Part 37 - Escape Velocity
As the storm died away and the skies cleared overhead, a sad little mound of sand shuddered and stirred. With a pop, Professor Destiny's gas masked head and scrawny neck sprouted from the ground and warily scanned his surroundings. There was nothing around him but windswept dunes and emptiness.
His shaky voice sounded in the stillness, muffled by the dust choked filter canister hanging from his snout. "Oh brother, where are you?"
A hazy winged shadow glided across the ground, prompting him to look up with hope dawning in his bloodshot eyes behind sand scoured goggles. His ears levered back in dumfounded horror as precise v formations of white winged, bronze armored pegasi flew overhead. He shook off the rest of the sand, climbing unsteadily to his feet.
His horn sparked to life with sickly green magic and caused the buckles on his helmet to break as he tore it off, his jaw dropping as the gleaming battalion darkened the skies. "E-egads! It's the Air Cavalry! Wh-what are they doing here?"
As if in answer, four of them detached from one of the crisscrossing formations and wheeled down toward him. All the self proclaimed Professor could do was stand and watch while they approached, his mind far too fragmented by exhaustion and worry for his brother's fate to obey the frantic urgings of his confidence pony's instincts to flee at the approach of such a large concentration of law enforcement.
The burly pegasi landed with emphatic thuds at the four points of the compass, completely surrounding the scrawny yellow stallion with looks of grim determination on their faces, their wings flared to prevent him from bolting between them. The guard in front of him, whose chest plate was adorned with sergeant's stripes, cleared his throat and looked him in the eye. "Flam Flim Flam, a.k.a. Professor Destiny. You are hereby placed under arrest by order of her highness Princess Celestia of the Sun for crimes against your fellow ponies and assorted peaceful visitors to our land."
His beetled brow furrowed dangerously. "Now are you going to come quietly, or are we going to have to work you over like you worked over Sir Paladin, Sir Paragon, Sir Champion, and Sir Charger?"
Destiny could only boggle at him. "Wh-who?"
The sergeant drew in a sharp breath through his nostrils as he reared back with his eyes flared. He gave a nod to his subordinates, who piled onto the hapless unicorn as a mushroom shaped cloud rose up from a scrum so violent that a hoofball referee would have thrown a flag for unnecessary roughness.
Twilight's shield spell shimmered like a vast, violet pearl on the sands of an endless beach as the sun streamed through the attenuated dust clouds, which were chased away with authority by the battalion of pegasi moving to and fro across the sky in a disciplined search pattern. As the last tattered shreds of the storm dissolved, so too did the magical barrier, vanishing into the hot desert air like a popped soap bubble.
The Harmony Aeronautics crew and their guests gathered in the shade of the Friend Ship as a delegation of guards touched down and approached. The chiseled stallion at their lead removed his golden helmet and gave them a formal bow as the desert wind rustled through his close cropped, iron grey mane. "Good afternoon, everypony. I trust you weren't terribly inconvenienced by the storm."
Twilight stepped forward with a smile, allowing him to shake her hoof. "Well, thanks to your troops it should be clear sailing on through to Los Pegasus. You have our gratitude, Sir Concord."
She cocked a quizzical eyebrow. "But I assume you all didn't come all this way just to clear away a storm. What brings the Air Cavalry out in such force, if I may ask?"
The imposing stallion smiled warmly down at her as he replied. "Of course you may ask, Doctor Sparkle. You're a national hero several times over and one of the princesses' confidants." He gave her a wink. "Not to mention my commanding officer's little sister."
He scanned the horizon as a more serious look settled on his face. "We're here on her highness Princess Celestia's orders to arrest your competitors, the Flim Flam brothers, for their various and sundry crimes. We've managed to bag one of them already, and my colts are searching for the other as we speak."
Concord drew himself up as a thought struck him, turning his attention toward the young dragon and dragonette looming toward the back of the assembled ponies. "And on the subject of communication... Say, Spike, would you mind terribly passing along a letter to her highness on my behalf? If we could get a progress report to Canterlot, it'd spare us having to send a courier."
Spike gave a shrug, barely hiding a note of smugness as Quillina's eyes lit up at the thought of sending a message to Equestria's co-ruler. "Sure thing, Sir, I'd be glad to. In fact, I got some news to send her myself..."
He flared his wings a little, puffing himself up a bit as he gave the golden dragoness a sidelong grin. "I'm gonna be joining in on the Pegathalon as wing dragon for Quillina here."
At this, Sir Concord cocked an eyebrow, looking him over dubiously. "Huh. Well, as long as you steer clear of any buildings over three stories tall I suppose you'll do all right."
He let loose a chuckle as the young dragon's face clouded over in an annoyed pout. "I'm just joshin' ya, Spike. Just keep your wings level and pay attention to where you're going and you should do just fine."
He gave his former pupil a wink. "Try not to get too distracted by your lovely young lady there." A faint blush appeared on both dragons' scaly cheeks, and they fidgeted and gave one another a sidelong glance. Twilight bit back a sigh as a wistful expression settled on her face.
Before Spike could reply, everypony turned their gaze skyward at the sound of a pegasus guard circling overhead. "Sir Concord! We found the other one!"
The splendid white pegasus nodded to his subordinate. "Good work. I'll be there shortly."
He gave Twilight and company a nod. "All right, lets make this quick, I'm sure we all would like to be on our way."
With a rough shove of bronze shod hooves, a battered and bruised Professor Destiny tumbled through the black rectangle formed by the hatch at the back of a royal guard prisoner transport wagon, banging his chin on the metal plated floor beyond. He pushed himself upright and wheeled, his leg irons rattling and clanking as he scrabbled at the tiny barred window in the armor plated door after it slammed shut in his face. "No! You have to find my brother! He's still out there somewhere!"
He gave a start and leapt a couple hooves into the air, his ragged mane and tail standing on end as a weary, bitter voice sounded from deeper in the stifling metal box. "Getting a jump on turning crown's evidence are we, Professor?"
The mustachioed stallion spun on his hooves and stared, his bloodshot eyes acclimating to the dim light enough to reveal the scrawny figure of a disheveled, dirt stained unicorn huddled in the corner on the steel bench, similarly decked out in manacles and a magic suppressing safety cork on his horn. Destiny took a halting step forward. "F-flim? Is that... is that you?"
The scrawny prisoner flicked an ear in irritation as an arch expression settled on his face. "No. It's Doctor Insanity. You invented this game, brother, I expect you to play by the... Agh?!"
He was cut off as his sibling hurled himself across the confined space, threw his manacled forelegs over the ersatz doctor's head and pulled him into a tight hug. He burst into tears, bawling in his startled brother's laid back ear. "Waahhh! Oh F-f-flim! I thought you were dead! I thought you'd been swallowed up by the d-desert and that it was all my fault!"
Insanity squirmed in his embrace, blinking and stammering at this sudden outpouring of emotion. "W-well, if... if I was going to assign blame for our current circumstances I..."
He trailed off with a sigh as his sibling started to rock him back and forth, weeping into his grime streaked coat. He leaned his head on Destiny's shoulder, his voice cracking slightly as he spoke over the mustachioed stallion's sobs. "I'm... I'm glad to see you too, brother."
The Professor squeezed him tighter. "Don't... don't ever leave me alone again, Flim..."
Doctor Insanity let out another weary sigh as he patted Destiny's back as best he could with his hooves chained together and cast a wan look about the steel plated walls of their confinement. "I... I don't think you'll have to worry about either of us going anywhere for quite some time, brother."
The wagon lurched forward and upward, nearly throwing them from the hard bench they sat on, as outside pegasi barked orders and got into formation for the return flight to Canterlot.
The departure of the Sky Cavalry battalion had left a wide open sky over the San Palomino, stretching to the horizon in anticipation of the Pegathalon competitors challenging the vast distance to Los Pegasus.
Flies Like Thunder and Long Range said their thanks and wished the other teams luck, then took wing having parted as friends, soaring easily over the desert thermals of their home territory.
Next, Pip mounted to the sky with practiced ease after the Luna Moth had received a thorough check over from Apple Bloom, along with several good luck kisses for its youthful pilot. Soarin polished off a final apple and launched into an exuberant barrel roll, rapidly catching up to his young teammate with a few powerful beats of his sky blue wings.
This left the two young dragons waiting patiently as Twilight fussed over Spike, telekinetically tightening the straps on his backpack and straightening the bright pink, rhinestone studded scarf that Apple Bloom had fashioned from one of Quillina's unfaithful crew's cast off flight suits. While the young mare freely admitted she wasn't half the seamstress Rarity was, she had done a solid job of it with the needle and thread they kept in Harmony Aeronautics' emergency repair kit.
The lavender unicorn was busy making sure the scarf's ends were perfectly even when the young dragon finally had his fill. "Okay, Twilight, I don't think an unevenly tied scarf's gonna cause any undue drag or anything."
He averted his eyes and muttered under his breath. "Although certain other things are being an undue drag right now..."
Spike looked down with surprise on his face as Twilight surged forward and threw her hooves around his scaly waist, crushing her tearful face against his leathery belly plates. "Oh Spi-hi-hi-hiiike! You grew up s-s-so fast!"
The adolescent drake blushed and stroked his guardian's mane. "Uh... Don't... Don't be sad, Twilight. I've still got a lot of growing to do." He hooked a gentle claw under her chin and raised her gaze to meet his. "I'm just stretching my wings a little."
Both he and Twilight turned to face Quillina as she stepped up beside Spike with a shy smile. The golden dragoness hunkered down and extended her own claw to the lavender mare. Twilight sniffled and gingerly laid her hoof in the draconic heiress' palm. She gave her a tentative nod. "Promise me you'll take good care of him, Miss Delve Ender."
Quillina responded with a fond smile and clasped the unicorn scholar's hoof. "I promise, Doctor Sparkle."
Her amethyst eyes sparkled as a thought struck her, and she arched her graceful neck back and fished something out from the crook of her wing, dropping it into Twilight's hoof. The scholarly mare's brow furrowed as she surveyed the apple sized sphere of roughly chisled granite, which seemed lighter than one would expect.
The dragoness nodded toward the object with a fond smile. "Since you're lendin' me something you clearly consider to be precious, it's good dragon manners if I leave you a li'l collateral. This here's a keepstone that my grand daddy gave me when I was just a li'l ol' hatchling. I used to keep my toys in it, but now I got somethin' much more valuable in there."
With deft claws, she twisted the stone, causing a seam to appear down its center. It split into two halves, revealing the blue crystalline interior of a geode that sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight. The glittering reflections expanded into a fountain of scintillating magic that poured and cascaded onto the ground nearby, and suddenly the ponies and dragons found themselves standing beside a huge pile of books and scrolls.
Twilight's eyes went wide as her jaw dropped wider, and she stood weaving on her hooves and staring at the literary bounty lying in the sand. She stumbled forward and began lifting tomes from the pile with her magic. "This... this is Aristrotle's 'Treatise on Laughter'! The last known copy was lost over three hundred years ago. And... and... here's Volume Eight of Starswirl's 'Bowls, Bells, and Spells'! I've only read about this one in fragments from Clover the Clever's 'Book of the New Dawn and Moonrise'! Ooh, there are books here I would have given my horn for a chance to just read the table of contents."
Quillina beamed with a bit of draconic pride, and pointed the two halves of the geode at the pile of ancient tomes, causing them to dissolve into a cloud of glittering magic that was drawn into the heart of the stone once more. She brought the two halves together and gave them a twist, and then placed the now seamless sphere of rough granite back in the cup of Twilight's hoof. "Well y'don't have to go and do that, Doctor Sparkle. Just lend me Spike for a while, and you can keep this as long as you like."
The scholarly mare gave the young dragoness an earnest smile. "You know, I think you and I are going to get along famously, Miss Delve Ender."
The golden scaled heiress gave an airy wave of her claw. "Oh shucks, you can call me Quillina, ma'am."
The lavender unicorn reared up and stretched her forelegs wide across the young dragoness' belly plates in a hug. "And you can call me Twilight, dear. Best of luck to you. I just know we'll have a lot to talk about once you reach the finish line."
Spike threw out his chest and flared his wings. "Well, on that subject, we should get going."
He gave a courtly bow to Quillina and gestured skyward. "After you, milady!"
She gave a silvery chuckle and a final wave to Twilight and Apple Bloom, then took to the air, followed closely by her new wing dragon. Twilight and Apple Bloom stood and marveled as they soared magnificently toward the western horizon.
With a nod to one another, they wheeled and galloped back to the Friend Ship to prepare for castoff.
The splendid column of armored pegasi wound through the clear desert sky in a north northeasterly direction, heading back to Canterlot with the heavily armored sky wagon in their midst, pulled by a team of eight brawny pegasi who strained mightily against their harnesses.
Sir Concord veered northward as the sandy ground far below began to show hints of stubbly grass and scrub bushes, wisely choosing to lead his battalion along the western edge of Ghastly Gorge and eventually skirt the Everfree Forest around its perimeter until they reached Ponyville, then head northeast toward Canterlot.
As the Air Cavalry streamed past the point where the gorge emptied into the headwaters of the Palomino Grande, a globular dark shape emblazoned with a skull and crossbones flanked by bats rose skyward from among the concealing cliffs. It came to a stop a hundred hooves over the gorge, and the bright sun glinted off the lens of a battered brass telescope that extended from one of the side portholes in the ramshackle gondola that hung from beneath the suspicious aircraft.
Several guards winging along at the flanks of the column slowed as their comrades continued past, warily scrutinizing the sinister black ship from a distance. With a nod to his lieutenant, a sergeant and his squad detached to neutralize it and capture whatever ponies might be crewing it.
As the squadron of royal guards approached, a hatch dropped open on the bottom of the gondola, and an apparatus of brass and iron with a rotating, chain driven bundle of thick walled brass pipes lowered into place with an ominous click. With a rattle the cylinders started to spin, faster and faster until they were a blur, before they filled the air with an insistent FOOP FOOP FOOP FOOP FOOP sound and a stream of oblong projectiles that burst in the air around the oncoming pegasi, enveloping them in puffs of reddish pink powder.
Almost immediately the vanguard of snowy winged pegasi began to sneeze so violently it sent them tumbling through the air, rebounding off of one another and plummeting out of control into the gorge below in a rain of loose feathers, dropped spears, and lost helmets and horseshoes.
The column ground to a midair halt, the armored pegasi staring in horror at their comrades' distress while a few broke loose from formation to catch them. The black airship came about, its turbines spinning up to full speed as black smoke and an eerie green glow poured from the engine compartment. With a relentless cadence of FOOP FOOP FOOP FOOP FOOP the apparatus on its belly spun in a 180º arc, laying down a covering barrage of sneezing powder grenades into the battalion as it charged the wagon at its center. Another hatch popped open, and a length of chain with a large grappling hook hanging from it unwound from inside with a cacophonous clatter.
At the head of the column Sir Concord wheeled in midair, pumping his wings to gain altitude and jabbing a fore hoof at the airship while he raised his spear with the other. "It's going for the prisoners! Bravo squad! Form up for rapid strike! Pop that balloon!"
With that he and a swift squad of pegasi launched on an intercepting course, leveling their spears to strike at the airship's black gas envelope and bellowing a fearsome battle cry.
As they screamed toward their target, one of the portholes on the gondola's starboard side popped open and another brass tube protruded, firing off a canister with an unassuming THOOP. It tumbled through the air and exploded in a cloud of lurid blue powder. Sir Concord and his attack wing reared and backpedaled in vain as they sailed through the dissipating azure dust, their eyes wide and looks of dismay etched on their faces as they coughed and sputtered.
Suddenly, the snowy white battalion commander turned a livid purple, and expanded into an oblong spheroid as the golden plates of his armor flew in every direction. His now relatively tiny wings fluttered uselessly as he dropped toward boiling whitewater at the bottom of the gorge below, flailing his stubby limbs in screaming panic. More bronze armor clattered empty from the sky as another pegasus became a billowy, pony shaped mass of fluffy clouds and floated upward, while a third was unceremoniously transformed into a goose.
The airship sailed past, unheeding as the only charging pegasus from Bravo squad to reach the aircraft experienced a sudden lengthening of his neck to giraffe like proportions, dashing him senseless on the black, haphazardly riveted fuselage and sending him spiraling toward the ground. All was disarray in the sinister ship's wake as half of the guard force frantically dove to rescue their fellows while the other half sneezed themselves out of the air or found themselves suddenly preoccupied with some sort of bizarre and farcical transformation as the blue powder drifted across the column's vanguard.
The grappling hook slammed into the side of the transport wagon with a tremendous clang, wrenching the iron box free from the chassis and dragging it like a wrecking ball through the scattering pegasi. The airship banked to the southwest and picked up speed, the receding sound of FOOP FOOP FOOP FOOP echoing from the apparatus on its belly as it left behind a cluster of pink powder puffs and a thick billowing trail of black smoke to discourage pursuit.
Sir Concord's jiggling, globular form shook with fury as he hung supported in the hooves of seven struggling pegasi, fluttering his useless wings and shaking a truncated hoof after the receding black shape. He spat droplets of sweet smelling purple juice that stained the white coat of one of his rescuers as he roared to his scattered troops. "AFTER THEM!"
Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity lay in a tangled pile of limbs on the floor of the armor plated wagon's interior, their heads weaving back and forth and their eyes spiraling dizzily as tiny, bat winged marching bands circled their heads and banged out a cacophony on timpani and glockenspiels.
A tumult of frantic shouting from the guards outside had heralded something loudly slamming into their confinement, flipping it end over end, and throwing them violently from the benches, followed by an indeterminate time tossing, tumbling, and colliding in the confined metal box like beans in a rattle, and concluding with a tremendous clanging thud, then stillness.
The silence was broken by Doctor Insanity's tremulous voice. "Wh... What just happened?"
His brother's feeble response rang dully off the steel walls. "D-don't care, as long as it's stopped."
A scraping sound could be heard from the container's fortified door, followed by the unmistakable hissing of a fuse, as a gravelly voice they both recognized at once could be heard from outside. "Fire in da hole, Bozz!"
With a gasp of alarm, Professor Destiny grabbed his brother and hurled him to the floor in the far corner of the traveling cell, trying to wedge both their scrawny frames beneath the bench as a resounding blast rang the steel walls and filled the chamber with smoke.
The door fell open with a clang, allowing the black smoke inside to begin dissipating through the hatch as the two unicorns staggered out into the shade of their black dirigible. With boggled, unfocused eyes they looked down to see Otto looking up at them from underneath his sloped cap, a hacksaw clenched in his teeth and a lopsided grin on his face.
Destiny let out a small cough, expelling a puff of smoke, as he dazedly surveyed the wind carved sandstone hollow their sinister looking airship crouched inside. "W-well done, Otto."
His brother staggered to the wide mouth of the shallow cave and stared out over the sandy expanse of the San Palomino desert. "How... how did you manage to escape all those guards?"
The dwarfish pony gave a shrug as he scuttled forward and started working on the chains binding his employer's forelegs, muttering out of the side of his mouth as he worked. "Wasn't easy. Hold still, Bozz. We don't got long 'fore da guards find us again."
Insanity gave a nod as he backed away from the cave's opening. "Indeed. The sooner we can get on our way to Mexicolt, the better."
At this, Professor Destiny drew himself up, a gleam in his bloodshot eye. "Mexicolt? Who said anything about Mexicolt? We're headed to Los Pegasus, then onward and upward to Vanhoover."
Doctor Insanity wheeled on him, eyes wide and jaw hanging in utter disbelief, as the hacksaw dropped from Otto's mouth and clattered on the cave's rocky floor. They both stared at the mustachioed stallion and spoke almost in unison. "What?"
The scrawny unicorn gave a toss of his disheveled mane and a flick of his tail. "We're not licked yet! Not by a long shot!"
His brother staggered forward, his eyes flaring incredulously. "Do... do you have an impacted horn or something? We've been disqualified! We've lost! Almost the entire Royal Air Cavalry just chased us down and was hauling us off in chains for all the collateral damage your ridiculous booby traps have caused."
Destiny gave a dismissive wave of a hoof. "Pah! A mere peccadillo. None of that will matter once we've soared across the finish line ahead of Harmony Aeronautics' farcical butterfly wings. We'll be celebrated as the stallions who brought ponykind the gift of flight!"
Insanity quickened his pace as he advanced on his sibling. "Need I point out, brother, that we are no longer in possession of our flight harnesses." He stopped and half turned, gesturing abruptly at the sandy expanse outside. "They're hopelessly lost in that detestable desert out there."
The mustachioed unicorn bobbed his cork festooned horn toward the black balloon. "There's more than enough material aboard the dirigible for us to cobble something together. More's the triumph for our innate ingenuity in the face of adversity."
Doctor Insanity reared up as he reached his sibling, grasping him by the tattered lapels of his grimy flight suit and shaking him as he spoke through gritted teeth. "Why are you doing this to me, Flam?"
His brother regarded him with a level gaze burning with determination. "It's Destiny."
Insanity's hooves clenched as his manic glare bored into the Professor's eyes, a bit of foam bubbling at the corners of his mouth. Just before his grip tightened into a stranglehold, he let out a long, weary sigh and slouched to his haunches, casting a despondent gaze toward the sandstone floor. "It's penance is what it is. All right. I guess I'll live up to my own made up moniker and ride this rocket all the way to ground zero."
Destiny's lower lip started to tremble a bit, as a bit of clarity seemed to come to his eyes. "Y-you don't h-have to, Flim. I... I know it's... hard."
His brother shook his head as he laid a gentle hoof on his shoulder. "No. I'm not going to leave you alone ever again." A sardonic smile came to his narrow face. "Somepony has to keep you from blowing Equestria to smithereens."
Both unicorns turned and looked down at the sound of Otto's gravelly voice. "Well, as touchin' as dis all is, yez can count ME out. I quit!"
Professor Destiny reared back with an indignant look on his face. "What? But.. but Otto, you... you're my faithful flunky! My loyal lackey! My number one assistant!"
The dwarfish earth pony gave a flick of his bristly tail. "Dat's a big load o' number two. I can work with crazy, but yez guys is sooeycidal, bub. I'm done pullin' yer chestnuts outta da fire if yez just gonna toss 'em back in dere again."
The diminutive ex-henchpony spun on a stubby hoof and started marching toward the black dirigible's ladder as his former employers stared after him in disbelief. "I'm takin' da blimp to Tijuinny. Yez can keep all yer rockets n' stuff, they'd just weigh me down anyhow."
The Professor took a halting step toward him. "But Otto! Please, be reasonable."
The low slung earth pony snorted to himself as he started to climb the ladder. "Dats what I'm doin', Perfesser. Hasta la bamba!"
A short time later, the entire contents of the black dirigible's cargo hold, save for a stock of food and water, had been unloaded, lightening the ship considerably. With a final wave of his stubby foreleg out the gondola window to the helplessly watching figures of his former employers down below, Otto powered up the phlogiston turbines. The sinister airship glided majestically out of the mouth of the sandstone cave and into the harsh reddish light of late afternoon over the San Palomino desert.
The dwarfish pony's face froze in a rictus of panic as he glanced out the port side cockpit windows and saw an onrushing wave of angry, red snouted pegasi in bronze armor bearing down on him in the distance with spears raised and blue murder in their eyes. Muttering gravelly curses under his breath, he spun the wheel sharply to the south and threw open the throttle, banking the black airship and pouring on the power in a desperate flight for the Mexicolt border far to the southwest.
Destiny and Insanity crouched behind the sandy rocks a bit back from the mouth of the cave, watching the furious Air Cavalry streaking past in pursuit of the dirigible's rapidly receding exhaust trail. The mustachioed unicorn laid a hoof over his heart and let out a sigh as he watched the black airship recede into the distance ahead of its gleaming pursuers. "There goes the most useful idiot I've ever had the privilege to work with."
His clean shaven sibling's mouth cocked in a sneering smile. "He learned at the hooves of a master."
He gave a toss of his head toward the ramshackle pile of tools and supplies. "Now come on, lets get to work. We're burning daylight."
Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie lounged on the grass behind the butter yellow pegasus' former residence, now converted full time to an animal shelter, as an uncanny assortment of happy creatures gamboled with the two mares' children in the late afternoon sun. The newest addition to the Pie family, little Puddin', lay on a blanket nearby sucking happily on a bottle of chocolate milk.
The soft spoken mare sat and smiled quietly with the usual mildly puzzled expression she reserved for conversations with Pinkie as her old friend chattered away in her bright, cheerful voice. "..and since it's been, like what, at least fifteen chapters since we even got a cameo I thought it's more than due time for us to put in an appearance. I mean, really, Applejack mentioned us in Chapter thirty one, but that's not the same as showing up and giving some dialogue and I... hold that thought... TOOTSIE! YOU STOP CHASING THAT EMU RIGHT NOW! I KNOW HE'S A BIRD, BUT HE'S JUST NOT EVER GOING TO FLY, NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY TO 'MOTIVATE' HIM!"
She let out an irritated snort and turned back to Fluttershy. "So as I was saying... I... er, Flutters?"
The yellow pegasus was staring at a strange procession of bronze armored pegasi that hove into view around the outskirts of the Everfree Forest. Even Pinkie fell silent, staring with her limpid blue eyes, as the surreal parade approached them.
Several of them were straining to roll a bloated, globular purple shape with stubby flailing hooves and wings and a scowling pony's face at one end. Another was shepherding a rather nonplussed looking, pegasus shaped cloud along with a morose goose perched on his back. Yet another stumbled along trying to balance with a neck that was twice his body length, which caused him to weave drunkenly as he walked. Several others were similarly afflicted with bizarre, cruelly comical transformations that simply defied description.
Pinky cocked her head curiously at the hapless pegasi. "Ooh! Is that the circus coming to town? A traveling sideshow, maybe? I hope they have a dog faced colt, or a bearded filly! Or a hall of mirrors. I love those. WooOOOooo WooooOOOOooo."
Fluttershy raised a hoof to her mouth in dismay. "Oh... my..."
She took softly to the sky. "Um... Stay here and watch the foals, Pinkie. I think they might need some help!"
Pinkie nodded her frizzy maned head. "Okey dokey gumby pokey! See if foals under five can get in for free!"
With that, Fluttershy approached the ragtag assembly of shellshocked pegasi, gently touching down beside them with a look of concern furrowing her brow. "Oh, you poor things! You look awful!"
Sir Concord tried to turn his head to greet her, and was stymied by his spherical form's lack of a neck. Finally, he growled at his subordinates. "Bring me about so I can talk to her, lads." With a groan of effort, they complied, throwing their backs into rotating him face her.
He cleared his throat and tried with minimal success to assume as dignified an air as he could. "Er... Hello, ma'am. That town yonder is Ponyville, correct?"
Fluttershy gave a nod, biting her lip as she looked them over with wide, pitying eyes.
The transformed guard commander pressed on. "Would you be so kind as to show us the way to Ponyville General Hospital?"
The butter yellow pegasus mare shook her head. "Oh no! You need to come with me to the Ponyville Spa right away!"
Sir Concord blinked in consternation, his ears levering back as a note of irritation crept into his voice. "What?"
She nodded. "Oh yes. We could take you to Zecora's, but... um... if you don't mind my saying... well I don't think it's a good idea to go into the Everfree with you smelling so fruity and delicious... and... well... no offense... but you're too big to fit in her cauldron anyway."
A flush of red blossomed on the forward curve of the pegasus commander, and purple tinged droplets flew as he spluttered in frustrated rage. "WHAT? Now you see here, madam, I don't know what you're jabbering about but my troops and I are in dire need of medical attention and I fail to see how wasting time getting a hooficure will in any way... help... u-us... to..."
He trailed off, his head retracting a bit into his swollen bulk as his eyes met an implacable Stare that pierced his juice soaked brain like an aquamarine lightning bolt splitting the heart of a cloud.
He stammered in a low, chastised voice. "Er... which way to the spa, ma... uh... ma'am... m... milady?"
She gave a small squeaky toy sound with a cheery smile. "Follow me. I know how to make it all better!"
Shining Armor sat morosely at his desk in one of the corner offices of Canterlot Castle's guard tower, staring with a furrowed brow at the scroll of parchment that lay before him.
Up until a few minutes ago, when an out of breath messenger pegasus from the pursuit battalion had arrived and dropped the vexing dispatch off, he'd been having a fairly good day. Awakened with giggles and prancing, jumping little hooves on the bed, followed by a kiss that just got sweeter with every morning he'd received it. Clean up, a good breakfast, and out the door, with hugs and more kisses as his fillies skipped off to school, his wife boarded her carriage to the Crystal Embassy, and he climbed into his chariot to arrive at the parade grounds with the precise punctuality that kept the Castle humming like a well made watch.
Check in, have a cruller with strict orders to the regimental cook not to breathe a word to his wife, then out to review the troops. His colts made him proud too, the finest bunch of polished professionals a pony could have the privilege to work with. Stop in at the infirmary, see how the chariot crew was healing up, then off to Morning Court with the good news to hopefully brighten both princesses' moods.
All seemed to be going well, and even the interruption of one of Spike's flamecast letters of the afternoon's finance meeting had turned out for the better. It bore tidings from Sir Concord's capture force. Mission accomplished, malefactors apprehended and en route for judgement. Her highness had received the news with a grim nod of satisfaction and then continued with her usual serene aplomb as she carried on with the business of running the realm.
Of course now, all that had gone out the window, or more accurately come in the window in the saddlebag of a panting courier with curiously irritated sinuses. The young squire had been sent to the infirmary for some nasal spray with strict orders to keep mum about the missive he'd carried.
One small problem solved easily enough, but the larger, more pressing problem remained.
Shining Armor gazed numbly at the message, his mind furiously spinning its wheels trying to come up with a way to break the news it carried to Princess Celestia with as few solar flares as possible resulting. Bad enough that the nefarious brothers had escaped from the midst of a heavily armed and armored Air Cavalry battalion, he had no idea how to even begin to explain how or why the battalion commander had been turned into a giant grape.
The pale stallion's blue eyes shifted toward the lower drawer of his desk. With a surge of magic, it slid open, and a bottle of Cheval d'Or that Cadance had given him for Hearth's Warming three years ago came floating out with a shot glass in close orbit. After a moment's consideration, he dropped the glass back in the drawer, unscrewed the bottle, and took a deep, deep pull.
He wiped a hoof across his snout, gave a short cough, and then pushed himself away from the desk. "All right, Shiney. Nothin' to get your tail kinked about. What's the worst that can happen?"
Everypony from Canterlot all the way down the verdant valley to Ponyville had seen the roof of the royal orrery explode in a massive fireball late that afternoon. While this alarming event had naturally been greeted with much fearful conjecture, word had swiftly passed through the ether and from the tireless efforts of the pegasi of the herald's corps to remain calm, and that a minor magical mishap had occurred, and that nopony had been harmed. A cadre of royal guard pegasi were dousing the blaze with a rain cloud and all was well.
As evening fell over Canterlot with a distant peal of silvery trumpets, a breathless Cadance greeted her husband at the door of their mansion, her lavender eyes going wide with shock as she saw him. "Darling! What... What happened!?"
Shining Armor stood on their doorstep with a slightly glazed expression on his face, made even more addled by his lack of eyebrows and the greyish patch of singed hair on his forehead and the bridge of his nose that outlined the area his helmet usually left exposed.
He gave her a lopsided smile. "Just a chat with your aunt that got a little... heh heh... heated, sweetheart. Not that she was mad at me, you understand. I was just a little slow getting my shield up."
The large white unicorn leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek. "It's good to see you too. I'd say you're looking radiant, but it would probably trigger a flashback."
She gaped at him as he trailed off in a slightly manic chuckle at his own joke. He cleared his throat and gave a bob of his horn through the doorway. "Now if you'll pardon me I think I need to lie down for a while."
Cadance raised a hoof to her mouth and watched him in stunned silence as he staggered past her and headed into the den.
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