"Picking Up the Pieces"
"It's good to see you up and around," the doctor said, and smiled her best.
The mare did not answer in kind, her gaze particularly acidic as she looked over the lilac coated doctor. The doctor ignored this and used her magic to hover a clipboard at eye-level, her horn glowing gently as she surveyed the treatments and other doctor's notes about this patient. Clockwork could already guess what more then a few of those comments said: that she was surly, uncooperative, and mean spirited. She knew the doctors and nurses were only doing their best to help her, and after her brush with death, she really should be more appreciative, but she just couldn't cobble together much appreciation right now not after what Princess Luna had told her.
It also didn't help that, after two weeks of being stuck in a hospital bed, she was starting to feel a little claustrophobic. That was one of the reasons she had forced herself from the bed, ignoring the aches and pains of her still healing body, and was slowly making her way down the hallway. She had a destination in mind, possibly the one pony who had more right to be angry at the world then she did. She had to shake the bitterness creeping into her heart, and if Ironjaw couldn't help her stave it off, no pony could.
Clockwork mumbled something incoherent to the doctor as she slowly shuffled past. Doctor Violet was truly a fantastic doctor, and despite the underwhelming response, and never stopped smiling. In a way it was almost like the doctor understood her pain, even if there was no way she could. How could she understand being recruited onto a team, finally earning a place amongst them, making fast friends with a majority of its number, only to see the whole thing fall apart in the space of a week? One member so broken that even the best unicorn mages might never be able to heal his spine. Another vanished as she was forced into an "Apotheosis" the Princess had called it, and kidnapped by the very enemy she was being trained to fight. Finally, she was told that after she survived a brush with death at the hands of Ultrapony, that she was being dropped from the team due to that very same fight. It was a stroke that essentially meant she would lose the rest of the friends she had made.
Clockwork's breath hissed through her teeth, her hoof-falls barely echoing as she continued her journey. She wanted to scream at Luna, she wanted to cry about how unfair it was, she wanted to stomp her hooves like a filly throwing a temper tantrum. Life wasn't fair, but dammit, she was in the RIGHT! Ultrapony had attacked her! Was she not supposed to defend herself? Was she supposed to let him kill her? Was she supposed to be thankful that the Princess saw fit to pay for her healing and not tossed her from the Agency entirely? She didn't care if the Equestria Daily had spent the past two weeks reporting on the incident as if it was HER fault! Reporting as if she were the responsible party and somehow dragged Ultrapony into a brawl with her, and acting as if she were somehow staining the reputation of the Agency. She understood that Ultrapony was the most famous and most popular Agent in Equestria, but how did it make it HER fault?!? Can no pony see past that foal's reputation? Did no pony care?
Clockwork gritted her teeth and forced herself to continue walking, feeling the pull of newly healed flesh. Her coat hadn't grown over it all yet, and she was still terribly weak, but she was far better then when she had been admitted. According to the doctors, Ultrapony had broken five of her ribs, one of which had punctured her left lung. Furthermore, her left shoulder had been broken at the rotor cuff and dislocated so badly it may never be back to one-hundred percent. Right now, Clockwork would settle for fifty percent, and stumbled when she put too much weight on the leg in question.
Finally, she reached her destination. A glance was spared for at the clock over her shoulder, and she made a face. It had taken her twenty minutes and some change just to hobble down a single hallway to this room. She felt a pang of guilt that she hadn't been here sooner. The doctors had kept her in a magically assisted coma for 3 days to prevent over-taxing her lung after they healed it. This was the first time she'd been strong enough to force her way out of bed, and had been surprised the doctor hadn't steered her right back into it. Maybe the doctor understood better than Clockwork thought .
A braying laugh told her that Ironjaw was awake, and probably flirting with some nurse. She grimaced, hoping some of his good cheer would rub off on her, and limped her way into the hospital room. She rounded a short corner designed to give him some privacy, and she saw that she was indeed correct, but she found herself struck dumb by what she saw. Before her wasn't the chrome pony she'd known since she was a filly, but a silver-grey coated stallion with a short black mane and chocolate brown eyes.
"Stop it " the nurse laughed, a pretty unicorn filly with a soft cream coat and a pink mane and tail, "You'll get me in trouble."
"Then we will be in trouble together, ya?" he laughed, then spotted the newcomer before she could shake off the stupor, "Little Key?!?
"I I heard you might need some cheering up," she answered with a wan smile.
The nurse, to her credit, coughed to hide her incredulous expression as the stallion brayed in laughter, "Then come here, ya? You cannot cheer me up from way over there!"
Clockwork slowly worked her way across the room, the nurse staying nearby just in case she stumbled, and laid out a cushion for her to sit on. The small mare nodded her thanks, and the nurse hovered only for a few more moments before slipping out and giving them some privacy.
"You look like you went ten rounds with Destroyer Imp instead of me, Little Key," the stallion chuckled, but Clockwork only winced at the reference.
"Worse, I went three rounds with Ultrapony."
"Get out!" Ironjaw cried, his surprise obvious, "I thought Flourish was JOKING about that! You really put HIM in the hospital?!?"
"That's what Princess Luna said."
"HAH! Our Little Key isn't so little anymore, ya?" he laughed, "If we were home, I would buy you a root-beer."
"Did Flourish mention anything else?" she asked softly, feeling a twinge of guilt about laying this at his door, he who might never walk again.
"No, but Galaxi mentioned that you were feeling out of sorts and refusing to see her," he said, his tone dipping, "You want to tell old Skillet what the problem is?"
"Skillet?" she asked carefully.
"Ya, my name before Ironjaw. Personally, I like Ironjaw better, but eh, you do not choose what parents name you, ya?" he offered with a smile.
Skillet shifted on the bed, reaching a hoof to lie on her shoulder, "Little Key, you and I are family. Widget and I were brothers in every way but blood. I was there for much of your later school years, helping him out after your father passed. We are in dire straights now, but it is never as bad as any-pony believes. Things only can get better when you reach rock bottom, ya? Now you tell me what is wrong."
"I I was booted from the team."
"For the fight with Ultrapony, ya?" he asked, and Clockwork nodded mutely, her head lowering.
"I found a team friends I could count on. You, Flourish, Tome Galaxi. Now now I've got nothing again," she answered softly.
"Nyet, you never have nothing," came the firm answer, "You will ALWAYS have Skillet, and you will always have your friends. You only loose friends when you turn your back on them, which I am guessing you have been doing this week."
"How did you ??"
"They come to visit me too, Little Key. They talk to old Skillet, and he finds out what their problems are too, ya?"
"But how? How do you manage to stay smiling?" she asked, her eyes filling with tears, "It felt like Luna ripped my heart out when she gave me the news. Dammit, it WASN'T MY FAULT!! Ultrapony attacked ME! He'd done it once before and now now he's somehow managed to take everything away ."
"Everything?" Skillet asked softly, "You are still alive, ya? You are not dead, you fought back admirably against strongest Special known in Equestria, and you are still part of Agency. You only lose one thing, ya? You lose your place on team, just as I have."
Clockwork winced visibly, "I I don't want to compare You have far more reason to be bitter then me."
"Little Key, I understand," he said gently, "But this team is supposed to be the best of the best, ya? Is it the 'best' if you are fighting each other? If it was somewhere unseen, it would be different, it could be swept under the rug. But it happened here in Canterlot, in front of Royal Guard, Emergency Services, and at least a dozen reporters. That does not look good for any-pony involved."
"Great, killed by bad press " Clockwork growled.
"Nyet, Little Key. The politicians and the majority of Equestria, who do not share our powers, are scared of us. This fight, like it or not, feeds into their fear. It forces Luna to act more heavy hoofed then she normally would, ya?"
"So I have to loose everything I struggled for these past months?!?" Clockwork demanded, stomping a hoof weakly on the side of his bed.
"What, exactly, did you loose, Little Key?" Skillet asked pointedly.
"I lost my place on the team! I lost my friends! I lost I lost " the mare broke down, burying her face in her hooves on the side of Ironjaw's bed. The stallion gently stroked a hoof over her head.
"You loose nothing, Little Key," he answered softly, "You still have your friends. You still have me. You still have Galaxi. You have earned respect of both Princess Luna and Princess Celestia. You have earned too much to be bitter about what you have lost. You have stepped from your brother's shadow, and became a hero and agent in your own right. Widget would have been proud of you, as am I. The pressure you were under only encouraged you to grow and meet every challenge. Would you let this challenge destroy everything you have earned?"
"If I earned her respect, she'd have respected me enough not to toss me from the team," Clockwork complained, pouting childishly.
"If you had not earned her respect, she would have tossed you from the Agency," Skillet pointed out, "Possibly even banished you to the ranks of Unregistered. If she did not respect you, she would not have planned to bring up Ultrapony on a list of legal charges that would have landed him in a dungeon, maybe on the moon, for many many years. Instead, Princess Celestia seeks your services after you have healed, to act a liaison to the Unregistered Colonies of the Northern Reaches."
"W-where did you hear that?"
"Both Princess Luna and Galaxi tell me," Skillet said with a smile, "It seems you made very good impression on Crusaders when we were there."
Clockwork made a face, "Only because I saved that unicorn."
"Ah, I sense a story there, Little Key," Skillet chuckled, shifting on the bed, "I heard little about what happened during that fight. Flourish only give me basic details, Luna just tell me not to worry about it, and Galaxi turned green when I ask."
Clockwork nodded slightly, but her gaze was on the stallion, meeting his chocolate eyes for several long moments, "How do you do it? You have every reason to be mad at the world, yet you're still smiling."
"I do not let myself dwell on what I do not have," he said, pulling the small mare into a gentle hug, "Is old lesson Momma Kettle taught me when I was but a colt. I only loose metal coating, but what makes me 'special' is in here, in my heart. Nothing can take that away unless I give it away, ya?"
"No 'buts', Little Key. I only lose metal shell. I only lose back legs. But my mind and my heart still work. I still live, and I can still contribute."
"How do you plan to contribute?" Clockwork asked carefully, scrubbing a foreleg across her face.
"Ah, that is simple," he laughed, "Princess Luna say that a certain cook is feeling unappreciated working for us. I offer to take his place, ya? May be a long time since Skillet use Momma's old recipes, but that does not mean I cannot cook up a storm, ya?"
"Well you were always handy in the kitchen," she admitted.
"Exactly! Ironjaw is not about to let little bump in the road stop him from helping. Besides, Princess Luna is importing a specialist from Baltimare who thinks he may be able to fix my spine, at least partially," he said with a warm smile, "Whether he succeed or not, it warms my soul to know that Princess care enough to try. If she will not give up on me, why would I give up myself, ya?"
"Ya " she answered weakly.
"Now then, you tell me the story, ya?," Skillet smiled broadly.
"You really want to know?" Clockwork asked softly, feeling oddly like a filly.
"Ya! I want to know how that big monstrosity was taken down! Then I MUST hear how you took down Ultrapony a peg or two."
"Unfortunately," the mare hedged, "Ultrapony did the heavy lifting on the Imp."
"What about part you mention with unicorn Echo was it?"
Clockwork blushed, and for the first time gave a small smile. It wasn't much, but it was a start, "Well alright. So that massive Imp was roaring his victory after ."
"After smashing me, ya?"
"Er, yeah," she said, then slowly warmed to the telling, "Well Ultrapony flies up in it's face and the blasted thing grabbed that big tree he was using as a club and tried to swat him from the air. Ultrapony literally caught it mid-swing and tossed it over his shoulder. Next thing I know, somepony is screaming 'Sweetie Belle', and I turn to notice the tree/club is flying right to where we had the ambush set-up, and Echo was still there trying to catch her breath ."
"I don't like it, Celestia."
"I am sorry, but I thought you were looking for replacement members " the elder sister said as the two walked side by side.
"Not that, Celly. If anything I'm eager to test her out," the younger sister cut in, "I mean having to pay bits for her. That just rubs me the wrong way "
"That is because it is slavery by a different name," Celestia answered, ducking her head slightly as the pair walked out onto the field.
"Then why don't we put a stop to it?" Luna demanded, "If it's so wrong "
"Because we are not prepared for another war with the Gryphon Clans, and they would only decry our interference in their way of life," she answered simply, "And because we have our hooves full with this invasion from the stars."
"And to treat their specials so poorly, like they find them a hindrance and not a gift," Luna fumed.
"I agree, little sister, but again there is little we can do politically. We can only hope to steer them from this self-destructive path and offer protection to those who would seek it," Celestia gently reminded her sister, "They, and the dragons, split off many millennia ago from our ponies to live their own lives. Now the dragons have been hunted to extinction, and if our sources are correct, the Gryphon clans are being harassed into inaction by the Imps. If we are defeated, then the rest of Equestria will quickly fall to the Nightmare."
Luna sighed softly, and looked out across the exercise and training field she had been using for her team. A few ponies were out on it today, which was uncommon, but most were groundskeepers that Luna usually didn't interact with. Towards the center of the lush green field waited a pair of figures. By a gray unicorn Celestia's "acquisition" stood uncomfortably, a sleekly muscular gryphoness with slicked back feathers. Her blue eyes were sharp and aware, which made Luna smile thinly; the Gryphon's "servitude" hadn't broken her spirit. Before they were even close, the gryphon knelt down, a motion that Flourish echoed a few moments later when the Princesses came near.
"You may stand," Celestia said softly, and watched the pair rise, "Filigree, this is my younger sister, Princess Luna. She is organizing a team she hopes to take on the Imp invasion, and eventually strike at the source of said invasion."
"Understood," Filigree answered smartly, "But why would you want a low-caste freak like me to--"
Luna acted far more quickly then anypony (or gryphon) expected. She pressed her face right into the gryphon's, who backed up fearfully, eyes widening as they were almost beak to nose.
"First rule you are NOT a freak. I won't have you speaking down about yourself," Luna hissed, the anger from the previous conversation seething from her, "Second, we don't use castes here. Everypony is equal, even my sister and I. The ponies CHOOSE to revere us for our celestial duties, and our immortality, not because we forced our will upon them. Do you understand this?"
The gryphoness nodded and swallowed visibly. Then, as suddenly as it overtook her, Luna's fury seemed to melt away as she turned on a hoof and trotted back over to Celestia.
"Now then Filigree, my sister has said you have some abilities," Luna said, as though nothing happened, "Would you mind terribly telling me what you did with those powers for your homeland?" Filigree glanced furtively to Flourish, who shrugged slightly, before looking back to the Princess.
"N-nothing," she stammered, answering honestly, "I was a servant, expected to give my life for the Prince to protect him against an assassin. It was felt that the nearly unbreakable nature of my metal wings would serve to stave off an assassin's claw. I am a back-up plan, plain and simple. Otherwise I was just another personal servant, albeit a servant with long hours of training in the art of combat with wing and claw."
"That would explain the extra bits the Prince desired for your purchase," Celestia noted, and the gryphoness cocked her head.
"Then the arrangement is final?"
"Almost," Celestia admitted, "The Prince seems to feel his father, the Arch-duke of the Storm-Peak Aerie, must approve first."
"Then my stay will be brief," the gryphon said sadly.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because Arch-duke Silverwing gave me to his son to protect him," she noted flatly, "The Arch-duke has become paranoid as his age advances, and fears an assassin's claw is destined for his son's heart to prevent ascension. He would not willingly allow protection, such as my abilities represent, to slip from his grasp."
To her surprise, Celestia smiled warmly, "I know the Arch-duke quite well. I had not heard his mental state was suffering so, but he is an old friend of mine. I think I can talk him into parting ways with your service."
"No offense, Princess, but I won't unpack."
Flourish couldn't help but giggle, "You didn't have anything to unpack anyway."
"Flourish!" Luna reprimanded the pony, much to Filigree's surprise, "We do not tease anypony for their misfortune."
Flourish dipped her head and bowed formally to the gryphon, "I apologize, Filigree. I meant it as a joke, not an insult."
Filigree was momentarily at a loss for words. If it had been one of her own kind, it would have been done as a taunt or a jest, but the unicorn seemed genuine to her, "I see no cause for insult," she managed after a moment. Flourish's smile returned as she stood back up.
"Now then " Luna interjected, her smile also having returned, "Filigree, why don't you show me what you can do. This is the field I use to train my team which has unfortunately suffered a major set-back recently."
"Is that why I only saw two members?" Filigree asked carefully, not wishing to draw the Princess' ire again.
"Exactly," Luna sighed softly, "We suffered a series of major losses. First was Ironjaw being grievously injured by a Destroyer Imp a very VERY large Imp with no wings that liked to use full size trees as clubs. Then we lost Tome due to some deviousness from the Imps, and she was taken for cause unknown. Ultrapony and Dragonfly came to blows, and unfortunately I was forced to dismiss both of them..."
"Didn't technically Ultrapony quit?" Flourish asked jokingly.
"Dragonfly remains in the hospital, recovering from the injuries of that fight," Luna continued, ignoring Flourish, "This has left me in the uncomfortable position of needing to refill the posts with only Galaxi and Flourish remaining on the team. As good as they are, they cannot pull the weight of a 6 pony team."
"Then I stumbled across you," Celestia said to the gryphon, "and I sensed you had that spark within you. Even were it not such a dire time, I would have petitioned you to join my sister's Agency, however through different channels. Despite this, I wager that your circumstances will improve dramatically with this more brute-force method of recruitment."
"I cannot deny the truth of your words, Princess," the gryphon nodded.
"That said, Filigree, you're on," the younger sister stated with a half-smile, and her horn began to glow. The Gryphoness' eyes widened, and she released her ability, letting it flow down her wings. The sensation was always so welcoming, like a muscle you clenched tightly for far too long. Her wings, now coated in chromed metal, swept forward in an arc of protection. Just in time, it seemed, as an illusory Imp slammed headfirst into it. The gryphon marveled that she felt the impact upon her wings, but wasted no time sweeping them away from her, and pushed the attacker back as she had been taught. Her body arched as she adopted a proper fighting stance, recalling all those lessons when her ability formed, barely a fledgling herself, when she was taught to protect and destroy any assassin out for royal blood.
The gryphon smiled as the "imp" dove at her again, and she ducked, swinging her metal wing around. She hit the imp with the serrated edge of her feathers, and pulled it through its body like the blade of a saw. She was satisfied when she glanced the bisected illusion of the imp starting to fade, but she continued her turn, senses alert as she swung a claw around to catch another imp squarely in the chest. Her motion continued through the imp, pushing it away with surprising force. She continued the graceful turn, and her wing lanced through another illusory Imp with a motion that seemed almost casual. All those years she could only watch and wait, unable to act. Now, for the first time, she was being given the chance to turn her training to a worthy cause. The Nightmare, who had sent those creatures, who destroyed the Aerie of her parents and who almost destroyed her clan, was now to be her target. She had the chance to avenge the loss of her family and of her clan
Filigree would treasure this day, and hold every second close to her heart until the Arch-duke called her back, and forced the yoke of servitude back upon her neck. Until then, she was the weapon of the Sister Princesses, a role she planned to fulfill to the utmost of her potential. A sense of pride swelled through her, and she barely prevented herself from grinning. Her taloned hand gripped the last imp about the neck and drove it to the ground, dissipating the illusion as Filigree realized she had fallen into that mid-way place between consciousness and motion, and had been reacting purely by instinct. She carefully surveyed the area once more, and satisfied there were no additional threats, settled on her haunches.
"Celestia when you pick 'em " Luna breathed, her jaw hanging slack.
Celestia smiled, "I think my sister means, 'Welcome to the Team'."
"Pardon the intrusion, Princess."
Luna stopped her pacing and looked to the guard, then stepped forward to intercept him. Celestia turned partway away from the letter she was reading, where she had been trying hard to pretend she did not miss the "friendship reports" of her late student's youth, "What is it?"
"I have the report on Ultrapony you requested," the gold armoured pegasus stated as he bowed low.
"Report then, Commandant," Luna ordered.
"We were unable to follow Ultrapony, as you anticipated, but we were able to track down his last place of residence in New Ponyville," the guard said.
"Were you able to find anything?" Celestia asked curiously, letting the letter drop to the table by her side. This was her favorite sitting room, and with the windows open to let in the sun and breeze, it seemed more like a balcony then a room. Celestia loved it, as it was angled to catch the sun all day long, filling the room with warm light for the entire duration. Oaken furnishings decorated the room, tables and bookshelves mostly, but also a locked chest that contained some of Celestia's most prized possessions: the 'gifts' left to her from her precious students, now passed.
"Yes and no, Princess," the guard answered, seemingly uncertain.
"We were unable to find any evidence of Ultrapony, his deeds, or even his intentions. In fact, it seemed as if he had not been to this location in at least a month," the guard answered.
"A dead end then," Luna sighed.
"Wait sister," Celestia said softly, then looked to the guard, "What did you find?"
"It would be easier to introduce you, Princess." The sisters looked to each other as the guard turned and motioned with his wing. From the doorway, another guard entered, escorting a pegasus filly on the cusp of mare-hood.
"Hello, who is this?" Celestia asked warmly as the new guard and the filly both bowed properly. The Princesses both took a moment to measure up the newcomer, eyes moving over her snow white coat and rainbow colored mane, as well as the star shaped cutie-mark filled with a rainbow of colors.
"She said her name was Rainbow Star."
"You may rise," Celestia said, and watched the guard and this new filly stand.
"If I might," Luna asked, and Celestia nodded, allowing her younger sister to take the lead, "What were you doing in the home owned by Ultrapony?"
The filly cocked her head slightly, "I've always lived there, even if even if he hasn't been around much lately. Truth be told, I was starting to worry about him."
"Why is that?" Celestia asked smoothly.
"Because he has difficulties," she answered evasively, "And as far as I know, I'm the only pony who is able help him."
"I'm afraid you'll need to enlighten us," Luna said gently.
"I I would rather not if I could avoid it," she said, looking away, "Some of it is intensely personal."
"Then let us start with something simple," Celestia said with a gentle voice, "What are you to Sunset Sparkle?"
"He he's asked me not to speak on that," Rainbow Star answered, "I think he's embarrassed of me, and hopes to keep me hidden."
"Do you know why we are looking for Sunset Sparkle?" Luna asked.
"No ma'am. I only suspect he must have lost his temper and gone too far."
"You would not be incorrect," Celestia said, nodding, "He got into a fight with a teammate and nearly killed her."
"It wouldn't happen to have been Clockwork Key, would it?"
Luna's eyebrow raised, "It was, but how did you know?"
"He would rant about her on occasion in the past few months during his infrequent visits," Rainbow Star said softly, and paused for a moment, as if struggling with herself. Finally she seemed to sigh, lowering her head as she resigned herself to reveal all to the Princesses, "Ultrapony has a steak of insecurity, which he tries hard to ignore and hide under bravado and bluster, but when it gets too much he comes back home to me. Usually I can keep him from lashing out at anypony, but from what you said, it is too late this time."
"What would he have to be insecure about?" Luna asked, looking confused.
"You, of all ponies, should understand Little Sister," Celestia said gently, "Was it not your insecurities when compared to me that caused your fall to Nightmare Moon?" Luna's eyes flashed wide, then looked away, trying to hide her flush. Celestia immediately moved to her side and draped a wing comfortingly over her sister.
"But " Luna tried to argue, but the thought drifted away and she huddled under the wing like a filly.
"However," Celestia continued, looking to Rainbow Star, "No pony I am aware of could compare with Sunset Sparkle's abilities."
"Maybe not," the young mare answered, "But it's all about perception. Clockwork Key's mechanical suit was the threat he worried about. Her brother was a top agent, and one of the few 'specials' he felt might grow to be more powerful than he is. When Miss Key started to create a new suit, he was terrified. When she achieved a Sonic-Rainboom, something only a few 'Special' pegasai can achieve, he felt his fears were validated. He grew up in the shadow of his mother, and now he felt as if a new shadow were threatening to overtake him."
"I imagine that's a feeling you understand well," Celestia offered gently.
"Yes ma'am, I " and then filly stopped dead, realizing what she just admitted.
"Do you know who your mother is?" Celestia pressed.
Rainbow Star dipped her head, "No. Father only said it was one of his indiscretions."
"Surely you didn't live there alone? You're too young "
"Until her death, Lady Sparkle would visit frequently and help take care of me," she said softly.
Luna sighed, "That explains why Sunset Sparkle took Twilight's death so hard; she was a surrogate grandmother."
"I wonder why Twilight felt the need to hide this from me?" Celestia mused, momentarily lost in thought.
"He he felt Miss Key was taking everything from him. His Godmother, his reputation, his place in life everything. He felt she was almost literally staging an attack against the very essence of who he was." Rainbow Star concluded.
"Rainbow Star," Luna asked softly, "Are you a 'Special'?"
"Of course, Princess. It runs in the family."
"Hello Professor," Luna said softly as she entered the darkened lab. It was oddly stark and empty, save for the monitors about the orange unicorn that glowed a sickly green, painting his white streaked mane a grotesque shade of puce.
"I am zuprized to zee you here, Princezz," the stallion offered, not turning to face her as he spoke, "Vat bringz you to my lair."
Luna sighed softly, "I've been notified by the Canterot Sciences Board that they wish the return of the laboratory Clockwork Key was using prior to her dismissal. They recommended I speak directly to you about this, since it was your lab prior to her entry. To my knowledge, you are still the foremost expert on robotics in all of Equestria."
"Ah yez, I remember Mizz Key," he hissed softly.
"I do hope you don't harbor a grudge against her."
"Ov courze not!" the professor cried, "Vy vould I hold a grudge againzt ze mare who zingle handedly deztroyed my reputation?"
Luna winced slightly, "The apology made by myself and the review board was not enough?"
"Vy vould you apologize?" the unicorn demanded, his glasses catching the glare of the monitors and obscuring his eyes, "You vere not at fault. Ze culprit iz ze vun and only Mizz Key. But ah, if zhe iz no longer in your zervice, zen I cannot demand an apology from her, can I?"
"I vill accept ze pozition you offer, Prinzezz," the orange unicorn stated, his grin so wide it seemed oddly predatory to the Alicorn, "I vill take great pleazure in dizmantling Mizz Key's vork, and ztudying it in every detail."
"Very well," Luna offered softly, "You know where the lab is. Your instructions are to study Clockwork Key's work, and if possible reverse engineer it for future advancements to pony-kind."
"I underztand," he answered, that fierce grin and glare hidden eyes looking back to the Princess.
"V-very well. Princess Celestia and I will expect frequent reports on your progress," she finished, and pushed her way out of his lab. She had to stifle a shiver, relieved to be out from under his unsettling gaze.
The unicorn watched as the Princess left, the smile all but painted on his face with such a false brush his jaw was beginning to hurt, but he couldn't let the laughter that bubbled up behind it slip free before the Princess. It would give his mirth away, and his chance for revenge on the
"No," he chided himself, "Ve muzt ztay zivil. Ve cannot prove ve are zuperior unlezz ve act and live ze part."
The unicorn let his smile relax, and the laugh he had been stifling bubbled through and echoed about the darkened lab. The delicious irony was that little Clockwork Key screwed up royally; it was all over the papers. She was not called Clockwork there, but the Canterlot Edition of The Equestria Daily made it easy to recognize her handiwork, especially since he had been watching her so closely. Calling herself "Dragonfly" could not hide her from his gaze.
His hooves itched to tear the cords out of that damnable AI she had as well, the one who so blithely ruined his career with false accusations of illicit material. He snorted audibly, pornography of the Princesses indeed, as if he'd want to clop to them. Now that little mare rested in the hospital after taking on Ultrapony, the single most famous Special in all of Equestria, and perhaps the most loved too. It's too bad Ultrapony didn't hit her a little harder, but no matter. If she stuck her nose into his business again he would be sure to cut it off. Once he had her secrets .
His grin widened, genuine and dark. He had plenty of time to ponder the best way to incur his vengeance. Humiliation, yes humiliation first. Embarrass her as she embarrassed him, show her how it feels to have everypony turn their back on you for something you did not do. It would be simple to have one of her designs hurt somepony, maybe even kill them, that would make for such a wonderful scandal. Maybe maybe when she hit rock bottom, he would offer her a hope of salvation. Oh yes, the irony, let the brilliant little engineer work for him. He would be able to legally steal her designs, and she'd thank him for the generosity!
A giggle passed his lips at that thought, but he shook his head. She was too clever to stay on his reigns for long. But then he could easily arrange an "accident". Permanently remove her once and for all, meanwhile he would gather up the accolades from her designs.
A small thought niggled at him, and he frowned. She tasted the life of the Agency, as an agent, as a hero. What if she opted not to give it up, but continued as an operative?
His smile returned, darker then ever, "Zen ve uze her own technologiez againzt her. It vill be ze big zcandal, hero killed by her own dezignz. Or, perhapz perhapz I can make it look az if zhe iz faking her own heroizm. Even in death, zhe vould never live it down."
"Vun vay or anuzzer, Mizz Key, you vill fall to Profezzor Burner."