Twilight lay on the dirt riverbank, the lower half of her body still being washed by the torrential waters. Her clothes were drenched and slathered with dirt, but that was the least of her problems. All over her body were bruises, cuts and lacerations. She tried to work her face away from the ground, but fell on top of it in exhaustion. Twilight turned over to look at the brilliant orange evening sky. She smiled slightly but winced in pain again. Twilight then saw something out of the corner of her eye. A group of contrasting purple circles hovered across the clouds, each of them carrying the Shagohod via a complicated set up of ropes and pulleys. She raised her hoof, trying to touch it in her delusion. A buzzing sound emitted from her ear-piece, and she sighed while pushing it.
“Snake? Can you read me?” Luna said in a panic.
“....ugh.” was all Twilight could say.
“Snake, speak to me, please!”
“Yes Major, I can hear you.” she managed.
“Look Snake, we’re going to drop a recovery balloon near your position. Try not to move too much before then, or else your wounds might get worse.”
“Alright.” Twilight responded. Her eyes were still transfixed by the several hot air balloons wading through the sky.
On board one of the balloons, Trixie paced back and forth. With her was Rainbow Dash and a dab grey mare with a pure black mane. She muttered to herself and kicked the side of the balloon.
“It’s not right! I wanted to be the one to stop her! To show that I was better!” she yelled. Rainbow Dash scowled at her.
“Maybe if you were actually worthy of your position, you could have beaten her.”
“What do you mean?” Trixie said in shock.
“You know exactly what I mean.” she mumbled as she stood up. Rainbow walked over to the two boxes she now possessed and threw them open. She eyed them greedily, and began to assemble the rocket launcher.
“A great success, thanks to Celestia and her “crew”. I now have both Sokolov and the Shagohod.” she triumphantly said.
“What are we going to do with her?” Trixie asked, pointing to the grey mare. Rainbow stopped what she was doing and looked at the pony suspiciously.
“Who is she?”
“Apparently she’s Sokolov’s girlfriend.” Trixie answered. Rainbow Dash trotted over to her and smiled.
“We might be able to use her... and while we’re at it, we have no further use for Sokolov’s research facility, do we?”
“No.” Trixie said simply. She looked over to Rainbow, who now had the rocket slung over her shoulder.
“I think it’s high time I gave this marvelous new toy a try.” Rainbow said, aiming the weapon. Trixie immediately got up and questioned her.
“Sir, this is griffon country! We’ll be labeled as traitors!” she pleaded.
“Ah, but it won’t be me that fired it. It will be our friend, the Equestrian defector.” she evilly answered.
“No! You can’t!” Trixie managed to say before Rainbow Dash fired the rocket. The force from the launch pushed the balloon several feet backwards, and tossed everyone around inside it. The projectile rapidly sped through the air until it reached the abandoned factory, to which it then promptly exploded on impact. The whole facility was enclosed in flames, and a large smoke cloud billowed through the air. Trixie and the grey pony both had a look of absolute horror on their faces, but Rainbow Dash looked disappointed.
“It’s no sonic rainboom, but I guess we’ll just have to work on that, won’t we?”
Twilight sat on a hospital bed, her face looking remarkably better, but her right front leg was still in a cast. Princess Luna stepped into the room, looking very relieved to see her.
“You have no idea how scared we were. Your friend was prancing up and down, waiting to see if you were okay.”
“Yes, I realized the extent of her concern. Actually, I think I realized it after the tenth time Lyra visited me. Doesn’t this hospital have visitor hours?” Twilight complained. Princess Luna laughed heartily.
“I apologize. But unfortunately, those are the least threatening of our problems at the moment.”
“I’ve heard. Aside from Lyra, the Canterlot politicians have been saying that I’m an accomplice in Celestia’s defection and a no-good traitor.”
“Correct. My sister’s political power base has crumbled in the years you’ve been away, most likely due to some slightly opposing views her and I have had on governing. We had no intentions of letting our disagreements out to the public, but you know how these things are. Several groups claiming that this new “democratic republic” instituted in the Griffon Kingdom should be brought over to here, and that I somehow share their views, when in fact, I do not at all. While my sister and I do not agree on everything, the fact is that we were rulers together, not apart. That government they have in the Griffon Kingdom would never work here. Have you seen their so called “representatives”? They do nothing but argue, and the same goes for the military. You witnessed first hoof how they are all willing to betray each other for the slightest bit of power. They never get anything done! I personally find it disgusting, but my sister tolerated them, and so do I.” she explained. “Unfortunately, those same politicians hold quite a bit of influence. They heard about my sister’s... resignation, and said that it justified their views. Her assault on the Griffon Kingdom with a top-secret developmental rocket weapon has put an enormous burden on them. Now they have called upon us to clear Equestria’s slate in the affair. If we don’t, Sokolov’s machine could threaten our entire country. Simply put, your mission has changed. You are now to secure Sokolov once more, destroy the Shagohod, and... eliminate Celestia.”
“What? That’s impossible! She’s... well, she’s immortal to start! And the only possible pony who has ever bested her was you! I can’t do that!” Twilight said in revolt. Luna walked over to her beside and placed a hoof on her bandaged shoulder.
“Listen Twilight Sparkle; I do not want to order you to do these things anymore than you would want to. But... we need to. I’m not telling you to do this. You deserve the right to choose more than anypony else. Please, just remember what is at stake here.” Luna turned away.
“... I’ll do it.” Twilight answered.
The purple airship once again whisked through the clouds, but instead of the morning sun rising along the horizon, it was a pitch-black night. The clouds, gloomy and grey, hung over the sky oppressively. At the back of the ship, a hatch opened to reveal Twilight, decked out in her olive-drab gear again, adjusting her bandanna. She looked down into the familiar forest below, but without the gleam of the moon, it was incredibly hard to see anything clearly.
“So, am I going to be receiving any help at all?” she spoke into her earpiece. Twilight leaped off of the side, fading into the dark green forest below.
“Yes. In your time in recovery, we’ve been able to secure a agent within Volgin’s ranks. She’ll be able to contact you via your receiver when you find her. She’ll be posing as Sokolov’s girlfriend. We’ve picked her because of Sokolov’s love of foreign music, so that she’d fit right in.” Luna explained. Twilight’s velocity increased rapidly, as did her closeness to the lush canopy below. Before she was anywhere near a collision, her horn pulsed with magic. A lavender bubble enclosed her body, and drifted slowly towards the ground. The bubble landed with a pop, and Twilight clumsily fell to the ground. Dusting herself off, she galloped to the nearest tree and hid behind it. After searching the area for anyone watching her, she resumed contact.
“Major, I’m at the target point.”
“Good work Snake. I’m happy to report that Para-Medic will again be providing support for this mission--”
“Hi Snake!” Lyra shouted.
“Uh, yes. Anyway, after the failure of the Virtuous Mission, we will not be reusing that title again. This mission will now be referred to as Operation Daisy Eater.”
“Daisy Eater?” Twilight replied.
“Yes. This mission will take a significantly larger amount of time for you to complete, perhaps even weeks. It’s not just a retrieval like the last one. If you cannot find any prepared food to eat, you’ll be eating all your meals in the jungle.” Twilight gagged slightly. “Oh don’t worry. Para-Medic has an entire handbook describing flora in that area at her disposal, so if you have any questions about anything you come across, be sure to ask her.”
“It says here that some mushrooms out there taste great, although I’ve never had one before. You’ll be like a guinea pig for me, Snake!” Lyra said. Luna gave a little chuckle.
“Our spy should be in the abandoned factory, the same one Sokolov was in.”
“Factory? But I thought it was destroyed.”
“Only partially. As I said before, that weapon was still in development. It wasn’t very powerful on it’s own, but now that Thunderbolt and his scientists have it, they can work out the problems with it and mass-produce them, probably for use on the Shagohod.”
“I see. How will I know that my informant is the real deal when I meet her?”
“Ask her ‘Who are the patriots?’. The answer is ‘La-Le-Lu-Li-Lo.’”
“Strange password.” Twilight said frankly.
“These are strange times we live in. Anyway Twilight, get a move on.”
“Right, but first I have a question...”
“Major, do you know why Celestia defected?” Luna sighed upon hearing her.
“Honestly Snake, that question has been rumbling around in my brain for weeks. It couldn’t be for personal gain, for she would be stepping down from her royal duties. She couldn’t be spying on them, otherwise she would have told me. I... I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll find some answers when this is over.”
“Okay. I’m off.”
“Huh”? A high-pitched beep sounded off from the ear-piece.
“I’ve made this conversation private for the moment.”
“What is it?”
“Snake, despite what all of Equestria is saying, I want you to bring back my sister. Bring her back to me so I can find out why. Please.”
“It’s my first priority.” Twilight said sincerely.
“Really? Well, um, of course. I completely understand why you would--”
“I want answers too. Don’t worry Major.”
“Thank you, Snake.”
Twilight rose from her hiding place behind the tree and advanced into the forest. She could only see a few feet ahead of herself, but that did not hinder her. She formed a circle of light around her horn, and lit up the forest around her. Several nocturnal animals scattered from the bushes and trees.
“I wouldn’t want to accidentally step on some of you guys, would I?” she said while grinning. Twilight continued on into the forest, and came upon a familiar area. “This is where those two guards were.” She suddenly remembered the situation that led to them falling off of the cliff. “That... that really was kind of mean, wasn’t it?” she openly pondered to herself. Twilight slowly walked onto the rickety bridge, but since there was no torrential winds this time, she was not in danger of falling off. Once she reached the other side, she was shocked to see Celestia waiting for her. She was wearing a black cloak that starking contrasted with her vivid mane. “Princess?” Twilight said, bracing herself.
“Does that leg still hurt?” she asked. Celestia sped over to Twilight, grabbing her in telekinesis and thrusting her onto a nearby rock. A loud crack split through the air. Twilight screamed in pain, and could not bear to open her eyes.
“Ugh... what are you doing here?” she was barely able to ask.
“Go home.” Celestia said. Twilight scrambled up in an attempt to strike back, but Celestia knocked her aside. “Go home! You haven’t a chance of finishing your mission.” Twilight stood up shakily, and shot a magical blast at her. Celestia deflected it with a shield instantly. “I’m not your mentor any longer. There is no need to prove that you are virtuous here. This isn’t Equestria.” Twilight began to charge at Celestia, running at full speed with her horn ablaze. Celestia put up another shield, and Twilight crashed into it, sending her flying backwards into a patch of mud.
“W-w-why d-did you leave?” Twilight sputtered out.
“I didn’t. I’m loyal to the end. To my purpose. What about you, Twilight? What is it going to be? Loyalty to your country, or to your old mentor? Your mission, or your beliefs? Your duty to your leaders? Or your personal feelings?” Twilight did not answer, and began to crawl out of the mud drearily. “You don’t know the truth yet. But sooner or later, you’ll have to choose. I don’t expect you to forgive me.” She dragged her way towards Celestia, but she was lifted off of the ground and thrown back again. “But you can’t beat me either. You know yourself too well. If you can’t put the past behind you, you won’t survive long.” Celestia began to walk away from her former student, but stopped. “If we meet again, I’ll kill you.” she coldly said, and teleported away. Twilight pounded the ground in frustration. She hoisted herself up, but winced in pain. The side of her torso was bleeding. She placed her hoof over it and tried standing again. Twilight limped to a rock and sat against it, her breathing clearly hindered. A buzzing sound came through the receiver.
“Snake! Are you alright?” Lyra asked, panic-stricken.
“How did you... you know what, I’m not even going to ask. No, I’m not okay. The Princess... I think she broke one of my ribs.”
“Oh no! Alright, first, apply some bandages to stop the bleeding, and wrap some splint around the effected area.” She bandaged the cut, and then took out some splint from her bags and wrapped it carefully around her torso, covering the wound entirely. “That should make the broken rib mended and the wound closed up. Try not to exert that part of your body too much, or it could disturb the healing.” Lyra told her.
“Thanks Para-Medic.” Twilight replied.
“No problem. Listen Snake, I know that what you have to do on this mission isn’t exactly your idea of a Tuesday afternoon, but we all have your back on this! Don’t get discouraged!”
“... right.” she finished. Luna’s voice suddenly blared through the ear-piece.
“Snake, are you healed up?”
“Yes, thanks to Para-Medic here.”
“Good. Like she said, don’t lose sight of your goal. The factory is only a short while away.”
“Right. Making my way there now.” she said. Twilight Sparkle got back up, and despite being visibly hurt, trotted towards the facility.”
As Twilight entered the area, she paused to examine the environment around her. The western part of the building was demolished, but the other half was still fairly intact. Another voice emerged from there.
“Are you the agent they sent?” the voice asked. She then emerged from hiding. She was a grey earth pony with a charcoal mane. Her purple eyes were sharp and focused. On her flank was a cutie mark of a musical symbol that Twilight was not familiar with. “Hm?”
“Who are the patriots?” Twilight questioned.
“La-Le-Lu-Li-Lo.” the mare said.
Twilight extended her hoof outwards. “Nice to meet you.” The grey pony did not respond, nor did she accept the gesture. “Octavia, I presume?”
“You presume correct. What may I call you?” Octavia asked. Twilight was slightly irritated by not being recognized, but she continued on anyway.
“Twilight Sparkle, but my code name for this mission is Snake.”
“Snake, hrm? What a nasty codename. You can call me EVA.” Twilight eyed her suspiciously. “Come with me inside.” she beckoned, and Twilight slowly followed her into the room Sokolov was once held in. There she had a suitcase and some clothes organized together on the bed. “Take these.” she said while tossing them to Twilight.
“What are these for?”
“Sokolov is being forced to continue his work on the Shagohod at a laboratory not too far from here. There they have many scientists working with him. You’ll need a disguise if you want to get inside.” Twilight noticed that a lab-coat was among the clothes she had packed. “The safest way inside is through the rear. First, head north through the jungle. You’ll come to a supply depot. Pass through it and there should be a large crevice nearby. Descend into it and you’ll reach a cave. Move through the cave, and you’ll reach a swamp. After the swamp, you’ll see a warehouse. Go past that and you’ll be just south of the lab.”
“Not too far? That sounds like at least a couple of--” Twilight said before Octavia put her hoof over her mouth.
“Don’t complain. I hate whiners.” she said in agitation. Twilight took the clothes and put them inside her bags.
“Alright, let’s go.” she said.
“Yes, let’s see how well you fare with that broken rib of yours out in the jungle in the middle of the night. Sit down.” Octavia told her, pushing her onto the bed. “Get some rest. I’ll keep watch until dawn.” Twilight looked at her in disbelief, but then felt slightly sleepy as her receiver buzzed. Lyra’s voice came through.
“She’s right Snake. You should get some sleep. Although in your condition, I’d say you should be back here. Just do yourself a favor and take a nap. Doctor’s orders, okay?”
“But you’re a nurse.” Twilight said while yawning.
“Not a whole lot of choice you have, right?” Lyra said, giggling. Twilight laid down on the cushion, and was carried off into her dreams.