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So I'm gonna be chucking up what I've got so far of my MLP:FiM fic starring the Cutie Mark Crusaders bein' awesome. So far only have the prologue written, but it still clocks in at around 10k words.

Contains adventure, cartoon violence, and stalkerloo refs.
“That's it Sweetie Belle, stay focused...”
Rarity watched with a smile on her face as her little sister concentrated. The sputtering light-pink aura surrounding the plate was wobbling, but the plate was staying in place several inches off the table. Sweetie Belle, her horn glowing with a matching light, had her eyes shut and her face screwed up as she struggled to keep the plate afloat.

“Rarity... I'm losing it!” The light partially flickered out, and the edge of the plate dropped.

“Alright Sweetie, lower it gently, try to keep it...” She trailed off as she watched. The plate was beginning to spin around the point that was still glowing, slowly at first, but with increasing speed as the little unicorn held her concentration. It quickly became a blur, spinning out of control as Sweetie Belle clenched her eyes shut in focus trying to stop it. She let out a yelp as her horn sparked brightly before going dark, the little filly toppling backward as the plate whizzed over Rarity's head and crashed into the wall.

“...Sorry.”

Rarity shook her head. This was why she wasn't using the good plates. Not anymore, at least.

------------------------

The next day saw the Crusaders at the clubhouse before the sun had finished clearing the horizon.

“So, what's the plan fer crusadin' today?” Scootaloo shot a smile at Apple Bloom before pulling a rolled up piece of paper from her bag.

“Today, I'm thinking...” she unrolled the paper with a flourish. “Cutie Mark Crusader freerunners!”

The paper was a map of Ponyville, with a dotted line leading from a poorly-drawn representation of the crusaders to various buildings. Buildings that, incidentally, happened to have rooftops that were rather close together.

“Isn't this like when we tried to be Cutie Mark Crusader re-roofers though? I think we would have gotten a Cutie Mark for climbing around on rooftops by now if we were gonna get one.” Scootaloo smiled and shook her head at Sweetie Belle.

“Last time we were just climbing up and hammering on the roof. This time it's all about speed and control!” She jumped and gave a brief flutter for emphasis before falling back down. “It'll be totally awesome, and we'll get our Cutie Marks for sure!” She turned to look at Apple Bloom, who'd been quiet since she outlined her idea. “Well what do YOU think about it? Pretty cool, huh?” Apple Bloom took a moment to respond, staring at the map with her chin on her hoof.

“Is this that map I made when we were tryin' ta be Cutie Mark Crusader cartographers?” At this, Scootaloo gestured to the corner that was currently occupied by a rather large mound of papers.

“Yeah, we're still working through them. Why?”

“Uhh... no big deal or nothin'. I just mighta drawn some of the buildings the same is all...” Looking at the map, it appeared that the first three buildings were painstaking replicas of those on the edge of town closest to the hideout. Every other building in Ponyville was drawn as a box with a pointy roof, a door, and a chimney. Even the library.

“...Rats, I was counting on that being the easy part, since all those houses are the same height.” Apple Bloom just sighed, and spoke up again.

“Well it's better'n nothin, and we're still banned from using the Acres on account of the whole Cutie Mark Crusader rave host thing, so I guess it's worth a shot. Lemme just grab the helmets.” Scootaloo responded with an ear to ear grin.

------------------------

Later, on her back forty feet in the air, Scootaloo reflected back on to where exactly her brilliant plan had gone off the tracks. It had started out fine, beginning with the three of them clambering onto the roof of a building just outside the town hall. Things had gone swimmingly as they managed to jump to the next roof over, even though Apple Bloom had needed to pull Sweetie Belle up. Things had started to go a little off when they accidentally crashed through that one window into somepony's living room, but had gotten back on course as Scootaloo led the charge out the open window on the other side.

No, the point where things probably started to go haywire was when they landed in that wheelbarrow somepony had left in their upstairs balcony. They had managed to keep it upright as they rattled down the roof, trailing loose shingles in their wake, but wheelbarrows are notoriously hard to control while the user is in front of the handles rather than behind them. The weathervane they hit became an impromptu figurehead for the craft; they arced out over the street and cleared several market stalls.

Even then, the day might have been salvaged if they hadn't plummeted directly towards a certain purple Unicorn who, with a reflexive spell, bounced them up as though they had hit a trampoline. Yes, that was probably where things got well and truly out of control.

Now beginning their descent from the bounce, the screams of her friends snapped Scootaloo back to the present. Well it may not have been their fault that they had been flung into the air, but darn it she thought, I'm not a Pegasus for nothing! Buzzing her wings, she managed to push herself sideways through the air to grab her friends hoofs. She'd never managed to fly before, but it was now or never. Scrunching her eyes shut, she buzzed her wings harder than she could ever remember. Slowly, she felt the pull of gravity shift, until it felt like she was ascending. Opening her eyes, she wondered for a moment why the sky was underneath her.
And then her world went dark.

She felt like she was being crushed.
She couldn't see, and for a terrifying moment she couldn't breathe either. Slowly though, a sliver of light pierced her vision, and her lungs allowed her to pull in a deep breath. As she opened her eyes, she saw her two friends on top of her, unconscious but unhurt. Looking around, she expected to see the ruined debris of something they crashed into, or else a unicorn who must have caught them. All she saw was a few orange feathers though, along with an otherwise unoccupied section of packed dirt road. She let her head thunk back onto the dirt, groaning a little. As she did, Apple Bloom stirred and opened her eyes.

“S... Scoot? Ya'll right?” As Scootaloo opened her mouth to tell her that she hurt all over, she found herself in a coughing fit instead. It was enough to roll Sweetie Belle's still unconscious form off of her while Apple Bloom stepped off. After a moment, it subsided. Scootaloo looked down, now able to see the damage that her friend's bodies had been covering.

Or rather, the lack of damage.
She hurt like she'd stepped in front of the Canterlot Express, but she didn't look bad at all. Her back felt bruised, but an experimental twitch of her wings and stretch of her legs showed that nothing was broken. She pulled herself up, groaning a little as she did so.
“Okay, Cutie Mark Crusaders Freerunners might not have been such a hot idea.” She looked up, and realized that they had cleared Sugar Cube Corner with their final bounce. “Apple Bloom, did you see anypony help us out there? Unicorn magic, or something?” Apple Bloom just shook her head.

“Nope, just remember you grabbin' us, then pullin' yerself under us. We both landed on you when we hit, I think we'd be a might more hurt if you hadn't been in the way! Speaking o' which, I'm surprised you're standin'; I would have thought that after that-” She was interrupted by a light-pink light from where Sweetie Belle lay. She was still unconscious, but her horn was glowing, along with a matching light across her rear legs. As the other crusaders watched, her back end lifted a few inches off the ground and started lazily rotating around her head, pivoting her slowly in place as her head lay on the dirt. She mumbled something to herself about Rarity and mud, as Apple Bloom looked back at Scootaloo with a smile.

“Let's figure this out back at the hideout.” Biting Sweetie Belle's tail, they set off for the hideout, leaving two trails of hoofprints and the mark of something being dragged.
“And then you guys were all like 'AHH!' and I was all 'WAHAH!'” Scootaloo bounced happily along the path back to the acres, a weary Apple Bloom and a freshly-conscious Sweetie Belle in tow.

“Yeah, we know. We were there, remember?” Apple Bloom was getting a little tired of hearing the story. They weren't even back to the hideout yet, and Scoots was already on her second retelling of it; already she was starting to embellish it. Sweetie Belle paused a moment to clunk a hoof against the side of her head, dislodging a piece of dirt from her ear on the side of her face that was now caked in grit from being dragged by Apple Bloom. Smiling, she turned to Scootaloo.

“Sorry, can you say that again? I couldn't hear any of that.”
Apple Bloom just groaned in frustration.

------------------------

By the time they reached the hideout, the sun was starting to set over the horizon and Scootaloo was regretting not taking her scooter. As she started to walk up the ramp, Apple Bloom stopped her.

“Remember how we were havin' a hard time gettin' that piano up when we were been Cutie Mark Crusader lounge musicians?” Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle nodded an affirmative. “Well, I got to thinkin' that there had to be a better way. So I built...” Turning, she grabbed a piece of shrub and pulled the hastily placed foliage away. “An elevator!”
It was really more of a pile of scrap wood that had been collected from around the farm, with some similarly scavenged rope rising up and disappearing into the branches above. A smile quickly appeared on Scootaloo's face.

“Awesome! Can we try it out?” She hopped up onto the platform.

“Sure can! Come on Sweetie Belle!” The other two jumped up, and Apple Bloom went to work on where a rope was tied off to the tree from the branches above them. “Now just hang on, I haven't actually tested it for ponies yet, I was using Tom when I was doin' the setup.” Sweetie Belle suddenly looked rather frightened.

“Wait, Tom as in-”
She never got a chance to finish as the platform, calibrated for a certain sedimentary somebody, sprang into the air.
The floor of the observation tower thumped loudly three times, and a small white horn punched through the wood.
“Ow.”

------------------------

Covered in sap and tree leaves (again), the Crusaders sat in the hideout.

“Hey Apple Bloom, think it's cool if we stay over tonight? It's not like we have school tomorrow.” Apple Bloom pondered for a moment, before smiling.

“Yeah, AJ said she was gonna be makin' some apple jam tonight. She gets pretty focused on that; she probably won't notice we're still out here.”

“Awesome! What about you, Sweetie Belle?”

“Rarity has a big order from Canterlot that she needs to have ready soon.” The other crusaders knew by know that Rarity having a big order generally meant that Sweetie Belle could get up to just about whatever she wanted, as long as it didn't interrupt her big sister.

“Then it's settled. CUTIE MARK CRUSADER SLEEPOVER! Do we still have the stuff from last time?” Apple Bloom was already opening a worn looking chest.

“Sleepin' bags, stuff for smores, and that book of scary stories we got from Twilight!” Sweetie Belle cocked an eyebrow at that last one.

“We still have that? How long has that been overdue?” At the blank stares of her friends, she was compelled to explain. “...When were we supposed to bring that book back?”

“...Yer supposed ta bring books back?”

------------------------

In short order, Apple Bloom had a merry fire going in the little ring of stones they had set up as a fire pit a short ways outside the hideout. Scootaloo was already holding a marshmallow on a stick out over the flames, while Sweetie Belle was staring at the marshmallow in front of her with a look that was cow a cockatrice.

“Come... on... stupid... marsh... mallow!” Her horn began to glow, bathing the marshmallow in a matching light. A grin crossing her determined expression, she began to force the marshmallow off the ground and over the fire. For a moment, it actually seemed to be working.
Until the marshmallow began to deform.
“Oh no, not again!” The marshmallow was beginning to spin rapidly in place, and in its semi-solid form was starting to flatten out into a disc. “Scootaloo, open your mouth!” Unsure of her plan but having a decent guess, Scoot opened her mouth wide. A moment later, she flinched as her face was splattered with a white pancake of semi-molten marshmallow. Sweetie Belle smiled sheepishly.
“Well, at least not all of it missed your mouth.”

“Settle down ya'll, I found a good story!” Scootaloo wiped the cooling white glop from her eyes and looked over at Apple Bloom, who had the book open in front of her. “This here's the story of... the Seed Eater!” Sweetie Belle gave her a funny look.

“That doesn't sound scary. What's so bad about eating seeds?”

“Oh, nothin', nothin' at all. It's not even dangerous, as long as you aren't talking about him!” She was starting to get into her stride. “They say he wears a mask made of old cloth and branches, and that he smells like vultures.” Apple Bloom started creeping forward, head kept low to the ground. “You can't even notice him until the leaves are off the trees, and then there he is, sittin' in the branches! His arms and legs are all too long, and they say he just lays there in the branches, slowly wavin' back and forth, acting like he's part of the tree...” Apple Bloom tried to suppress her grin as she leaned back on her hind legs, looking up and slowly waving back and forth, her front hooves held over her head. “And then... he sees ya!” With a quick twitch of her head, she went from looking up to staring at her now quaking friends. Arms held aloft, she began to shuffle forward. “And when he sees you, and hears you talking about him...” All of a sudden Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, who had begun clinging to each other partway through, were aware of the fact that somepony or something was breathing on the back of their necks.

“Then he's gonna getcha!”

The two fillies screamed while Apple Bloom burst into a peal of laughter. Stepping towards the campfire and into the flickering light, Applejack smiled at her little sister.
“Shoot, I remember tellin' you that story last summer; you didn't sleep for a week!” Apple Bloom gathered herself up some, wiping her eyes.

“Yeah, good story though. I didn't think I was gonna be able to pull it off without hidin' a scarecrow in a tree like you did, though! Lucky thing you came along!” Applejack grinned.

“I was figurin' on scarin' you too, though. I can't seem to sneak up on you anymore.” She ruffled her sisters mane with a hoof. “Anyway, just came out here to see where the light was comin' from; don't want the trees catchin' fire now. Make sure ya'll get to sleep in decent time. I gotta get back to the jam.” With that she trotted off back towards the house, chuckling to herself. Apple Bloom smiled before turning back to her friends.

“So, does anyone else have a-”
Her friends bedrolls were empty, and she heard the door to the hideout slam shut.
“Wimps.”

------------------------

The next morning saw Pegasi ponies busily covering the sky. Today was scheduled for the almost universally disliked "overcast with periodic showers." To the three little fillies waking up to the sound of rain though, it was downright disappointing.

“How're we gonna get our cutie marks when it's like this! We already tried just about everything with mud, and the things we had planned for today don't work so well in the rain!” Sweetie Belle looked up from where she was drawing a big red X over a crayoned picture of a pony clinging to the underside of a kite, soaring through the clouds. She looked entirely too happy about it.
“Well, what about Cutie Mark Crusader calligraphers?”

“Calligra-what-now?”

“You know, calligraphy! Writing really pretty!” Sweetie grabbed the crayon she had been using and quickly made some lines with broad strokes on the back of the paper. She held it up to the others, grinning around the paper. They squinted as they tried to decipher the lines of loose swirls.

“Uh... yeah. I got nothing. Apple Bloom?” Apple Bloom was looking a little shocked, with a light blush across her features.

“Sweetie, I'm flattered, but I just don't... I'm not... eh... Igottagetadrinkberightback!” Apple Bloom bolted past her friends, and hopped outside. Sweetie Belle spat out the paper, looking a little disappointed.

“Well what were you trying to write?”

“It said 'if you can read this, I got my cutie mark.'” She turned and frowned at her still blank flank. “Nothing.” At that point, the door was thrown open by a now soaked and relieved looking Apple Bloom.

“Is THAT what it said? All right then, never mind!” She trotted back in happily, not seeming to notice that she was soaked. Meanwhile, Scootaloo was staring at one of the remaining maps of Ponyville, and one of her "we're-probably-not-going-to-escape-this-without-being-covered-in-tree-sap" smiles was creeping across her face.

“Well if we can't do something OUTside... We'll just have to do something INside!” She slapped down the map and pointed a hoof at Sugarcube Corner. “It's raining, and everytime it rains Pinkie Pie makes those caramel-filled chocolates!” At the thought of Pinkie's cara-fills, the others licked their lips.

“Great idea! I haven't had those in... well, since the last time we had rain!” Scootaloo grinned at Apple Bloom.

“No no no... you see, we're finally going to figure out Ponyville's greatest secret!” Sweetie Belle gasped.

“You don't mean...”

“I DO mean! Crusaders, today is the day...” Scootaloo reared up, striking a dramatic pose, “The day where we learn how Pinkie Pie gets the caramel into the cara-fills! We're going to figure out the Cara-fill secret!” Settling back down onto her haunches, she looked around at her excited friends. “Now I'm not gonna pretend it's not dangerous. Sugarcube Corner will be swarming with ponies, and Pinkie Pie moves crazy fast. She's been keeping this recipe secret for years! If we can sneak in there and get it, we'll get out cutie marks for sure!” They crusaders looked at each other, before breaking out into a cheer.

“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS-” they paused as they suddenly realized they didn't know what term to use.

“Spies?” Sweetie Belle suggested.

“Naw, spies aren't awesome enough.”

“Sneaks?” Apple Bloom volunteered.

“No, something cooler.” Scootaloo suddenly gasped. “I've got it!” She whispered something to the others, before standing back and starting the cheer again.

“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS BLACK OPS!”
“Wow Scootaloo, where didja get all this stuff?” asked Apple Bloom, her head and forelimbs inside the chest that Scootaloo had pulled from under a pile of junk in what passed for the closet.

“Oh, I was trying to set up a Rainbow watching club.”

“Well what's so hard about that? Just check when the next one's scheduled.”

“No, not that kind of rainbow.”
Apple Bloom leaned back out, a set of night-vision goggles strapped to her head.

“Oh.”
Sweetie Belle was busily pulling a tangled mess of straps and buckles out from the chest.

“Hey, what's this thing?”

“Oh, that's my climbing harness. Carabiners on the front and back for good weight distribution. It's great for when you're hanging from a rope off stuff. Actually, let me look, I think I have something in here for you.” Scootaloo buzzed over and began rooting through the chest. “Found it!”
She leaned back with what looked like a black scrunchie in her hooves. She turned to Sweetie Belle and plunked it down over her horn.

“What is it?” Scootaloo grinned at her.

“Horn silencer. It'll hide the light from your horn!” Her expression became slightly more serious for a moment. “Doesn't do anything to the light around whatever you're messing with, though.” Sweetie Belle crossed her eyes trying to look at it before turning to the chest and scrunching up her face in concentration. For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Slowly, a worn binder rose from the chest surrounded in a glow that was, for the first time, not mirrored by a similar glow from Sweetie Belle's horn. As Apple Bloom broke into a grin at this, Scootaloo's eyes went wide. Just as the binder began to rotate, Scootaloo dove on to it, snatching it out of the air. Sweetie Belle, her concentration broken, looked to Scoot in surprise. Scootaloo, clutching the binder to her chest, grinned and blushed a little.

“Sorry, this is, uh... top secret spy stuff.”
Apple Bloom was quite certain that she could see the corner of a photo with a lock of rainbow hair sticking out of the edge of the binder. Scootaloo got up and quickly stashed the binder back in the closet.

“Alright Crusaders, grab what you can use!”

------------------------------

“Darn, no Cutie Mark for montage scenes.” The Crusaders were doing their best to stay dry on the road to Sugarcube Corner. Apple Bloom was rigged out with the night-vision goggles she had found, along with one of a set of walky talkies that Scootaloo had managed to acquire (Sweetie Belle insisted that they were called Speaking Stones) and a set of horseshoes that were, at least in theory, supposed to make her hoofsteps quieter. Right now, all they were doing was squishing when she stepped in mud. Sweetie Belle hadn't found much else to her tastes, wearing only the scrunchie and a matte-black saddle. It was supposed to be a stealth outfit but, with her white hide, it made her look like a ponified cow.

Scootaloo was the only one who looked properly prepared. She had a black turtleneck on under her climbing harness, with a length of rope coiled around her midsection. She seemed all-together too used to moving in the gear, making the other Crusaders wonder exactly what it was she got up to when they weren't around. Scoots also was wearing some sort of utility belt, though she hadn't explained it before heading out.

“So let's go over the plan one more time.” Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle groaned; Scootaloo had gone over it several times already since they left the hideout. “Hey, I don't know how you guys are at being sneaky, and if Pinkie catches us there's no way we'll get our cutie marks.”

“But if sneaking is our special talent, shouldn't it be easy for us even without a plan?” Scootaloo glared at Sweetie Belle.

“Hush. Okay, so we know that the front door is gonna be packed, and Pinkie will be running into the back room way too much to try and sneak in the back door without getting noticed. That's why we're gonna climb up and go in the window! Pinkie never bothers to lock the window to her room, so we should be able to get in no trouble.” Apple Bloom leaned over to whisper to Sweetie Bell.

“How d'you reckon she knows that?” Sweetie just gave her an I-don't-want-to-know-and-neither-do-you look.

“Once we're in, we've got to be on the lookout for Gummy. He looks slow, but if we aren't careful he'll have Pinkie breathing down our necks before we know it.” She shuddered a little before continuing.
“That's where you come in Sweetie Belle. You can shuffle stuff around on the other side of the room and get him to look away so we can sneak in.”

“I don't know if me using magic is really such a good-”

“Don't worry, I know you'll do fine! Anyway, we should take a quick look around her room, on the off-chance that she's got her recipes written down somewhere. If we don't find them, we've-”

“SWEET CELESTIA, WE GET IT!” Scootaloo started at the combined voices of her friends.

“We know what we're doing! Besides, we're here!” Apple Bloom gestured ahead, to where a row of rather damp ponies were lined up outside Sugarcube Corner.

“Wow, it really is busy today!”

“Good, more customers means a busier Pinkie Pie! The busier she is, the less likely she is to notice us!” Scootaloo happily trotted around the building, the crusaders following her. She calmly shrugged her way out of the rope before pulling a few metal bars out of her belt.

"What about the Cakes? Won't they be back there too?" Scootaloo turned to Sweetie Belle, grinning happily.

“Nope, I heard Pinkie talking to Rainbow Dash about how she has Sugarcube Corner all to herself while the Cakes are in Canterlot! Probably catering or something." As she was talking, she was screwing one bar into the middle of another. "Now, the trick with getting up onto the roof here is that they've got more than one gutter. The frosting is actually just a decorative cover, and if you can hook the second gutter then climbing up onto the first part of the roof is easy.” She paused as she finished assembling the grappling hook, before tying it off to the rope. “I'll go up first and help you two up. Either of you ever climb a rope before?” The other two shook their heads, wondering when exactly Scoot had become intimately familiar with the architectural peculiarities of Sugarcube Corner. “All right. Just hang on to the rope and try to push up against the wall, I'll help pull you up.” Grabbing the rope in her teeth, she gave the hook a spin before launching it skywards with a practiced motion. One clunk and an experimental tug on the rope later, Scootaloo was on her way up. Assisted by her wings, she was up the wall in surprisingly quick time. “Okay Apple Bloom, grab on!” Apple Bloom eyed the rope warily before biting it and putting her front hooves against the wall.

“Rherhy!” The rope went taut, and Scootaloo could be heard grunting above.

“Try to climb Apple Bloom; you're heavy!” Apple Bloom glared at where she figured Scoot was standing before diverting her gaze and trying to find a hoofhold. A few minutes and an only slightly damaged window frame later, Apple Bloom was pulled onto the roof by a panting Scootaloo. “You gotta cut back on the apple pie! You weigh a ton!”

“Yeah? Well ya'll pull like a...” Apple Bloom was about to say filly, before realizing that that would lack impact. “...like Sweetie Belle!”

“Hey!” Sweetie Belle yelled from down below.

“Whatever, you're up now. Let's just get her up here. Sweetie Belle! Grab the rope!” A moment later the rope was pulled tight from below. Scootaloo reached for the rope but was blocked by Apple Bloom.

“Lemme show ya how you REALLY pull a rope!” Grabbing the rope in her teeth, she hauled back abruptly. Sweetie Belle squeaked from below as she was suddenly and unceremoniously hauled several feet into the air. On the roof, Apple Bloom realized that she had backed herself into the wall and was now sidestepping to try and find some room to pull.
Sweetie Belle's eyes went wide as she realized that she could see into the bakery from where she was hanging. The rope had shifted when Apple Bloom had given it the first hard yank, and she was now hanging directly in front of a window through which she could see the busy entryway to Sugarcube Corner. She tried to find something to grab to pull herself out of sight, but short of pawing on the glass there wasn't much she could do.

Actually, she realized, that wasn't entirely true. She had one option, but it wasn't a very good one. She was debating with herself, before she saw Pinkie Pie, dutifully manning the till, begin to turn around. Sweetie's pupils shrank to pinpricks before she was bathed in a light-pink glow and spun violently several feet to the right, out of sight of the window. She struggled to hang on, the burst of force she had put out making her spin fast enough that she thought she was going to be sick. For the next few moments, she just closed her eyes and tried to focus on just hanging on, until she finally felt her friends grab her shoulders and haul her up. She flopped on to the roof, waiting a moment for her stomach to settle.

“See? I'm not heavy, ya'll just don't know how to pull!”

“Yeah yeah, at least I didn't back into the wall. Whatever, let's get this show on the road.” Scootaloo walked over to the window and gave it a tug. Oddly, it didn't open. She shook it a bit, producing a rattling noise. “Oh come on! Why would she pick TODAY to lock it!” The others were already coming over, hopping up and leaning on the windowsill for a better view. Sure enough, a small hook bolted into the sill was sitting smugly through the eye of a matching bracket on the window. Scootaloo glared at it for a moment.
“...I don't suppose we could get cutie marks for breaking and entering?” The stare she got from Apple Bloom fairly kaiboshed the idea.

Meanwhile, Sweetie Belle was staring intently at the mechanism. It didn't look to be complex in any regard; the hook just looked to be pivoted into place. Casting a glance at her two friends busy discussing the pros and cons of a cutie mark for burglary, she bit her lip and turned back to the lock. Lowering her head, she focused on the hook. Okay dumb hook, you need to turn. And if there's one thing I CAN do with my magic, it's make things turn! An aura of magic sputtered into existence around the hook, patchy in places but holding. The hook shivered for a moment, before springing free of the hook and bouncing as it hit the maximum extent of its rotation in the opposite direction. Sweetie dropped the magical aura and hopped back, slightly giddy at having made her magic actually do what she wanted it to properly for once.

Apple Bloom was interrupted from her groove on the potential economic fallout and repercussions of having theft-based cutie marks (“Applejack would buck me into next week!”) by the window gently swinging open. Sweetie Belle beamed at her friends, as Scootaloo fluttered over to the window.

“I KNEW your magic would come in handy! Come on, let's check out the room while it's still packed downstairs!” Hopping up, she lent a hoof to the other Crusaders, and in short order they were all inside.

Pinkie's room was, as could safely be expected, something of an utter mess. There were old supplies littering the floor from several recent parties, at least two of which the fillies could remember having been present for. Scootaloo took a step forward.

“Apple Bloom, you search the third of the room over by the stairs. Let us know if anyone's coming. Sweetie, you take the third by the bed. I'll check the rest.” They took a moment for a hushed "Cutie Mark Crusaders Ace Investigators!" before splitting into their respective areas. Apple Bloom, after ensuring that the stairwell was clear, got to digging beneath a pile of old banners. After a bit, she had to come to the conclusion that there just wasn't anything there that wasn't part of a party at some point, meaning no recipe. As she was pulling some streamers out of her mane, she heard a loud whisper from the bed.

“I found something!” Sweetie had hopped onto the bed and opened up a seemingly unlabeled book. Her face lit up as she reached the title page. “This looks like the right thing! It's called the Candy Sutra, this'll have the recipe for su-” She stopped abruptly mid-word, after she turned a page. Her face now an expressionless mask, she closed the book. Staring straight ahead, she hopped off the bed, dropped the book to the ground, and pushed it back under the bed where she had found it in the first place. After walking away from the bed, she paused a moment. Looking up, she met the rather quizzical stares of her friends.

“That pony likes candy WAY too much.”

Just as Scootaloo was about to ask for clarification, Apple Bloom plowed the both of them from where they were standing to behind the mound of party supplies. Scootaloo opened her mouth to ask before Apple Bloom pressed a hoof to her lips and pointed toward the stairwell.

A pair of purple eyes crested the top and were quickly followed by a scaly green body. With a slow and steady pace, Gummy made his way into the room. He paused for a moment before turning and blinking slightly out of sync at the pile the Crusaders were hiding behind. As if not sure about it, he took a tentative step forward, followed by a few more. He began to slowly circle the pile, normally blank stare narrowing slightly as he sensed prey nearby. After getting as near as he could without being seen, he braced his small form and charged, as best as he was able. His prey, taken utterly by surprise, could do little as powerful jaws closed upon yielding orange hide.

The Crusaders heard a rubber squeak from the other side of the pile, having taken care to mirror the small alligator in his creeping around the pile. The sound of him chomping on the balloon they had pulled from the pile was the signal they needed. As quietly as possible (which was still rather loud, but with the rain on the roof proved to still be quiet enough) they charged helter-skelter down the stairs.
The defining sound of Sugarcube Corner was, at the moment, ponies milling about.
The Crusaders has seen the line outside but they hadn't quite realized just how packed the interior of the bakery actually was. Understandably, everypony was quite eager to get out of the miserable drizzling rain outside, even if that meant waiting in an area already filled past capacity. This wasn't one of Pinkie's parties; no furniture had been moved around to clear the floor. As such, though the store had contained many more ponies in the past, it was approaching a solid press of soaked bodies coming in from the cold. As fate would have it, this was one of the times when the Cakes were out of town.

“TWO FRITTERS AND A HALF DOZEN MUFFINS!” Pinkie's voice rang out like a clarion over the crowd. She moved like a whirlwind, having to simultaneously man the till, serve the seemingly endless line of ponies, and keep a constant flow of baked goods coming out of the kitchen. Pinkie, for her part, seemed to be in her element. Her main was frazzled, but there was a manic grin on her face as she tried to individually greet each customer as they came through.

To the Crusaders watching from the stairwell, it looked to be one of the most high-risk areas of the entire operation. Signalling the others into a huddle, Scootaloo leaned forward conspiratorially.

“Alright Crusaders, we gotta make it to the kitchen. Once we're back there, we'll be out of sight of the crowd, and as long as we keep a watch out for Pinkie Pie we should be into the easy part.” She cast a glance behind her at the crowd below. “There's no way we're gonna make it down the stairs with everypony facing this way, so what we really need is a distraction. Any ideas?” Apple Bloom tapped her chin before speaking up.

“Well, there's plenty o' stuff up in Pinkie's room, I could maybe find something noisy that we could toss at the far wall?” Scootaloo cast a glance up the stairs and gave a slight shudder.

“No good, Gummy is still up there. If he catches us, Pinkie catches us. I think we gotta work with what we got.”

“Is there anything in your belt we can use?” said Sweetie Belle, eyeing the band of pouch-encrusted fabric buckled around Scootaloo's waist. Scootaloo opened up some of the pouches, revealing that many were empty while a few contained some fishing line and little metal canisters, while a few others had some off-white capsules.

“Nothing that's any good here. If we need to put somepony to sleep or look for tripwires I've got us covered, though.” Apple Bloom made a mental note that Scootaloo had just set a new record for number of suspicious glances earned in the course of an hour.

“When this is all done, yer tellin' us where you learned and got all this stuff, got it?” Scootaloo smiled sheepishly at Apple Bloom. Sweetie picked that moment to prod Apple Bloom in the shoulder, a sly smile across her face as she looked out over the ponies milling about below.

“That idea about throwing something was a good one, and I think I just found something to throw...” She pointed down at a pony trying to cut a path back to the door, a box tied with string held in his mouth while a number of pies balanced on his back. He didn't look to be making much headway. The other Crusaders picked up on the idea quickly.

“You think you can actually grab one of those pies from here?”

“What's the worst that could happen if I don't? It's not like they'll see my horn glowing.” While she talked, Sweetie adjusted the horn silencer, making sure it was still securely in place.

“Eh, good point. Apple Bloom, get ready. If this works, we gotta be down the stairs and into the kitchen FAST.” Sweetie Belle narrowed her eyes, trying to watch the pies as ponies periodically stepped in the way of her line of sight. Focusing, she willed as much energy into her horn as she could muster. As she focused, she realized that she definitely had some amount of control that far out. She could, in a sense, feel the pies with her magic. Every time that she started to get a grip on one though, a lack of line of sight or the noise of the bakery interrupted her focus enough that she lost the spell. Grumbling a little, she clenched her eyes shut and tried to stop listening to the world.

To see the world through unicorn magic is somewhere between echolocation and finding one's way by touch. Sweetie could vaguely feel the presence of the ponies that her magic reached past, could feel the sorcerous warmth that radiated from the horns of other unicorns among the crowd. The shapes were blurry and indistinct- until she found what she was looking for. Like a blind pony feeling along a wall for a familiar doorknob, she could 'see' the pie pans as though they were etched in sunk relief. Oddly, the pies themselves were hazy at best, but she could see the pans as plain as day. Her eyes snapped open, a grin on her face and her eyes tinted with magic, before she reached out and yanked.

On the floor below, nopony was entirely sure what just happened. One moment it had been the usual busy press that Sugarcube Corner was on rainy days, and then... cherries. More specifically, cherry pie filling. Everywhere. The pies had flown on high from the midst of the crowd, before cratering into faces and flanks across the room. In the resulting chaos caused by ponies trying to get cherry filling out of their hair, impaled pie pans off their horns (only slightly more uncomfortable than chewing tinfoil) and trying to figure out who threw the things, nopony noticed the three small fillies slink down the stairs and bolt into the kitchen.

“Sweetie Belle, that was amazin'! I thought ya were just gonna toss one, not chuck 'em all everywhere at once!” Sweetie Belle smiled at Apple Bloom's praise as they began to relax, now that they weren't risking being seen by the crowd.

“Yeah, that went better than I was expecting it to. I guess I've thrown enough of Rarity's plates that I'm pretty good at tossing flat things by now.” Scootaloo cast a glance backwards at her friends, telling them to keep it down through her expression alone. She was fully 'in the zone', and was looking around for where Pinkie would be keeping a recipe book. As she looked up from the mess on the counter, her eyes went wide while her pupils shrank to pinpricks. She had just enough time to gesture frantically at the Crusaders to hide before she herself hit the deck. At almost the same moment, Pinkie Pie bounced into the kitchen wearing a rather malicious smile. She paused and sniffed the air, and looking around with a hungry glint in her eyes. Slowly, she rotated her head to the counter that Scootaloo was hiding behind, her face cast into a somewhat homicidal grin. Her friends could only watch from behind the stacked bags of flour they were hiding behind.

“Here chik-chik-chik-chik...” As she spoke, she moved towards the counter.
“I know you're around here somewhere!” Grinning, she picked up a rather imposing knife off the countertop and started to pace around it, eyeing the area that Scootaloo had disturbed.
“No use in hiding, I can smell yooouuuuu...” The knife dragged across the counter as she walked, disrupting the various baking goods there as the blade rattled against the wood.
Rounding the corner, she reared up and plunged the knife downward. It was all the Crusaders could do to not scream as they heard the knife thunk loudly.

“Elizabeak is gonna love this cake!” What Pinkie lifted from the cluttered table wasn't... well, wasn't what they had been afraid it might have been. Instead, it seemed to be a platter, the knife stuck into it beside the pile of pastry and icing that took up most of it. Platter held firmly in her mouth, Pinkie trotted happily back out to the front. Immediately after she left, Scootaloo fell sideways from her hiding place, trembling and panting for breath. She looked over at her friends, them huddling together in their hiding spot, before the three of them all broke out into a fit of nervous laughter.

“Oh man, for a minute there, I thought she found me!”

“An' when she was draggin' that knife toward ya, I just about passed out!” Scoot just nodded in agreement; she could feel her heart rate starting to come back down.

“Alright, let's get looking for that recipe book. And, uh, let's make sure we've got a good hiding spot to dive to if she comes back.” Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle nodded vigorously, and as they spread out to search the first thing they were all watching for was a good point to hide in a panic. Scootaloo checked the mess on the counter in more detail, laughing to herself as she saw the scattered sheets detailing how to assemble a chicken-shaped cake. Pushing it aside, she started sorting through the mess of dirty dishes, assorted ingredients, and recipes for seemingly anything BUT candy.

Sweetie Belle was faring little better. She'd opted for the part of the room furthest from the door to the front, and was using her telekinesis to push various books (or things that looked like books, as several scattered boxes could attest) off the high shelves. So far she'd found several things she recognized from the front of the store, several things she'd seen Rarity buy, and one extremely dusty book of “Sugar-free pastry recipes”. It didn't look as though it had ever been opened.

Apple Bloom had darted across the doorway to the far side of the room and was busily poking around near an industrial food mixer. She'd found some heavily batter-stained instruction manuals for the machinery, a few empty sacks of sugar, and... Hey, a pink notebook! That's a good sign! Flipping the page, her eyes went wide as she leaned back. Never in her young life had she ever seen a page with so many notes and pictures scribbled in the margins, such unreadable blocks of text that varied wildly in font size, or so many random interjections in what otherwise was trying to be a legible chunk of text- and she'd seen Scootaloo's social studies homework. She flipped the cover of the book shut. This was almost without question what they were after.

Diving across the exposed area of the doorway, Apple Bloom waved her friends over.

“Girls! I'm pretty sure I found it!” She opened it and showed it to them, letting the chaotic writing speak for itself. Sweetie Belle stared it down as though daring it to give up its secrets, while Scootaloo leaned back after a few seconds, blinking rapidly.

“Yeah, that's probably it. I don't think there's any way that we're gonna be able to read anything out of this though-” The Crusaders dogpiled into a corner as Pinkie Pie bounced back, balanced a tray of cupcakes on her unusually messy (even by Pinkie Pie standards) mane, and bounced back out.

“Let's just bring it back to the hideout and figure it out there. I'll just drop it off in her room when we're done!” The other Crusaders nodded their agreement.

“Sounds great, but...” Sweetie Belle interjected, “how are we getting out of here again?” The group looked at each other.

“Well... can't we just go back out the way we came in?” Scootaloo said.

“Past Pinkie Pie, up the stairs without being able to see anypony who I can throw stuff from to make a distraction, then past Gummy? Let's save that for a back up plan. There's gotta be another way out!” The three fillies began looking around, quickly writing off the air vents (too small, even for them), the window (in direct view of the door to the front), and trying to bake a portal through space and time (none of them had any practice at gypsy witchcraft). It was Apple Bloom who finally noticed the slightly obscured stairwell going into the basement.

“Come on, there might be a window down there we can git out of!” pouring out of their hiding spot, they rounded the corner and galloped down the stairs.

Pinkie stuck her head into the back room, one eyebrow raised.

“Huh, thought I heard something. Oh well!”

------------------------------

*THUNK* “OW!”

Scootaloo rubbed her head and stared up at what she had just run in to. There was no lighting in the stairwell, and with the entrance already obscured it had gotten dark fast. As Sweetie Belle forced a dim light spell into existence, they looked up at the door that Scootaloo had just slammed into.

“Dang Scoots, I think ya cracked the frame!” Sure enough, the wood near the handle was looking worse for the wear, and a thin sliver of light could be seen where the door met the frame, near the handle. Shaking her head, Scootaloo went up and tried to push the door open. It didn't budge.

“Great, it's locked. Now what?” Apple Bloom pushed her way past and started scrutinizing the door.

“Ya did a real number on it when ya smacked it there. Could probably bust it open if you gave it another run or two.” She looked over to see Scootaloo giving her an unbelieving look.

“Are you seriously saying we start breaking stuff?”

“Would ya prefer to explain to Pinkie that we went through her room, tried to take her book and chucked pies around the store?” Scootaloo glared, before giving a somewhat defeated sigh.

“We are in so much trouble if she catches us. Okay, stand to the side.”

Up above, Pinkie's groove was thrown off a little as her ears momentarily flopped down over her face.

“Alright, one...” Scootaloo pawed at the ground, staring down the door.

Wondering what the floppy ears were about, Pinkie's eyes suddenly fluttered.

“Two...” Scootaloo lowered her head, preparing to charge like a bull.

Above, Pinkie's knees gave a spastic twitch. Huh? Beware of opening doors?

“THREE!” Charging forward, there was a rather loud crunch as the door frame splintered and gave around the lock, followed immediately by the sound of pots falling onto a stone floor. The other Crusaders poked their heads in, and saw Scootaloo laying in a pile of metal pots, apparently having continued through the door and knocked a fair number of pots off a shelf. “Well that sucked.”

“Scootaloo, y'all right?” Apple Bloom ran over to lend a hoof, and in short order was pulling a slightly battered looking Scootaloo out from the pile.

“Yeah, doesn't feel like I actually did anything serious.” She rubbed her head again. “Still though, ow.”

“Heh, I knew ya could be thick headed at times, I didn't think it'd be this handy!” Scootaloo shot a momentary glare at the beaming Apple Bloom. “Alright, let's take a look around, see if we can find a way out.”

Meanwhile, on the floor above, Pinkie was sneaking looks into the back room as much as she could, with the line still rather long.

“Hello? Anypony back here?” Glancing around, she gasped as she saw the vacant spot where she'd left her recipe book. Her face fell into a scowl the likes of which normally only seen when Pinkie Promises were broken. “ALRIGHT, WHERE ARE YOU! I KNOW SOMEPONY'S HERE, GIMMIE MY BOOK BACK!”

The Crusaders jumped at Pinkie's voice.

“Aw horseapples! She's onto us! Quick, find something!” Scattering around, it became abundantly clear that the closest thing to an exit was the relatively small window about three quarters up the wall where the wan light was trickling in from. It looked to be at about ground level outside. Sadly, it didn't look to open, either.

“If she sees the door, she'll know we're down here!” Sweetie Belle looked around, fighting the rising feel of panic. “Rarity will be mad at me forever if she finds out I was doing this! We've gotta get out, can't we like break the window or something?”

“Anything heavy enough to break the window is too heavy for us to throw up there!” Sure enough, the pans that had any kind of mass were actually rather bulky. Much more so than they could lift, even with Sweetie's limited magic helping. The three of them spread out in panic, looking for something, anything that would help.

Pinkie was now splitting her time between serving the customers and ducking into the back to look for the intruders, and gradually spending less and less time out front. “I KNOW YOU'RE BACK HERE!”

Down below, Apple Bloom called the others over. She had apparently found a stockpile of extra baking ingredients.

“Alright, here's the plan: We got a pile of pots and stuff down here. Pinkie's also got a bunch of ingredients back there. Do y'all remember when we were gonna be Cutie Mark Crusader Backyard Scientists, and we made all those bottle rockets?” the others nodded. “Well, there's a few big jugs of vinegar and plenty of bakin' soda back there. I'm thinking I use the pots and stuff around here and build us a cannon! We can blow our way out!” Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo gave each other a disbelieving look, but after hearing Pinkie holler upstairs again, they flinched and turned to Apple Bloom.

“Alright, do it. We'll keep watch.”

The next few minutes went between hushed silence when they heard Pinkie yelling while looking for them, and frantic bursts of activity when they figured she was out in front. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo had no idea what exactly the cannon was supposed to look like, but Apple Bloom seemed to have a pretty clear plan in her head, and was looking increasingly pleased as the various pieces came together. Objects were tied together with some scavenged rope, gaps were sealed with concrete-like blends of various baking supplies, and the unit slowly came together. Finally, it was apparently done.

“So... how does this work?”

“Simple! See, the bakin' soda is already in the main chamber there,” Apple Bloom pointed to the two large pots they had more or less fused together, creating a rudimentary pressure chamber with several tubes running to and from it. “And when we pour the vinegar in here and cap it, the pressure builds! Then once it's high enough, we open this valve, and that makes this unit launch whatever's in the barrel!”

The others were pretty mystified as to the specifics. What they got out of it was “Pour stuff in here, let Apple Bloom deal with it, shoot things”. Seemed like a good plan so far.

“Right, let's load it and get out of here!” They spread out, searching for a good pot or pan to use to load the thing with. A couple of minutes later saw a pile of cast iron pans and a sauce pot all stuffed into the firing barrel, and Apple Bloom alone by the machine while her friends kept a safe distance.

“Alright, when this goes it's gonna make a lot 'o noise, so be ready to get out fast! Pinkie'll know we're down here for sure, so we gotta be gone by the time she gets down here!” Stepping over, she hefted a jug of vinegar almost as big as she was, and poured it into a nozzle. An acrid smell began to rise from the machine as she quickly screwed a cap on.

“Aright, firing in five! Four! Three!” Her friends hunkered down as she began her count down. The improvised pressure tank was beginning to shake a little as the pile of baking soda reacted to the flood of vinegar. “Two!” the cap on the tube she had poured the vinegar down was bulging outwards notably. “One!” The entire machine was beginning to rattle, the pressure almost palpable.

When Apple Bloom hit the valve, the room exploded into a cacophony of sound and smell. The scent of third-grade science hit like a truck, while the pile of cast iron erupted from the barrel in a cloud of vinegar foam to crash into the window. When things had quieted enough that they dared to lean out from the various spots of cover they had taken, their jaws dropped.

In one spot, a pan was embedded in the wall. There were dents and gouges around the entire window, and a big crack across the pane itself from where one of the pans had clipped the edge. Not one had managed to make a direct hit though, and the window was still in one piece.

“I KNOW YOU'RE DOWN THERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

Apple Bloom swallowed nervously and looked to her friends. “Anypony got a back up plan?”

Scootaloo was staring intently at the window as she stood up from cover.

“You know, I don't think the glass is all that thick. It's hitting it that's the problem. If we could...” as she was walking over, she shuffled her wings slightly, before pausing mid sentence and looking back. After being silent for a moment, she turned to Apple Bloom with a hard look in her eye.

“Apple Bloom, get this thing ready to fire again. This time we're hitting the window with a bullet that can steer.”

“But to reset this I gotta crack the pressure tank! It ain't a quick thing, and-”

“I'M COMING DOWN THERE! I'VE GOT A FRYING PAN, AND I KNOW HOW TO USE IT!”

“And I don't think we got that kind of time!”

Sweetie Belle chose this moment to speak up, staring at a stack of pie pans on one of the shelves. “You two get that thing ready again. I'll keep her busy.” Willing a stack of the pans down, she pushed them over to the door. “Scootaloo, close this behind me, if she sees who I am then we might as well be caught.”

With Scootaloo standing to one side, Sweetie Belle nodded. Scootaloo pulled the door open, and after launching a couple of plates to clatter into the dark stairwell Sweetie Belle pushed the rest forward, her identity obscured behind their bulk. The door shut behind her almost immediately after.

“Good luck, Sweetie.”

Pinkie was rubbing her forehead, having just caught a lightweight pie pan with it. When she looked up, she could see the faint outline of somepony at the bottom of the stairs, next to a stack of... something. “Who are you? Whaddya want with my book!” For speaking around the handle of a frying pan, she had remarkably clear pronunciation. Sweetie, for her part, responded with a clearly fake deep voice.

“Go back upstairs now! I don't want to fight you!” Pinkie raised her eyebrow at this.

“Fight? I don't wanna fight. I just want my book back. And I also wanna know what all the crasheriffic sounds were from down here. So gimmie my book back and explain what you're doing, and neither of us has to fight!”

Sweetie Belle steeled herself, and tried to remind herself that they're only pie pans, it's not like they can actually do any real damage! “I can't do that.”

Concentrating, she wrapped the top pan on her stack with magic. It was so easy to make them spin, especially when she wasn't trying to fight it. Up to speed in moments, she released it. It was just as easy to aim where to throw it, while she wasn't fighting to hang on to it. It streaked up out of the darkness and bent itself bouncing off Pinkie's forehead, knocked her head back slightly.

“OW! That was mean! No more nice Pinkie!”

In the storeroom, the sound of pans bouncing around might as well been the sound of a warzone for the tension it generated. Apple Bloom had poured some other liquid over the improvised sealant, causing it to quickly dissolve. As she was dumping out the sludge onto the ground, Scootaloo was hauling out more vinegar and baking soda from the stockpile. “Gotta clean this out first! If it's still wet, the bakin' soda'll react before we pour the vinegar in and there won't be enough pressure!” After being rewarded with a blank, uncomprehending stare from Scootaloo, she facehoofed. “Just go find a rag!”

Sweetie Belle was finding it easier and easier to throw the pie pans. Pinkie had taken to knocking some out of the air with her frying pan and trying to gain ground, but the barrage was keeping her nearly in place as the storm of tin whirled about.

“Ow! Who ARE you!?”

Sweetie Belle didn't give an answer, instead concentrating on trying to not have her shots blocked by the pan. She was discovering that she could keep some small degree of control over the pans after releasing them, not enough to make them turn drastically but enough to guide their angle of approach. It was proving enough to keep them dodging the pan more often than not, making for a very frustrated Pinkie. Sweetie Belle was slightly in a state of disbelief, she had not expected her plan to work this well. I'm really good at this! I should go play Frisbee with Rarity after this is over!

Inside the room, Apple Bloom was busy sealing the reloaded pressure chamber, while Scootaloo climbed into the barrel and found her footing.

“So when I hit the valve, that upside down pot you're standing on is gonna pop hard. That'll throw you up, from there yer gonna have to make sure you hit the window.” She looked over at the cast iron pan still embedded in the wall. “I don't reckon it'll be pretty if you miss.” Scootaloo gulped, before staring up at the window. Alright Scoots, you've smashed enough stuff lately, you can do this!

“Alright, I'm pouring in the vinegar! Hang on tight!”

Outside, Sweetie Belle had started to 'chamber' her next few rounds before firing them, holding them in midair briefly as they revved up to a high spinning speed before firing them off. They were bouncing off the walls when she went wide, and she was pretty sure she saw sparks once when Pinkie managed to block one. Pinkie, for her part, was starting to wonder what she was dealing with. There was a growing cloud of pie plates that were flying at her, and her jaw was starting to hurt from catching so many hits with the pan. Just when she was preparing a no doubt painful charge down the stairs, a resounding boom followed immediately by the sound of shattering glass came from behind the door. This seemed to trigger a change in the behavior of her diminutive attacker, who simultaneously threw the five pans currently in the air. To her credit, Pinkie managed to block one and dodge two, but one caught in the leg and the other bounced off the wall to knock her in the flank. With a yelp, she lost her footing and tumbled down the rest of the stairs, crashing into the remaining pile of plates which collapsed on to her. Sweetie Belle took the pained groan as her cue to leave.

Ducking into the back room, she was met with the sight of shattered glass, foam and vinegar sludge everywhere, and a soaked but happy looking Apple Bloom. The window was shattered to the point where one might not suspect that there had been glass there in the first place, were in not for the shards on the ground. Getting out was quick enough, Apple Bloom climbing on top of Sweetie Belle to get out before hauling the lighter filly up. By the time Pinkie roused herself and pulled her way out of the pile of plates, the Crusaders were gone, leaving a broken window and a titanic mess in their wake. Her face contorted into the unusual shape of a scowl, as a small green reptile shuffled its way down the stairs to join her.

“Gummy, pack your things. We're throwing a 'nopony breaks into Sugarcube Corner and gets away with it' party.” Her face immediately brightened. “Ooh! I might finally get to use those military-surplus streamers I've been saving!”

------------------------------

Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom met Scootaloo back at the hideout, after a nervous trek back spent watching for any pink ambushes. She looked, to their relief, to be totally unharmed, though she still had an unreadable expression on her face. Pinkie's recipe book was lying unopened on the floor nearby as she lounged in a corner.

“Scootaloo! Yer all right!” Scootaloo gave a nervous grin.

“Yeah, I guess I'm pretty good at breaking stuff. I mean, I guess I've gotta be...” She took a deep breath and stood up, turning sideways. “after all, I think that's my special talent.” Across her flank was what looked like a broken red brick, the two pieces at an angle to each other with a faint star burst background. She flashed her friends a nervous smile, clearly not sure what they would think. As she looked at them though, she realized that they were both already mid-air and moving at her quickly. She was quickly tackled to the ground in a hug.

“Scootaloo, that's amazing! You got'cher cutie mark! This was the best idea ever! Now we just gotta-” She was interrupted by an explosive gasp from Sweetie Belle, who was prodding her in the flank.

“Apple Bloom, she's not the only one! Look!” Sure enough, there was what looked like a simple blueprint for an apple on her flank, a light blue outline with geometric lines cutting through the darker blue of the interior of the apple. Apple Bloom's eyes lit up like fireworks. As she was about to start talking, her jaw went slack, and she pointed at Sweetie Belle's flank.

Following the line from her hoof, Sweetie Belle looked at her own flank, to see a marking that hadn't been there when the day started. It looked almost like the loop-de-hoop cutie mark that Apple Bloom had briefly had after the incident with Zecora's potions, but the loop was rimmed with a yellow jagged outline, almost like a buzzsaw, that seemed to indicate motion on the part of the loop. “So... what? Is my special talent spinning things then?” Her bewilderment was interrupted by Apple Bloom speaking up.

“So now we've all got our marks... what now? I mean, this is what we were crusading for, right?” This was met with more silence as they reflected on it. Searching for their marks had been what they did, what their friendship had been based on. Now that they all had their marks...

“This doesn't change anything!” Scootaloo stood up, a confident look on her face. “We set out to be Cutie Mark Crusaders Black Ops, and that's what we wound up being good at! But more than that, we got our marks as a team! We're supposed to work together!” The other Crusaders were starting to smile as Scootaloo got in a roll. “All that's different is now we know what we're supposed to be doing! We're good at this kind of stuff, so we just gotta figure out how to do this stuff more! Now, what say we figure out the cara-fill secret?”

This was met by cheers from the other two, who were already starting to climb out of their rather filthy stealth outfits. Bringing the book over, Scootaloo flopped down between them and flipped it open.

Eyes were squinted and brows were furrowed.

“Alright, so, CMC Black Ops codebreakers, I guess?”

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