The West Is Not Enough

by JohnPerry

First published

Secret agents Vinyl Scratch and Octavia find themselves locked in an epic struggle against a ruthless group of outlaws in the wild west.

Vinyl Scratch and Octavia, two of the Pinkieton Detective Agency's newest members, are called out to apprehend a vicious group of outlaws. But what starts out as a hunt for bank robbers will soon become a struggle for control over the wild west in...The West Is Not Enough!
Proofread by the fantastic RTStephens. The cover image was made from backgrounds and vectors by NightmareMoon5, ZuTheSkunk, supermatt314, and ZeeGaaS on deviantART.

Kid With Gun

The Crystal Empire was the shining gem of Equestria. Of course, it wasn’t actually an “empire” anymore, but everypony was too polite to suggest changing the name, as it was a nice reminder of when the kingdom’s denizens had enjoyed unsurpassed power over the rest of the world and all the social and economic benefits that entailed. These days it acted more like a gated community, with an economy that relied on curious tourists who were interested in the city’s rich culture and the sparkly locals.

Unfortunately, any concentration of tourists with lots of disposable income tends to attract a different kind of pony, as a tour group was now realizing first hoof.

In the bag, hurry up!” yelled a tall, red-coated unicorn stallion levitating a miniature cannon in the face of one of the elderly tourists. He was wearing a vest, a black bandana over his face, and had a cutie mark depicting a lit cherry bomb. The tourist at the end of his weapon smiled nervously as he dropped a gold watch and emptied a small bag of bits into a large burlap sack the robber was also levitating with his magic.

“Oh my, this is exciting!” an elderly mare exclaimed, squinting over the top of her glasses. She turned to face the tour guide, who was shivering with fear. “So this is what it was like when Sombra was in charge?”

“Shut up, lady!” the robber shouted, thrusting the bag in front of the old mare. “Earrings in the bag!”

The mare chortled as she pulled off her jewelry and placed it in the sack. “Alright, I’ll play along. But don’t lose them now, you hear?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” the stallion said menacingly. “I’ll keep a close eye on them.”

“What a nice colt,” the elderly mare commented as the robber made a run for it, his bag jingling with the sound of all the gold bits and jewelry he had taken. The road the tour group had taken was otherwise deserted, allowing him to escape without any hassle.

He weaved between some tall, pinnacle-shaped crystalline structures on the edge of the city before doubling back to throw anypony off the trail. Not that they’d be following him anyway. He grinned as he pulled off his bandana and stowed it in a vest pocket. Nopony in a hundred miles had the guts to take on The Sunprance Kid.

Or so he thought.

A sudden whistling sound caused his ears to perk up. But before he could react, something flashed past his face and his bag was jerked out of his grip. He jumped back in alarm, looking over to see that the sack had a large hole torn in it, spilling its contents onto the grass. Pinning the bag to the ground was a long, thin arrow.

The stallion whirled around, aiming his hoof cannon in front of him before spotting his target standing on a crystal pinnacle, looking down at him from several lengths up. It was a grey-coated mare with long, black hair, standing on her hind legs and holding a musical bow in her forehooves, with another arrow pulled against the string of the bow. Her expression was cold, her eyes narrowed as she aimed the arrow at the robber.

The stallion blinked before flashing the mare a youthful smile. “Well, hello there, ma’am. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

The mare’s expression didn’t change. “Am I to assume that I am speaking to Loose Cannon, better known as The Sunprance Kid?”

“Present,” the stallion replied, bowing his head in mock courtesy.

“I am placing you under arrest for crimes committed against the citizens of Equestria,” the grey mare declared. “I ask that you surrender and come quietly, or I shall be required to use force.”

“Oh, is that so?” Loose Cannon chuckled. “What are you, a cop?”

“No. I’m a musician.”

“And you think you’re going to stop me with your little bow and arrow?”

The mare pulled back on the arrow a little further. “That’s the idea, yes.”

The stallion laughed. “Look, you seem like a nice mare, so I’ll let you off easy. Go on home and find some other do-gooder thing to do. You don’t want to be tangling with a guy like me.”

“You underestimate me,” the mare muttered.

Loose Cannon gave her a cocky grin. “Miss, you’re staring down the barrel of the most powerful hoof cannon in the world, which can blow your head clean off with one magic bolt. So you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do you feel luck—”

The rest of his question was lost in an explosion of sound and a bright flash of blue light. Before the stallion could even register what was happening, he was lifted off his hooves and flung through the air, his ears filled with a hideous screeching noise. Loose Cannon was slammed against a nearby crystal formation, which cracked and splintered under the blast before shattering completely, burying the stallion in a pile of rubble.

From behind another crystal structure came a white-coated unicorn mare with a spiky blue mane, wearing a saddlebag and purple shades. She was levitating a hoof cannon of her own beside her, only this one was sleeker, painted chrome and pulsing with blue light. She looked down at the pile of crystal rubble she had created. “Yeesh, what a blowhard.”

Damn it, Vinyl!” the grey mare yelled, barely managing to hold on to the crystalline structure she was standing on, which now sported some ominous cracks. “I thought I told you to be careful with that thing!”

“You ask me to come and honestly expect me not to bring my bass cannon?” Vinyl replied with a grin. “Besides, I don’t know why you’re complaining. I got him for you, Octy.”

Octavia sheathed her bow into a strap slung on her back and clambered down to where Vinyl was standing, giving the DJ a withering look. “I’m complaining because I specifically told you that these crystals are very sensitive to the bass cannon’s power. The last thing we need is to be accused of destroying a historical site.”

“Oh relax, there’s nopony around.” Vinyl began sifting through the pile of rubble, quickly finding one of Loose Cannon’s hooves sticking out between a couple of large crystal fragments. She quickly unearthed the rest of the body to find the stallion unconscious. “Sunprance Kid, I place you under arrest,” she declared, levitating a length of rope out of her saddlebag and tying it around the downed robber. “For the charges of theft, intimidation, armed robbery, and most heinous of all, stealing from the train that was carrying my shipment of Kolt Koala music.”

Octavia sighed. “Vinyl, it was a record. Get over it.” She crouched beside Loose Cannon’s body, reaching into each pocket of his vest before pulling out a thin scroll of parchment. The cellist unfurled it, her eyes narrowing as she read down the page.

“Looks like Melody was right,” she commented, showing Vinyl the writing on the parchment. “We’d better get back to Canterlot.”

“Right,” Vinyl replied with a nod. “...after I’m done with Kiddo here.” The DJ cast her come-to-life spell on the rope, causing it to wrap itself around a nearby crystal pinnacle and pull Loose Cannon up into the air, leaving him hogtied and dangling over the ground. She then pulled a sheet of parchment and a quill out of her saddlebag and scribbled a note. Octavia was able to read the words ‘Courtesy of Your Friendly Neighborhood Pinkieton’ before Vinyl slapped it onto the stallion’s body.

The DJ scratched her chin. “Hmm, it needs a little something more.” Her horn began to glow brightly before she let out a bolt of blue light into the air, which exploded in a firework before leaving a giant neon colored arrow in the sky, pointing directly down at Loose Cannon.

“There we go!” Vinyl said cheerfully. Octavia merely rolled her eyes.

From the outside, the headquarters of the Pinkieton Detective Agency was unassuming; a dull, grey building with a few shops facing the street, one of which was a small business labeled ‘Party Headquarters.’ On the door below this sign was a stylized depiction of an eye above the motto ‘Watching Out For You.’ The few ponies who even noticed it generally assumed it was the office of a fringe political party who had rather creepy tastes in campaign imagery.

But if one was to walk up to the door, knock three times, and wait for the eye on the door to stop examining them, that pony would find an entirely different world inside. At the heart of the building was a cavernous atrium that rose all the way to the roof and was decorated in all manner of festive decorations: colorful balloons, banners, bunting, and streamers were crowded under the ceiling, while the floor held a group of tables that were loaded down with a constant supply of cake, sweets, fruit, and punch. Employees stood around and chatted, filling the hall with sound of pleasant conversation. The public image of the Pinkieton Detective Agency was one of mystery and secrecy, but within the inner sanctum of the organization, every day was a party. Most workplaces could only achieve a pale imitation of fun, meant to cover up the reality of a dull monotony. Here, it was a way of life, a state of normalcy between the grueling missions Pinkieton detectives were assigned.

Several ponies greeted Vinyl and Octavia as they walked through the atrium, heading for a large door on one side of the hall labeled ‘Musician’s Division.’ Musical staves were painted around the doorway, winding down the walls and labeled with the notes for a song, with accompanying lyrics written in curling writing below the lines: ‘Come on everypony, smile, smile, smile...

The two ponies ascended a flight of stairs and entered a long hallway that was filled with the sound of several different instruments mingling in the air: the soothing strains of a violin, the twang of an acoustic guitar, the beat of a drum, the delicate rhythm of a piano, and the pulse of an electronic backbeat. All of them were playing independently of each other yet never intruding upon their fellows.

“You know, maybe I should come here more often,” Vinyl remarked. “Seems like a good place to just relax and practice.”

“Well, next time we need a DJ to investigate a nightclub, we’ll drop you a note,” Octavia replied.

“On second thought, I’ll skip.”

They continued down the hallway to a set of double doors at the end, marked by a gold sign labeled ‘Melody Maker, Conductor.’ They both grasped one of the doors and opened them simultaneously, stepping into a well-appointed secretary’s room. Melody’s assistant, Money Penny, immediately recognized the two agents and nodded. Vinyl and Octavia returned her nod and stepped into the head mare’s office.

Melody’s new office was several sizes smaller than the one she had occupied as the head of the now-defunct Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it was no less elegant. The furnishings were intended to remind one of Melody’s hometown of Trottingham: plush leather couches, finely crafted chests and desks, and portraits on the walls. A steaming pot of tea and a set of teacups made from fine china occupied one table. It lacked the palatial feel and grandness of her old office, but it was cozy and inviting. Sitting at the desk was the elderly unicorn herself, her mane greying and her light tan skin wrinkled, but looking more healthful than Vinyl and Octavia had ever seen her. She looked up at the two agents and smiled, rising out of her chair while gesturing for them to take a seat on one of the couches.

While Vinyl and Octavia sat down, Melody poked her head out the front door. “Ms. Penny, would you fetch our other visitors for me, please?” She pulled her head back in and closed the door behind her before walking back to the center of the room. The mare sat across from the two agents as she prepared cups of tea for each of them. “Thank you for making your way directly here. I have somepony I want you to meet.”

Octavia nodded, pulling The Sunprance Kid’s scroll out of her bag and holding it out to Melody, who took it with her magic. “You were right about Loose Cannon,” the cellist remarked.

Melody opened the scroll and read aloud:

From one outlaw to another,

You and I are a select breed of pony, one that knows opportunity when we see it. So I hope you won’t disappoint by taking advantage of the chance of a lifetime out here in the sunny west!

Me and a few friends of mine have found a paradise out here in No Mare’s Land. You must have heard about the mines here striking gold. I’m telling you, colt, it’s all true. What you don’t hear as much about is the total lack of police, soldiers, or any of these pesky princess-huggers. None of them have any authority out here. It’s a wild and beautiful country, where one can live in safety and obscurity. A land of absolute freedom and untold riches, just waiting for that entrepreneurial spirit and that special can-do attitude we Equestrians are renowned for.

I want to invite you to this special place. No more robbing old ladies for bits, we’re talking real money here. Go west, young colt!

Yours truly,

Messy Manes

Proud recipient of the Public Enemy #1 spot, four years running

“Messy Manes...” Melody muttered, using her magic to open up a nearby chest drawer and retrieve a binder. She opened it to reveal a copy of a ‘WANTED’ poster with a picture of a pale-colored mare with a vicious-looking sneer. The tip of her horn was just barely visible over a frizzy mane that seemed to stick out at every angle and blanketed the sides of her head, making her look more lion than pony. Below the picture were the words ‘PUBLIC ENEMY #1.’

Melody set aside the poster and read from a dossier. “Messy Manes, born in Fillydelphia. Received military training at Annaponis Academy before joining the Royal Navy. Performed heroically at the Battle of Ironcolts, for which she received numerous accolades. Was expected to receive knighthood for her service, but was denied due to reports of drunkenness and hostile behavior. Believing she had been slighted, she vanished from public sight for a few years before robbing a train near Dodge Junction. Has since committed a string of violent robberies on banks and trains. Is considered armed and dangerous.”

“And now she’s gathering other robbers?” Octavia asked. “Why would she do that?”

“That’s for you to figure out,” Melody answered. The door opened and the three mares looked up to see Money Penny leading two stallions into the room. One was a tan-coated earth pony with a short, cropped mane of black hair and a large, bushy mustache. He wore a Stetson and had a placid expression, coming across as a calm, unassuming stallion. The other, however, was about as different a stallion as it was possible to imagine. He was a white-coated unicorn with a lush, blond mane that perfectly framed a handsome, instantly recognizable face. He wore a tuxedo and a blue bowtie, with a rose sticking out of one pocket. Both Octavia and Vinyl jumped to their hooves at the sight of him.

Melody glanced over at the newcomers, remaining seated on the couch. “Ah, thank you Ms. Penny.” Money Penny nodded and retreated out of the office as Melody gestured at the mustached stallion wearing the Stetson. “Agents, this is Quiet Earp, sheriff of the town of O.K., which sits in No Mare’s Land. He has come to ask for our help.” The sheriff removed his hat and tipped his head in the mare’s direction. “Sheriff, these are Agents Octavia and Scratch, who just returned from their arrest of The Sunprance Kid. Who, as we have just found out, intended to join Messy Manes out west.”

“Ahem,” the well-groomed stallion next to Quiet Earp stated. He didn’t even disguise it with a cough, he merely said the word aloud. Melody rolled her eyes.

“And this, as I’m sure you already know, is Prince Blueblood,” the elderly mare said, jerking her head towards the white stallion. He huffed and turned his nose up towards the ceiling.

“I would expect you to show some courtesy,” Blueblood remarked in a haughty tone. “Especially after I declared my public support for you and Her Majesty’s Secret Service when you got into trouble.”

“Oh yes, your support meant a lot to me,” Melody said airily, not bothering to look up from her cup of tea. “Before your statement, ponies had merely pondered whether we were renegades doing the dirty business of the nobles.”

The remark clearly went over the prince’s head. “Always happy to be of service,” he boasted. “And so I come, with the safety and well-being of my fellow pony in mind, to ask for your help. This poor gentlecolt here,” he added, pointing a hoof at Quiet Earp but stopping short of actually touching him, “has told me of the terrible plight of his village. He and his fellow settlers have been living under the terrifying menace of a group of bloodthirsty thieves! And so he has made the dangerous journey here to ask us for our assistance.”

Vinyl cocked her head at the sheriff. “Why don’t you ask for the Royal Guard’s help?”

Quiet Earp opened his mouth to reply, but Blueblood cut him off. “Sadly, the Royal Guard is unable to help, as the settlement falls outside the boundaries of Equestria. So, turned down by the other royals, he came to me for help. I have brought him to you to ask for your assistance, for the good of our fellow ponies!”

“Yes, and I’m sure this is in no way for the good of the gold mine near O.K. that you have a monetary stake in,” Melody remarked, still not looking up at the prince. He glowered at her, making a noise of disgust.

“Look, we’re all on the same side here,” said Quiet, speaking for the first time. He was soft-spoken, but his voice carried a calm dignity to it, a far cry from the boastful, theatrical tone the stallion standing next to him took. “It don’t matter why we want these bandits caught.”

“How many bandits are we talking here?” Vinyl asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well shoot, just about every one you can name,” Quiet replied. “Messy Manes is just the worst. In the past few months we’ve had to deal with Bonnie and Clydesdale, Black Bronc, Filly the Kid, Gretchen’s Gang, Pretty Colt Bolt...”

“And with the Sunprance Kid, that checks off just about everypony at the top of the public enemies list,” Melody remarked. “All trying to take advantage of the gold rush.”

“We’re in a real tight bind,” the sheriff explained, his eyes downturned. “Things were already messy before...well, before Messy showed up. But now, trains are gettin’ robbed, stagecoaches are gettin’ attacked, supplies are expensive and everypony is afraid. Some families are just givin’ up and leavin’ No Mare’s Land.”

“If I may, why is it called ‘No Mare’s Land?’” Octavia inquired.

“Cause it don’t belong to nobody. Some ponies laid claim to it ages ago, not realizin’ there were already buffalo livin’ there. That woulda made things complicated enough, but then a bunch of griffons and mules settled in, right around the same time ponies started showing up. Everyone had a rightful claim to the land, so we just had to agree to share it, with no one owning more than what they build, grow, or mine from it.”

“But it is exactly for this reason why the Royal Guard cannot help us,” Blueblood explained. “No Mare’s Land sits outside the jurisdiction of Equestria, so authorizing a military campaign there would require some lengthy legal maneuvering that we simply do not have time for.”

“In that case, you’ve come to the right ponies,” Melody said, smiling at Quiet. “Pinkietons have no jurisdiction. Our skilled agents would be more than happy to assist you. There is, of course, the small matter of our fee.”

“Oh, uh, yes,” the sheriff murmured. “I’m sure the townsfolk could pull somethin’ toget—”

“Oh, Celestia no!” Melody exclaimed. “We wouldn’t dream of asking you to pay! You have quite enough to worry about as it is. No, I’m sure our dear Prince Blueblood will be able to cover the cost.”

“Yes, of course I—Wait, what?!” the prince yelled, his jaw dropping in horror.

“So kind of you, Prince,” the elderly mare remarked, grinning at Blueblood. “You’re always thinking of the safety and well-being of your fellow pony, after all.”

Blueblood gritted his teeth and glared at the mare. “I’m...sure we could negotiate a reasonable price.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your busy schedule. Celestia knows we can’t all handle the rigors of being on the cover of Teen Bleat or the Equestria Examiner every week. I’ll just have somepony send you the bill when we’re done.”

“That’s...yes, you do that,” Blueblood said, forcing a grin. “I expect you to keep me abreast of any new details. Good day, all of you.” He gave a short bow and turned away, using his magic to open the door before marching out, muttering under his breath. Octavia and Vinyl distinctly heard the words “...enough on my plate without that Coltbert mocking me every other night...” before the door slammed shut behind him.

Of all the branches of the Pinkieton Detective Agency, the Party Supplies Division was the most costly to maintain and had the largest staff. This would seem odd to an outsider, until they found out that Party Supplies was not just in charge of the decorations and games for the frequent get-togethers the agency put on, but also any tools their agents needed out in the field. With the acquisition of the brightest minds from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a large funding grant from the royal government, P.S. Division had generated some of the most technologically advanced and festive armaments in the world. Presently, they held the patents to no less than twenty-four inventions, including the PunchLine™, the kazoo dart gun, the custard catapult, and the tommy gum.

It was in the busy laboratories of P.S. Division that Vinyl and Octavia found two senior Pinkietons they knew all too well. One was a charcoal grey stallion with a cutie mark of a lit lightbulb. He was wearing a black bowtie and a bowler hat. Standing next to him was a young mare with a chestnut brown coat and a cutie mark of a magnifying glass. Both of them were engaged in deep conversation, reading a set of documents.

“You two are just inseparable, aren’t you?” Vinyl said with a grin, causing the two ponies to look up. They smiled back, with the mare pulling Vinyl into a hug.

“It’s good to see you again!” she exclaimed. “You too, Octavia!”

“Hey, Sharp Eye,” the DJ greeted, hugging the eager young mare back. “And you too, Watt Sun,” she added, nodding at the stallion. He tipped his bowler hat in her direction.

“Have you been briefed yet?” he asked.

“Just got done,” Vinyl answered. “So what’s the plan?”

“Since it wouldn’t do to have any bandits recognizing us as Pinkietons,” Watt Sun explained, “we’ll be traveling in disguise as a musical band.”

“All right!” Vinyl yelled joyfully.

“More specifically, as a country band!” Sharp Eye added.

The DJ’s face fell. “Oh.”

The four agents walked over to a table with several instrument cases sitting on it. Sharp Eye popped one open to reveal a violin. “Octavia, I thought a fiddle might prove to your liking,” she said, carefully taking out the instrument and holding it out to the cellist.

Octavia stood up on her hind legs and took the violin with her forehooves, propping it against her chin as she tuned it before taking the bow. She inhaled slowly and closed her eyes. Suddenly the bow was flying across the strings, her hoof moving faster than anypony could follow as the sharp, melodic sound filled the room. After displaying her speed, she began drawing her bow across the strings more slowly before tapping the strings with the bow to bring the song to a halt. She opened her eyes again and smiled at Sharp Eye, whose jaw had dropped. “This should do just nicely,” the cellist remarked.

It took Sharp Eye a few seconds to recover as Octavia placed the violin back in its case. “Uh, and for you Vinyl, I have this,” she said, tapping a case for a much larger instrument with a long neck.

“Oh boy, I get to play the banjo,” Vinyl muttered, rolling her eyes.

“Actually, I’m playing the banjo,” Sharp Eye corrected. “I thought you might like this instead.” She opened the case to reveal a gleaming electric guitar, painted a bright, shiny red. Vinyl’s eyes widened considerably and her mouth fell open at the sight of it.

“Okay, now this is more like it,” the DJ said, immediately levitating it out of its case and taking it in her forehooves. She ran her hooves along its polished body, feeling the strings against her hooves and strumming them, even though it made no sound without electricity or her magic powering it. “This is so cool,” she murmured, wearing a huge grin on her face.

“What’s more,” Watt Sun added, “our engineers have constructed it so that it can function as a weapon.” He pointed at a switch that had two settings: ‘NORMAL’ and ‘HEAVY.’ “It utilizes your magic in much the same way as your bass cannon, should you find it necessary.”

Watt Sun didn’t think it was possible for Vinyl’s smile to grow any wider. He was quickly proved wrong.

Crazy Train

Vinyl relaxed in her train seat as the desert scenery of the west sped past the window. Octavia sat across from her, sitting upright in her seat and reading a newspaper, occasionally glancing across the compartment at the DJ’s choice of headgear: a brown Stetson, now resting over Vinyl’s face as she lay across her seat. It wasn’t so much the hat itself that kept drawing the cellist’s gaze, it was the simple fact that it looked so out of place on her spiky blue mane.

“I never took you for the cowpony look,” Octavia remarked.

Vinyl didn’t move. “I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.”

“Of course they are,” the cellist replied, idly turning a page of her newspaper.

The DJ pressed a hoof to the rim of her hat, pushing it up so that Octavia could see her grinning face. Vinyl hadn’t even fully taken off her goggles, instead letting them rest on her forehead beneath her hat. The combination of fashion styles was bizarre, to say the least. “Well, if we’re going as a country band, we might as well commit to it.”

“Committing to it is one thing, but real cowponies don’t wear Stetsons indoors. There’s no reason to.”

“Sure they do! Besides, what would you know about country musicians?” Vinyl added mockingly.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Octavia retorted.

Vinyl was about to reply when the door of their compartment slid open and Sharp Eye stepped in, grinning broadly and wearing a white stetson and matching vest, which was studded with turquoise gems. “Howdy, y’all!” she drawled.

Both agents were silent for a moment, taking in the young mare’s outfit. They glanced at each other, raising their eyebrows before a goofy smile appeared on their faces simultaneously. Within seconds they fell into peals of laughter.

AH-ha-ha-ha-ha-hah!” Vinyl howled, kicking her rear legs in the air as she clutched her chest with her forehooves. “You can’t be serious! BWAH-HA-HA-HA!

“What?” Sharp Eye asked, looking hurt.

Octavia, naturally, was the first to recover. She held a hoof over her mouth to hide her smile. “Um...it’s just that...you may be laying it on just a little too thick.”

“Wait wait wait,” Vinyl sputtered through her laughter, “just say ‘y’all’ again. One more time, pretty please?”

“Oh, forget it,” Sharp Eye muttered, tearing off her vest and throwing it on the seat. She yanked off her Stetson and tossed it on top of the vest, but Octavia picked it up and handed it back.

“Actually, the hat was a nice touch. It offers a nice contrast to your brown coat,” the cellist offered. “But I’d leave the vest. And try to work on the accent.” Across from her, Vinyl snickered.

“Well, I came in here because Watt Sun is setting up our instruments in the mail car,” Sharp Eye explained. “He thinks we should practice before we get to O.K.”

“I’m game,” the DJ answered, springing up to her hooves. “I need to stretch my hooves anyway.” She led the other two mares out of the compartment and down the hallway of the train carriage, heading towards the front of the train.

Octavia looked around as they stepped outside into the space between the two train cars. The scenery of No Mare’s Land was stark and barren; a vast expanse of sand, scrub, and cacti that stretched out to a range of blue mountains far off in the distance. The sheer scale of the landscape astounded her. It was hard to believe that O.K. was still so far away when they were already beyond the boundaries of Equestria. She was beginning to appreciate why nopony had been able to catch these bandits yet.

The three Pinkietons continued making their way to the mail car, stepping inside the windowless carriage to find Watt Sun. He was standing in a space between the crates of letters and packages, just big enough for a few ponies to stand and play their instruments, which were already sitting out.

“Ah, you’re here!” the stallion exclaimed, looking over at them. “I must confess I don’t know much about country music. Here, which songs do you think we should practice on?” he asked, holding out a binder filled with music sheets.

“I think one of the concepts behind country music is to just let it flow from within and let your emotions guide you,” Octavia replied. “To play off-the-cuff, as it were.”

Vinyl picked up her guitar and began strumming, belting out a rather off-key tune in a mangled country accent of her own. “Oh Octavia, now don’t you cry for me! ‘Cause I come from Fillydelphia with a guitar on my knee!

“On second thought, perhaps we should learn some of the basics,” the cellist muttered, taking the book from Watt Sun and flipping it open. She scanned a few pages before settling on a song. “Here, this looks suitable. And Cob Wills should prove a popular choice.” She pulled out three copies of a music sheet and hoofed them out. Sharp Eye took her banjo while Octavia readied her violin.

Vinyl began tapping her hoof. “And a one, two, three, four—”

Suddenly there was a thunderous boom and the train rocked violently, throwing everypony off their hooves and bringing an abrupt end to their song. Several crates of mail shifted or toppled over, spilling their contents on the floor. Somehow, the train managed to continue rolling down the tracks.

Sharp Eye adjusted her hat as she scrambled to her hooves. “What in tarnation was that?!

“Still laying it on too thick,” Vinyl muttered from underneath her own Stetson.

Octavia and Watt Sun leapt to their hooves and raced for the door, flinging it open to look outside. They stood at the end of the train car, looking around frantically.

The cellist frowned. “I can’t see any—”

DOWN!” Watt Sun yelled, shoving Octavia to the floor. The grey mare caught the briefest glimpse of a dark, ball-shaped object sailing through the air towards the side of their carriage before it struck, exploding on impact. The two ponies covered their heads with their hooves as debris rained down on them and the carriage was suddenly exposed to the outside. There was a sudden blast of wind, whipping any loose envelopes into the air and sending them flying out of the train.

The two cautiously looked up to see a group of bandana-clad ponies galloping alongside the train, their saddlebags bulging with more of the strange black exploding balls. A few even clutched hoof cannons between their teeth, though the train was moving too fast for them to accurately use them.

As the two agents watched, a huge, jet black stallion at the lead of the pack suddenly starting shouting at the other bandits, “That’s them! The Pinkietons, like Messy said!” To their alarm, Octavia and Watt Sun saw that the black stallion was staring right at them. The cellist locked eyes with his fiery red gaze for a moment before he reached back into his saddlebag, using his teeth to pull out another of his bombs. Octavia and Watt Sun had no chance to dodge before the black stallion flung the bomb straight at them.

But the bomb never reached its target, as a lasso suddenly appeared in front of the two agents, wrapping around the bomb and yanking it off its path and over the side of the train, where it burst harmlessly on the ground. The two Pinkietons looked up to see Quiet Earp standing on top of the train car behind theirs, holding a rope between his teeth. The sheriff waved down at them.

“Try to knock the bombs away before they hit you!” he hollered over the roar of the train’s engine. “And for the love of Celestia, don’t let them on the train!”

“On it!” Vinyl yelled, suddenly racing past Octavia and Watt Sun and clambering up the ladder to the top of what remained of the roof of the mail carriage. By her side, her guitar were hovering in the pale blue aura of her magic.

Sharp Eye stepped up next to Octavia, gaping down at the vicious-looking bandit leader. “Is that Black Bronc?”

“Don’t worry about that!” the cellist shouted back, grabbing her bow sword out of a nearby case. “Tell the engineer to get this train up to full speed! Now!” Sharp Eye nodded and dashed off towards the front of the train.

On the roof, Vinyl had switched her guitar to weapon mode and was now standing atop the train carriage, glaring down at the bandits. She snapped her goggles on before she started strumming her guitar. The strings began to glow with the same pale blue light of her horn, which grew brighter with each note played.

The sound of her guitar became apparent even over the thunderous noise of the train engine. “Hey lookie, boys!” Black Bronc hollered. “Sounds like somepony wants a-whompin’! What say we give ‘er one!” There were a few whoops and hollers from the crowd of bandits before a couple of them pulled out bombs and flung them at Vinyl.

It was at that moment that Vinyl smacked the strings of her guitar, causing a burst of energy to reverberate out as a huge wave of sound that was powerful enough to knock Vinyl back a few steps. It also had the effect of halting the bombs in mid-air before pushing them back to the ground, straight into the path of Black Bronc and his gang.

The black stallion barely had time to roll out of the way of the oncoming objects. His gang, however, was not as fortunate, as the two bombs landed directly in front of them, blowing a few bandits into the air and shrouding the rest in sand and smoke. When the cloud dispersed, all that remained was a heap of ponies lying in a crater that quickly vanished into the distance as the train sped past.

YEAH!” Vinyl hollered, pumping a hoof in the air. “That’s what you get for messing with DJ PON-3!

Vinyl, get down!” Octavia yelled frantically. The DJ didn’t hesitate or question her order, immediately flopping down on her chest and lying flat on the roof of the train. She immediately felt the woosh of something sail over her head and heard the piercing screech of a eagle fill her ears. In front of her, Quiet Earp vanished into the space between cars, dodging whatever was coming their way.

Vinyl glanced up to see a griffon sail over the train, arcing high up into the air where she was then joined by several other griffons. They remained hovering in mid-air for a moment before diving for the train, each of them swinging something over their heads.

The DJ rose to her hooves, squinting her eyes as she tried to figure out what they were swinging. It looked like a length of rope, but at this distance she couldn’t tell. She quickly grabbed the guitar and began powering up her magic again before one of the griffons flung their object at Vinyl. The DJ saw only a blur of something whipping through the air before her forelegs suddenly snapped together and she toppled over, barely managing to avoid dropping her weapon over the side of the train.

Vinyl looked down to see her forelegs tangled up in several different cords, all tied together and weighed down with steel balls at the end. She was struggling to untangle herself when she heard the sound of something heavy land next to her.

The agent looked up fearfully to see a particularly vicious-looking griffon leering down at her. Her feathers were ruffled, her fur was matted, scars covered her body, and her talons and curved beak were a filthy yellow at their sharp points. The griffon folded her massive wings against her body and stepped closer to Vinyl, her talons digging into the roof of the train car.

The griffon stared down at Vinyl, regarding the pony with the cold eyes of an eagle. There was no emotion in her face, just the icy stare of her unsettling gaze.

Vinyl swallowed before speaking in a defiant tone. “I take it you’re Gretchen, huh?”

Gretchen suddenly lashed out a claw, grasping Vinyl’s neck in her talons and lifting her forcefully in the air. The agent sputtered, her rear legs flailing and her forehooves struggling against the griffon’s iron grip as Gretchen lifted her toward her face, silently examining her.

“Yes, I’m the one you call Gretchen,” the griffon answered. Her voice was surprisingly quiet and calm, a far cry from her imposing and unkempt appearance. “Now don’t struggle, hooved one. For that is the path to pain.”

The realization dawned on Vinyl that while Gretchen was keeping a tight grip around her neck, she had allowed her enough room to breath. The pony willed herself to relax, still holding onto the griffon’s talons around her neck as her rear legs dangled limply over the roof. She glanced down at the guitar lying on the train car.

“No magic, now,” Gretchen muttered softly. “If I see that horn of yours glow...” she trailed off, teasing the sharp end of her talons against Vinyl’s skin. The pony gulped, remaining stationary in the griffon’s hold.

“The weak are not welcome here,” Gretchen stated. “These skies are ours. Return to your sinful land or be hunted down as prey.”

“What the buck are you talking about?!” Vinyl sputtered.

“I am this land’s salvation. So long as I remain, this realm will remain pure. As it was written in the scripture of old, ‘And the clawed and fanged shall rule the earth, and the beaked shall inherit the skies.’ Go back to your false prophets of the heavens and leave these skies to the griffons.”

Great. A wannabe preacher with claws, Vinyl thought to herself. “Huh. You don’t seem to have a problem working with ponies, though,” she stated aloud.

“Messy Manes has granted me the skies of No Mare’s Land, free of any pegasi influence, in exchange for my assistance in driving the hooved sinful out,” Gretchen explained. “Now leave.

Vinyl flashed the griffon a smile. “Sorry. No can do.”

Suddenly, a dart with a pink string tied on the end whistled through the air and embedded itself in Gretchen’s neck. The griffon bellowed in pain, dropping Vinyl on the train roof as she backed up, holding a claw to her neck. Behind her, Watt Sun and Octavia were standing at the end of the train car, the cellist holding her bow sword while the stallion lowered a kazoo from his mouth.

Vinyl grabbed her guitar and backed away from the griffon, who, after a moment of flailing around, inhaled deeply and calmly reached a claw up to her neck, easily plucking the dart out. She examined it for a moment before casually flicking it over the side of the train.

Watt Sun was aghast as Gretchen turned around to face him. “That dart had enough tranquilizer to knock out a manticore!” he exclaimed. “How are you still standing?!”

“Foolish heathen,” the griffon muttered. “I am clad in the armor of a righteous cause. Your mere poisons have no effect on me.”

Guys, get down!” Vinyl yelled, pointing at something behind Watt Sun and Octavia. They turned to see the other griffons flying at them, swinging their rope devices over their heads before flinging them at the Pinkietons. Watt Sun dove for the hole into the mail car, but Octavia raised her sword in front of her, remaining in place even as the griffons’ weapons sailed through the air towards her.

Then, with the perfect timing only an expert swordfighter could pull off, Octavia swung her sword, slicing through one, then two, then three of the rope devices in a matter of seconds. The severed threads of the cords and the steel balls holding them down littered the roof of the train car as Octavia whirled around to face an oncoming Gretchen.

The griffon swiped with her claws just as Octavia swung her sword. They met in mid-air between the two, with the sword caught in the grasp of the griffon’s talons. The pony failed to hide her surprise; she had felt the blade sink into the flesh of Gretchen’s palm and could see blood trickle out of her clenched fist, but the expression on the griffon’s face remained as passive as ever. Gretchen took advantage of Octavia’s surprise to lash out with her other fist, striking the pony square in the chest and sending her flying back.

Octavia tumbled down through the hole, narrowly missing Watt Sun and Quiet Earp as she fell. Her sword clattered on the floor beside her while Gretchen stepped towards the hole, staring in at the three ponies below. The griffon lifted her claw, casually examining the deep cut on her palm before licking some of her own blood off. The two Pinkietons flinched at the sight, while Quiet Earp narrowed his eyes.

“No mere mortal can wound me,” Gretchen said, her eyes glinting with triumph. “She who sheds her own blood can not have it shed by others.”

Then eat heavy metal!” Vinyl screamed. Gretchen wheeled around to find herself staring into the pulsing light of the unicorn’s charged guitar. She quickly spread her wings and leapt off the train to take flight, but Vinyl proved too fast. With a slam on the guitar’s strings, a reverberating wave of blue energy struck her head-on, blasting the griffon high into the air. She was helpless before Vinyl’s power, sent tumbling into the sky.

At some point the griffon recovered in mid-air and righted herself, but by this point the train had sped away, leaving her far behind. The other griffons flew off after their leader, leaving the train to continue making its way through the desert.

Vinyl hopped down into the mail car besides the other Pinkietons and Quiet Earp, breathing hard and looking stunned.

“You alright there, miss?” the sheriff asked.

“What the buck was that?!” Vinyl exclaimed, rounding on Quiet. “How the heck was that griffon so strong?”

The sheriff looked unfazed. “Gretchen is a very strange one. She’s inflicted all kinds of torture on herself. She’s cut herself, starved herself, been stabbed, poisoned, frozen, burnt... you name it, she’s lived through it. She’ll tell you it’s ‘cause she’s some sort of saviour, and all ‘em griffons who follow her say she performs miracles.”

“And do you believe that?” Octavia asked, looking visibly shaken.

“Buck no,” Quiet scoffed. “I think she can just take the pain is all.” His expression darkened. “But she can still take it, which makes her a problem.”

“What I want to know,” Watt Sun began, “is how they knew we were Pinkietons. Did any of you tell anypony about our disguise?” Each of the Pinkietons shook their heads before they all glanced at the sheriff.

“Don’t look at me!” Quiet retorted. “I ain’t fool enough to spill a secret like that!”

“Then how did they know?” Sharp Eye asked.

“It doesn’t really matter now,” Vinyl muttered. “What matters is getting them before they get us.”

Their train arrived in O.K. a few hours later. The town was larger than the Pinkietons had been expecting, sprawling out on both sides of the railroad tracks within a dry, sloping valley that sat at the foot of a steep, craggy mountain range. Even from miles away, the Pinkietons could make out the roads and rail line that led up to the gold mine in the mountain.

At first, the town itself looked much like any other western settlement. The rudimentary train platform faced the town’s dusty main street, which ran parallel to the train tracks and was lined with one or two-story simple wooden buildings, many with false fronts or covered porches. At the corner of the nearest intersection was the only brick structure in town: the hotel, which at three stories towered over its neighbors. The other buildings on the main street were a mix of saloons, salt licks, trading posts, grocers, banks, and shops.

But there was something that set O.K. apart from other western pony towns, and to see it all anypony had to do was turn around and look across the train tracks. On the side that the train platform and the main street were on, the gently sloping hill was dotted with wooden houses with sloping roofs and tidy porches typical of pony houses, arranged in scattered groupings of structures that left a lot of space for gardening between them. But the other side of the train tracks was populated by short, flat-roofed adobe structures that were packed tightly together around a small communal area that was occupied by dozens of mules. The structures here were more rudimentary, looking like they had been hewn from the ground. There were only a few solitary additions here or there, like a tin roof or wooden shutters, that hinted at more contemporary materials.

Even more striking were the cloud structures that sat above a nearby hill overlooking the mule district. Each cloud house was distinct and with plenty of space separating it from its neighbors, but they were still concentrated in the sky above the hill. As the Pinkietons watched, several griffons flew over the train tracks, between the cloud houses and the main street.

“Your settlement seems quite... segregated,” Octavia remarked to Quiet Earp.

The sheriff nodded. “Folks here like to keep to their kin,” he explained. “The mules were the first to settle—well, strictly speakin’, the buffalo were the first here, but they live out in the hills past town.” He gestured at a range of scrubby hills that sat opposite the tall mountain overlooking the town. “Then the mules showed up and built their little town there. This was before the railroad was built, you see, which is why it looks so different. Then ponies starting comin’ and none of ‘em were too keen to live in ‘em mud houses, so they built their own town on the other side of the tracks. And then the griffons were just left to wherever they wouldn’t block anyone’s sunlight. The only place where any of ‘em hafta interact is Main Street.”

“My my, Sheriff. You sound like yer going to start preaching ‘bout unity an’ harmony an’ all that bollocks,” called out a voice in a clipped Trottingham accent. The Pinkietons looked up to see a male griffon hovering over them, grinning at Quiet Earp. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say yer getting sentimental.”

“Doc, you opportunistic bastard,” Quiet grunted, but he was wearing a smile. “How the hay are you?”

The griffon landed beside him. “Well, I was hoping you’d show up with more than... this,” he muttered, casting his gaze over the four Pinkietons. “My name’s Summer Holiday, but the locals here jus’ call me ‘Doc.’”

“Doc’s an ol’ friend and the town practitioner,” the sheriff elaborated. “If it weren’t for him, the griffons woulda been outta my hooves.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Doc,” Watt Sun replied, taking off his bowler hat. “We’re with the Pinkieton Detective Agency, and—”

Detectives?!” the griffon bellowed, startling Watt Sun. “We don’t need no stinking detectives! We need warriors! Soldiers!” He quickly rounded on the sheriff. “Quiet, you arse! I thought you were gonna get the Royal Guard!”

“I told you, they can’t fight here,” Quiet replied cooly. “I met with Blueblood personally and he said—”

“I don’t care what that blithering twat says!” Doc yelled. “The only reason he spoke to you at all was ‘cause you and I reminded him how bad it would look for him if he didn’t start looking out for his gold mine!”

“Well, if you want an army so bad, I don’t see you going to the griffon kingdom to ask for one,” the sheriff retorted with a humph.

Doc crossed his arms and glared at Quiet. “I hope yer joking. I’m wanted back in the old country. I didn’t take a pony name and move all the way out here fer the fun of it.”

“If I may interrupt,” Octavia said forcefully, pushing her way between the two and facing the griffon, “I believe you’ll find us to be more than capable of handling these bandits. Each of us has ample combat experience and suitable armaments.” Behind her, Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye each nodded.

Doc snorted. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Believe it, boy,” the sheriff drawled. “You shoulda seen them take on Black Bronc! And they did a number on your ol’ friend Gretchen,” he added, smiling slyly.

Doc glared back. “Don’t you dare mention that witch’s name in front of me.”

A heavy silence hung in the air, which was only broken by Quiet Earp. He turned to the Pinkietons. “Err... let’s get you to your lodgings. You’re stayin’ in the hotel.” He started leading them towards the brick building that dominated the block. It was easily the finest building in town, with rows of curtained glass windows set between red brick. The ground floor had arched windows that looked in on a fine restaurant. Compared to the dusty street and buildings that surrounded it, the hotel looked positively glamorous.

The inside was rather bare-bones as far as furnishings were concerned, nothing at all like the elegant hotels of Canterlot or Manehattan. But the lobby was clean and pleasant, with a cozy fireplace and a few simple chairs. A door on one side led to a bar and the restaurant, while a receptionist sat behind a desk in front of a staircase that led upstairs.

The sheriff dealt with the matter of securing a room for each of the Pinkietons. Within moments he was leading them upstairs to their rooms.

“Keep a watchful eye. Doc and I can only do so much to keep the bandits out, so you gotta stay on your guard,” he warned. “If I were you, I’d keep a night watch.”

“And where can we find you?” Octavia inquired.

“Downstairs, so long as I’m not doing something,” the sheriff answered. “The bar is my office.”

“Sounds like my kind of gig,” Vinyl said with a laugh. “I think I’ll join you.” She made to follow Quiet downstairs before Octavia caught her with a forehoof.

“Vinyl, don’t you think we should get settled into our rooms first?”

Vinyl stopped in her tracks. “Oh, right.” Using her magic, she took her key and opened the door to her room. They got a brief glimpse of a quaintly furnished room before the unicorn flung her saddlebag and guitar case onto the bed before slamming the door shut.

“There we go. Now let’s get that drink.” Vinyl spun around and headed down the hall. Octavia slapped her forehead with a hoof while Watt Sun and Sharp Eye glanced uneasily at each other.

The Good, The Rad, and The Pretty

Vinyl followed Quiet outside onto the main street and into the nearest saloon, which sat two doors down from the hotel. The bar was in a sparsely-decorated wooden building, with grimy windows and a set of swinging shutter doors that hung in the doorway. A sign above the front read ‘The Golden Griffon.’

Inside, the saloon was dark and dingy. There was a layer of dust on everything save the bar, which was being tended to by a drab-looking unicorn in a pinstripe suit. In one corner, a mule was playing a piano, filling the room with his music. Nearby, several ponies were playing cards. Doc was already sitting at the bar and Quiet took his place beside him. Everypony in the saloon nodded at the sheriff as he passed, with a few at the bar raising their glass towards him, before throwing a suspicious glance at Vinyl.

“I get the distinct impression,” she muttered to Quiet as she took a seat next to him, “that I’m not welcome here.”

The sheriff was silent for a moment. “I’m not going to say you’re wrong about that,” he replied while the bartender placed a glass of beer in front of him.

“You weren’t exactly anyone’s first choice, you know,” Doc remarked. “The town was split over this. Some, like Quiet here, wanted to call in the army, even if it meant Equestria would gain more authority over these lands. Others don’t want Canterlot sticking their nose into our business, an’ that was my view until things got out of control.”

“What will you be having, city girl?” the bartender asked Vinyl. The DJ glared back.

“A rainbow shot,” she grunted. The bartender raised an eyebrow as Doc chuckled.

“Feisty. I like it. Get me one too,” he ordered before continuing. “Anyway, yer the compromise. An’ like any good compromise, no one is happy. We didn’t get our soldiers, but we still get a bunch of Canterlot ponies poking around.”

Vinyl glanced sideways at the other patrons in the saloon, feeling their glares on the back of her head. She took off her Stetson and set it on the bar. “And why would Canterlot ponies be unwelcome around here?”

“You’ve got to understand, we built our lives here from scratch,” Doc explained. “An’ we’re not having that taken away. Remember, these are jus’ simple farmers an’ miners. These are creatures of the land. The common folk of the new West.”

“Morons, the lot of ‘em,” the bartender muttered, returning with two shot glasses and a bottle filled with a rainbow-colored liquid. Vinyl poured a generous amount into both glasses before she and Doc took their drinks.

“Down the hatch,” she said, clinking her glass against Doc’s. She leaned back and quickly emptied the contents of her glass down her throat. There was an all-too-brief moment when there seemed to be no effect before she felt the intense spasms of her skin rapidly changing color as the liquid burned her throat. She caught a brief glimpse of flames erupting from her mouth before the drink’s effects finally subsided.

Vinyl coughed violently, her eyes watering. Smoke poured from her mouth as she thumped her chest. “That went down a little harsher than usual,” she croaked.

“I’ve had that bottle for at least three years,” the bartender said. “It’s probably past its age.”

“That’d explain it,” Doc choked through a cough of his own as smoke leaked out of his ears. He paused for a moment, then grabbed the bottle. “Another?”

Vinyl grinned and held out her glass while Quiet smiled and shook his head.

Help! Help!

The scream from outside drew the attention of Octavia, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye, who had been sitting in their hotel room strategizing. They glanced out to see a mule running frantically down the street, squealing hysterically, “El Guapo! El Guapo! Dios Mio!

“Oh, of all the times,” Octavia grumbled. “Where’s Vinyl?!” She hurriedly grabbed her sword and Vinyl’s guitar case, slinging both over her back as she bolted out the door. Watt Sun and Sharp Eye quickly followed.

The three Pinkietons emerged outside to find the main street quickly clearing of ponies, mules, and griffons as they ducked for cover, taking shelter wherever they possibly could. The only pony still outside was Quiet Earp, who emerged out of the saloon.

Octavia looked around at the chaos surrounding them. “What in the world is going...” She trailed off, instantly struck dumb. “Oh. Oh my.”

“What?” Sharp Eye replied, turning around to see what Octavia was staring at. “What is... it...”

Standing in the middle of the street and approaching them was a gleaming hunk of a stallion. To say he was handsome would be a gross understatement; he was a shining model of masculine perfection. His chest muscles were exceedingly well-defined beneath his pearly white coat, seemingly chiseled from marble, while mighty biceps bulged from his forelegs. His face was clean shaven and free of blemishes, with a wide jaw and a sharp, angular chin. Bright blue eyes shone out from below a mane of lush, curly blond hair that, even under a wide-brimmed Stetson, had a glamorous, wind-swept look to it. A longer than average horn jutted out from the curls of his mane.

Quiet Earp trotted up beside the Pinkietons, his expression grim. “That’s Bolt Action,” he muttered.

That’s Pretty Colt Bolt?!” Watt Sun exclaimed. Beside him, Sharp Eye merely stared on in silence, her eyes wide and her mouth agape.

“He... um...” Octavia coughed, blushing slightly. “He certainly lives up to his name.”

Pretty Colt Bolt glanced over at a trio of mares, who were standing on the side of the street in front of the saloon and watching him carefully with expressions caught somewhere between terror and adoration. He smiled, revealing a set of gleaming white teeth. With a single wink, he caused the trio of mares to promptly faint. They made small noises of delight as they fell to the ground.

Bolt looked over at the last remaining ponies in the street. “So, you’re the Pinkietons.” His voice was deep yet surprisingly smooth, carrying through the air and tickling the ear like a soothing melody. At the sound of his voice, a cry of ecstasy rang out from somewhere down the street.

To her enormous credit and a testament to her bravery in the face of danger, Sharp Eye closed her eyes and shook her head frantically, as if snapping herself out of a trance, before taking several steps towards Bolt. “Y-Yes, we are, and if y-you don’t turn yourself in... right away... y-you will regret it.”

“Oh?” Bolt raised an eyebrow as he took a step towards the Pinkieton. “And what would happen if I said no?”

“Then... then we’ll have to use f-force,” Sharp Eye stammered, quickly coming under the influence of the godly stallion.

“Oh, you don’t want to do that now,” Bolt murmured, now standing directly in front of Sharp Eye. “Why are you hanging around with these fellows? Come back with me and I’ll show you a good time.”

Sharp Eye was now eye-level with his chest and standing close enough to make out the tiny droplets of sweat that dotted his perfectly toned muscles. His aroma washed over her like a gentle perfume. She gulped, her face blushing furiously, her throat dry, and her voice barely rising above a squeak as her brain scrambled to find a response. “I... um... I...”

“Ssh ssh ssh,” the stallion said gently, placing a forehoof on Sharp Eye’s lips. “You don’t have to give me an answer just yet.”

He slowly drew back his hoof, causing Sharp Eye to involuntarily follow it with her muzzle for a second. Her eyes were half-lidded and her mouth hung open as her heart thumped loudly against her chest. “Don’t go,” she whimpered as Bolt backed away a few paces.

Watt Sun’s ears flattened against the side of his head and a faint blush colored his own cheeks. “He’s not that good-looking,” he muttered, more to himself than anypony in particular.

Octavia leaned her head towards Watt Sun. “I think you’re fighting a losing battle there,” she whispered.

Sharp Eye appeared to be trapped in a state of bliss, never taking her eyes off Bolt Action. “I’ve never met anypony who made crime seem so... glamorous.”

Sharp Eye!” Watt Sun exclaimed, sounding horrified. “For the love of Celestia, get a hold of yourself!”

“Now allow me to introduce myself properly,” Bolt announced to the street at large, grinning broadly. “I’m Pretty Colt Bolt, the stallion no mare in all the West can refuse! I’m the meanest, toughest, sexiest wild horse that ever packed six-pack abs! I’m the prettiest dang stallion north, south, east, aaaaand west of the Broncos! I’m the—”

Ehhhh, shaddup!” Everypony turned towards the shout to see Vinyl stumble out of the saloon. Her face was flushed and her eyes were unfocused. Her Stetson was perched precariously on her head and her goggles were dangling off her horn as she swayed unsteadily on her hooves.

At the sight of her partner, Octavia groaned and put a hoof to her forehead. “Please don’t tell me Vinyl is now inebriated,” she muttered at Quiet.

The sheriff gave her an uneasy look. “Alright, I won’t tell you.”

Bolt slowly walked towards Vinyl, coming within a single pace of her and giving her a fierce glare. “Missy, did you just tell me to shut up?”

“You bet your well-toned flank I did!” the DJ retorted, loud enough for the whole street to hear. “Here we all were, jus’ having a nice time, and then you have to show up! Pfft, you’re not even all that good-looking.”

The look Bolt gave Vinyl would have been enough to frighten a cockatrice. “Excuse me?” he growled, leaning over her.

“You heard me,” she muttered, shoving a hoof into Bolt’s chest and glaring defiantly into his eyes. “You think you’re hot stuff, huh? Well, you know what? You wouldn’t last two minutes against some of the stallions I’ve met!”

Bolt let out a roar of fury and drew a hoof cannon from his saddle pocket. Before Vinyl could react, the stallion charged the weapon with his magic and fired off a powerful shot at point-blank range. The magical blast struck Vinyl square in the chest, sending her flying backwards and crashing through a window into the saloon.

VINYL!” Octavia leapt forward, racing to her friend’s aid. However, she hadn’t counted on Bolt Action being able to recharge his weapon so quickly. His horn glowed as he opened the bolt of his cannon, charged the weapon with magic, and cocked it faster than the eye could follow. Octavia barely had time to realize what he was doing before he let off another blast of magic, slamming the cellist against the wall of the saloon and sending the guitar case and sword sailing off her back and into the dark depths of the saloon.

“Right then,” Bolt grunted, turning around to face Quiet Earp and the remaining two Pinkietons. Watt Sun stepped in front of Sharp Eye in a desperate attempt to shield her as Bolt raised his cannon towards them. “Now it’s your turn. Honestly, from what Messy Manes told me, I was expecting more of a challenge.” He charged his weapon and aimed it at the two Pinkietons, preparing to fire.

Suddenly, the sharp, reverberating sound of a hoof hitting guitar strings rang through the air. Everypony on the street paused and even Octavia stirred, all of them staring into the dark depths of the saloon, where a pulsing blue light could be made out in the darkness.

Bolt looked dumbstruck. “What in the world?”

Watt Sun, on the other hand, smiled. “Sounds like somepony wants to get... funky.”

The pulsing light grew brighter as Vinyl emerged into the sunlight, standing on her hindlegs while holding her guitar in her forehooves. Her horn was glowing and a pale blue aura surrounded the body of the guitar. She strummed the guitar, creating a heavy beat that sent waves of energy through the air. Vinyl gave Bolt a cold glare, using her magic to snap her goggles back over her eyes.

The moment she stepped outside, the waves of sonic energy from her guitar began picking up a cloud of dust before her. A faint shield, pulsing with the light of her magic, began to form around her. Her mane and tail undulated in the air, caught up in the power of her music.

Bolt Action looked unfazed. He calmly raised his cannon as Vinyl played faster, her tempo quickening as the stallion charged his weapon. He fired, sending a blast of magic hurtling through the air and expecting it to blow the DJ off her hooves once again.

But this time, it glanced off the musician’s shield as if it was nothing. Bolt’s eyes widened as Vinyl continued playing, the glow of her magic growing brighter as the guitar’s chords became harsher, sending dirt flying into his face. The street in front of the stallion now resembled a violent dust storm, with the DJ at its heart.

Everypony else on the street ran from the raging tempest as Bolt frantically recharged his weapon and fired again and again into the glowing cloud of dust, only to watch his blasts vanish into the storm. The beats of the guitar rose to a droning pitch, casting an ominous sound over the street. He briefly caught a glimpse of Vinyl’s shades, gleaming purple in the midst of the swirling mass of dust, before the DJ unleashed her power.

It came with a mighty blast from the guitar, a deep reverberation that rattled Bolt’s teeth and shook him to his core. He squinted through the cloud of dust to see that the outline of Vinyl had become distorted, waving in the air as if she was made from the same sound that emanated from her guitar, before he felt himself lifted off his hooves and sent flying through the air.

The next thing he felt was crippling pain as he smashed into the brick wall of the hotel. His body crumpled to the street and crashed through a wooden cart parked next to the building. He groaned, trying to lift himself out of the wreckage, but finding himself too weak to do so. His body was covered in bruises and his head was swimming as he teetered on the edge of consciousness. He looked up to see Vinyl approaching him, her goggles gleaming in the sunlight.

“What are you?” he mumbled. “No mare is immune to my charms.”

Vinyl grinned down at the stallion. “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” she whispered, leaning in close. “I’m not really all that into stallions.”

At that moment Bolt lost conscious, collapsing onto the ground. Vinyl stood up and glanced around to see the other Pinkietons looking on in shocked amazement. Everypony who was on the street began reemerging from their hiding places, peering out cautiously or slowly walking out to get a better look.

Vinyl walked into the center of the street, grinning broadly and lifting her forehooves towards the crowd. “Thank you, thank you very much!” she announced. “We are the Froggy Bottom Gals, and we’ll be here all week! Don’t forget to tip your friendly neighborhood Pinkietons!” With that, she returned into the saloon, leaving everypony on the street in a stunned silence.

The Kids Aren't Alright

The town of O.K. didn’t have a proper jail, forcing Quiet Earp to lock Pretty Colt Bolt in the cellar of the hotel. There he had the bandit hoofcuffed to the wall with a paper bag over his head, to minimize the risk of any mare succumbing to the stallion’s charms. In the one night since he had been captured, there had already been a couple of near-misses, forcing the sheriff to station a guard outside.

Quiet returned outside in the morning sunlight to find the other Pinkietons returning from their patrols along the main street. They had synchronized so that they would return in pairs every fifteen minutes. Octavia was with Sharp Eye while Vinyl returned with Watt Sun.

“Has he said anything?” Octavia asked.

“Nuthin’,” the sheriff muttered. “He won’t say where Messy Manes is, or any other bandit for that matter.”

To the side, Vinyl was leaning against a wall with a stalk of dried of grass clenched between her teeth. She tipped her hat up to take a long look at the others. “I get the feelin’ that we’re gonna be seeing these other bandits soon enough. Eeeeeeyup.”

Octavia frowned at the DJ. “Vinyl, spit that out. It’s unsanitary.”

“Come on, Octy! I’m just getting into the local spirit.”

“I don’t care. If you want to be a Pinkieton, you have to behave as professionally as one,” Octavia insisted. “Spit it out.”

Vinyl gave the cellist an imploring look. “Please, Octy. Just let me have this.”


The DJ finally relented, grumbling as she let the stalk of grass fall to the ground, leaving a small trail of saliva dangling off her lip. “Some thanks I get for saving your flanks.”

At the mention of the previous day’s events, Sharp Eye groaned and put a hoof to her forehead. “I’m such an idiot,” she mumbled. “How could I have been so helpless at such a vital moment?”

Next to her, Watt Sun awkwardly patted her on the shoulder. “Uh, hey, don’t fret it. He was a... uniquely challenging villain.”

“I think you’re losin’ sight of the real problem here,” Quiet Earp muttered. “Instead of frettin’ over the feller already locked up, we should be worryin’ ‘bout the bandits who might be on their way.”

“He’s right,” Octavia said in a grim tone. “Somehow, Messy Manes knew who we were and when we were coming. How else can you explain three of her bandits trying to capture us on our first day?”

“Perhaps we could fortify the town?” Watt Sun suggested.

“You’ve seen this town,” Quiet answered, gesturing around at their surroundings. “It’s too spread out to fortify.”

“Well at the very least we could get some more patrols,” Vinyl grumbled. “How come it’s just you, Doc and us out here? Speaking of which, where is Doc?”

Quiet pointed up at the griffon district, where they could see a solitary cloud sitting apart from the others. Sitting on it was Doc, scanning the horizon.

“One griffon isn’t exactly what I call an adequate aerial patrol,” Octavia said. “Why aren’t there more townsfolk helping us?”

“Distrust runs deep,” the sheriff answered. “Gettin’ these folks to work together is tough.”

“This divide in this town is ridiculous,” Vinyl muttered. “Do you know how many weird looks I’ve gotten today?” She looked over her shoulder to spot a mule giving them a wary look. “Hey! Why don’t you take a picture, it’ll last longer!” At Vinyl’s yell, the mule started and scampered into the nearest shop.

Vinyl!” Octavia exclaimed. “Could you at least try to act professional?”

Before the DJ could answer, Watt Sun stepped in to prevent another argument. “Look, maybe we should just relax for a moment. Why don’t you two take a break and Octavia and I will continue our patrol until you’re done?” Vinyl and Sharp Eye nodded before heading for the saloon. Quiet began heading towards the griffon district while Watt Sun and Octavia started walking in the other direction.

The pair were silent as they trotted up the main street. Octavia noticed several ponies staring at them through a nearby shop window. Their expressions weren’t hostile, but not friendly either. It seemed nopony knew what to make of these newcomers.

“Octavia?” Watt Sun asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. “This might sound odd, but I have to ask you. Was…” He paused for a moment. “Was he really that good-looking?”

“Who?” Octavia blinked. “Wait, do you mean Bolt Action?”


“Well…” The cellist trailed off, rubbing the back of her neck. “I mean, I don’t want to bruise your ego, but… yes. Yes, he was that good-looking.”

“So… I shouldn’t be worried about Sharp Eye, erm, reacting the way she did? You don’t think she was... uniquely attracted to him?”

Octavia raised an eyebrow. “Are you implying that Sharp Eye – somepony you’ve known longer than any of us – is going to abandon us and run off with a bandit?”

The stallion’s ears flattened against his head. “It’s just that… you saw how she–“

“Watt Sun, you have nothing to worry about. Yes, Bolt Action was that handsome. No, Sharp Eye isn’t about to turn tail and join Messy Manes. Alright?”

Watt Sun smiled and gave a sigh of relief. “Alright. Yes, you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

They proceeded quietly for another moment. By this point, they had left the edge of town far behind, walking up into foothills covered in scrub and dirt. “Although,” Octavia remarked, smirking at the stallion, “You’d better watch out for some of these other villains. I’ve heard that Clydesdale is quite a looker. And that Black Bronc had some real muscle on him…”

Watt Sun gritted his teeth and avoided looking at the cellist. “And you accuse Vinyl of being unprofessional.”

Reach for it, mister!” yelled a high, squeaky voice from behind them. The two Pinkietons spun around as they drew their weapons, Octavia with her sword and Watt Sun with his kazoo dart gun, bracing themselves as they turned to see...

A young filly standing in the middle of the street. She was a small unicorn with a bright yellow coat and a dirty blonde mess of hair for a mane. In her forehooves she was holding a slingshot that seemed too large for her puny frame. Draped over her back was a satchel that was so large it hung close to the ground. She was giving the two Pinkietons a dirty look, with a small pebble loaded in the slingshot and ready to fire.

Both Watt Sun and Octavia let out a sigh of relief. “Well, hello there, little one,” the stallion said kindly, giving the filly a warm smile. “You know, you really shouldn’t sneak up on ponies like that. It’s dangerous out here!” With that, the two turned their backs to the little filly.

Watt Sun suddenly felt a sharp pain on his flank from where a pebble struck it at high speed. He let out a yelp and jumped into the air, his flank smarting from the unexpected assault. “What in the world?!” he cried.

“Alright, let’s try this again,” the filly said in her high-pitched voice, using her magic to pull a hoof cannon out of her satchel. As hoof cannons go it was large, but next to the filly it looked comically huge; the barrel of the weapon was almost as thick as her body and the entire device was larger than her head. It was only due to her magic that she was able to even lift the thing.

Watt Sun gulped as he stared down the barrel. “Um... now now, little one, that’s a very dangerous thing you have there. You should give that to your par—”

“Cram it, punk!” the filly squeaked. “Don’t you recognize Filliam H. Whinney when you see her?”

You’re Filly the Kid?” Octavia blurted out.

“I’m not a kid!” Filliam squealed, pointing her weapon at the cellist. “I’m a big girl and I can take care of myself!”

“But you’re...” Watt Sun trailed off into silence at the fierce glare the filly was giving him.

“What? What?!” she yelled, pushing the cannon into the stallion’s muzzle. “Go on, say it! I dare you! I double dare you to finish that sentence!”

Watt Sun audibly gulped. “Um... what I mean to say is... you... seem very capable for somepony at your age?” he stammered, giving Filliam a nervous smile. The filly didn’t look amused.

“You’re real funny, mister. You’re real funny,” she muttered. “Hey Black! Get in here already!”

“Okay,” came a low rumble from behind the two Pinkietons. They started and spun around to find themselves face to face with Black Bronc. He was a towering figure the height of Princess Celestia, with bright red eyes that were a stark contrast to his pitch black coat. From the train he had been an imposing figure, but up-close he was downright terrifying.

Before they could react, he reached out with his forehooves and forcibly picked up both Pinkietons by their tails, leaving them dangling upside down in mid-air. In the process, the two lost their grip on their weapons, which fell to the ground.

Black Bronc looked at Octavia and held her closer to his face. “Mmm, you’re a pretty one,” he muttered, waggling his eyebrows at the cellist.

However, Octavia proved more dexterous than the hulking villain had anticipated, as she quickly snapped into action, bucking her rear hooves straight into the stallion’s jaw. Black Bronc bellowed in pain and promptly dropped the two Pinkietons, clutching his face. The cellist grabbed her sword and lifted it above her head to strike, only to hear the click of a hoof cannon from behind her.

“Not so fast, lady,” Filliam said, aiming her cannon at the back of Octavia’s head. “Come on Black, we don’t got all day. Tie them up already.”

“Why don’t we just kill ‘em?” Black Bronc grumbled, glaring at the two Pinkietons. “After what they did to my gang.”

“No, you idiot!” the filly squeaked. “Messy wants us to take them hostage so we can lure the other Pinkietons!”

“Alright, kiddo,” the black behemoth mumbled, reaching out to grab hold of Octavia again.

What was that?” Filliam snapped. “What did you just say?

“N-Nuthin’,” Black Bronc answered, avoiding the filly’s gaze. “I didn’t say nuthin’.”

“Nuh-uh! Hold on a moment!” Filliam stepped between Octavia and Black Bronc, glaring daggers at the towering figure above her. “What. Did you. Just. Say?

At the height of a typical alicorn or Saddle Arabia royal, Black Bronc’s height allowed to him to dominate over nearly any pony, and he was at least a good four times the height of Filly the Kid. But under the influence of Filliam’s deathly glare and hoof cannon, he seemed to shrink before her. “Uh... nuthin’! Look, it was nuthin’!”

“So you think I’m a kid, huh?” Filliam growled in her squeaky voice, waving the hoof cannon in Black Bronc’s face. “What, I’m adorable, is that it? I make you feel like a big grown-up? I’m here for you to bucking babysit?”

Black Bronc was sweating at this point. “N-No, no! You, you got it all wrong! It’s... you know...”

“No, I don’t know! What, so I’m stupid now? Is that what you think?” she yelled, shoving the cannon into the stallion’s muzzle at this point.

“N-No, of course not!” he stammered. “It’s... hey, where did the Pinkietons go?”

Filly the Kid whipped around to see the two agents far off in the distance, galloping back towards town.

Aw, buck!” Filliam squeaked, stomping a tiny hoof on the ground. “After them, you idiot!” she yelled, clambering onto the back of Black Bronc. Within seconds, he was galloping after the Pinkietons.

Ahead of them, Watt Sun and Octavia were running as fast as possible. “I didn’t think... Filly the Kid... was an actual filly!” the stallion exclaimed between pants for air.

“Her picture made her seem more... imposing than I had imagined,” Octavia agreed. “I wish I could say the same for Black Bronc. A photograph doesn’t quite do him justice.”

“Uh, speaking of which,” Watt Sun began, glancing back, “I think he’s gaining on us.”

Octavia looked back to see the black beast rapidly approaching, taking huge strides with each gallop of his massive legs. Steam snorted out of his nostrils and his eyes burned red. “Get back to town and get the others!” she demanded. “I’ll hold him off!”

Watt Sun looked uneasy. “Pinkietons are supposed to stick toget—”

“If he catches up, that’ll be it for both of us!” the cellist retorted. “Trust me on this!” Watt Sun opened his mouth to reply, but seemed to think better of it. Instead, he gave a curt nod and continued racing towards town as Octavia skidded to a halt, unsheathing her bow and a single arrow out of her satchel in one clean motion.

She turned to facing the oncoming villains, drawing the arrow against her bow as she did so. The snorting, massive stallion charged towards her, his hooffalls booming like thunder. As he came closer, the cellist began to feel the first instances of doubt creep into her mind. Her arrow looked like a thin stick of wood next to what seemed like a train locomotive barreling down at her.

But it was too late to change plans now. Octavia narrowed her eyes, taking careful aim at the stallion’s chest as he drew closer. She could see the whites of Black Bronc’s eyes when she finally let go of the arrow and leapt to the side, narrowly missing being crushed by the charging stallion.

At first, it seemed like nothing had happened. Octavia picked herself off the ground to see that Black Bronc had simply run past her without stopping. He continued on in the direction of the town for a few seconds before beginning a slow turn around. As he slowly began to face her again, the agent noticed with alarm that the arrow she had fired was embedded in his chest, but apparently having no effect. She quickly grabbed another arrow and drew it against her bow string, this time aiming for a more sensitive location.

She let the arrow fly and it struck perfectly on-target: right in the stallion’s muzzle, embedding itself in one of his nostrils. But once again, it seemed to have no effect except to make Black Bronc angrier. Octavia felt fear take hold and she promptly fled in the other direction, desperately looking for something she could use to defend herself.

Within a few seconds she found it, and not a moment too soon. Black Bronc was almost upon her when she rolled out of his way again, barely avoiding getting stomped on and choking in the midst of the dust cloud he generated. As soon as he was far enough away, Octavia bolted for a huge boulder sitting nearby.

She stood against it, turning to face Black Bronc again. Even as the stallion came closer, the cellist could just make out the sound of Filliam’s squeaky voice yelling frantically, “No, you idiot! It’s a diversion! We’re supposed to stop them from getting back to town!” But the stallion was beyond caring, intent on crushing this Pinkieton for good. Octavia gulped, bracing herself against the boulder and forcing herself to remain still as he drew nearer.

Finally, just as before, she leapt out of the way just before Black Bronc could make impact. She heard a sharp crack and suddenly felt herself pelted by bits of rock before she even hit the ground. A huge cloud of dust quickly enveloped her and she landed painfully, skidding along the rocky ground and unable to see anything around her.

Octavia could hear stomping nearby as she slowly rose to her hooves. After a moment, the dust began to settle, leaving a startling sight; the boulder was completely gone, with only a few large chunks remaining in place. In the midst of it was standing Black Bronc, facing away from Octavia with his head lowered. A squeaky moan in the distance marked the location of where Filliam had apparently landed.

The agent picked up her sword, readying herself for a last stand, but Black Bronc seemed confused. He slowly placed one hoof in front of the other, swaying unsteadily. “Ohhh...” he groaned. “My head...” Then, without another word, he promptly collapsed onto the ground.

Octavia heaved a sigh of relief before hearing a scuttling sound nearby. She turned to see Filliam getting up again, raising her cannon and taking dead aim at the agent.

“Alright, I don’t care what Messy says!” she squeaked. “I’m killing you now!” Before the cellist could react, the filly’s horn began to glow and she pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. The magical bolt that should have fired from the barrel never materialized, and instead a burst of sparks shot out of the side of the weapon. Now that Octavia looked more closely, she could see a dent where the gun had hit the ground.

“No, come on!” Filliam yelled, taking the cannon in her hooves and smacking the side of it. “Work, you bucking thing!”

Octavia sheathed her sword and smirked at the filly. “Looks like this kid has to learn some manners.”

I’m not a kid! I’ll kill you for saying that! I’m Filliam H. Whinney, the toughest damn—Hey! What are you doing?!” She began squealing as Octavia, now back on four hooves, reached down and plucked up the filly, clutching the young pony’s tail between her teeth. She dangled helplessly below her chin, kicking and screaming as the agent started making her way back to town.

Ring of Fire

The capture of Black Bronc was the cause for much celebration in the town of O.K. He had been terrifying the countryside for weeks now, and his imprisonment represented a turning point. Even the nearby buffalo tribe, drawn in by the commotion, joined in on the celebration when they realized one of the few ponies who had the raw strength to fight a buffalo was no longer a threat.

His imprisonment had been a massive undertaking, requiring three teams of ponies to tie him up and drag his unconscious body back to O.K. The task quickly became dangerous when, just as they entered town, the mighty stallion awoke and began struggling against his bonds, bringing down an entire team with one powerful motion. It was only with the immediate assistance of several buffalo and a team of griffons, armed with lassos and led by Doc, that they managed to bring the beast down and lock him in chains.

Filly the Kid, on the other hoof, had been much easier to deal with. She had been placed in a baby swing with a bar across the front, held in place with a child safety lock. The diminutive villain screamed, cursed, and flailed about in her seat, but was rendered helpless and finally settled into a grumpy mood.

With the two bandits locked away, an impromptu party broke out on the main street, with the Pinkietons at the center of it. Suddenly, gone were the suspicious looks and wary gazes; now the townsfolk were ready to welcome the newcomers with open arms. Caught up in a festive spirit, the Pinkietons pulled out their instruments and began playing for the crowd. Soon the entire town had joined in, swinging and dancing in the street or bringing an instrument of their own to join the band. Even the divisions between the townsfolk seemed to vanish in the midst of the celebration.

Afternoon turned to evening as the party went on with no signs of slowing down. Vinyl and Octavia were taking a break from playing, sitting on the sidelines with a mug of cider each and looks of satisfaction on their faces. Both of them watched Watt Sun and Sharp Eye dance together in the middle of the crowd, swinging each other around and lost in the joyous moment as the band sang, “Well I hope Messy Manes will remember, a western mare don’t need her around anyhow...

“Nopony can say we Pinkietons don’t know how to party,” Vinyl remarked, taking a swig of cider. “Look at Watt and Sharp go!”

Octavia grinned and closed her eyes, resting her head against the wooden post beside her. After all the tension of the past couple of days, it felt good to relax and let the stress ebb away. The lanterns the townsfolk had brought out cast a soft light over the street as the last remnants of daylight faded away in a soft purple light over the western horizon. The cellist exhaled slowly, savoring the peace.

It was not to last. The festive spirit was quickly cut off by a loud ‘bang!’ that rang through the air, causing everyone to duck low to the ground in alarm. The music abruptly stopped and everyone on the street looked up fearfully to see that a newcomer had entered their midst. Standing at the edge of the lantern light was a strong looking unicorn mare with a pale yellow coat and an unkempt mane of frizzy hair. She wore a vicious sneer and was levitating a black hoof cannon beside her that was still smoking from the blast it shot. Even from a distance, one could make out the golden, curly writing on the side of the cannon that reflected the light of the lanterns: ‘M.M.

Goooood evening, fillies and gentlecolts!” Messy Manes’ voice was raspy but her tone was jubilant as she smiled widely at the cowering townsfolk before her. She took a step towards the crowd, causing some ponies and mules to slowly back away while others remained rooted to the spot. “Seems y’all having a little celebration here! Well, what’s the occasion?”

No one spoke. The villain looked around, still grinning like mad. “Y’know,” she continued as she scratched her chin with her cannon, as if deep in thought, “I seem to have lost track of a couple friends of mine. Last I heard, they were supposed to be coming through here. Now y’all wouldn’t happen to have seen them, would you?”

Everyone remained silent. Messy Manes’ smile seemed to only grow wider. With a flourish, she aimed her cannon at the saloon and let off a blast of bright orange magic. It exploded on impact with the building, erupting into a huge fireball which threatened to engulf half of the facade. The crowd scampered, some diving for any barrel or cart or building or anything to shield them from view of the villain while some pushed back to the edges of the street to give them a wide berth. The bartender of the saloon watched on in shock, his horrified expression sharply illuminated in the glow of the fire.

Messy Manes chortled. “Whoops.” The sound of liquor bottles bursting inside the saloon could be heard out on the street. A moment later, a sign hanging over the front door fell to the ground in a burning heap of wood. The flickering light of the flames cast dark, wavering shadows over the street, but Messy Manes’ grin could still be made out through the darkness that shrouded her face. “Now that’s a shame. But that’s what happens to damn liars.”

Quiet Earp and Doc stepped forward out of the crowd, both clutching lassos as their eyes blazed, reflecting the roaring fire before them. Quiet muttered through the rope clenched between his teeth, “If you think I’m gonna stand by and watch you destroy my town—”

“Don’t worry sheriff, I’ll be out of your mustache soon enough,” Messy Manes said with a chuckle. “I’m just here for the Pinkietons.”

Octavia and Vinyl stepped forward to stand beside Quiet and Doc, both holding their instruments. Vinyl raised her guitar, giving the villain a cocky grin. “If you want us...”

Octavia drew an arrow against the string of her musical bow, aiming at Messy Manes. “Come and claim us.”

There was a sudden loud ‘click!’ and a gruff voice called out, “Don’t even think about it, Pinkieton.” Vinyl and Octavia turned to see two ponies standing on a nearby rooftop, clearly illuminated. One was a handsome, reddish brown-coated unicorn stallion with a white face and hooves, wearing a fedora and aiming a magically-powered rifle at the Pinkietons. But it was the mare standing next to him that caught the agents’ attention. She was a familiar earth pony with a cream-colored coat and a curly mane that was equal parts blue and bright pink. She was holding a slingshot and aiming what appeared to be a wrapped candy, similar to the ones that adorned her flank.

Bon Bon?!” Vinyl exclaimed. “What the hay are you doing here?!”

“Bon Bon?” the mare replied, looking confused. “Oh hay no, I’m Bonnie! I don’t go for that cutesy stuff. The only Bon Bon I know is my loser sister of a copper in San Franciscolt.”

“I suppose candy runs in the family,” Octavia muttered, eyeing the small treat that the robber was threatening them with.

“Drop your weapons!” the stallion yelled, brandishing his rifle.

“Drop your weapons!” came the voice of Sharp Eye. She and Watt Sun were standing in the street, staring up at the two bandits. Watt Sun had his kazoo clenched between his teeth, while Sharp Eye was wearing an ammunition belt across her chest that was equipped with frosting packets, party horns, birthday candles, and a rubber duck. Both were holding cupcakes in a throwing stance. “Back down or we assault you with cake!”

Bonnie quickly aimed her slingshot at Sharp Eye and Watt Sun. “Clyde,” she muttered to the stallion beside her, “any of them move, you just start shooting.”

“You got it, sweetums,” Clydesdale replied, keeping Vinyl and Octavia in his sights.

“Why should I be scared of you?” Sharp Eye mocked. “We at least have baked goods. You’re threatening us with an itty-bitty piece of candy!”

In response, Bonnie narrowed her eyes and let go of the small, wrapped candy in her slingshot, flinging it directly at Sharp Eye. The young mare didn’t react, but Watt Sun’s eyes widened in terror when he noticed that one of the wrapped ends of the candy was lit on fire.

Get down!” he yelled, shoving Sharp Eye out of the way. He managed to dodge the candy just before it hit the ground, exploding in a blast that left a small crater in the street and covered the two Pinkietons in chocolate and caramel shrapnel. The onlooking crowd began to scatter in earnest, with many shrieking and diving for cover in the nearest building. Octavia spun around, aiming her arrow at Bonnie and Clydesdale while Vinyl looked on in shock.

“What the hay was that?!” the DJ yelped.

“My own personal invention,” Bonnie boasted, grabbing another wrapped candy and loading it in her slingshot. “Bon-Bombs.”

“That figures,” Vinyl muttered while Watt Sun helped a blushing Sharp Eye to her hooves.

“You know, we really should stop all this fighting,” Messy Manes remarked. “I really just came here to leave a message.”

“And what would that be?” Octavia asked, glaring down the bandit.

Messy Manes gave her a wicked grin. “I’m here for my fellers, the ones you have locked up somewhere in town. I’d like them back, please.”

Vinyl snorted. “Yeeeeeah. That’s not gonna happen.”

The villain raised her cannon at the DJ. “You be careful what you say, Canterloon. You’re playing with fire here. Now I want y’all to free my ponies, then turn around and head back where you came from. And when y’all get back there, you can tell that blowhard of a prince who hired you that I’m keeping his gold mine.”

“How did you know about that?!” Octavia exclaimed, her eyes widening. “How did you find out we were coming?”

Messy Manes chuckled. “A little birdie told me.” She paused, then spotted the glare Octavia was giving her. “No, seriously. A carrier pigeon delivered me a note.”

“And who sent you that note?”

“Ah, I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say. But we really should stop all this chit-chat. That fire ain’t gonna put itself out.” Behind her, a crash from within the saloon echoed out onto the street, a sound which was accompanied by a sad moan from the bartender, who had yet to take his eyes off his burning saloon.

“And I want to make something else clear here,” Messy Manes continued. “Anypony, any mule, and any griffon caught helping, aiding, or even speaking to these here Pinkietons will get the same fate they will.” At her proclamation, those in the crowd closest to Octavia and Vinyl immediately backed away from them, refusing to make eye contact with the Pinkietons. The cellist felt a pang in her heart at the sight.

“You bloody cowards!” Doc bellowed, seething at the sight of the townsfolk backing away. “Stand up for your own homes!”

Messy Manes laughed. “Actually Doc, I think I’ll leave you for Gretchen! I’m sure you two will want to catch up!”

Even in the orange glow of the fire, the Pinkietons could clearly see Doc’s face pale considerably. But he remained defiant, muttering through clenched teeth, “You can tell that buck-beaked runt I’ll take her on any day.”

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” the bandit replied. “But enough chit-chat. Where are my fellers?”

“There’s no way we’re lettin’ your bandits go,” Quiet Earp muttered. “You’ll have to raze the town before you get to ‘em.”

“Careful what you wish for, sheriff,” Messy Manes said, teasing her cannon in Quiet’s direction. “I’ll do it, and I’ll make you live with the consequences. Are you sure you want that?”

The sheriff fell silent, swallowing hard at the bandit’s words. It was at that moment that Watt Sun unexpectedly stepped forward. “Hold on, maybe we could reach some sort of compromise. There’s no need to put the town in jeopardy here.”

There was a tense moment before Messy Manes replied. “...I’m listening.”

“You want us to leave, and we don’t want to release your fellows for their attacks against the town,” the Pinkieton calmly explained. “What if we return to Canterlot, never to return, but we take Pretty Colt Bolt, Filly the Kid, and Black Bronc back with us, to face trial in Canterlot?”

What?!” Vinyl and Doc yelled simultaneously, but Watt Sun quickly held up a hoof to silence them.

“That’s my offer,” he stated. “You let us return on the next train to Canterlot, with our prisoners, and we’ll stay away for good.”

Messy Manes scratched her chin with her cannon, silently considering Watt Sun. “Tell you what, I’m a generous mare. I find your terms quite agreeable. Tomorrow, you take the first train out of here, and we’ll call it even.” She began to turn away, but then glanced back. “But if you’re not gone by tomorrow afternoon,” she growled, “I will return to burn this town to the ground.”

Messy Manes trotted away in earnest, quickly passing beyond the light of the fire. The Pinkietons glanced up to see that Bonnie and Clydesdale had vanished while everypony’s attention was focused on Messy.

With the threat over, the townsfolk hurried to put out the fire, moving quickly to pull buckets of water out of the town’s well and dump them on the saloon before the fire could spread to the neighboring buildings. Several griffons began lifting piles of sand into the air, flinging them down onto the building. With every bucket of water or pile of sand thrown on, a great plume of black smoke rose into the air, but the flames slowly receded.

But even as the heat of the fire died down, the exchange between the Pinkietons was becoming more heated by the second.

“We hired you to finish a job!” Doc hollered into Watt Sun’s face. “Not scamper at the first sign of trouble!”

Watt Sun opened his mouth. “It’s—”

“Are you insane, Watt?” Vinyl said forcefully. “We’re not leaving with that mare loose!”


“What the hay were you thinking?!” the DJ continued. “Are you an idiot?!”


“Don’t call Watt Sun an idiot!” Octavia scolded. “You of all ponies have no right to insult him!”


“Oh, big surprise, Ms. Goody Four-Shoes standing up the nice, polite stallion,” Vinyl scoffed.

“If I may—”

“Exactly what are you implying?” the cellist asked hotly.

HEY!” Sharp Eye bellowed, silencing the two musicians. “If you two would hush up for two seconds, I think Watt Sun has something he wants to say.” She glanced over at the stallion, who smiled bashfully.

“Err, right. Listen, I know you’re angry with me, but I think I just bought us some time.”

The next morning, a freight train was sitting at O.K. Station, the engine puffing smoke into the air as it idled, waiting to depart. At the back of the train was a large stock car with steel shutters on the side, painted a metal grey with the words ‘PRISONER TRANSPORT’ printed on the side.

Vinyl, Octavia, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye each approached the station platform before entering the train car. Unbeknownst to them, their progress was carefully watched by a group of figures crouched on a bluff overlooking the town. With a groan of the wheels and a great chugging from the engine, the train slowly began to move out of the station, beginning its journey over the mountain pass and across the desert beyond town. The figures on the bluff quietly retreated as the train left O.K. behind.

Several minutes passed as the train traveled through the mountain pass, uneventfully chugging its way along the winding railroad. It passed through a short tunnel before emerging in the desert plains on the other side of the mountains. It was there that the peaceful trip was quickly ended.

A fiery explosion suddenly erupted ahead of the train, blasting a cloud of dust and a section of train track high into the air. The engineer of the train had little time to react. He pulled the emergency brake, but there simply wasn’t enough distance for the train to avoid crashing. The engineer leapt out of the train just before it hit.

With a horrible screech of metal, the engine tumbled into the small crater left behind by the explosion, landing on its side with a boom that echoed across the plains. The next couple of cars were taken down with the engine, smashing against it and spilling their contents in a terrible explosion of wood and metal fragments. The next two cars tumbled onto the growing pile of wreckage, flipping over and landing atop the remnants of the other cars with a violent crash. For what seemed like ages, the air was filled with the screech of the rest of the train cars skidding to an abrupt halt and the thunderous thuds of cars derailing and landing on their sides as a huge cloud of dust engulfed the scene, hiding it from view.

At last, the cacophony ended and a thick silence settled over the scene. The dust began to clear, revealing the twisted wreck of what had been a train. But while the front half of the train had been torn asunder and flung on top of itself like so many toys, the rear half remained intact, sitting undamaged on the tracks. The prisoner transport car was among those lucky cars.

A group of nearly a dozen ponies rapidly descended from the mountains overlooking the scene, charging at the train. Each wore a bandana and was clutching a weapon, moving quickly towards the wreck. They stealthily approached the prisoner transport car, with one grasping the handle of the door while the others braced themselves. On the leader’s signal, the door was flung open and they charged inside.

It was empty. Gray, featureless walls were all the ponies found inside.

Bonnie pulled her bandana off her face, looking around in confusion. “What the hay? Where are they?”

Messy Manes pulled off her own bandana, her eyes narrowing at the sight of something on the ground. It was a small note, taped next to a handle embedded in the floor. The bandit pulled on the handle, opening a hatch to reveal the track bed below the train. A device with a flashing red light was planted on the bottom of the trap door. Messy Manes snatched the note off the floor and read:

You shouldn’t break a promise with a Pinkie.

“Messy?” Clydesdale asked. “What is it?”

The leader gritted her teeth, her eyes flaring and her horn beginning to glow as she clutched the note in her shaking hooves. Suddenly, the paper burst into flames, reduced to a small cloud of ash that vanished in the breeze. The other bandits backed away hurriedly.

Messy Manes stomped over to the door, stopping to stare out into the distance. After a long, tense moment, she spoke.

“Call out Gretchen.”

O Death

The Pinkietons were trotting along the railroad tracks and had almost made it back to town when a device strapped to Vinyl’s saddlebag began beeping. She pulled it off to see a small red light on it blinking.

“She took the bait,” the DJ remarked. “Messy reneged on the deal.”

“Technically, we reneged on it first,” Octavia pointed out. “If just to test her.”

Sharp Eye laughed. “You’re both wrong! There was no deal! A Pinkieton always backs up a real deal with a Pinkie Promise.” She gave them a smug grin. “You two still have a lot to learn about being Pinkietons.” Both she and Watt Sun laughed and gave each other a hoofbump, much to Octavia and Vinyl’s chagrin.

Quiet Earp and Doc were waiting for them on the edge of town. “Well? What happened?” the sheriff asked, his tone filled with apprehension.

“Messy took the bait,” Watt Sun answered. “Just as I had hoped. If she had actually held up her side of the bargain, that would have left us in an awkward place.”

Quiet gave him a nervous look. “She’s gonna hit us hard for this.”

“Then you’d better be ready for her!” Vinyl replied with enthusiasm. “How are the preparations coming along?”

“We’re finished,” Doc answered, gesturing back towards the town. “Everyone is holed up either in the mule town or on main street. We’ve got traps set up around town and the griffons are positioned overhead,” he added, pointing to clouds in the sky above main street, each one with a griffon standing watch. “Never thought I’d see everyone working together. Messy Manes must’ve scared them straight!”

“Perfect,” Octavia said, marching into town. “We’ll take position on top of the hotel. What’s the signal in case anyone spots something?”

Sharp Eye immediately raised a hoof. “Ooh! How about ‘Yippee-ki-yay!’”

“Sharp Eye, stop trying to talk like a cowpony,” Vinyl muttered. “You’re just embarrassing yourself.”

“I rather like it,” Watt Sun interjected, causing Sharp Eye’s expression to brighten.

“We are not using ‘Yippee-ki-yay,’” Octavia said flatly. “The signal should be something simple and dignified.”

“How about,” Quiet grumbled, catching the Pinkietons off-guard, “the signal is ‘Look out, there’s a bandit’? Is that clear enough for everypony?” Everypony hurriedly nodded.

A couple of hours later, Sharp Eye and Vinyl were lying around on the rooftop of the hotel, looking off into the distance with glazed eyes. Sharp Eye was plucking her banjo as she lay on her back, gazing up into the sky, while Vinyl stared out at the horizon, muttering to herself.

“And... now!” the DJ said, staring expectantly beyond town. “...Nnnnnow! ...Right now! ...Now! One... Two... Three... Aaaaaaaannnd—”

Would you stop that?!” Vinyl looked over the edge of the roof to see Octavia glaring up at her from a window on the top floor. “You’ve been doing that non-stop for ten minutes now!”

“But I’m bored!” Vinyl moaned, flopping down on the edge of the roof and letting her forelegs dangle over the side of the building. “It’s midday and there’s still no sign of Messy Manes!”

“Would you rather be fighting for your life?” Octavia scoffed.

“Well gee, when you put it like that... Eeyup.”

“Do you two ever stop bickering?” Watt Sun called out, leaning out of another top-story window.

“Bickering is fun,” Vinyl shot back. “It relieves the tension. You should try bickering with Sharp Eye some time.”

Watt Sun opened his mouth to respond, but couldn’t think of anything to say. The plucking sound of Sharp Eye’s banjo stopped and a silent moment passed before her head emerged over the edge of the rooftop.

“Hey Watt Sun, do you want to try bickering?” she asked.

“Wha—No!” the stallion answered. “I don’t want to bicker with you!”

“Please can we bicker?” The mare’s eyes were shining brightly and she had an eager smile on her face.

“I don’t want to bicker.”

“Come on! Let’s bicker!”

“We are not going to bick—Why are you laughing?” he cried, looking hurt from the mares’ reactions.

“Oh, Watt,” Sharp Eye began with a chuckle, “I’m just messing with—” She stopped abruptly as something caught her attention. “Woah! Yippee-ki—I mean, bandits!” she screamed, pointing into the distance. “To the south!”

“I see ‘em!” Doc replied. The other Pinkietons quickly spotted them too. It was a group of ponies emerging over the hill, galloping directly towards town. They were all clad in bandanas, whooping and hollering as they brandished rifles and lassos.

The alarm was sounded and Quiet Earp quickly led a group of at least a couple of dozen townsfolk to the end of the main street. He stopped and held up a hoof, halting the assembled ponies and mules at the edge of town. They had clubs, pieces of wood, or nets clutched in their teeth, watching the oncoming and well-armed group of bandits with trepidation.

“O.K....” the sheriff yelled out to his fellow townsfolk, keeping his hoof raised in the air and standing resolute as the bandits came nearer. “...Hold...”

The bandits were close enough that their faces could now be made out. Their hollers and whoops mingled with the thunder of their hooves striking the ground.


The unicorn bandits levitated their rifles beside them as they continued to charge, taking aim at the crowd of townsfolk.


Suddenly, half the bandits vanished. There was no warning, they just seemed to be swallowed up by the earth in an instant. A cloud of dust slowly lifted in the air as the other bandits skidded to a halt, bewildered and alarmed. A couple of them stood in place before the ground suddenly gave way beneath them, revealing a hole big enough to hold several ponies.

“O.K.... Go!” Quiet Earp hollered, charging at the confused group of bandits. The other townsfolk gave a great yell and raced forward, waving their various weapons in the air as they closed in on the invaders.

Despite their superior weaponry, the bandits were no match for Quiet’s posse. The sheriff himself quickly lassoed a rifle out of the hooves of one pony, while a pair of mules with a net stretched between them entangled another bandit, bringing him to the ground before he was forcefully dragged into a hole, where he landed atop his fellows struggling to get out. Caught off-guard by the traps, the bandits were slow to react to the townsfolk, who made short work of them.

“Yeah!” Vinyl shouted, watching from the rooftop. “That all you got, Messy Manes?!”

There was the sudden screech of an eagle from overhead, and the DJ looked up to see a group of griffons diving towards them, wielding spears in their claws. “...Why do I open my fat mouth?” she grumbled.

She and Sharp Eye narrowly dodged the spears flung by the griffons, which impaled themselves on the roof, each with a harsh ‘thunk’. Vinyl managed to grab her guitar just before she heard a great ‘whump’ and the flap of huge wings behind her. The scrape of talons against the roof alerted the DJ as to what was awaiting her.

She spun around, readying her guitar in her forehooves, only to have a clawed hand sieze her by the neck. Vinyl let out a choked gasp as she stared into the narrowed yellow eyes of Gretchen. The griffon forcefully lifted her into the air, using her other claw to snatch the guitar out of Vinyl’s hooves. With alarming swiftness, she raised the guitar over her head before smashing it against the roof, shattering the wooden body into fragments and causing the strings to snap back against her claw. They left small cuts where they struck, but Gretchen didn’t seem to notice.

Stringy!” Vinyl sputtered, struggling against the griffon’s grip. “Noooo!

“No mercy for the guilty.” Gretchen casually lifted the pony over the edge of the roof, letting her dangle far above the street below. “Until we bring down their lying sun.” Without a second thought, she let go of Vinyl.

The DJ screamed as she flailed about in mid-air. “CATCH ME CATCH ME CAT—Oof!” Her fall was cut short as she felt a pair of hooves grasp her. Vinyl looked up to see Octavia leaning out a window, straining to hold onto one of the DJ’s forehooves with her own.

“Whew. Thanks, Octy.”

The cellist gritted her teeth, grunting from the effort of trying to lift Vinyl through the window. “Don’t... hrrgh... mention it...”

“You cannot delay the inevitable,” Gretchen said calmly, leering down at them. “For as the lord’s grace is unquestioned, her will is not—”

There was a sudden explosion of wood against the back of the griffon’s head, accompanied by a sharp twang that was quickly cut off. Gretchen briefly reeled from the impact before catching herself and slowly lifting her head, turning around to see Sharp Eye clutching her shattered banjo, which now consisted solely of the neck with the strings dangling off. The pony’s eyes widened as she saw the griffon shake off the blow so quickly.

Gretchen slowly rose to her full height, unfurling her wings to their fullest extent and looming over the young mare before her. Sharp Eye clung to her thin stick of a weapon as she backed away. “Oh,” she squeaked, her face pale and her knees shaking as the griffon rapidly closed in.

The Pinkieton made a lunge to the side, but was no match for the griffon’s speed. Just as she had done with Vinyl, Gretchen grabbed Sharp Eye by the neck and lifted her off her hooves. The pony tried to hit the griffon, but the pressure around her throat was causing her to lose focus fast.

“Time and mercy are out of your reach...” Gretchen cooed, teasing her talons against Sharp Eye’s skin before she tightened her grip. The griffon’s expression darkened as the mare’s face began to turn blue.

Without warning, something yellow and small struck the side of Gretchen’s head, making a small ‘quack!’ sound when it hit before it fell to the ground. The griffon glanced down to see a rubber duck sitting beneath her, then looked up to see Watt Sun standing on the rooftop, his nostrils flaring and his eyes burning as he clutched a cupcake in a trembling hoof.

Get away from her!” he bellowed, lifting the cupcake in a throwing stance.

“Watt...” Sharp Eye choked, her forelegs flailing against the griffon’s hold.

Gretchen gave Watt Sun a sly grin. “As you wish.” Suddenly, she drew Sharp Eye back before flinging her at the other Pinkieton. Released from the griffon’s grip, the mare gasped for air only for her breath to get knocked out again once she collided with the stallion. Watt Sun’s eyes widened and he flung open his forelegs to catch her, but she hit with enough force to lift him off his hooves and send them both sailing towards the edge of the roof.

The two Pinkietons struck the edge of the roof, rolling across it into empty space. Scrambling, Sharp Eye narrowly managed to grab a hoofhold on the top of the wall as Watt Sun, failing to catch hold of the wall himself, maintained his grip around the mare’s body. They now dangled over the edge of the building, with Sharp Eye straining to hold on with her forehooves as Watt Sun desperately tried to get a hold on the building himself.

They both heard the tap of talons against brick and looked up to see Gretchen standing above them, her head blocking their view of the sun so that it cast her face into shadow. She raised a claw over her head and Sharp Eye flinched, waiting for it to strike.

A sudden streak of brown and tan struck Gretchen before she could land her blow, and the Pinkietons watched in stunned shock as Doc and Gretchen fell from the roof, the former’s claws digging into the villain’s hide. They tumbled over each other in mid-air above the street before they separated, both throwing open their wings as they brandished their claws at each other. Doc’s expression was livid and crazed, while Gretchen’s was one of calm fury. Both let out a screech as they dove for the other, swiping their talons at their opponent.

Meanwhile, Sharp Eye gave a pained grunt, her forelegs straining as sweat began trickling down her face. “Hrrrggh... slipping...”

Watt Sun tried to grab hold of the wall with his rearhooves, struggling to find a hoofing on the brick wall while he still clung to Sharp Eye with his forehooves. He tentatively reached up towards the top of the wall. “Hold on,” he murmured, “Just another moment...”

But Sharp Eye couldn’t hold out for much longer. With a final tremble, her forelegs finally gave out and the mare lost hold of the building, sending them both plunging towards the street. She yelped and clenched her eyes shut, quickly wrapping her hooves tightly around a startled Watt Sun as they fell towards the ground.

Their fall didn’t last long, however. Barely a few seconds passed before a rope, encased in a blue glow, snapped over the side of the roof and raced through the air at the two Pinkietons, quickly wrapping itself around them before pulling back, halting their fall in an instant.

Vinyl poked her head over the edge of the roof, her horn glowing the same color as the aura which surrounded the rope. “Hey, you okay?” she called down.

Watt Sun and Sharp Eye glanced at each other, their faces so close that their muzzles touched. They hung upside down, their hooves wrapped around each other’s bodies and bound in place by the rope tied around them. “Are you okay?” they asked each other simultaneously. “I’m fine, what about you?” they both immediately replied. There was an awkward pause as they both blushed and gave each other a goofy grin. The rope, brought to life by Vinyl’s spell, gently lowered them to the ground.

“Hold on!” the DJ called down. “In just a moment I’ll have you— buck!” she squealed, quickly dropping to her hooves as a griffon sailed overhead, narrowly missing Vinyl’s head with his talons. The griffon sailed past, arcing over the street as he turned around to make another pass at the Pinkieton.

But just as he set his sights on Vinyl once more, the griffon was suddenly bombarded by a hail of pink substance that splattered all over his body. Impact after impact, the griffon felt more of it clinging to his feathers, sticking like glue and spreading the smell of artificial fruit flavor to anything it touched. His desperate attempts to free the strange substance from his wings were in vain, and within seconds he plummeted to the ground, hitting the dusty street with a hard smack.

Facing the downed griffon from a window of the hotel, Octavia was leaning out, clutching a large machine gun that was painted bright pink, with a cylindrical magazine attached to the firing mechanism. Vinyl leaned over the edge of the roof, admiring the cellist’s weapon.

“Ooh, is that the tommy gum?” the DJ asked.

“Standard issue, bubblegum model,” Octavia confirmed, loading a new magazine into the gun before tossing it up to Vinyl. She caught it with her magic and took it in her forehooves, admiring it for a moment as a manic grin spread across her face before she unleashed its sweet, sticky firepower on the griffons above.

Nearby, Gretchen went hurtling into the charred wreckage of the saloon, smashing through a roof beam and tumbling into a pile of rubble in a cloud of dust and ash. Doc hovered above, breathing heavily and seething with rage as Gretchen calmly picked herself up from the wreckage. Both griffons were already covered in scratches and cuts, though Gretchen looked the worst for wear even while her expression betrayed no pain.

“I told you never to come here,” Doc growled. “I told you never to follow me.”

Gretchen gave him a crooked grin as she tossed a charred piece of wood aside. “It is no mere coincidence that Messy Manes would offer me the very skies that you fled to. A false witness will not go unpunished, and he will not escape.”

She launched herself into the air, tackling Doc and knocking him out of the sky. But he recovered as they fell, twisting around in mid-air to position himself atop Gretchen before slamming her against the ground. With a screech, he lifted his talons and lashed out, leaving a gash across Gretchen’s face. She let out a lion’s growl before bucking him off, catching him with the sharp claws of her paws.

Doc landed with a pained grunt, looking down to see deep cuts along his sides. Despite her wounds, Gretchen took it in stride and slowly paced around the other griffon.

“You are weak, traitor,” she remarked. “You are weak like all who sin.”

Doc rose to his full height, unfurling his wings. “Don’t underestimate me. I killed dozens in my day.”

Gretchen let out a haughty laugh. “And you call yourself a doctor.”

I had bad days!” he bellowed, rushing at the villain. She sprang up at him, drawing her claws out. They collided, their talons locked against each other as both tried to overpower the other. They beat their wings relentlessly, snapping their beaks at each other while trying to dig their lion’s claws into each other’s flesh.

“Who will be your savior?” Gretchen snarled. “Will you die just to try in vain to escape the lord’s wrath?”

“If I die, I’ll die to protect my home,” Doc growled. “To save it from the filth I fled from!” With the swiftness of a predator, he clamped his beak around Gretchen’s throat. She bellowed and thrashed, struggling to throw him off, but he desperately clung to her even as she wrestled one of her talons free of Doc’s grasp and dug them into his back.

They remained locked in place for several long, grueling moments as Doc strained to hold on and ignore the agony of Gretchen’s claws ripping into him. Eventually the pain became too much to bear and Doc let out a cry of anguish, losing his grasp on Gretchen’s neck and dropping to the ground, writhing in pain. A deep gash ran along his back, his wings twitched pitifully, and his every muscle was clenched tightly as Gretchen stood above him, regarding him coldly.

“It is a shame, brother,” she remarked. “You had so much to offer the lord’s cause.” Gretchen raised a foreleg over her head, readying to strike a final blow.

Suddenly, she heard a strange whistling sound, like something rushing through the air, before she felt the stabbing pain of something sinking itself into her foreleg. She grunted, turning her leg over to see an arrow sticking out.

Gretchen turned to see Octavia standing in the street, already drawing another arrow against the string of her bow. The griffon calmly wrenched the arrow out of her leg and unfurled her wings to charge at the pony, when there was a sudden blur of pink and she felt something strike her paw. She looked down to see a sticky substance clinging to her leg, holding it to the surrounding ground. Before she could properly react, more of the pink substance struck her, attaching to her other legs and sticking to her wings.

Gretchen struggled to wrench her legs free from the ground, but they were held firmly in place. She looked up to see Vinyl standing on the roof of the hotel, brandishing the tommy gum in her direction. The griffon snarled at the two ponies. “You insolent fools! Your mortal instruments cannot overcome—”

A last projectile of gum struck her in the beak, filling her mouth with strawberry-flavored bubblegum and rendering her unable to speak. She gestured vigorously at the Pinkietons for a moment before toppling to the ground, held in place by the sticky substance. Townsfolk emerged out of the buildings to secure her in place with ropes, and Gretchen was helpless to do anything except squirm in place and make muffled shouts. Around them, the other griffons in Gretchen’s gang had been captured or were fleeing from the still fighting griffon townsfolk.

The Pinkietons ran to Doc, who was still lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. His injuries looked terrible, but the griffon was still moving. The sound of galloping hooves reached their ears and they looked up to see Quiet Earp returning with his posse, accompanied by some of the griffon townsfolk. The sheriff’s face was white as he frantically ran towards them.

“Doc! Oh my word, Doc!” He skidded to a halt by the griffon’s side and fell beside him, shaking with fear. “I-I’m sorry, we were so busy with the bandits outside town we didn’t notice Gretchen’s Gang attackin’!”

“S’ok, Quiet,” the griffon replied. His tone was still good-natured, though his voice was quieter than usual. "I think I'll get through this... though I don't think I'm going to be flying any time soon."

“Get him inside!” the sheriff barked at his fellows. The griffons quickly obeyed and, assisted by a few ponies and mules, gently lifted Doc before carrying him towards the hotel. Quiet remained by his friend as they took him inside.

The Pinkietons watched them go while curious townsfolk stepped out onto the main street, their expressions ones of shock as they watched Doc be carried away or their fellows tie down a gum-covered and furious Gretchen.

Author's Notes:

This is an edited version of the chapter. Originally, this chapter ended with Gretchen and Doc having a bloody fight to the death and both of them perishing. In retrospect, this was really unfitting to the otherwise comedic tone of this story, so I've tried to remedy this.

Search and Destroy

Brown Noser sat at the bar, looking around the small private lounge of his boss’ mansion. It had been a long, arduous, and occasionally perilous climb up the corporate ladder to get to where he was now, but it had all been worth it. Now, sitting in a plush chair, relaxed by a copious amount of booze and admiring the beautiful mares dancing to the rock music being played by a skilled DJ, Brown Noser could finally reap his reward.

His eyes traveled over the fine mares hired for the occasion. All had been carefully chosen for the pleasure of him and his male peers at this party, and all offered the promise of an excellent time. But there was one specimen sitting at the other end of the bar that caught his eye; a fine, grey-coated mare in a black dress that matched her mane and showed off every curve of her stunning frame. Her very being emanated a pompous attitude and a refined taste, not unlike many of the mares Brown Noser had taken advantage of over the years. They were always the fun ones; so self-assured and patronizing, and then so shocked to find that they had been passed over for a promotion in favor of the stallion who they had bedded the week before. He licked his lips as he approached the grey mare. It was like child’s play.

“Evening,” he greeted her, taking the seat beside the grey-coated mare. “I couldn’t help but notice that you were alone.”

The mare gave him a small smile before pushing a plate of muffins toward him. “Would you care for a pastry?” she offered.

“Thank you, but I’m fine,” Brown Noser replied.

“Oh, but I think you should really try these,” the mare said with enthusiasm. “I heard they’re the most expensive baked goods money can buy!”

Brown Noser didn’t have any trouble believing this, knowing who was throwing the party. “Alright, if you insist,” he said with a laugh, taking a bite of one of the muffins from the plate. She was right, it was a fine muffin. He leaned in closer. Make her think she’s in charge. “I was wondering if you wanted some company tonight. A fine mare like yourself should never be alone.”

The mare smiled back at him. “Why don’t we head into a back room? You know, just to... relax?”

Like child’s play. Brown Noser smiled and helped the mare off her seat before allowing her to lead him to the back of the room. As he passed by the center of the party, he could just barely hear his boss, Six Figures, boasting over the music, “Eat up, everypony! I hear these muffins are the finest in the world! Only the best for my friends!” The wealthy unicorn was surrounded by adoring mares and a ring of stallions who wanted to share in his power. Ponies were dancing to the music around them, showing off their bodies and suggestively running their hooves along their curves. Nearby, a group of ponies were each holding a straw in one nostril, snorting up a line of salt on the table in front of them before leaning back against their seat, their eyes half-lidded and their mouths hanging open.

The grey mare led him past all this, entering a hallway in the back of the lounge. She pushed a door open, revealing a small bedroom beyond, before pulling Brown Noser inside.

“Alright,” he muttered, reaching a hoof up to his neck to undo his tie. “How would you like to start? What the lady wants, the lady gets.”

The grey-coated mare smiled slyly, arching her eyebrow at him. “My, aren’t you a gentlecolt?” she cooed, teasing a hoof along his chest. “Why don’t you take the lead? I admire a stallion with initiative.”

Brown Noser grinned widely and dove in, grasping the mare and pulling her in for a passionate kiss. As he pressed his lips to hers, he ran his hooves along her slender frame, feeling the warmth of her body beneath her silken dress as he pressed closer...

But something was wrong. A wave of dizziness washed over Brown Noser and the world seemed to spin around him, to the point that it became too much to simply ignore. His lips broke away from hers and he backed away a couple of steps, putting a hoof to his forehead. The room spun around, its warm, inviting colors suddenly becoming blurred and strange.

“Oh dear... Are you okay?” The mare’s voice was strangely distant. He looked up to see two of her, warping around each other as the world continue to spin out of control.

“I...” he murmured, trying to steady himself. “I...” He couldn’t say anymore. The room seemed to slowly tilt to the side and a moment later he felt the soft embrace of the plush carpet against his cheek.

The grey-coated mare looked down at the passed out stallion. “Better luck next time,” she remarked. “Maybe you’ll last longer.” She stepped over his still frame and opened the door, leaving Brown Noser alone in the room.

Octavia strolled down the hallway, emerging back into the lounge to find almost every single pony in the room slumped over the nearest object or collapsed in the middle of the room. The loud rock music continued to play, but nopony was dancing now. Everypony was leaning back in their chair, flopped over a table or a couch, or simply out cold on the floor. Octavia arrived just in time to see a green-coated stallion with red hooves lean precariously against a drink table before toppling over, taking the table and several glasses down with him.

There was only one aware pony left in the room: the DJ. She looked over to see Vinyl Scratch behind the booth, pulling off her earphones and glancing at Octavia. Both gave a quick nod at each other before approaching the group of passed out partiers.

“Operation Baked Bads is a success,” Vinyl remarked, spotting a half-eaten muffin still clenched in a hoof of a mare draped over their target: Six Figures, who was sitting unconscious in his luxurious leather chair. “Do you think he has the goods?”

Octavia nodded, pulling the limp stallion upright. “He’s the only pony we know of who has ever had a connection with the Sunprance Kid. If anypony can give us a hint to his current whereabouts, it’s Six Figures.”

The two agents hefted the wealthy stallion out of the seat and carried him out of the room, leading him around the foyer of the mansion to the doors of his private office. On the handle of the double doors leading inside was a small hole just large enough for a unicorn’s horn to fit into. The two of them hoisted Six Figures up to the door, leaning him against it and forcing his horn into the locking mechanism. The door handle began to glow brightly and they heard a clicking sound before the lock parted around the hole, causing Six Figures to unceremoniously topple to the ground as the doors swung open.

Inside was a luxuriously furnished office, with finely carved desks and cabinets. In the center of the room was a case with several golden keys, as well as some questionable looking magical artifacts. Vinyl grinned as she took it all in. “I forgot how much I love this job.”

“I forgot how much I hate this job.”

Octavia and Vinyl were sitting together on the porch of the O.K. Hotel, overlooking the main street in the light of sunset and watching the occasional townsfolk pass by. Vinyl’s words brought the cellist back to the present and the circumstances they faced.

“Hey Octy, you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Octavia muttered, looking down at the ground. “I was just remembering the time when we infiltrated Six Figures’ mansion.”

“That guy who was laundering all the money the Sunprance Kid stole?” Vinyl inquired. “What about him?”

“It’s just...” The cellist paused, considering her words. “That mission seemed so easy. Going undercover, finding enough evidence to incriminate him and locate our next target...”

She glanced up at the street, looking around at the town of O.K. and the barren surroundings that stretched out as far as the eye could see. “...Do you think we’re out of our element here? Before this, the only ponies we ever endangered were ourselves and those we fought against. But here...”

Vinyl nodded. “But here the whole town is at risk,” she finished for her friend.

Octavia pawed at the floor uneasily. “We were trained as spies, Vinyl. Can we really fight a war? Out in the open?”

Vinyl was silent for a moment, her expression unreadable behind her goggles. “The way I see it,” she finally spoke, “we were trained to fight. Doesn’t matter where or how.”

“Glad to hear it.” The two agents turned around to see Quiet Earp standing in the doorway, his face stern and his eyes narrowed. "We'll see what they get for hurting my friend." He trotted past them and out into the street without another word.

Vinyl and Octavia glanced through the open doorway to see Doc resting on a bed, surrounded by concerned griffons and ponies. He was alive, but his injuries had left his wings crippled and it would be a while before he could even walk again, if the thick cast around his midsection was any indication. He glanced over at the two agents and gave them a smile.

They heard a small cough and turned to see Watt Sun and Sharp Eye standing behind them. Sharp Eye had one of her forehooves wrapped around one of Watt Sun’s. “Try to get some sleep tonight,” he instructed them, “and be ready to saddle up in the morning. The sheriff says we leave at dawn.”

At the crack of dawn, the griffon townsfolk returned to O.K. Under cover of darkness, they had scoured the surrounding countryside, seeking out any sign of Messy Mane’s gang. With Gretchen captured and her gang broken, the griffon townsfolk could finally fly above No Mare’s Land unmolested. And with their finest member now grounded, they were eager to find any sign of their enemies.

And find them they did. The griffons returned to town to be greeted by Quiet Earp and a growing posse of townsfolk who were preparing to leave. The information was quickly relayed: an encampment of ponies, sitting at the entrance to the Diamond-Blueblood Gold Mine in the mountains north of town.

“That figures,” Vinyl commented when hearing the news. “Didn’t Messy Manes say something about Blueblood’s mine?”

Octavia nodded. “I believe her words were ‘you can tell that prince who hired you that I’m keeping his gold mine.’”

Watt Sun gave her a sideways look. “I seem to recall her language being slightly more colorful than that.”

“Alrigh’ then,” Quiet announced, causing the assembled townsfolk to fall silent. “I’m gonna keep this short. After all, you all know why you’re here.”

The mares, stallions, mules, buffalo, and griffons of O.K. stood in the main street. Despite the fact that the sun hadn’t even risen yet, everyone in town was awake, either gathered in the middle of the street and giving the sheriff their resolute attention or standing to the side and watching. Talk had spread throughout the town in the wake of the attack the previous day and their sheriff’s reaction. Some were already referring to it as Earp’s vendetta.

“This has gone on for long enough,” Quiet muttered. “It’s time we took the fight to them. I’ve tried to protect you all, but if Doc's state is any sign, then I’ve failed you." The assembled townsfolk glanced at each other. No longer were they separated into their respective races. Ponies, mules, buffalo, and griffons mingled together in the crowd.

"But if you’ll still have me as yer sheriff, I promise you that we will end this today.” No one spoke, but a murmur of affirmation went through the crowd as many gave solemn nods. Quiet Earp nodded back.

The Diamond-Blueblood Ltd. Gold Mine, named for its joint owners, was situated at the head of a narrow valley in the mountains above town. On the surface, it was a humble, unassuming facility, its appearance belying the riches that sat beneath. A mine cart track wound along the base of the canyon, passing beside a tent camp and small wood cabin before vanishing into a simple hole at the base of the cliff.

The camp had been abandoned by the miners since the arrival of the bandits, who now occupied the tents that had been left behind. Mine carts loaded with gold nuggets stood on the track and pickaxes littered the ground. A thin trail of smoke poured out of the chimney of the wood cabin while a few of the bandits outside were waking up or making breakfast while the rest still slept, the only signs of activity in the early morning light.

The Pinkietons and Earp’s posse took this all in from atop a hill looking down into the valley. They quietly watched the camp, determining their next course of action.

“This is perfect,” Sharp Eye said in an undertone. “We have the higher ground and they’re cornered! Could we ask for a better setup?”

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Quiet Earp muttered. “They may be cornered, but that’s a very defensible position they’ve got there. Gettin’ at Messy Manes ain’t gonna be easy.”

“Leave her to us,” Vinyl replied. “You just worry about drawing her henchponies away.”

“What?” Quiet snapped. “No, I need your weapons and skill on those henchponies! Besides, if anypony here is going to be getting Messy Manes, it’s me.”

The Pinkietons were taken aback. “Sheriff, this is what we’re trained for!” Watt Sun retorted. “Sneaking is our specialty, not fighting on the front lines.”

“Doc was right; I should’ve hired soldiers instead,” Quiet grumbled.

“Sheriff, with all due respect,” Octavia said, “I understand that you want to be the one to get Messy Manes, but you're not the only one she has wronged. Let us do our job."

Quiet muttered something under his breath as he glanced down at the camp. After a moment, he finally let out a sigh. “Fine,” he grumbled. “But promise me you won’t rough up Messy Manes too much before I get there.”

“You have our word,” Sharp Eye replied, crossing her forehooves over her heart and waving them in the air before placing a hoof over her eye.

The Pinkietons crept silently down the steep hill above the mine entrance, cautiously approaching the wood cabin at the base of the valley. Shortly after separating, Earp’s posse had attacked the camp, flinging stones and pieces of wood down at the henchponies. The bandits, caught off-guard, were slow to react, but eventually started returning fire with their rifles, holding Earp’s posse back. So far, nopony had noticed the Pinkietons making their way down the hill.

Long before they reached the cabin, they could hear the muffled sound of shouting from within. Octavia slowly drew her sword, Vinyl primed the tommy gum, and Watt Sun and Sharp Eye prepared their own weapons as they snuck close enough to hear the voices inside.

“I’m not gonna give in!” bellowed a high, raspy voice that they immediately recognized as Messy Manes’. “Them Canterloons will have to drag me out by my teeth!”

“Calm down, Messy,” came the voice of Clydesdale. “That’s my wife you’re yelling at!”

There was a long, feminine sigh from within. “Clyde, hun, it’s over,” said Bonnie.

“Oh baby, don’t think like that. We can still fight our way out of this!”

“No Clyde, I mean it’s over between us.”

There was a pregnant silence following her words, interrupted only by the echoes of gunfire in the distance. Vinyl crept towards a window and pressed an ear against the wall, glancing over at Octavia with an arched eyebrow.

“What are you talking about, baby?” Clydesdale asked in a shaky tone.

“I’ve been seeing another stallion,” Bonnie answered matter-of-factly.

What?! W-Who?! When?!”

“Pretty Colt Bolt.”

Sharp Eye, who had been listening with rapt attention, suddenly gave a silent ‘Oh’ of understanding upon hearing this. Watt Sun elbowed her, giving Sharp Eye an incredulous look while mouthing the word ‘What?!’ The mare blushed slightly, but didn’t back down. A completely silent but passionate debate erupted between the two, while Octavia and Vinyl continued to listen.

“That... slimy... piece of... sonofa...” Clydesdale sputtered. “What in the world does he have that I don’t?!”

“Well, let’s see... looks, charm, the knowledge of how to make a mare happy...”

“I know how to make you happy! Why just last night, you were hollering louder than a—”

“Clyde, I was faking it.”

In the heavy silence that followed, Vinyl glanced over at Octavia and mouthed the word ‘Wow’ before miming stabbing herself in the heart. The cellist rolled her eyes.

“Aw, would you two just shut up?” Messy Manes shouted. “This is why I can’t have any of you working together! You’re a bunch of incompetent idiots! I turn around for one second and you’re tearing each other’s throats out!”

“Look, Messy,” Bonnie said calmly, “let’s face facts. We’re fighting a losing battle here. But it’s not too late. Why don’t we just grab as much gold as we can carry and get out before—”

“Gold? Gold?” There was a sudden crash of wood against the floor and they heard several objects shatter. “You think this is about gold?!

“Uh... well...”

Do you know who I am? I’m Messy Bucking Manes! Do I look like I care about something as stupid as gold?!”

“I... no...”

“This is so much bigger than gold! I told you, all we’re gonna do with the gold is ferry it off to my contact in Equestria and she supplies us with ponies and weapons! I’m here for the land! This is my country now! Once I drive off every dirt-sucking peasant out here it won’t be No Mare’s Land anymore! It’ll be my land! Manes’ Land!”

Vinyl and Octavia gave each other a surprised look. “Contact?” the cellist mouthed.

“Manes’ Land, free from the influence of Her Royal Scumbags! But you two don’t understand that, because you don’t have any vision! All you care about is gold!

The window above Vinyl exploded into shards as something heavy smashed through. The DJ had no time to avoid the glass shards raining down on her, nor the lump of gold that landed on her head. She let out a yelp of pain before slapping a forehoof over her mouth, staring wide-eyed at the other Pinkietons. They tensed, gripping their weapons tightly and not daring to breath in the silence that followed.

They heard the click of a hoof cannon and Octavia and Vinyl sprung away from the cabin just before a fiery explosion tore through the wall of the cabin, blasting the two agents into the air and enveloping the cabin in a thick cloud of dust and smoke. Even over the echo of the thunderous explosion and the crackle of burning timber, Messy Manes’ raspy voice could clearly be made out. “So you think you can sneak up on me?!” Her silhouette slowly became visible as she stepped through the hole she had blown into the cabin wall. “Thought you could pull a fast one on Messy Ma—”

An arrow suddenly shot through the cloud of smoke, embedding itself in the bandit’s shoulder. Messy Manes bellowed in pain, clutching her shoulder with one forehoof as she quickly retreated into the cabin. Outside, Octavia was already drawing another arrow against her bow, taking aim as the cloud of dust and ash began to settle.

“It’s over, Messy Manes!” the cellist called out. “You are under arrest for crimes committed against the citizens of Equestria! I ask that you surrend—”

A small, wrapped candy suddenly hurtled out of the cloud towards Octavia. The cellist had just enough time to leap behind a nearby boulder before there was an explosion of chocolate and caramel where she had been standing, leaving behind a crater and splattering sugary shrapnel across the front of her boulder. She glanced over to see the other Pinkietons also taking cover behind boulders as a hail of magic bolts zipped over their heads.

“I forgot Bonnie had those,” Octavia muttered. She heard the gallop of hooves and peeked around her boulder, catching a glimpse of the form of a mare running into the mine.

“Vinyl, Manes is making a run for it!” the cellist shouted, jerking her head towards the mine. The DJ nodded and turned towards Watt Sun and Sharp Eye.

“You guys think you can handle these two?”

Sharp Eye nodded, wincing as a magic bolt came within inches of cutting through her mane. “I think so, but a little extra firepower would be nice!”

Vinyl quickly grabbed the tommy gum and tossed it to Sharp Eye. “Here! Give us some cover!” The young mare nodded before charging the weapon and unleashing a rain of pink gum pellets at the cabin while Vinyl and Octavia bolted out from behind their boulders, racing for the mine entrance.

Inside the cabin, Bonnie and Clydesdale were huddled against the wall next to the hole, desperately trying to avoid the onslaught of gum that rained through. Bonnie had a bon-bomb loaded in her slingshot, but couldn’t get a chance to fire it. “Damn it Clyde, if you’d give me some cover I could get in a decent shot!”

“Oh, is that what I should do?” the stallion snapped, levitating his rifle beside him. “How novel.”

“Don’t you be getting smart with me!” Bonnie retorted, who, unable to get a good shot, resorted to flinging her bon-bomb out the hole with a forehoof. It exploded as she went on. “We both know I’m the only one here with any brains!”

Her husband barely avoided the cake frosting and custard that was now accompanying the gum. “You know, before I met you, I was really going places! I was a made stallion!”

“Clyde, despite your belief to the contrary, being in a beer commercial doesn’t make you a made stallion!” A section of the wall, riddled with impact points from the gum pellets, nearly fell on her.

Clydesdale started returning fire. “It was Buckweiser! That’s good money!”

“Good money for a chump! Why couldn’t I have married a stallion with ambition?”

The stallion snapped open the rifle, charging the cartridges with more magic. “Why bother when you can just buck one on the side?!” he yelled, closing the rifle and getting a few shots off before dodging another hail of gum.

“You know what?” Bonnie screamed, her eyes glistening. “I don’t need you! Nopony needs you! You couldn’t even be bothered to remember our anniversary last week!” In her fury, she flung another bomb outside.

“Last week?” Clydesdale muttered. “No, our anniversary is in two days!”

“Two days?! No, you idiot, we got married on the 14th!” The pounding of gum pellets hitting the side of the cabin grew louder as the walls began to give in.

“We got married in that little courthouse, but you said you wanted a real wedding! So we crashed that fancy one we found and took the place of the bride and groom! Don’t you remember me holding the pastor at gunpoint while we said our vows?”

“Of course I remember!” Bonnie snapped. “Wait, you thought that was our anniversary date?”

The cabin began to groan as the wall started to slowly cave in from the force of the firepower outside. “Well, of course I did! You said it wasn’t really official until we had a real wedding!”

Bonnie’s mouth was agape and her eyes were brimming with tears. “You remember that...”

Finally, the wall collapsed on them, taking a section of the roof with it and knocking the two ponies to the floor. Half of the cabin had collapsed, but the two emerged out of the pile of wood almost unharmed. For a moment, they stood facing each other, gum-covered shingles sticking to their fur as they breathed heavily, teeth gritted and glaring at each other.

“I hate you...” Bonnie muttered before flinging herself at Clydesdale and knocking him to the floor, embracing him in a passionate kiss which he eagerly returned. They wrapped their hooves around each other, rolling in the sticky mess while Watt Sun and Sharp Eye watched the scene from outside with looks of stunned shock.

The two Pinkietons glanced at each other. “We... don’t act like that, right?” Watt Sun asked.

Sharp Eye snickered before giving him a peck on the cheek. Watt Sun’s face turned beet red as she holstered the tommy gum over her back and started trotting towards the cabin. “Come on tough guy, let’s go tie them up.”


Vinyl and Octavia raced into the mine, quickly leaving any trace of sunlight behind as they plunged into the darkness of the tunnel. The inside of the mine was faintly illuminated by a series of dim lamps embedded in the walls, spaced close enough together that one could just make out the inside of the tunnel, but far enough apart that it left large gaps of blackness between the small pools of faint yellow light.

They galloped further underground, the sound of their hooffalls on the wooden railroad ties of the mine cart track echoing through the darkness. The tunnel abruptly widened before them and the two agents skidded to a halt, finding themselves in a huge cavern that stretched far above them. The mine cart track came to an end at the base of a rope and pulley system that wound its way up the cavern wall, leading up to other tunnels branching out of the cave. The glimmer of a gold vein winding up the wall could just be made out in the faint lantern light.

“Stay on your guard. She could be anywhere in here,” Octavia muttered, holding a hoof close to the handle of her bow, ready to draw it at an instant.

“Hang on,” Vinyl said, tapping the side of her goggles. Green-colored shades slid into place over the normal purple ones as a small light flickered on within the goggles. “Ooh, night vision-y,” the DJ commented, looking up into the cavern.

“Do you see anything?” the cellist whispered.

Something on the ground caught Vinyl’s attention, and she looked down to see what seemed to be a small stain against the dark rock. She rubbed some of it off with a forehoof, lifting it into the light as she pulled off her goggles. A faint smear of red could be made out on her hoof.

“That looks fresh,” the DJ commented, showing the blood stain to Octavia. “She must be bleeding from your arrow.” Vinyl looked over at the other side of the cavern, where two tunnels led out of the cave. One had no illumination while the other glowed with the faint light of more lanterns. A quick glance with the goggles showed a small trail of blood stains leading into the darker tunnel.

The two proceeded slowly into the dark tunnel. It was pitch black, presumably abandoned when the miners moved on to other parts of the gold vein. The faint green glow from Vinyl’s night vision goggles was all Octavia could see as she remained close to her friend’s side, ready to draw her sword at any moment.

They rounded a corner before Octavia felt Vinyl stop in her tracks. “Hang on, this can’t be right...” The DJ’s horn began to glow brightly, illuminating the tunnel.

“Put that out!” Octavia hissed. “We’ll be seen!”

“Where’d she go?” Vinyl mumbled, staring ahead. The cellist turned to see nothing but a wall of solid stone in front of them. The tunnel had come to a dead end.

Octavia blinked in confusion. “But if she’s not here, then...”

They heard the click of a trigger from behind them before the world suddenly erupted into light and flames and the two agents were blasted off their hooves. Octavia briefly felt nothing but air beneath her hooves before she smashed headlong into the wall, sliding down it painfully before tumbling to an abrupt halt against the ground. Her mind swam as she tried to get up, seeing nothing but flames in front of her. She scooted backed into a corner, one forehoof clutching her ribs as the other reached for her bow, trying to find some cover in a small alcove where the tunnel widened slightly. Octavia grunted as she pressed her back against the wall, drawing an arrow against her bow. Vinyl was nowhere in sight.

“I’m just too clever for you, aren’t I?!” Octavia turned towards the source of the voice, squinting her eyes to try and see beyond the flames that blocked her path. She could just make out the silhouette of a figure standing on the other side of the raging inferno that separated them. Messy Manes was clutching her shoulder with one hoof, levitating her hoof cannon beside her. “Didn’t think I’d set a trap and double back on you, did ya?!”

Octavia fired an arrow, but the bandit saw it coming far before it could reach her and jumped out of the way, crouching against one wall of the tunnel. “It’s over, Messy Manes! You’ve got nowhere to run!”

“I’m not gonna run, I’m gonna fight!” The bandit let off another blast from her cannon, which crashed into the wall with such force it shook the whole tunnel, throwing rocks into the air and raining down on Octavia. She threw her forehooves over her head, but fortunately none of the rocks were large enough to do any damage. With nothing to burn, the flames died out, but a mixture of dust and smoke was rapidly filling the enclosed space. An orange light from Messy Manes’ horn was the only source of light in the tunnel now.

A streak of blue light suddenly flew past Octavia, striking Messy Manes head-on and encasing her in a pale blue aura. Even from a distance, the cellist could hear the screech of audio feedback and the thump of a loud bass line. Messy Manes let out a pained yell, throwing her hooves over her ears and clenching her eyes shut. “Stop it! Make it stop!” she bellowed, firing off another shot. But in her current state her aim was way off and the blast from her hoof cannon hit the ceiling with a huge explosion. Octavia backed away hastily as the section of tunnel between them collapsed with a thundering crash that shook the entire mine.

Octavia could taste the dust in the air, but couldn’t see anything as the tunnel was once more plunged into pitch blackness. The crumble of pebbles falling to the ground slowly subsided as silence descended in the tunnel before she heard a cough from behind her. “Octy! Are you okay?” Vinyl’s voice called out.

“Yes, just fine!” Octavia briefly saw the green glow of Vinyl’s night vision goggles before they flickered out with a spark of electricity. The DJ cursed and hurriedly pulled them off before illuminating her horn to reveal a wall of rock separating them from where Messy Manes had been, trapping them inside.

Vinyl flopped onto the ground, tossing her broken goggles aside. “Grrreat.”

Messy Manes hobbled back up the tunnel, still clutching her wounded shoulder with one of her forehooves. She was levitating her hoof cannon beside her, but it was quite useless; a boulder from the tunnel collapse had smashed into it and dismantled its inner mechanisms. Nevertheless, she kept it by her side in case she needed to intimidate anypony she met. Her ears were still ringing from Vinyl’s magic, loud enough that she couldn’t hear her own hoofsteps.

She emerged back in the cavern to find it empty. Despite her injury, she couldn’t suppress a grin; with all the tunnels in this mine, she could hide down here as long as it would be necessary, perhaps luring any others into a trap. If more were coming, let them come.

The ringing in Messy Manes’ ears kept her from noticing the lasso sailing through the air towards her until it was too late.

With a start, she felt a rope drape itself around her frame, and before she could react she was hoisted into the air, immediately losing her grasp on her hoof cannon as she was lifted into the darkness of the cavern, yelling in shock. Before she could figure out what was happening she abruptly came to a halt, dangling upside down several lengths above the ground. Messy looked around in alarm before she felt herself being tugged up towards the ceiling. She glanced up to see the rope tied to a pulley, slowly lifting her upwards.

After a long moment, the bandit was pulled up beside a small ledge overlooking the cavern. The figures of several ponies stood on the ledge, all of them with various scratches and bruises, but also with a look of triumph evident in their faces. Quiet Earp was standing in front, glaring at her, with Watt Sun and Sharp Eye flanking him. Behind them, a group of ponies were tying off the rope, securing Messy Manes in place dangling from the ceiling.

“Morning, sheriff,” the bandit muttered. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Where’s Vinyl and Octavia?” Sharp Eye asked sharply.

Messy Manes made a small noise of indifference, which provoked an irritated snort from Quiet Earp. “Come on boys,” he said to the group of ponies behind him, “let’s check out that tunnel.” The others nodded and began following the sheriff down to the base of the cavern while Watt Sun and Sharp Eye remained behind with the bandit.

“Now then,” Watt Sun said, giving Messy a sly grin. “Why don’t you tell us about this contact of yours?”

“Was this contact the one who told you we were coming?” Sharp Eye added.

“Psht,” Messy scoffed. “You expect me to talk?”

The two Pinkietons glanced at each other, sharing a smile. “Nope. We expect you to smile,” the stallion said.

“Watt Sun,” Sharp Eye began, her eyes narrowing, “get... the feather.”

In a Canterlot office, Melody Maker dropped a dossier on the desk of Prince Blueblood before taking a seat across from the prince himself. Blueblood leaned back against his huge leather chair, which bore a strong resemblance to a throne, regarding the Pinkieton conductor coldly.

“I’ve been waiting for your report for a few days now,” the prince muttered. “Are you going to explain why I was not immediately informed of any updates?”

“We had some rather interesting developments in this case,” Melody said smoothly, unperturbed by Blueblood’s chilly reception. “It’s all in the report, but I can offer you a summary. I’m sure you’re aware that Messy Manes was apprehended?”

“Yes. And I’m also aware that it happened in the mine that I have a stake in!” the prince snapped. “May I ask why the destruction of private property had to be involved?”

“Rest assured that no significant damage was done to your mine,” Melody replied. “...By any employees of the Pinkieton Detective Agency. As to why you were not immediately informed, it turns out that there may have been larger forces at work than a mere gang of ambitious bandits. We believe that Messy Manes was acting on behalf of a pony within Equestria, possibly right here in Canterlot.”

Prince Blueblood gave Melody a stunned look. “My word! Are you sure?”

The elderly mare nodded. “Apparently, Messy Manes was offered a contingent of soldiers and a cache of weapons in exchange for the gold from your mine. Once in Equestria, the gold could be sold through the black market, while Messy Manes and her group of outlaws were granted free rein over No Mare’s Land.”

“Did you find out who was giving Messy Manes these orders?” Blueblood asked urgently.

“Yes, but apparently that pony was working at the request of another pony. Who may have been working on behalf of yet another. Right now it’s just a matter of following the paper trail. Even more disturbing, whoever this pony was apparently had access to the knowledge that my agents were traveling to No Mare’s Land. But I feel we might be close to the culprit now.”

The prince exhaled slowly. “By Celestia’s word, the mystery only deepens.”

Melody rose from her seat. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to report this to the mare upstairs.”

Blueblood gave the Pinkieton an odd look. “The mare upstairs? You mean Princess Celestia?”

The elderly mare chuckled. “No, no, our mare upstairs. The boss.”

“You have a superior at the Pinkieton Detective Agency?” the prince said, taken aback. “Why wasn’t I directed to her when I contacted you?”

“Oh don’t feel slighted, your highness,” Melody offered, stepping towards the door. “No one ever sees the mare upstairs. Not even me. ...That is, not until you get the pink slip.”

With that, Melody Maker turned and trotted out of the office, leaving a thoroughly confused Prince Blueblood alone. Once the door closed shut, the prince suddenly started and began frantically opening drawers in his desk, searching desperately for something. Finally, he found what he was looking for: a communicator device that was painted gold and small enough to fit on a hoof. He trembled and sweat began to leak from his brow as he tried to power the device with his magic.

“Grieves? Grieves! Answer me, this is urgent!” he yelled into the small microphone.

“Yes, your highness?” answered a calm, refined stallion’s voice.

“Grieves, please tell me you’re at the mansion!”

“Indeed I am, your highness.”

Blueblood let out a quick sigh of relief. “Okay Grieves, listen very carefully. I think they’re onto us. Destroy all the evidence we have. All of it!”

“Including the land grant deed, your highness?”

“All of it, Grieves!” the prince yelled frantically.

“Very good, sir.” There was a small click from the device and the conversation ended.

At the other end of the line, a dapper stallion wearing a formal suit and tie and radiating an aura of calm dignity put down his communicator device. He straightened up and adjusted his tie before turning to a gray-coated earth pony mare with black hair and a white-coated unicorn mare with a spiky blue mane and wearing a set of purple goggles.

“Follow me,” Grieves said, leading the two mares out of a foyer and down a lavishly decorated hallway deeper into Prince Blueblood’s expansive mansion.

“So while we’re walking, why don’t you tell us why somepony would order an attack on his own mine?” Vinyl said.

“Prince Blueblood only controls a partial share of the Diamond-Blueblood mine, and he and Mrs. Tiara are only the two most prominent owners among several others,” Grieves calmly explained, his tone never once rising or falling. “Having the gold smuggled into Equestria not only allowed the prince to profit from the sale of gold without having to pay taxes, it also gave him control over the entire output of the gold mine.”

“But Blueblood had no intention of hoofing his mine over to Messy Manes, did he?” Octavia inquired.

“Indeed not,” Grieves answered. He stopped in front of a portrait of Blueblood with a rose clenched between his teeth. The stallion pulled it down to reveal a safe embedded in the wall behind the painting. “The prince had a larger vision for the future of the gold mines of No Mare’s Land, and it all had to do with a single document.”

Grieves opened the safe and carefully pulled out a dusty box that was filled with what looked like ancient pieces of parchment. He showed Octavia and Vinyl what was written on a few of them: a deed to a land grant with a seal from the royal government, and a crude map showing a large swath of land west of Equestria’s present border.

“The Blueblood family has long held a claim to what is today considered No Mare’s Land; indeed, that claim is the only reason Prince Blueblood was able to secure any right whatsoever to a gold mine there. But the family has been smarting over the fact that their claim was deemed all but worthless when it was found that buffalo, mules, and griffons had settled the land before any pony got there.

“Though Prince Blueblood has accumulated some wealth from his share in the gold mine, the prospect of ruling over his own land, a new domain of Equestria to industrialize and develop as he saw fit, never lost its appeal to the prince.”

“But he couldn’t have the land until everyone there was driven out,” Vinyl said, “and then... what? He would just take it back from Messy Manes?”

“Precisely,” Grieves answered. “With his connections and influence in the royal government, it would have been quite easy for him to arrange an invasion force to drive out Messy Manes and her band of outlaws while simultaneously cutting off supplies to the bandits. He merely had to wait until the current inhabitants had been driven off the land.”

“Wow...” Vinyl muttered, looking through the documents. “A conspiracy that goes all the way to... almost-the-top.”

“But then why would he hire us if he wanted the locals driven out?” Octavia asked, frowning at Grieves. “Wouldn’t helping the residents be the last thing he wanted?”

“Indeed. But the prince noticed that the sheriff of O.K. was coming to Canterlot to ask for help fighting Messy Manes, and he feared that if he took his case before others — namely Princess Celestia — she would sympathize and offer assistance before Prince Blueblood could enact his grand scheme. So he intervened and hired you because he felt that against a band of armed robbers, a group of detectives would not be, if I may borrow a current phrase, ‘up to it.’ Especially after they were informed that you would be coming.”

Vinyl put the lid back on the box of documents as Octavia gave Grieves a grateful smile. “Thank you ever so much for your assistance,” the cellist offered. “Are you sure you will be alright?”

“Absolutely,” Grieves answered without hesitation. “I must confess that working for Prince Blueblood has been most disagreeable. Tomorrow, I shall seek work elsewhere.”

Vinyl and Octavia trotted out the front door, accompanied by Grieves. “Oh, and do give my best to Ms. Melody Maker!” he cried out as the two agents made their way down the stairs. “I was very grateful to hear that she is well!”

“That old mare really got around, didn’t she?” Vinyl muttered in an undertone to Octavia, who responded by elbowing her friend sharply. The DJ snickered before a huge grin spread across her face. “I forgot how much I love this job.”

The two mares trotted down the long driveway leading out of Blueblood’s huge estate on the edge of the city. The sky in front of them was blazing with color as the day came to an end, casting the pearly white towers of Canterlot in hues of orange and red light. Vinyl and Octavia left the vast mansion behind, heading off into the sunset.

Vinyl and Octavia will return in When the Curtain Falls

Return to Story Description

Other Titles in this Series:

  1. Mission: Implausible

    by JohnPerry
    10 Dislikes, 12,153 Views

    Octavia and Vinyl Scratch: Musicians and secret agents.


    6 Chapters, 31,111 words: Estimated 2 Hours, 5 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Aug 10th, 2012
    Last Update Sep 14th, 2012
  2. You Only Live Twice

    by JohnPerry
    3 Dislikes, 4,474 Views

    Secret agents Vinyl and Octavia reunite to tackle a threat to Canterlot.


    10 Chapters, 36,476 words: Estimated 2 Hours, 26 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Oct 15th, 2012
    Last Update Dec 26th, 2012
  3. The West Is Not Enough

    by JohnPerry
    6 Dislikes, 3,149 Views

    Secret agents Vinyl Scratch and Octavia find themselves locked in an epic struggle against a ruthless group of outlaws in the wild west.


    8 Chapters, 29,047 words: Estimated 1 Hour, 57 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Jan 16th, 2013
    Last Update Mar 6th, 2013
  4. When the Curtain Falls

    by JohnPerry
    4 Dislikes, 2,939 Views

    An incident in a Manehattan theater quickly draws secret agents Vinyl Scratch and Octavia into a hunt for a strange killer.


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