Slipping Through A Sideways Door

by hornethead


Revelations And Machinations

Chapter 15: Revelations And Machinations

Luna stood up on a balcony, overlooking a fresh set of recruits during their morning PT session. There was a rather large one in this batch, a big muscular tan stallion that almost loomed over the rest of the group. He constantly wore a blank expression, no matter how hard the instructors pushed him, but his dark gray eyes held a restrained ferocity. She made a note to keep an eye on that one.

She was turned, about to leave for her quarters and a good day's rest when she found her path blocked by one of her personal guards, "Your Majesty, your Royal Sister requests your presence in the library." He announced.

Luna sighed internally, so much for sleep, "Very well, I will go to her. You may take your leave." She dismissed him.

Luna hoped that for whatever reason her sister had summoned her at this hour, it was important. She hadn't been sleeping well lately and needed to catch up. She hurried to the library, hoping that if she could get there fast enough and find out what here sister wanted, she could get to sleep sooner. Her hopes were dashed as soon as she arrived, however, on seeing the door to the library heavily guarded. Such a thing was never required, unless the circumstances were indeed grave.

The guard stepped aside and allowed her to pass, closing the portal with a rebounding boom after she was inside. High shelves stocked floor to ceiling with books almost made her feel small when Luna saw the library was utterly deserted. She trod back and forth among the volumes calling out for her sister.

"Tia! I'm here, you wanted to speak with me?"

"Back here!"

Luna followed the sound of her sister's voice and found her sequestered far in a back corner of the library that housed some of the oldest books in the entire Canterlot collection. Her sibling was hunched behind a rather large construction of books, papers and other paraphernalia, she was scribbling something down onto a piece of parchment before sending it off in a flash of green smoke and light. On the table lay a large water damaged bound book, the writing she glimpsed inside gave her the shivers.

"Sister, what is it?" Luna asked with concern, "Has something gone awry?"

Celestia's head snapped up, her expression wild and drained. It appeared as if she hadn't been sleeping well, "Oh, sister! Please come here, we have much to talk about." Luna went and sat by Celestia's side, apprehensive about what her sibling had to say. "You are aware of most all the threats that have befallen our country, yes?"

"Of course Tia, from these dark days all the way back to when we first overthrew Discord from his seat of cruel power. All have been dealt with and even these 'Renegades' shall be cast down eventually."

"I'm afraid those were mere trivialities. In our land's trials."

Luna now became troubled at her sister's words, "What do you mean?"

"Luna, this land is old, far older than even we. That is evident enough given the newfound history of the Lotkin tribes." Celestia started explaining.

"Yes, I've read up on all that since the treaty was made. While quarrelsome, they did rule in an uneasy peace and left any others alone. At least until whatever calamity that befell them forced them from their homes." Luna said.

"You are absolutely correct." Celestia said with pride. "But there was always the question of the calamity itself. What caused it? What did it do? What was it?"

"Is this what has been bothering you sister, why you've been so pre-occupied lately? Please, I urge you to rest, this is not so imp—"

"Its everything, Luna!" Celestia exclaimed with slight exasperation, "While Equestria is no longer young, there are still things far more older and some of them would mean us great harm. The Elements of Harmony, the essences of life's greatest attributes, the epitome of peace and good will. A very nice thing to have in our world. But they have a balance, an opposite, a darkness to their light.
Discord mastered a part of it, Nightmare Moon brushed against it, King Sombre became an aspect of it. The humans are more in touch with this other side than our subjects ever could be. Some even live it."

Luna was certainly scared for her older sister now. Anything that could cause her to pause was not something to be treated lightly, "Please, tell me Tia. What is this awful thing you speak of?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you." Celestia said woefully, "IT doesn't necessarily have a name. Sure, it has many descriptions; pain, suffering, deception, hatred, destruction, war, but these are just symptoms."

"Then how could we defeat it, treat the symptoms?"

"I like the way you think, my dear Luna, but if there is one small sliver of fortune, it is that it needn't be that complicated. However, the task will be arduous. I'm close to finding the source, the wretched being that entered this world and began to cause so much misery. Much of my progress can be accredited to you and the RSTG, for that I am grateful. But there is still one piece of the puzzle to find if we are to solve this problem and you have already started on the path to finding the solution."

Luna looked at Celestia, perplexed, "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure of what you speak. How could I have already begun to help if I knew not the danger we faced?"

"It may be a happy coincidence. Tell me, have you heard anything unusual come from Ponyville lately?"

Luna thought, "Not really. There are some new rumors of a strange being in the forest, but there's not much substance to it. Why?"

"It may hold promise. Tell your spy to continue, but not to reveal himself. And send the humans back with Lieutenant Commander Flash. That is all." Celestia added.

Luna took this as her cue to leave. She didn't understand everything her sister did, but it was always for a good reason, like the recruitment of Swift Paws into their ranks. The Diamond Dog's skills had proved invaluable on the last operation she had sent the humans on. She hoped that whatever Celestia, and herself, hoped to actually find in her machinations and manipulations in Ponyville would really be the answer to solving their crisis.

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Howitzer moved as quietly as he could down the dark street, trying not to draw attention to himself. It was difficult to do when in a hurry. He occasionally paused to check his watch, he was late. The pitch black pegasus was on the way to a meeting with one of his contacts about the smuggling of materials through the country. The info grabbed from a small isle up north had proved most helpful in narrowing down the search area to the seedy Los Pegasus neighborhood he now trotted through.

He came up to a shabby building, its windows barred with iron on its exterior, paint flaking off the faded walls. Carved into a cracked wooden sign over the door was the word "Lucky's." It was an old dive bar by the waterfront. As it was now, it was a hangout for sailors and merchants, all skilled in moving goods from one place to another, quietly if the price was right.

Howitzer pushed his way inside through a squeaky door and surveyed the interior. It was dimly lit, many of the lights near the back didn't work or merely flickered. A few stallions down on their luck sat in various places around the old wooden tables, finding their way to the bottom of a bottle. Along the right wall ran the bar itself. The bartender, a scruffy old earth mare, eyed the black pegasus with an air of recognition.

"Howitzer, haven't seen you 'round these parts in a while. What brings ya to this part of Los Pegasus?" She asked with a rasping voice.

Howitzer trotted to the bar and took a seat, tossing a couple bits on the worn counter top, "not much Maud, just some business."

The old mare swept up the money and replaced it with a cold drink in a clean glass, "Business, eh? You ain't gonna wreck up my bar like last time, are ya?"

"Of course I wouldn't! I would never cause trouble for a sweet young mare like you, Maud." He replied charmingly. "Now, if some other thugs get a little rowdy. . ."

"Yeah, yeah. Flattery will get you no where young man." She said harshly, but with a slight smile.

Howitzer took a few gulps of his drink and placed it back down, suddenly becoming serious, "Is he back there yet?"

"Yup, second door past the washroom, the one with a back door, just like he always asks fer. Oh, and a little warning, he's got some friends."

"Thanks Maud, you're the best."

The barmare just nodded and went back to cleaning glasses. Howitzer took a few more swigs before hopping down from the bar and heading to the back. He entered the dark back passage, briefly checking to make sure he wasn't being followed before continuing on. Satisfied he was alone, Howitzer followed Maud's directions to the second door past the washrooms.

Silently, he crept to a green wood door, ears twitching at any sound. He stopped and listened, there were voices on the other side, a few sounded angry. Not wanting to just barge in to a bad situation, he gently cracked the door open and peered in.

There were five stallions seated at a table, playing a round of cards. The game didn't seem to be going well for some of them, the pot consisted of personal items as well as a pile of bits. Four of them were dressed in red jackets with patches sewn on and other matching attire. One stood out from the rest. He wore a black Stetson with one side of the brim folded up and pinned to the top with a cream colored vest. Underneath he had a dark brown coat the shade of rich mahogany and a messy, ragged mane of dark blue poking out from places under his hat. On his face, he wore a set of aviators to hide his eyes. On his flank was an image of an ace of diamonds with a dagger hiding behind it, as if to hint at some kind of warning.

At the moment. The gang of four matching stallions were glowering at the fifth one, "You better not be cheatin', salt lick. We don't play nice with cheaters!" The larger of the four threateningly proclaimed.

"Little ol' me, cheating?" Said the stallion with the shades in a very thick drawl, "Why, just the though is preposterous. You know I wouldn't cheat an honest gent like yerself, Maggie."

"It's Magrathorn!" The lead stallion growled.

"Of course, of course, my apologies. Tell ya what, how 'bout we play this hand double or nuthin', huh? Here, I'll even go all in." To validate his promise, the Stetson wearing stallion pushed a substantial amount of bits into the pot with both his hooves.

The stallion known as Magrathorn gave him a look of skepticism, finally saying, "Deal," and tossing out a few more bits along with an expensive looking gold pocket watch into the pot.

"Whooee! Yer not one fer fancy trinkets like that, who'd ya pinch it from?" The country stallion whooped.

"None of your business." Magrathorn said with malice. "Now deal!"

The stallion in the Stetson and shades dealt the deck between them, automatically laying out five cards from the deck once they had their cards. Magrathorn looked up from his hand with a smile, "Ha! Two pair, aces and kings!" He triumphantly shouted.

The vested stallion just stared at him, a cocky grin slowly growing on his face. Then he laid out his cards, an ace of diamonds and a jack of the same suite. Although meaningless on their own, with three other of the cards played, a king, a queen and a ten of diamonds, they trumped Magrathorn's with a straight flush. The red jacketed gang leader looked on in bewilderment while his subordinates cringed at what they knew was to follow.

"I'm mighty sorry about yer luck there, Maggie." The dark brown earth stallion said without a smidgeon of remorse as he began shoveling the winnings into a bag. "Maybe ya come back in a week or so, nick a few more baubles off some tourists and come back. Shucks, I might even go easy on y—"

Coins and loose items were suddenly launched into the air as the table flipped, cutting the stallion off. "Blackjack, you're a no good, dirty cheater!" Magrathorn raged, "That ten of diamonds was played two hands ago!"

Howitzer went wide eyed, as he saw a couple of the thugs slip a few blades from their clothing, hiding them behind their backs. He couldn't just sit back and watch anymore, not if he was to conduct his business. The stallion in the Stetson hat dropped back into a fighting stance, ready for a brawl, but he couldn't have know about the knives.

Just as the thugs were about to pounce, Howitzer smashed through the door, tackling one to the ground and giving him a few crosses to the jaw. The others turned in surprise, confusion playing on their faces. The southern stallion used the opportunity to buck his chair at the would-be aggressors, it struck one of them full on in the chest, exploding in a shower of splinters and wooden parts.

Howitzer was back up now, engaging one of the other thugs armed with a knife, expertly disarming him and driving him back toward a wall with a flurry of strikes to the ribs and kidneys. Meanwhile, Magrathorn began advancing on the stallion that had beat him out of his money, a vengeful look on his visage. He swung at him, which the stallion easily dodged, countering with a straight slug to the side of his neck, sending the gang leader staggering back.

"Yeehaw! I love a good ass backroom brawl!" The Stetsoned stallion hollered.

They went on like this for a few minutes, exchanging blows and tumbling around the room. Then finally, the group of thugs organized, forcing the country stallion and Howitzer together into a corner by the window in a standoff.

"Howie! It's been a coon's age! Sorry I can't give ya a proper howdy at the moment, seein' as I'm in a slight bind here." The dark brown stallion greeted.

"It's ok, Blackjack, isn't this how we usually meet?" Howitzer replied. "How are we gonna get you out of trouble this time?"

"Well, I don't think Maud's gotten around ta barrin' up the back window yet. . . You gettin' my thinkin'?"

Howitzer knew exactly what the stallion was thinking, "Aw, Maud's gonna kill me for this one. Ok, on three. One... two..."

"Three!"

Both Howitzer and Blackjack launched themselves into the window, shattering the glass and throwing themselves into open air. The back of the bar hung out over an alley that ran lower than the street out front, meaning they had a two story fall to the ground below. Fortunately, there was a sizable pile of garbage under the windows to cushion their impact.

The thug leader leaned out the broken window, screaming and shouting a variety of curses and obscenities after the two individuals as they made their escape. They ran some distance, eager to get clear of the area, the guard was sure to be there soon. After galloping a couple miles, they slowed, confident that they were clear of any danger.

The two suddenly found themselves at one of the many piers that jutted out from the wharf in this part of the city. They trotted up to a guard rail by the water, catching their breath, "Now that was a good little scuffle there." Blackjack said. He hefted a sack that jingled when it moved, "Even got away with the loot." He grinned, extracting the shiny pocket watch he'd won from the gang of hooligans, admiring it in the light of the late afternoon.

"You haven't changed much, Jack." Howitzer commented. "Still swindling crooks out of their hard earned stolen goods."

"Well, I find that crooks usually have the best stuff to swindle, what with them havin' already swindled the items in question from their previous owners. Besides, that pecker-head had it comin', saw one of the 'lil bastards swipe from Maud's tip jar when she wasn't lookin'." Blackjack said in his defense. "What about yerself, though? What brings an old dog like you back to these parts?"

Howitzer leaned against the rail, gazing into the water sloshing under the pier, "Looking for some info. You see, some of my boys found a sizable cache of dangerous items down south in the desert. Then some documents were recovered up north on one of the little islands off the coast hinting that its origin may be from that area."

"So ya think I may know a thing er two about it?"

"I was hoping. Considering that it couldn't have gone by land or air — we would have intercepted it — logically, it could have only come by sea. Since this is the closest port city to the desert, I thought you might have an idea as to what's been passing through."

Blackjack scratched his his chin, "Yeah, I reckon I may know sumthin' about it. I could probably find out more, but it'll cost ya. Smugglers don't take too kindly to having their secrets exposed."

"I'm sure we can work out an arrangement." Howitzer exhaled sharply and pulled away from the rail, "Well, I should get going. Got some other things to take care of. Drop whatever you got at the usual spot and I'll scrounge together a payment for anything extra you might want to undertake. And take good care of that pocket watch, would ya?" He said, walking away, "By the looks of it, it was probably pretty important to the original owner."

Blackjack looked forlornly at the shiny case of gears. It would most likely fetch a hefty sum on the market, but Howitzer's last sentence lingered in his mind, buzzing with annoyance. With a sigh, he tossed it to the pegasus, "It ain't really match my style anyhow. Why don't cha turn it in ta the City Guard Lost 'n Found." He put dully.

Howitzer smiled to himself. Blackjack may not run in the best of circles, but he was good at what he did and honest too. A rare pony to find in such a rough business. "That I will," Howitzer assured him as he trotted away, "That I will."