Part 33 - Afterburners
As Appleloosa slept under the clear desert night, a black dirigible that could easily have been mistaken for a dark cloud drifted over the sturdily built frontier rooftops, wreathed in a sooty cloud of concealing smoke. The softly chugging engine that drove its turbines gave off a faint, sickly green glow from within the billowing mass, as it headed with sinister purpose toward the rough hewn structures that comprised the town's modest correctional facilities.
While the townsponies slumbered snug in their beds, blissfully dreaming of anything except what passed furtively overhead, the inky shape coasted to a stop over the yard separating the impound shed from the jailhouse. A harsh din arose almost instantly from the large, aggressive dogs who patrolled below, the furious canines futilely leaping and snapping as the aircraft sank down from the sky over their heads.
A hatch opened in the bottom of the black dirigible's gondola, and a barrel branded with three Z's dropped out. A particularly large and deep voiced guard dog yelped with high pitched surprise and darted out of the way as the cask plummeted to earth and shattered where he'd been standing on the hard packed, sandy soil, sending a thin cloud of faintly iridescent, purplish blue vapors spreading rapidly about the fenced in space.
The barest whine escaped the largest canine's throat, before he and his fellows keeled over where they stood, rolling onto their backs as their eyes in turn rolled back into their heads, their barks rapidly subsiding to snores. In short order, the pack of vicious dogs was deeply, harmlessly asleep.
The dirigible dropped to a mere forty hooves above the ground, lowering a rope ladder down which two spindly legged unicorn stallions slid, goggle eyed gas-masks obscuring their faces beneath sharply pointed yellow horns. After pausing to take a gloating look around the yard at the sleeping dogs where they lay, the pair galloped over to the impound shed's heavy double doors, one of them lighting up his horn with a dim, flashlight's glow from the tip while the other produced a hacksaw and proceeded to work on the stout padlock holding the doors closed.
Deputy Nutmeg looked up from her needle point, flicking her ear suspiciously as she turned her head toward the outside window in the jailhouse's lobby. "Yo, Trigger. What all do ya reckon's got them mutts all riled up?"
Her taciturn partner for this evening's long overnight watch stirred in his chair across the table from her and used a hoof to tilt his hat up from over his eyes. "Frankly, Nutsy, I'm a mite more curious 'bout how come they stopped barkin' all of a sudden."
With that, he got to his hooves and crossed over to a shelf by the window, rearing up to take a lantern handle in his teeth as he set out down the long hallway toward the back doors with his fellow deputy in tow. They walked on tip hooves so as not to awaken the prisoners as they passed.
Professor Destiny grumbled through his mask as he looked over his shoulder at the slumbering hounds dotting the yard. "Such a confounded waste, using that sleeping potion on these misbegotten mongrels instead of on those Harmony Aeronautics upstarts. Do you realize how hard that stuff was to obtain?"
Doctor Insanity let out an exasperated breath that momentarily fogged up the lenses on his mask, as he furiously worked the hacksaw back and forth with his magic. "Enough, brother. Keep your light on the lock."
He gave a nod of satisfaction as the door was flooded with illumination. He turned with a growl of irritation as he felt his sibling frantically tapping on his shoulder with a fore hoof. "What now?"
Destiny gulped and pointed over his shoulder in the direction he was looking. Insanity flinched and his head whipped around as a harsh voice shouted at them. "Hey! What in tarnation do y'all think you're tryin' to durrughhhhahh..."
As the unicorn brothers stood transfixed, the pair of Appleloosan deputies silhouetted behind the glare of a bullseye lantern slumped toward one another and sank to the ground in an unconscious heap. The lantern dropped from the earth pony stallion's slackened jaw and went dark as the fireflies contained within scattered out of the open lid, fluttering to the ground and fading out as the purplish vapors affected them as well.
Doctor Insanity turned toward the self styled professor with a note of smugness on his voice. "There now, brother. I'd say it wasn't a complete waste."
With a flick of his horn he floated the hacksaw to him. "Now why don't you take a turn with the saw while I go over and see if either of these fine flathooves might happen to have the key on them."
A few minutes later they stood in the yard with their bat winged contraptions strapped to their backs, tapping their hooves impatiently as Otto lowered a bundle of fresh phlogiston rocket motors on a rope from the black dirigible's cargo compartment.
Doctor Insanity pawed at the trampled earth as his brother floated the bundle gently to the ground in a cloud of green magic, undoing the knots and laying the red and black striped cylinders out with their grinning, pointed ends facing the jailhouse. Deprived of his spectacles because of wearing the gas mask, he squinted through the goggle lenses in the dim light his sibling's horn provided. "This is stupid. Why don't we just ride the airship out of town?"
Destiny huffed. "We're ten times more likely to be spotted and corralled by the local weather patrol dangling from that ladder like a pair of inverted kites. There's no way any of the podunk pegasi around here can catch us when we're at full speed."
He let out a smug chuckle of his own as he levitated two of the rocket motors to his brother. "And anyway, I want them to know that we slipped through their meddling hooves. I want them all to know."
Insanity sighed in exasperation and rolled his eyes. "I know better to argue when you and your insufferable ego decide to double team me. All right."
He craned his neck backwards as he used his magic to levitate his brace of rockets into their brackets on the harness on his back. He muttered a curse through his gas mask as he fumbled with the latches, the sour green sparkles of his magic reflecting on the lenses. "Blast it, give me some light, brother. I can barely see without my glasses and this beastly mask on."
Professor Destiny gave a terse nod and sparked his horn, leaning in toward the rockets on his short sighted sibling's back.
Both unicorn's ears levered back at the sound of an ominous, sputtering hiss coming from the end of the rocket motor. A crackling greenish light flared over Insanity's left hip, as they locked eyes through the lenses of their masks. The ersatz doctor shrieked through the canister muffling his muzzle as he began to frantically jog in place. "Not that kind of light, you thundering dunderhead!"
The professor let out a yelp of alarm and lofted the rocket off of his brother's back with his magic as it roared to life, screaming trough the air in a spiraling trajectory towards the roof of the jailhouse. The scrawny unicorn stallions watched in dumbstruck horror, one standing on tip hooves while the other peeked between his forelegs from a prone position, as it clipped the leading edge of the eaves, flipping into a spinning, skipping path across the tiles before slamming into the back of the building's facade and exploding into a mushroom cloud of green flame.
Doctor Insanity scrambled to his hooves beneath the ungainly burden of his flight harness, locking eyes with his sibling through the lenses of his mask once more. "Well, I think I've come around to your position, brother. We should get out of town as quickly as possible."
Professor Destiny nodded dazedly and called up to the dirigible, where his henchpony was leaning out of the cargo hatch with his jaw hanging in disbelief. His strident voice took on a palpable note of barely repressed panic. "Otto! Send down another rocket! Now!"
Jarred awake and forgetting his bound wings, Soarin rolled out of his bunk and hit the floor with a thud and a clipped cry. He scrabbled to his feet as his voice joined the chorus of dazed, confused exclamations filling the jail cell. "What the hay was that?"
Air Hammer sat up, blinking groggily. "Dat sounded like da buildin' got hit by lightnin'."
One of the Appleloosan pegasi who'd been involved in the brawl at the Salt Lick shook his head. "Ain't no lightnin' storms scheduled fer weeks."
Fleidermaus' hollow voice sounded from a darkened corner. "That vas no lightning strike! That vas an explosion!"
Golden Bay spoke up with a quavering tone, his mellow thoroughly harshed. "But... like... what exploded then?"
Braeburn lurched to his hooves and strode up to the bars of their cell with a scowl cinching up one side of his mustache. "I aim t' find out."
He started banging on the bars with a hoof and shouting at the top of his lungs. "Yo guards! Deputy Nutmeg! Deputy Trigger! What in tarnation's goin' on out there! Hey! Anypony there!?"
Appleloosa's golden maned mayor was met by nothing but silence, as he turned to his fellow inmates with an uncertain look on his face.
Soarin's attention was diverted as a muffled cry sounded at his side, accompanied by frantic hooves shaking him. He turned to see Shootin' Star rearing at his side with his eyes wide over the bandages binding his mouth shut, wildly gesticulating and straining against the bonds around his wings in an effort to flap them. The veteran flyer let out an irritated huff. "What NOW, rook?"
The younger pegasus growled and pulled him into a headlock, jabbing a hoof toward the end of the corridor where black smoke was billowing under the door, creeping along the ceiling toward them like an ominous, inverted flood. Everypony in the cell flinched as Appleloosa's bell tower began to clang an alarm outside.
Soarin shoved his former teammate off and galloped up to Braeburn's side. "Sleet and hail up my achin' tail! The loopty loopin' jail's on fire!"
The golden maned stallion reared up and grasped the bars in his fetlocks, shaking them in growing panic. "Guards! GUARDS! As your mayor I ORDER y'all to git us outta here pronto! HEY! LET US OUT!"
His voice cracked with desperation. "I CUT THE CONSARNED RIBBON ON THIS HOOSEGOW! I DON'T WANNA DIE IN HERE!" With a shriek of terror and fury he spun on his hooves and fetched the bars a ringing buck, which sent him stumbling forward to collapse in a heap on the concrete floor.
Soarin's eyes narrowed as he watched the iron shafts vibrate to stillness. "We need somepony with more horsepower. Somepony like your cousin Macintosh."
Braeburn scrambled to his feet, meeting the sky blue pegasus' gaze with wild eyes and wailing with panicked sarcasm. "Well seein' as he's in Ponyville right now, I guess I'll just send him a quick postcard outlinin' our predicament. 'Dear Cousin Mac, how y'all doin'? We're all fixin' t' git burned alive in this here cage. Wish ya were here. Yers truly, yer late Cousin Braeburn.'"
He reared up, waving his hooves. "It'll go out tomorrow mornin' with the mail. Oh wait, I can't git t' th' consarned post office 'cos I'm locked inside this here deathtrap with you, ya goldurned air headed mff!" He was cut off as Soarin jammed a hoof in his mouth.
The pegasus stallion fixed the startled earth pony with a solemn gaze, his tone of voice brooking no argument. "Are you done?"
Mayor Braeburn quailed before Soarin's eyes, a blush spreading across his cheeks as he nodded meekly.
The veteran stunt flyer turned toward the two negasi and pointed a hoof at the hulking younger member of the father/son duo. "You! Fliegelstein Junior!" He nodded past his shoulder toward Braeburn. "Do you think you can do what his honor here just did to the door?"
The brutish, bat winged pony turned expectantly to his sire, who met Soarin's gaze with his gleaming yellow eyes and nodded tersely in response. "Yes. My son is veddy good at breakink things."
The sky blue pegasus beckoned the hulking young stallion toward the cell door, helping him line up for a buck. At a nod from his father, he bunched up his powerful hind legs and laid a resounding kick into the crossbar, shattering the lock and hinges and sending the iron doorway across the hall to embed itself in the opposite wall with a crunch.
A whoop of joy went up from the stallions in the cell, followed almost immediately by hacking and coughing as the hallway filled with more and more smoke.
Braeburn cleared his throat and reared up, kicking his forelegs in excitement. "Yeehaw! I ain't never been so happy t' see city property gittin' busted! Come on, colts! Lets git while th' gittin's good!"
Soarin stopped him wiht an upraised hoof. "Slow down, your honor. You wouldn't be able to see your hooves in front of your face in all that smoke!" He turned to the negasi again. "Flieg..."
The elder bat winged pony cut him off sharply, his lip curling in a sneer. "Fleidermaus."
The pegasus coughed, an apologetic look on his face. "Sorry... Fleidermaus. You two can navigate without needing to see, right? Like you did in Manehattan? Do you think you can lead these guys out?"
The slender nocturnal stallion drew himself up and nodded. "Yes."
Soarin nodded back. "Good, then I have one more favor to ask you. I'll need to borrow your boy for a little while. The ladies are gonna need escorted out too, and I may need him to open the door for 'em."
Before Fleidermaus could reply, his son spoke up, his deep, gravelly voice earnest and eager. "Yes! I vill do this thing. It is vhat one of Princess Luna's Moonlit Knights vould do!"
Soarin' chucked him on the shoulder with a lopsided grin, shaking his suddenly numb hoof after feeling like he'd just stubbed it on a concrete wall. "Good on ya, kid. Now come on!"
Fleidermaus held up a hoof, stopping them in their tracks with a sharp exclamation. "Vait!"
He brought the hoof to his mouth, tears gleaming at the corners of his lambent, slitted eyes. He stepped forward and took his brutishly huge son into a hug, his long, slender forelegs barely meeting around his colt's withers. "You make me so proud, Junior. Be careful, and do vhatever this pegasus tells you."
Fleidermaus Junior brought his stalactite thick hoof tenderly around his sire's narrow shoulders. "Father! I vill do good, Father!"
After a brief moment they disengaged. Soarin' gave the elder negasus a salute and a reassuring wink. "I'll keep him out of trouble, sir. Don't worry."
With that, he wheeled and galloped off, beckoning the hulking, bat winged stallion to follow. "C'mon, Junior. Lets get a move on!"
Fleidermaus brushed away his tears of paternal pride with a hoof and turned to the others in the cell as his son thundered away into the thickening smoke. "Come vith me if you vant to liff."
A thick, eye-stinging haze was rapidly filling the cell that Baron Redtail and his servant Gunther shared. The griffin noble had flatly refused the indignity of having his feet bagged when the participants of the Salt Lick brawl had been inducted into the prison, and had been placed in a separate cell rather than hold up the line arguing with the exasperated deputies who'd been put in charge of processing the mass arrest. His further insistence that he be accompanied by at least one of his retainers was hastily conceded to keep things moving along.
Currently, Gunther had considerable cause to regret landing in a cell with his beloved master as he groveled on the floor in front of him. "I... I am sorry, Baron. I cannot... I cannot do it!"
Baron Redtail lashed his tail, hacking and coughing in the smoke that gathered around them. "You *cough cough* must! I refuse to perish from smoke... *cough* from smoke inhalation in a miserable little *cough* pony jail! I command you to kill me! Honor demands it!"
The burly griffon servant covered his eyes with his talons. "Noo! I beg you, *cough* Baron! Don't *cough cough*make me do this!"
The red plumed noble hunched over his recalcitrant companion with a spluttering growl. "Gunther! *cough* If you don't get up off of your belly and *cough cough* tear my throat out right now, you * cough* are going to be in so much trouble!"
Both griffin's head's whipped around at the sound of heavy hoof falls, and they peered through the haze to see two winged ponies emerge, one sky blue, one a greenish grey and lumberingly huge, both with their striped smocks wrapped around their heads to fend off the roiling smoke.
Soarin pulled the black and white cloth down from his face as he looked at them through red rimmed, irritated eyes. "Um... are we interrupting something?"
Gunther surged to his feet and lunged at the bars, grasping them in his talons with a look of desperation on his face. "Help us! Ve don't * cough* vant to die!"
The Baron cleared his throat, drawing himself up in haggard dignity. "Not like this, at any rate...* cough*."
The sky blue pegasus nodded, and turned to his hulking companion. "Okay, Junior, buck down this door." He turned to the griffins with a grin. "I'd * cough cough* step back if I were you."
Applejack perked up her ears at the sound of a loud clanging echoing down the smoke filled corridor ahead of her. A half conscious saloon girl from the Salt Lick was sprawled across her back, a wet prison smock draped over her head to keep out any more of the irritating vapors that had overcome her.
The blonde farm mare turned to Rainbow Dash and Spitfire, who with Greta's help were herding the other female prisoners through the thick black haze that surrounded them. "That sounded like somepony buckin' down a cell door!"
Spitfire spoke up with a chuckle edging on a cough. "I wouldn't have believed that was possible if I hadn't seen you do it just now."
Applejack gave a curt nod. "Head *cough * that'away gals. Might be th' fireponys."
The bevy of mares made their uncertain way through the roiling black clouds, as their blond maned leader called out with a ragged voice. "Hey! Is anypony *cough cough* there?"
A deep, rasping voice sounded from the depths. "Pegasus! Griffins! I hear voices! *cough* Lady voices! This way!"
Applejack's heart leapt against her aching lungs at the sound of another voice replying. "Lead the way, kid!"
She called out, nearly leaping for joy despite the burden of the prostrate mare on her back. "SOARIN!"
A quartet of figures came galloping out of the thick pall of smoke, screeching to a halt in front of them. The sky blue pegasus in the lead pulled down his striped improvised mask to show a broad grin. "Applejack! Baby, we gotta stop meeting like this!"
Before the honest earth pony could respond, Greta leapt forward, throwing her forelegs around Baron Redtail's neck in a tight embrace. "Gerhard!"
The red crested griffin reared back in shock and indignation. "M-Miss Von Beakstein! You... you *cough* you forget yourself!"
Gunther stood gaping in shock, as Soarin cocked an eyebrow at the reunion then turned back to Applejack, Dash, and Spitfire. "Is everypony from your cell accounted for?"
The blaze yellow captain of the Wonderbolts stepped forward, giving him a nod. "Yeah, we're all here."
She bobbed her head toward Applejack's dazed burden. "Some of the civvies need a little help."
Soarin jerked his toward the corridor he and his companions had come from. "Well, the sooner we all get out of here the better."
He turned to the looming negates and pointed toward the wall of hazy smoke filling the darkened hallway. "All right, Junior. *cough* Get us the hail out of here."
The escaping herd of mares and griffins came to a sudden stop at the end of the hallway toward the front of the jail, finding the office and waiting room completely ablaze with green and orange flames that sent off waves of furnace like heat into their faces.
Fleidermaus Junior clamped his sensitive, night born eyes tightly shut and started to jog frantically in place, cracking the floor beneath him and jostling the fainted mare who'd been transferred to his broad, muscular back to allow Applejack to go faster. "Gah! Fire bad!"
He called out to Soarin. "Pegasus! V-vhat now? Ve cannot go out the front! But that is the only vay I know!"
Before the veteran stunt flyer could respond, a ragged voice called out from a side hallway. "Hey! Hey there! Y'all follow me! Hey!"
They all turned to see Braeburn and the elder Fleidermaus come lurching through the billowing black smoke. The mayor of Appleloosa weaved on his hooves as he beckoned them. "I know... *cough* I know th' back way... *cough cough* outta here. Come on!"
The slender negasus chimed in. "Follow my *cough* voice, son! Ve mustn't linger!"
With that, the panicked group wheeled and hurried after them, stumbling blindly through the smoke with the echolocating negasi leading the way with Braeburn's direction and Applejack, Soarin, Spitfire, and Rainbow Dash's guidance.
Moments later they came pouring out the back entrance to the jail into the crisp air of the desert night, clamor and confusion all around them as Appleloosa's citizenry, roused from a sound sleep by the alarm bells, pitched in to fight the furious blaze. Bucket brigades had formed from several wells, passing sloshing pails from mouth to mouth to a cordon of brave earth ponies and unicorns who hurled the water at the flames. A small contingent of buffalo shamans, painted with zigzagging lines of blue paint and festooned with turquoise beads, had stampeded into town and struck up a rain dance in Appleloosa's main square, generating a succession of small clouds that were being whisked away by the local pegasi weather patrol and dumped on the burning jailhouse as soon as they formed.
None of it seemed to make much headway against the ferocious flames licking greedily at the sturdy walls of the city's now vacant correctional facility. Everypony in the milling crowd flinched as the roof caved in with an ear splitting creak and a resounding crash.
Braeburn's head whipped around at the sound, his eyes going wide in horror and then rolling back into his head as he keeled over with his hooves sticking straight up in the air and a rattle coming from deep in his throat.
A nearby nurse let out a cry of alarm and was instantly at his side, laying her ear to his chest. A moment later she started to administer CPR to her city's beleaguered leader. She was giving him mouth to mouth, waving a rescue pegasus with a small black lightning cloud in hoof over, when a spasm ran down the length of his body and he started coughing. The golden maned earth pony spoke up in a dazed voice as he began to breathe on his own, his eyes vaguely focused on different horizons. "Ohhhh. Rainbow Dash, kiss me like that again..."
The cyan mare with the chromatic mane had just taken a gulp of mulled cider from a paper cup clenched in her fetlock as she sat wrapped in a blanket nearby. This she instantly spat out in a cloud of amber mist as soon as she'd heard him. She turned her head to meet the nurse's gaze, both of their faces going bright red.
Spitfire, who'd been sitting at her side swaddled in a blanket as well, broke into uproarious laughter that quickly subsided into a hacking cough.
Applejack and Soarin' lay side by side with blissful smiles on their faces, sharing a blanket with their legs curled up to their bodies, occasionally nuzzling or whispering soft words of gratitude in one another's ears.
A sound of talons on packed dirt and gravel roused them to look up at a crested, leonine shape silhouetted by the conflagration. Baron Redtail clicked the heels of his forelegs together and gave a short bow. "My apologies for disturbing you, Lieutenant Soarin. But it seems I 'owe you vun' as vell now."
He drew himself up as proudly as he could as his disheveled feathers fluttered in the breeze. "Although it pains me to make this concession, I am villing to forgo our duel in Vanhoofer if that is your vish. Ve vill call it a draw."
Soarin was about to respond when Applejack nudged him in the side. He turned to see she was gazing past him to where the griffin noble's servants sat, a dreamy look in Greta's glistening eyes as Gunther stood staring at her with his beak still hanging slack. The blonde mare craned her neck to whisper into the sky blue pegasus' ear.
A sly smile spread across Soarin's face as he shook his head. "Y'know what, Baron? I think I'll still take you on in Vanhoofer. I agreed to your terms fair and square, and I'll honor 'em."
The red crested griffon lashed his sinuous tail and raked his talons on the ground uncertainly. "V-very vell, but that still leaves me in your debt."
Soarin cast a sidelong glance at Applejack. "Well, I think my 'mate' here might have a good idea how I might call in that marker."
The blonde mare nodded, a look of immense satisfaction spreading across her freckled face. "Eeyup. You wanna get square with my stallion, then ya gotta have a straight up talk with yer gal Greta there."
She gave a nod toward his maidservant. "She's got a powerful need t' get somethin' off her chest t' ya, and we want ya t' promise t' hear her out with a fair n' open mind, gal griffin t' griffin fella, n' t' treat her right no matter how it works out."
Baron Redtail glanced back at his servants uncertainly, his gaze lingering on Greta for a moment before he wrenched it away to look Applejack and Soarin in the eyes once more. "Er... I... I don't... I suppose I can agree to those terms."
The apple farmer gave a grin and a nod. "Good."
She leveled a suddenly stern glare at the hapless griffin noble. "Don't y'all break her heart, y'hear?"
Soarin let out a chuckle as he met Redtail's nervous gaze. "Better do what she says, pal. You do not want to upset this mare."
The Baron cleared his throat, clicked his heels and gave a bow. "In... indeed not. Vell, I von't intrude any longer. I vill see you in Vanhoofer, Lieutenant Soarin."
With that he spun, and marched away toward his servants. When he reached them, he spoke some brief words to Greta, whose bandaged face lit up with a mixture of hope and terror, the latter of which was mirrored on the ruthless aerial duelist's face as they fell into step side by side and walked off to talk in private. Gunther sat slumped like a bag of flour, his beak hanging open as he watched them go with goggling, glassy, disbelieving eyes.
Applejack snuggled in close to Soarin with a smug grin on her face. "Poor dope ain't got a ghost of a chance."
The sky blue pegasus ruffled his still bound wings. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, sweetheart, but from what I hear he's pretty tough."
She rolled her eyes. "I wasn't talkin' about yer dadgummed duel, darlin..." She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Sheriff Silver Star stood in the trampled street clad in a threadbare union suit and his hat, feeling the cool late night/early morning breeze in his aching bones as the first gleam of sunrise tarried beyond the eastern horizon. He wore a wan expression on his unshaven face as he watched the blackened skeleton of the Appleloosa jailhouse collapse under its own weight, smothering the last licks of clinging flame in a cloud of ash and soot.
He looked over at the cluster of rescued prisoners in the midst of the town's busy emergency service crew and gave a diffident shrug. "Whelp. I reckon since we don't got anyplace t' keep 'em all anymore we oughta just send 'em on their way."
Judge Bean stood at his side, shivering in his slippers and bathrobe as he stared slack jawed at the ruins. "But... b-but what n' tarnation do we do without no jail?"
The sheriff reached up and adjusted his hat atop his disheveled mane, staring toward the horizon. "I dunno. Play canasta, I guess."
A large, ruby red grapefruit half lay invitingly on the royal china in front of Princess Celestia, mirroring the glorious morning sun that she had just called to the sky outside. At her side, Princess Luna sat in the shade cast by the columns of their private dining room in the highest tower of Canterlot castle, allowing her nocturnal equivalent of a final cup of coffee in the evening to cool as she poured over a stack of early edition newspapers from all across Equestria.
The princess of the sun took up a silver grapefruit spoon in a shimmering corona of golden magic as she spoke with a fond smile to her dusky sister. "You seem preoccupied today, Luna. What's got your attention so thoroughly in the..." She craned her slender neck to take a glance at the masthead of the paper spread in front of the moon's regent, before lining up her utensil with one of the fruit's succulent sections. "... Baltimare Courier?"
The night princess' brow furrowed as she finished the article she was reading. "Apparently almost everypony flying in the Pegathalon has been thrown in jail for brawling in a bar in Appleloosa."
Celestia flinched as a jet of grapefruit juice shot up from her breakfast and hit her in the eye. She dropped the spoon with a clatter and snatched up one of the fine linen napkins to wipe away the stinging liquid as she gaped at her younger sister. "Wh- what?"
Luna turned and used her magic to rifle through the stack of papers on the ornate tea trolly at her side. "Hang on, let me check what the Appleloosa Picayune's got to say about it."
She cocked her head as she pulled a slim sheaf of newsprint from the pile. "Huh... Looks like they ran an extra today."
Her eyes went wide as her turquoise pupils shrank to pinpricks. "Tartarus on toast! Appleloosa jailhouse burned to the ground in mysterious blaze!?"
The sound of china cracking tinkled in the air as a startled Celestia drove a fresh grapefruit spoon that a servant had provided her through fruit, plate, and deep into the tabletop. "WHAT!?"
She snatched the paper from her sister's magical grasp, clenching the edges in her gold shod hooves as her wings flared behind her. After a tense moment's frantic reading she slouched in her tall, mahogany chair with a sigh. "Oh thank goodness, everypony got out all right, and nopony was hurt aside from minor bruises and smoke inhalation."
The edges of the newspaper crumpled in her hooves as her normally serene expression darkened. "I just know those... those two excors unicórnis had something to do with this..."
Luna shifted nervously in her seat, gently extracting the paper from her sister's grip as she spoke in a soothing tone. "Hey, cool down, sis. You don't know that for certain..."
An uncomfortable expression flitted across her dusky features as she muttered under her breath. "... even though it is pretty much par for the course with those two creepweasels."
She gave an attempt at an airy shrug. "And anyway, Sir Charger's gotta be keeping an eye on them by now."
Celestia gave her sister a fragile smile, and opened her mouth to reply when a tentative knock came to the doors of the royal dining chamber. She redirected her attention toward the ornate portal, as a wan faced Shining Armor poked his head through the door.
He cleared his throat nervously, his ears laid back and his normally easygoing demeanor a bit strained. "I beg your pardon, your hignesses, I really hate to disturb you at your morning repast, but..."
He took a moment to steel himself, before continuing. "...it's my duty to bring this to your attention."
The royal sisters exchanged a glance before Celestia bobbed her tapering horn. "You may always speak freely in my presence, my faithful Captain of the Guard."
Luna nodded. "Yeah, don't get in a sweat, kiddo. I'm sure it's nothing we... can't... handle...."
She trailed off as the doors opened wide by sparkling magic, and a quartet of muscular, armored royal guard unicorns came marching in bearing two stretchers between them. On one, a stiff and cold but remarkably lifelike pegasus of solid stone lay, while on the other, a twitching, faintly giggling pony like thing that seemed to be made of equal parts pink fluff, disheveled feathers, and caked mud lay prostrate beneath a blanket, his wings drooping with exhaustion from under the hems.
Shining Armor stepped up at the side of the procession, pawing at the ground with an anxious expression. "He insisted on being brought directly to..."
The fuzzy, filth crusted creature surged to his elbows, feebly flapping his wings. "WE insisted on being brought directly, Captain! There are two of us..."
He snapped at the stiff, unmoving figure in the other stretcher. "Shut up, Charger! I'll tell 'em! I didn't airlift your fat rump all the way to Canterlot to have you keep interrupting me! I've had more than enough of your bellyaching!"
A manic gleam appeared in his eye as he met the sun princess' disbelieving gaze. "Your highnessesesses, I deeply regret that my colleague and I have fallen a bit short in carrying out your..."
He stopped mid-sentence snarled at the statue, his voice edged by a hysterical cackle. "Shut UP, Charger! You have to admit we didn't do a very good job of it! Don't back sass me, you cart horse! I should have made you walk back yourself!"
Shining Armor gave a surreptitious nod to one of the unicorn guards, who leaned in to touch the unhinged pegasus lightly on the forehead with his horn, sending him instantly into a deep sleep.
A terrible silence fell over the room, as all eyes turned to Princess Celestia, whose pristine white features had gone utterly blank. A moment later, her entire head exploded in flames with an emphatic FOOMP!
The sky outside turned a bright shade of vermillion, as cries of alarm and dismay arose from the precincts of Canterlot Castle that were echoed across all of Equestria as ponies looked up at a sun gone red as a garnet and ringed by crackling flares.
Princess Luna leapt to her feet, knocking aside the trolly full of flaming newspapers with her dusky wings as she shielded her eyes with an upraised hoof. "Sister! Prithee cease this overwrought display, ere thou boileth the seas and set the very land alight with thy wrath!"
As soon as her sister had finished her plea, the inferno around the sun princess' head guttered and died, leaving a wavering mane of smokey grey behind. She let out a long, shuddering sigh and reached up a hoof to wipe away the trickle of molten gold that was all that remained of her tiara as it ran in gleaming rivulets down the furrow in her brow and along either side of her elegantly chiseled muzzle. The sun outside subsided to a reddish orange as the sky took on its former blue coloration.
Celestia spoke in a voice carrying the weariness of millennia. "Shining Armor..."
The pale faced unicorn swallowed hard, and drew himself to attention behind the shimmering purple shield he'd thrown up around the contingent of royal guards. "Y-yes, your highness?"
She met his wavering eye with a magenta gaze that still flashed with deep seated embers of anger. "Call forth a company, no, a battalion of our finest Air Cavalry, and gird them for battle and send them forth to apprehend the unicorn brothers who style themselves Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity. I want those two scoundrels brought before us to answer for their crimes."
Shining Armor gave a cautious bow, maintaining the shield for safety's sake. "As you command, your highness."
He cast a nervous glance to his side as one of the unicorns bearing the litter of the inert Sir Charger fainted, allowing the stone pegasus to drop to the marble floor and crack it.
Sir Champion stirred in his magically induced sleep and mumbled in the tense stillness. "Shaddup, Charger..."
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.