Mission: Implausible

by JohnPerry

First published

Octavia and Vinyl Scratch: Musicians and secret agents.

One is a cellist playing at Canterlot's most elite parties. The other is a DJ-for-hire looking to make the big time. Both are secret agents. And together they'll team up to take down a powerful baked goods cartel.
Now with theme music, courtesy of The L-Train!
Proofread by the fantastic RTStephens. The cover image is courtesy of Gen-Jack-Oneill on deviantART, who graciously gave me permission for its use.

Mob Rules

Manehattan wasn’t considered ‘the city that never sleeps’ for nothing. Aside from having the highest rates of insomnia in the known world, Equestria’s largest city was constantly alive with activity. Looking down from above, the Midtown area seemed to pulse with light, its great neon signs casting a pale glow down the canyon-like streets that radiated out from the city center. Even as the night grew late and the lights from within the many tall buildings of the world’s greatest skyline went out, the sleek facades of the highrises reflected the ambient light from the street: the many traffic signals, street lamps and flashy advertisements for restaurants, sweets, cider, banks, Broncway shows, cameras, fashion and prescription medicine that treated the effects of overexposure to artificial light.

But far removed from the bright glow of Thyme Square, there was a dark side to Manehattan, both figuratively and literally. Overlooking the bustle of the city in the top floor of a skyscraper was a dimly-lit room. The ambient light from outside cast long shadows over a group of ponies who were seated around a long conference table. The figures, a mix of mares and stallions, were currently listening to a pair of smartly-dressed unicorn stallions who were standing in front of several small white cubes sitting on the table.

“Yes, fillies and gentlecolts!” one of them said enthusiastically. “You won’t find higher quality salt than this! Fresh-cut, all-natural, one-hundred-percent pure salt!

“Extracted from only the finest sources!” his mustached companion added in a sing-song voice. “Refined, nothing short of perfect and tasty to a fault!”

Cause you’ve got...” the two of them broke out into song. “Opportunity! In this very conspiracy!

“SHADDUP ALREADY!” a mare sitting at the head of the table yelled in a heavy Bronclyn accent. “I swear, one more song outta youse and its the fishes, capiche? Mikey!” she added, pointing at a stallion sitting the closest to the two unicorns presenting the salt. “Give it a lick.”

‘Mikey’ was a grey, wiry earth pony who nodded and reached out to pick up one of the small cubes of salt sitting on the table. After carefully scrutinizing it in his hoof with a trained eye, examining the structure, color and consistency of the individual salt crystals, he popped it into his mouth. Only a second after closing his lips, his eyes widened and his face lit up as the salt cube dissolved over his tongue. His eyes watered and he rapidly tapped a hoof on the table before finally swallowing the salt and letting out a loud, whooping cheer.

WOO! That is SALTY!” he exclaimed, snatching a bottle of water that was sitting on the table and quickly glugging it down his now parched mouth.

“He likes it!” a young donkey sitting opposite Mikey chortled. “Hey Mikey, you really likes it!”

“Shaddup, Donny,” the mare at the head of the table grumbled. “I can see he likes it.” She turned back to the two unicorns. “Alright, so you gots a good product. Let’s talk business.”

The pair of unicorns grinned back at her. “Well, you take care of the distribution and we’ll supply the salt, then we’ll split the profits, say...seventy five-”

“Twenty five,” his companion finished.

A mare sitting beside the head mobster eagerly spoke up. “You’ve got a de-”

“Hold it,” the head mare interrupted, thrusting a hoof into her companion’s mouth as she glared at the two unicorns. “Which one of us is getting seventy five percent in this deal?”

“Why us, naturally,” the mustached unicorn of the duo said confidently.

The mobsters were silent for a moment before the head mare spoke. “That’s funny. That’s real funny,” she said, her tone icy and her expression livid. “Only I ain’t amused. Do I look amused to you?” she added aggressively.

“How ‘bout we take seventy five and youse twenty five?” ‘Mikey’ suggested.

“That’s not nearly enough to cover all the costs!” one of the unicorns shot back.

“But we’ll sweeten the deal,” his companion hastily added. “Sixty five-thirty five. And that’s our final offer.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” the head mare said. “I’m a generous mare, so I’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse. You guys get thirty-five percent and as a bonus you get the Donna Corleoneigh-certified guarantee of letting you two live long enough to make a second batch.” The rest of the mobsters extracted daggers and knives from beneath the table and from the inner pockets of their jackets, flashing them threateningly at the pair of unicorns. Donna Corleoneigh grinned savagely. “Do we have an understanding?”

The unicorns gulped. “On second thought,” the mustached one began, grinning nervously as he eyed the many sharp objects being pointed at them, “thirty-five sounds like a very generous offer!”

“Good to hear,” the head mobster chuckled. “Glad to know you see it our-”

She was interrupted by an explosion of breaking glass from the side of the room, which sent shards of glass flying onto the table. Everypony in the room suddenly stood up, staring in shock at a mare who had apparently leaped through the window and was now crouched on the floor. The mare had a dark grey coat, a black mane and was wearing dark clothing that obscured her features. The lower half of her face was shrouded by a mask, with only her eyes exposed, and she was wearing some sort of bodysuit which covered her cutie mark. She was looking up at them with a steely gaze.

“Who the buck is this?” the Donna exclaimed, looking at the new arrival incredulously. “Bugsy, take care of this clown!”

‘Bugsy’ was an impressively sized stallion who towered over everypony else in the room, was very muscular and had a baseball bat for a cutie mark. He lunged forward at the strange mare only to receive a powerful kick to the chest, forcing him to stagger backwards into the table. He looked up at the mare just in time to see her stand up on her hind hooves so gracefully it was as if she was born a biped. Now level in height with Bugsy, she flung one of her forehooves into his face, making contact with his jaw and knocking a couple of teeth loose before he crumpled to the ground in pain.

Two more mobsters drew knives, each with the handle gripped in their mouths as they dove at the mare, who backed up a few paces before reaching behind her neck with one of her forehooves and retrieving a long bow, like those used on musical instruments, from a holder strapped to her back. The two mobsters glanced at each other, one shrugging before leaping at the mare, brandishing his knife.

He was surprised by the sudden clash of metal against metal. His attack was cut short by the bow in the mare’s hooves, which was somehow proving much stronger than he had expected. With a start, he realized that in the place of a string the bow contained a long, thin blade, like that of a sword. His surprise cost him dearly as the mare took advantage of it to withdraw her sword and punch him squarely in the face, sending him to the ground alongside Bugsy.

The other knife-wielding mobster charged at her, but she spun around, placing her forehooves on the ground and bucking with her rear legs, sending the mobster flying into his companion, smashing a couple of chairs in the process. All this time, the two unicorns with the salt merely stared agape at the fight, too stunned to do anything else.

“It looks like we’ve encountered a slight problem, oh brother of mine,” one of them said nervously. “Shall we move on to the next town, Flim?”

“Right behind you, Flam!” his companion answered quickly, already using his magic to throw their salt into a briefcase before the pair of them bolted for the door.

“THAT’S OUR SALT!” the head mobster screamed, flinging herself at the levitating briefcase and grasping it as Flim and Flam frantically tried to use their magic to yank it out of her grasp. However, as another mobster was thrown towards them and smashed into the wall nearby, the two unicorns exchanged a nervous glance and let go of the case, bolting out of the room.

The Donna tumbled backwards, clutching the case between her hooves before looking back and seeing that the strange mare had already disposed of most of her ponies. At the moment, she was fighting the only two mobsters who weren’t lying unconscious or in pain on the ground, on the table or dangling from the lamp hanging from the ceiling. Realizing the gravity of the situation, the head mare took the handle of the briefcase by her teeth and raced out into the hall. The faint ‘ding!’ of the elevator doors closing met her ears and she promptly flung herself at the door to the emergency stairs, galloping down the steep staircase three steps at a time.

Her heart pounded and her breathing became frantic as she continued to race down the stairs. The desperation of the situation quickly dawned on her. She didn’t know who that strange mare had been, but she had a few theories. An assassin hired by a rival salt lord? But if that was the case, she would have been killing them rather than just knocking them out. Besides, every mobster in the city knew better than to muscle in on Donna Corleoneigh’s turf; retaliation was swift and everypony in the business knew better than to break their code. Police? She didn’t know any cops with moves like that. Whoever that strange mare was though, she was bad news.

But the head mobster grew hopeful as she saw the numbers painted on the doors enter the single digits, meaning she was nearing the first floor. At the very least she had made it out with the salt. This was pure, top-notch stuff that would demand a high price, and there was enough even in this one briefcase to make a killing. Her heart leapt when she spotted the large black ‘1’ painted on the door at the bottom of the staircase. She had made it! The Donna shoved her way through the door, galloping out into the hallway.

She barely had enough time to register the club that was suddenly being swung at her head, let alone dodge it. Held in mid-air within a pale blue aura, it knocked her upside the head, sending her falling to the ground and the briefcase flying out of her grasp. She lay on the floor, the world around her now blurry as she struggled to remain awake.

The Donna could make out the sound of approaching hooves echoing down the hallway. Unable to find the strength to lift her head, she gazed across the floor to see a set of white hooves stop in front of her. She glanced up, just able to make out the hazy outlines of a pony with a large pair of shades and a bright blue mane through the fog in her head.

“Are you the cops?” she muttered.

Donna Corleoneigh heard the mysterious white pony chuckle and respond before she lost consciousness. “No ma’am, we’re musicians.”

Octavia walked down one of Canterlot’s grand boulevards, strolling through the capital city of Equestria. She trotted forward with a confident stride, her gaze travelling over the many boutiques and sidewalk cafes lining the street. It was a gloriously sunny day, the kind befitting the most dazzling city in all of Equestria, if not the world. The streets and building facades positively gleamed in the bright sunlight, a constant testament to the vast wealth and incredible power of the shadowy dictatorship known only as the Canterlot Sanitation Department.

The grey mare finally spotted her destination, Café Joé, a very popular restaurant facing a bustling intersection in the center of the city. The descendant of a local donut shop made legendary by students of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, the restaurant was the result of an attempt on part of the owner to enter the wealthy upper class market that Canterlot was known for. Café Joé promised elites the opportunity to sample commoner fare in a refined, classical setting, with the added guarantee of prices so high no actual commoners would ever be present.

Octavia squeezed through the crowded seating area facing the sidewalk and entered the restaurant, scanning the lavishly decorated dining hall for any sign of her friend. Crystalline chandeliers illuminated by candles hung from the ceiling, and the walls were decorated with large mirrors with silver frames and paintings of picturesque landscapes. Plush couches lined the walls while tables and chairs filled the floor space.

“Octy!” she heard a young mare call out. The cellist turned to see a white-coated pony sitting at a table on the far side of the room and looking very out of place in this setting, with a spiky, unkempt blue mane and a complete lack of the fashionable clothing, accessories or makeup that everypony surrounding her were wearing. To Vinyl Scratch’s credit, she wasn’t wearing the purple shades she almost constantly had on, which for the DJ represented an extraordinary amount of thoughtfulness on her part.

Octavia took her seat opposite Vinyl. “You know, you really shouldn’t use my actual name, shortened or otherwise,” she muttered in an undertone.

Vinyl cocked an eyebrow at the grey mare. “Octavia! Octavia! We’ve got Octavia here!” she announced to the room at large, gesturing frantically at her friend. A few ponies in the room gave the pair a cursory glance before losing interest and returning to their meals or their lunch companions. Vinyl grinned. “Nopony cares! What are you, a secret agent?” she added, giving her friend a knowing smile.

The grey mare glared back, but couldn’t manage the level of severity she was hoping to convey. “Ssh,” she said quietly, smiling despite herself.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t have met at Donut Joe’s,” Vinyl grumbled, taking a sip from the glass of water which represented the sum total of all the food and drink on the table. “It’s all the same food, but way cheaper.”

“This place is closer to my apartment,” Octavia answered, nonchalantly grabbing a menu from the suit pocket of a passing waiter, yet doing it so discreetly that the waiter continued past completely unawares. “So, how was your trip to Manehattan?” she asked, scanning the menu.

“Oh, you know, the usual,” Vinyl shrugged. “Did some sightseeing, checked out the nightlife, really got into the underground scene in Manehattan. Met some very interesting ponies there, did a little clubbing, got in some headbanging... standard business trip, really.”

“I heard that some mobster was arrested while you were there,” Octavia said, still scanning the menu.

“Funny that you should bring that up,” the DJ replied with a grin, levitating a rolled up newspaper out of the saddlebag sitting beside her on the couch. She unfurled it in mid-air and placed it on the table, revealing the headline of today’s Manehattan Times, ‘CORLEONEIGH FAMILY MEMBERS FACE LIFE SENTENCE,’ above a large black and white photograph of a mare named Donna Corleoneigh wearing hoofcuffs and being escorted up a staircase to a Manehattan courthouse.

“Apparently, the police found all kinds of evidence; recordings, documents, that sort of thing,” Vinyl explained as Octavia took the newspaper and began reading it, “that linked the Corleoneigh family to the salt trade, death threats, conspiracy, illegal imports, brutality... the list goes on and on.”

“‘Police officials told reporters that the arrests represented the greatest blow against organized crime in Manehattan in living memory,’” Octavia read aloud from the newspaper. “My, how impressive! So how did they catch them?” she asked, giving Vinyl a sly look as she folded the newspaper and hoofed it back across the table.

“Ah, the article doesn’t say,” the white mare replied, taking the newspaper with her magic and replacing it in her saddlebag. “Very vague on the details. Apparently some kind of undercover operation dug up the evidence, though they didn’t say if it was the police or...somepony else.”

“Maybe it was the Mysterious Mare-Do-Well.” Both of them laughed at the thought.

“Your coffee, ma’am,” a passing unicorn waiter offered, levitating a steaming mug of dark liquid onto the table. “Somepony will be here soon to take your order,” he added before moving to the next table.

Octavia lightly pushed the small plate the mug sat on towards Vinyl, but the DJ stared at it as if it was some sort of enigma. “I didn’t order a coffee, did you?” she asked, looking up at the grey mare.

“Of course not, I just got here,” Octavia pointed out.

“Hey!” Vinyl called out as the two of them turned in the direction the waiter had gone. “We didn’t order a cof-” she stopped in mid-sentence. The waiter had vanished.

The two mares glanced at each other, then down at the mug of coffee. The cup was sitting on a cloth napkin laid over the plate. Tucking out of a fold in the napkin was one corner of a manilla envelope. Vinyl used her magic to levitate the mug into the air as Octavia grabbed the envelope and opened it in her hooves. Inside were two checks, one made out to herself and one to Vinyl, as well as a small note. The grey mare glanced at the note before showing it to her friend.

Nice job. Here’s some compensation for your troubles. Take a break, but keep your schedules open three weeks from now.

Vinyl sighed. “Darn it, Draft Punk is having a show in Canterlot in three weeks. I was really looking forward to that.” She levitated her check out of the envelope and glanced at it, cocking an eyebrow at the amount printed on it. “Still, I guess the pay is worth it, plus it’s not like I can’t just go see them another time.”

She placed the check in her saddlebag before casually taking the note with her magic and subtly levitating it up to one of the candlelit chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, holding the note close enough to one of the candles that it caught fire, quickly dissolving into ashes which then rained down onto a salad entrée a waiter was carrying past, completely unaware of what was happening.

“Well, I suppose that concludes our business here,” Octavia declared, stowing her check away. “Would you like to get something to eat?”

“Yeah, but not here. However, I’ll take coffee if it’s being offered,” Vinyl answered, grabbing the mug and draining the whole thing in a few mighty gulps. Octavia rolled her eyes as the white mare put her cup down, giving a satisfied exhale before tossing a few bits on the table and grabbing her saddlebag. The two stood up to leave, making their way back to the entrance.

They were inside just long enough to hear a unicorn couple, one a pale yellow-colored mare with a rather voluminous mane and pink earrings and the other a grey stallion with a black, curly mane and eyeglasses perched on the ridge of his muzzle, both choke violently on the salad they had just been served.

“Vinyl, are you in there?” Octavia shouted, pounding on the door to the DJ’s apartment. Three weeks had passed since their meeting in Café Joé and the cellist hadn’t heard from her friend the entire time. Vinyl lived in a modest (Octavia was tempted to use the term ‘squalid’) apartment building on the far side of town, well away from the royal palace. The building was only a couple of floors tall, with all the apartments facing outside. At the moment, Octavia was standing on the balcony of the second floor in the afternoon sun. On a whim she tried the handle and realized the door was unlocked.

“Vinyl?” she called out, poking her muzzle through the doorway. Hearing no response, she continued. “Vinyl, the door is open, so I’m coming inside!”

She pushed the door open only to be met with a ghastly sight: the apartment was absolutely filthy. Octavia knew her friend could be untidy, but she never realized the horrifying extent of that simple truth. Pizza boxes and energy drink cans littered the floor, which looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. A mottled old couch sat in one corner with all of its cushions in disarray, some of which had stuffing leaking out of them. A coffee table sitting in front of the couch was apparently living up to its name, given the copious number of coffee stains covering its surface, not to mention the stacks of paper which took up any remaining space. Most of the room was occupied by musical and electronic equipment; a keyboard, no less than five different stereo systems, record players, and an assortment of gears, wires, tools and objects that Octavia could only guess at the purpose of. The walls were covered with band posters (many of which were autographed), blueprints and music sheets. If there was an order to this chaos, Octavia couldn’t see it.

She quickly spotted her quarry in the middle of the room. Vinyl was sitting at a small desk, her head resting on the surface as she snored softly. Surrounding her were stacks of paper with scribbles of designs and musical notes, several quills, a styrofoam coffee cup and a container of noodles that was empty save for a pair of chopsticks poking out.

“Vinyl!” Octavia shouted, trotting up to the white mare and shaking her out of sleep. “Wake up! It’s the middle of the afternoon!”

“Hmm-mmm?” Vinyl mumbled, stirring slightly before suddenly bolting to an upright sitting position, her eyes open wide and her entire body rigid as she took a moment to take in her surroundings. She slowly turned her head to look at the grey mare standing beside her. “Octy? ...What are you doing in my house?”

House? You call this pigsty of an apartment your house?” Octavia’s nose wrinkled as it picked up the scent of the DJ’s morning breath. “And what’s more, have you been drinking?”

“Ugh, I drank a lot of things last night, Octy. You’re going to have to be more specific,” Vinyl groaned, massaging her temples with her forehooves.

Alcohol! Did you drink any alcohol?” Vinyl winced from the volume of Octavia’s voice, clearly suffering from the effects of a hangover.

“Uh, let’s see...does beer count as alcohol?”


“Then yes. ...Also a few margaritas. And some cloud kickers. ...And maybe a few rainbow shots.”

“Vinyl, we are leaving for San Franciscolt tomorrow evening! You can’t be inebriated!” Octavia scolded, grasping the white mare by the shoulders. “Come on, you should be in bed.”

“I’m fine,” Vinyl murmured, weakly trying to push her friend’s hooves off.

“You’re going to bed,” Octavia said firmly, pulling the DJ off the chair and to her hooves before realizing something. “Um...where is your bed?”

Vinyl gestured towards one corner of the room and Octavia turned to see a mattress lying on the floor, covered with a tangled mess of sheets and blankets. The cellist gave the white mare a pointed glare.

“...What?” Vinyl muttered, her face blank.

“Forget it,” Octavia sighed, guiding Vinyl towards the mattress. The white mare reluctantly obeyed, leaning on her friend the whole way. The cellist nearly stumbled as she stepped on an empty pizza box. “And would it kill you to clean up this place?”

“You sound like my mother,” Vinyl grumbled.

“You could stand to listen to your mother!” Octavia shot back. The pair reached the mattress and Vinyl unceremoniously flopped down on top, lying on her side and reaching out to clutch a pillow and hug it to her face.

The cellist entered the cramped kitchen to get some remedies for her friend’s hangover. She opened the fridge only to find it completely devoid of food, save for a ketchup bottle, a jar of mayonnaise, a couple bottles of cider, a carton of milk that Octavia suspected had passed its expiration date and a small bag of fruit in the back that was visibly molding. The kitchen cupboards proved equally lacking. The grey mare sighed in exasperation and opted for getting a simple glass of water. “What happened to you last night?”

“Oh, I had a DJ gig at this party,” Vinyl explained, her voice slightly muffled by the pillow. “They shared some drinks and we had a good time, you know?” Octavia returned with the water and offered it to Vinyl, who willingly accepted it after lifting herself to a sitting position.

“So how did you fall asleep at your desk?” the grey mare asked, almost sitting down beside Vinyl before catching herself as she remembered the filthy state of the floor. She opted to clear a stack of objects off a nearby chair and sat down on it instead.

Vinyl made a slurping sound as she immediately downed half of the water in the glass. She then sighed deeply, holding the cool glass to her forehead with the rim touching against her horn. “Well, I got home and I was feeling good, so I figured I’d try and write as much of my song as I could,” she explained, gesturing at her desk. Octavia looked and saw Vinyl’s workspace was covered with musical sheets, many of them with scribbles on them.

“Didn’t get very far, though,” the DJ grumbled, still holding the glass to her head.

“Vinyl, you are supposed to be focusing on the mission! Where’s the dossier?” she asked, referring to the packet of confidential information they would receive prior to each mission.

“It’s...somewhere,” the white mare answered, dismissively waving a hoof at the room at large. “Probably somewhere in that stack,” she added, pointing at the coffee table.

“Have you even read it?” Octavia inquired pointedly, walking over to the table and digging through the stacks of paper to unearth the classified documents.

“I skimmed it,” Vinyl replied with a shrug. “Something ‘bout a baked goods cartel causing trouble over there. I’ll read the whole thing on the train ride over,” she added before catching the scowl on her friend’s face. “What? I retain info better that way! Less time to forget things, you know?”

“Vinyl, we are leaving tomorrow evening. You need to be thinking about the mission, not your music,” Octavia said sternly, finally recovering the dossier.

“The mission can wait until it’s time for the mission! Right now I need to figure out the music!” the white mare cried.

Vinyl!” Octavia shouted. “You need to focus on what is important! And right now, saving Equestria from villains is more crucial than your music.”

Vinyl opened her mouth to reply, but couldn’t think of an adequate response. She remained there for a moment, her mouth hanging open until she finally sighed and lay back down on the bed, grabbing her pillow and hugging it to her chest.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right...” she muttered dejectedly. “I just don’t understand how you handle all this. I’m doing missions, inventing the gadgets for those missions, working as a DJ and trying to write music. I don’t know if I can keep doing this,” she mumbled, looking down at her pillow. Octavia’s expression softened and she took pity on her friend, sitting beside her on the mattress and patting her on the shoulder.

“Look,” Vinyl continued, “I love my job. ...Both of them, in fact. But I don’t want to be a DJ-for-hire for the rest of my life! I need to create! I want to be known for my music! Not as some two-bit musician for parties, but as a real musician! And the only way I’m going to do that is if I write something really good! Something ponies will remember me by!”

“Perhaps it is time you considered quitting your music job,” Octavia suggested. “With the money you make from our missions, there’s no need for you to be a DJ.”

“If I stop being DJ PON-3 I’ll lose my one in-road to the music business. It’s the only way I’m keeping my connections! If I stop doing missions, I’ll lose my only real income. If I stop inventing, I’ll lose the reason I’m a secret agent. And if I stop writing music, then I’ll just stop being. Vinyl Scratch would be no more,” she said in a theatrical tone, lifting her forehooves to the heavens. “A husk of a pony who couldn’t follow her true talent. Woe is me!”

“Oh, stop being so melodramatic,” Octavia scoffed, rolling her eyes at her friend’s display. Her tone grew more gentle. “Listen, I sympathize that you have a lot on your plate right now, I really do. But you are not doing us any favors by wearing yourself out right before the mission. Get some sleep, alright?”

“Okay,” Vinyl muttered, reaching for a small collection of objects next to the mattress and grabbing her signature shades, pulling them over her eyes to work as a makeshift (and very stylish) sleep mask.

“No staying up late,” Octavia demanded firmly. “And no drinking!”

“Yes, mom,” Vinyl answered, smirking.

Author's note: Kudos to RTStephens, who proofread this chapter for me. Also, before you say it - yes, the last scene was inspired in part by that fantastic drawing of Vinyl by johnjoseco, so a thanks to him as well.

Paradise City

“Ah, San Franciscolt! The City on the Bay!” Vinyl Scratch cried out, standing on her hindlegs and opening her forehooves wide towards the skyline of the city, as if to embrace the scenic view before her.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Octavia yelled over the fierce, cold wind that swept across the bay, drowning out all noise except for the motor of the large ferry boat that they were riding.

“I SAID, ‘AH, SAN FRANCISCOLT, THE CITY ON THE BAY!’” Vinyl repeated, screaming to make herself heard. Her friend nodded, squinting her eyes as another gust of wind rushed at them.

Despite the wind and the cold, the sight before them was a truly splendid one. Vinyl and Octavia stood near the bow of a ferry carrying them from the train station in Spokeland across the bay to the peninsula that contained San Franciscolt proper. If one positive thing could be said for the chilly wind, it was that the two mares felt far more awake now after their long overnight train ride from Canterlot. All around them was the spectacular scenery of the bay and the biggest city on the west coast between Los Pegasus and Vanhoover. To their right was green, mountainous terrain, with the small island of Alcatrotz and its infamous prison sitting in the foreground. Spanning the opening to the sea was the breathtaking Galloping Gait Bridge, an orange-painted structure which looked massive even from miles away, its two towers standing like giants eternally guarding over the bay.

Directly in front of the boat was the city of San Franciscolt, its tall buildings seemingly hugging the shoreline while sitting in the shadow of the many hills surrounding them. The whole city seemed to be composed of hills, one rolling into another. In the distance past downtown, the two mares could just make out the outline of a three-pronged radio tower poking out above a fog bank that was rolling in from the ocean beyond.

The tall buildings of downtown seemed to rise above them as they sailed closer to the city, approaching the gleaming facade of a short, wide building facing the water. It was lined with arched windows, with the words ‘PORT OF SAN FRANCISCOLT’ spelled out in neon lettering atop the roof. A tall, ornate clock tower protruded out of the center of the building, dominating over the structure. They slowly crept towards land, finally reaching the dock with a halting stop that nearly threw some of the passengers standing on deck off-balance. Vinyl and Octavia retrieved their luggage and joined the long line of passengers waiting to get off the boat.

“So where are we staying at?” Vinyl asked as the line inched forward.

“We were assigned a room in the Maremont Hotel,” Octavia recited from memory. “I believe it is in the Cob Hill district.”

“Ooh, fancy,” the DJ remarked as they stepped off the boat and back onto dry land. “I hear those Cob Hill places are pretty ritzy. Let’s hurry up and get there, I’m starving.”

Sixteen bits for a danish?!” Vinyl cried. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

It was a quick taxi ride from the ferry terminal up Cob Hill to the Maremont Hotel, which lived up to the neighborhood’s reputation. The grand exterior was made of solid stone, with pilasters, an arched entryway and an ornately decorated cornice adorning the top of the building. Inside, the lobby was lavishly decorated, with marbled floors and columns, warm lighting, potted palms, plush couches and gilded decor adorning every corner of the room and much of the ceiling. Once they had separately checked in and left their luggage in their respective well-appointed rooms, Vinyl found Octavia and led her down to a small cafe adjacent to the lobby, only to be horrified by the high prices.

“There is no way a pastry could be that expensive!” the DJ said, looking at the menu board. “What, do you sprinkle gold dust on it?”

“Stop making such a scene,” Octavia growled, nudging Vinyl in the side. “So the pastries are expensive. Get something else then!” She scanned the menu board for a moment before pointing out a different item. “Look, the coffee here isn’t much more than in Canterlot,” she commented before turning to the cashier. “We’ll take a large one with cream and sugar.”

“That’ll be an extra four bits for the sugar and three for the cream,” the cashier told Octavia.

WHAT?!” the grey mare exclaimed. “That is completely ludicrous! How could you possibly justify charging such exorbitant prices?”

“Ah, to heck with this,” Vinyl grumbled. “Come on Octy, let’s find some real food,” she said, pulling Octavia towards the door and exiting onto the busy street in front of the hotel.

The views from atop Cob Hill were spectacular, with incredible sightlines down each street looking down at the bustling downtown with the bay visible beyond, or one of the other residential neighborhoods nearby. The fog they had seen coming in from the sea had started to reach downtown, lending a moist chill to the air and obscuring the very tops of the tallest office buildings. Every few minutes a cable car would make its way up or down the middle of the street, bells chiming and wheels creaking as it was pulled uphill by the underground cable or race downhill in a rapid but controlled descent. There were no less than three other cafes and bakeries within eyesight of the hotel entrance, but each one proved no more reasonable than the one they had just left.

Vinyl’s stomach growled as she started marching east, downhill towards the bay. Despite her growing hunger, she stubbornly refused to back down in her search for a cheap eatery. “This whole neighborhood is overpriced! Well then Cob Hill, if that’s the way you want it, we’ll look elsewhere!”

“You know, bits aren’t exactly an issue for us,” Octavia pointed out.

“Oh no, I’m not picking some place that thinks that it can pull one over me!” the DJ announced, sounding almost insane as she continued to make her way downhill. “If we want real food, we have to go where the locals eat!”

“Why do I see this ending badly?” Octavia muttered with a sigh.

“Because you’re a stick in the mud,” Vinyl said with a smirk. “Now come on, I saw something on our way up here!”

They proceeded downhill, with Octavia pointing out several more restaurants, but strangely the more hungry Vinyl got the pickier she became. She began glancing at each place her friend indicated, dismissing it with increasingly arbitrary reasons like “too formal,” “looks pricey,” “I’m not in the mood for something cold” or “meh.” Octavia rolled her eyes at Vinyl’s stubbornness, knowing from previous experience that Vinyl would not rest until she found someplace suitable, which usually wound up being some greasy, hole-in-the-wall diner that the cellist refused to set hoof inside of.

“Here we are!” Vinyl cried triumphantly after they had trotted several blocks downhill, gesturing at an ornamental gate that spanned a narrow street heading north. Octavia started, realizing she too had seen this from the taxi ride on the way uphill. The gate, like many of the buildings down the street on the other side, was done in the architectural style of the Canternese, with a stone base and columns holding up a green-tiled, multi-tiered roof. A carved pair of snake-like dragons adorned the top of the gate, while two stone lions seemed to stand guard on the street. Upon the gate were words in foreign lettering, consisting of skilled calligraphy instead of standard Equestrian script.

“What do you hope to find in he-hey, wait!” Octavia yelled, running through the gate to catch up with Vinyl, who had set off into the neighborhood. The street was crowded with figures, who would occasionally have to press up against the sides of the street to make way for a carriage passing up the middle of the road. But it wasn’t just ponies in this crowd; though most of the figures were equines, there were also creatures Octavia had only seen in book illustrations. Hovering above the crowd with the pegasi were longma, which looked like pegasi but with a dragon’s head and scales covering its hide. Mingling with the ponies on the ground were qilin, who looked like the longma but instead of wings had horns or antlers atop their heads. Their manes and tails seemed ethereal, but unlike those of the Equestrian princesses, which moved as if caught in a gentle breeze, the hair of the qilin had the flickering quality of flames. Indeed, it took the cellist a moment to realize that they weren’t on fire.

There was much to look at here; so much that Octavia had trouble taking it in all at once. Red, globular lanterns hung from strings suspended over the street, not yet illuminated due to the daylight. The shops they passed held all manner of exotic crafts, from paper lanterns even larger than the ones overhead to sculptures carved from jade and huge sheets of parchment hanging on the walls that were covered in more examples of the calligraphy that seemed to adorn every building. Narrow alleyways branched off from the street, giving Octavia a glimpse at life in this neighborhood: clothes hung out to dry from lines draped over the alleys, elderly ponies sat on chairs in front of their doorsteps conversing in a foreign tongue or playing some sort of board game with tiles that made little clicking sounds each time they were placed on the table. Fire escapes were attached to the facades of almost every building in sight while electrical wires joined the strings of lanterns hanging over the street. The combination of all these individual scenes and sights gave an overall feeling of barely contained chaos.

“Looks like pastries aren’t much cheaper here,” Octavia commented, glancing at the prices in the window of a small bakery. Vinyl, however, wasn’t paying attention.

A-ha!” the DJ cried out, gesturing at a narrow, three-story building sandwiched between its neighbors. The door on the ground floor opened into a bustling kitchen. Above the door was a simple sign that read ‘LAM WO.’ “This place looks perfect!”

“Um, Vinyl? I believe this is a kitchen,” Octavia pointed out.

“Well, yeah...but it’s also a restaurant! ...I think,” Vinyl added in an uncertain tone. “Hey!” she called at the chefs inside, who looked up at her. “Is this a restaurant?”

“Yes!” one of them cried in broken Equestrian, smiling at Vinyl and Octavia. “This place for eating! Come, upstairs!” she said, gesturing towards a staircase at the back of the narrow, cramped kitchen.

“Awesome!” The white mare was about to walk in before being held back by her friend.

“You can not be serious,” Octavia muttered. “This place looks filthy! What kind of restaurant makes you walk in through the kitchen?”

“Obviously some place that’s so confident in their food, they’ll let you watch them make it!” Vinyl exclaimed. “Come on!”

“Oh no,” the grey mare said resolutely. “There is no way that I-hey!” she yelped, feeling herself being dragged inside by the force of her friend’s magic. “Let me go!”

“Nuh-uh,” the DJ replied, grinning. “We’re gonna get you some real food if it kills you!”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Octavia grumbled under her breath. Vinyl led her through the greasy kitchen and up a steep, very narrow wooden staircase to the second floor, where a waiter was waiting in a dining room which, like everything else in the building, was narrow, cramped, covered in a layer of grime and contained only the most inexpensive, bare-bones furnishings possible. On one side of the room was a small elevator shaft used for carrying plates of food up to the dining room from the kitchen. Vinyl chose a table at the front of the room, with her back against a dirty, obscured window that looked down on the street. Octavia reluctantly took a seat opposite her as the waiter handed them their menus.

“Hey, could we get some fortune cookies while we wait?” Vinyl requested.

“No forchun cookie,” the waiter said bluntly in a heavy accent, gesturing at a sign which had a long list of items that weren’t allowed, with ‘fortune cookies’ placed prominently at the bottom. “Onry genuine Canternese food.”

“No fortune cookies?” the DJ repeated, looking dismayed at the news as the waiter placed two mugs and a steaming pot of tea on their table before leaving to serve a large, chatty group of ponies sitting in the room. “Well...if I must, I suppose...”

“We’re sitting on uncomfortable chairs and are being served by somepony who barely speaks Equestrian in an establishment with highly questionable standards of hygiene, and your main concern is whether they have fortune cookies?” Octavia said incredulously.

“I like fortune cookies,” Vinyl shrugged, scanning the menu.

“What’s more, I don’t know what half of this stuff is!” the cellist complained, looking at her menu.

“Well, just ask the waiter what it’s made from,” the white mare suggested, frowning as she tried to choose from one of the many items on the menu.

Octavia glanced up at the waiter, who was currently in the middle of a loud verbal disagreement over the check with a lone longma on the other side of the room. “Um...I’ll just get some noodles,” she said nervously before serving herself a cup of tea. She inhaled the aroma before taking a delicate sip. It was green tea. Not the best she had ever tasted, but not too bad either.

“You ready?” the waiter asked, returning to their table.

“Ah heck, I can’t decide,” Vinyl grumbled. “Can we just get one of each of these?” she asked, running a hoof along an entire section of the menu labeled ‘dim sum.’ The waiter nodded and took their menus while Octavia raised an eyebrow at her friend.

“One of each of them?” she asked skeptically.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got the tab!” Vinyl declared. “The food here is so cheap!”

“That wasn’t really what I...forget it,” Octavia muttered, looking away. She noticed a poster attached to the wall that had step-by-step instructions on how to rescue a choking victim, complete with diagrams. She hoped neither of them would require this information by the time the meal was over.

“Hey Octy,” Vinyl said quietly, her voice suddenly sounding much more serious, causing the grey mare to look over at her attentively. “I don’t want to alarm you, but I think we’re being followed.”

“Huh?” Octavia replied, suddenly tensing up and not daring to turn around, lest she give herself away. “But who would be following us? We just got here! We haven’t even done anything yet!” she whispered urgently.

“I dunno, but she’s definitely following us,” the DJ answered in a grim tone. “Orange pony, big poofy mane. She just walked in and sat down on the other side of the room.” Octavia realized that she had assumed Vinyl had been looking at her, but with her goggles she was probably staring past her shoulder at the mysterious pony. “And I know I saw her in the hotel lobby and walking behind us down the street.”

“And what are the odds that a pony staying at such a fine hotel would come to a run-down restaurant like this?” the cellist said with a knowing smile. “So that’s why you came in here!”

“Wha?” Vinyl replied, sounding confused. “No no, I came in here because I want to try this place out!” she answered cheerfully.

Octavia could only respond with a blank stare.

As it turned out, the food was actually quite good, proving far better than the humble (again, ‘squalid’ seemed all too apt a term for the cellist) atmosphere suggested. But Octavia couldn’t focus on the taste with her mind occupied by the mare sitting behind her. They had ordered far too much food for two ponies, but that gave them an excuse to linger and sample dishes. Vinyl asked the group of ponies sitting nearby if they wanted any of their food, which led to some loud but upbeat conversation, mostly about music and where the good nightclubs in San Franciscolt were. All this time, the strange mare was still sitting there. Octavia had managed to get a good look at her for a second; the mare had a pale, yellowish coat with a brilliant orange mane that was done up in curls. On her flank was a cutie mark depicting a trio of carrots.

Eventually the two mares got up to leave, paying their tab as Vinyl wished the group of ponies well. The orange mare held a newspaper over her face as they walked past on their way downstairs. The DJ cheerfully thanked the cooks as they left, exiting back out into the crowded street.

“Is she still behind us?” Octavia whispered as they paused for a second to look at one of the many shops lining the street.

“Yep,” Vinyl answered, discreetly glancing back.

“We can probably lose her in this crowd,” the cellist suggested.

“Yeah, but then she might just wait for us at the hotel. If she was in the lobby, she might not know which rooms are ours. I say we make it back before she can,” Vinyl said with a grin. “Follow me.”

The two made their way back down the street, pushing through the crowd. Eventually they reached the ornamental gate they had passed through earlier. A cable car on its way uphill stopped in the middle of the intersection, letting a number of ponies off as a few more clambered on.

“Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Vinyl began, slowly making her way down the sidewalk. “When I say so, we’re gonna jump on that cable car and get on the running board. Ready?”

Octavia nodded, giving a sideways glance to see that the orange mare was in fact still following them. She glanced over at the cable car, watching as the operator took a few coins from the new passengers before returning to the middle of the vehicle, grasping a large lever in his mouth and pulling it back with a loud crank.

“Now!” Vinyl breathed, dashing for the car just as it started to move again. Octavia was hot on her heels as she managed to leap onto the running board and grab a hold of one of the poles along the side of the vehicle with her forehooves, clutching it as the cable car suddenly angled steeply uphill, nearly throwing her off-balance. She clung to the pole, watching as they quickly passed carriages merely inches away from where she was now standing.

“This can’t possibly be safe!” Octavia cried, cringing as another cable car went past them, the occupants on its running board seeming precariously close as they rushed past downhill. Vinyl levitated a couple of bits over to the irritated-looking operator, chuckling at her friend’s comment.

“So says the pony who puts herself in danger all the time,” the DJ chortled.

“I’m trained for that! But this is a vehicle meant for the safe transportation of ponies! This is madness!”

Despite the apparent madness, they made it up to Cob Hill without incident, getting off (very enthusiastically in the case of Octavia) just a block away from the Maremont Hotel. There was no sight of the strange orange mare as they made their way back.

“This is why it is good to check in to different rooms,” Octavia commented. “You enter through the lobby, I’ll walk in through the cafe.” Vinyl nodded and they split up, heading for the separate entrances inside.

On her way upstairs, Octavia considered the strange mare. She had certainly been following them, but for what purpose? Perhaps she was working for their employer, checking up on them? But the Equestrian government had seen no reason to tail them in the past. Besides, she didn’t see the rationale; what could she and Vinyl have accomplished after only a few hours in this city? But who else would have known they were coming to San Franciscolt?

The cellist reached her room and opened the door, glancing around her room. Octavia casually shut the door behind her and pulled the curtains closed before giving the room a thorough search, looking under the lamp shade, behind the curtains, under the bed, in the closet and anywhere else where any recording equipment could have been hidden. Finding nothing, she relented and sat upon the bed, reaching into her saddlebag and retrieving her dossier, flipping it open and pulling out an envelope labeled ‘FOR REVIEW UPON ARRIVAL.’

Inside were two sheets of paper: one a detailed map to a location on the harborfront complete with pictures of a warehouse and the other a briefing explaining the significance of said warehouse. Her eyes quickly scanned the document, key phrases leaping out at her as she read. There was suspected cartel activity here. A constant movement of goods under the watchful eyes of ponies. Very watchful eyes. Their mission would be a simple scouting mission, to get a sense of just what was going on here. There was also contact info for a local informant who claimed to have details on the cartel.

Octavia was suddenly aware of a quiet buzzing coming from one of her bags. She glanced at her luggage, realizing what it was and opening her saddlebag to retrieve a small device that was the source of the buzzing. It was small and rectangular with a speaker on the front and a strap on the back that allowed it to wrap around her foreleg like a wristwatch.

She pressed down on a small button on the top. “Did you look at the information?”

“Just finished reading it,” Vinyl’s voice came out of the speaker. “Should we go scout out the target?”

“Let’s wait until evening,” Octavia suggested, glancing at the clock in the room. “It’ll be quieter then. That, plus I would like some time to digest that meal, in case it makes me sick,” she muttered in a dark tone.

“Fair enough,” the DJ responded with a chuckle. “And what about our contact?”

“Let’s find her tomorrow, after we get a better sense of what’s going on here.” Finished, Octavia pressed the button again to shut off the device before glancing at the cello case she had brought here from Canterlot. She set the three-digit code on the lock of the case and opened it. There before her was her cello, still in pristine condition.

But more importantly for the moment was her bow, sitting in its holder above the cello. Octavia slid a hoof under one side of the case, popping open a secret compartment which held a long, thin blade. With skilled precision, she set the blade within the length of her bow, smiling as it snapped into place. She held the sword in her grasp, savoring the feeling of the carved wooden handle and the weight of the blade. Oh, she could handle any sword she wanted to, but given her long-time skill with a musical bow, this sword just felt right. A harmonic combination of both her worlds, resting within her hooves.

It was nighttime now and Octavia and Vinyl were crouched atop an apartment building situated on the slope of a hill overlooking their target. Above them perched on top of the hill was Colt Tower, a white cylindrical structure that shone like a beacon in the darkness. Lying before them, just a couple of blocks away, was the long series of piers and adjacent warehouses that made up the waterfront.

Vinyl tapped the side of her goggles, which promptly turned dark green to allow her to see in the dark. Octavia heard the silent ‘wrr!’ that indicated when the goggles’ zoom function was activated. The cellist was once again wearing dark clothing that obscured her features. Her cloth mask and bodysuit were not pure black but more ebony in color, to blend in with the ambient city light after dark. Vinyl, interestingly enough, took the opposite approach to disguise, taking advantage of her natural complexion to make herself as light colored as possible, which came in handy when she was stationed on roofs that were often painted white. A simple, temporary disguise spell was all it took to make her cutie mark seemingly vanish, leaving her flank as white as the rest of her coat. Her mane took on a more silvery tone, still leaving a hint of blue. She also carried a saddlebag, where she stored her most useful inventions.

“Looks pretty easy,” the DJ commented as she scanned the warehouse. “A few guards posted at the gate, a couple walking around the back...How do you want to tackle this? By water or by land?”

“Let’s take this one by land,” Octavia answered. “There is no need to get wet if it is not even difficult to get in.” Vinyl nodded and reached into her saddlebag, pulling out a metal device which opened up into a hook attached to a length of rope. The cellist took it as she retrieved her musical bow, which had the string replaced and could now serve as a different kind of bow. She took the hook in her mouth and pulled it tight against the string, narrowing her eyes as she examined her target, making note of where the rope would be obscured by shadow and where they had the best chance of approaching without being noticed.

After a moment, she let the hook fly with a sharp ‘twang!’ of the string and the two mares watched the hook sail into the air with the rope trailing along behind it, falling downhill before striking the roof of the warehouse and catching hold. Vinyl took the other end of the rope and used her magic to secure it to the building they were currently standing upon. Each of them then attached a small handle to the rope, grasping onto it as they leapt off the rooftop, racing down the makeshift zipline. None of the guards noticed as they sailed by overhead, landing easily on the warehouse roof. Vinyl wrenched the hook out of the roof and touched her horn against the rope, causing it to come to life and untie itself on the other end before quickly levitating it back to her. The DJ smiled as she wrapped the rope back up and tucked it away in her saddlebag; the pony who showed her this spell may have been a blowhard, but that traveling showmare did have a few good tricks up her sleeve.

“Right then,” the DJ said, approaching a utility box on the rooftop, which was shut closed with a padlock. Vinyl scoffed, levitating a pair of bolt cutters out of her saddlebag. Within seconds, the padlock was in pieces on the ground and the utility box was open.

“Forced entry, it’s an easy feat...” Vinyl sung to herself as she scanned the inside of the box with her magic, reaching out into the electrical systems to detect which wires went where and what their purposes were, searching for the wires that powered the burglar alarms. Finally, she unplugged two wires and turned to her friend with a satisfied grin. “...and magic makes it all complete!”

Octavia rolled her eyes and crawled to the edge of the roof, peering over the side to make sure the coast was clear. Satisfied, she slipped over the edge onto the top of one of the wide windows of the warehouse. She glanced inside, looking for any guards before drawing her bow and taking off the string, reattaching the blade before sliding the bow against the windowsill and cracking it open. Vinyl had done her job well, as no alarm went off from her action. She gracefully leapt inside, silently closing the window behind her.

Inside, it looked like a normal warehouse. She was standing on top of a tall stack of crates, giving her a view of the large room she was in while shielding her from sight of the guards. A few of them paced between rows of high stacks of large, burlap sacks which took up most of the space in the warehouse. To the side, a few carts were sitting alone, near a set of large double doors. A small office near the doors caught her attention, as she hoped it would provide a trove of documents, but from here it looked like merely a guard station, occupied by a single stallion leaning back in his chair, listening to the radio and flipping through a magazine with a bored look on his face.

Octavia tapped the communicator device on her wrist before whispering into it. “Wubs, are you there?”

“Read you loud and clear, Symphony,” Vinyl’s voice replied, using the codename they adopted for these situations. “What’s in there?”

“It looks like an ordinary warehouse,” Octavia said, looking around. “Just stacks of crates and large bags.”

“What’s in the bags?”

Octavia glanced down to make sure no guards were coming before gracefully leaping down into a narrow aisle between two stacks of burlap sacks. She drew her sword and cut into one bag, watching as a considerable amount of white grains fell out. She caught a few of them in her hoof, giving them a careful lick.

“Sugar,” she muttered before glancing at another stack of bags, these ones labeled with a different color. This time a small cloud of white puffed out into the air as Octavia stabbed her sword through the bag. “And flour,” she added, whispering into her communicator. “For a city where baked goods are so expensive, there seems to be plenty of flour and sugar to go around.” She looked around again to make sure nopony was approaching. “Still, what are we going to do now? There’s no documents or leads here, just legal goods.”

“I suppose we could place some tracking devices on the bags, just to see where they wind up. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Vinyl suggested.

Octavia sighed. “I don’t see what other choice we-”

“Why, hello there,” a clear, nonchalant voice said from behind the cellist.

Octavia froze, realizing with a start that she had been caught. “How is that possible?” she thought. “How can anypony sneak up on me? Me, an agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service!” She swung around, brandishing her sword and putting on a fierce glare, which promptly turned to a look of shock once she realized who it was.

There was no mistaking the tan unicorn stallion in front of her. He had a slicked back brown mane and a tuxedo with a red bowtie. Upon his flank was a cutie mark of a donut while his suave face wore a look of complete smugness.

Mane,” Octavia growled through her mask.

The stallion smiled. “Con Mane.”

Author's note: Once again, my thanks to RTStephens for proofreading this chapter for me. Additionally, I want to thank Fireseeker and his story We're Going To Need A Bigger Boat, where I got the puns 'San Franciscolt' and 'Galloping Gait Bridge.'

Also, before I forget - clearly after reading this chapter you'll want to hear this.

Secret Agent Mare

“My, perhaps I should have stayed in Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Con Mane said with a smile, his eyes tracing Octavia’s figure. “If I’d known they would be hiring mares as stunning as you, I never would have left. Canterlotian too, from your accent.”

The cellist scowled, tensing up under his gaze. “What in dear Celestia’s name are you doing here?”

“Speaking of that lovely old mare, how is Celestia doing?” he asked, his smug grin never leaving his face. “I imagine everypony in Canterlot must miss me. I certainly would,” he added, straightening his bowtie.

“You betrayed us,” Octavia growled. “Do you know how many agents it took to clean up your mess? And what’s more, you still haven’t explained what you’re doing here.”

“Well, isn’t it obvious? I’m in charge of operations here,” Con Mane answered, gesturing at the stacks of flour and sugar bags surrounding them. “You didn’t really think you got in unnoticed, did you? I figured my former employers would eventually take an interest in the cartel. In fact, I already knew they had their eyes on this warehouse. All I had to do was wait for you and your friend on the roof to show up.”

Octavia started. They weren’t just compromised, they had walked right into a trap. Any moment now, the guards would overhear their conversation and Vinyl may already be in danger. She lifted her sword in front of her, giving Con Mane a level stare. If they were going to have to fight their way out, so be it.

“Stand aside, or you will regret it,” the grey mare threatened, holding the blade up for him to see.

“I really hoped a sophisticated mare like yourself would have preferred to talk this over first,” the stallion suggested. “Perhaps over a nice candlelit dinner?”

“No thanks,” Octavia grunted.

“You’re right, it’s far too late for dinner,” Con Mane commented. “How about we cut to the chase and head back to my apartment?”

The cellist tensed and felt a shiver go down her spine at his remark. “I have a good mind to flay you alive for that comment,” she said through gritted teeth.

The stallion gave a heavy, theatrical sigh. “You know, I’d say I’m a lover and not a fighter, but the truth is...” There was a sudden flurry of motion as he charged at Octavia. The mare was just barely able to get her sword up in time before she heard a loud ‘clang!’ and looked down to see a metal dagger protruding out of the hoof end of Con Mane’s wristwatch, acting as a miniature sword and holding hers in place.

He cocked an eyebrow at Octavia, his face inches from hers. “...I’m really good at both.”

The mare pushed away, swinging her sword wildly at Con Mane’s head. He swiftly ducked and thrust his hoof forward, attempting to stab Octavia with his dagger. She leapt back before he could strike a blow, somersaulting backwards. The stallion’s horn glowed and he sent a nearby bag flying at the grey mare. Thinking quickly, she swung her sword and sliced the bag in two just before it could hit her, sending a giant cloud of flour into the air and showering her in white powder. Her vision was temporarily blinded by white, giving her barely enough time to dodge another stab from Con Mane’s dagger. She intercepted it with her sword as the stallion barreled through the cloud of flour, lashing out with his other forehoof and catching the mare square in the chest. She stumbled back, coughing from the combination of the punch and the flour coating her. Still standing on her hindlegs, she rose her forehooves and sword in a defensive stance, her ear twitching at the sound of approaching hooves; the guards had heard their fight and were coming. In a moment she would be outnumbered with no hope of escape.

Con Mane swung his dagger sideways, trying to strike a decisive blow, but Octavia skillfully parried with her sword, then crouched and swung low, forcing the stallion to jump into the air. He landed on his hindlegs and threw his forehooves down at the mare, trying to strike her with the dagger. She barely got her weapon up above her in time as sparks shot out from where the two lethal instruments struck, the stallion exerting enough force to knock the sword out of Octavia’s hooves.

Now the mare was on the defensive as Con Mane pushed his advantage. Stab, swipe low, uppercut. Sidestep, leap, roll back. Octavia was now crouched low on all four hooves, stepping back slowly as she kept her eyes on the stallion walking upright on his hindlegs, his dagger still held out in front of him.

She could now hear the sound of the guards speaking. “Hey! Hold it right th-”

Suddenly, everything stopped as the stack of crates nearest them burst apart in a violent explosion, followed by an incredible fireball that erupted into the air, instantaneously turning what would have been a huge cloud of flour into what looked like a wall of fire. Octavia was momentarily deafened by the noise, lying on the ground with her hooves over her head as fragments of wood, burlap sacks and metal rained down around her. The smell of burnt sugar filled the air as the mare looked up to see a massive hole that had been blown out of the wall. None of the flames had touched her, as the flour had simply burnt too quickly to do any real harm. But pieces of burning wood and burlap had landed on other sacks of flour, and Octavia did not want to be around long enough to see those go off. She rose to her hooves just in time to see a mare dart in through the hole, as white as Octavia herself now looked.

“Time to go!” Vinyl yelled, gesturing frantically outside.

Octavia nodded and turned around. All of the guards and Con Mane were lying on the ground some distance away, having been flung across the room by the explosion. The grey mare had only remained in place by the fortune of being the only one crouched low to the ground while everypony else had been standing upright. She spotted her sword and quickly sheathed it, racing outside as the guards slowly came to terms with what had happened.

Vinyl and Octavia were silent as they dashed out into the night air. Already, sirens were going off as they rounded a corner only to halt abruptly once they saw armored guards galloping straight at them.

“Looks like we’re leaving by water!” the white mare yelped as she turned tail and ran for the water’s edge behind the warehouse. Octavia followed closely, both leaping into the air and over the edge of the dock as the unicorn members of the guards fired magical blasts in their direction. Each shot missed as the two agents hit the water, plunging deep into the murky depths.

Octavia was bitterly cold and utterly blind. It was pitch black underwater, owing to the darkness of the night, and the saltiness of the water made her eyes sting, making keeping them open a very uninviting proposition. She swept her hooves back, pushing herself through the water, but with no way of seeing what was around she had no sense of where she was going or how far she was from the pier, all while trying to hold her breath.

A pair of bright green orbs suddenly illuminated in front of Octavia and she started, wondering if it was some sort of sinister marine specimen that hunted at night. But as they turned slowly towards her, the cellist realized they were the same shape and proportion as Vinyl’s goggles, the green light of the goggles’ night vision cutting through the murk. The DJ spotted her friend and waved, reaching into her saddlebag and pulling out a silvery, cup-like instrument attached by a tube to the inside of her bag. Before Octavia could figure out what it was, Vinyl ripped off the grey mare’s mask and thrusted the instrument over her muzzle, causing her to gasp in surprise. It took a second for her to realize that her gasp hadn’t involved a sharp intake of water, but of air from a special oxygen holder within Vinyl’s saddlebag. Octavia took a grateful breath and nodded at her friend, pulling a pair of straps that secured the mask to her muzzle. Vinyl pulled another mask out of the saddlebag and placed it on her own face before turning around, pushing through the water with wide sweeps of her hooves as Octavia followed.

Knowing their air supply was extremely limited, the two swam as quickly as they could. Time was difficult to keep track of and Octavia focused on following the twin beams of green light that swept across the expanse of water in front of her. The occasional small, silvery fish darted out of the way at their approach. Though the swimming kept her muscles moving and the cold from overwhelming her, the chilly water still bit at her. Finally, after what could have only been a few minutes but felt much longer to the two mares, Vinyl started making for the surface and a grateful Octavia swam after her.

They broke the surface, careful to make sure nothing was nearby before removing their masks and taking a breath of fresh air. They looked around to see that they had swam past a couple of piers and were now close to a wharf where a fleet of boats rested. A few touristy seaside restaurants overlooked the water, but none of the diners were paying any attention to the view, instead pointing at the rising flames from the warehouse Vinyl and Octavia had just escaped from. Taking advantage of the distraction, the two discreetly swam past, heading for a ladder that would get them back onto dry land.

“Sorry ‘bout the big bang, Octy,” Vinyl whispered, tapping the side of her goggles to turn off the night vision and pushing them up to her forehead, giving Octavia a view of her eyes. “Once I found out the scouting mission was actually a trap, blowing up the trap seemed like the right thing to do.”

“We’ve got bigger problems,” the cellist replied. “Con Mane is behind all this.”

“Yeah, I know,” Vinyl answered. “I was listening in the whole time, remember?” She reached the ladder first and began climbing up. Both reached the top, dripping wet but fortunately unnoticed by anypony as all eyes were on the distant burning warehouse and the loud sirens that heralded the arrival of the fire trucks.

“Wonderful,” Octavia scowled, pulling off her soaked bodysuit. She carefully wrapped it around her sheathed sword and gripped it in her mouth while Vinyl undid the enchantments that disguised her hair and cutie mark. The two proceeded down a side street, quietly leaving the scene as they started the long, uphill trek back to their hotel on Cob Hill.

Where is she?” Octavia fumed to herself as she sat in her room. It was the next morning and the two agents were planning to make their way to a neighborhood to the south where they hoped to find their contact with the info on the cartel. Given the events of the previous night, Octavia had insisted on disguises to wear in public. She had opted for a classic dress suit while doing her mane up in a neat bun; simple, but effective and still conveying professionalism for when they met their contact. Vinyl, however, still hadn’t arrived and the cellist was getting impatient.

Octavia walked over to the curtain and peeked outside, looking down at the street in front of the hotel. Sure enough, she was still there. The orange mare who had been following them yesterday was sitting on a bench across the street, watching the hotel entrance. She was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and holding up a newspaper, but it was definitely her. Their disguises would come in handy, but just to be safe Octavia and Vinyl would have to find a different exit out of the hotel.

At last, there was a knock at her door and Octavia strode across the room to answer it. Pulling open the door, she stood still for a moment, taking in the white mare on the other side. It didn’t take her long to find the adequate response to what she was seeing.

No,” Octavia said firmly. Vinyl‘s mane and tail were now in every color of the rainbow, with a particular emphasis on green, red and yellow. Strings of colored beads hung around her neck and were wrapped around each of her hooves, and a black short skirt covered her cutie mark. She had removed her goggles, giving Octavia that oh-so-rare glimpse of her actual eyes.

“Uh...no what, Octy?” Vinyl replied, nonplussed. “You said I should wear a disguise, so this is what I’ve got! Like it?”

“N...No!” the grey mare yelled, pulling her friend inside and quickly shutting the door behind them. “Are you crazy?! The idea is to blend in, not draw even more attention to ourselves! Where do you even find this stuff, anyway?”

“I brought it with me!” the DJ said cheerfully before catching the expression on Octavia’s face. “What? You said you wanted a disguise! What’s so bad about this one?”

“You seriously intend to present yourself as an agent of the Equestrian government to our contact today...wearing that?” the cellist asked incredulously.


“...Take it off. Now,” Octavia said flatly, pointing a hoof at her bathroom.

“What?! But Octy!” Vinyl whined, pouting at her friend.

Now,” the grey mare growled through her teeth, narrowing her eyes and giving Vinyl a vicious glare, unmoved by the puppy dog eyes her friend was giving her. The white mare sighed and made her way into the bathroom. “And put this on while you’re in there,” she added, tossing her other dress suit at Vinyl, which landed on her head.

“Okay, now this can work,” Vinyl said, grinning as she stepped out of a clothing store and rejoining Octavia, who was standing outside on the sidewalk. After complaining loudly and bitterly about the suit, the DJ had found a shop on their way to meet with their contact. Her mane was once again blue and she was now sporting a pair of dark shades and a black fedora in addition to her suit, smiling broadly at her friend. “Oh yeah,” she laughed, looking at her reflection in the shop window. “I make this look good.

“If you are quite finished,” Octavia grumbled as she took her friend by the hoof and began leading her down the street, “we should find our contact. As far as I can tell, we haven’t been followed, so let’s keep it that way.”

They walked several more blocks, with the cellist checking a map every so often as they proceeded. “Alright. We should take a left down...this street,” she said, looking up at a street sign labeled ‘CASTROT.’

“Oh ho ho...” Vinyl chuckled. “This should prove interesting.”

“Why?” Octavia asked, confused. “Do you know about this place?”

“You’ve never heard of the Castrot? Then this will be interesting.” Vinyl had a sly grin as she spoke. “It’s a neighborhood that attracts...how should I put this? It draws in ponies who...swing for the same team.”

Octavia had a blank look on her face.

“You know...sexually speaking?” Vinyl hinted.

The grey mare’s expression remained blank. “So...this is a red light district?”

“Well...I mean, sorta...” the DJ stammered. “But, you know, for fillyfoolers.”

Now Octavia looked really confused. “Filly-foolers? You mean...clowns?”

Oh for crying out...GAYS!” Vinyl cried out in exasperation. “You know, ponies attracted to other ponies of the same sex?”

“Oh. ...Oh...” the cellist answered, her eyes widening as realization finally dawned on her.

“And finally she catches on,” Vinyl muttered, her tone half amused and half exasperated. Castrot Street didn’t look much different from any other busy street in San Franciscolt, with the exception of the occasional business geared towards the more eclectic tastes of its residents, to say nothing of the residents themselves.

Hi, girlfriend,” said a pegasus mare with a light violet coat and spiky white and sky blue mane, leaning against a lamppost on the street and gazing at Octavia. She had a companion standing beside her with similar colors, though with her mane down and a pink bow atop her head. It took Octavia a moment to figure out the greeting had been directed at her.

“Um...hello,” she replied uncertainly.

“Love the suit,” the mare complimented, looking over the cellist. “Not so sure about the mane, but I can see the appeal. It matches you well.”

“Oh. Well, thank-” Octavia began, only to feel herself being pulled away by Vinyl.

“Trust me fillies, she’s way too straight for you. Heck, she’s too straight for me sometimes,” the DJ shouted behind her shoulder as she led an embarrassed Octavia down the street.

“The residents of the Castrot seem rather...open-minded,” the cellist muttered, before frowning. “Castrot...Castrot...” she murmured, listening to the word as it came off her tongue. “Is that some sort of nickname?”

“I think it’s just the name of the street,” Vinyl answered with a shrug. “Why?”

“Do I really have to point out the irony that a place so accepting-” Octavia paused as they walked past an adult bookstore, proudly advertising a wide and varied selection of ‘pleasurable’ literature. “-neigh, encouraging of all manner of sexual activity has a name that sounds like ‘castrate’?”

Vinyl shrugged again. “I guess that’s San Franciscolt for you.”

The pair found the address they were looking for after a couple more blocks of walking. They now stood before a long set of row houses, each a few stories tall and painted in bright, friendly colors, with a staircase that led from the sidewalk up to the front door. Vinyl and Octavia trotted up the stairs and saw a set of doorbells, one for each apartment, all occupying separate floors of the building. Octavia pushed the button for the second floor, which let out a harsh buzzing sound.

After a moment, the door opened to reveal a cream-colored mare with a curly mane and tail that was equal parts dark blue and brilliant pink, with a cutie mark showing three wrapped candies. The mare stood in the doorway, taking a long look at Vinyl, then over at Octavia before speaking.

“Okay, basic rate is thirty bits an hour for the each of you, but if it’s a three-way you’re looking for I do offer a discount-”

“We’re here for the cartel info, idiot,” Vinyl interrupted, taking off her shades and stowing them in her pocket.

Ssh!” the mare whispered urgently, looking around quickly to make sure nopony had overheard them. “Somepony told me you were coming. Are you Symphony and Wubs?”

“That depends,” Octavia answered, pulling a small sheet of paper out of her suit pocket. “Are you...um...” She frowned at the piece of paper in her forehoof. “...‘Sweet Flank?’”

“Yes!” she answered quickly before catching the expression on the grey mare’s face. “Err...cause of the candies, see?” she added, gesturing at her cutie mark, but receiving only an awkward silence in return. “...Never mind, just come in.”

She stepped aside to let Vinyl and Octavia inside and quickly shut the door behind them before leading them up a steep, narrow staircase to the second floor. They emerged onto the landing as the mare opened an adjacent door into a cramped but rather cozy flat. They passed through a small entryway, which was mostly taken up by a couple of hat and coat racks, into a simple kitchen with a dining table sitting in the middle atop a checkered floor. Various knick-knacks and furnishings occupied the walls, including a spice rack, a clock with lollipops for hands and every number replaced with the word ‘sweets,’ some photographs, a couple of posters and a cross-stitch depicting a lyre.

Vinyl and Octavia sat down at the kitchen table while their host walked into the next room, out of sight. A moment later, she returned with a mint-green unicorn with a messy, white and pale blue mane, which was jumbled and sticking up at odd angles, as if she had just woken up. She gave a tired glance over at their two guests sitting at the table.

“Aw, Bon Bon,” she groaned. “You didn’t tell me we were having company.”

“Lyra, these two are here about the cartel,” Bon Bon said in an undertone. Lyra’s eyes widened and she looked far more alert as she took a seat opposite the two agents. “This is my partner Lyra,” the cream-colored pony continued, turning to Vinyl and Octavia. “You can trust her. I’ve told her everything I know, in case I vanish.”

“...Vanish?” Octavia repeated, confused.

“The cartel’s made a lot of ponies disappear,” Lyra explained as Bon Bon opened a cupboard and pulled out a stack of paper, setting it out on the table before taking a seat herself. Vinyl and Octavia glanced at the stack, seeing that it was made up of notepaper, newspaper clippings and copies of documents.

“There’s a lot to go over here,” Bon Bon muttered, digging through the stack. “How much do you know about the cartel?”

“Not much more than the vague generalities our employers told us,” Vinyl answered. “They’re a baked goods cartel that have lots of power in this city. We noticed how expensive pastries are in this town.”

“That’s how Bon Bon found out about them,” Lyra said, smiling at her partner. “She has a good mind for these things.”

“It’s more of a hobby, really,” Bon Bon replied, blushing. “Ever since I got my cutie mark I wanted to be a baker. But sugar, flour and all the ingredients you need to bake are so expensive, it’s really hard to raise the kind of capital you’d need to start a business. So I wound up going into police work instead, but I still like to keep up with my true passion in life.”

Bon Bon pulled out a notebook and flipped it open, revealing pages and pages of numbers scribbled in neat rows and columns. “I’ve been studying this for a while now. Sugar wasn’t always so expensive here, you know,” she explained, looking for a specific page. “When prices started going up, I noticed some strange patterns, so I started taking notes. Now these,” she paused to show Vinyl and Octavia a table of data, “are the prices for all the different brands of sugar from several different stores around the city. Now tell me what you notice.”

The two agents leaned over and examined the table for a while, but nothing immediately jumped out at them. “They seem pretty similar to me,” Octavia commented.

“Exactly!” Bon Bon exclaimed. “They’re all virtually the same! Now, certain brands will be slightly more at one store and slightly cheaper at another, so to the average pony the prices look different. But when you look at the city as a whole, the overall pattern...” She paused again, pointing at a row labeled ‘overall average price’ which had the cost for each brand, all of which were equal. “...is that they all cost exactly the same.

“What’s more,” she continued, turning the pages of the notebook and pointing out other pages, “they all raise the prices on the exact same day. Any one of these brands would need at least a day to see what price its competitors were selling at and change their price, but that’s not happening. The only possible way this could keep happening is if they knew ahead of time that the other brands were going to raise their prices.”

“So they’re fixing the prices,” Octavia surmised, rubbing her chin with a forehoof.

“Okay, but we wouldn’t get called out to San Franciscolt for something as simple as a price-fixing scam,” Vinyl said. “What else is going on here?”

“I’m getting to that,” Bon Bon answered. “So once I realized I might be onto something, I showed it to one of the detectives on the force. He promised me he’d look into it. But a couple of weeks later I checked back on him and he was gone.”

“...Gone?” Octavia asked, expecting Bon Bon to elaborate. “What do you mean by ‘gone?’”

“I mean gone! He just vanished off the face of Equestria! Nopony knew where he went! We put out a search for him, but after awhile with no leads it started to look pretty hopeless.”

“Could just be a coincidence,” Vinyl pointed out.

“See, that’s what I thought too,” Bon Bon said, nodding. “We all thought it was just a sad tragedy and decided to try and move on. So I took all my info to a different detective and she said she’d look into it, and then she goes missing. Left behind some note saying she was going to jump off the Galloping Gait Bridge, but we looked and never found a body. Not that that proves anything mind you, it’s just that...well, she never seemed like the suicidal type to me.

“So then I go to the commissioner with this, telling her everything I know. And I swear, she gets this scared look on her face and she tells me to drop this. Just forget all about it; don’t ever bring it up again. At that point, I knew something was up. So I had to try somepony outside the force, since whoever I was dealing with had gotten to the commissioner. That’s when I went to the district attorney’s office. I talked to him for a while, and he said he’d look into it.”

“And he vanished too?” Vinyl guessed, raising her eyebrow.

“No, but the next day a couple of ponies came to the office, asking for me. I wasn’t there, but my co-worker told me they were big, tough looking guys. I was so scared, I stopped going to work and the commissioner suspended me. I think she was just looking out for me; she seemed to know what was going on. Money’s been a little tight lately without the police work, and I don’t go outside much ‘cause I’m worried somepony will recognize me. So I make bits where I can,” she finished, looking sheepish.

“Well Ms. Bon Bon, I’m glad you made contact with the authorities in Canterlot,” Octavia said, giving her a reassuring smile. “Rooting out corruption is a speciality of ours. However, we’re going to need more info from you. Who exactly is running this cartel?”

“Well, there’s three different companies: Sugar Daddies, Sweet Exquisite and Giaradelli,” Bon Bon explained. “Each of them started out as bakeries in town, but in the last decade they took over the local industry, buying out other bakeries and all the local producers of ingredients. All three of them now produce their own flour, sugar, baking powder, etc; everything they need to have complete control over their goods.

“Lyra’s actually seen the heads of the companies,” she continued, turning to her partner. “She’s a fine musician and gets invited to perform at all their fancy parties. In fact, they’re having one tomorrow evening, right?”

“It’s the district attorney,” Lyra corrected her. “He’s up for reelection and the cartel are big donors to his campaign. So chances are they’ll be there.”

Octavia turned to Lyra, now smiling as a plan formed in her head. “I’m something of a musician myself. Is there any way you can get me into that party?”

“...And you are?”

“Um, Octavia, sir!” the grey mare said with breathless excitement. “And I have lots of experience. I frequently play in Canterlot and have performed for the last four Grand Galloping Galas, and I would be so honored if you could take me in, sir! I heard you might have another space available!”

“Hmmm...” said the elderly stallion who ran Lyra’s musical group and was currently examining Octavia’s resume. “You do seem to have plenty of experience...” he trailed off, looking thoughtful.

“I promise you I will do my best!” Octavia added in an eager tone. “I just really need a job right away because money is tight and-”

“It’s okay, you’ve sold me,” the band leader said, smiling kindly at her. “Your experience checks out. Welcome to the group.”

“Oh, thank you!” Octavia cried out gratefully. “You won’t regret it, sir!”

The stallion smiled warmly and turned away, exiting out of the elegant ballroom they were currently occupying, which was to be the center of festivities for the district attorney’s party, held at his lavish mansion in the Cinchmond district. Once the band leader was out of sight, the grey mare’s expression promptly went from eager and excited to its normal calm and composed nature. Lyra, who was standing nearby tuning her lyre and had seen the whole thing, gave Octavia a knowing smile. “Nice one,” she mouthed at her.

The cellist gave Lyra a smug smirk. “When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you figure out the right buttons to push.” She raised her foreleg to her face, discreetly whispering into her communicator device. “Wubs, are you there?”

“Read you loud and clear, Symphony,” Vinyl’s voice came back through the speaker. “I’m right across the street and the guests are already starting to show up. Geez, the district attorney has a huge house.”

“Seems he may have some wealthy funders,” Octavia commented. “When we’re done here, we might wind up taking down a couple of politicians along with the cartel.”

“Looks like his office is on the second floor,” Vinyl continued. “Once the party gets going, I’ll sneak in there and see what I can find.”

“Heads up,” Lyra whispered to Octavia. She looked up to see the other band members and their leader stroll into the room, carrying their instruments with them. The cellist could already hear the sounds of the guests making their way into the mansion as Octavia briefly greeted the other band members and they prepared their instruments. Soon, the strains of classical music were luring ponies into the room. The crowd here was similar to those of a standard Canterlot gala: well-to-do and excessively chatty.

Octavia relaxed as she fell into her usual rhythm. Her bow played gracefully across the strings of her cello, working its magic for the attendees of the party, but the grey mare paid her music no mind. She closed her eyes, tuning out the sound of the band surrounding her and listening intently to the conversations taking place on the floor before her. She was in her element, eavesdropping on powerful ponies who never thought of their surroundings or the ponies who supposedly were there only to entertain them. Either the attendees were simply ignorant of the servants or figured they must be too occupied with the task of tending to such important ponies as themselves. Most of it was mindless chatter, but a few times Octavia had heard things she was never meant to hear. It was how she eventually worked her way into the leagues of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

“Mr. White Collar, what an honor to meet you! I just want to wish you all the best on your campaign!”

“The district attorney’s wife is looking absolutely stunning this evening, if I do say so myself!”

“I say, did you witness that spot of bother on the docks the other night? We were able to see the flames from our balcony!”

“Mr. White Collar, it’s a pleasure as always.”

Octavia almost missed a note as she heard that last statement. The voice it belonged to was alarmingly familiar. Opening her eyes, she found that her ears had not deceived her; greeting the district attorney was Con Mane, still wearing the same smug grin he had on the other night. The cellist forced herself to remain calm. “He won’t recognize me. After all, I was disguised when we fought,” she thought to herself.

“The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Mane,” the district attorney replied good naturedly. “And who is this fine mare?”

Octavia glanced back over at Con Mane and started, actually missing a note this time as she caught sight of the familiar orange-colored mare who accompanied Con Mane.

“Mr. Collar,” Con Mane began, “this is my companion for the evening, Ms. Golden Harvest.”

I Left My Part(ner) in San Franciscolt

“Wubs, we’ve been compromised!” Octavia whispered urgently into her communicator device. It had been several long minutes since she had spotted the mysterious orange mare who was accompanying Con Mane. There was no doubt about it, this ‘Golden Harvest’ was definitely the same mare who had been following them since they arrived in San Franciscolt. The cellist had to wait until the band finished their song, quickly muttering her warning to Vinyl before the band started on their next song. She couldn’t leave the room during the song without drawing unwanted attention, and she already had the attention of Golden Harvest, if her occasional glances in Octavia’s direction were any indication.

Vinyl wasn’t responding and the situation was looking increasingly dire. Octavia, realizing there was no sense in staying discreet if her enemy knew her secret, kept her gaze on Con Mane and Golden Harvest. At one point, the orange mare turned to her companion and gestured towards the band. A moment later, Octavia and Con Mane locked eyes, neither willing to avert their gaze. It was only for a few seconds, but in that brief moment the cellist could see him scrutinizing her, looking for the mare that had slipped out of his grasp the other night. The satisfied grin he wore as he turned away told Octavia he had found her.

Luckily, fortune would have the song they were playing end at that very moment. Octavia hurriedly put down her cello. “Excuse me, I just have to use the little filly’s room,” she said apologetically to the nearest band member before quickly and quietly making her way out of the room. She exited the ballroom and passed through the entrance hall, where more guests were standing around and chatting. She darted for a hallway that led around the grand staircase and to the back of the mansion, rounding a corner and checking for anypony before pressing the button on her device.

“Wubs, can you hear me?” she muttered urgently. “We’re in danger here, Con Mane knows who we are! Wubs!” There was still no answer from Vinyl. Taking another look around, she spotted a window at the end of the hall. Octavia quietly slid it open, clambering outside and checking for anypony watching. She could hear the sounds of guests conversing on the patio around the back of the mansion, but at the moment nopony could see her. The cellist rose up on her hind legs, crouching for a moment before leaping for an overhanging eave, grasping the edge with her forehooves and pulling herself up onto a small section of roof. She clambered over to a second-story window, peering through it before lifting it and sliding inside.

She found herself in an upstairs hallway which was as elegantly decorated as the rest of the house, with expertly crafted tables holding flower pots or ming vases, beautifully framed paintings adorning the walls and a luxurious carpet covering the floor. There was also nopony else in sight. Octavia crept along, quietly thanking the plush carpet underhoof for muffling the sounds of her hoofsteps.

Unfortunately, said carpet was also responsible for muffling the sound of the small, silvery ball-shaped canister that suddenly bounded across the floor towards Octavia. The agent spotted it just in time to get a faceful of a pale green gas that quickly emitted from the canister. The grey mare coughed violently but to no avail; she had inhaled some of the gas and was already feeling woozy from its effects, stumbling slightly as the room began to swim around her.

“Mu-hu-hoh-hoh-hoh!” A distinctly nasal laugh reached Octavia’s ears. She was still struggling with the effects of the gas and was standing with her forelegs far apart, looking down at the ground and trying hard not to be sick while still remaining conscious. A pair of talons and a pair of lion paws appeared in front of her, making her look up into the face of a mustached griffon wearing a long black cloak and wide-brimmed hat. The griffon twirled his mustache in one clawed finger as he looked down at the agent.

“Allow me to introduce myself, madame,” he offered, grinning wickedly. “I am Gustave LeGrand, ze most dastardly baker in all of Equestria! And I ‘ave capzured your little sneaky friend! Mu-hu-hoh-hoh-hoh!” he laughed again, raising his claws in the air above his head.

“I do believe that we caught her together,” cut in the refined yet pleasant voice of an elderly female. A voice which did not at all match the image of a donkey dressed all in black, much like how Octavia had been clothed the other night. “Mulia Mild, dearie,” the donkey introduced herself to the confused cellist. She looked over to see that Mulia was dragging a bound and unconscious Vinyl Scratch behind her, leaving the white mare on the floor for Gustave to fly into the air and grasp her in his talons. Octavia tried to cry out at the sight of her friend but found herself succumbing to her exhaustion.

“Lovely to meet you, though I do wish it had been under happier circumstances.” Mulia chuckled as she strode past Octavia, opening the window the mare had just come in through. Gustave spread his wings and flew out through the open window, carrying Vinyl with her. The donkey nimbly leapt out after them, defying her age by rapidly spinning in mid-air before swiftly plunging out of sight, only to reappear a second later on the rooftop of an adjacent building. Their silhouettes against the night sky were the last things Octavia saw before she lost conscious.

“Miss, are you alright?”

Octavia could just barely make out the voice through the fog in her head. She reached out with her hooves, feeling them rub against plush carpet. Her eyes snapped open as she remembered where she was and she rose to her hooves, only to stumble when her legs proved too slow to react properly. A steady hoof grasped her by the shoulder, and Octavia looked up to see the band leader smiling gently at her.

“I believe you may have gotten lost on your way to the restroom,” the stallion offered, helping the cellist to her hooves. “Though I’m uncertain how you wound up on the floor.”

“I...um...yes, I must have gotten lost,” Octavia stammered, looking around at the hallway. The band leader went on about some hysterical pony calling him up the stairs to tell him one of his band members was ill, but the agent wasn’t listening. Her thoughts were consumed by Vinyl’s kidnapping and the creeping panic of her realization that she had no idea where she was or how to get her back.

“I...” Octavia turned back to the band leader, her professionalism slowly coming back. “I’m sorry, I must have passed out. I haven’t had a proper meal tonight, you see. I am truly sorry I missed the rest of the party.”

“Oh, think nothing of it!” The band leader dismissed her statement with a wave of his forehooves. “Your music was absolutely delightful! I’d be happy to compensate you for tonight’s performance.”

“In that case, just send my paycheck to Lyra,” Octavia instructed, already starting to walk down the hall, away from the stallion. “She’s a good friend of mine. Forgive me, but I really must be off!” she called out before the band leader could say anything, turning the corner and quickly making her way down the stairs back to the ballroom.

The party had ended by this point, if the complete absence of anypony in the house was any indication. Octavia darted out the front door, looking around frantically for any sign of her friend or anypony else, but this proved an entirely fruitless endeavor. Biting her lip, she trudged back inside and entered the ballroom. Even the other musicians had already left, leaving Octavia’s cello alone on the stage set above the ballroom floor. The cellist was just about to place her instrument back in its case when she spotted a note lying at the bottom of her cello case. She picked it up, undoing the bowtie around her neck as she read it, lest she pass out from her frantic breathing as the grim reality of the situation began to dawn on her.

Darling, I am so glad you were able to join us tonight. I trust you enjoyed meeting my colleagues upstairs!

If you want to see your friend again, you will meet me tomorrow evening for dinner at the Silver Spoon restaurant. Come alone, and tell nopony! We’ll be watching.


The Silver Spoon must have been one of the fanciest restaurants in the city, if the long line of private carriages depositing wealthy ponies at the front door was any indication. Everything about the restaurant screamed grandeur and opulence, from the crisp uniforms of the wait staff to the curly writing on the sign to the elegant, lavish decor within. Octavia was unsurprised to see that her name was listed in the reservation book. A waiter promptly led her through the main dining hall, which was arranged around an enormous fountain that flowed with champagne instead of water, and out onto a candlelit balcony in the back that had a spectacular view down Cob Hill to the lights of downtown. It would have been an incredibly romantic setting if the cellist didn’t feel like strangling the stallion who sat at the table at the furthest end of the balcony, smiling smugly at the grey mare approaching him.

“Ah, Ms. Octavia,” Con Mane greeted her, smirking. “Come, have a seat! Waiter, bring us two milkshakes! Use only your finest ice cream and just a touch of champagne. Tonight just got very interesting,” he added, looking directly at the cellist as she took her seat opposite Con Mane. The waiter nodded and trotted off, leaving the two alone.

“You know, it normally takes months to get a reservation here,” the stallion commented, gesturing at the dining hall. “Fortunately, I have connections in this town. Indeed, you’re one of a very fortunate few who gets to sit at this table.”

“I’m honored, Mr. Mane,” Octavia scowled. “Now perhaps we could discuss why you wanted to meet me here?”

“I do tire of all the formality,” Con Mane said, grinning slyly at the mare sitting across from him. “I know! Why don’t we give each other pet names? I can call you ‘Octy’ and you can call me ‘Connie.’”

“Keep it up and your name will be Floor Residue, because that’s all I’ll leave behind,” Octavia growled.

Con Mane looked unphased, idly straightening his bowtie. “You know, it really ruins the joke when you explain it.”

“Who said anything about a joke?” the cellist shot back.

“I called you here because I wish to get to know you better,” the stallion continued as the waiter reappeared with the two milkshakes, gently placing them on the table. “After all, you’ve taken such an interest in me, it’s only proper that I return the favor.” The waiter left and Con Mane raised his glass to the mare sitting opposite him, flashing her a toothy smile.

“I’ve taken an interest in your activities, if that’s what you mean,” Octavia said sternly, her eye twitching violently as she leaned forward and began to whisper. “Specifically the kidnapping of my friend. Where is she?

“Oh, there will be plenty of time to discuss business tonight, dear,” Con Mane stated airily. “So tell me, Ms. Octavia. Do you have a lover? A handsome stallion to call your own?”

“Why? Are you looking for one?” the cellist snapped.

The stallion glared at her over the rim of his glass. “Funny. I’m always on the lookout for fine mares, Ms. Octavia. And I tend to find what I’m looking for.”

He swept his hoof towards the skyline laid out before them. “Look around you. I control this city, Ms. Octavia. The city officials do whatever I tell them. At the store, the public pays whatever price I demand of them. And if I don’t like somepony, I can make them disappear. The mayor may be the official leader of San Franciscolt, but I am its emperor.”

“My, don’t sell yourself short,” Octavia huffed.

“Oh, I assure you it isn’t,” Con Mane replied, winking at the grey mare. She sat silently for a moment before groaning and putting a hoof to her forehead.

“I can’t believe I trotted into that one,” she grumbled.

“So as you can see, Ms. Octavia,” the stallion continued, twirling the straw in his drink, “you’ve ventured into my territory. My city. And while you’re here, you will do as I say.”

“I have no intention of doing so. You call yourself this city’s ruler? You are a glorified pastry chef. And a disgrace to Her Majesty’s government,” Octavia retorted.

“And you’re a fool, you know,” Con Mane said in a level tone. “An utterly expendable fool in the eyes of the higher-ups in Canterlot. Why do you think I left? They don’t care what happens to us. They pretend we don’t even exist. If you fail, you have no recourse. If you die, you are forgotten to everypony and every trace of what you worked for will be swept away.”

“You speak as if I don’t already know this.”

“Then why help ponies you will never even meet? For a vague notion that you’re doing the right thing?” Con Mane asked incredulously.

“That’s correct. If I wanted to be hailed for my service to Equestria, I would never have become a secret agent,” Octavia said firmly.

“How very honorable of you.” The stallion chuckled. “Now listen, this is what is going to happen: tomorrow morning you are going to leave for Canterlot. You are going to request an audience with your employers and tell them you couldn’t find any evidence of a cartel. Then you are going to come back to San Franciscolt. We will be watching you every step of the way. Do this properly and Vinyl Scratch will remain safe.”

“How do I know she is safe now?” Octavia growled, shaking with anger.

“You’ll just have to take my word for it,” Con Mane said simply.

Octavia snorted but otherwise remained silent, considering her options. Finally, she sighed. “Very well. If that’s my only choice, I shall do as you wish.”

“Well, of course it’s not your only choice,” the stallion remarked. “If you want to see your friend tonight, there’s another option.”

“Wait, really?” Octavia started, looking up in surprise. “What is it?”

“Well, it involves you, me, and a bed,” he replied, waggling his eyebrows while taking a long slurp from his milkshake. The grey mare merely glared back for a moment as he cocked an eyebrow at his glass. “Strange...usually when I slurp a milkshake, every mare within ten meters of me giggles bashfully.”

Octavia groaned and placed her head face-down on the table. This was going to be a long evening.

The next morning found Octavia doing something she normally found repugnant: running from a fight. But despite the lengthy dinner last night, she had extracted no leads from Con Mane other than painfully obvious invitations to his apartment; at one point he even suggested that she tail him there ‘in secret’ after dinner. At last, Octavia was given a carriage ride back to her hotel. With nothing to go on and fear for Vinyl consuming her every thought, she saw no option other than to follow Mane’s instructions.

The cellist trudged towards the ferry terminal with her cello case tied atop her back, hating herself for going through with this. She had never failed an assignment before; oh, sometimes she and Vinyl had run into trouble along the way, but things always managed to work out in the end. But Con Mane had found her weakness in kidnapping Vinyl. Without the DJ by her side, Octavia found herself truly stuck and with nopony to turn to for help. Approaching Lyra and Bon Bon would only endanger them at this point and she couldn’t speak to anypony within the government. Con Mane had spoken the truth: if she failed, there was no recourse. Octavia had always known this truth, but never had to face it like this. She sighed, imagining her friend scolding her for giving in to Mane’s demands, but there seemed to be no other way.

She glanced up at a shop window, looking at the reflection of her tired, exhausted face. She hadn’t managed to get a wink of sleep the night before, as her mind went through every possible option it could think of. However, she suddenly felt alert at something else she spotted in the reflection: across the street, looking directly at her, was Golden Harvest.

Octavia turned and kept walking down the street towards the bay, taking a discreet glance back at the pony following her. The orange mare was wearing shades and a sun hat this time, but there was still no mistaking her. The grey mare plodded along quietly, looking for a place to execute a plan that was quickly forming in her mind. She spotted just such a place about half a block ahead of her.

The cellist ducked into a small, cramped coffee shop that seemed to be populated entirely by Bleatniks; hipster sheep who were generally slouched over tables and reading or writing, many of them wearing dark shades, berets or goatees. The sounds of jazz music filled the cafe as Octavia darted to a hallway in the back of the room, setting down her cello case before entering the small restroom. There, she waited with the door almost closed, her eyes peering through the crack in the doorway.

She didn’t have long to wait, as she soon spotted the orange mare walk past. Golden Harvest’s hooves wandered past the door where Octavia was standing. A second later she heard them stop as the orange mare reached the end of the hallway and turn around. The grey mare held her breath, listening as the sound of Golden Harvest’s hoofsteps grew louder.

Then it was the moment to strike. In a flurry of motion, she flung the door open and grabbed the astonished Golden Harvest by the neck, yanking her inside the restroom before slamming the door behind her, swiftly locking the door bolt before wrestling the orange mare to the ground. Despite their furious tussle, the music coming from the room outside prevented anypony from hearing them. Golden Harvest put up a good fight, but Octavia was able to shove her against the sink, forcing her head into the basin and locking it in place under the faucet.

“I am not one to be trifled with right now,” Octavia growled. “I swear to Celestia, if you value your safety you will answer my question: Where is Vinyl?

“Please, you don’t understand!” Golden Harvest pleaded, struggling to lift her head out of the sink, but the grey mare’s grip was too strong. “I’m on your side in this battle! I’m here to help you!”

“Likely story,” Octavia snarled. “Now tell me where my friend is, or you will regret it.”

“She’s in a warehouse!” Golden Harvest squealed frantically, struggling against her captor. “In Hayview in the southern part of town, where the cartel stores most of their flour! Please, let me go and I’ll tell you everything!” The fear in her voice was clear, and Octavia found her grip loosening. The orange mare managed to wrench herself free of the cellist’s grasp and dropped on the floor. She sat in the corner under the sink, panting heavily as Octavia calmly looked down at her.

“You’ve been following us since we first got here,” the grey mare said quietly, looking down at Golden Harvest. “How did Con Mane know who we are?”

“He didn’t,” the orange breathed, sounding relieved that Octavia wasn’t threatening her any more. “I did. You and I are here for the same reason: to bring down this cartel.”

“Are you trying to tell me that my employers sent you as well?” Octavia asked, raising an eyebrow. “That sounds awfully unlikely.”

“Not at all,” Golden Harvest answered. “Do you think that the Equestrian government would be the only ones interested in breaking a cartel? There are other players at work here.

“I am here on behalf of a rival baking company, one based outside San Franciscolt. They’ve been trying to get in on this market for a long time now, but the cartel has prevented it. Trains carrying any rival’s flour or sugar have mysteriously malfunctioned with no clear culprit, all made to look like accidents. Their applications for business permits have been rejected by the city government here. It’s obvious that the cartel is responsible, but there’s just no solid proof. So I was hired and sent here to infiltrate the cartel. And given Con Mane’s... friendliness, it hasn’t been too difficult.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question,” Octavia cut in. “How did you know about us?”

“My employers have very close ties with some of the highest figures in the Canterlot government,” Golden Harvest explained. “With some work, we can have access to the files of all their agents. When we heard you were coming, we thought it best to monitor your progress.”

The cellist stood in astonished silence for a moment. “Who are you? And what’s more, who exactly do you work for?”

“I can’t tell you who I work for, but I can give you my name.” The orange mare stood up, now eye level with Octavia. “My acquaintances and enemies call me Golden Harvest, but my friends call me Carrot Top.”

“So which name shall I refer to you by?”

The orange mare smiled. “We share a common enemy. In this line of work, that’s the closest thing to a friend you need.”

“No,” Octavia huffed. “The closest thing to a friend I need is an actual friend. One who shares my motivations for upholding justice in Equestria, rather than being driven by personal gain.”

“Be that as it may, you still need my help,” the orange mare retorted. “Con Mane trusts me completely and gives me full access to the cartel. In a couple of hours, he expects me to report that you left the city on the last Canterlot-bound train. We can free your friend and take down this organization in one swift blow. All I need is your trust,” she finished, offering a forehoof to Octavia.

The cellist considered it for a moment before raising her own forehoof, shaking the orange mare’s. “Very well then, Carrot Top.”

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Hayview was the part of San Franciscolt that the locals liked to pretend didn’t exist. Situated on the southern end of the city facing the bay, the area was a far cry from the rolling hills of picturesque houses, streets and parks that made up most of the city, or even the bustle and tall buildings of downtown. It was a wasteland of shipyards, docks, industrial buildings, warehouses, roads and rail tracks that carried the huge amounts of freight that moved through the district.

So it was really no surprise that nopony would have suspected the building that Octavia was currently sneaking into was the site of any sort of illegal activity; despite its huge size, it was a nondescript warehouse which fit in perfectly to its surroundings. There wasn’t even a sign saying who owned the building. The grey mare crawled along the roof, quietly prying open the cover to a ventilation shaft and slipping inside. Her bow sword was strapped to her back, but she had opted to go without her normal disguise; it was quite pointless with these villains at this point.

Octavia crept through the vent, treading lightly so as not to make any noise. Her ears picked up the sound of conversation from up ahead and she silently made her way to a vent opening in the floor of the shaft. She peered through the slits in the cover, looking down at a large, well-appointed office. There were fine decorations, wood panelling on the walls and comfortable furniture, but what drew the cellist’s attention was who was occupying the room. Con Mane sat at one end of the office, accompanied by Carrot Top, while Gustave LeGrand and Mulia Mild stood at the other end.

“Oh, Connie,” Carrot Top cooed, clinging to one of Con Mane’s legs with one forehoof and stroking his mane with the other. “I love it when you take me places. You know I live for danger,” she purred, batting her eyelashes at the stallion. Above them, Octavia felt very sorry for this brave yet incredibly unfortunate mare.

“Anything for you, my darling,” Con Mane replied, grinning at the orange mare. “Would you mind waiting outside for just a moment? I have some business to take care of with these two,” he explained, indicating Gustave and Mulia. Carrot Top smiled and left the room, giving Mane a sly smile before exiting. The griffon, who had his arms crossed the entire time, grunted and shut the door behind her before glaring at Con Mane.

“You know, zis iz not much of a secret base if you keep bringing your petite amies here,” Gustave grumbled.

“I too am concerned about that filly,” Mulia stated. “Are you certain she can be trusted?”

“Golden Harvest? Of course!” Con Mane chided, waving a hoof dismissively. “My fillies would never betray me.”

“For our sake, I hope you’re right,” Mulia huffed. “Now let’s proceed with the meeting. Since the spies have been seen to, let’s settle the matter of next month’s distribution. The good news is that with the warehouse fire, we have a ready-made excuse for raising the price of flour considerably this quarter.”

Octavia rose to her hooves and continued along the shaft, leaving the sound of her enemies’ conversation behind her. The vent began to slope downward, forcing the agent to proceed carefully, pushing a hoof against each wall as she slowly made her way down. Through another vent cover she could make out the cavernous space of the warehouse, filled with stacks of bags and boxes of various baking ingredients ready to be distributed elsewhere. The vent, however, seemed to continue down, descending beneath the warehouse.

The slope of the ventilation shaft continued to steepen. Coupled with the increasing darkness of the shaft, it made it more difficult for Octavia to descend safely. The slick metal of the vent made getting a solid grip impossible, and a few times the cellist nearly slipped as she descended. Finally, the vent flattened out again and Octavia could make out light coming through another vent cover ahead. The grey mare crept towards it carefully, looking down through it to see a small, blank room containing only a few small furnishings and a familiar white-coated mare with a blue, spiky mane.

“Vin-” Octavia cried out joyfully as she placed her hooves on the vent cover, which promptly gave out beneath her. There was a great clatter and a brief moment of panic as the grey mare tumbled out of the vent and plummeted to the ground, landing ungracefully next to Vinyl, who looked surprised for but a second before grinning broadly.

“Hey, Octy,” she said cheerfully as the cellist groaned and picked herself up off the floor. Vinyl was lacking her goggles, but otherwise looked unchanged from when Octavia had seen her last. “Glad you could drop in. I knew you’d be coming soon enough!”

“You knew? How?” Octavia asked, looking perplexed.

“Well, I figured, anyway.” She looked up at the vent cover, which was hanging open off its hinges. “Sorry about the vent, that was my bad. I took out the screws holding it secure so that I could play with them.”

Octavia looked up at the ventilation shaft, which sat a good few meters above them. “How did you get up there?”

“I didn’t, I just unscrewed them with my magic,” the DJ answered, tapping her horn with a forehoof. “I thought maybe I could use the screws for some kind of unlocking device or something that could break a lock, but so far all I’ve managed to do is use them as quills.” To illustrate her point, Vinyl levitated one of the screws up and used the sharp end to dig a scratch in the wall. Now that Octavia looked, she could see that her friend had covered an entire section of wall with tic-tac-toe games, sheet music and draft designs for various devices. “This song is coming along really well,” Vinyl added, indicating the music sheet. “I just needed a day or two to relax and focus with no distractions. Captivity has been really good to me so far.”

Octavia ran a hoof along the heavy metal door that sealed them in, trying to slide her sword through the crack but finding it too narrow for the blade. The door itself proved resistant to an attempted stabbing with the sword. “I don’t suppose you could levitate me up there?” she asked, looking up at the ventilation shaft.

Vinyl shook her head. “Too heavy. I’m only good at picking up small objects.”

“Well, great,” Octavia grumbled. “Escape is sitting right above us, but it lies just outside of reach. We can’t get out the door, so-”

“Oh, we can get out the door,” Vinyl said, trotting up to it and lowering her horn down to the general area where the lock would be. A moment later, the sound of bolts sliding into the door and the turning of gears could be heard before the door swung open into a narrow, poorly lit hallway. “Pretty general design, really,” the DJ commented, taping a hoof on the door. “Supposed to be too complex for a unicorn to unlock with their magic, but if you know how it works then it’s a snap for somepony like me.”

Octavia stared at her friend, her mouth agape. “You...you mean this entire time you could have escaped on your own?

“Well, no, not really,” Vinyl replied calmly. “I could open the door, but I figured the building was secure enough that I would have an impossible time breaking out. That’s where you would come in,” she added, winking at the cellist.

“You...but...” Octavia sputtered. “You mean to tell me that you were locked in a cell you could have easily escaped from, sitting around, writing music and waiting for me to show up and break you out?!” she yelled. “Vinyl, I was worried sick about you!”

“Wow, you do sound like my mom,” the DJ snickered.

Octavia huffed and crossed her forelegs, staring coldly at her friend. “I think it is very inconsiderate of you not to be in mortal danger after I spent so much time fearing for your life.”

“...Okay, now not so much,” Vinyl replied, looking concerned and slightly spooked.

Octavia marched out the door and into the dingy hallway, grumbling under her breath as she passed Vinyl, who smiled despite herself. “So...how did you find me? Actually, for that matter, where am I?”

“In a supply warehouse on the southern side of the city, near the shipyards,” the cellist explained, trotting briskly down the hall. “That mare who has been following us is actually a double agent going by the names Golden Harvest or Carrot Top, and she was the one who led me here. As we speak, Con Mane and your two dear kidnappers are meeting upstairs planning cartel business.

“We have all our rotten eggs in one basket,” she continued, coming to a halt in front of a door at the end of the hallway. “Our objective now is to-”

“Blow up the basket,” Vinyl finished, grinning.

“...Actually, I was thinking we could have slightly less wanton destruction this time around, if it’s all the same to you.”

“But Octy! Wanton destruction!” the DJ pleaded. “I want a ton of destruction!

Octavia groaned, smacking her face with one of her forehooves. “Fine,” she said, standing up on her hind legs and unsheathing her sword. “Let’s just get this over with.” She took one look at the door before swinging her sword over her head and down upon the door, slashing off the handle and letting the lock mechanism fall to the ground with a loud clatter.

Golden Harvest burst into the main office room, looking panicked. “Connie!” she cried as the three cartel leaders turned towards her, surprised at her intrusion. “The two agents, they’re here! Octavia has broken Vinyl out and they’re making their way up here!”

WHAT?!” Gustave bellowed, whipping around to face Con Mane. “You told us ze were taken care of!”

“Apparently my information was mistaken,” he replied, glancing at Golden Harvest. “You two go down and see to them, we’ll follow you in just a moment.” Gustave and Mulia nodded and raced out of the room, leaving Mane alone with the orange mare. A distant boom, loud enough to rattle the walls and emanating from somewhere downstairs, underscored the urgency of the situation.

“Connie, I’m telling you, Agent Octavia got on the train yesterday, I saw it!” Golden Harvest implored. “You have to believe me, I saw it happen-”

“It’s alright, darling,” Con Mane said in an assuring tone, walking over to the mare and placing a hoof on her chin, lifting her face so that it was looking into his. “I don’t suspect you of any wrongdoing.” Golden Harvest gave him a small, hopeful smile.

Mane’s reassuring smile turned into a smirk and his expression became sly. “I don’t suspect you of wrongdoing, Golden. I know what you did.” The mare’s expression froze and traces of fear began to show. “Did you really think I didn’t know who you were? How my wannabe competitors hired you to look up on me?”

“I...” Golden Harvest paled and her mouth became dry. Con Mane gave her a toothy grin as he leaned closer, looming over her given his size.

“I like to look into the backgrounds of any mares I’m interested in. Call it a guilty pleasure,” he added, winking at her. “And you are an intriguing one. Trained in spy work but never a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tell me, how does a carrot farmer wind up working for the Pinkieton Detective Agency?”

“The same way a donut maker winds up in charge of a city, I suppose,” Golden Harvest ventured.

Con Mane chuckled. “Touché.”

“So...if you knew who I was, then...” The mare swallowed and she broke out in a nervous sweat. “What do you intend to do with me?”

“You know that old adage that says ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?’”

Golden Harvest’s pupils shrunk and she tensed, readying herself to strike the moment the situation called for it.

“Well, I always thought that was complete nonsense,” Con Mane said with a laugh. “I don’t see you as an enemy. In fact, I see you and I being very good friends.” He took a seat on one of the plush couches in the office, inviting Golden Harvest to sit beside him, which she did with some hesitation. “What are these competitors paying you for this assignment? Because I guarantee you that it is a fraction of what I could give you.”

“You want to buy me off?” the orange mare asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Oh, far more than that,” Con Mane answered, grinning slyly. “I want you by my side. Between the two of us we have everything we need to handle any of these fools from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The stallion took one of Golden Harvest’s forehooves in his own, his eyes boring into hers. “I have my wealth and power here, but you have the connections in Canterlot. With those, San Franciscolt could be only the beginning, my dear. Think of it: two former agents running the most powerful conglomerate ever known! What I’ve accomplished in San Franciscolt we could repeat in every city in Equestria!

“So, how would you like to help me run an empire, Carrot Top?”

“HIT THE DECK!” Vinyl bellowed, lobbing some sealed containers of baking soda vigorously shaken together with vinegar. Octavia ducked as her friend threw them over her head at some approaching guards, watching as the pressurized contents exploded as they hit the ground and showered the guards with a white, bubbly mixture.

“Wow, this place is full of baking soda!” the DJ exclaimed. “Hey, we could make like the biggest baking soda volcano ever with all this stuff! And the warehouse could be the volcano!”

“Do we have enough time to construct something like that?” Octavia asked, ducking behind a set of crates as the blinded guards stumbled back in a hasty retreat and a group of unicorn guards opted to just start trying to hit them with blasts of magic.

“Um...Nooo...” Vinyl answered slowly. “But it would be really cool is all I’m saying.”

“Focus, Vinyl,” Octavia insisted as a blast of magic tore off a piece of the crate she was crouched behind. “We need to take care of these ponies.”

“I’ve got just the thing.” Vinyl grasped her saddlebag, which she had managed to retrieve from a storage room near her cell, and began emptying its contents onto the floor. Octavia stared at the wide variety of objects in this growing pile, which included, among other things, some small metal instruments, rope, copper wire, flares, several gum wrappers, tweezers, electronic devices, the oxygen tank and masks they had both used earlier, various plugs and attachments, headphones, recorders, strings of beads, extra goggles and a rubber duck.

With the bag emptied, Vinyl promptly began shaping it into something else, rapidly unzipping side compartments which unfolded into new appendages, becoming boxier and growing in scale until finally, the saddlebag resembled a...

“...A stereo?” Octavia asked incredulously. Sure enough, Vinyl had shaped her saddlebag into what appeared to be a stereo system, with speakers that had folded out of the side compartments. “What good is a stereo going to do us?”

“Oh, poor, sweet, naive Octavia,” the DJ scoffed, picking up a pair of headphones from the pile of objects on the ground and plugging it into the stereo. “Here, put these on. Tell me, does this sound loud enough to you?”

Octavia reluctantly complied, holding the headphones over her ears as more magical blasts sped past them overhead. She frowned as she focused on listening to whatever it was Vinyl was trying to play while the DJ tweaked a few knobs on the stereo. “I don’t hear anyth-OW! OW! YES THAT’S LOUD!!!” she suddenly screamed, flinging the headphones off her head and directly at her friend’s face in her alarm. Vinyl took this in stride, smiling as the grey mare rubbed her ringing ears, trying to recover from whatever it was she had just heard.

“Mu-hu-hoh-hoh-hoh!” a familiarly nasal laugh reached them. The two agents started, realizing the hail of magical fire had momentarily ceased as one of the villains drew nearer. They peered around the edges of the crate, spotting Gustave LeGrand standing in the middle of the room, accompanied by many of the warehouse guards. “It iz hopeless, my little ponies! Surrender or moi, Gustave LeGrand, shall make an example of both of you!”

“Oh yeah?!” Vinyl hollered, standing on her hind legs and exposing her head to view above the crate. “Then you’d better be ready to bring the noise!” she exclaimed, slamming the stereo down on the crate so that it faced the griffon and the pony guards.

“Err...and what iz zat?” Gustave asked, peering at the stereo with an incredulous look that matched Octavia’s.

“Oh, it’s nothing special, it’s just my BASS CANNON!” she yelled, smacking a button on the top of the device, which promptly began to whirl into life. The speakers on the machine began to glow brightly as electricity crackled and the sound of overwhelming bass lines roared into existence, its heavy beat seemingly thumping through the very soul of every individual in the room. The cannon began to call forth the almighty power of electronic music, glowing with the strength of a thousand strobe lights; a blinding aura that caught everyone in the room in awe before...

...before the light began to fade and the music emanating from the machine began skipping rapidly, sounding less like the mighty beat of the universe and more like a broken record. There was a loud bang as one part of the machine burst, sending sparks and smoke in the air before the whole thing fizzled out completely. Octavia gazed at it for a long time before turning an angry glare on Vinyl.

The DJ shrugged. “It’s a prototype.”

“HOH-HOH-HOH-HOH!” Gustave laughed uproariously, raising his arms into the air and closing his eyes, which proved to be a strategic mistake as Vinyl, in her quick wit, found a new usage for the malfunctioned bass cannon: hurling it at Gustave’s face. The griffon promptly collapsed to the floor, knocked unconscious.

Right! Anypony else want a piece of me?!” Vinyl hollered. The guards responded with a volley of magical blasts, forcing the two agents to duck behind the crates again. The DJ kept up her thus-far effective tactic of throwing random objects at her enemies, using her magic to open the crate in front of her, which was filled with small bags of flour ready for display in grocery stores. She levitated some out before flinging them across the room. This proved to have rather spectacular results if one of the bags collided with a magic bolt, resulting in either a fiery explosion or simply a huge cloud of flour, depending on the nature of the magic used by the individual guard.

Octavia drew her sword, holding it in one hoof by her side. “Vinyl, give me cover! I’m going to-” She paused, her attention drawn by a strange whistling sound, like something rushing through the air. The grey mare turned around and barely managed to get her sword up in time to block the attack of a dark, hooded figure. Octavia had just enough time to recognize the form of Mulia before the mule moved impossibly fast, swinging her blade at the cellist’s head. Octavia ducked and Vinyl barely avoided injury, getting a few stray hairs on the top of her mane loped off before the white mare rolled out of the way of the swordfight.

Mulia fought furiously, using her frighteningly quick speed to push her advantage, but Octavia countered her every move. Even as she fought for her life, the agent couldn’t help but marvel at this elderly mule’s nimbleness. How she was able to move so quickly was beyond Octavia, but every swing was swift and forceful, with the cellist responding with coordinated, focused maneuvers to block her attacks, waiting for the right moment to strike back.

She found it a moment later. Despite her speed, Mulia needed to hold her weapon with both of her forehooves, while Octavia was capable of holding hers in just one. This gave the cellist just enough of an advantage in maneuverability to be able to land a blow. Mulia swiped across at Octavia’s side, but the mare caught the mule’s blade with her bow, holding it in place just long enough for the agent to lunge out with her other hoof and punch the villain square between the eyes.

Mulia staggered back, catching herself and crouching low to the ground before springing into the air and launching herself at Octavia. The grey mare sidestepped, narrowly dodging the mule’s blade and intercepting the next attack with her own sword. Vinyl stood to the side, hesitantly holding a bag of flour aloft within the grasp of her magic and looking for an opening where she could strike Mulia, but the swordfight was too fast for her to make any move.

Even with her mask on, it was clear that Mulia was growing increasingly frustrated, swinging her sword wildly to try and catch Octavia off-guard. In an attempt to strike a decisive blow, the villain rose up on her hind legs and lifted her sword high above her head, ready to bring it down on the agent. Octavia, seeing what Mulia had in mind, quickly dropped to the ground, landing on her side and swiping at the mule with her hindlegs, knocking Mulia off her hooves. She landed with a loud ‘thud’ as the grey mare sprung back to her hooves, brandishing her sword in anticipation of when the villain would suddenly leap up at her.

But Mulia didn’t get off the floor. She merely laid there with an extremely pained expression on her face. “Ooooohhh, my poor hip...” she moaned.

Vinyl and Octavia looked up at each other. The warehouse guards were all too preoccupied to pay the two agents any mind, as they were busy dealing with small fires, trying to clear their vision of flour dust or just flat out fleeing for their lives. This lapse in the fight gave the two musicians a chance to appreciate the fact that one of them had just beat up an incredibly elderly mule.

“You will not speak a word of this to anypony. Understood?” Octavia growled.

“I didn’t say anything,” Vinyl replied, grinning slyly.

“Then keep it that way!” the cellist snapped. She took a quick glance around before sheathing her sword. “Let’s find Con Mane while the guards are occupied.”

“Right,” the DJ said with a nod, using her magic to levitate her malfunctioned bass cannon back to her and fold it back into a saddlebag before hurriedly throwing the objects in the pile back inside. “Better see to ‘Le Grand’ here,” she added, using a section of rope to tie up Gustave.

“What about her?” Octavia asked, indicating Mulia, who still lying on the ground and moaning in pain.

“I...don’t think she’s going to be getting up on her own,” Vinyl replied. “You kinda saw to that.”

Octavia grimaced at the DJ. “Hush,” she grumbled.

“Ooohhh,” Mulia moaned again, looking up to glare at the two agents. “I’ll have you young mares know that you are both very rude! You’ll both be hearing from my lawyer!”

“Well, the nice thing about being a secret agent is that it’s hard to hold somepony liable when you don’t even know their identity,” Octavia explained airily, already marching out of the room as Vinyl quickly wrapped up her task and caught up with her friend.

The two agents slowly approached the door to the main office, readying themselves for what lay ahead. From out in the hallway, they could hear the pained cries of a mare coming from inside the office.

“That sounds like Carrot Top!” Octavia whispered urgently. “Somepony must be torturing her!” she added in a horrified tone.

“Con Mane must have found out about her,” Vinyl said grimly. She tensed herself, sneaking around to the other side of the door as Octavia slowly drew her sword. Carrot Top’s cries became louder and more frequent as the two glanced at each other and, with a curt nod, dove for the door at the same instant and forced it open, ready for whatever was waiting for them on the other side.

STOP RIGHT-AAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!!!” Vinyl screamed in terror, flinging her forehooves over her face to shield her eyes from the awful sight that lay within the office. Octavia’s reaction was silent but no less horrified, her expression suddenly becoming very pale. In the middle of the floor was Con Mane and Carrot Top, the former with his usual suit and bowtie removed, laying together in a very intimate position. Suddenly, the reason for Carrot Top’s cries became all too painfully clear to the two agents.

UGH!” Vinyl yelled, backing out into the hallway to put as much distance as she could between herself and this act of intercourse. “Oh, for the love of...just...EWW!!!” she sputtered, shuddering violently. “Really?! With HIM?!

Octavia remained rooted to the spot, unable to tear her eyes off the pair. Carrot Top blushed furiously while Con Mane remained the only pony in the room to take the whole matter in stride, casually removing himself from the orange mare and slipping his suit back on. The grey mare opened her mouth to speak, but it took a long while for anything to come out. Finally, she managed to get out a feeble, “I don’t understand.”

“I’ve had a change of heart, Ms. Octavia,” Carrot Top said, still blushing but speaking in a confident tone. “I will be working with Mr. Mane from this point forward.”

“I told you I always get what I’m looking for,” Con Mane said, winking at Octavia. “No mare can resist me.”

“But, what about the other baking company you said you were working for?” the cellist asked Carrot Top, utterly bewildered by this turn of events. “Was that all just a lie?”

Con Mane chuckled, putting his bowtie back on. “Oh no, she was telling the truth. I’ve simply given her a better offer.”

“We are going to run this city together,” Carrot Top added, stepping closer to Con Mane and giving the stallion a half-lidded look. “Side-by-side.”

“Is it something in the water here?” Vinyl asked in an incredulous tone, sounding almost hysterical. “Seriously, what could any mare possibly see in this guy?!”

“No mare is impervious to my charms,” Con Mane said, straightening his bowtie. “Don’t try to deny it.”

“Oh, buck off!” the DJ shot back. “Wait, no, don’t. You’ve been doing enough of that today,” she added, shuddering. “Now listen: your two partners downstairs have been taken care of and the police are already on their way. Your cartel is finished, Mane.”

“On the contrary, this just means there’s only one owner rather than three,” he replied, smirking. “And I think you’ll find it difficult to dismantle our organization without the full set. Darling,” he added, addressing the mare standing beside him, “I think you and I should have some time alone outside the city. Somewhere secluded while we wait for this to blow over.”

Octavia stared at the orange mare. “Carrot Top-”

You may refer to me as Golden Harvest,” the mare shot back.

The grey mare remained silent for a moment before her expression grew severe. “So be it,” she said, drawing her sword. “We will end it here, then.”

“I think not, my dear fillies!” Con Mane cried before grabbing Golden Harvest with one of his forehooves while pressing a button on his watch. Suddenly a section of the wall behind the pair slid open to reveal an escape hatch. Before either of the agents could act, Con Mane and Golden Harvest backed into the hatch and raced down out of sight, the stallion pressing the button again to seal the entrance shut behind them before Vinyl and Octavia could jump in after them.

Octavia reached the wall just a second too late. “No!” she cried in frustration, banging a hoof against the wood paneling. “Come on, we have to follow them!” she yelled, turning around to head for the exit.

“Hang on, we don’t even know where he’s going,” Vinyl said, holding up a hoof to stop her friend. “Besides, I’ve got an idea. Give me your watch.”

The cellist looked confused but obliged, removing her hoof device and giving it to Vinyl, who held it up against the hidden door as she scanned the wall with her magic.

“What are you-” Octavia began.

“Trying to figure out the radio frequency Con Mane used to control this door,” Vinyl answered, cutting off her friend before she could finish her question. “Now to just program it into the watch, and...done!” she cried, grabbing it in her hooves and pressing a couple of buttons. “Now we should be able to listen in on Mane’s channel!”

Sure enough, within seconds they could hear the stallion’s voice coming through the speaker on the device. “Emergency, I am requesting an emergency evacuation from San Franciscolt. Have an airship ready for departure immediately.”

The voice of a different stallion began speaking. “Roger that, Mr. Mane. Shall we keep it on standby at the airport?”

There was a pause before Con Mane spoke again. “Negative. Any major points of entry out of the city might be monitored, and I need to move as quickly as possible. Are there any towers an airship can dock with within the city itself?”

“Only Sutrot Tower, sir.”

“Then send that airship to Sutrot Tower as quickly as possible. Over and out.” The call ended and Vinyl and Octavia looked up at each other, both with a small grin on their face.

“Shall we head them off?” the cellist asked with a tone that suggested they were about to leave for a pleasant outing.

The DJ grinned broadly. “Buck yeah.”

Invaders Must Die

Realizing they had no idea where Sutrot Tower was, let alone how to get there, Vinyl and Octavia bolted out of the building and made their way to a nearby busy street where they were able to hail a taxi to follow Con Mane. The driver, a bulky stallion, raised an eyebrow when he heard their destination, but when Vinyl offered to pay him triple the usual fare to get them there quickly, he promptly began galloping down the street without another word said.

Their route took them up some of the tallest hills in San Franciscolt as they raced away from the docks and warehouses of Hayview into the hilly center of the city. The driver pulled the carriage up a winding road past wooded slopes and quiet neighborhoods perched on the hillsides overlooking the city. The two agents spotted Sutrot Tower long before they reached it, though it was only as they drew nearer that they realized it must be their destination. The structure was a huge, three-pronged radio antenna, purely utilitarian in design and painted in broad red and white stripes. The tower loomed over the surrounding landscape, taking advantage of its hilltop location to broadcast radio signals across the hilly city. It was also, they realized, an ideal spot to dock an airship, if only temporarily; just long enough to pick up somepony positioned at the top of the tower.

Sutrot Tower began to rise above them as they drew closer, passing through a dense grove of eucalyptus trees. Through the gaps in the trees they could see sweeping vistas of the city and the bay laid out below them, but the focus of the two agents was entirely on the tower. Finally, the driver stopped in front of a locked gate which marked the entrance to the property the tower sat on.

“So are you two radio technicians or something?” the driver asked, gesturing towards the tower.

“No, we’re musicians,” Vinyl said hurriedly as she and Octavia clambered out of the carriage. The DJ shoved a piece of paper into the stallion’s hooves. “Here, contact that pony, she’ll be able to pay you for the ride,” she explained before turning around and galloping after her friend towards the tower.

“But this is for an address in Canterlot! Hey! Wait a second!” the driver yelled, but the two agents paid him no mind, climbing over the fence and bolting across a large dirt lot positioned next to the tower and a pair of adjacent service buildings.

Vinyl looked around. “I don’t see them. Do you think we could have gotten here before-”

DOWN!” Octavia suddenly yelled, shoving her friend out of the way of several incoming small, silvery canisters. Each exploded with a flash of energy as they hit the ground or let out a cloud of green-colored gas, like the one that put Octavia to sleep in the mansion. The two agents stumbled out of harm’s way, taking cover in a grove of trees on the side of the lot. From there, they could now see Con Mane and Golden Harvest standing at the base of the tower before the pair hurried into a small maintenance elevator in one of the tower’s three supporting piers. The elevator began to noisily climb slowly up to the top of the tower, with the two villains inside.

“Hang on, do you hear something?” Vinyl asked, holding up a hoof as her ears twitched. The two of them could hear a low humming sound, like that of propellers. Both of them glanced towards the south, alarmed to see a small airship approaching in the distance.

“That must be Con Mane’s ship!” Octavia said urgently. “We have to get up there and stop them!”

“No, wait!” Vinyl cried, holding her friend in place. “What if we don’t manage to beat them in time? We should focus on taking down the airship! That way we cut off their means of escape!”

“Can you do that?” the cellist asked, already sure of the answer.

“There’s got to be plenty of electronic equipment in that building,” Vinyl replied, pointing at the maintenance building next to the tower, which itself contained a number of antennas on the roof. “I’m sure I can whip together something.”

“Then you get to work on that,” Octavia commanded. “I’m going to deal with Mane.”

“Octy...are you sure?” the DJ asked hesitantly, looking at her with concern.

“If there was ever a moment to be certain, it is now,” Octavia said resolutely, narrowing her eyes as she looked up at the tower. “Besides, I want to do this. That stallion has been the bane of my existence these past few days.”

Vinyl nodded and pulled the grappling hook and a coil of rope out of her saddlebag while Octavia drew her sword, replacing the blade with the normal bow string. The white mare fastened one end of the rope to the grappling hook before giving it to her friend, who took and pulled it tight against the string of her bow, aiming carefully at a spot high up near the top of the tower. After a couple of seconds she released the bow and let the hook fly. It sailed through the air, arcing slightly as it neared the top before landing across a horizontal beam, falling for a second before catching tight onto the beam.

Vinyl placed her horn against the rope, which began to glow with the same light blue aura of her horn as she cast a bring-to-life spell. Octavia tied the rope around her, wrapping one section around her forehooves in preparation of what was about to happen next.

The DJ looked up at the cellist. “Good luck,” she offered.

“And the same to you,” Octavia returned with a nod.

Vinyl tugged down hard on the rope and suddenly it snapped back upwards, rapidly launching Octavia into the air as the rope, now with a mind of its own and obeying its master’s command, began wrapping itself around the grappling hook at the top, quickly pulling the grey mare to the top of the tower.

“These little gadgets often come in handy,” Con Mane commented with a smirk, holding another one of his gas canisters in his hoof. “My own design, of course,” he added.

“You are incorrigible,” Golden Harvest said, batting her eyelashes at the stallion.

“I don’t know the meaning of the word,” Con Mane replied. Both of them laughed at his remark. They were standing together in the small two-pony elevator, now about mid-way up the tower.

“Hold on, look,” the orange mare said, pointing down at the base of the tower. From their vantage point they could see Vinyl dart into the maintenance building. “Agent Scratch is down there, but I don’t see Agent Octavia...did they split up?” she asked in a concerned tone.

“Frankly, I’m still wondering how they were able to follow us,” Con Mane muttered.

Golden Harvest looked out at the approaching airship. “It’s still too far out. The agents might stop us before it gets here!”

“I’m sure we will escape,” the stallion offered, his tone casual and unperturbed.

“I don’t want to take that chance,” the mare replied. “These two are quite tenacious.” The elevator stopped, allowing Con Mane to slide open the door and step out onto the topmost level, but Golden Harvest remained inside. “I will see to Agent Scratch. If she is on her own, I will be able to take her.”

“A wise choice, darling,” the stallion answered, nodding. “You go then, and I will see to Ms. Octavia.”

Golden Harvest nodded, but then remained in place for a moment. “Err...aren’t you getting back in?” she asked awkwardly, indicating the elevator.

“I don’t need to. Ms. Octavia will come to me here,” Con Mane said with a sly grin. “After all, mares do seem to find me irresistible,” he added with a wink, causing Golden Harvest to giggle bashfully. “Though I am curious, how do you intend to take care of Ms. Scratch?”

“I have my ways,” the orange mare answered, pulling a thin object out of a tuft of mane behind her ear. At first, Con Mane thought it was a mane stick, but he quickly realized it was something far more sinister. Golden Harvest slid the elevator door close and began descending towards the ground again.

I do so love a mare of intrigue,” the stallion thought to himself, straightening his bowtie.

Vinyl rushed around the cramped control room, frantically trying to locate anything for what she had in mind, which she was still trying to figure out. “Uh...let’s see...” she muttered to herself, looking over a wall covered in analog equipment. “A frequency jammer? No, all that would do is knock out their navigational aids. Come on, think!” she grumbled, smacking her forehead. “What would bring down a whole airship?”

Suddenly there was a yell of fury coming from behind Vinyl, causing the DJ to turn around in alarm. Golden Harvest was charging at the agent with a dagger clenched in her teeth, aimed so as to pierce the white mare’s flesh. Vinyl barely managed to dive out of the way in time, using her magic to yank a nearby piece of radio equipment out of the wall and levitate it in front of her as a shield. Golden Harvest stabbed it, her dagger easily piercing the machine. For a brief second the blade remained in place, its tip mere inches from Vinyl’s face, and it was then that she noticed something about it: it was gleaming.

Golden Harvest wrenched the blade out of the machine before she caught Vinyl staring at it. “Like it?” she asked, grinning with the handle of the dagger still in her mouth. “I like to call it...Goldstinger.”

“...Gold?” Vinyl muttered, looking utterly perplexed.

“Yes!” the orange mare cried triumphantly, holding the dagger so as to show off as much of it as possible. “Made from solid, 24-‘carrot’ gold!”

Vinyl was quiet for a moment, her face not betraying any emotion. After a long, awkward silence, she slowly lifted a hoof to push her goggles up to her forehead and give Golden Harvest the most withering look the orange mare had ever seen.

“Really? That’s the best you could come up with?” Vinyl said, her tone incredulous.

“What are you talking about?” Golden Harvest replied, sounding confused and not a little insulted. “It’s a family heirloom! I inherited it from my own mother!”

“Uh-huh. So do bad puns also get passed down in the family?” the DJ asked mockingly.

Shut up!” the orange mare snarled, lifting her dagger again. “Nopony insults the Harvest family and gets away with it!” She stabbed at Vinyl once more, forcing the agent to retreat swiftly, backing up against one corner of the cramped room.

Octavia pulled herself up to the topmost level, grunting from the effort. The highest level of Sutrot Tower consisted of three truss structures, painted red and interlinked between the three support pillars to form a triangle. Above her, the three antennas of the tower pierced into the air, each held in place by a web of cables connected to the trusses. Through the gaps between the steel beams, the agent could make out the shapes of houses and trees and the curving lines of roads winding down the hill far below. The whole city was laid out before her, from the skyline of downtown and the docks lining the shoreline of the bay to the quiet neighborhoods covering every hill in San Franciscolt. A brisk, chilly wind blew in from the expanse of ocean to the west, pushing a fogbank towards the bay that obscured most of the Galloping Gait, with only the top of the two bridge towers visible over the clouds.

Octavia stood up on the deck, her body tensed as she looked around cautiously. There was no sound aside from the occasional gust of wind and the low electric buzz of the radio antennas. Other than the distant form of the slowly approaching airship, which had turned down its engines to low power as it approached the tower, nothing seemed to move. Everything seemed calm, which made the hairs on the back of Octavia’s neck stand on end. She could hear her own rapid heartbeat as she took a few reluctant steps down the truss.

Suddenly a large form swung down from one of the steel beams directly overhead, revealing itself to be Con Mane. Octavia didn’t have enough time to dodge, taking the stallion’s kick to the chest and tumbling backwards. The villain dropped down onto the metal grating of the floor, activating the retractable dagger in his hoof device before stepping forward to stab the agent. The grey mare ducked and did a quick backflip out of the way, landing on all fours before standing up on her hind legs and drawing her sword. She held it in front of her as the two ponies stood still, each staring at the other in a thick silence.

“Let’s try this over again,” Octavia said evenly, her tone cold and determined.

“Yes, let’s,” Con Mane replied smoothly. “You find us a nice hotel room and I’ll provide the champagne.”

The agent lunged at the stallion, swinging her sword at his head. He quickly countered, raising his dagger to intercept the sword and wrenching it down while lashing out with his other forehoof. It came into contact with her jaw, knocking her backwards. She barely had enough time to lift her bow as Con Mane barreled down on her, standing on his hindlegs and holding her sword down with his dagger by sheer force. He was almost on top of her, their faces mere inches from each other between the two crossed blades.

“You know, I love it when a mare plays hard-to-get,” the stallion said, cocking his eyebrows and offering her a sly grin.

Octavia snarled and kicked at the stallion with one of her hindlegs, kneeing him firmly in the crotch. Con Mane bellowed in pain, falling back off of the mare and lowering his guard. The agent spun around, planting her forehooves on the floor and kicking out with her hindlegs, bucking the stallion square in the face. The force of the impact sent Con Mane flying, landing painfully on the metal grating of the floor and rolling over a couple of times before stopping. He staggered to his hooves, looking up at Octavia as he lifted himself off the floor. The stallion’s nose was bleeding profusely, staining the front of his suit with spots of red, and his face had lost its normal cocksure smirk, changing to an expression of fury.

With a guttural roar he launched himself at the grey mare, swinging his dagger forcefully. It collided with Octavia’s sword, and for a moment both stood there, balancing on their hindlegs with both forehooves clenched on their respective weapons, teeth gritted and gazes boring into each other’s eyes. Con Mane withdrew his dagger for a second before swinging in at the agent’s head, forcing her to duck. She swung her sword furiously, slicing up, across and down, with the stallion dodging each of her attacks. Their weapons clanged against each other, each pony trying to gain ground over the other with neither succeeding.

Vinyl hurled another piece of radio equipment across the room, but Golden Harvest proved too quick to be struck. Even when the agent’s aim was true, the orange mare was very skilled with her dagger, stabbing a few of these makeshift projectiles to hold them in place before they could hit her. With each move, Golden Harvest pushed Vinyl back towards the rear of the small control room, cutting off any escape route.

The agent’s mind raced as she desperately tried to avoid the villain’s blade. “I’m in a room full of equipment, so why can’t I think of anything?!” she thought furiously, eyeing the gold dagger as it sliced through the air towards her. Vinyl took another step back, feeling her flank bump against the wall. Golden Harvest advanced, stabbing her blade at the agent. Vinyl dodged to the side, but the villain stopped her stab short and swiped at the agent instead, catching Vinyl off-guard. The blade struck, leaving a deep cut across Vinyl’s cheek. She yelped in pain, punching out with one of her forehooves and catching Golden Harvest in the chest, but another swipe from the orange mare sent Vinyl stumbling back into a corner of the room, her back pressed up against a utility box set on the wall.

Golden Harvest grinned savagely, the handle of her gold dagger still clenched between her teeth. Vinyl gulped as her gaze darted around the room, looking for anything she could use to defend herself. The orange mare lunged forward, the tip of her blade aimed directly at Vinyl’s head. The agent ducked just in time, hearing the sickening crunch of metal against metal before there was a sudden burst of light and a harsh buzzing sound.

The gold blade had pierced the utility box behind the agent, and before Golden Harvest could let go of the handle electricity had poured through the blade, delivering a powerful shock to the orange mare. She promptly collapsed on the floor, lying completely still.

Vinyl remained silent for a moment, dumbfounded by what had just happened and actually fearful that Golden Harvest was dead. The villain remained still and didn’t seem to be breathing. Vinyl slowly reached a hoof towards the orange mare’s neck, pressing against a spot just under the chin. She was soon enormously relieved to feel a pulse there. That relief was short-lived however, as her hoof received a shock of static electricity as it brushed against her bushy mane.

Ow! Mother...” Vinyl grumbled, the curse dying in her throat. At that moment, however, she was suddenly struck by an idea. She looked up at the golden blade hanging in place over her, still embedded in the utility box. A grin spread across her face as a plan took hold in her mind.

Octavia ducked around swipe of Con Mane’s dagger and tried to take advantage of her position to strike a decisive blow up at him, but the stallion proved too quick, slamming his blade against the mare’s and wrestling it down. Both of them had scratches or - in the case of Con Mane - nicks in their clothing from where a blade had successfully found its mark, but the agent was losing this fight. Octavia may have been the more agile of the two, but Mane had muscle and height on his side and knew how to use it. The grey mare was already feeling worn from this fight, just trying to hold off a more powerful foe. She needed to find an opening and fast.

“I do love your sword, by the way,” Con Mane commented, his gaze locked onto Octavia’s eyes. “A musical bow. Adds a delightful touch of class.”

What happened next occurred almost too quickly for Octavia to follow. Con Mane’s dagger, which the agent had been wrestling against with her own sword, suddenly vanished, retracting back into the stallion’s watch. Now with nothing resisting her, she fell forward. Before she could recover and swipe at the now unarmed stallion, Mane sidestepped, grasping the leg holding her sword in one forehoof while swinging the other forcefully into Octavia’s stomach.

The agent cried out in pain, reeling from the blow and dropping her sword on the floor. She struggled to pull herself together and strike back, but the stallion shoved her violently against a steel beam. Her back collided against the beam before she collapsed onto the floor with the wind knocked out of her. Every muscle in her body ached as she struggled to catch her breath, but Con Mane kicked her in the side, sending her rolling painfully across the metal grating. The stallion roared with fury, kicking her again, this time with her ribs taking the force of the impact. Octavia coughed violently, desperately trying to rise to her hooves, but one final punch sent her down to the floor, where she lay sprawled on the ground, bruised and battered.

Octavia looked up to see her sword lying a couple of lengths away before Con Mane reared up and brought his forehooves down on it, stamping on the wooden portion that held the blade in place. It promptly broke, with a crack running down the length of the handle and a good chunk of it now in splintery fragments. The blade fell out, no longer held in place by the wood frame. Con Mane stood there, panting heavily for a second as he looked down at the broken sword before turning his gaze up to Octavia. His nose was still bleeding and his suit was ragged and blood-stained, but it was the villain’s eyes that truly reflected the fury and madness within. After a moment, however, his expression returned to its normal calm and he straightened his bowtie.

With a casual flick, Con Mane swept the broken remnants of the sword tumbling off the tower, and Octavia watched them fall out of sight. She glanced up from where they fell as her vision blurred and her mind became entranced by the view. Something seemed off though, and she became dimly aware that the Galloping Gait Bridge had vanished. It took her a moment to realize that it wasn’t gone, it was merely hidden from view in the fog below. Somewhere in her mind it occurred to her that these were strange details to be among her final thoughts, but she didn’t really care. Tears welled in her eyes as she felt herself losing consciousness. “At least I chose a spectacular location for my death,” a voice in her head spoke.

“You are finished, my dear.” Con Mane took a step towards Octavia, snapping her out of her thoughts.

“Do you expect me to give in?” Octavia muttered, fighting through the haze in her head. She was determined not to show weakness in her last moments.

“No, Ms. Octavia.” He lifted his forehoof as his dagger extended out of his watch, its metal blade gleaming in the sunlight. “I expect you to die.”

Con Mane raised the dagger over his head, preparing to strike the final blow. Octavia braced herself before pausing when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Just as the stallion began to bring his blade down towards the agent, something swung around from behind him and struck the dagger, resulting in a bright flash and a harsh buzzing sound. Con Mane screamed in pain, stumbling to his side and falling to his knees as electricity coursed through his blade, causing sparks to emit from his watch and delivering painful shocks to his forehoof. The stallion struggled to remove his device, managing to get it off quickly but not before his leg went numb from the pain. A burn mark now indicated where the watch had been worn.

Con Mane looked up to see Vinyl Scratch standing nearby with a peculiar device held aloft in the blue aura of her magic. It was essentially a metal stick, but at the end were two conductors connected by an open current of electricity. Vinyl levitated it in front of her, glaring down at the villain.

“I’m only going to say this once,” she growled, waving the weapon threateningly. “Get away from her.

Con Mane’s eyes narrowed. “As you wish,” he muttered through gritted teeth before leaping to his hooves as his horn began to glow. A pale yellow aura wrapped around the agent’s weapon. Vinyl, taken aback, wrestled for control over her stick, swinging it at the stallion and forcing him to slide out of the way. The villain was grunting with every movement and kept his teeth firmly gritted, but his eyes burned with fury as rage took hold of his mind. The agent swung her weapon wildly, desperately trying to hit the stallion, but his magical pull on the device prevented her from striking a blow.

Suddenly a shadow passed over the pair and a startled Vinyl glanced up to see the airship closing in on the tower, with the front tip of the balloon nearly touching the antennas above them. A pair of pegasi jumped out of the gondola with ropes clenched between their teeth, preparing to tie the airship to the tower to dock it.

It was just the distraction Con Mane was hoping for. Concentrating, he took a firm hold of Vinyl’s weapon with his magic, still held aloft in mid-air between them. Just as Vinyl turned back to face him, the stallion thrust the stick forward, catching the agent with the butt of the handle and knocking her on her back. The villain released his magical grip on her weapon and it clattered on the floor. Vinyl moved to get up, but Con Mane leapt onto her, pinning her on her back with a hoof pressed against her chest as her head dangled over the edge. The agent tried to call on her magic, but saw Con Mane’s hoof closing in before she could cast a spell.

GET...OUT...OF MY...CITY!!!” he bellowed, smashing a forehoof into Vinyl’s face with every punctuation. He panted, lifting his bleeding hoof to look down at the mare’s face. She was panting too, squinting as she looked up at him through her broken goggles. One of the lenses had completely shattered while the other was severely cracked. Her face was covered in bruises and the red of Vinyl’s visible eye matched the blood that now trickled from her nose and the small cuts around her eye and on her cheek. Con Mane gritted his teeth, raising his hoof to strike the final blow.

A pair of grey hooves suddenly wrapped around his throat and his raised hoof, bending his foreleg back painfully far. The stallion bellowed in pain as Octavia’s head appeared from behind Con Mane.

It’s not your city anymore!” she yelled, suddenly letting go of the stallion. He wheeled around, but Octavia was ready. She planted her forehooves on the floor, putting every last bit of her strength into one mighty buck. Her rear hooves connected with his chin, delivering a powerful uppercut that lifted the stallion of his hooves and into the air. He flew backwards, hitting the edge of the tower before tumbling out of sight.

Octavia collapsed onto her stomach, panting heavily and too exhausted to rise to her hooves. Vinyl pulled herself up, carefully extracting her goggles as shards of the shattered lens fell onto the floor. “Hey Octy,” she breathed, looking at her friend with concern. “You okay?” The grey mare could only nod weakly, but it was enough to bring a small grin to Vinyl’s face.

“We did it,” the white mare muttered, glancing over the edge. “We-” She stopped as she saw a trio of ponies suddenly rise out of the air, heading for the gondola of the airship. The two pegasi crew members of the airship had apparently caught Con Mane as he fell and were now carrying him to safety. “OH, COME ON!” Vinyl hollered, raising her forehooves in frustration.

The three ponies entered the gondola and closed the hatch behind them as the airship’s engines roared to life and the craft began to turn away from the tower. Vinyl’s eyes narrowed. “Oh no, you are not getting away that easily.”

She rose to her hooves and spotted her weapon laying nearby, still crackling with electricity. Vinyl grasped it with her magic, holding it aloft as she aimed for a suitable spot on the surface of the airship’s balloon. “Like hitting the side of a barn,” she thought smugly, pulling back for a moment before flinging the weapon off the tower. The agent watched for a moment as it sailed through the air before embedding itself, conductor end first, into the fabric of the balloon.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, just as the airship began pulling away in earnest from the tower, flames sprouted from where Vinyl’s weapon had struck, ignited by the electrical sparks of the device. The fire grew, moving upward and burning away at the canvas as helium began to leak out of the airship. The flames crept towards the top of the balloon as the airship entered an uncontrolled descent as it lost the gas keeping it aloft. Within a minute, the airship resembled a ball of fire hurtling towards the ground. It collided with the forested hillside below the tower, smashing into the ground as a great fireball erupted from the downed ship.

Vinyl collapsed on her haunches, watching the sight for a moment before glancing at Octavia. The grey mare was unconscious, her energy spent after the fight. Vinyl turned back to the view below. Already, she could hear sirens as fire engines raced to the scene. She glanced over at the view of San Franciscolt. Fog was drifting in over the bay, and as the clouds moved inland and passed across the Galloping Gait, she could make out the top of the two towers of the bridge. As she watched, a cloud passed out of the way, revealing the long span of the bridge. The distant rumble of a fog horn emanated from somewhere in the fogbank. Vinyl inhaled deeply, her body relaxing as she sat down beside Octavia and took in the view, feeling relief in the wake of their victory.

...And if you’re just tuning in to our live, continuing coverage, an airship crashed this morning near Sutrot Tower. Fortunately, no homes or ponies on the ground were endangered, but several ponies onboard were killed, including the owner of the airship, Mr. Constantine Mane, whose body was identified by police. Mane is most well known as the proprietor of the Sugar Daddies baked goods company. Now, reports are sketchy, but we’re hearing from police officials that the airship crash may be linked with some sort of battle at a Hayview warehouse, which resulted in the arrest of noted bakers Gustave LeGrand and Mulia Mild. With me now to talk about this is Amy Goodmare; now Amy, what do you make of these reports?

Well, as you said, these reports are still sketchy and there’s a lot of speculation going on, so we’re still waiting on official word from the police. But what we can say for sure-

“Yeah, that’s enough of that,” Vinyl said, switching off her radio. She and Octavia were sitting on a park bench on the northern shore of San Franciscolt. Behind them was a marshy field that was home to an assortment of wetland critters while in front of them was the bay. To their right, a marina stretched along the shoreline against the backdrop of the San Franciscolt skyline, while to their left sat the breathtaking sight of the Galloping Gait Bridge, leaping across the bay to the hilly terrain of the land across the bay. Ships would pass by every so often, ranging from little ferries crammed full of tourists taking pictures of the bridge to huge cargo ships steaming in from the ocean beyond. Above them, pegasi weather teams carried off the last remnants of the fogbank that had blown in from the sea, pushing the clouds along to the valleys inland. It was a serene sight and a much-needed moment of peace after everything the pair had gone through.

Vinyl looked up at her friend, who returned her glance. Both ponies were wearing numerous bandages, though they were arranged quite differently for each mare. Vinyl’s injuries were mostly confined to her face, so she had a few small adhesive bandages where she had suffered cuts and in place of her goggles she was wearing an eyepatch over one eye. Octavia, on the other hoof, had taken some much stronger blows and was wearing bandage wrappings around her ribs and each of her legs. Her posture and gait were stiffer than usual and she winced in pain every now and then.

“So, that’s that then, huh?” Vinyl commented.

“I suppose,” Octavia replied, sounding a little downcast. “Still, I didn’t want to kill him. It would have been much preferable to bring him to justice, if just to see that idiotic smirk of his wiped off his face,” she added bitterly.

“Sorry,” the DJ mumbled. The grey mare turned towards her with a sympathetic look.

“You have no need to be sorry. You did what was required of you.”

“Yeah, but...I could have been so much better! I came up the tower to rescue you, and instead you wound up rescuing me. Twice actually, because you had to break me out of the warehouse.”

“Vinyl, we’re a team-” Octavia began, but her friend cut her off.

“And now here I killed our main target! Sometimes I think I’m not cut out for this job.” The two ponies fell silent for a moment. The cellist continued to look at her friend while Vinyl stared out at the water.

“You know that song I was talking about earlier? ...I think I want to work on that some more,” she said, looking back at Octavia now. “I could really make a name for myself with my music.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself now.” The cellist chuckled.

“I know, I know,” Vinyl replied, rolling her eyes. “Still, if I do pull this off, I could finally be a real DJ! I can live my dream, baby!”

Octavia was quiet for a moment. “You know, if you do become popular, you’re not going to be able to be a secret agent. Celebrities don’t make for the most effective spies.”

“I know,” the white mare said, looking down at her hooves. “That’s why I wanted you to be the first to know.”

The two fell silent again. The only sounds were the call of seagulls flying over the water and the soft, lapping sounds of waves rolling on the little beach before them.

“You know, in all of the excitement I never stopped to realize just how beautiful it is here,” Octavia commented, looking across the bay.

As they sat on the bench, they heard the beat of hooves on the dirt trail grow louder as a jogger approached, wearing a tracksuit and headphones which connected to a small radio strapped to her side. She paid the two agents no mind, staring straight ahead as she ran past. As she did, however, a small notebook fell out of a pocket of her tracksuit, landing on the ground in front of the two agents. The jogger continued on, unawares.

“Excuse me, Miss!” Octavia called out, getting off the bench. “I think you dropped something!” The jogger continued running, unable to hear the grey mare through her headphones. “Excuse me, you-” Octavia stopped as she looked down at the notebook, which was decorated with the royal seal of Equestria. She flipped it open and began reading it.

“Looks like you’ll have to wait on that hit single, Vinyl.” Octavia hoofed the book over to her friend, who read over the page with a raised eyebrow. The grey mare sat down on the bench again as Vinyl finished reading.

“Well, that sounds interesting,” the white mare mused. “Back in Canterlot, huh?” Vinyl tore the page out of the notebook, placing the book into her saddlebag before she ripped the piece of paper in half a few times, crumpled it into a ball and flung it into the water. The two watched it float for a second before it sunk beneath the waves.

“Hey, we still got some time to kill before we have to head back to Canterlot,” Vinyl pointed out. “Want to do a little sightseeing?”

“I think I’d rather enjoy that,” the cellist answered, smiling.

“Ooh, we should go check out the local clubs! I don’t know about you, but I could really use a few drinks right about now. Plus I want to show off this sweet patch,” she added, tapping her eyepatch.

“Vinyl, I really don’t-”

“And if you come with me, I’ll go do something you want to do,” the white mare quickly added, grinning.

Octavia opened her mouth, but paused and considered this offer for a few seconds. “Very well then. If you will accompany me to the orchestra, I will go to these clubs of yours.”

Vinyl’s face broke out into a broad smile. She wrapped a hoof around the grey mare’s shoulders. “Deal.”

Vinyl and Octavia will return in You Only Live Twice

As always, a huge thanks to RTStephens for proof-reading this story! Seriously, this fic wouldn't have been half as good if it wasn't for him catching my slip-ups, so major kudos to him. And of course a big thanks to all of you who read, liked, favorited and commented on the story! I hope it was able to live up to your expectations.

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Other Titles in this Series:

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