Paradise Company

by UnkleBumbleHeck

First published

No nation is without crime.

Azure Ariana Lune is no stranger to crime. She's always wanted a life of relative comfort and leisure, but all her efforts to find it have lead her deeper into a life on the wrong side of the law.
After fighting tooth, hoof and bit to get away from the mob, she finds herself in a new town with all the same problems. Only this time she might have a friend or two willing to help.


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Two years ago
Out skirts of Manehattan, Equestria
Equestrian Royal Credit Union

"Recent statistics suggest the incursion will only become a greater and greater threat as time progresses. The Changeling situation is getting out of hoof-" The voices on the radio went on about some conflict nopony cared about in someplace nopony's ever been. "Are you implying the-"

"Hey." I was awakened from my daydream by Peaches, the mare in the driver's seat. "Truck's moving." She cut off the radio. "That was like, a whole thirty minutes longer than usual. Are you sure you wanna do this today?"

"Doesn't matter, it has to be today. We're running out of time," I replied.

I checked the bags in the back seat. I'd already checked them maybe a dozen times, but this time it mattered. I levitated one to Peaches with my magic, then the other to myself.

I looked at the truck as it pulled away from the bank. They were offloading bills in exchange for bits. Most of the first world had already converted to fiat currency, but Equestria being as obsessed with tradition as it was, we were only just getting around to using bills rather than gold coins or writing out checks.

The time was crucial, the location and everything. Crucial. We'd picked a Royal bank for a specific reason, their security was lax. They never got hit, so they never expected a hit. The bank was near a main road, with lots of straights. Easy to pick up some serious speed if we needed to get away quick. The time was necessary because any later and we'd be stuck at work again, lifting our tails for strangers. I wasn't going back to that.

"I dunno Lunes, I have a feeling..." Peaches said.

"Don't do that, we're fine. We're going to do fine. This is it, Peaches. After today we're out. No more Clover, no more Manehattan, no more anything!" I opened my door and threw my bag over my back. "Let's go."

The bank wasn't busy yet, still early enough in the morning. We had a plan, it was plain and would go off without a hitch. Before we came close enough to the door for anypony to see us, we pulled our guns from our bags. Two cheap nine-millimeter pistols, easy enough to discard if need be, reliable enough to do what we need them to do.

"Start the clock," I said, and stepped through the front door. Immediately I shot two rounds into the upper corner of the room, where the only camera was. We'd triple-checked to make sure it was the only one, and it was. Relatively small bank, so the security was even less prevalent than average. Perfect for us.

All the ponies in the place immediately began their routine of screaming and panicking. "Alright, alright!" Peaches shouted. "Everypony knows what this is. Everypony knows what to do. Shut up, sit still and stay out of our way. You!" She said, and pointed at the pony behind the counter. There were supposed to be two back there, their cars were in the parking lot. "Step away from the counter."

"Where's your coworker?" I asked the clerk as she nervously stepped backwards. She stammered, not managing to get a word out. "Relax. We're not here to hurt anypony. You know exactly how this works." I looked at the few ponies in the foyer. They were all scared. "Everything we're going to be taking from this place is insured. Nopony is losing a dime of their own money today. As long as everypony plays along, we'll be done and gone without having to hurt any of you."

A few of the ponies nodded. Most just stared, wide eyed. "Alright, come unlock the door," Peaches said, gesturing at the door to the kiosk. The Clerk did as she was told, slowly. The lock went, and Peaches opened the door and grabbed the mare by the collar of her shirt, before pulling her through and shoving her towards me. I took her, pushed her to the corner where most of the other ponies were, and shoved her to the floor. She got the idea, and stayed put.

"Let's go," I said to Peaches as I walked past her, and through the threshold. The vault was behind the kiosk, but it had a timer on it before it locked solid after each time it got accessed. This meant we just needed the key, and not a remote authorization. Just had to find the other clerk. "Answer my question," I said from the inside of the kiosk. "Where's the other clerk?"

The mare just stammered again, before managing to whimper, "b-back. In back."

"Thanks." We walked around the corner into the back room.

WHAM! A fire extinguisher swung short of my face and impacted the wall behind me. I raised my pistol at the old buck standing in the corner of the next room. "You sure that's how you want to do this?" He had the key. The younger mare was a basic employee, couldn't give her control of the vault. This guy was a manager or something. "Key."

"You can't get away with this," he said as he tried to back further into the corner he was already backed into.
I used my magic to pat at his pockets. Vest pocket. I pulled out a key attached to a lanyard, the key came out but the lanyard didn't. I tugged harder and something gave. I had the key. "Stay put. Move and you're collateral."

Next was the vault. We still had plenty of time, no major issues so far. The vault was built into the building, in the back. The door was in the wall of this room. I put the key in, turned it, and peaches helped me move the door. We swung it open, and inside was our target. The one uncertainty in all of this, how much money we'd actually collect today. We were lucky, the thing was flush with cash. I set my pistol down, and we both put our bags on the floor. Peaches kept her weapon ready, in case she needed it. I used my magic to stuff the bags full. It didn't take long, we weren't robbing the place dry. I zipped the bags closed and picked up my weapon after we both put our bags back on our back. They were comfortably heavier now.

The biggest challenge would be getting out. We had to assume somepony called the police considering we had to leave them all unattended in the foyer. We'd considered leaving one of us in the foyer to watch them, but that risked the scenario we just encountered with the fire extinguisher going much worse. We knew somepony would try something, probably in the back room, so we both went there. Easier to outrun the cops than treat a concussion.

We came back out of the vault and back room, and found all of the ponies still where we'd left them. Hadn't expected that, but it made things easier.

One of them had a smug look on his face. A younger buck, wearing a fitted suit. Of course he was smug. "You're in for it now," he said through his grin.

"Yeah," I said back. I looked out the front of the building, nothing yet. Cops probably on the way though, Manehattan didn't play around. "Peaches, cover the front." I grabbed the clerk mare and dragged her to her hooves before taking her to the back room with her manager. He was on his phone, naturally. I pointed my gun at them. "Stay here until the police arrive. Don't run out, it won't be safe." I lowered the weapon and left them there.

I came back to the foyer and could hear the sirens approaching. Go time. "You ready?" I asked peaches.

She put her pistol in her bag and closed it again. "Yep." I concentrated on the appearances of the two clerks. Their features, coat and mane colors, the clothes they were wearing. It took a few moments, but I got the images in my head. Then I focused on the two of us, myself and Peaches. I began to cast my spell.

After a second or two, we looked like the clerks. Me the manager, her the other one. "Everypony out," I said, and opened the door. Peaches and I ran out first, and the other ponies followed. We ran straight for the car as the other ponies ran to the police line that had begun to form at the front entrance to the parking lot.

Next crucial factor, had they blocked the back entrance? Once we got to the car we could see it. All clear, the rear of the building opened up into another parking lot, which was vacant. I got into the driver's seat, Peaches got into the passenger seat. We'd left the car running. I threw it into gear and pulled away. The turbo V12 engine barely made a noise as we came around the back of the building and to our exit.

Once we were out of view of the police, I released my spells. Our disguises left us, and the true appearance of our car revealed itself. A one of ten Baybus E-V12. Marecedes engineering, Baybus upgrades. Peaches had stolen it from one of our 'clients.'
"And that's the worst of it, girl!" I said, my focus returning to the real world. Holding an illusion spell on an entire car for that long really was a drain. Ahead of us was the way out, the police hadn't blocked the entrance to this lot - it was vacant after all.

"Northbound is where they came from, could be some coming from Southbound too though," Peaches told me as I pulled out onto the road. I looked in the rear view mirror to see a few of the ponies at the bank pointing at us.

"Doesn't matter, we're had. Just gotta drive faster than them now." I opened up the throttle and we accelerated, hard. This motor was nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but neither was the rest of the car really. A few of the police cruisers had peeled off to pursue, but we were already building distance. I picked Southbound on a whim, because it didn't matter which route we took, we just had to drive far enough to be out of sight.

"Did those cops look weird to you?" Peaches asked me as she looked behind us. I could still see one cruiser far behind, the little red and blue lights the only real indication of it being there at all.

"Couldn't really focus on that, sorry. What was weird about them?" I asked her. The traffic ahead was super light, barely anypony out at all.

"Looked different I guess. Not county, not state. Might have been some special division of City?" Peaches was definitely not handling this as well as she needed to. I put my hoof on hers, and she looked at me.

"We're free and clear now hun. It's over, we're out of this hell hole!" I assured her. We'd developed a sort of half comradery, half romantic interest over the years of working side by side. Our employer, a crime syndicate named Red Clover, brought both of us to Equestria from overseas, myself from Itailia and Peaches from Prance. The cost for that favor was ten years of service to the Clover. After that, we were free. We'd served six before deciding we wouldn't do it anymore.

"What the fu-" Peaches exclaimed, before the rear glass shattered. I got control of the car again after swerving, and looked in the rear view. Something was keeping up with us!

"What kind of..." I murmured. I laid on the throttle, and all eight hundred Thestrelian horsepower poured into the tires. We were nearing a hundred and seventy miles an hour, and there was a vehicle on our tail! Worse, they'd shot at us. I didn't see any sort of indication it was a typical police vehicle, it didn't even have emergency lights. What the hell was it? "Don't worry babe! I've got this!"

I thought I heard more gunshots, but none were hitting us or our vehicle so I just kept driving. I kept both my hooves on the steering wheel and my eyes forward, but I desperately wanted to look at Peaches. We came to a crest in the road and as we began the downhill I looked over. She was looking at me in such an odd way. She was trying to say something. "You've got to-"

THUD. We got rammed. Whatever was behind us had caught up, and was trying a pit maneuver. I looked at it again, starting to feel pissed off. It looked like an old muscle car, but updated and refreshed. Some sort of custom build? But why was it chasing us? Peaches was trying to whisper or something, I couldn't tell. She was making some odd noises. I had to focus on driving, had to get away from this thing!

"Lunes..." Peaches said, and I looked at her again. Why was there-

THUD. We got hit again, harder. I tried to steady the car, but they'd hit the rear hard enough that we were skidding. I was really pissed now. We went off the road and off the side, into a dirt lot where a few vehicles were parked. I levitated out my pistol, this was personal now.

We were turned around so my side of the car was towards the road. "Stay in the car!" I shouted to Peaches, before
hopping out and raising my weapon at the other vehicle. It looked a lot like an old Buckler Challenger, only with a modern twist. What the hell... I had eleven more shots left. I couldn't see the ponies in the car, and even if I shot through their windows, the rounds probably wouldn't go where I wanted them to.

I made my way to the other side of the engine compartment and used my magic to open the passenger door so Peaches could get out. I looked back at the other vehicle and sure enough, they were getting out. I waited until they were both outside the vehicle, then shot. Two in the driver, he went down. The passenger panicked and ran away, shooting blindly behind himself. He was hitting the pavement in front of me, had to be careful of ricochets. I lined up my sights, and took another shot. Hit him in the behind, but he dropped. Another two shots at him and he didn't move.

"Peaches?" I asked. She wasn't getting out. I came around to look at her.

Ah, fuck.

She was hit. Went through her chest, must have come through the back of her seat. Sucking chest wound, needed to-

"Lunes," she wheezed. There was a lot of blood. From her chest, from her mouth. Her face was pale. "Take it. Take it and go. I'm sorry. I wanted a future... with you." She stared at me. I stared at her.

I felt so full of rage, so full of hate and fear and I wanted to scream. Maybe I did.

Peaches pulled herself out of the car. She tried to stand, to raise her weapon, but ended up slumping back to her rump. Her pretty white shirt was dark red, her beautiful coat was stained the same. It was supposed to match her name. It wasn't supposed to be red. This wasn't supposed to happen. I felt dizzy.

Peaches raised her gun at the hill we'd come down from. "They'll be coming," she whispered. "Go."

I opened my mouth to protest, but she shook her head. "We promised each other, remember?" She smiled at me. Her golden mane was covering half of her face. I brushed it aside.

I acted on impulse, and kissed her. Deep, full. Like I meant it, because I did.

1: Hazardous Road Conditions

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Two Days Ago
Somewhere in the Foothills South of Canterlot

The roads out here were nothing like up North. Here, highways were usually just two lanes, maybe four. Anything else was the equivalent of a back road, or at least to me. I was making my way west, towards someplace called Ponyville. I'd heard it was a small town with a thriving racing scene, but that wasn't why I wanted to be there.

Anything west of Canterlot was beyond the reach of the Red Clover. I wasn't sure how far out I was by now, but it was definitely far enough that I wouldn't have to worry about them finding me.

I'd been driving for about sixteen hours, and my body was getting fed up with it. Didn't matter though, if the map I'd picked up was accurate then I was within a few dozen miles of the town. I'd played every song on my MP3 player multiple times, and I'd scanned through all the radio stations. Out here was hick country though, so the only thing on the radio was country music, or the occasional talk show. I settled for silence.

With the radio off, I could listen to the sounds of my car. The V12 always had a beautiful sound, deep but not really aggressive, power merged with luxury. I rolled my window down for a moment, hoping to listen to the exhaust sound, but immediately put it back up. It was freezing outside. We were in the deep of winter, and out here the weather was rumored to be wild.

The majority of Equestria's cities managed their own weather by the use of pegasi. Their ability to manipulate cloud formations and weather fronts meant bountiful harvests in agricultural zones, and sunny days every day in residential zones. But out here, this close to the Everfree, there wasn't a real weather management team to be had. Not for lack of trying, but due to the nature of the Everfree itself.

I wondered if I was technically within the Everfree as I drove up a winding mountain road. It was snowing, and I could already feel my tires gripping the frigid road differently. Cold was never good for tires. I turned off cruise control and paid closer attention to what I was doing. I took my time as there wasn't anypony else around, but that made sense. It was past sunset after all, and in places like this ponies just didn't go out at night.

After a few miles, the snow had become severe enough that I really wasn't able to maintain any decent amount of speed. Thankfully, I'd reached a downhill. At the crest where the uphill met the downhill there was an intersection before an overpass which straddled the ridge of the mountain I'd just climbed. I assumed it was some sort of highway or something, but couldn't see any sort of signage beyond a half rusted sign saying "Apple County."

Apple County? I guess that made sense. I'd read somewhere that the town was founded by apple farmers. I wasn't feeling too confident about my hopes out here, but it was away from the Clover, and that was all that mattered.

As I began the descent, I got a phone call. Guess there was cell reception on this side of the mountain. I answered via Bluetooth.

"Hello?" I said, downshifting the car to a low gear to keep my speed down as I descended the mountain.

"Ari? Listen, hun," the voice on the other side of the phone call said. It was Loko, a former coworker. He'd always looked after me, and I'd had a few debts to him that I'd since paid off. "You gotta come back. Okay? I know we've talked about this before, but you really don't know what you're doing."

"Don't bother, Loko," I replied. "You're not going to convince me. I'm far enough now that it doesn't even matter, I'm long gone. I appreciate the concern, and all the help you've given me, but I've settled all that already. We're even."

"This isn't about that, Ari. Come on, you know what they're like. Just stop your car, and turn around, okay?" How did he know I was in my car? Maybe he could hear it somehow through the sound deadening.

"No chance. I'm through, with the Clover, with Manehattan, and all of it. Goodbye, Loko." I tapped the 'Hang Up' button on my steering wheel, and ended the call. That felt oddly refreshing, for some reason.

I drove on for a minute or two, taking my time and moving slow. The road was totally snowed over now, so I couldn't risk going too fast or I'd lose control. As I rounded a slight bend in the road, I saw a vehicle stopped on the right side of the road. It wasn't moving, and I couldn't see any lights on, but it didn't have snow on it. Must've parked there recently. It was a very large pickup truck, entirely black and with blacked out windows. I figured I'd run into a lot of those sorts of vehicles out here.

I disregarded it and kept on driving, but as I got nearer they cut on their lights. The truck had light bars all over it, front, sides and rear. The way it lit up the snow all around us made it nearly impossible to see the road! What the hell did this prick think they were doing? I couldn't speed up or I'd lose control, but I didn't want to spend any more time here than I had to. I thought about grabbing my rifle from the back seat, but thought better of it. Worst case scenario I can just hide with my magic. Didn't want to get into a gun fight as soon as I arrived in town.

I came past the truck, and heard it start it's engine. It was a diesel, and it was ridiculously loud. What a total-

The truck began speeding towards me, fast! It was plowing right through the snow, probably had four wheel drive! Ah, shit! What was this? Some kind of dumb prank by some high school kids? Did I speed up and risk spinning out, or pull over and risk having an altercation?

It wasn't stopping!

THUD. The front grill guard of the truck slammed into my car and I lost all control. They hit me with enough force to kill the motor! Shit!

I frantically tried to crank the engine again as I slid to a stop in the middle of the road. No joy, the starter was just spinning and spinning. Come on!

THUD. They hit me again! This time from the passenger side? The rear passenger window shattered and freezing air filled the cabin. What was this, a hit? Oh shit...

THUD! They hit me again, right on the B-pillar. The front passenger window shattered and a crack formed in the windshield. I didn't even want to think of what the outside of the car looked like.

Were they revving their engine at me? Wait, no... I looked to my left. I was moving towards the guardrail on the other side of the road! They were pushing me! I tried to grab my rifle with my magic but-

THUD! My car slammed into the guard rail hard enough that it threw my head into my window. That hurt like a bitch! Okay you sunova, let's do this then! I went for my rifle again, but-

THUD! I got rammed again, and the guard rail gave out.

I looked to my left, there was just a valley. I looked to my right, I saw pure white.

I looked left again, and saw what I was feeling.

I was tumbling down the side of the mountain.


"...Like a Marecedes or something, it's pretty banged up. I'm looking now!"


"Shit, yeah somepony's in here, looks like a unicorn mare. Blue mane and coat. I saw another vehicle too, a truck. Don't know if they had- Oh, that's..."


"Come on! Come on, open you fuck!"


I lifted my head, or tried to. Instantly a sharp pain shot straight through my spine. I tried again and it didn't hurt, so I looked around. I had no idea where I was. I was in my car... What happened? Why was I on my side?

"Hey! You're gonna be okay, just hang in there! I've got you!" A mare's voice called out. I looked around and felt another sharp pain. I winced and turned slowly to my right, and saw a purple pegasus mare wearing a thick parka trying to pry open the passenger door. Beyond her was pure white, and it was falling into my car and onto my face. It was snow, snow was falling through my passenger window.

I wheezed and coughed as I tried to speak, and began to feel light headed.

"No, just hang on! I can do this!"

Everything went dark as I stared at the frantic mare.

2: Introductions

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Present Day

"...But that still leaves us one short onstage," somepony's voice said.

"I can pick up extra vocals or something," Another pony said. Where was I?

"Besides, Pinkie will be there-"

"Oh sweet Celestia don't tell me you invited her! You know how the boss feels about her type of party!"

I opened my eyes slowly. My eyelids felt like they were stuck together.

"It's a party, Pinkie will be there whether we invite her or not," the first voice said. In front of me was a drop ceiling. I looked right, and saw a window.

"Well at least tell me there won't be any party cannons, we seriously can't afford to get banned from the park," the second voice retorted. I looked to my left and saw two ponies. One was sat next to me in a chair, the other was standing in front of her.

The mare next to me was a pegasus with a light purple coat and an electric blue mane. She was wearing a black tee-shirt and blue jeans. The buck in front of her was a giant of an earth pony. His coat was a sort of bronzed yellow, and his pink mane covered his eyes. His chinstrap beard gave him a very rugged look, along with his outfit of an outdoors-y sort of jacket and cargo pants.

"Listen," the buck said shaking his head. "Everything's pretty much already set. There's just a little left I need to do, like a couple two three things."

I half laughed, half coughed. "Couple two three things. What is that, like six things?" I said.

"Whoa, hey!" The mare said, jumping out of her seat. "You're awake, how about that?" She motioned at the door. "Hey Red, mind grabbing somepony? Nurse or whatever." The buck nodded and went outside the room.

I looked at the mare. She seemed happy to see me awake, her pink eyes wide and mouth grinning. I tried to speak but ended up in a coughing fit. Something was in my throat that had no business being there!

"Easy, easy," she said. I pawed at my face. "You've got one of those breather tube things in you. Just hang out for a minute, somepony should be here soon."

On que, Red entered again, along with somepony else. A nurse, judging by the scrubs and the weird hat. She approached me as I continued to fumble with whatever was down my throat.

After some help from the nurse, I got the tube out of my throat and was able to breathe properly. "Where am I?" I asked.

"You're in Ponyville General Hospital," the nurse told me. "You've been with us for two days." She began checking some sort of equipment I couldn't see. "Just need to check on a few things miss, and then the doctor will be in to see you-"

"No, no doctors." I immediately tried to rise out of the hospital bed I was in. I could see how bad this would get if I didn't get out of here. Where would I go, though?

"You've been unconscious for two days ma'am-" the nurse started, but the big buff guy stepped up to her side and looked down at me. I still couldn't see his eyes through his bangs.

"Relax. You're fine, just need to take care of a few formalities and you'll be out of here, okay?" His voice was firm. He sounded like somepony that spent a lot of time straining his voice. I didn't feel at all up to the task of fighting this wall of muscle, so I laid back down with a huff.

"Can you tell me your name, miss?" The nurse said in a sweet tone. I didn't like that.

I looked at the pegasus mare, who was looking at me with concern now. I didn't like that either. The buck was entirely unreadable with his eyes concealed. His lips were pursed. I sighed. "Azure Ariana Lune, birthday December twenty-first, nine-seventy-two," I said rotely. "I don't have an ID, sorry."

The nurse looked nervous. "We actually did a hoofprint search to see if we could identify you..." she trailed off. I began queueing up spells.

Red put his hoof on my leg while gently pushing the nurse aside. "Relax. Everything's under control. Listen, why don't we have a chat?" He motioned for the nurse to step outside, and she nodded.

"My name's Reid Haywood. This here's Lilac Skyes. She's the one that pulled you out of that wreck. You remember that, don't you?"

I looked at him for a moment before it came back to me. Right, the wreck... I nodded. "Yeah."

"You were pretty lucky," Lilac spoke up. "I saw you go off, must've tumbled half a dozen times. Doctor said you didn't have any broken bones or anything though." I raised my brow and nodded.

"I'll get right to it. You're not in Equestria legally. We know that, the hospital knows that, but we pay some of their bills so it's not gone any further than that." Reid - or was it Red? - walked around my bed to the right side, by the window. Outside I could make out part of a parking lot, but beyond that was just snowfall. We were several floors up. "Also noticed that mark on your neck," he said, brushing my hair aside. I flinched away. The mark he was talking about was a little tattoo of a clover on my neck. It had a very simple meaning: I belonged to the Clover. "I'd like to know a little more about that, but it's not important. Right now you've got a few options. Two, really."

Lilac groaned. "Red, really? She literally just woke up."

"That's why I need to talk to her about it now. If we wait it might get away from us, then it's out of our hooves completely." I gathered Red was a nickname for him. He raised his head and looked down at me. I could vaguely make out his eyes, they looked green. "Option one, you tell us to fuck off, and we do just that. Hospital submits a report to the Royal Guard and you're deported. Option two, you could work for us. All this gets swept under the rug and-" he shrugged. "No big deal. Really, it's no matter either way. On you though, this isn't a decision we can make for you."

I grumbled. I'd never get out of this lifestyle. "Who are you?"

"We're Paradise Company," he replied.


After begrudgingly agreeing to his terms, I was given a simple description of my situation by Red. Basically, these ponies - Paradise Company - were the shot callers of this town. A lot of the big goings-ons went through them, and just about every civil service in the town was on their payroll. From the hospital to the police. Because Lilac, one of the associates of this organization, had found me, I was brought to their attention rather than immediately to the police. In short, Paradise Company was the reason I wasn't in hoof cuffs right now.

"Alright, I owe you. Fine," I grumbled after he was done explaining things.

"Hey, hey," he said with a grin. "You're looking at this all wrong. This is the only way we can help you. Look," he sighed. "I know what the Clover are like. I know what that mark means, too. This isn't like that. You're not indentured into servitude to us or anything. But working for us will enable us to help you out of this," he said as he gestured around the room. "Plus, it might be able to settle this illegal alien problem of yours."

I raised my ears.

"Oh, yeah," he continued. "We can get you naturalized. You didn't come to Equestria just to hide from the law all your life, did you?"

He made a fair argument. I still didn't quite like it though. "Hey," Lilac said gently from my other side. I turned to look at her. She placed her hoof on my shoulder. "This is a lot to take in, I know. But really, he's right. There's no other way out of this, Blue."

Blue? I guessed she was referencing my colors. Blue coat, dark blue mane, and blue eyes, I definitely was blue. I looked at Red, who was staring at Lilac. I thought. I couldn't see his eyes, so I wasn't sure. "Alright, you've convinced me. Damn, you're a good salespony."


3: Bottom Bit

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I was finding out all about that southern hospitality I'd heard of back in Manehattan. Reid and Lilac seemed to be trying their best to be my friend, which kind of put me on edge. In Manehattan nopony's nice to you unless they want something from you.

I'd been checked out of the hospital without issue. Lilac had to return to work, which left me to ride along with Reid, who suggested we take a look at my car. I agreed.

We were driving down a five-lane in a silver Mareburu WRX STI. Apparently it was one of Reid's friend's cars. I didn't bother inquiring.

"Up the road about ten miles is where you went off," Reid said to me. "That's partly how you came to my attention, my shop is the closest." I struggled to pay attention, too busy worrying about what kind of shape my car was in. "You didn't just luck out, I'd say it was a miracle you wound up with us."

He drove through an intersection then pulled into the center turning lane, and after waiting a moment for the traffic to go by he turned into the front lot of a combination gas station and mechanic's shop. The sign above the three open garage doors on the right of the building read "Spectrum Performance" in alternating colors. "Oh, spectrum like a rainbow," I said idly.

"That, and also because we'll work on anything. Full spectrum service, full spectrum performance, that's our motto." I gathered this was his shop, then. He pulled the car past the pumps and around the other side of the building where we parked in a snowed over lot. I worried for a moment that the car would be stuck in the snow, but I remembered it was a Mareburu. Mareburus thrive in adverse road conditions.

Once the car was parked we stayed for a moment - a fairly normal thing to do in a turbo vehicle, let the motor idle before cutting it off. Once that was done, Reid stepped out of the car and I followed. We went towards the back of the building and through an open gate beyond which was another two, larger garage style doors and a normal door beside. We went through the normal door as the garage doors were closed. Inside was what looked to be a break room of sorts with a few vending machines, a counter with a sink and a microwave, and a fridge. On the other end of the room from the entrance was another door, and a pair of couches facing a TV on the wall.

Several ponies were sat at the couches staring intensely at the screen, on which played footage of a race. The camera followed a heavily modified model of the relatively new Neighsan GTR as it went around a race track, followed by several other cars of a similar caliber. "-being his first race, he's beginning to learn about tire wear this late in the race, so he's really going to have to maximize track width on entry, apex and exit of every corner if he wants a shot at the podium," somepony was saying.

Then the driver of the GTR did something I'd never seen. As he came to a right-hoof turn, he swerved his vehicle to the left briefly before turning into the corner sharply. He looked like he was trying to make the turn too early, or maybe initiate a drift? But as he came to the apex, he drove his right tires up and over the red and white curb and then - something truly bizarre happened. It looked like his right wheels were floating as they went right over the ditch on the other side of the curb, then landed softly on the grass on the other side. It was only for a moment and then he was back over the curb and along his way to the next straightaway, but it was astonishing. All of the ponies at the couch cheered loudly, and I even caught myself smiling at the sight.

"Last season's rising superstar, goes by the name Thunder. He started that race in seventh position, and after several dozen laps ended in third. His first race ever in GT Three, took a podium. The track limits were all the way to the barrier on the inside of that corner, so the FIA ruled that move legal," Reid explained. "Come on, car's in here."

We continued past the ponies who remained glued to the screen as they watched the race. The door on this side of the room lead into a work area where I was greeted by the familiar smell of motor oil and brake cleaner. The room opened up to the right of us, which I assumed was the front of the business, where a couple of trucks were up in the air on lifts getting worked on. To the left was a big sliding door that was partially open - Reid lead me through there.

This back area of the shop looked like a completely different business, maybe it was. I saw two Neighsan Skylines, a Brayzda RX7, a Porter 911 GT3, and an Alto RS5. And in the far corner of the room were two more vehicles. One was under a cover, but the other was mine. I took a few steps towards that corner of the room, and as I did I got a glimpse of the side of her. My rump hit the floor. All the glass was gone, every body panel looked damaged, and the hood was gone, along with the rear spoiler.

I got back up to my hooves and slowly made my way to my car. "Still runs," Reid said. "Got it to start up yesterday, scanned the ECU, no codes. Seems mechanically fine." I looked at him then back at my car. I wasn't sure what I was feeling, maybe it was shock. The carbon rear fenders were gone too. All four tires were flat, the wheels were ruined. I glanced at the back seat, but knew my rifle wouldn't be there. Sure enough, it wasn't. "I put it in my office, don't worry." I nodded.

"How much?" I asked plainly.

"Blue, this car is totaled..." Reid started.

"How much?" I repeated, firmly.

"I can recommend a few good dealerships downtown..."

"Said it runs right? Where's the keys?" He gestured to the car. I went to open the driver side door with my magic and winced as it made a loud metallic "Pop!" sound as I swung it open. The key was in the cupholder. I placed it in the ignition, the dash lit up. I turned the key, and the six-point-three liter V-Twelve motor instantly came back to life. Her exhaust note filled the room, the car shook gently - broken motor mounts, I guessed. "I'm going to assume you're the sort of pony that'll understand what I'm about to say. Do you believe that cars have souls, Reid?"

He looked at me for a while as the car ran. "A car develops a soul when it bonds with its driver," he answered.

"Exactly my feelings on the matter. I don't know you that well but you're the only pony I know with the kind of resources-"

"About two hundred thousand," Reid interrupted me. "I already did a bit of research. You'll have to buy another E-Class, that's just a given. So there's about eighty grand. Then of course we can't go to Baybus because the car's stolen and you've removed the VIN. So we'll have to find somepony that'll re-manufacture the custom bodywork. Wheels are easy enough, you're spoiled for choice if you go aftermarket, or you can buy the same Baybus wheels direct from their site."

I was genuinely shocked now. "You already knew I'd want it repaired, didn't you?"

"I know your type, Blue. You and this car have history, anypony would feel the same as you with a car like this."

I looked at the car again. "Guess the trunk doesn't open?" He shook his head. It was completely bashed in from that first impact from the truck that night. "Going to be replacing it anyway, got something to cut it open with?"

After some work with a cutting wheel, we were into the trunk of the car. Inside was a bandolier with a few rifle magazine holsters, a suitcase that had the rest of my clothes - I'd been wearing the same outfit and washing it each day until today - and some saddlebags. I pulled it all out with my magic and passed the saddlebags to Reid.

He opened them and looked inside. "About a hundred and twenty thousand," I told him. "The rest I can get to you, you have my word. I'll do whatever."

"Easy, girl. Don't have to pay me all at once. If this is really something you want to do, we can work something out. In fact, I have something you can do if you're interested." I eyed him suspiciously. "Not like that," he laughed. "I mean, I might have you cover for me on this little security job I have coming up. Just have to get you vetted by the boss. Interested?"

4: The Compound

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"We'll take my Alto," Reid said to me, gesturing to the RS5.

"What about the STI?"

"That car belongs to my neighbor Fluttershy, she works at the hospital. I picked it up after riding over with Lilac," he explained as he opened the door to his car. It was a flat grey color with a few high gloss red accents, including a sticker that said 'NO MERCY /// ONLY VIOLENCE' on the back bumper. A little weird for my tastes but, it was his car. "The crew's doing some work on it tonight then I'll return it to her in the morning when her shift ends."

I entered the passenger side of the vehicle after doing a walk around. It wasn't a bad looking car really, it just looked fast. I had no idea if it actually was, but the interior kept up that aesthetic. The majority of the interior was stripped, with Bridle branded race seats, hydraulic hoof-brake, custom gauges... Definitely not a street car.

Reid started the car and I heard a distinctly Alto-sounding V-Eight come alive. Original motor, or at least in the same family. The still relatively new model shipped with a 4.2 liter V-Eight that made somewhere around four hundred horsepower. I got the feeling this particular RS5 made more than that as Reid flicked the custom paddle shifters and the car gave a gentle kick in the back of my seat.

We were going to a place called "The Compound," I was told. I inquired, and was given a short description as Reid pulled us out of the shop, through the shallowest part of the snow covered lot, and eventually onto the road.

"We call it The Compound, but it's technically the old Woodson's homestead. That's the family that runs Paradise Company." We were turning onto a different road than the one we came in on, I noticed. This one snaked back behind several businesses on the other side of the street, and eventually took us Northeast. The car was a stiff ride, not something I'd want to spend more than an hour or two in. "The Woodson family was one of the first families to move into this region, along with the Apple family and Pear family. Not a lot of their history remains, but the old family homestead still remains. You'll be meeting the patriarch of the family today, Ash. Most ponies just call him Boss, though."

This road was tightly wound, with blind corners, severe elevation changes, and irregular markings. A definitive country backroad. "Ash has two sons, Walnut and Chestnut," Reid continued explaining. "Wally's in our band, and will be on stage with us at the party. Chestnut on the other hoof..." he trailed off as we came to a ninety-degree left turn that he downshifted twice for then hooked into with a mild squeal from the tires. Ahead of us was a tight, sweeping right-hoof turn that tightened towards the end before transitioning to another harsh left turn. Once the drama was done, he resumed. "Chestnut has some issues, if you ask me. Not talking shit, just a personal observation of him. You'll tell the brothers apart easily enough. Wally is a joker, and Chest just kind of keeps to himself. They look a lot alike though."

We had been surrounded by tree cover since the road first wound towards the Northeast, but now I was seeing an opening in the trees ahead, just after a four way intersection. We were going a little too fast for me to see the road signs, and with us coming off a long downhill into an immediate right-hoof turn, I decided I'd rather have my eyes focused forward. Again, Reid hooked the corner with a couple downshifts and a squeal of the tires, then we were off to more S-curves and trees either side of the road.

"That's about the gist of it though, we're almost there." After another sweeping right turn, we came to another open area with a gravel road to our left, and ahead was a dam, presently inactive. "That there's Mirror Lake. It sits more or less in the center of the county."

"I guess that means we're inside the Everfree right now then," I pondered aloud.

"Majority of the county is, yeah. You'll get used to the weird weather, don't worry. Just stay out of the way of the clean up detail when it's time for the Winter Wrap Up. Those ponies go hard." We turned left onto the gravel road, which surprised me considering the car we were in, but Reid kept it calm and slow on the uneven road surface. "This is usually referred to as County Road, but it supposedly has a real name. Nopony knows, we all just call it County Road. There's like, fifty County Roads though. You'll get used to it." I doubted that.

After maybe a quarter mile, with mostly trees to our left and inactive farmland to our right, we came to a fairly substantial fenced area on our left with a gate, which opened as we approached and turned in. Reid stopped at the driveway of a small white house and a pony came out to speak to us. He was wearing a black polo shirt and grey cargo pants. Security detail, likely. I figured we had just entered The Compound.

"You sure got timing, kid," the guard said. He was a middle-aged earth pony. I spotted a pistol on his hip, likely a Glock 17. "Guess who just came in about five minutes ago?" Reid inhaled deeply and rocked his head back, probably to get a better look at the guard from under his bangs. That just raised the question in my mind of how he managed to see well enough to drive like he'd just done...

"You serious?" He asked the guard. The guard nodded with a grin before looking at me, then back to Reid and nodding us on. We pulled away. Ahead of us the road steeply graded uphill, remaining gravel the whole way. There was a fork about thirty yards up, where I could see a brick house to the right. The left route led much further up the mountain, and through the still falling snow I could just make out a spectacularly large timber frame house with adjoined gamble-style barn to the right of it. To the right of the road was a large pasture, and to the left was more woods.

As we wound slowly up the hill, spinning in the gravel occasionally, we approached another turn off to the left, which I couldn't get a good look at. We continued up, following the road as it gently swayed left and right, following the tree line and fence. Finally we came to the front yard of the big house, and yet another fork. The main road wrapped around the left side of the yard, and to the left was a blue house, which seemed unoccupied. We continued on to the top where several vehicles were parked. Most of them were mundane, an old Buckler pick-up truck, a couple of generic Alto sedans, and - impressively - a Fjord Focus RS. "Those aren't even available in Equestria are they?"

"No, we imported it. Hey listen, I gotta go check on something. Just uh, go on inside - use the back door. Somepony will greet you, maybe Wally. Just hang out until you're called back to the office." Reid sounded rushed. Something had definitely changed in his mood once he'd heard what the guard had said earlier. "Don't worry, nopony here bites." Still had some sense of humor, at least.

I got out of the car with him and we both walked up and around to the back. The house had a garage door to the basement, which had a covered parking area wrapped either side by rock walls. The driveway wrapped up and around to the back of the house, and a paved pathway lead to the front deck.

We stepped up onto the back deck, and Reid nodded once to me before turning away and heading towards another path leading further up the mountain, into the woods. I was a little curious where he could be going, but figured it wasn't too important. There was yet another covered parking area here, with a Fjord Excursion and a really old Jeep of some sort under it. I turned to the door into the house, which was already open. A big buck in a similar getup to the guard I'd seen earlier had opened it for me. I walked in nervously. This guy towered over me and didn't seem too impressed. He closed the door behind me before stating plainly, "Take a seat on one of the couches in the living room. I'll let the boss know you're here."

Okay, then.

The interior of the house wasn't very unusual. I'd entered through the back door, which opened into the kitchen. Across to the front of the house was the living room, which was fully open to the kitchen. There were stairs facing the front door which went up to an unlit upstairs area of the house. I sat on one of the couches, which was next to a lit fireplace. To my right was the front of the house, affording a nice view out the big window.

I was fairly certain the house faced to the East, with the adjoined barn being to the North, making it the North wing of the house. In that direction, on either side of the stairway, were doorways that remained open. I assumed that lead to another room and then the breezeway that joined the two structures.

The big buck had gone through there, and after a few minutes another buck came in to greet me. "Hi there, you're Miss Blue?" He asked. I eyed him cautiously, then nodded. "My name's Walnut, nice to meet ya.'"

So this was Walnut. He was an earth pony, and was wearing a simple grey tee and blue jeans. His coat was a light shade of brown, and his short-cut mane was a darker shade with hints of red. His eyes were a pale blue. "Nice to meet you. My real name isn't Blue though."

"Oh? That's just what Lilac had said over the phone. Said your name was Blue Moon. If that's not it, what is it then?"

She'd translated my name from Itailian to Ponish. Clever. "Well, I guess it is my name," I said a roll of my eyes. "It's Azure Lune. Blue is fine though."

"Well then, Miss Blue it is! If you'll follow me please," he asked. I got up and went with him into the next room. Sure enough, there was another room then an open breezeway with a double door leading into the converted barn that made up the North wing of the house. There was a dining table in this room, which we walked past before going into the breezeway which had doors leading out to the front and back decks. "The boss is in here, just take a seat across from him at the desk."

He opened one of the doors and I walked in. With the frosted glass of the double doors out of the way I could make out the details of this room. It was a sort of study, with bookshelves against the far wall, a couch and a few recliner chairs surrounding a gas powered fireplace to my right, and to my left was a closed doorway as well as a staircase going up to a darkened area upstairs. Directly ahead of me though, was the desk. And at said desk was the pony I assumed to be Ash, or the Boss.

"Welcome," he said. "Sit down. And if you don't mind, I'd like you to assemble this for me," he said, then floated a disassembled gun to my side of the desk.

So it was that kind of interview...