at Celestia. “Right.”

“I personally recommend you choose to free yourself of that particular burden,” Celestia said. “And Twilight Sparkle recommends it, too, so we make sure you never need to save the world again. But ultimately, the choice is yours. Good night.”

And Celestia left, and closed the door behind her, leaving them alone.

The next day, they were still on the bed—Vinyl, laying down; Octavia, sitting, playing with Vinyl’s mane.

“It’s truly remarkable! No matter what I do, it just keeps looking like this! Your mane is beyond amazing, Vinyl.”

Vinyl was not wearing her glasses, so it was really obvious how she was staring at Octavia. “You’re never gonna tire of saying that, are you,” she said.

“Probably not! Honestly, I’m almost starting to like it. Almost!

“Pff.” But Vinyl was smiling as she said this. “Hey, come here a second.”


Vinyl beckoned, and then rested her head against Octavia’s chest. Octavia sat right up so Vinyl could be more comfortable, and hugged her from behind.

“So,” Vinyl said once they were ready. “Something I’ve been meaning to bring up for a while, now.”

Octavia looked at her, hugging her too. “Yes?”

“You know how my friends keep bringing up that this,” she pointed at themselves and the hug, “is weird?”

“I do! I do know.”

“Right, so—they’re not exaggerating? I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re kind of dumb, they’re my friends. But they do have a point.” Vinyl frowned, and looked to the side. “I’m not a particularly touchy pony when you get to it? I’m just not really used to physical displays of—HNNNG.

Octavia stopped nuzzling her, grinning. “You really are not! This will literally never get old.”

“Gggh.” Vinyl shook her head. “Okay, I guess I haven’t been exactly subtle about this, have I.”

“You have not!”

“Great. But yeah, that’s the point.” Vinyl relaxed, and leaned a bit more against Octavia. “I’m not a pony to show affection just like that, so this whole thing, y’know.” She looked up, at Octavia. “Means a lot to me. Like, I don’t do it lightly?”

“I know!” Octavia smiled at her, and gave her a little squeeze. “I don’t do it lightly either,” she said. “It’s just really nice!”

“Yeah, that’s another point.” Vinyl turned around and faced Octavia, still leaning against her. “Subtle, you aren’t, exactly? And I’m pretty sure you’re doing it on purpose.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, you super do. All that talk about children, and lifting your tail…? Come on, you stopped with the innuendo when you noticed I was into it.” Vinyl wagged her tail left and right and she closed her eyes. Octavia’s chest was pretty comfy. “You know, I’m thinking about what Princess Celestia said yesterday.”


“I think I’ll ask Bon Bon to change my memories after all. It’ll be easier, and I deserve some rest. They’re right. I feel a little bit guilty for Twilight, but—”

“There’s no need.” Octavia didn’t chirp the words, she spoke them softly. She started caressing Vinyl’s mane. “This is what we do, we’re decadent together. Yes?”

“You’re a terrible influence, too.” Vinyl half opened an eye, and crawled up, to get closer to Octavia’s face. “Say,” she whispered.

Octavia smiled, and moved closer to her. “Yes?”

“You know, going to Hell and trying to sell my soul was stupid?”

Octavia blinked, and her voice returned to normal. “Yes!” she said. “Yes, it was! It—”

“Octavia, don’t bring the mood down, let me finish.”

And Octavia shook her head, and gave Vinyl the bedroom eyes again. “Of course,” she whispered, voice full of spice and chocolate. “Go on.”

“Mmm.” Vinyl got even closer. They were face to face now, inches away from each other. “So, going to Hell for you—it was stupid? And it wouldn’t have worked. I was thinking of that yesterday.”


“Yeah. It wasn’t an act of friendship.”

They kissed.

Vinyl closed her eyes and hugged Octavia by the neck. Octavia reciprocated, and pressed Vinyl closer, cocking her head to the side to lean into the kiss.

It lasted just a moment, and then they split apart and looked at each other in the eye. Vinyl inched closer again, and kissed Octavia twice, on the cheek and the neck. Kiss, kiss.

Octavia hugged Vinyl under her arms even more tightly, rolled over, and pinned her against the bed. Vinyl hugged Octavia by the neck again, and they kissed a second time in the lips—opening their mouths this time, going deeper, and deeper. This kiss lasted much longer. Vinyl ran a hoof down Octavia’s back, Octavia caressed Vinyl’s cheek.

The door opened.

“Vinyl!” Bon Bon said. “Octavia! Sorry for coming in so early, but I think I forgot my saddlebags here yesterday? I’ve been looking for them all—oh wow you’re making out. You’re making out?”

Octavia and Vinyl paid her no mind. They only stopped to catch their breaths once, and then they leaned into each other again. Their tails interlocked.

“You’re making out in front of me. Wow.” Then Bon Bon nodded. “Right, so—‘best friends’ my hoof. Hah! Wait till I tell Lyra, she’s going to love this.” Then she reached for her saddlebags. “Well then! I mean, feel free to stop any moment now, I’ve got nowhere to—”


“Oh my gosh. No.” Bon Bon turned around, terror in her eyes, at the mare glaring at her outside the door. “Rarity, I—what are you even doing here? Look, this is not what it looks like—”


“No, look, I forgot my saddlebags!” Bon Bon grabbed them from the floor. “See? I forgot my saddlebags! It was an accident! It was an—OH MY GOSH NO NOT THE EAR.”



The door closed behind them.

Vinyl and Octavia broke the kiss, finally. They were both panting. Vinyl reached up and kissed Octavia on the neck—and Octavia moaned, but then pushed Vinyl away, slightly.

“Wait,” she said. “Did you hear something?”

“What?” Vinyl blinked, looked around. “Uh, no?”

“I’m fairly sure I did!”

They both shut up, and perked up their ears. In the distance, they could hear something echoing through the hospital corridors—Rarity, screaming bloody murder.

Vinyl arched an eyebrow, and looked at Octavia. “Sounds like not our problem?” she said.

“I agree!”

They kissed again.

And the door opened. “Good morning, girls!” Pinkie Pie said, carrying a tray of pancakes. “Doctor Bandaid told me you were leaving today, too! So I brought you some special breakfast to—aand you’re kissing! Hahah.” Pinkie stopped in her tracks and looked at them, grin on her face. “Aaaah. Rarity is gonna kill me.”