My Little Pony
HACKERS WITH HOOVES
by Remus Shepherd
Ep. 1: Bright Eyes, Big Filly
Fillydelphia was a tough city, one with tough stories. Little colts in Equestria read lots of stories about cute rural towns like Ponyville or Manechester, but stories from the Big Filly were too rough for the youngsters. Ponies could tell 'em, but the foals wouldn't get 'em, if yaknowwhatimean.
A lot of Fillydelphia stories start with a blue pony wearing saddlebags, his hooves sparking on the cobblestones as he galloped through Old Town and onto Chestnut street. After a few blocks of weaving through traffic -- herds of ponies sightseeing, eating at the apple carts, or windowshopping from the sidewalk -- Spark Runner turned onto a street of rundown brick barns, their front porches squashed together in the big city style.
Most of the rowhomes had identical wooden doors, but the doors to Spark Runner's house were boarded up. He had used the hinges for a project last year, and his roommate never used the front door anyway. Instead, Spark Runner jumped onto his porch and kicked a lever. A weighted pulley system groaned. A section of porch lifted into the air, banister and all, up almost as high as the second floor window.
Spark Runner jumped inside, making a mental note to oil the pulleys strung over the rooftop. The elevator needed to rise another foot. He had tripped on the windowsill more than once.
"Hey, Sparks," said his roommate, a brown pegasus with a spiked gray mane. He was sitting in a pile of books that had been scribbled on, folded, and generally mistreated, which matched the disorder in the rest of the house. "Home early today?"
"I'm going back to work later. Why aren't you working, Engels?"
The pegasus looked up from the books he was reading and shrugged. "Freelance demolition is the only dignified means of practicing capitalism, but the oppressive bourgeoisie refuse to employ me full-time."
"Sorry to hear that." Sparks had little idea what the pegasus meant, and he knew better than to ask. Engels could spout gibberish for hours. Everypony was weird in their own way, Spark Runner thought.
That was how they had met, in fact. Engels' strange hammer-and-star cutie mark was undecipherable in high school. No teacher knew what to make of it. The only cutie mark that made less sense was Spark Runner's -- an angular collection of lines that snaked toward a square in the center. He had gotten it the day he, acting on instinct, had pounded out his first copper wire. Sparks thought he knew what the mark meant, but the teachers shrugged and put the misfits together, and thus a friendship was born.
"I came home to drop off the power source," said Spark Runner. "It was delivered today."
"Oh? What does it do?"
"It doesn't do anything. It's going to let me do everything. Maybe. I hope."
He rummaged in his courier bag and pulled out a tube wrapped in newspaper, which he placed on the table and unwrapped with his teeth. The crystal gleamed. The crack through its middle caught the light particularly well.
"Comrade, it's broken."
Spark Runner snorted. "It's just a little cracked. I'm sure it's magical, I tested it with some copper wires I keep in my bag. It's just a little used, that's all."
"Used and discarded, like all resources in the kleptocratic state."
"Um...yeah, right. I just need enough juice from it to power a detector. Then we can find a permanent power source."
"No, Engels. Try to focus." Spark Runner hopped over to his gadget shelf, full of wires and gears and gizmos. He searched up and down for his detector array. Or its pieces. He had forgotten whether or not he had taken it apart for another project. "All power begins as magic, but I know how turn it into electrical power. Then I can make it go through wires and do amazing tricks. I just need a source to start the circuit."
Behind him, Engels stuck his nose back into a book, muttering something about fairly distributing magic to the proletariat. Spark Runner nosed aside some circuit boards -- nice, strong cedar planks strung with his best copper wire -- and found his detector under them. He had been proud of the hoof-sized gadget with its elegant glass top, and he was glad to discover it fully assembled.
He had some more time on his lunch break. Spark dropped the detector on the dining table, then grabbed his mouth tweezers and connected the power leads to the sharp ends of the magic crystal.
The crystal gave off a faint, faltering glow. The detector barely powered on. Still, a light blinked on the glass display so sharp and bright that Sparks checked to make sure it wasn't a circuit fault.
He was fiddling with the tweezers when Engels walked over and stuck his fat nose in the way. "What's that?"
"I don't know," said Spark Runner. "I think it's a real signal. A tremendously strong one, otherwise it wouldn't be coming in so clear. The only items of power I know of that strong...well, it couldn't be those." He noted the position of the light on the screen, and ran through numbers in his head. "About two miles away to the east-south-east. That's in 30th Street Station."
"What's in 30th Street Station?"
Spark Runner looked out of the window, wishing that he could peer through the city and past the miles. "I think someone just brought an Element of Harmony into town."
30th Street Station was a train station in the middle of Fillydelphia, a dingy stone edifice built on the banks of the Schuylcolt river. Although the grey stone building was squat and ugly on the outside, the inside was like a cathedral, with high ornate ceilings and tall glass chandeliers that swung slightly whenever a train pulled in. The marble floors were chipped by generations of hooves. A row of scaffolding lined the inside of the highest windows, providing storage shelves for the pegasus window cleaners.
Spark Runner and Engels came in next to the war memorial, a bronze statue of a pegasus lifting up a fallen earth pony. It was just large enough for the two to hide behind as they looked over the crowd of visitors, tourists, and businessponies.
"Who has it, do you think?"
"I don't know," said Spark Runner. There were so many ponies in the station. Those who weren't wandering aimlessly were sitting and waiting for their trains or standing in line for tickets. Luggage and saddlebags were everywhere. An apple vendor paced through with ratty fritters on his saddle. A pink pony with a scarf balanced a balloon on her nose, entertaining a trio of colts who were standing in line.
Spark Runner held up his foreleg, showing Engels the short-range detector strapped above his hoof. "This will light up if it gets near a really powerful source of magic. Do you think it will be too suspicious if we just walk around bumping into ponies?"
"The end justifies the means. But how are we going to steal it?"
"We're not! We're going to ask to borrow it. I can use the old crystal as a battery, I just need to siphon off some power."
"Steal some power."
"We're not stealing, we're borrowing!"
A gruff voice from behind them asked, "What you stealing, runner?"
Behind them stood two ponies that Spark Runner knew well. In his job as courier, the Fillydelphia mafia was always trying to hire him to deliver shady packages with no questions asked. Sparks refused to take illegal parcels. That put him on the mafia's bad side, although so far they had done nothing more than threaten him.
The purple pegasus, Dolo Piumo -- 'Fraudfeathers' -- was not the threatening one. He was a numbers pony, with a coin-and-feather mark on his flank, and he arranged jobs for the Coronet gang. Dolo had tried to hire Sparks several times. He usually worked with his enforcer, the fat, green earth pony that was the real threat.
That pony's name was 'Stinchi', which meant 'Shins'. Everypony just called him Shins. His cutie mark was a pony leg broken in the middle. His specialty? Shins.
Spark Runner took a step back. It left him an escape route, even if that route ran through a hundred waiting passengers. "Uh, hi Dolo. Hey, Shins. I'm not stealing anything."
"You know Don Cavallo don't allow no freelancers to work this side of town." Dolo Piumo had a smarmy look about him, as if he always smelled something bad and blamed it on whoever he was talking with. "I might let you slide this once if you pay a little fee."
"Knee fee," said Shins.
"Typical bourgeoisie, extracting tithe from the mensheviks."
"Shush, Engels," said Spark Runner. "Honestly, we're not stealing anything, guys."
"Uh, huh." Dolo and Shins took a step forward. "Cause if you were, we'd have to impress on you that this is Coronet territory."
Spark Runner took a step back. "Right."
Another step. "Why, if you were even looking at something valuable, we'd expect you to tell us. We might want to take it in for safekeeping."
"Gotcha." Another step, and Spark Runner bumped into somepony, but he didn't take his eyes away from the mobsters.
Dolo sneered. "And if you -- what the hay is that?"
Spark Runner looked down. His detector crystal was pulsing bright pink.
"Ooooooh," said the pink pony he had bumped into. She bent down to inspect the crystal, one eye growing as big as a dinner plate. "That's neat. Can you make it blink in time to music?"
Sparks looked around. Engels' mouth was frozen open in mid-warning. Dolo and Shins were both squinting in confused suspicion. The pink pony looked back at him with blue, innocent eyes.
"Run," Sparks said.
He shouldered the pink mare and pushed her into the crowd. Shins barreled after them, toppling ponies that got in his way. Engels launched himself then quickly dived to drop Dolo in mid-takeoff. Engels was a strong pegasus, Spark Runner knew, and he wasn't surprised to see his friend back in the air first. Dolo streaked after him.
Then Shins had caught up to them, and reared back to strike. Spark Runner positioned himself next to a pile of luggage, and leaped away just in time, and he looked back to see Shins struggling to free his hoof from somepony's suitcase. The crowd began screaming and running away, which gave him enough room to reach a full gallop. His hooves struck sparks from the station's marble floor, which caused more screaming.
Then Spark Runner remembered the pink pony with the scarf. He looked around -- and she was right behind him, moving in a four-footed hop that covered a surprising amount of ground.
"Why are we running?", she asked.
"Those guys are gangsters," Spark Runner said. He let her catch up and hop alongside. "They think you have something valuable. They want to take it."
"Oh?" The first hint of worry crossed her face. "How would they know?"
"Uh, nevermind that now. Just follow me, I'll keep you safe."
Thundering hooves sounded behind him; Shins had gotten free and charged, his nostrils flaring. Engels and Dolo zipped between the tall glass chandeliers, causing them to sway as the pegasi bumped them.
Engels swooped low. "Sparks! Look!" He pointed with a forehoof. Another pony, a cream-colored mare in a cloak and hood that covered most of her snout, was running through the scaffolding. She was headed to intercept Spark Runner just as he got to the 30th Street exit.
"Aw, not another one." Sparks swerved left, toward the corridor that led to Market street. The pink pony followed, and Shins plowed through a row of benches to cut them off.
At the entry to the corridor the scaffolding ended, and the highest windows were obscured by a tapestry welcoming visitors to Fillydelphia. Spark Runner had an idea. "Engels! Tapestry!"
The pegasus zoomed over, with Dolo close behind. He flew straight at the tapestry, then turned and scraped his hoof along its top. Dolo hit the scaffolding, collapsing an upper level and forcing the hooded mare to leap onto the top of a swaying chandelier.
Spark Runner poured on more speed, glancing back to make sure his pink companion was keeping up. They shot past the falling tapestry, and Spark Runner slid to a halt to look behind. The long, brightly colored banner crashed to the floor just in front of Shins, who had skidded to a stop in time.
Shins looked at the crumpled tapestry in front of him. He snorted, and tensed to leap the remaining distance between him and Spark Runner --
-- then a glow suffused the tapestry, and it shot up to bury him in folds of cloth.
Spark Runner looked up. Engels flew by, through the path of a swaying chandelier. Dolo misjudged it; the chandelier swung back and crashed into the purple pegasus, knocking him to the marble floor in a spray of crystal and feathers. He bounced twice, ending up in the pile of cloth on top of a struggling Shins.
Engels fluttered to land with them. "Nice work, comrade!"
"Actually, it didn't work," Spark Runner said. "What about that third --"
Shins head popped free of the tapestry, and he roared. His eyes bloodshot and enraged, he saw Spark Runner, got to his feet --
-- and the cream-colored mare dropped down from the chandelier, landing squarely on the enforcer's head. He went down, his tongue lolling out and eyes rolling up. The mare's hood fell back to reveal sleek arabian eyes, a horn and a jet black mane. She flicked her head. A fold of the tapestry rose to cover Shins up again.
The unicorn turned to them. "These two won't stay down long. What are you waiting for? Keep running!"
They took her advice, and she joined them. The four ran onto Market and merged into the crowd crossing the bridge over the Schuylcolt river.
Spark Runner stayed with the pink mare. She seemed the bubbly sort, and her three-balloon cutie mark hinted at an outgoing personality despite the way she kept her scarf wound tight around her. It wasn't until they left the center city crowd behind that he got a chance to introduce himself. By then she was frowning.
"Hi again," he said as they crossed Cherry street. She didn't seem to have a knack for how to slip through traffic, but on the other hoof ponies did tend to get out of her way. "My name's Spark Runner."
"I'm Pinkie Pie, and I think I'm going to miss my train!"
"Oh. I, uh, I thought you were just coming into town."
She shook her head. "I came in for the cake-decorating convention last weekend. They had a hundred-layer cake shaped like City Hall! But the statue of Withers Penn on top of it was just a flat cookie. What's up with that?"
Spark Runner didn't know how to answer that.
"All that running in the train station was fun, but my friend Ms. Sourdoe already gave me a tour of the city and I need to get home to Ponyville and did you know there's a pegasus following us?"
"Huh?" He looked up. "Oh. That's just Engels. He's my friend."
Hovering over the intersection, Engels pointed. "I'm not following you. I'm following her."
On the second story of a coffee shop, the hooded arabian mare lurked in the shadow of a sign. Sparks would not have seen her if not for Engels' help. Realizing that she was caught, she stepped out of hiding and glowered at the pegasus.
"I've got my eye on you, little Nikita," Engels said, drawing a line from his eye to her with his hoof.
"She's a friend, Engels, I think. Hi! I'm Spark Runner, and this is --"
"I know who she is," the unicorn said. She jumped down from the roof in one graceful leap. "Stop pretending to be nice. You're trying to steal from her."
"I am not. I swear!"
"Oh, I know you're not," said Pinkie. "If you were, my knee would be itchy. But you're up to something, just like those ponies in the train station. I can tell, because when I get up to something I do the same thing that you do."
Spark Runner's ears flopped down. "Do what?"
"What do I do?"
"You're doing it now."
"He's always done that," Engels said.
Sparks looked along his flank, spinning around and chasing his tail for a moment. "I don't know what I'm doing."
"That's why you're no good at it."
"You really aren't," said the unicorn.
"Okay! Okay," Spark Runner said. "I'm no good at...whatever. But I was not stealing anything. We just thought that you had a --"
The unicorn's horn glowed. His jaw snapped shut. "Not here," she said. "We need a safehouse."
Engels nodded. "Our house is a few blocks away. Follow me, comrades."
Pinkie hopped after the pegasus. The unicorn mare crouched as if to leap, but Spark Runner held his hoof up. "By the way, I didn't get your name. Was it Nikita?"
She grimaced. "No. I'm...Dawnshadow." The name was muttered in a low voice, and she jumped up to a nearby roof before Sparks could ask her again.
When they got to the house, Engels picked Pinkie Pie up and flew her into the window, and Dawnshadow pranced down from the rooftop. Spark Runner was the only pony who had to use the lift. By the time he got inside, Pinkie Pie was unwrapping her scarf with quick shakes of her mane. The striped cloth fell to the floor. Underneath it gleamed a band of gold, a necklace of perfect curls, sporting a pink balloon-shaped jewel.
The other ponies gasped.
Pinkie Pie grinned. "Is this what everypony's excited about? I got this old thing from one of those claw machines at the carnival." One of her eyebrows tilted. "Or wait. Maybe that was Gummy."
Spark Runner began to step closer, but the unicorn glared at him. "Is that an Element of Harmony?"
"Sure is! It means I'm part of a super-team that protects all of Equestria. Wait. Maybe that was Gummy."
Engels leaned to whisper in Spark Runner's ear. "This pony is a few senators short of a full parliament."
Dawnshadow stepped between them and Pinkie Pie. "So if you weren't trying to steal the Element of Harmony, what were you doing in the train station?"
"Well, we detected it on her, and we were going to ask if we could -- wait. What were you doing in the station?"
"You detected it?" Dawnshadow's head lifted, and she glanced around the room. "You're an arcane researcher?"
Spark Runner blushed. "Nah. I'd have to be a unicorn for that. I'm just a courier."
"But all this equipment...and what is your cutie mark, anyway?"
"Nopony knows. I think it's a circuit board, but I invented them, so I don't know how it could be. Nopony knows what Engels' mark is either."
"It's a hammer and a star. I thought you were a blacksmith?"
"I get demolition work now and then." Engels stretched his wings in a shrug. "But it's just temporary. I'm waiting for the glorious revolution so I can prove my worth among the triumphant proletariat."
Dawnshadow blinked. Spark Runner sighed. "He reads a lot," he said.
"So what if your cutie mark doesn't make any sense," Pinkie said. "I love things that don't make any sense. You get to just turn your brain off and enjoy what they are. Like your name, 'Engels'. It doesn't mean anything but it's fun to say. Engels...Engels...EN-gels..."
"Hmph. My mother wanted to name me 'Angel', and my father wanted to name me 'Eagle'. 'Engels' was their compromise. Like all compromises from oligarchical parties, it turned out badly."
Pinkie Pie was by his side in an eyeblink. "Aww, it's not that bad. I'm sorry your parents didn't know how to run a pony-naming party."
"They couldn't run a party of anarchists at a riot."
"Well, if a party turns into a riot it's gone too far. There have to be house rules, if only to protect the furniture!"
"I don't agree that parliamentary seats have to be protected," Engels said, "But a party certainly needs a strong platform."
"Absolutely. Especially if there's going to be dancing."
Engels squinted. "Do you even know what a party is?"
Pinkie's eyes were wide and innocent. "Do I!"
Spark Runner knew he should stop the two; throw himself between them, or clap his hoof over Engels' mouth, or as a last resort start a fire and insist they evacuate the building. Before he realized what was happening it was too late. The singing had begun.
Engels flapped his wings and boomed in his deep tenor:
"You begin to have a party
to unify a voice,
to represent a leader's vision,
certify a choice!"
When Pinkie chimed in, Spark Runner realized with horror that the two harmonized well. At least, in tone:
"You send invites to a party
so ponies come and play.
Then they'll cast off their inhibitions,
dance the night away!"
"No!" sang Engels --
"A deliberative party
must always have a goal.
To champion a paradigm,
and blaze a proper role.
The Party is wise! The Party is leader!
Hear the Party's call!
The Party is dam, the Party is sire!
The Party over all!
The Party over all!"
Pinkie Pie crossed her forehooves and shook her head. "Nonsense!" she sang.
"All the pleasure of a party
isn't in the how or why.
It's who is there and what they share
when they get contact high!"
"If you've a hedonistic party,
what will the public think?
Soon they'll call you pinko --"
"-- or they'll just call you pink!
Don't worry if your party
doesn't work or goes astray.
Throw another then another
and soon all will get to play!
The Party expands! The Party is present
in house or barn or stall,
We Party for one, we Party for hundreds --
The Party over all!
The Party over all!"
As the two paused to catch their breath, Spark Runner took the opportunity to lean close to Dawnshadow and whisper:
"I know Engels speaks in nonsense,
I've gotten used to him.
It's so offbeat that now I'd meet
his hyperactive twin."
Dawnshadow nodded, and whispered back:
"I think they're speaking logic
in a language they don't share.
It's such a sin that synonyms
are flying everywhere!"
When Pinkie and Engels resumed singing, each seemed insistent on clipping the other off before they could finish a thought. Engels was getting the worst of it; Pinkie Pie was backing him against a wall, his wings flapping nervously as he sang:
"But when fragmented or swallowed,
that's when a party's done.
Then anarchy will follow --"
"-- yeah, but anarchy is fun!
When the host has lost control
and everything's in disarray,
then the games can really start --"
"-- but are those games you want to play?
A party's an important tool
to help society."
"The best that we can give them,
is help them to be free!
"Freedom from oppression,
or from economic chains?"
"I recommend soft leather if
you're going to play those games."
"I think I've made a mis-step,
you're anarchist through and through."
"You should see me on the dance floor --
I'm a disco pony too!"
Finally, in unison they sang:
"The Party is good! The Party forever!
Never shall it fall!
The Party is friends and fun and freedom!
The Party over all!
The Party over all!"
Spark Runner waited a beat to be sure it was over. He had never seen Engels so flustered during a conversation before. Usually the pegasus dominated discussion with his expansive and weird vocabulary. This time, Engels looked ready to crawl away and hide from Pinkie, who was smiling less than an inch away from his snout.
"I like you," Pinkie said.
Engels bowed his head. "You frighten me."
"That's why I like you, silly."
Spark Runner nosed his way between them. Engels could be explosive when cornered, and the pink pony didn't seem to have a concept of personal space. "Oookay," he said. "Pinkie Pie? Could we please borrow some power from your Element of Harmony? My crystal can't hold much, so it won't take long."
"Sure!" She reached up a hoof and fumbled for a clasp.
"Wait," Dawnshadow said, "You're just going to let them?"
"Of course. The Element of Laughter doesn't belong to me, it belongs to everypony. Of course you can borrow it for a little while."
Spark Runner cleared the junk off a spot on the floor with a quick swipe of his hoof. Pinkie put the necklace in the clearing, then danced back. He took a deep breath. The magical energy was almost palpable.
"Engels, help me. I'm going to need the crystal, my best leads, my tools..."
"Yes, kommandant." The pegasus ran into the room that doubled as their storage room and library. Spark Runner tried to follow, but Dawnshadow blocked his path.
Her eyes were narrowed and her teeth flashed. "I'm watching you."
"Great! I could use your help, too. Some of these adjustments are tricky. Your telekinesis will help a lot."
"...that's not what I meant."
"But you are still going to help, right?"
"Great. Help me dig around in there. We're looking for the best copper wires we can find." He nosed Dawnshadow, who reluctantly joined Engels.
Just before he joined them also, Pinkie Pie bounced on her hoof tips in front of him. "While you do your 'research', I'm going to find a balloon store. If I'm staying another night in Fillydelphia then I'm going to show Engels what a real party is!"
"Um, okay, Pinkie." He backed out of the living room.
The crystal was on top of the heap and easy to find. His tools, on the other hoof, were scattered everywhere. They collected what he needed in a pail while Dawnshadow sifted through the junk for wires in good condition.
"Say, Dawnshadow," Spark Runner said, "You never answered my question."
"No, I didn't." She turned away and levitated another stack of books.
"Oh, come on. What were you doing in the train station?"
"None of your business."
Engels dropped something that tinkled like glass. Spark Runner winced, but the pegasus pretended not to notice. "Yeah it is, lady. We don't know anything about you. We can't even see your cutie mark under that cloak."
Dawnshadow stuck her snout in the air. "That's none of your business either."
Spark Runner sat down and crossed his forehooves. "Well, you can keep your secrets, but we need to know that we can trust you."
"You'll just have to take that chance." She winked her long lashes at him. "Do you have a problem with mystery mares?"
"Uh, no. Not that I've met many."
"We're very temperamental. But if you can handle their moods you'll find they can be very nice."
"Oh." He didn't quite follow her logic, but she was making a kind of sense. Or at least her words left him with a warm fuzzy feeling. "Nice? That's...nice."
"So is it okay if I keep my secrets, silly boy?"
"I guess. Yeah. I'm sorry I asked."
Engels trotted up behind Dawnshadow. "Screw that. Opacity in treaties is unethical," he said. Then, before Spark Runner could react, Engels caught her cloak in her teeth and flicked it aside.
It didn't come off. It was attached to a body harness, with multiple leather straps cinching around her middle. The straps were dry and worn from use, and from the red flesh and raw skin under them he could tell that she had worn them for days. Her coat had not been brushed or bathed for some time either. It was a marked contrast from her face and mane -- she had obviously taken pains to keep her outward appearance beautiful.
But even more disturbing was her flank. Before she levitated her cloak back into position, Engels had exposed a flank of unmarked fur.
Dawnshadow covered herself, kicked back at Engels, and huddled in the corner of the room. Spark Runner held up his forehooves. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, we didn't know."
"Well you do now," she spat. Sparks had never seen eyes that wounded.
"Engels can be rude," he said through clenched teeth. Engels nodded in agreement. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were a -- " Would 'blank flank' offend her? Was there a nicer term?
Dawnshadow pulled her hood up. She gazed toward the wall, leaving Sparks feeling as if he were trying to hold a conversation through a suit of armor. That was okay. He didn't want to strip anything else away from her.
"I never found anything I was good at," she said. "I...fell in with a herd of bad ponies. They were planning on stealing the Element of Harmony. That's when I left them. I was at the station to make sure Pinkie Pie got safely on board her train."
"You've been hanging out with freelance thieves?"
"...something like that."
"Where have you been staying since you left them?"
She shrugged. "Rooftops mostly. Sometimes under bridges, when there are no other ponies there."
Her voice was just above a whisper. Sparks felt like he wanted to cry. Even Engels looked sorry.
"Well, you can stay here as long as you like," Spark Runner said. "This can be your room, even. We can move all this stuff to the basement."
Engels nodded enthusiastically. "Or you can sleep in the basement, but then we'll have to move a lot of stuff up here."
Dawnshadow sniffed. "I...I could use a safehouse. For a little while."
"As long as you like. We're good roommates, I promise."
She studied him for a moment with a suspicious blue eye. Then she stood up. Her composure seemed to have returned. "I'll try to be a good roommate also," she said as she walked out of the room.
It took less than a second before she poked her head back in. "Where's Pinkie Pie?"
"She went out."
"Out!?" Dawnshadow rushed him, grabbed his shoulders with her hooves and shook hard. "Out where? Where did she go?"
"...she said she wanted to buy party supplies."
She turned and ran through the next room. Sparks and Engels were right behind, but she leaped out of the window before he could explain the elevator. By the time Spark Runner made it down, the unicorn was standing in the middle of the street looking both ways frantically.
"Which way did she go?"
"I don't know."
Above the street Engels hovered, with a hoof raised to shade his eyes. "What am I looking for?"
"It was a terrible thing," said an old yellow pegasus from her front porch.
Spark Runner trotted up. He knew Mrs. Mayweather well. She was very old, with her feeble wings slung to her side with a ribbon and bow, and he had gotten errands and groceries for her on occasion. The normally sunny (and absent-minded) pegasus was frowning and shaking her head.
"Did you see something, Mrs. Mayweather?"
"Terrible thing," she said. "That pink pony that was walking down the street? A carriage pulled up, a bunch of hooligans jumped out of it and pushed her in!"
"Which way did they go?"
"Turned at the corner, don't know after that."
Dawnshadow ran over. "Quick -- was it a pastry truck?"
Mrs. Mayweather squinted for a moment. "Well, now that you mention it..."
"Hey, Engels," Spark Runner shouted, "Pastry truck! Do you see any?" Engels peered right and left and all around, and shrugged.
"There are a bunch of carriages nearby. Can't see what kind they are."
Dawnshadow stamped her hoof. "Those ponies I was with? They were posing as pastry chefs at the convention. They were hoping to steal the...item there, but never got the opportunity. They must have decided to foal-nap her."
"But we've got the Element. They can't make her..."
Spark Runner's train of thought left him in mid-sentence, replaced by a surge of inspiration. The foal-nappers had Pinkie. He had the Element. He also had all the time in the world, and all the equipment he owned...
He dashed back to his house, and mule kicked the elevator lever. He leaped the last few feet into the window and ran into his storage room.
When he came out with a stack of wires and tools in his teeth, Dawnshadow and Engels were there. The arabian mare gave him a look that could fry circuitry. "You're not going to just do your experiments now, are you?"
"Mmmph," he said. Then he dropped the equipment next to Pinkie's necklace. "No. Trust me. I know how to find her."
"From up here?"
"Yes." Sparks began to grin. "From up here."
The first copper leads, connected to a hot-swappable logic board, started to glow when they touched the Element of Harmony. He put them at equidistant points around the necklace, then used the twinkling in the Element's glow to place the voltage probes. The glow warped, changing into a prism of colors, and he knew his plan would work. He navigated the probes through the colors, flipping switches on the logic board with his hooves. Every point he touched left a glint of light that dissipated into the glow.
"See, magic works by a system of logic," he said, speaking past the thin probe in his mouth. Dawnshadow was watching closely; he could feel her breath on his neck.
"I can view that system as a series of colors and symbols, and I can reprogram that logic. I can't do much. But -- Engels, could you get a good grip on the necklace for me, please?"
The pegasus complied, biting down on the golden strap.
"I can't make many adjustments, not to something as powerful and complex as an Element of Harmony." Spark Runner hesitated, then saw the final angle of approach. He moved the probe into position. "But I can force it to manifest one of the simplest forms of magic --"
The Element of Harmony lifted up and shot out of the window, pulling Engels with no apparent effort. A light drifting of pegasus feathers fell in his wake.
Spark Runner smiled at Dawnshadow, whose mouth gaped open. "Telekinesis," he said.
They ran outside. Engels was fighting the Element of Harmony, trying to wrestle it in mid-air, but the necklace was winning. The elevator dropped at full speed, and Sparks led Dawnshadow down the street. "Follow it," he shouted to her. "It's attuned to Pinkie. It'll lead us right to her!"
They raced onto Cherry Street, throwing pedestrians and one-pony carriages into chaos as they passed. Engels was high in the air, flapping furiously, but unable to do more than slow the Element down. Other pegasi in the air watched with curiosity as he was tugged toward the skyscrapers downtown.
Spark Runner took a shortcut across Fifth street by leaping onto a moving carriage and then to the sidewalk beyond. Then he remembered Dawnshadow. She crossed the street just behind the carriage but several lengths behind him.
"Listen," he said as they broke into a run again, "I'm a courier, I can go faster than this. You catch up when you can, okay? We won't do anything without you."
Dawnshadow looked at him with slitted eyes and a smile. "Don't worry about me, colt. Let's see how fast you can go."
Spark Runner flicked his ears in a slight shrug. Then he went into a gallop.
Even as a colt, his hooves had struck sparks whenever he ran over rocky ground. His parents had named him after the trivial talent. Spark Runner wasn't as fast as a true racehorse -- his cutie mark had nothing to do with speed, after all -- but in the city he owned the streets. At a full clop he dodged past other ponies in a blur, leaving a trail of yellow sparks that twisted in the wind behind him. When the sidewalk was too crowded he used the street, jousting with carriage-pullers and weaving through the traffic. When he turned down Juniper street and saw that it had no carriages, Spark Runner galloped at full speed down the straightaway.
So when something swung past his head from above, he almost tripped.
They were in the outskirts of the really big skyscrapers that formed the Fillydelphia skyline. A figure in a fluttering cloak, way too low for pegasus traffic, was swinging from a thin line attached to the top of a mid-sized building. As he watched, the figure's head glowed with unicorn magic; the line detached from the building and shot toward another, with a small grappling hook at its end. It connected and the line pulled taut again. Dawnshadow's fall turned into another swing, higher and faster than the one before.
Not for the first time, Spark Runner spent a moment staring at the unicorn in admiration. Then he bent his head and poured on the speed again.
They followed Engels past City Hall and its statue of Withers Penn, and through twisty streets into Wickerton Square. Spark Runner knew every alley in that section of town and kept pace easily. When the tall buildings of downtown thinned out, Dawnshadow ran over the apartment rooftops, leaping off their edge with no fear and catching herself on the next building with her grappling hook and body harness. Her swinging slowed down as the buildings got smaller, but she was having little trouble keeping up. Where Spark Runner had to run around buildings, she could go over them.
Just when Spark Runner thought they were getting too close to South Filly -- mafia territory -- Engels' trajectory turned downward. He fought hard for a second and actually stopped in the air. Then he opened his jaw and let the necklace fly on its own. It shot down in a streak of light, shattering the bay window of a pie shop with a big 'New Management' sign on the door.
Spark Runner was there first. He leapt through the open window. Dawnshadow and Engels landed next to him and hopped in after. There was a door with a necklace-shaped hole in it that Sparks rammed open.
The room beyond was a loading dock, its floor cluttered with stacks of boxed pies. A carriage sat at the dock. Next to it stood Pinkie Pie, with the Element of Harmony clasped around her neck, and around her were four rough-looking arabian ponies who were in various stages of just being bowled over. A glow brightened the room, centered on the pink mare.
"I'm glad you got here," she said. Her eyes were round and blue and innocent, yet somehow terrifying. "I don't think these are real pie chefs at all!"
"They're not," Spark Runner said. "They're criminals."
Pinkie hopped over to a stack of pies. "In that case, let's teach them a lesson."
Spark Runner, Engels, and Dawnshadow scattered. The foal-nappers had recovered, and everypony could tell what was happening next.
The next few minutes were a blur. Pinkie Pie seemed to be everywhere, throwing pies from behind the carriage then reappearing in a doorway to throw again. Engels was the only pegasus so he took to the air with a stack of pies. Dawnshadow disappeared into the dark corners of the room, but boxes opened and pies vaulted forward from her telekinesis.
That left Spark Runner to draw fire. He sprinted around the loading bay, using the stacks for cover. One of the criminals was a unicorn with a bandolier of knives under his chef smock, and he levitated them into a frightening stream of sharp metal until Engles blinded him with a custard pie-bomb. The other ponies tried to catch Pinkie and Sparks but failed, getting themselves smacked with pies in the process.
Soon, somehow, it became a game. A fun one. With the knife-thrower out of action, Spark Runner dared to get closer to the arab ponies, taunting them into slipping on the accumulating debris. Engles knocked out one pony by dropping a stack of pies still in their boxes. The other ponies kept chasing and fighting until they were literally covered in crust and filling. Dawnshadow's telekinesis kept flipping pies onto them, even when the mess they were under was taller than they were, until the loading bay was covered in mounds of ruined foodstuff, some of it weakly quivering.
By that point Sparks and friends were laughing. They couldn't stop. Then, by some unspoken agreement, they all ran out the carriage bay door, giggling and goofing as they trotted down the street.
They didn't all make it back to the house. Pinkie insisted on stopping at a message office, and writing a scroll to a friend. They watched as the message unicorn created a blast of fire that disintegrated the scroll; the smoke twisted into the sky, carrying the message away with incredible speed.
Then Pinkie asked to go to the biggest, widest street in the city. They took her to Broad street, full of stores and pony pedestrians and carriages darting one way then the next. Sparks took it on himself to scan all the carriages for pastry-related signs.
Pinkie Pie led them to the cement island between traffic in the middle of the street. "I had so much fun!"
"Yeah," Spark Runner said. "So did we." Engels nodded in agreement.
"But I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to borrow some power from the Element of Laughter."
"That's okay. Dawnshadow is going to stay with us for awhile, and, well, unicorn magic would help me out a lot."
Dawnshadow hung her head. "I don't have much magic."
"That's okay, I only need a little."
Engels stepped forward and hugged Pinkie. "We should get you to 30th street station, Devochka. The train companies are fascist pigs, but they do keep their trains running on time."
"Oh, I'm not taking a train home," Pinkie said. She backed up, shaking her head, and then held a hoof out to keep Engels from following. "After what happened I think I better get home to Ponyville as soon as possible. That message I sent was to a friend of mine. She's coming to pick me up."
Spark Runner felt he had missed something. "Well, you can stay with us until she arrives."
"I am staying with you, silly -- right here!"
"Oooookay," he said, frowning. Then he shrugged off the confusion. "Well, it was nice meeting you, Pinkie Pie."
"You too. Take care of each other!"
As she said that, a glint of light appeared in the distance, far down Broad Street. In another moment it was a rainbow-colored shaft of light that stretched along the thoroughfare. Faster than the eye could follow, it bent to pick up Pinkie then arced into the sky.
The three ponies all craned their necks, their mouths dropped open. Most of the pedestrians were doing the same. The rainbow lasted another few seconds before it faded away.
Engels broke the silence. "Comrades? We are outclassed."
"Heh," said Spark Runner. "We're just getting started."
He grinned at Dawnshadow, who snorted, put up her hood and made a show of ignoring him. But they walked together through the streets of Fillydelphia, back toward home.