I had become familiar with smoke clouds due to Friesian's habit, but sitting in that saloon always made me cough and splutter. I explicitly told the saloon owner to keep the smokers away from me, but it was understandably difficult to keep a bunch of rowdy, horny stallions from doing it. Luckily, apart from constant looks of aroused interest, they kept their distance from me, most likely because I dressed in a way that put their own wardrobes to shame, and because they were unsure of how to approach a real lady. I wasn't one of their whores, although I could see several waiting on the bottom step of the nearby staircase, eager to please in return for a pretty penny.
"Miss Clemency," a humble stallion familiar with my name said, keeping his distance and hiding beneath a large cap. "A saloon ain't the place for a lady. Would you like me to take you back to your part of the city?"
"No," I said boldly, "and neither do I appreciate you getting involved in my business."
He apologised and scurried away. I sat there curled up at the table, my dress flowing over the side of the chair, although I made sure to keep it from touching the damp floorboards. I tossed my hair to the side, raising a hoof to address those who were sober enough to hear. "Who wishes to buy me a drink?" I asked, and several red-faced stallions offered. I picked the nicest looking one a coal-black miner and allowed him to buy me a drink. I even permitted him to share my company and bask in my scent, which must have made his entire year. He sat opposite me cautiously, keeping his head low.
"I'm sorry, Miss," he said. "I'm not rightly familiar with how to talk to nobility and all."
"Nobility?" I grinned. "Yes, I suppose I am. And you shall address me as Princess Clemency from now on."
"O-Of course, Princess Clemency! I'd be mighty honoured if I could call you that!"
He listened to me for some time and I drank whatever it was that he'd bought for me. It was some sort of alcohol, although it definitely wasn't wine. A received a few odd looks mares scarcely drank in saloons but nobody dared to question me. I grew bored with the stallions' excessive praise after a while, and instead felt a craving for music. I waved to a stallion who was sitting idly at a piano. It didn't take long for him to notice my gesture, and I beckoned him over to me.
"Can you play the piano, or are you just sitting there?" I asked.
"I can play, ma'am, sure," he nodded. "Name a song and I'll play it. How about 'Our Fair Folk' or 'Thankful We Are For The Railway Lines'?."
"No, nothing folksy or about silly little trains," I sighed. "Don't you know anything of class?"
"Class," I said. "You know: sophistication. Perhaps some Beauplasier, or Wellington?"
"-I know a tune about the migrants of the Badlands," he said apologetically.
"Oh, very well," I shrugged. "Whatever you know, you may perform. I just want some music. Make sure that it's jovial, hrm?"
"Ma'am, it'll be the jauntiest song you've heard this side of the Manehattan divide, I swear," he insisted, bowing faintly and then hurrying back over to the piano. He curled up on it and pressed a few keys. I wasn't expecting much, but he did a good job: I was humming to his tune after a short while, tapping my hoof against the table.
"Does anyone wish to buy me another drink?" I asked, tilting my head back and swallowing what was left of the miner's purchase.
"-I will," came a voice, and I looked up: standing there was a black-maned and imposing figure, whose moustache sought to dominate his entire face, and who stood taller than most you would meet. With him was an unassuming figure wearing a hat and standing a little way behind. I knew them both.
"Hello, boys," I smiled, lying back lethargically. "I'll take whatever the most expensive drink in this fine establishment is."
"You can drop the act, Ambrosia," the tall stallion said gruffly. "You ain't fooling nobody but yourself."
"Way to shatter a girl's dreams, Dartmoor," I sighed. "What does it matter if I get a little drunk and start acting like a lady? I look like one."
Aston Dartmoor worked on the black market. I'd known him for a long time, and yet I still found him to be a little frightening, as did most who met him. When speaking he did so loudly and with no trace of uncertainty, and he had a habit of getting his own way no matter what. He and I went way back, long before I knew Friesian, and while I felt as if I knew him reasonably well, it was impossible to truly know the real Aston Dartmoor. He sauntered towards the stallion who had originally bought me a drink, and then he whistled sharply. The stallion leapt up from the seat and scurried to the other side of the saloon, allowing for Dartmoor to sit opposite me in his place.
"-Come on, Dreadfuls," he said to his companion. "Pull up a chair and join me and Ambrosia."
The smaller of the two paused for a moment and then did as he was asked, pulling a chair towards our table, which he curled up on reluctantly.
"Why don't you take your hat off, Dreadfuls?" I asked. "I can barely see you beneath it."
"No thanks, Ambrosia," he said timidly, shaking his head. "I'd rather keep it on."
"What's his deal?" I inquired of Dartmoor. "He never used to take to wearing hats."
"Some rich cunt cut his ear off," Dartmoor chuckled. "It's an improvement, if you ask me."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Dreadfuls," I said, reaching a hoof out towards him. "Does it hurt still?"
"Nah, the pain has mostly gone," he said. "It's mighty kind of you to ask, though, Ambrosia. You were always kind to me."
"-She's kind because she learned how to appear kind to everyone," Dartmoor said. "You earn more money if it looks as if you're enjoying it. Looking like a sad fucking whore makes a stallion depressed and less likely to throw coins your way."
I settled my gaze on Dartmoor. "Can I help you, Dartmoor?" I asked him.
"You can help me by exercising more fucking caution, Ambrosia," he spat. "You've earned a reputation for wearing a mask at all times, and blending in with just about anyone who you see fit. But I know who you are, and, more importantly, what you are, and because of that, I don't trust you to be clever with your actions."
"You can trust me," I said. "Dreadfuls trusts me."
"He trusts you because you flutter your eyelashes at him and say a few perfumed words, and then when he pulls out his wallet you speak a few more words and then pull out his prick."
"But I do it so well," I smiled, and Dartmoor grimaced.
"I'm here to discuss what the fuck transpired yesterday morning. I want you to tell me everything," he said. "Dreadfuls. Go and get us all a drink."
He hoofed a few coins over to Dreadfuls, who nodded and approached the bar. I hoped that he'd get the most expensive thing, because the last drink had been rather repulsive.
"Why don't you start from the beginning, Ambrosia? Maybe then I'll have reason to believe that you haven't lost your fucking mind," Dartmoor growled. I leaned forwards, keeping my voice low for the first time that day.
"You know Lusitano Dorimant?" I asked, and he nodded slowly. "Well, he's been doing some business with Friesian. He told me about it: Lusitano was going to send him some dresses to test the waters and try and put Mr. Orange out of business. You know Orange?"
"Know him?" Dartmoor mouthed. "The fucker is responsible for closing down half of my fucking industry! He's the one responsible for what happened to Dreadfuls, too."
"I don't know about any of that," I said, "but I do know that he sent one of his guys to intercept the exchange between Lusitano and Friesian."
"Who told you that?"
"I was there that night," I smiled. "I expected something to go wrong. Friesian had been complaining a few days before that Orange and Lusitano had started working together. I was suspicious when he then told me that Lusitano was planning on doing a deal with him rather than Orange a few days after, because it doesn't sound like something that Orange would allow, does it?"
"So what did you do?"
"I waited and kept an eye on what was happening," I said. "Orange's guy I assume it was Orange's guy, at least shot the Canterlot ponies, but then he just left the crates behind. It felt like an awful shame to leave them there, and so I took the initiative to move them myself."
"Why didn't you just leave them for Friesian?" Dartmoor asked. "You are his whore at the moment, aren't you?"
"I'm his lover, among other things," I said. "But Friesian has been treating me poorly these last few weeks, and I felt like getting him back for it, okay? What better way than stealing his shipment and passing it over to you?"
"You're a fucking risk-taker, Ambrosia," Dartmoor said. "I don't trust you as far as I can throw you, but I do appreciate the fucking gesture. I was wondering why the fuck I had Canterlot supplies showing up in my warehouse that morning. I put them out on sale right away didn't want to hang on to stolen goods for too long."
Dreadfuls returned with two drinks, placing one in front of me first, and then the second in front of Dartmoor. He then returned to the bar and picked up his own, which he brought over to the table.
"Hey, what are we discussing?" the timid pony asked.
"Ambrosia was just telling me about her little dress heist," Dartmoor said. "She didn't want Friesian to get his hooves on them, apparently, Dreadfuls. What do we make of that?"
"I think it's sensible," he shrugged. "Although, it seems like a bit of a one-shot attack on Friesian, y'know? Sure, we got that one shipment, but because of the circumstances, I don't think he'll be asking for any more any time soon. And I don't much fancy travelling all the way over to Canterlot in an effort to try and rob that guy who makes them. Lu- something?"
"Lusitano," Dartmoor said. "I agree entirely, Dreadfuls. You had your fun, Ambrosia, and you made us a good profit in return for the Canterlot dresses...and you got your revenge on Friesian, so I guess we all benefited."
"You're right," I nodded. "We did all benefit. Which is why I have an idea."
"The whore has another idea?" Dartmoor laughed. "Two ideas in two days would confuse any whore. Maybe you should leave the thinking to stallions?"
"Hey, I got you those dresses without it being traced back to us, didn't I?" I argued. "Even if Friesian or Lusitano, or even Orange find out that the black market got their hooves on the shipment, nobody knows that it was us who personally took them. They wouldn't suspect Dreadfuls, that's for sure: he'd be laying low after his terrible tragedy."
Dreadfuls touched his hat, nodding.
"Say, Dartmoor," he said. "Why don't we just listen to what she has to say?"
Dartmoor took his drink and swallowed it down in one gulp, slamming the glass against the table. "Fine," he said. "Talk your fucking mouth off, Ambrosia."
"If you wash yours out with a bar of soap first, Dartmoor," I joked. He glared at me and I began. "We're no longer copying the 'Rarity Range', are we?"
"No," Dreadfuls confirmed. "After Orange's guy cut off my fucking ear and threatened to kill me, I'm afraid I had no choice but to halt all bootlegging of the 'Rarity Range'. I don't want to get back into that when Orange clearly has some major hard-on for it right now."
"I kept one of the crates from Canterlot," I said. "I'm keeping it at one of Friesian's warehouses, but he has so many, nobody will suspect anything. I'm just wondering if we could start bootlegging a different kind of dress."
"You want to start copying the Canterlot dresses?" Dartmoor asked, intrigued.
"Think about it," I said. "Orange, Lusitano and Friesian are all fighting some sort of war over these dresses. Friesian told me last night that Orange has warned him against pursuing this dress-making thing with Lusitano."
"Last night?" Dartmoor smiled. "While he was sticking it in you, or after?"
"After," I said. "But before he demanded that I stick it in my mouth. Have you finished with the insults now?"
"By all means, continue," Dartmoor chuckled, tipping back another drink that was brought over to him by Dreadfuls.
"So," I resumed, "if we start copying the Canterlot dresses, we'll be tapping into a market that Manehattan obviously loves. You saw how fast those Canterlot dresses sold yesterday. We'll make huge amounts of money off of them."
"And who would get the blame?" Dreadfuls asked anxiously.
"That's the beauty of it," I smiled. "Friesian and Lusitano will be blamed, at least by Orange. Whether he thinks that Friesian and Lusitano are distributing dresses themselves, or if they've merely paid the black market to do it for them, Orange will still hold them accountable for ignoring his warnings and continuing to try and undermine his 'Rarity Range'."
"This is a fucking devious plan, Ambrosia," Dartmoor said, "but let me ask you: why would you want to put Friesian in Orange's bad books? I thought you were supposed to care about the guy? That was the bullshit story that you fed to us."
"I do care for Friesian," I admitted, "and I think that this strategy will save him, ultimately. At the moment, from what he told me last night, Friesian is thinking of backing down from the dress-making game. He was told this morning that two of his employees were found dead; the police aren't leaving him alone, and he doesn't have the time or the ability at the moment to take Orange on."
"And so how the fuck is this going to save him?" Dartmoor asked jadedly.
"Because," I said, "if we copy the designs of the Canterlot dresses and start selling them as Lusitano Dorimant's designs, we could dominate the market. Manehattan's fashion interests change all the time, and the 'Rarity Range' will begin to become stale soon. We can get a foothold now and speed up that process: we start making ponies in Manehattan want the Canterlot dresses, and it'll put Orange out of business, at least in the dress-making game."
"Good plan, but what if Orange gets his dead-eyed thug to kill Friesian or any of us before that happens?" Dreadfuls asked worriedly. "You can't expect a stallion like Orange to just let us put him out of business. If he sees the Canterlot dresses making a comeback, he'll shoot Friesian in the damn face!"
"Not if Friesian is protected," I said. "He's in the running for the position of Mayor of Manehattan, currently. If he wins, he'll have aides to look out for him. Until then, though, I was wondering if you, Dartmoor, might like to step in?"
"You want me to protect Friesian Cross?" Dartmoor scoffed. "That rich fucking cunt? Why would I do that?"
"Friesian is a rich...cunt, yes," I said, "but wouldn't you do anything to put Orange out of business? He's already closed down half of yours, and now he's spilled the blood of your employees, Dartmoor!" I pointed a hoof towards Dreadfuls, reminding Dartmoor of Orange's crimes.
"We're bootleggers, but we're not murderers," I said. "Manehattan can't afford to have a guy sitting on a throne executing those who get in his way whenever he can. Orange is that guy. Don't you hate living in fear of what he might do?"
"I do hate the fucker," Dartmoor nodded, "but if I'm going to risk my hide watching Friesian Cross' back, I'm going to need some assurance that he's going to do something for me in return."
"What do you have in mind?" I asked.
He took a few moments to think upon it. "A lot of these rich fucking politician-types are planning on cleaning up Old Manehattan, so I hear," he eventually commented. "If I offer to keep an eye out protecting Friesian Cross, I'd need some assurance that he won't do that if he gets elected as Mayor."
"I can assure you that he won't do anything to Old Manehattan," I said sternly. "Friesian has no interest in touching this part of the city. The way of life here won't be threatened."
"Then I guess I can't argue with that," Dartmoor said, sitting back in his seat, "providing that you're telling me the truth."
"Dartmoor, you're going to consider her plan?" Dreadfuls asked, wide-eyed. "Don't you think it's a bit stupid of us to get involved in this bullshit and deliberately antagonise Orange? If we stay away from dress-making altogether, then we'll-"
"-We'll be cutting ourselves out of the biggest consumer market in Manehattan," Dartmoor said. "We need to keep the cash flowing, and, from what you told me, Dreadfuls, those dresses stolen from those crates sold like hotcakes. Am I right?"
"Well...yeah, you are, but-"
"-If we don't seize on this opportunity, ponies from Manehattan will either just end up importing from Canterlot or will continue to buy from that rich cunt Orange," Dartmoor continued. Dreadfuls sighed, thinking of a reason to object, but finding it difficult to structure any sort of argument against my plan. "Don't you want to hurt Orange, Dreadfuls? Don't you want to make him and his asshole thug pay for cutting off your ear? For cutting that lovely feather earring off as well?"
"Yes..." Dreadfuls growled. "I want revenge..."
"Then this is the best way," Dartmoor said. "Just running in there and trying to shoot Orange would be the stupid choice here, as would just letting him get away with it. If we do this plan, we can legitimately get the whole of Manehattan to stop caring about the product that he's providing, and instead fall in love with ours. That would do more damage to him than a fucking bullet in the gut."
"I'm glad that you like my idea," I grinned.
"So my first question is the obvious one: who will be copying and making the dresses?" Dartmoor asked.
"Do you even need to ask?" I laughed, sipping my drink. "I'll be doing it, of course. I was making the rip-off 'Rarity Range' for you briefly, wasn't I? I've had a look at the stitching on these Canterlot dresses and it's nothing that I can't copy."
"Very nice," Dartmoor said, clearly impressed. "Are you going to say anything to Friesian? Won't he suspect something if Canterlot dresses start appearing all over the city?"
"I can see to Friesian," I smiled sweetly. "Right now he has a lot more on his mind than what ponies are wearing. If our luck holds out, he won't even realise that any of this is happening. His name will only be attached to it due to his informal contract with Lusitano. We'll be the ones making the profit; he won't have any reason to suspect anything, unless Orange chooses to act. Which he won't do, right, Dartmoor?"
"I'll station some of my guys near Friesian," he nodded. "Orange won't get to him."
"-And what am I doing in all of this?" Dreadfuls spoke up.
"You're going to sell what Ambrosia makes, Dreadfuls," Dartmoor said. "Usual procedure. Every day will be just like yesterday in terms of sales. Can you handle that much coin, Dreadfuls?"
"You got it, Dartmoor," Dreadfuls said, tilting his head back and finishing his drink. "We're all going to look out for each other on this, right? I don't want to be up a stream without a paddle!"
"Right," Dartmoor said. "Shall we all swear on it?"
We clinked our glasses together and made our pact. Dreadfuls was nervous about the whole thing, but he was bound by the pact and his loyalty to Dartmoor. I trusted him, anyway: he would never have done anything to hurt me. He did leave shortly after our agreement, though, as he had places to be.
"I bet he's gone down to the brothel at the bottom of the road for a fuck," Dartmoor said after Dreadfuls had left, swigging back another drink.
"That pony only ever seems to do two things: work and fuck," I nodded.
"You can talk, Ambrosia," he grinned wolfishly. "You never stop fucking. I heard you were here last week fucking a random worker, and the week before that, and the week before that. Anyone would think you can't forget your roots."
"You can never forget your roots," I said vacantly.
"You know, you being brought up here in Old Manehattan and all, it's hardly surprising that you ended up as a whore."
"I was a whore, Aston," I commented. "Your whore, to be exact. But since buying my way out of your service, I now like to consider my profession to be far more...ambitious."
"Hey, no argument here," he said, swallowing another drink in one gulp. "Your plan is fucking good. You did some good fucking work, Ambrosia."
"Thank you," I said politely.
"-Yeah, some good fucking work. That was fucking good. Are you in the mood to fuck?"
"Right now?" I questioned, looking around the saloon. "Here?"
"Yeah, why the fuck not here?" Dartmoor asked loudly. "You know I can't resist that little pink cunt of yours."
My eye caught one of the whores sitting at the bottom of the stairway. I winked at her, and then looked back to Dartmoor. He was drunk, and panting, and he was clearly pumped full of whatever energy it is that stallions display when they get that way.
"I'm going to be honest with you, Aston," I said. "I may have once been your little slave; there was a time when you would have only needed to tap your hoof against the table, and I would have jumped at the chance to be your number one girl."
"Yeah...yeah..." he said drunkly. I leaned closer to him.
"But now we're playing a very different game," I whispered, "and you will respect me. You can start by calling me Clemency, rather than Ambrosia. I ain't your whore any more."
I pushed my chair back, standing up. He remained in his seat, drunk and full of expectation.
"If you want a fuck, Aston, go and look fifteen feet to your left," I said, tossing a coin at him and then walking quickly towards the exit of the saloon. I didn't look back, because he would have been expecting that. Having broken my contract with him in the past, I'd hoped that he'd changed. But he instead just took me being with Friesian to be a different form of whoring.
He was probably right, but while he'd be falling asleep in a brothel with his head between a whore's legs, stinking of piss and alcohol, at least I'd be getting my rest in a warm bed in the good part of the city.
Oh, and Friesian wasn't paying for it, so there was that.