Spike walked up to the shop's counter and waved at its cashier, a lanky colt with a dull orange coat. "Hey, Leaves. I'm just gonna grab a couple boxes of Old Grey, alright?"
"No can do, Spike," Tea Leaves said, shaking his head. "We're all sold out."
"Sold out?" Spike said, giving the salescolt an incredulous look. "Don't be ridiculous. We both know I'm the only one who ever buys the stuff."
"Believe me, I'm well aware. It's the strangest thing," Leaves said, throwing a hoof off to the side. "We hadn't sold a box to anyone but you and Twilight in years, but then the other day this blue unicorn came in and bought up our entire stock. I kind of figured she might've been a friend of yours."
Spike thought for a moment. He was pretty sure he didn't know any blue unicorns, at least not ones who'd be buying tea. "Nah, I don't think so."
"Weird. Well, could I interest you in something else instead?"
Even though he was tempted to pick up some other brand and get his errand out of the way, Spike knew that wasn't an option. "Are you sure you don't have any? Twilight's pretty picky about her tea."
Leaves shook his head sympathetically. He knew the type. "If you'd like, I can go look in the back and see if we're getting any in soon."
"I don't think that'll help," Spike said, frowning and slightly biting his lower lip. "I'm only in town for a couple of days."
"Well... It can't hurt to look, can it?" asked Leaves, trying his best to sound hopeful.
"No, I guess not," Spike said half-heartedly.
"Okay, then. I'll be right back." The salespony walked into the open door behind the counter.
He wasn't gone for long, but to Spike it was an agonizing wait. The baby dragon never was very good at being patient.
About thirty seconds later, Leaves returned, smiling. "You're in luck!" he said. "We've got another shipment coming in overnight. If you come back in the morning, we should have some ready for you."
Spike normally hated to put his errands off, but he didn't let it bother him. He was just glad he could do this one at all. "Alright, then. Guess I'll be back tomorrow," he said, heading for the door.
Leaves waved goodbye. "See you then!"
Back outside the shop, Spike decided that this temporary setback may have been a blessing in disguise. After all, not having to worry about the tea meant he had the night to himself. With that thought in mind, the baby dragon smiled, pushed his guilt off to the side, and made his way into the heart of Canterlot's sprawling metropolis.
Spike entered the club and scanned the room. It was early and the relatively small, open space had yet to be filled with the flashing strobe lights and booming bass that its clientele were usually drawn to. Even so, there were a good number of ponies milling around the dance floor and even a few sitting at the bar, sneaking in some quick pre-show donuts or glasses of chocolate milk. Spike spotted Vinyl Scratch at the front setting up her turntables and waved to the DJ, who grinned and nodded at him in greeting. Turning back to the dance floor, he took one more look over the crowd to see if he could pick out any familiar faces and noticed an out-of-place earth pony looking less than pleased as she leaned against the back wall.
"Hey there, Octavia! I didn't expect to see you here," he said, walking over to her.
The bassist quickly stood up and attempted to force a smile. "Why, whatever do you mean, Spike? Of course I'm going to come out and support-"
"Lost a bet, huh?"
Octavia groaned and dropped the act. "How was I supposed to know Frederic is secretly some kind of unholy donut-devouring abomination?"
"Seriously?" Spike let out a small laugh. "I thought everypony knew not to bet against Frederic's sweet tooth. There probably isn't a stallion in Equestria who can hold their sugar like that guy." A thought occurred to him and he paused for a moment. "Might be a mare, though."
"So you're saying Scratch set me up," said Octavia, scowling.
"Uh No, I don't think-"
"Well, two can play at that game," the bassist said, a devious smile spreading across her face. "If she thinks she's going to get away with this, she's got another thing coming."
If Twilight was there, she probably would have given Octavia a lecture on the word "escalation." Of course, that sort of thing was a large part of why Twilight did not get invited to many clubs.
Spike shrugged. "Well, good luck with that."
Eventually, Scratch finished her set and the club began to wind down. Spike and Octavia went up to meet the DJ as she packed up her gear.
"Great work out there, Scratch- not that I expect anything less from the best DJ in Canterlot," Spike said.
Scratch grinned and lifted her goggles off of her eyes. "Thanks, Spike. I'm glad you made it out."
"Yeah, me too. You really nailed it tonight- even Octavia was into it."
"That's a lie and you know it," snapped the bassist.
"Ah, c'mon. I could tell you were having fun out there."
Octavia shrugged dismissively. "Believe what you want to believe."
"Then I'll believe that you had a good time," Scratch said, smiling mischievously.
The earth pony just rolled her eyes.
Scratch finished breaking down her equipment, fitting it all into a large tote bag that she held across her shoulder. "C'mon, let's head out. I gotta get my tables back home."
As the trio left the club, Spike turned to Scratch. "Hey, how'd the EMG thing pan out?"
"You were right," Scratch said, grinning. "I put my hoof down, and the suits backed off. The company's agreed to let me do my own thing, even if they're not happy about it."
Octavia let out a brief, humorless chuckle. "I can't imagine why. Nothing tops the charts like artistic integrity."
"That's their problem, not mine."
"Well, I'm glad it worked out," Spike said. "Dale's gonna be awful disappointed, though. He was really hoping to pick you up."
"Tell him he still might get his chance." Scratch's grin widened and took on a dangerous edge. "I don't trust those EMG weasels. As soon as they try anything funny, I'm outta there."
"I'll tell him to keep the door open, then."
"Anyway, what about you? Are you sticking around for a while, or do you have to split soon?"
"The pegasus ponies have a huge storm scheduled tomorrow night, so I'm gonna hang out here until it passes. Rain's bad for my complexion."
"Awesome! The three of us should get together tomorrow. It's been a while since we've done anything."
"Yeah, totally!" Spike said eagerly. "I need a day off."
Octavia groaned. "You two keep it to yourselves. Tonight was more than enough for me."
"Aw, c'mon, it'll be fun!" said Scratch.
"Well, it's your decision, I guess," Scratch said, shrugging. "Too bad you're making the lame one." She turned to Spike. "Guess it's just you and me then, huh?"
"Sure. I'll head over to your place tomorrow and we can go from there."
Scratch shook her head. "C'mon, man, I know how much you sleep in. If I wait for you, we won't get out until 3 in the afternoon."
Much as he would have liked to, Spike couldn't argue with that.
"You're still stayin' in Twilight's old dorm by the castle, right?" asked Scratch.
Spike nodded his head. "Uh-huh."
"Alright, then. I'll come and get you around like 10 or so."
"Sounds- oh, wait," Spike said, remembering Twilight's tea. "Actually, I kinda have something I need to do in the morning."
Scratch grinned. "Good! If I don't get you up, you probably won't get it done anyway."
"No, really, it's just work stuff, you probably-"
"It's cool, man. I don't mind coming with."
"Well, if you're sure "
"'Course I am. It's really not that big a deal."
"Then I guess I'll see you tomorrow." When they reached the next intersection, Spike said his farewells, split off from the other two, and made his way back home.
Spike woke to the sound of a hoof knocking on the front door. He rolled back over, hoping he had just imagined it, but when the knocks came a second and then a third time, he had no choice but to get up.
"Alright, alright! Keep your horseshoes on," he called as he walked to the front of the house and opened the door.
"I swear to Celestia, if you blow that thing I'll-" Octavia stopped when she noticed the door opening. "There, he's awake. Put it down."
"Alright, alright. Mornin', Spike." Scratch stowed away her klaxon, looking a little disappointed. This time, she had left her goggles at home, opting instead to wear a headset around her neck.
"Morning. Hey, I thought you said you weren't gonna come," Spike said, looking at Octavia.
"Guess I had a change of heart," said the bassist, shrugging her shoulders in a way that suggested it had never really mattered to her either way.
Spike had a feeling there was more to it, but he decided not to press the issue. "Well, I'm glad you changed your mind."
"Alright, then, first things first," Scratch said. "You had something you needed to do, right?"
"Yeah, I need to head down to Mare Cranston's and pick up some tea. It shouldn't take long."
"Tea?" said Octavia. "You never struck me as the type."
"It's for Twilight. She's real particular about what she drinks, and you can't get the fancy stuff down in Ponyville, so whenever she starts to run low I have to come out and pick some up."
"The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?" said Scratch. "C'mon, then, let's hurry up and get it out of the way."
"Okay, sure." Spike stepped outside and closed the door behind him. "Let's go," he said, starting to walk towards the street. Scratch followed, but Octavia stayed by the house.
"So we're running errands now? I'm not sure if I should be disappointed or relieved."
"Ah, cut it out," Scratch said. "Spike already said this isn't gonna take long."
"Well, whatever," said the bassist, heading down the walkway to join the others.
"Hey, Leaves!" Spike called as he entered the shop, Scratch and Octavia following behind him.
"Uh H-hey there, Spike," said Leaves, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
"Tea Leaves, these are my friends Scratch and Octavia."
"Oh, yeah, right. Nice to meet you, ladies." The salespony barely seemed to have noticed them.
"You too, mate," Scratch said with a polite nod.
Octavia shrugged. "Sure, I guess."
"Anyway, we're here to pick up that tea," said Spike.
"Um, about that " Leaves looked to the side, trying to avoid making eye contact with Spike. "Well, it kind of got stolen."
"Whaddya mean, stolen?" Spike asked in disbelief.
" Do ponies normally steal tea?" Scratch wondered, cocking her head to the side.
"Yes, actually," said Octavia. "I don't know if it was always a problem, but over the last couple of weeks I haven't played a single show where I didn't have to hear a bunch of whiny aristocrats complain about settling for Lijang."
"It's pretty weird, really," said the cashier. "I mean, there've been a few minor thefts here and there before, but lately somepony's been up and taking entire shipments as they come in to port. We don't pay the suppliers until we actually get the stuff, and most of our customers just buy something else instead, so it hasn't hurt us too bad, but it's definitely strange."
Spike thought about this for a moment, then frowned. "Well, thanks anyway, Leaves. C'mon, guys," he said, turning towards the door and motioning for Scratch and Octavia to follow.
"Sorry, Spike," Leaves said glumly as they left the store.
Outside, Spike turned and started walking down the street with his hands balled up into fists and a fiery look in his eyes. Scratch and Octavia stood in front of the door, wondering what their friend was up to.
"Hey, where you goin'?" called Scratch as he started getting further and further away from them.
"There's someone I gotta talk to," Spike responded without stopping. There was an uncharacteristic undercurrent of anger in his voice, and the two ponies looked at each other, confused.
After a moment, Scratch shrugged and started to follow him. "Oh, well. C'mon, Octavia, let's see what's up."
The bassist reluctantly obliged. "So much for not taking long."
"Can it, ya big whiner. Just think of it as an adventure."
"I don't think I like this adventure much," Octavia said matter-of-factly as Spike lead them into one of Canterlot's less pleasant districts. She hid it well, but she was nervous; she'd always made a point of avoiding this kind of neighborhood, and she really didn't know what to expect.
Scratch, on the other hand, had spent more than her fair share of time on the wrong side of town, and if anything that put her even further on edge. "I think I'm with Octavia on this one, Spike. This ain't exactly a nice place to bring the kids, y'know?"
Spike glanced back at them. "Ah, don't worry, it'll be fine," he said reassuringly. Whatever had gotten him worked up earlier seemed to have faded. "This place looks shady, but it's really not too bad."
"Well, if you say so." Scratch didn't seem to be buying it.
Spike stopped them outside of a slightly run-down building with a list of suspicious-sounding businesses and freelance police agencies posted by the door. "You guys wait out here, okay? There's something I need to take care of by myself."
Scratch and Octavia glanced around the street. Everything about it- from the highly questionable corner store to the plus-sized colt eyeballing them from a nearby alley- quite clearly indicated that this was not a place any pony should spend time waiting around in.
"Oh, yes, what a lovely idea," Octavia said, carefully hiding her nerves behind a layer of sarcasm. "Do you really-"
"Alright, Spike," Scratch said, interrupting her. "I don't know why we're out here, but I can tell it's important to you, so go and do whatever it is you need to do. We can take care of ourselves. Right, Octavia?"
The bassist sighed. "Yes, I suppose we can."
"Thanks, guys." Spike walked through the door, leaving them outside. As he entered the building and climbed the stairs up to the second floor, he called his earlier anger back to the surface, glad that he could finally put it to use.
"What the hay, Jack?" Spike shouted, slamming the door open as hard as he could. "I thought we were cool!"
The small, shabby office's sole occupant, a brown pegasus with a four-point compass emblazoned on his flank, looked up from the papers that covered his desk. He seemed to blend right in with the cabinets and files and assorted knickknacks that filled the room, making the office- which would have been a little cramped even with immaculate organization- feel downright claustrophobic. "Hey there, Spike!" he said, happy to see the baby dragon but confused by his demeanor. "What's up?"
"Don't pretend you don't know."
"Sorry, little buddy. I really have no idea what you're talking about. Anyway," he said, leaping out from behind the desk and landing next to Spike, "since you're here, lemme tell ya about my latest venture. It's been-"
"I already know, Jack," Spike said bitterly. "You stole Twilight's tea!"
The pegasus looked confused. "What? C'mon, Spike, you know I wouldn't do that."
"So you're saying you haven't been raiding ships and stealing all their tea?"
Jack rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, no, I have, but well, here, lemme show ya something," he said, walking over to his desk. Spike followed and watched suspiciously as the pegasus shuffled around the maps, charts, and graphs scattered around the desktop.
"See, most ponies don't know this, but tea production's nasty business behind the scenes, and nopony's even trying to do anything about it. So, I decided I'd start my own one-colt protest and hit the producers in the only place that'll hurt: their wallets. Now, granted, in the end it's not really gonna do much except annoy some aristocrats, but it's more about the principle of the thing and besides, annoying aristocrats is its own reward."
"That's nice and all, but can you get to the point?"
"What I'm saying is that it kind of defeats the purpose if I don't go after ponies that deserve it, right? So I choose targets based on a combination of pony rights violations-" he pushed a map of Equestria in various shades of red towards Spike- "popularity among the aristocracy-" he showed Spike a map of Canterlot covered in push pins- "and, when the rent's due, black market profitability," he finished, indicating a price chart. "A pony's gotta eat, after all."
"I don't care about that, Jack," said Spike, pushing the papers away. "You know I'm fine with the Robin Hoof thing. I just want Twilight's tea."
"That's what I'm saying, though!" said Jack, putting both hooves on the desk and lifting himself up. "She drinks Old Grey, right?"
"Well, look." Jack put his hoof on a chart showing brand distribution and slid it over to Spike. "Nopony buys the stuff! Like, at all! I'm pretty sure there isn't a single pony in the city who drinks Old Grey. Plus," he added, pointing to a little note he had made on the page, "I even made a point to keep out of your way. See?" The baby dragon leaned in closer and saw that Jack had written "Spike" next to the Old Grey entry. "You know I wouldn't do anything to mess with a friend's supply."
Spike sighed. Jack had a point, of course, but as glad as the baby dragon was to know that he hadn't been backstabbed, he couldn't help being a little disappointed. "Alright, I believe you. Problem is, there's somepony out there who did steal it, and now I have no idea where to look for them."
Jack thought for a moment. "Well Alright, I've got some time. Tell you what: I'll go poke around a bit and see if I can't come up with any leads."
"You don't have to do that. It's my problem, not yours," Spike said. "Don't worry, I'll figure something out."
"No way, Spike. If somepony swiped your tea, that means they're stealin' stuff on my turf, and I'm not about to let some two-bit punk get away with that." He snorted derisively. "I bet they didn't even do the research."
"Well... Alright." Spike smiled appreciatively. "Thanks, Jack."
"No problem. If you'd like, we could even head out right now."
"Oh, well... Actually, I kind of left a couple of friends waiting outside. I should really be getting back to them," Spike said.
"In that case, I won't keep you. See ya later, Spike."
"Yeah, see you. I'm real sorry I can't help, though," Spike said, heading for the door. "Let me know if you find anything, okay?"
"Sure thing, Spike!"
" But the newer stuff just doesn't have heart, y'know?"
Scratch shook her head. "Nah, man, you've got it all wrong. Just 'cause they've actually got production values now doesn't mean they lost their soul. They didn't sell out, they grew up."
The colt rolled his eyes. "Look, if you're seriously tryin' to tell me that The Dissent of Pony is a better album than How Could the Moon Be Any Worse? "
"Okay, c'mon, that one doesn't count and you know it."
Octavia groaned and sunk her head into the side of the building.
Spike walked out of the door and waved to his friends. "Hey, guys. Everything okay out here?"
"There's nothing wrong with simple, thrashy stuff, but- wait, hold on a sec." Scratch turned towards Spike and waved back. "Hey, Spike! Yeah, we're fine. Anyway," she said, looking back at the colt, "my point is just that "
Octavia walked over to Spike and grabbed him by the shoulders. "Spike, if I have to hear one more word about the relative merits of punk rock, I'm going to grab you by the neck and beat her over the head with you. Understand?"
"Alright, alright. I'm done here anyway." He started walking back up the street, Octavia gladly following his lead. "C'mon, Scratch," he said, motioning for the DJ to follow. "We're heading back uptown."
"Be right there! Sorry, man, I gotta split," Scratch said to the colt, starting to follow the others. "You should definitely check out the Arrogant Sons of Mares, though. I think they'd be right up your alley."
"Yeah, I will. Thanks for the tip," he said, waving goodbye.
Scratch caught up to her friends and turned to Spike. "You take care of everything, man?"
"Yeah, I sorted things out." He frowned a bit and rubbed the back of his neck apologetically. "Sorry about all this. I kinda lost my head there."
"Nah, it's fine," said Scratch. "You gotta do what you gotta do. We don't mind."
"Besides, we already know not to expect good judgment from you," Octavia added half-jokingly.
Spike smiled. "Thanks, guys. Well thanks, Scratch at least."
"No problem," said Scratch. "Hey, mind if we get something to eat? I didn't grab any breakfast."
Spike's stomach grumbled in response. "Yeah, me either. I'm starving. Wanna hit up Charlie's?"
"Sounds good. That okay with you, Octavia?"
The bassist shrugged. "Fine by me. I could use some lunch."
"Alright, then," said Scratch, glad to be getting the day back on track. "Food it is."
Spike smiled slightly. "Oh, and by the way? The New Equestria was their best."
"Okay, now you're just messin' with me," said Scratch, shaking her head.
Octavia made a mental note to kick the next pony she saw with a mohawk.
Jack touched down in Canterlot's industrial district, on the very edge of the city where a series of docks was built into the side of the mountain. There was a tan earth pony with a red mane and a blue soft cap standing near a small building on the wharf, watching the skies and writing in a notebook with a pen held in her mouth.
"Hey, Ripple!" Jack called, galloping over to her.
The mare turned to greet him, smiling and slipping her pen into the notebook's binding. "Hi there, mate. What can I do for ya?"
The pegasus grinned. "I'm in the market for some information, and I figured there was one old sea pony around who just might have what I need."
"Well, Jack, I just might be able to give you a hoof there." Ripple's expression took on a hint of mischief. "It could cost you, though."
"Of course. Meet me down at the Diamond tonight and I'll get you a salt lick."
"You're on." The earth pony pulled her notebook back up and flipped to an earlier page. "So, what do you want to know? East Equestria's got a big shipment coming soon you might be interested in."
"Maybe some other time," said Jack, shaking his head. "Right now I'm actually looking into a theft-"
Ripple's face lit up and she giggled slightly. "I had a feeling that wasn't your work. Too many fireworks, not enough acrobatics."
"You saw it?"
"Everypony saw it. Trust me, stealth wasn't a concern in that heist."
"I knew you were the right pony to talk to," said Jack with a wide smile. "C'mon, tell me everything you know."
Spike, Scratch, and Octavia reached Charlie's, a small diner in the commercial district of Canterlot, and sat down at one of its outdoor tables. The lunch rush was just getting started; there were several groups of ponies seated around the restaurant's outer terrace and even more eating inside the building's vaguely retro, Art Deco-inspired interior. The waiter, a small, round earth pony, was with them almost immediately, a big grin on his face. "Well, look who it is! I haven't seen you guys around in ages. How's it goin'?"
"Pretty good, Little Charlie," said Scratch. "How's the restaurant business?"
"Same as always, just the way I like it. So, what can I get you?" Charlie pulled out a notepad and pencil.
"You guys still have gemstones?" asked Spike.
"Sure thing. What kind do ya want?"
The baby dragon thought for a moment. "I think I'll have a plate of rubies."
"You got it, pal." Charlie picked up the pencil with his mouth and wrote down Spike's order.
"I'll take a dandelion patty," said Octavia.
"Alright. And what about you, Scratch?"
"Hm " The unicorn scanned her menu for a third time. "Man, I forgot how hard it is to find legutarian stuff here Uh, just get me an order of hay fries."
"You got it. Gimme a minute and I'll be right back with your food." Little Charlie went back inside to the kitchen, tearing the page he had written on out of the pad.
Scratch looked at Spike. "So, are you gonna tell us what that little detour was about?" she asked, deciding that it was time to broach the subject again.
"Oh, uh, right. Yeah." Spike figured he probably owed them an explanation. "I just needed to talk to somepony about the tea thing. I figured he might have known something, but he didn't. It's no big deal."
"Why are you so hung up on this, anyway?" asked Octavia. "Just tell Twilight you can't get any. I'm sure she'd understand."
"Well, yeah, but The thing is, she likes to everything to be a certain way, y'know? So even though she'd understand, she'd still be kind of upset. And, well I just don't want to feel like I'm letting her down."
Scratch giggled a bit. "You always were a big softy, Spike. Oh, thanks, Charlie," she added as the waiter came by and delivered their food.
"No problem," he said, placing Spike's plate of gems on the table. "I'd stay and chat some more, but I've got other customers that need takin' care of. You guys enjoy the meal." Little Charlie left and went back inside.
Octavia ate a bite of her sandwich. "I don't know, Spike. Sometimes I think you're a little too eager to please. I mean, if I always bent over backwards for my employers, I probably would have given up on music a long time ago."
"It's not like that for me," Spike said, swallowing a gemstone. "I mean, Twilight's my friend. I'd want to help her even if I wasn't her assistant."
"And that's the way to be. No sense doing a job you don't wanna do." Scratch was trying to make her fries, which were disappearing far faster than she would have liked, last. "Do what you love and buck the rest, right?"
Octavia swallowed a chunk of dandelion. "Well, that's one way of looking at it."
A brown pegasus lowered himself into the scene, hovering upside-down next to Spike. "Hey there!"
"Wah!" Spike yelped, jumping up. "Oh," said the baby dragon, recognizing Jack, "it's you. Don't scare me like that."
"Sorry, little buddy."
"Hey, Spike. Who's this feedbag?" asked Scratch.
"Oh, where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself." The pegasus launched himself into the air and did a flip, landing with his back facing the table. "I'm Jack Harness," he said, turning around, "professional freelancer."
"I don't think that's a real job," Scratch said, idly munching on a fry.
Octavia swallowed another bite of her sandwich. "You're the guy who's been stealing the tea, right?"
Jack looked surprised for a moment, then recovered and leaned across the table towards Octavia. "Maybe I am." The pegasus called upon every ounce of charm he had (which was not as much he liked to believe); winning over an upper-class mare who wants to turn you in is the greatest test of any dashing rogue, and he was determined to pass with flying colors. "And why would you like to know, hm? Not planning on running to the guards, are we?"
"You vastly overestimate how much I care."
"Oh," he said, standing back up and deflating. "Uh, yeah, that's me."
"So this whole thing is your fault, then?" asked Scratch.
"What? No, I-"
"Jack didn't take my tea, someone else did," Spike said, stepping in. "He was looking into it for me."
"Uh-huh," said Scratch, connecting the dots. "Yeah, okay. I think I see what's going on here. When you heard someone stole Twilight's tea, you assumed this guy was behind it and went to go chew him out, but he wasn't so now you're looking for the pony who is." The DJ shook her head. "Man, you really shoulda just said so in the first place. You had me worried with all the secrecy."
Spike hung his head regretfully. She was right, of course. "Sorry, Scratch."
"Hey, it's cool. Just keep me in the loop, alright?"
"Yeah, okay." The baby dragon turned to look at Jack. "So, did you find anything?"
"Sure did," said Jack, grabbing a chair from a nearby table and sitting down. "It seems like our culprit is an odd one. They had an entire ship to take their pick from, but all they took was the single box of Old Grey, even though it was probably the single least valuable thing there. Plus, they weren't exactly subtle. From what I hear, the lightshow was pretty impressive."
"You found somepony who saw the heist?" asked Spike, excited.
"It would've been harder to find somepony who didn't."
"Do you know where they are now?"
Jack grinned. "That's the best part. They might have put on a good show, but their escape was lacking, to say the least. The workponies who caught the theft also caught the perp running off to an old storage building near the wharf."
"Really? That's awesome!"
"Sure is." The pegasus leaned forward and put an elbow on the table. "So, you wanna come help me deal with 'em?"
"Uh, well " Spike looked at Scratch and Octavia. "I mean Do you guys ?"
The bassist sighed. "Can I at least finish eating first?"
"Oh, actually, that's a good idea, now that you mention it," said Jack. His stomach rumbled. "Heh heh I, uh, kinda haven't eaten anything today."
"You too, huh?" asked Scratch.
Octavia sighed. "I pine for the lost art of breaking fast."
"You and me both." Jack noticed Little Charlie walking by with another table's order. "Hey, Little Charlie!"
Little Charlie turned around. "And what can I- oh. It's you."
Jack smiled nervously. "Ah, c'mon, now, I'm good for it this time! Really!"
"Uh-huh." The waiter looked unconvinced. "Well, give me your order and I'll tell Big Charlie to start saving dishes for ya."
"Look, just get me a magnolia sandwich and I'll pay for it. With bits. After I eat it."
"Yeah, that's usually how this works. Good job figuring it out." Little Charlie dropped off the food he was carrying and went back inside, grumbling to himself.
Jack looked back at the others and laughed sheepishly. "Uh ha ha Yeah, the Charlies and I have kind of a contentious relationship. My line of work's not always the best when it comes to having bits," he said, sounding a little down.
Octavia raised an eyebrow. "What kind of thief doesn't have any money?"
"I'm not a thief, really. I mean, right now I am, but then I've done a little bit of everything." Jack shrugged. "I don't generally care much for bits, but I have to admit my current line of work's been better for my wallet than most. I wasn't lying when I said I could pay."
Scratch glanced into the restaurant at a clock that was strategically placed so it could easily be seen from outside. "Uh, anyway How long do you guys think the tea thing's gonna take? There's a show down at The Magic Factory in a little bit that I thought we could catch."
Octavia raised a hoof to her head and rubbed it against her temple, not saying anything.
"Oh, is that the Radiomane concert?" asked Jack, sounding interested. "I wanted to go, but I heard they ran outta tickets real quick."
Scratch shrugged. "I know some guys. Played a few shows there, even. I can get us in easy."
"Yeah?" Jack thought for a moment. "Well I mean, the docks are pretty far out. It'd take a good while just to get there."
"At least there's some good news," muttered Octavia.
" But, I mean, it can probably wait. The pony who stole the tea's gonna have a hard time unloading the stuff, if they can even do it at all. I doubt they're going anywhere with it today."
Spike frowned for a moment, thinking, then sighed and cheered back up. "I guess it can wait. After all, Twilight wouldn't want me to put some errand before my friends."
Octavia groaned. "Oh, so now the job comes second?"
Scratch finished off her last fry and grinned. "Something wrong, Octavia?"
"Just shut up, Scratch."
Several hours later, Spike, Scratch, Jack, and Octavia stood outside a warehouse in Canterlot's industrial district. "Keep your heads down and try not to make too much noise," warned Jack, cracking open the side door. "Nothing good ever happens in these things."
"And you don't see a problem with going in anyway?" Octavia asked, following the others inside despite herself.
The interior of the building was unlit save for some small beams of light filtering in from the windows built into the roof, and it was filled with storage crates stacked in large, unevenly distributed piles that reached up to the ceiling. Their placement seemed to funnel anybody entering the warehouse into an open area in the center that contained no crates save for a long, wide stack that, while not as tall as the others, was a good number of ponies high and respectably intimidating.
"This warehouse is weird," muttered Jack, speaking quietly in the hopes that anypony who might be occupying the building wouldn't hear.
"The layout definitely seems a little impractical," whispered Octavia.
"I dunno, I kinda like it," said Scratch. "It's got a nice sense of drama, y'know?"
When the group reached the building's center, Spike slowly spun around and scanned the room. "It doesn't look like there's anypony here," he said, unsure if he was glad that he might be able to grab the tea and leave or disappointed that he might not get a shot at the pony who stole it.
"Don't be too sure," said Jack, cautiously checking their immediate surroundings. "Plenty of places to hide in a room like-"
"FOAL!" boomed a voice that reverberated across the warehouse. A series of floodlights turned on, illuminating the room, and two spotlights mounted on the ceiling shone onto the center crates. "You have walked right into The Great and Powerful Trixie's trap!"
"Hold on," Spike wondered aloud, "isn't that ?"
There was a small, colorful explosion on top of the crates, right where the two spotlights met, and a field of smoke was left lingering in the air. After a couple of seconds, the cloud dissipated to reveal a turquoise unicorn wearing a cape and wizard's hat. "Yes," she sneered, holding her nose in the air, "you have finally reached your goal, but you never once realized that that was exactly what The Great and Powerful Trixie wanted you to do!" The blue mare looked down upon her guests with a smug grin, her face falling as she realized that they were not who she had been expecting. "Wait," she muttered to herself, "where is ?"
"Hey!" Spike shouted up at her. "I know you! You're that blowhard magician with the lame show!"
"Ah!" said Trixie, her boastful grin and swagger returning as she recognized Spike. "Now Trixie understands! Your master must have been too scared to face Trixie herself and sent you in her stead!"
The baby dragon stared up at Trixie with a confused look. "Huh?"
"She's talking about Twilight, dude," said Scratch.
"Oh, I guess that makes sense. I can't imagine why, though."
" Spike, who is this crazy mare, anyway?" asked Jack.
"I don't really know. She showed up in Ponyville a while back with some lame party tricks, acting like she was the Princess of Magic or something, but she ran outta town once " Spike snapped his fingers as he realized what was going on. "Oh, now I get it! You're mad at Twilight because she took down that Ursa Major and showed everyone what real magic is like."
"Minor!" shouted the magician. "It was an Ursa Minor! A mere babe compared to the beast Trixie vanquished!"
"Oh, for the love of- nopony cares about your stupid constellations, lady!" yelled Jack, leaping into the air. "Now listen up! Canterlot is my turf, and nopony raids ships around here but me, you got it?"
"Oh, is that so?" Trixie questioned mockingly. "Well, a great mare can hardly help but trod on a few hooves." She jabbed a hoof towards Scratch and Octavia. "And you two also have some quarrel with the Great and Powerful Trixie?"
Scratch shrugged. "Not really. I'm just along for the ride."
"I don't even know why I'm here," said Octavia.
The blue unicorn scowled. "No matter, then. Trixie doesn't care either way!" she said, her horn sparking to life with magic.
A rope covered in a sky-blue aura shot out from somewhere in the warehouse, easily wrapping itself around Spike and the three ponies before they could react, even with Jack hovering in the air. "You've got to be kidding me," muttered the pegasus, wriggling around in an attempt to free himself.
"Hey, Scratch?" said Octavia, watching the rope's ends tie themselves into a neat bow.
Scratch looked at the rope, then to the mare atop the crates. "Yeah."
"Ha!" gloated Trixie. "Now that you're all tied up-"
The four groaned simultaneously.
"- the dragon's master will have no choice but to come save you herself!" Trixie finished, ignoring them.
Spike glared at her, then shot a small flame at the rope, which burned up in a magical blaze that left his companions unharmed. "You're really dumb."
"Big words from such a little dragon!" Trixie shouted angrily. "After all-" she kicked her front legs into the air- "it is you who waltzed right into The Great and Powerful Trixie's lair!" The showmare slammed her hooves down onto the crate, and Spike and his companions suddenly found themselves surrounded by jets of flame that reached up to the ceiling.
Jack and Octavia recoiled in surprise, quickly stepping back from the ring of fire as it sparked and crackled. The heat from the flames was uncomfortably close even in the center of the ring, but there was enough clearance that they didn't have to worry about being lit up by a wayward spark. The set-up had clearly been meant to intimidate, not injure; of course, that still meant they didn't want to be anywhere near the flames.
Scratch whistled appreciatively and calmly stepped away from the edge, narrowly avoiding a few stray sparks. "Hey, nice pyrotechnics! Skytrotters, right? I had a line of these babies set up when I played Gallop last year. You gotta love anything that gets this much height, and they last pretty long, too." The DJ grinned. "They've probably got a good 30 seconds or so left in them."
Spike rolled his eyes. "You're trying to scare us with a bunch of fireworks?" He walked to the edge of the circle and stepped through it, his fireproof scales leaving him entirely unharmed on the other side. "You're really, really dumb."
"That was merely a demonstration!" shrieked Trixie. "A mere sample of-"
"Yeah, that's nice. Can you hold on a minute?" Spike asked, feeling a familiar burning sensation build up in his stomach. He coughed out a small flame and grabbed the scroll that appeared.
"What is that?" asked Trixie, a note of cautious suspicion creeping into her stage voice.
"Just a letter from the Princess," said Spike, unrolling the scroll. "I sent her a note saying where we were headed, so Yeah, there we go. It looks like she's sending the guards down this way."
" Guards?" Trixie sounded a bit worried despite herself.
"Yeah, sure," said Spike, bringing the letter back down to his side. "Most ponies don't know this, but Celestia can be a real worrywart sometimes. She's probably convinced herself we're dealing with a dangerous criminal instead of a lamebrain magician. The SMAK team could be here-"
There was a sudden burst of smoke and Trixie vanished, leaving only the sound of clattering hooves and a door being opened. After she left, the flames slowly started to die down.
Jack took to the air and flew over the waning fireworks. "Good going, little buddy!" he said, landing next to Spike. "She was really obnoxious." The pegasus glanced around nervously. "But, uh, I think I'm gonna have to split now. Me and the guards-"
Spike held the letter up in front of Jack's face. The pegasus looked surprised for a moment, then started to read the letter aloud. "Dear Spike," he said as Scratch and Octavia hopped over the jets' last few sparks,
"It was funny the first couple of times, but this is starting to get old. From now on, if it isn't a letter, I don't want it, understand?
P.S. Luna says hi."
Jack looked up and grinned. "Clever."
"Yeah, it was," Spike said smugly.
"In that case, I'm gonna go see if I can't catch up with our friend the magician. I'd rather not have someone so clearly unstable running around the city." Jack lifted himself into the air and turned towards the door.
"Wait, hold on," Spike said. "We still haven't found the tea."
"Oh, right." Jack looked around the room, trying to guess where it might have been hidden. "Hm Maybe it's Hold on a minute." He took off and flew to the top of the crates where Trixie had been standing, disappearing behind the edge of the stack. "Yeah, there we go. She just stashed it away up here. Lemme toss it down for ya." The others could hear the slight sound of sliding cardboard coming from above.
"Seems a tad lazy," observed Octavia.
"Yeah. Guess she wasn't expecting a pegasus," said Jack. A large box appeared on the edge of the crates. "Look out below!" He gave the box one last kick and it popped over the side, falling to the ground with a thud.
"Thanks a lot, Jack," Spike said as the pegasus landed back on the floor.
"No problem, buddy. Now if you'll excuse me, I think she's got enough of a head start already." Jack shot off towards the exit.
"See ya later, Jack!" Spike called, waving, as the door slammed in the distance.
Scratch walked over to the baby dragon. "Hey, Spike?"
"What the hay was all that?"
"To be honest? I have no idea."
"Huh." Scratch stared idly up at the spot where Trixie had stood. "So did you really just dump that thing on the Princess's head?"
The DJ grinned. "That's pretty cool, dude."
"I don't think cool is the right word, Scratch," said Octavia.
"C'mon," said the unicorn, throwing a hoof around Spike's shoulder, "he just buried the most powerful pony in Equestria under a pile of rope. That takes panache."
Octavia sighed and shook her head, but she couldn't help smiling a bit. "I guess it's kind of gutsy."
Spike looked past Scratch's foreleg at the cardboard box Jack had dropped onto the ground. The box was slightly taller than a pony, but not as long; it was much too big for him to pick up, and he wondered how he was going to get it back home. "Hey, Scratch, do you think you could levitate the tea for me?"
The DJ put her leg down and turned towards the box, frowning a bit. "I dunno, that thing looks pretty big," she said. "I mean, I can give it a try, but " Her horn lit up with a light-blue glow and the box followed suit, lifting itself up into the air. Scratch smiled in relief. "Oh, good. It's not actually that heavy."
"Awesome. Thanks a lot." Spike turned and walked for the exit. "C'mon, let's get out of here."
Once everyone said their goodbyes and Spike dragged the box of tea into Twilight's dorm, Octavia looked up at the sky, watching as the sun's last rays dipped under the horizon. "Ha!" she said, turning to Scratch. "There, I did it."
The DJ shook her head. "Alright, you win. I'll go see your stuffy old pony music." She looked at Octavia with a grin. "But you gotta admit you had fun."
"You're crazy." Octavia turned and started walking towards the street.
"C'mon, we had a good time!" said Scratch, following the bassist. "I mean, that bit at the end got pretty weird, but if you're gonna be marehandled by a megalomaniacal magician, you might as well do it with friends, right?"
"You have a knack for alliteration, Scratch, I'll give you that."
"You can't fool me, Octs. I know you enjoyed yourself."
"If I did," said Octavia, putting her nose up, "it wasn't half as much as you'll enjoy the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra."
Scratch snickered. "I doubt that, but hey, I'll try anything once."
The bassist looked back at her suspiciously. "You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?"
"Hey, I'm not the classiest pony in Canterlot, but I'm not some kind of Dinohippus, either. I probably won't dress up for the occasion, but don't think I'm gonna start waving glowsticks around or swinging chairs at ponies. The rules might be lame, but I'll play by them." Scratch shrugged. "Besides, there's no point moshing if nopony else is gonna join in."
Octavia sighed in relief. "Thanks. I can never quite tell with you."
"Anyway," said Scratch, "I could go for a bite to eat. Wanna hit up Pony Joe's?"
"I think Bluenote said she would be at the Jazz Hooves with Harpo and Frederic tonight."
"Okay, cool. Let's head down there."
Somewhere well outside of Canterlot, Trixie sat down to rest behind a large tree where she couldn't be seen from the road. The guards seemed to have missed her completely, and she had just barely managed to give the pegasus hunting her the slip, but there was no sense taking unnecessary risks. She would just have to rest here for a bit, and if nopony came for her she could head back to her caravan and wait the heat out in some other town.
Trixie heard a rustling noise and the sound of ruffling feathers from the tree above her and jumped up, ready to bolt. "Oh, it's just you," she said, calming down as she recognized her visitor. "You startled me there."
Trixie sighed. "Well, the plan could have gone better, but there's no sense letting that get me down. I'll have my revenge yet." She looked up into the tree and grinned. "Still, I'm sure your endeavors were more successful than my own. What have you found, faithful spy?"