The bushes outside the palace’s east wing rustled most suspiciously. Fortunately, there were no guards close enough to notice said suspiciousness.
“Now are yah sure this is a good idea?” Applejack whispered as she tried to shift into a more comfortable position in the prickly confines of shrubbery.
“Actually, no,” Twilight replied. “But if Professor Dewey’s right – and he pretty much always is – then the information on Graves will be at the top of that tower in the general’s study.”
“Okay, I think I missed something,” Rainbow Dash interjected. “Why’s Big G’s stuff tucked away up there? And why can’t I just fly up and get it?” The sweater-vested librarian sighed, her patience more than a little tried at having to repeat this. Again.
“Because it’s classified. The only logical explanation for how Graves is so well known and so unknown at the same time is if his records were sealed. According to the professor, this is only done in very rare circumstances for highly sensitive topics, but that a copy of the records is always transmitted to the general’s office for safekeeping. And obviously, if they’re that important, there are going to be enchantments on the windows to keep people from flying in, right?”
“Yes, Fluttershy?” Twilight said, turning to where her friend in the yellow sundress sat huddled as small as possible so as not to inconvenience others.
“Well, I understand why we’re here, and I understand what we’re going to do, but… why did we have to sneak in the bushes again?”
“That’s… um…. Huh.” The young scholar paused, stumped for an answer. “That’s actually a pretty good question. Pinkie, why did we have to sneak through the bushes?”
“Because we’re on a secret mission, duh!” Pinkie Pie hissed from behind the shinobi mask and matching black gi she’d somehow procured, though nobody could quite say how. “Everybody knows that when you do secret missions, you have to sneak through the bushes. It’s the rules!”
Though the bubbly baker beamed from behind her mask, she was the only one as the others let out a collective groan. Of course.
“In that case,” Rarity sniffed, “if there are no objections, I move that we vacate the premises post haste. I’m as much a fan of green as anyone else, though not when it’s quite so… au naturale.”
“Agreed,” Twilight nodded. “But I just have to ask one last time. You girls sure you want to do this? I mean, when – and I do mean when – we’re caught, we could get in a lot of trouble. You sure you’re up for it?”
“No need tah ask that, sugar cube,” Applejack smiled. If this’ll help straighten out that crazy marshal, then you can count us in.”
“Yeah, let’s go already!” Rainbow Dash grinned. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can find his stupid butt and get back to Ponyville.”
“Oh! That means ‘let’s get ready to party!’” Pinkie beamed. “At least, I think it does. I don’t really know, sometimes things just come to me.”
“Er… right.” Twilight blinked. “Like Pinkie said, let’s get this party started!”
“I’ve had just about enough of your attitude, you freaky, freckled farm girl!”
“Oh yeah? Well I’ve had it up tah here with you an' your high flyin’ sass!”
One doesn’t usually expect yelling in the Canterlot gardens, especially one involving insults that would be far more suited in a barroom brawl. Naturally, this lead to a great deal of curiosity as just about all within the conversation’s considerable earshot came out of the palace to see what was all the commotion was about.
What they saw was a couple of young ladies circling each other, glaring like rattlesnakes and spewing off continuous streams of venomous, verbal abuse.
“You’re so stupid,” began the one with short, prismatic hair, “if brains were cider, you wouldn’t have enough to give an ant a buzz!”
“And yer so ugly,” retorted the blonde girl in the cowboy hat, “when you was born, the doctor done slapped yer mother.” The girl in the blue tank top snorted, eyes flaring wide.
“Oh no you didn’t. You did not just bring Momma Dashy into this!”
“I can an' I did,” the cowgirl replied as she stuck out her tongue. “Whatcha gonna do about?”
With a fantastic lunge, the girl with multicolored hair caught the other in a fantastic spear tackle, taking them both to the ground in a fantastically tangled mess. However, the farm girl quickly recovered first and replied to the aggression with a nasty chokehold. This in turn was countered by a flawlessly executed ippon seio nage followed by a full on body slam.
As the crowds grew and – quite surprisingly – began cheering whilst the cowgirl tossed the radical one aside and hit her with a spinning lariat, three other girls and one ninja crept their way into the now abandoned atrium of the palace's east wing.
“Oh, I do hope they’re going to be okay,” Fluttershy murmured as she spared a backwards glances towards where her two friends continued their clash.
“Ah, they’ll be fine,” Twilight grinned. “They did volunteer to be the distraction as soon as it came up, after all.”
“Indeed,” Rarity smiled. “Personally, I think they just wanted a chance to settle their old Running of the Leaves rivalry, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?”
The girls progressed crept silently along, three of their numbers keeping low and sneaking as best they could whilst one of their number proceeded to backflip and somersault her way between stone columns and gilded desks. Inconspicuously, of course.
“So where do we go now?” Pinkie Pie asked from where she hid under a particularly handsome bureau near the center of the room. Pulling out her wand, Twilight uttered a few incantations and with a faint, purple glow, the small rod floated above her hand and pointed towards a carved oak door.
“Looks like that’s the way,” she said as the girls rushed over to proceed onwards. However, as Rarity and Pinkie each grabbed a large brass ring and pulled, they found their way inextricably barred by the unyielding panels.
“Oh my!” Fluttershy gasped. “What do we do now?”
“Give me a sec,” Twilight whispered as she leaned in to inspect the door. It was certainly locked, but there was no keyhole and no visible mechanism that would indicate a means of opening the way. Unless…
“Hoo boy,” the purple-haired mage heaved. “This is isn’t good.”
“What? What is it?” Pinkie Pie asked.
“It’s a Magic Eye ward,” Twilight explained, pointing towards a small, red jewel embedded into the wood. “See this here? This gem scans for a certain image or key magical signature and unlocks the door. Without the key, though, we can’t get through.”
“Can you undo it?” Rarity asked with obvious consternation. It would be simply dreadful for their efforts to be thwarted simply by a locked door.
“Possibly,” Twilight replied with furrowed brow as she scrutinized the jewel before her. “The enchantments are fairly complicated, but they’re designed to be self-sustaining. That means the mechanism can’t be too complex or else the spells would deteriorate and require-”
“Yes, but can you undo it?” Rarity repeated, just a touch of impatience coloring her tone.
“Oh. Right,” Twilight blushed. “Well, let’s find out.”
With that, the young magic savant aimed her wand and got to work. Whispering a few spells, the red jewel glowed with an aura of amethyst light before projecting out a matrix of gossamer-thin tendrils of arcane energy.
“Oh, I see how it is,” she murmured. “Light enters the gem in a certain way and acts like a key hitting the tumblers of a lock. Very clever. In that case, if I adjust the energy influx at this point, manipulate the configuration here, and apply a little extra spell work here, then I should be able to…”
With Twilight engrossed in her work and the others engrossed in watching her being engrossed, nobody was paying much attention to their surroundings, a very unfortunate state of affairs since it meant they didn’t hear the sound of approaching conversation till it was nearly too late.
“Somebody’s coming!” Pinkie Pie called out in wide eyed alarm. “Hide!”
“I can’t!” Twilight whispered back. “If I stop now, I think this entire spell might collapse on itself and lock us out permanently!”
“We need another distraction!” Rarity hissed. “Can somebody–”
A yellow blur flew passed as who should step up to the plate but… Fluttershy?
The two royal guardsmen, who’d up till now had been thoroughly engrossed in their conversation on the latest developments on the Pro Magic Circuit, were distinctly surprised to see a startlingly pretty girl with cherry blossom hair nervously approaching them.
“Um… excuse me,” she whispered, so quietly that they almost didn’t hear her. “I’m so sorry to trouble you, but… have you seen my pet bunny? His name is Angel, and he’s the sweetest little white rabbit in the whole world. Has he been here?”
The guardsmen exchanged very surprised glances.
“Uh, sorry ma’am,” one of the soldier replied with an abashed grin. “Haven’t seen any rabbits around here. Have you tried the gardens?”
“I did,” Fluttershy, replied, only now her voice audibly trembled as tears began to well in her eyes. “But he wasn’t there, so I started looking all over the castle, but… but….”
Surprised glances gave way to outright alarm as the young lady broke out into the most heart wrenching sobs this side of a daytime melodrama.
“I just can’t find him!” the delicate girl cried. “Oh, my poor Angel Bunny! What if he’s hurt? If something were to happen to him, I… I….”
"Hey there, take it easy now,” the other guardsman said, awkwardly attempting to soothe her by patting her head much like he would his old basset hound. “I’m sure he’s just taking a nap under a tree somewhere. Everything’s probably just fine.”
“Are… you sure?” Fluttershy sniffed, looking up at him with the big, tearful pony eyes.
“Definitely,” the other soldier replied with a reassuring smile. “Tell you what. Why don’t we go out and help you look for him? Three heads are better than one, right?”
"Oh, thank you so much!” the demure girl beamed with a radiant smile. “That’s just so wonderful, I… I don’t know what to say!”
So with more reassuring words and more pats on the head, the two royal guardsmen led Fluttershy out on a search for the ‘sweetest little white rabbit in the whole world.’ On the way out however, Fluttershy turned and gave her friends crouched by the door a quick wink.
“… Wow,” Pinkie Pie blinked. “I didn’t know Fluttershy could turn on the water works like that. She’s good.”
“Indeed,” Rarity intoned with a very thoughtful expression. “I might just have to take notes.”
A solid click, and the hidden mechanisms inside the large oak doors came apart, opening the way forward. With mutual grins of triumphant excitement, the remaining three girls crept through the door and continued on.
Neither guard noticed the black-robed figure peeking out from the stairwell at the end of the hall. I mean, not being seen is kind of the whole point of being a ninja isn’t it?
“So what’re we looking at?” Twilight whispered as Pinkie Pie oozed back down to where her friends crouched in hiding.
“Apparently each other,” the curly-haired girl replied, “but that doesn’t help us get passed the two guards at the end of the hall there.”
“Drat,” Rarity said with a faux snap of the fingers. “I don’t suppose another sob story about lost pets would do here, would it?”
"They’d probably just ask how we got passed door in the first place,” Twilight grimaced. “Probably not a good idea.”
“Ooh! Ooh!” Pinkie Pie called out as she waved her hand furiously. “Why don’t you just teleport us in there? You can do that, right?”
“If I could, wouldn’t I have just done that in the first place?” the lady mage replied with a weary smile? “No, I can’t teleport to a location unless I've built up a sufficient frame of reference. Since I’ve never even been in there before, that’s a no go.”
“Then we’ll just have to find a way to lure them away from the door, down the stairs, and out of sight before we sneak up once they're cleared," Rarity frowned.
“Any ideas on how to do that?” Twilight asked. Both she and Rarity turned to stare at Pinkie Pie as the curly haired party-enthusiast began to giggle uncontrollably.
“Don’t worry your pretty little heads, girls,” she grinned from behind her mask, “Auntie Pinkie Pie’s got this all figured out.”
“Man I hate getting guard duty up here,” Stormchaser sighed. “Nothing ever happens up here.”
“Could be worse,” Thunderhead shrugged. “You could’ve gotten slotted into KP duty.”
“At least then I’d be able to sneak some snacks from the pantries, or something. Up here, it’s just a bunch of standing around and being bored until the… next shift… ... comes?”
The armor clad soldier’s train of thought was promptly derailed as a small, silver ball rolled down the hall towards their feet.
With a resounding roar and a flash of light, the small orb exploded into a torrent of brightly colored confetti. The two guards blinked, understandably confused as tiny bits of paper rained down around them like a sprinkle-colored snowstorm. And as if that wasn’t odd enough, then came the assault.
“Take cover!” Stormchaser yelled as he tackled his companion to the floor. Just in time too, because at that precise moment, two red velvet and cream cheese frosted pastries sailed through the location right where his head had been.
“Uh, Stormy?” Thunderhead winced from where he lay on the ground, “You do realize those were just cupcakes right?”
“Yeah, but… they could have been dangerous cupcakes, you know?” his now somewhat chagrined friend replied with a sheepish grin.
“Right,” Thunderhead nodded. “Where did they come from, anyway? And who the heck throws cupcakes to begin with?”
“Um, how about a ninja armed with bandolier of bear claws and handfuls of biscottis in each hand?” Stormchaser suggested.
“Is your helmet on too tight or something? Where in Celestia’s green pastures did you–” The question was succinctly answered as Thunderhead turned and saw a ninja armed with a bandolier of bear claws and handfuls of biscottis in each hand standing at the end of the hallway, plain as day.
“あなたの家族の宝石を失うための準備!” the ninja – or technically, the kunoichi, given its high-pitched, girly voice – cried as it flung a fistful of bake-hardened bread at the pair.
“Ow!” Stormchaser cried as one struck him squarely on the nose. “What the heck’s going on?”
“あなたのお母さんはロバだったとあなたのお父さんは牛の息子だった!” it cried again as the second handful of biscottis sailed through the air.
“I don’t know,” Thunderhead replied as he ducked the delicious projectile, “but I have a feeling we’d better stop it before snacks are permanently banned as lethal weapons.”
The two guards gave chase, attempting to take hold of the mysterious assailant, who kept up a steady stream of donuts and commentary as she fled. Dashing down the stairs with the grace of a puma, the ninja girl executed a perfect triple backflip over a row of desks before dashing out the door with the guards hot on her heels.
“Do I even want to ask where Pinkie Pie learned to do that?” Rarity asked as she peeked out from behind a potted plant.
“Sometimes, I feel it’s best to chalk it up to Pinkie Pie just being Pinkie Pie,” Twilight shrugged as she crawled out from a nearby workstation.
“Indeed. Well, she’s done an admirable job clearing the way, so let’s not let this opportunity go to waste.”
Dashing back up the stairs, the two girls came to the heavy, bronze doors, the final barrier standing between them and their goal.
“You ready for this?” Twilight asked, her heart starting to pound in anticipation. This was so wrong; they were breaking into classified military documents, for crying out loud. But the look in her friend’s sapphire eyes confirmed that sometimes, rules just had to be broken.
So taking a deep breath, the two girls took hold of the handles, paused a moment to steady their nerves, and pulled the door open to find…
A fairly empty room with only a couple of bookshelves and a desk to show it was in any use at all.
“Twilight, are you sure this is the right place?” Rarity asked incredulously as she stepped in.
“Positive,” the purple-haired poindexter replied as she pulled out her wand. “Yup, the locator spell’s working just fine. This is definitely the right place.”
“It certainly is very… spartan,” Rarity commented as she walked towards the bookshelf to take a look. “To be honest, I was expecting a little bit more in the way of decorations and general content.”
“That’s what most people say,” a booming voice called out as both girls yelped in surprise. “But then again, it’s not their office, so that doesn’t really matter, does it?”
The large leather bound chair, which had been turned to face the open window opposite the door, slowly spun around to reveal a very large man who smiled with ice blue eyes.
“General Ironside,” Twilight replied with a sickly smile. “What a… pleasant surprise.”