Heart Of Black Ice

Black: Not THAT Easy

I have to act fast.

As soon as Dawn finds out I escaped she'll probably make some cock and bull story up and the guards will start looking for me. I still have few hours before the paralysis potion wears off and it's likely she won't run to the princesses first thing in the morning so... let's say I have eight hours. That unfortunately means I have no time to have a rest after satisfying a mare and flying - well, falling uncontrollably - through the raging blizzard.

What to do? What to do?

A friend of mine should still be keeping my apartment ready and my money hidden. I parted with the funds I put in the Canterlot bank as soon as I got arrested but a pony like me has to think ahead and know that working for one employer might anger somepony else. As a result, most of the money I recieved for Luna's mission is in the hooves of my various associates who keep it safe.

First things first though. Right now I need to find ponies who know ponies, especially ponies with a lot of money and interest in acquiring technology. There is a black market in Canterlot if you know where to look and since the mirror world isn't exactly well-known the blueprints in my possession should be of interest to somepony.

Canterlot, as a city built into the side of a mountain, has a white facade visible from a large part of Equestria on a good day but even a city like that needs workers, infrastructure, haulers of goods, and all the necessary jazz to make the lazy unicorns enjoy their wannabe superiority. Those ponies, airship dock workers, weather pegasi, and generally anypony just trying to earn a decent living, live away from the white city walls and tourist spots in spartan apartment buildings close to the mountain itself.

That is the grey part of Canterlot which isn't celebrated in the newspapers too much, the one I'm walking through right now while looking like a drag queen in a Royal Guard costume. The white tatters of a blanket stuffed into the tight stolen armor to protect me from the frost create sort of a long skirt which, hopefully, won't attract any unwanted suitors.

Tiiiiired.

Can't do much about it though aside from getting some coffee but since I have no money on me at the moment the vision of dark brown bliss fades. Fortunately, my time in prison brought me enough rest not to just keel over right here and now so I successfully find a steps leading down to an unmarked door below street level.

The place is a night club, not the sexy kind although there are waitresses wearing some sort of crotch-hugging panties and tight corsets. Those aren't the main attraction, they are just there as something to take your mind off the real business going on in this place. This large room surrounded by very sturdy, and most importantly - soundproof, doors leading to smaller rooms where deals can be made is what can be called the center of Canterlot black market. Officially it is just a gentlecolts' club with all the pool tables and dartboards strewn around the main room and the waitresses being softly brushed by ponies currently not being involved in any dealings only assert the fake image.

The biggest tip that that's not the case is that there are no drunks around, nopony is yelling or telling fake stories about their adventures, and that the waitresses don't feel bothered at all when some customer kneads their rump a little too hard because they know nopony is going to go further. Everypony is minding their business, looking at discreet notes pinned to the noticeboard in the back of the room, and waiting for their business partner to arrive.

My presence draws some surprised glances from the closest ponies and it's obvious my armor will make a very big earthpony take an interest in me very soon.

"Icy Gaze workin' for da little lanterns in da castle, color me surprised," a bouncer even taller than me and almost twice as broad-shouldered greets me but there is nothing pleasant in his look.

"Brick, I've had a really crappy month and I don't have the patience to deal with your nonsense. Is there anypony with interest in advanced weapon technology around?"

"Ask Rosie or check da notices, pretty face. Ya buyin'?"

"Selling," I tap on my saddlebag, "Hoof to hoof, cash or bank notes."

"Go ask Rosie den, the fillies know everythin' and tell 'er."

"Thanks, honey," I grin at the reddening earthpony.

Rosie is just an adventurous unicorn mare who took some poor fillies from the streets and gave them jobs for the price of their time and a little dignity. Most of the smart ones agreed because, well, dignity has no value when you have nothing to eat. Plus, young mares willing to work on themselves who are skilled with their hooves and have good ears have paid for themselves far more than what they cost Rosie in the first place.

One customer might, while buying a drink, lament on how there is a drought in the south and that the transport taxes are way too high to help the poor ponies down there. A moment later the waitress just might share her heavy heart and worry about poor Appleloosans with Rosie who, a complete coincidence, just might remember a pony who knows some less traditional trade routes and who knows ponies who have hard time selling certain food stocks in different parts of Equestria and would love to help the poor villagers in exchange for direct compensation or, because they have a good heart, for a promise of future business opportunities.

Just like that the business thrives.

"Hey, Rosie," I nod to the bartending mare.

"Icy, a pleasure to see you again! How's selling your friends for a promise of early freedom working out for you?"

A nice guess but I know you, girl.

"I feel offended Rosie, first Brick and now you, but if you really meant it I wouldn't be talking to you right now."

"Darn right, hun. So what'll it be?"

"Is there anypony with enough money to buy blueprints for an airship with weapons more advanced than griffons have? I'd prefer to get the business done as soon as possible because I have to leave Canterlot before the guards find me."

Normally I wouldn't be talking about it but the fun thing is that in the underground trust has much higher value, if only because forgiveness is almost impossible to get while a dagger in the back is fairly cheap.

"That's a tall order. You're in luck though. Because of the recent failed griffon attack on our eastern coast the weapon manufacturers are looking for an advantage over the competition. Unfortunately, I don't think I've seen any envoys tonight though."

"That's pretty bad, I have to leave before morning."

"Hmmm... you could always leave an address with me and I'd let you know by mail."

"I'm not sure where I'll be going yet so that's out of the question," I tell her off politely.

"Of course, of course, hun. Well, I can ask few questions here and there but since the griffons failed their attack you might want to visit the Empire and try to sell the things there."

That's true but selling the blueprints for the warship responsible for loss of one entire city garrison might get me killed faster than implying they might try a female Emperor just for the heck of it.

"That's a possibility but I'd prefer ponies having the access to weaponry of that sort rather than griffons. Those guys are pretty unstable from time to time."

"That's a pickle then," she looks at the ceiling for a moment, "You know what? How much money do you estimate to get?"

"Considering the technology is completely unknown, especially the weapons, I would say something between hundred thousand and two hundred thousand bits."

Rosie whistles but I can see the gleam in her eyes. She gets a small cut of every transaction mediated and money means influence in this town.

"All right, hun, but only because I love your new look.-"

Riiiight, you greedy mule.

"-Give me few hours to look around. I'll lend you a room upstairs so you can rest, free of charge, and a mare if you want as well."

"I could go for a massage. Flying from the top of the castle in this weather was quite something."

"A masage, right," Rosie grins.

"Just... a massage," I wave my hooves dismissively.

"Come on, some of the girls are changelings fresh from the hive who want to taste the world."

A changeling consort might be something to look forward to but not tonight.

"Sorry, Rosie, no free meal for your girls. I can't feel most of my body anyway but I'd be eternally grateful if you got me some coffee."

"You got it, hun," she levitates a key on the counter, "Room twenty-seven. Coffee and a skilled filly will be there in few minutes."

Most of the customers are looking at me as I walk to the stairs up but that's just because of the stolen armor. It's too bad I can't recognize anypony in the gloom and because they are wearing capes in most cases but now I can rest easy at least for a while so that's something I guess.

Walking through the red-carpeted halls decorated with dark brown wood I have to wonder at how this place really looks like a whorsehouse without actually being one.

The door to my room clicks open.

I've never been up here because I'm not a known client but I've brokered deals for various employers so the entire place is well-known to me and same goes for Rosie which is why I immediately pull a mattress from the big bed up and put my scroll case under it. I'm pretty sure the mare sent here will try to go through my things, not to steal anything but to find out as much as possible. The possibility is still there though because my blueprints might be enough of a sweetener to make Rosie reevaluate her reputation. On the other hoof, if the word gets out about her breaking the trust of a high-stakes seller she might have to leave Canterlot in a hurry herself and running to Tartarus might not be far enough.

No matter what, a little caution never hurt anypony.

With the mattress back in place, I take a look around to see possible escape routes. One room with a bed, wardrobe, and some other minor furniture such as a lockable chest I'm sure the staff has keys for... nothing too sinister or helpful. A separate bathroom, very well-equipped I have to admit, is something I can get behind though. Not having had a bath in past month I immediately get things flowing, pun intended.

"Aaaaaah!" I lower myself into the hot water.

Waaaay better than the prison showers.

Minutes later, the quiet hoofsteps in the other room make me grin. It seems I was correct about Rosie's staff. Time to surprise the unlucky and nosy masseuse.

Not to make any noise, I slowly rise from the steaming water and throw the nearby towels on the floor to let me sneak up on the visitor. I put an ear to the bathroom door first.

*click* *click* *click* *click*

Come to think of it, I didn't hear the hall door open.

That doesn't sound like a mare quickly going through my meager possessions. I put a my hoof on the handle and push sloooowly-

"Target spotted."

The metallic voice makes me jump away from the door just in time to see a red beam slice through the wood without any real resistance. The clutter of things falling behind me tell me that the bathroom equipment wasn't as lucky.

Kicking the remains of the wooden door out of the hinges and into the main room, I jump inside as well and run straight to the open door into the hall outside. The door closes right in front of me.

Turning to the figure without slowing down, I narrowly dodge another red beam cutting parts of the door behind me off.

The smoking red crystal on the enemy's head tips me off fast enough. It's a mirror world husk with the glowing eyes, steel armor plating and metallic skeleton underneath it, and the obvious intent to erase my existence right here and now.

Okay. Don't get in the way of the red thing.

This time I have almost four seconds of the husk observing me before I have to dodge another beam which burns away part of my mane.

He's getting more precise but it takes longer to charge. Is he reading me?

To test the theory I run back to the main door and try to kick it out.

Three, four, five, si-

The door doesn't even twitch as my kick almost dislodges the knees on my hind legs. No beam comes though.

He's channeling unicorn magic through the crystal serving as a horn. Fortunately, it seems he's limited to telekinesis and the beam thing.

As I get my legs ready to kick the door again I can see his crystal horn light up in anticipation.

Yep, you're reading me. Too bad I'm doing the same thing.

Kicking the door again, I spread my wings and launch myself at the husk.

Thought I was gonna run, am I right?

My mistake is apparent the second the husk moves in an angle a pony never should and I remember the limb flexibility of the robot from the castle. My immediate roll to the side saves me yet again as the searing heat I now know well enough passes my neck.

Six seconds. I have at least six seconds.

With that in mind I run towards the bathroom, snatch a piece of the broken door, and smash the wood against the husk's head in the window of opportunity. I expected at least a second of confusion but not the shockwave that blasted me straight back into the bathroom.

"Target neutralized."

"Argh," I groan as the wooden splinters and shards of broken shampoo bottles dig into my back.

What a crappy day.

"Wrong assumption. Approaching target."

Gonna get worse.

Turning my head, I look for anything usable as a weapon. The plastic towel rack won't do. The pieces of porcelain from the toilet the was cut into pieces might work.

Hmmmmm...

The black scar left by the first attack cutting the door is still smoldering on the opposite wall, interrupted only by the bathroom mirror. Aaaand yes, it looks like the beam cut some things somewhere it can't have reached.

As the husk enters the bathroom I cut myself more on the shards lying on the floor as I quickly get up and snatch the square of glass off the wall. Turning to the attacker, I pull the mirror up to my neck.

Oh Celestia, let this work, let this work.

The impact of energy knocks the mirror out of my weak grasp.

"Critical damage sustained. Saving target coordinates and combat statistics. Sending. Self-destruct initiated."

That can't be good.

The husk doesn't seem to me interested in me anymore but I have to hazard a rush to the main room with him blocking the bathroom entrance. I can't have much time but I should get the blueprints, those are my ticket to the future.

In Tartarus. RUN!

Casting a longing glance at the bed, I run out of the main room to the hall and to the stairs down.

A buzz runs through me, no other way to explain it, and a quick look backwards reveals a burst of green light coming out of the room that fades almost instantly.

A chance to get my stuff back? A trap?

Greed wins and I sneak back.

The damage to the main room seems minimal. I expected explosion, a shockwave, or something but not...

...a sphere cleanly cut out around where the husk was standing. There's nothing left of him or anything around as if everything in the area disintegrated perfectly.

Fortunately, the effected area is quite small so I get my scroll case from underneath the mattress and grab a clean brown cloak from the wardrobe. I decide to leave the Royal Guard armor lying on the floor, Rosie might find some use for it, and rush back downstairs.

"Rosie, a minute if you please?" huffing, I slam my hoof on the counter.

"Sorry, hun, all the girls are busy so-"

"No biggie, no biggie," I grin madly and whisper, "The stuff I was selling brought an assassin to me who attacked me upstairs, a... unicorn. He blew some stuff up and I think I have to run immediately. My guess is that some of the ponies here aren't real customers but spies. I'll pay for the damage later and you have a set of Royal Guard armor lying in the room as a small something for your trouble."

Her eyes bulge and she puts a hoof to her mouth.

"No time to explain. Let's just take it as a proof that what I'm selling is REALLY interesting to the right ponies," I continue, "I have to leave Canterlot right now. I'll write you a letter if I get somewhere safely. I know you're the best at-MMPH!"

She gives me a sloppy kiss which nonetheless calms me down.

"Do what you have to, hun. Just remember that if you're pulling my leg I'll find you and bite your cock off," she smiles widely.

"Better bring your diamond dentures then because mares aging like good wine make me rock hard," I return the smile.

"Good luck, Icy."

"Same to you, Rosie. I hope you don't get into trouble for this."

"Heh, I'd like to see somepony try. Me and my girls know the streets and sewers around here better than anypony. We can blend into the shadows easily if things get too hot."

I run.

After taking few corners I hide into a dark alley and listen for hoofsteps. It's difficult to hear anything in the ongoing storm but after freezing with my mane and coat still damp with nopony showing for five minutes I trot to the train station to keep myself warm.

There's a bank open at this early morning, or late night, hour along the way where I undergo a scan and withdraw all my money. If I manage to get the word out to my friends to get me what they are keeping safe for me then I should have a decent sum on me later. This way I don't have to worry about anypony tracking me through my bank transactions.

Looking at the train schedule I'm working out my next destination.

The problem is that I need to sell the blueprints soon because I have no idea how good the mirror world magic is for tracking ponies. Now, the Griffon Empire seems like the best place to get enough money but what I said to Rosie was true. Griffons, as a government, might go crazy and try to attack Equestria again using my technology. I would rather not see that.

Manehattan seems to be a good choice to go next then but while the city is huge it's a bastion of light and law similar to Canterlot where Royal Guards might be able to easily track me down within days.

What about a place where light doesn't shine, law has less value than money, and ponies will do anything for a bottle of vodka?

That's not a terrible idea and who has more money than greedy drug lords and corrupt local officials? Nopony.

With that in mind I book a ticket for the first train north to Stalliongrad.

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