Under A Luminous Sky

by Jake The Army Guy


Chapter Nine- Some Kind of Monster

Under A Luminous Sky

by

Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Nine: Some Kind of Monster


BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

      “Gah!”

        Twilight jerked upwards, drawing several gasping breaths and craning her head around. Finding herself still in the basement lab, she sighed and slouched back in the large chair. Her left foreleg was completely numb from where she had laid her head on it, intent on resting her eyes for a few minutes. The blaring alert from the computer told her that she had slept most of the night, a fact confirmed by the angry soreness in her back.

        She arched her back, groaning at the loud series of pops and cracks as she looked up at the screen. The computer had finished its examination of the parasprite, and she placed her black glasses back on her snout to read:

  Analysis complete:

    Species: Parasitus Arcana

      Weight: 0.50 lbs

      Status: Deceased

      Cause of Death: Breakdown of cellular tissue due to genetic instability.

      Additional Notes: Presence of foreign thaumatic radiation detected. Levels of radiation over 200% lethal dose for creature of its size.

        Twilight frowned at the screen, her brow furrowed as she did math in her head.

In order for thaumatic radiation to build up to those levels, the parasprite had to have been exposed to over...

Twilight gasped. 36.7 megajoules?

Setting her jaw, she typed on the keyboard:

Query: Identify signature of thaumatic charge.

A series of clicks came from the CPU tower next to her.

Answer: Unknown. Signature is not native to Equestria.

Command: Broaden search parameters to include surrounding nations.

Accepted, search initiated. Estimated time of completion: 17 hours.

Twilight sighed once more and leaned back in her chair. The CPU began to whir, the custom-made processors searching for a match. Deciding there was nothing more she could do now, she eased out of the chair, shaking her hoof to wake it up. After another series of angry pops, she made her way to the stairs, her steps slow. The reality of what she was doing sent a chill across her back. This wasn’t some obscure science project; she was actually hunting a killer. Lives had been lost, blood spilled, and whether they knew it or not, the citizens of Ponyville were relying on her to stop it.

A wave of frustration ran through her as she made her way up the stairs. How can Sheriff Shackle be so uncaring? She had known the portly stallion for years, and he had always come across as a fine pony, genial and caring. Knowing that he cared more about maintaining his perfect crime-free streak than the lives he was sworn to protect rubbed her in every wrong way.

Gritting her teeth, she shook her head. Whatever. If he doesn’t want to do anything, then Bentgrass and I will handle it. And after we catch this psycho, his fat flank will be out of a job. She idly wondered if she should take such pleasure in ruining a pony’s life, but the thought passed almost immediately.

As she reached the top of the stairs, muffled voices came from beyond the door. Apparently, Bentgrass and Spike were talking. She reached for the knob, but paused. The strange detective hadn’t had any interaction with Spike beyond the tense confrontation that first day. A twinge of panic hit her, as she remembered the conversation they had the previous evening about her young assistant. Bentgrass was anything but subtle, and she feared what he may do with the information.

She smiled as an idea came to her. Closing her eyes, her horn glowed softly in the tight stairwell. The voices beyond the door slowly became clearer, as if she was standing right next to them. Opening her eyes, she could see faint outlines of the two in the kitchen through the wooden door. She said a silent thanks that she had read about that “See Me; Hear Me” spell. The magic in full effect, she listened.

“You seem quite adept in the kitchen, Spike.” Bentgrass stood next to the kitchen table, watching as the adolescent dragon walked between the refrigerator and the stove, an iron frying pan in his claws. Twilight’s stomach growled at the smell of baking pancakes that wafted through the door.

“Heh, well, somepony has to be. Twilight can’t cook to save her life. She must have read every cookbook in the library, and she could still burn cereal!”

Twilight grimaced at the insult, making a note to hide his stash of gemstones later as she continued to listen.

“Well, knowledge and skill are two very separate things.” Bentgrass walked over to peer over Spike’s shoulder as he ran a whisk through a bowl of eggs. Spike shrugged him away and continued to stir. Bentgrass walked back to the table, sitting on one of the low set chairs. “She’s very lucky to have you.”

“You’re telling me!” he said with a laugh as he poured the mixture into the frying pan. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Twilight more than anypony on the planet, but sometimes she can get a bit, um...”

“Neurotically obsessed to the point of neglecting even basic hygiene?”

“Uh, I would say ‘focused,’ but whatever.” He reached into a cabinet above him and pulled out a spice jar, dashing a bit on top of the slowly cooking eggs. “Anyway, I think it’s part of that, uh, O.D.C., or whatever. She just gets so focused on the minute details that she misses out on the bigger picture.”

“She seems to rely on you a lot.”

Spike shrugged. “Yeah, but I don’t mind. I’d do anything for her; she’s like my sister. Plus, she pays me in gemstones!” he chuckled. He stiffened and craned his head around to face him. “Um, I don’t have to pay taxes on those, do I?”

“I believe snacks are deductible,” he said. “You say she’s like a sister? Our file says she hatched you. I would think she would be more like a mother.”

“Yeah, but Princess Celestia took me and raised me after that. Once I was old enough to read, and not burn the castle down with my sneezes,” he chuckled, “she assigned me as Twilight’s assistant. She said we’d be good for each other.”

“Indeed you are,” he said, looking softly at him. “She will have quite a difficult time once you... go away.”

Spike abruptly stopped stirring the eggs, and Twilight could see him tense. “So she, uh, told you, huh?”

“Yes. She’s quite worried about you.”

Spike began to stir again, much slower than he had before. “Yeah, she would be.”

Bentgrass leaned forward in his chair. “Forgive me if I overstep my bounds, Spike, but you don’t appear too broken up about the whole issue.”

A quiet chuckle escaped Spike. “Let me tell you a story, Agent Bentgrass,” he said, still slowly stirring the eggs. “Three years ago, me and Twi went to Canterlot to see her brother’s new foal. It was great, even though the colt kept yanking on my tail.

“Anyway, while we were there I got a wild bug up my tail and decided to see if I could finally learn something about my species. The library may have a lot of books, but it’s nothing compared to the Royal Canterlot Archives. I went there and began looking. Eventually, I found an old book, actually bound in leather! That creeped me out a little, but it seems to be what I was looking for.” He set the whisk down and picked up a spatula, reaching for a frying pan of pancakes. “Old thing, the text on the cover almost completely faded, but it was by one of Starswirl the Bearded’s apprentices.” The pancakes flipped, he walked over to the fridge and pulled out a few strips of hay bacon, throwing them on a large pan on the last burner.

“So, based on what I know about myself, born bipedal without wings, breathes green fire, wings grow in later in life,” he said, flicking his wrist as he counted them off, “I was able to identify my species. I’m a Drakenwvyrm, one of the largest species of dragons. We grow every year until we die.” Twilight suppressed a chuckle as his chest puffed out.

His expression darkened. “Then I read the next line. Do you know the average life expectancy of my species?” Bentgrass shook his head. “Thirty-five hundred years. The longest recorded was over seven thousand. In one sentence, I learned that I’m going to outlive everypony I know and love by thousands of years.”

Bentgrass said nothing for a moment, the sound of the spatula scraping against the frying pan and the sizzle of the bacon the only sounds in the library. Eventually, he spoke. “What did you do?”

Spike let out a wry chuckle. “The only thing I could do. Curled up into a ball and cried, right there in the Archive.

“About four hours later, Twilight kicked in the door to the Archive with about half a platoon of Royal Guards. Heh, she can get a bit protective. She found me there next to the book, still crying. She asked what was wrong, but I couldn’t even form words at that point. She read the page next to me, and then she cried.

“Eventually, she picked me up and took me home. I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, the tears had just... stopped. It still hurt, but I just... couldn’t. Twilight said some nonsense about running out of tears. She’s always been a bit sappy like that.”

Bentgrass finally stood. “Still, Spike. I fail to see why you’re choosing not to tell your friends? Shouldn’t they have time to... prepare?”

A loud clang echoed throughout the library as Spike threw the spatula across the counter, whipping around to glare at Bentgrass. “You don’t get it, do you? Every time I go to sleep, that could be it! I might not wake up for a hundred years! Why do you think I stayed up so late yesterday? You weren’t there that morning, you didn’t see Twi...” His fists began to clench, a visible tremor moving through him. “I... I can’t, okay? I can’t let my last memory of my friends... my family, be of them crying. I just can’t.”

As Spike turned back around, Bentgrass’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I’d heard that dragons were selfish, but I had no idea.”

Slowly, Spike turned back to face him. “What did you just say?”

“You heard me,” Bentgrass said, leveling a deadly gaze at Spike.

Spike took a step towards him, smoke billowing from his nostrils. “Just who in the hay do you think you are?”

“I am somepony who has thought about this for longer than five seconds!” he snarled, glaring down at the enraged dragon. “By the stars, boy, by your own words, they are your family! Don’t you think they have the right to know their friend is leaving forever? Did you ever stop to think what they would feel? No, you’re only concerned with your feelings, your memories!”

Spike opened his mouth, but Bentgrass continued. “Suppose one of them has a secret, something they didn’t have the nerve to tell you. Then one day they finally work up the courage only to find you gone!”

“Well, I—”

“Or, Luna forbid, you have an argument with one of them!” He leaned towards Spike, bringing his face inches from him. “Believe you me, my young drake, having the last memory of a loved one being you saying hateful things, that is a pain that I would not even wish upon the killer we are currently hunting.”

The two stared at each, neither backing down. Twilight squinted her eyes into the spell, and saw a slight tremor in Bentgrass’s hoof. Finally, after a tense few moments, he spoke quietly. “Your breakfast is burning.”

“Huh?” Spike spun around to see a plume of black smoke rising from the frying pans. “Aw, horseapples!”

Twilight shook her head, canceling the spell. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and strode into the kitchen, a fake smile on her face. “Morning, you two. What are we talking about?”

Bentgrass held his gaze on Spike for a few seconds before turning to Twilight, his angry glare replaced by his usual impassive gaze. “Oh, nothing, really. Stallion talk, you probably wouldn’t be interested. Right, Spike?”

Spike finished dumping the burnt remains of breakfast into the sink, a small plume of steam rising as he ran the faucet. “Y-yeah. Hey, Twi.” He turned to her with a blank face. “I uh... I burnt breakfast.” Turning off the water, he brushed past her, staring at his feet. “I’m gonna go... alphabetize... something.”

She watched him leave, a large lump forming in her throat. Before she could dwell on it, Bentgrass tapped her on the shoulder. “So, what did the computer say about the parasprite?”

She cleared her throat. “A lot, but at the same time, not much.”

Bentgrass flashed her a confused look. “Um, what?”

“Well, it confirmed that it was magically altered, but it couldn’t match the signature of the magic to any form known in Equestria. I widened the parameters to include surrounding nations, but it’ll take awhile to run through the entire database.”

“Well, that’s the ‘a lot.’ What’s the ‘not much?’”

She sat down roughly at the table, resting her head in her hooves. “Well, it said that the parasprite died from massive cellular degradation.”

Bentgrass raised an eyebrow. “And that means what, exactly?”

“Well, transformation magic is very dangerous. Basically, you’re saturating the subject’s DNA with thaumatic energy to the point where it becomes malleable. Then you insert instructions on what you want to happen, and the DNA does its job. If you’re not specific enough with the instructions, the cells won’t reform properly, and they begin to die. That’s why it’s been banned since the beginning of Celestia’s reign. It’s not a pleasant way to go.”

Twilight furrowed her eyebrows, thinking out loud. “The scan said the parasprite was exposed to over 36.7 megajoules of thaumatic energy. That’s way more than would be needed for an animal of that size. My guess is that whomever cast the spell simply dumped as much power into it as he could. The change took hold, but the excess of energy killed the parasprite. A beginner’s mistake,” she mumbled.

Bentgrass slowly nodded. “Hm, makes sense. So, we are dealing with an amateur caster, one with little experience in transformation magic. Were you able to identify the type of magic?”

“No. The computer was set to only compare with Equestrian magic.” She frowned. “I would have set it to scan all known types, but that would have overtaxed the system. The gem lattice can only handle so much info at once. I’m working on improving the output, though.”

Bentgrass sat down opposite of her. “Wait, you built the equipment down there?”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Oh, no! I just wrote the code for the gem enchantments! A colleague of mine in town, Dr. Whooves, designed the device based on my specifications and a team of contractors from Canterlot built it.”

He leaned in towards her. “So, you basically invented an entirely new realm of technology in your basement?”

Twilight blushed hotly. “Well... I guess I did.”

“Hm,” he said, eyeing her thoughtfully. “Makes me even more curious as to the real reason you are a small-town librarian and not a celebrated college professor.”

Twilight fidgeted in her chair. “So, like I said, all I could narrow down was it’s not native to Equestria. I widened the parameters, but it’s going to take some time.”

Arching his eyebrow, Bentgrass leaned back in his chair. “That matches with what I found about the symbol. I poured through every one of those books,” he said, gesturing to the table in the main hall, “and all I was able to ascertain was that it is not of Equestrian origin.”

“So... we’re stuck?”

He ran his hoof through his neatly cut mane. “It would appear so. Unless the killer decides to knock on the door and announce himself, we are at a standstill.”

A sharp knocking came from the front door. Both Bentgrass and Twilight turned the door, before facing each other.

“Let us hope that I am prophetic.”

Twilight stood from the table and walked to the main hall. With her magic, she opened the door to reveal Zecora. She smiled, but it faded quickly as she took in the state of the wizened zebra. The tight braid that usually held her tail in place was missing, leaving the appendage frayed and messy. Her mohawk was unkempt, hanging limply across her head. Her deep teal eyes were wide and panicked, large bags underneath both.

“Oh, my goodness, Zecora! Are you alright?”

“Yes, but we must skip the pleasantries. A dark truth has been revealed to me.”

“How nice to see you again, Ms. Zecora.” Bentgrass slowly trotted into the main hallway, his eyes carefully neutral.

Zecora glared at him. “I have no interest in quarreling with you, stranger.” She turned to face Twilight, who wore a puzzled gaze. “Twilight, my dear, we are all in terrible danger.”

“Calm down, Zecora. What happened?”

She pushed past Twilight, walking into the main room. “Last night I was sitting in my hut, drinking some tea, when a dark feeling passed over me. I knew it could be nothing good, so I went outside to commune with the woods.”

Bentgrass raised an eyebrow. “What a ravishing conversation you must have had with the oak trees.”

Be quiet!” Twilight hissed at him.

Shooting a scowl at him, Zecora continued. “A full night of meditation and stillness led me to the source of this illness. Your search for a killing pony must cease. What you hunt is, in fact, a beast.”

At this, Bentgrass perked his ears up. “Do tell, Ms. Zecora.”

“A legend passed down from ancestors of mine. It is the Mbwun, foulest demon of the ancient times.”

“M-Mb—Mbwun?” Twilight struggled through the foreign word, the odd dialect twisting her tongue into knots.

Bentgrass walked past her and sat down on a cushion next to the main table. “Hmm, interesting. Please, Ms. Zecora, tell us more about this... Mbwun.”

“For the true terror to be known, you can not be told, only shown.” With that, she reached into her saddle bag and procured a small canvas satchel. She turned the satchel over, dumping a strange green powder into her other hoof. With a flourish, she blew the dust into the air, covering the room in a cloud of tiny particles, a swirling cloud of green that obscured Twilight’s vision.

In the blink of an eye, she was no longer in the library. Instead, Twilight looked out upon an grassy plain, the sun beating down harshly on her. Tall grass waved in a gentle breeze, and a few gangly trees twisted their way out of the ground. Twilight’s jaw went slack as she took in the illusion. Everything was strikingly detailed and lifelike, save for the deep emerald tint. The dry grass crunched underhoof, tickling her as she walked. She could actually smell the plains; the arid wind tickling her nostrils, the sickly sweet aroma of the savannah grass. Even the oppressive heat from the jade-tinted sun made her sweat.

In the distance, several zebras mulled around a watering hole, dipping their heads down to parch their dry throats. A group of foals kicked a ball around near the edge of the water, laughing gleefully. From the mouth of the small pond, a zebra mare called out to a foal in a foreign language, the small filly answering in kind and leaving her friends. Twilight spun around several times, taking it all in. “Zebrica,” she muttered.

Zecora nodded. “Yes, my ancestral home, in all its beauty.” Her voice carried a sad tone, and she hung her head. “Sadly, it was not always as peaceful as you now see.”

Another billow of dust, and the landscape flashed away to reveal an arid desert. Before Twilight could ask, a shrill cry rang out. Whipping her head to look, a zebra fell to the ground, impaled by a long spear. Two others appeared from behind a nearby dune, walking up to the fallen stallion and rummaging through his saddlebag. “Long ago, before the Joining of The Herds, Zebrica was a land filled with strife unheard.” The two stallions gathered what they could from the dead zebra and kicked him in the head, laughing cruelly before galloping away. “Bandits roamed the lonely plains, killing any to earn their gains.”

Another flash of green, and a shrieking cry made Twilight jerk. They were back in the plains, but it was no longer the serene place it had been. Now, bodies littered the landscape, impaled by spears, others slashed across the throat, their limbs bound by bolos. Across the field, a massive stampede of zebra’s charged towards her, shouting war cries in a foreign tongue. “The leaders of the great Herds warred and fought, over trivial things that, in the end, mattered naught.”

Suddenly, an inequine shriek shook the ground. The charging herd ground to a halt, a look of pure terror on all their faces. From the grass rose a dark shape, the jet blackness stark against the green haze. It rose higher and higher, a murky cloud that must have spanned dozens of pony lengths. From the middle, two yellow eyes glowed fiercely, vertically slitted pupils glaring hatred at the amassed zebras. “From the depths of Hell the Mbwun arose, a vile beast of terror and sorrows.”

Once more the ground shook and several more shapes lunged from the tall grass. Twilight gasped when she saw them. Several looked like they could have been ponies, but from where their head would have been rose a torso rippled with twisted muscle, a long snaking appendage jutting from the middle. Its head was vaguely pony-shaped, but the eyes were smaller, almost lost under the wild shock of mane that hung down. Another creature was completely unidentifiable: it looked like a mass of fur and teeth, with two tentacle-like things jutting from the side, propelling it towards the frightened zebras. More and more of the impossible creatures lunged towards the herd.

Twilight turned away as the deformed things hit the wall of retreating ponies. Though she did not see, she could hear cries of pain and fear, along with the sickening pop of bones breaking and sinew tearing. “The demon ravaged across the plains, the blood of the innocent leaving its stain. Even the bravest of Zebra warriors ran, for the Mbwun had the power of creation at its hands.”

“The power of creation?” Bentgrass asked, carefully studying as a Zebrican warrior was disemboweled before him. As Twilight suppressed a gag, she noted his expression: he looked almost bored, like he heard this kind of thing everyday.

Zecora nodded. “The very thought makes me ill, but it could bend the laws of nature to its will. It mutated and twisted beasts of all kinds, creating vile chimeras and controlling their minds." The carnage around them had finally died off, all the zebras dead or dying. “Unopposed, the demon laid waste to the land. Thousands of zebras died by its hand.”

Once more, the green cloud shimmered to show a different plain, this one devoid of life. On one side stood the giant miasma, its glowing eyes flicking back and forth wildly, while a horde of vile abominations seethed and roared beneath it. Twilight gasped as she looked across the plain. A sea of zebras spanned as far as she could see, each dressed in war paint and carrying various weapons. This time, she could see no fear in their eyes, only set determination. They chanted war cries, several different Zebrican dialects melding together as the amassed army stood in solidarity.

“Finally, the great herds united as one, and through their efforts, the day was won.”

Before the amassed zebras stood a large Zebrican warrior, layers of thick muscles covered his mighty frame. With a loud battle cry, he charged towards the demonic menagerie before him, the army following him. At this, the creatures rushed forth as well, snarling and drooling. The two armies raced towards where Twilight and Bentgrass stood. With a final yell, the Zebrican warrior and a creature she could not identify clashed right in front of her before the whole scene vanished, the green cloud dissipating to reveal the library once more.

Twilight stood still for a few moments, trying to process what she had seen.

“An amazing tale, Ms. Zecora.” Bentgrass approached her slowly, his eyes unreadable. “Pray tell, what makes you think that these deaths are the work of this, ‘Mbwun?’”

“I have a deep connection with the beasts of the Everfree. It was they who told the truth to me.”

“The... forest told you?”

Zecora nodded slowly. “As I said, the forest is my friend. It spoke to me, asking to make this end. The animals are crying out in pain. It is not just ponies that are being slain.”

Twilight nodded thoughtfully. It made sense when she thought about it. Earth ponies had a special connection to nature, and zebras were an offshoot of the same race. A small ray of hope fluttered inside of her. Though the idea seemed a bit far-fetched—an ancient Zebrican legend come to life in modern-day Ponyville—if what Zecora said was true, then maybe it wasn’t a pony doing these horrible things. While the idea of an ancient demon would fill the average pony with dread, Twilight and her friends had seen and done enough that it didn’t faze her as much as the idea of a killer pony. Deranged gods I can handle.

Twilight slowly approached her. “Okay, Zecora. If it is this... Mbwun, how do we stop it?"

“It was the sacrifice of many Zebra lives, that allowed the herds to survive. The only other way that I can see, may be the Elements of Harmony."

From behind her, Bentgrass cleared his throat. “Ms. Zecora, I wonder if you might look at something for me.” Zecora eyed him dubiously before nodding. He walked up to her and pulled the sheet of paper out of his coat pocket. “Tell me, have you ever seen this symbol before?”

Zecora looked at the strange drawing for a few moments, her brow furrowed in thought. Finally, she looked up at him. “Zebrican elements I can surmise, but this symbol is new to my eyes.”

“Hm, I see. Thank you,” he said, folding the paper back up and placing it in his coat. He looked up at her with a solemn gaze. “Zecora, I want to apologize. When last we met I was a bit... short. Ponies are dying, and I can’t figure out the who or why. I can clearly see the puzzle pieces in my head, but for the life of me, I can’t force them together. In my zeal to stop this madness, I unfairly judged you. With this new information, I finally have a lead that I can track down.” He bowed his head, closing his eyes.” Please, forgive me.”

Behind him, Twilight eyed him skeptically. If she was having some trouble accepting this, the cold, logical Bentgrass should be calling her a lunatic. He’s up to something...

Zecora regarded him for a few moments before giving a small smile. “Your passion to save pony’s lives, explains your actions in my eyes. You have my forgiveness, my well-dressed friend. Maybe together, we can make this madness end.”

“A capital idea!” he said with an uncharacteristic grin. “Now, can you tell me anymore about this Mbwun legend?”

She shook her head. “Sadly, I have told you all I can. I only know stories from my sire and dam.”

“Hm. Perhaps you could write home and ask them?”

“N-No, this I can not do. Besides, they... they would not know anything new.” For a split second, Twilight could have sworn she saw a nervous twitch in her eyes.

Bentgrass sighed. “Well, if that’s the way it is, so be it. Now, here is what I propose. Go back to your hut and see if you can recollect anything, anything more about this legend. We shall stay here and continue to examine the evidence we have gathered.” He gently placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Together, we will stop this.”

Zecora nodded, already walking towards the door. “I will try to remember what I can. We shall drive this beast from our lands!” She looked to Twilight. "You and your friends should prepare, to bring the Elements to bear. I will try to find another way, but that may be the only option to save the day." With that, she walked out the door.

As the door shut, Twilight eyed Bentgrass. If she had learned nothing else about the strange pony, it was that nothing he did could be taken at face value. He was never this polite with her, and he got the feeling that he respected her. To somepony like Zecora, whom he obviously didn’t trust, his kind words set warning bells off in Twilight’s mind. “So, what do you make of... that?”

Bentgrass said nothing for a moment. The look on his face was not one she had seen before. Rather than the cold, impassive look he normally had, a strange emptiness covered his face. Growing impatient, she tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hm?”

“I asked you what you thought of what she said.”

“Oh, yes. It was, um, quite a tale." He walked back towards the main table, his eyes unreadable.

"Well, this is good, right?" Twilight asked, a hopeful tone in her voice. "I mean, it explains everything."

"Yes, it does, doesn't it? All the answers wrapped up in a nice, tidy package. How convenient," he mumbled.

"What does that mean?"

He shook his head. "Never mind. Now, the real value of that conversation was her recognition of the symbol as Zebrican. If that is indeed the case, I may know somepony who could help. Though, I shall have to make use of young Mr. Spike’s fire to fetch him.”

Twilight chuckled. “Well, I’ll let you ask him.”

He raised his eyebrow for a moment before shaking his head and walking towards the door.

“Wait, where are you going? Spike is upstairs.”

“I need to think for a moment. Sort of, dwell on the facts as they stand. Perhaps go get some breakfast that isn’t burnt beyond recognition,” he said, gesturing to the blackened remains in the sink. “I shall be back shortly.” With that, he left the library.

Twilight stood for a moment. Finally, she groaned and walked towards the basement. There were still a few tests she could run while the computer was finishing its analysis.

As she reached the door, a mighty burp and a flash of green came from upstairs. After a few moments, an exasperated groan came from Spike. “You know what? I’m gonna tell Ditzy Doo to take the day off! I’ll just deliver all of Ponyville’s mail myself!”A few stomps and he appeared at the top of the staircase. “Twilight! Mail!” 

A scroll sailed through the air, bouncing off of a few steps before landing at Twilight’s hooves. With a small giggle, she picked it up and began to read.

From the Desk of General Shining Armor:

Hey, kiddo. Alright, I’m going to get right to it. I got the information you wanted, but it wasn’t easy. Personal info on Division Six agents is hard to come by as it is, but this Bentgrass pony is a special case. None of the contacts I have in the Service could get me anything. They either didn’t know, or they refused to talk about him. From what I was able to gather, he’s kind of a political landmine up here. I had to go through some... unusual ponies to get this. I’d tell you the details, but I don’t really get it myself. Let’s just say I owe General Cloudhammer a serious favor now.

His name is Agrostis Bentgrass. He’s 35, originally from New Horseleans. He comes from old money. Apparently the Bentgrass family owns one of the most successful sod and turf business’s in Equestria. One brother, deceased, mother and father are also dead. He was married at one point to a pegasus named Skylight.

He told you the truth at least about his service. Records show he was in the Night Guard for a few years. Rose quickly in the ranks, on his way to becoming a Command Sergeant Major in record time. Then things got ugly.

It happened seven years ago, August 23rd, 2 N.S.R. The date sound familiar? It was right after I initially put up my protection spell around Canterlot. In the early days it was still unstable, and several areas had been deemed possible breach points. Staff Sergeant Bentgrass was stationed at one of those points. According to the official report, a foal came up to his station crying about being lost. Bentgrass left his post to help the colt find his mother. It was decided later that the kid was a Changeling infiltrator, an advanced scout for the main body. Now, nopony could prove anything, so no official charges were leveled, but it’s a generally accepted theory that that is how the Changelings got into Canterlot.

It gets worse. Remember how I said he was married? His wife died in the invasion. After that, it gets really sketchy. From what my source could find, Bentgrass nearly broke. He was about to join Princess Luna’s Elite Guard before he got scooped up by the R.I.S. You don’t want to know what those guys have to give up. Something to do with Negative Magic.

That’s all I know. Look, Twilight. Watch your back around this guy, he sounds unstable. Stay safe.

Shining

The scroll fluttered to the ground. A torrent of thoughts and emotions flooded her mind.

Oh, that poor pony. It was something she couldn’t even imagine, losing a loved one like that. She and her friends had been in danger before, tested against the best efforts of crazed demigods. Through all of that, she never let herself think about what could happen, the idea being too much to handle at the time. The nights following those adventures had been spent in tears, but even then she refused to dwell on such morbid thoughts. Her heart ached for the lonely stallion.

So that’s why he’s so cold. Funnily, she hadn’t put much thought as to why Bentgrass was so... detached. Knowing what she knew now, it made sense. If her actions led to the death of somepony she loved, she wouldn’t be able to cope.

Shining is right. I need to be caref— Twilight roughly shook her head. While Bentgrass certainly had undesirable traits, he had shown himself to be nothing but competent and trustworthy. Twilight chuckled to herself. Her earlier misgivings about him had all melted away in the past days without her even knowing it. Now, she trusted him. She wasn’t sure why, but she did. He had a genuine concern for the safety of ponies he’d never even met. Surely a trait like that wouldn’t be found in somepony who would turn on her and her friends.

She began walking towards the basement, her mind still roiling. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt that even with that eye, he’s pretty cute, she thought with a small smile. In fact, the eye pro—

Twilight jerked to a halt, her eyes wide. “Oh, Celestia, I did not just think that.”

“What was that?” Spike called from upstairs.

“N-Nothing! Uh, nothing!”Shaking her head, she descended the stairs to her lab.


Bentgrass sigh contentedly, washing down his breakfast muffin with a swig of tea. If nothing else, his stay at Ms. Doo’s house had given him an appreciation for the pastry he had never had before. Hoofing a few bits out of his pocket, he stood and walked out of Sugarcube Corner, doing his best to politely ignore the ranting pink mare behind him. It seems even the best researched personnel files can’t prepare you for somepony like her. 

He walked a fair distance, taking in the sights of the humble town. Thatched-roof shops and homes lined the streets, giving out a strange sense of home often missing from bigger cities. In many ways, it reminded him of New Horseleans, at least in the welcoming atmosphere. He nodded politely to the few vendors he passed, including a cream-coated Earth pony mare selling sweets. He raised an eyebrow to the lime green unicorn standing with her, who was all but openly staring at him.

Finally, he reached what he deemed a safe distance from town, approaching a large tree on a hill. The sounds of Ponyville had long since died off, leaving only the gentle rustling of the leaves in the breeze. He took a deep breath through his nostrils, inhaling the scent of dying leaves and cool autumn air. In all honesty, he did like the outdoors, though there was nothing quite like the roar of a small fire and a nice port while reading to truly get him to relax.

Taking one last glance to ensure he was alone, he reached into the deepest pocket of his coat, producing a hoof-sized gem, emblazoned with runic symbols. He smiled lowly. If Ms. Sparkle ever found out about this, the entire city of Ponyville could burn and she wouldn’t notice.

Carefully, he set the gem on the ground and tapped it three times. The emerald flashed a brilliant green and shot a thin beam of light up to his eye level. The beam widened to about head-sized to form a field of static. The gem hissed white noise for a few moments while the signal was found. Finally, the screen turned black, and a voice spoke.

“Authorization?”

“Charlie, Three, Four, Seven, India, November,” Bentgrass answered quietly.

A moment of silence and the voice spoke again. “Confirmed. What can we do for you, Agent Bentgrass?”

“I have a Priority One information request.”

“Priority One? That’s only in cases of imminent public danger.”

“How astute of you. I see somepony has been reading the manual,” he deadpanned.

The voice sighed. “What is it?”

Bentgrass took one last look around before continuing. “I need you to get in contact with our operatives in Zebrica. I require information about a mare. A mare by the name of Zecora.”