You Only Live Twice

by JohnPerry

Chapter 9: Warrior's Dance

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Octavia and Vinyl were huddled behind a parked mail carriage, crouched low to the ground and clutching their respective weapons. They were sitting outside a large warehouse on the edge of the city, just barely within the confines of Shining Armor’s shield. The words ‘EQUESTRIA POSTAL SERVICE’ adorned the side of the building, next to a large EPS logo. Dozens of mail carriages were parked around the building, sitting overnight as they awaited going into service the next day.

Crouched behind a stack of crates nearby, Watt Sun and Sharp Eye were watching the warehouse, the latter examining the scene through a spyglass. “There’s definitely movement in there,” she whispered, turning to the two agents. “It’s past curfew; nopony should be working this late.”

“Strictly speaking, we shouldn’t be here either,” Vinyl remarked. She glanced around at the couple dozen Pinkieton detectives and what little was left of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, all taking positions behind mail carriages, crates or whatever could hide them from view of the building. After the two agents regrouped with the Pinkietons at their headquarters (which was housed in the back of a shop called ‘Party Headquarters’), they had amassed the full force of the detective agency and the few remaining secret agents onto the EPS warehouse. “Have you called in the royal guard yet?”

“Not yet,” Watt Sun answered. “We’re holding off until the last possible moment. If the changelings have infiltrated the guard, we can’t risk tipping them off that we’re on to them. Once we move in, then I’ll contact Shining Armor.”

“Very well then,” Octavia muttered, sheathing her sword and eyeing the warehouse warily. “I’ll take the roof. Wait one minute, then storm the building.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to join you on the roof? This baby is pretty good at shooting down any flyers,” Vinyl offered, patting her bass cannon.

“I’m sure. Besides, you need that firepower more than I do,” the cellist replied. “You focus on taking down the changelings. I’m going to find Mane.”

“Good luck,” Sharp Eye murmured. Vinyl and Watt Sun nodded in agreement as Octavia slipped away into the shadows, heading for the warehouse.

Octavia crept along the edge of the roof, careful to stay out of sight of anyone below. A glance through a skylight mounted in the roof revealed a few changelings pacing around inside, confirming her suspicions. The warehouse was filled with crates and packages, giving the appearance of a normally functioning mail facility. But Octavia was frustrated not to see an office or anything that would be a logical place to start looking for Con Mane.

“Ah, you’re here! Feel free to take a seat, dear.”

Octavia whirled around to see Con Mane laying on a wooden deck chair in the middle of the roof, facing away from her. Sitting on a small table next to him was a tall glass cup filled with a frothy milkshake with a colorful straw sticking out.

The stallion reached up a hoof and gestured over his shoulder at something in the mare’s general direction. “Oh, and while you’re on your way, could you pass me the remote?”

Octavia remained rooted to the spot, staring at the back of Con Mane’s head with a mixture of shock and silent fury. After a long, quiet moment, the stallion spoke again. “You know what, don’t trouble yourself dear. I can get it.” His horn began glowing, and a pale yellow aura appeared around a small remote control sitting on a utility box near Octavia. It floated over to his outstretched hoof as he took a sip of his milkshake.

The cellist finally found her voice. “What is the remote control for?”

“Would you believe that it’s a detonator to activate an explosive device planted inside the Royal Palace?”

Octavia inhaled sharply, gripping the handle of her sword tightly and bending her knees as she prepared to leap at the stallion and draw her sword in one motion if it proved necessary.

“No, of course you wouldn’t, that would be silly. This is just the remote for the radio.” He pressed a button at the top of the device, causing a radio standing several lengths in front of him to turn on. A long, thin, silvery antenna extended out of the top as the strains of classical music filled the air. Octavia instantly recognized the song as the finale to the Overture of Pegasopolis.

“Do you like it?” Con Mane asked. “Or perhaps we should play something your friend would like. After all, you two seem to have made up.” The sound of cannons booming over the brass fanfare of the Overture was quickly replaced by a heavy bass beat.

The stallion took another sip of his milkshake and relaxed against the back of his chair. “I’m glad you came. I was expecting you.”

“Is that so?” Octavia said slowly. She retained her grip on the handle of her sword as she tried to decide between lunging at the stallion’s back and catching him before he could turn around, or circling around so she could see him more clearly before attempting anything.

“Indeed. When the attack on you failed, I figured you would be able to piece together where our base of operations was.”

“If that was true, then why would you still be here?”

“Because frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Con Mane said airily. “The changelings have their silly notions of grandeur and overthrowing the nation, but I have already accomplished nearly everything I set out to: Her Majesty’s Secret Service is dead. Melody will be too, once the tight security around her is lifted.

“Quite honestly, I’m getting bored,” he continued. “I have little to keep me engaged in life now. I’m lost. A rebel without a cause. The only thing left is killing you, and for that all I had to do was wait for you to come to me. I’ve been anticipating this moment, so I hope you can make it a satisfying one.”

Con Mane turned around in his seat, looking at Octavia for the first time. “Maybe when we’re done here, I can take up a hobby. What do you think of resurrection? I’m already pretty good at it.”

Octavia gritted her teeth and lunged at the stallion, drawing her sword out and raising it over her head in one smooth motion. Quick as a flash, Con Mane jumped off his chair and kicked it, causing it to fold together with a snap before he snatched it with his forehooves. The stallion reared up on his hindlegs and swung the chair at the oncoming mare, batting her out of the air in an explosion of splintered wood.

Octavia skidded across the roof, barely managing to hang on to her sword. While she rose to her hooves, Con Mane dropped the mangled remnants of his chair and casually strolled over to the radio. With one clean motion, he snapped the antenna off, revealing that it narrowed to a thin blade with a sharp point on the end. A doughnut-shaped protrusion shielded the handle at the base from the blade. He flexed the weapon before letting it snap back like a whip.

“You like it? It was made for fencing, but it’ll do in a pinch. It’s also a splendid tool in the bedroom, if you’re interested,” the stallion said, grinning slyly and waggling his eyebrows.

Octavia growled as she rose onto her hindlegs. She let out a strangled cry and charged forward, sword held at the side in a slashing position. The stallion merely stood in place, giving the rapidly approaching mare a cocky grin.

The massive warehouse door, wide enough to accommodate two mail carriages moving side-by-side, buckled at the sudden onslaught of sound. A few ear-splitting seconds later, the crumpled door fell inward with a crash that echoed through the vast building. Standing just outside were several Pinkietons and Vinyl Scratch, who was holding a smoking bass cannon.

They rushed inside to be met by several royal guards. One of them held up a hoof. “Halt!” he screamed. “What are you—

Vinyl raised her bass cannon and let off a bolt of sonic energy, which struck the guard dead-on. A viciously swirling mass of blue magic quickly encircled his head. With a flash of green light, the stallion took the form of a changeling as he fell to the ground, holding his hooves over his ears as he clenched his eyes shut and let out a pained growl.

The other guards, realizing these intruders weren’t buying their disguise, let out a collective snarl and revealed their true forms before charging the Pinkietons. The ponies responded in kind, meeting the changelings head-on in a collision of hooves and bared fangs. They would have been evenly matched if it weren’t for the bass cannon tipping the battle in the Pinkieton’s favor. A few blasts from Vinyl were all it took to leave the changelings lying on the floor, squirming in pain.

The DJ moved swiftly through the battle, taking down each enemy with ease. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the dark shape and shining blue eyes of a changeling lunging at her. Vinyl spun around, grasping her cannon in her forehooves as she lined up a shot. The changeling was almost upon her when she let off a massive cannon blast, blowing the creature back into the air and sending it flying into a stack of open mail crates. The stack came tumbling down onto him, burying the changeling in an avalanche of envelopes and packages.

Vinyl looked around the room. The other changelings were now subdued, thanks to the Pinkietons tying them up while they were under the influence of the bass cannon’s magic. The agent jerked her head towards the back of the warehouse, receiving silent nods from each of the Pinkietons in response.

They quietly made their way deeper into the warehouse, peering cautiously around stacks of crates, shelves or anything that would give them cover. Vinyl moved slowly on her hind legs, holding her cannon against her shoulder as her eyes darted about the room.

There was a sudden scurry of movement in the shadows just beyond a shelf ahead of them, startling the agent and causing her to quickly aim her cannon at the spot. Heart pounding, she glanced at the Pinkietons and gestured towards the ground. They all crouched low, slowly following Vinyl. She backed up against the shelf, clutching the cannon to her chest and taking a steadying breath. The agent looked over at the Pinkietons, seeing that they were also bracing themselves, readying for the attack. Vinyl nodded before leaping around the corner, aiming her cannon ahead of her.

There was no one. Vinyl swung her bass cannon around, scanning the room for any sign of life, but there was nothing but more crates and piles of envelopes and packages. The Pinkietons stopped in their tracks after rushing out after Vinyl, looking around in confusion. Vinyl trained her gaze towards the ceiling, pointing her cannon anywhere she looked.

A sudden flash of green light drew her attention. She spun on the spot to see a changeling speeding through the air at her, head lowered and horn aimed directly at the pony. As she registered this, a cone of green light appeared around the creature’s head, shielding it as he shot like a missile towards her. It was almost upon her when she lifted her cannon and fired.

Octavia fell back against a utility box, hissing in pain as the cold metal touched her stinging skin. Her body was covered in razor-thin cuts, each deep enough to draw blood but individually not serious enough to cause concern. Collectively, however, they made her want to scream in agony.

In front of her, Con Mane held back, holding his blade in a forehoof and casually wiping it clean with an inner fold of his red bowtie. “Tell me dear, which do you think is worse?” he asked. “To sustain a single mortal blow, or to suffer death by a thousand cuts?”

The mare growled and lunged at the stallion, swinging her sword over her head. He quickly blocked her attack with his own blade, sidestepping her as he did so. Octavia tried desperately to power through his defense, watching the stallion’s weapon bend easily at her strength, but Con Mane proved too quick. He drew his blade back and, with alarming speed, nicked her on the shoulder. She lifted her sword again, but the stallion managed to leave a cut on her cheek before she could react.

The agent fell back on her haunches as Con Mane sprang away on his hind legs. He tapped the ground with his blade before pointing it in the mare’s direction. “En garde!” he cried, looking jubilant. However, his face fell when Octavia didn’t rise or look up at him. Instead, she remained on the ground, breathing hard with her teeth clenched shut as she pressed a hoof to one of her many cuts.

Con Mane gave her a disappointed look. “Oh dear, don’t tell me you’re already getting tired!” He swung the blade at her. It whistled as it passed through the air before cracking like a whip when it struck her back. A lock of black hair fell to the ground and a fresh cut appeared below the mare’s neck, but her only reaction was a twitch. “Come now, we need to make the most of this! After all, we almost never see each other anymore! I want to make this last.”

A loud boom echoed through the space beneath their hooves. Con Mane glanced at a nearby skylight, seeing flashes of green light illuminating the shadows within. “Oh, would you look at that. It seems your friends have found mine.”

He turned back to face Octavia, only to catch the briefest glimpse of a gray hoof before it collided with his face. The stallion staggered back, surprised to see the mare now lacking her sword and moving far quicker without its weight slowing her down. He raised his blade but only managed to land one last strike before she spun around and planted her forehooves on the ground, bucking Con Mane square in the chest. He flew back, losing his grip on the blade. Octavia kicked the weapon away, rising up on her hind legs so she stood over the stallion’s body, her teeth gritted and her expression determined.

Con Mane looked up at her, raising an eyebrow. A thin trail of blood trickled down from his nose, dripping over his upper lip. He gave her a sly grin as his gaze became steely.

Vinyl Scratch couldn’t remember where she was.

Wait, scratch that. Her memory was coming back, and with it the knowledge of where she was. She looked around to see that she was on the floor with the Pinkietons who had accompanied her, all of whom were lying motionless with her. Several changelings took the form of the unconscious ponies before scuttling away into the shadows to face the next group of ponies who dared penetrate the building, leaving one solitary changeling standing guard over Vinyl. The creature leaned over to face the pony, changing into the form of Octavia. She gave a weary sigh.

“So, we meet once again, Agent Scratch. Although I hesitate to use that title.” She leaned in closer to Vinyl’s face. “I thought I made it perfectly clear that you’re no agent, Vinyl. So what are you doing here?”

Vinyl glanced over to see that her bass cannon was lying several lengths away, too far out of her reach. She looked up at the changeling, who continued talking. “I don’t respect you, Vinyl Scratch. And that is the lowest insult I can give you. You are unworthy of replication. Your love is barely worth feasting upon. You are a deadbeat with delusions of artistic genius, relying not on your skills but dependent on a machine that spins disks.”

The changeling pressed a hoof to Vinyl’s chest. “I despise your idiotic name, I despise your idiotic appearance and I despise you, idiot.”

Vinyl stared back, her expression passive. There was a long, intense moment of silence as the changeling glared into the pony’s eyes. Finally, Vinyl opened her mouth. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.”

The changeling bared her teeth and swung a hoof at Vinyl’s head, landing a blow square in her right eye and shattering the lens of her goggles. The pony yelped, raising her forehooves to her face. “OW! Bucking—

There was a flash of green light and before Vinyl could register what was happening, she was being lifted into the air by what appeared to be a muscular, white-coated stallion that was at least twice the size of a regular pony. She felt herself being slammed against the wall, held in place by a freakishly huge foreleg pressed against her neck. The world began to go dark as her limbs flailed about frantically. Vinyl began trying to call on her magic before the pressure suddenly relented and she dropped to the floor, gasping for air.

She looked up, her vision distorted by one fully intact purple lens and one shattered one, to see the muscular stallion replaced by the form of Octavia. The changeling knelt down and picked up the bass cannon before turning around and grinning at Vinyl. “No, this feels far more fitting. I see you left it charged with some of your magic. Time for you to get a taste of your own medicine.”

She lifted the weapon, aiming it directly at Vinyl’s head. The pony looked into the heart of her bass cannon, watching the glowing ball of her own magical energy brighten before the changeling pulled the trigger, unleashing the cannon’s power onto its owner. Vinyl barely saw the bolt coming before it struck, slamming into her face as a swirling mass of blue energy quickly encircled her head.

But it had no effect. The sonic energy of the cannon continued to circle her head, but now it wandered about aimlessly for several seconds before dissipating. The changeling stared at the pony in confusion. Now it was Vinyl’s turn to smile.

“When I said I wasn’t listening, I didn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention,” she said. She lifted a hoof to her ears, showing something that had been hidden from the changeling’s sight: earplugs. With no means of entering the ears, the bass cannon’s magic had no effect. The changeling looked down at the unmoving bodies of the Pinkietons, spotting a cork in each of their ears.

Vinyl’s horn began to glow as the changeling felt the bass cannon vibrate in her hooves. A glowing ball of energy appeared within the depths of the cannon, quickly becoming so bright the changeling had to shield her eyes. The weapon pulsated with energy, fed by an incredible amount of power from the unicorn. Vinyl strained, her expression determined as she gritted her teeth and clenched her eyes shut, pouring her strength into the cannon. The weapon vibrated so violently that the changeling lost her grip, but rather than falling to the floor the cannon hovered in the air before her, now gleaming so brightly it lit up the building like a miniature sun. The changeling was able to get only a few paces away before she felt the explosion.

Con Mane ducked under Octavia’s punch, catching her forearm with one of his own while ramming the other into her chest. A violent cough erupted from the mare, spraying saliva from her mouth before she staggered back, her head hung and her mind woozy from the sudden lack of oxygen. The stallion advanced a few paces before Octavia suddenly lashed out, delivering a fierce uppercut that caught Con Mane square on the chin. He fell back, raising his forehooves too late to block the spinning kick the mare delivered to his ribs.

The stallion collapsed onto his side with a grunt as the mare remained standing, swaying unsteadily on her hind hooves before she fell to her knees, hissing in pain. She could feel blood trickling down her sides, her legs, her face, over her bruises... She let out a ragged cough, taking in short, rasping breaths. A shadow passed over her and the mare looked up to see Con Mane standing on all fours, glaring down at her. He reared up on his hind legs just as a loud humming sound filled the air. Octavia’s eyes widened and she threw her forelegs over her head.

The first thing the two ponies felt was a great shuddering beneath their hooves, as if the whole building was shifting of its own accord, before their ears were filled with a thumping beat that grew in strength. Con Mane, caught unawares, cried out as he planted his forehooves over his ears, cringing in pain. The thumps became more constant until they resembled a steady stream of ear-splitting noise that caused their bones to rattle and the very structure beneath them to shake. Every bit of glass in the building suddenly shattered, from the windows to the skylight to Con Mane’s milkshake glass, reducing it to a fine, crystalline powder.

After what felt like an eternity, the noise finally began to relent. Octavia removed her hooves from her ears, wincing at the feedback assaulting her eardrums. Sparks were flying out of a nearby utility box, the result of the delicate instruments inside shattering from the sonic onslaught. The agent spotted her sword lying where she had left it and raced over to grab it.

She was almost upon it when she felt her hooves slip out from under her. The agent looked down to see a pale yellow glow encase her hindlegs before vanishing. She looked over to see Con Mane, horn glowing as he clutched his head, groaning. Octavia took advantage of his pain to grab her sword and turned around to face him. The stallion, realizing he wasn’t going to be able to summon the focus for magic in his current condition, braced himself as the mare charged.

She swung the sword at his head, forcing him to duck. Con Mane unleashed an uppercut of his own, sending the mare flying. She skidded across the roof, losing her grasp on the sword as it clattered on the ground beside her. Octavia turned around to see the stallion galloping at her, eyes burning with fury. Time seemed to slow down as she raised herself to her haunches and grasped the handle of her sword. There wouldn’t be enough time to swing her sword before he collided with her. He reared up onto his hindlegs and swung his forehoof towards the back of her head just as she plunged the blade of her sword in the gap between her arm and her side.

There was a wet squelch and Octavia suddenly felt the weight of the stallion on her. But he wasn’t moving. Something warm began to flow down her back as Con Mane let out a gasp that was cut short.

The stallion fell off of her, pulling the sword out of the agent’s grasp. He landed on his side and Octavia looked down to see her blade sticking out of Con Mane’s chest, protruding out of where she knew the lungs to be. Blood seeped out of the wound, soaking his tuxedo and spilling out onto the ground. He gasped for air, but his breaths were becoming short and ragged. Each gasp was short, unable to deliver the oxygen he desperately needed.

He reached out with a trembling hoof, grasping Octavia by the shoulder. She felt his clammy skin as his eyes locked with hers. The stallion’s face now resembled a fish out of water, his mouth hanging open as he tried to breath. But his eyes were bright, tears glistening at the corners. He began sputtering, each syllable he spoke taking its painful toll as blood and saliva dripped from his mouth. Despite the grisly sight, Octavia couldn’t turn away.

“G-gif... m... m... my... ap... pol... gies... t... t-to... M... Me... Mel... dy...”

His hoof fell away. He stopped breathing, letting out one, slow exhale before his eyes dimmed and his body ceased movement. Octavia’s lip trembled as she remained rooted to the spot, taking a shaky breath and shivering uncontrollably. There were no tears, for there was no sadness. Only an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.

Octavia was dimly aware of the smell of smoke and the crackling sound of fire. But she relegated it to the back of her mind, her focus entirely on the lifeless body of the stallion laying before her.

Next Chapter: Epilogue Estimated time remaining: 4 Minutes
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