C H A P T E R T W O
U N I N T E N T I O N A L J O B H U N T I N G
My apartment was small, but it didn’t need to be big to fit me. I lived alone for many years in the modern residential district of Canterlot. From visiting many different cities during my adolescent years I learned that the residential district could not be seen from towns on the southwest side of Canterlot because it was farther behind the mountain on the north side.
My residence was a twenty story apartment building in the center of the neighborhood, aptly named ‘22’ because of the number of floors the building boasted. To anypony looking at it for the first time outside, it looked pristine; a white, glassy beacon smack-dab in the center of a small pedestrian mall. The inside wasn’t much different, and it was certainly spacious, having an air of cleanliness, the kind of feeling that one tried their hardest not to disturb. I wasn’t much of a clean freak in high school and university, but once I moved here it was hard not to be.
It was a simple residence, containing a full kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom and bedroom. Spacious, yet compact. It was a beautiful place to live.
Every morning I threw my purple covers off my body and rolled out of bed, my feet lightly touching the hardwood floor. I would stumble into the bathroom, sick with the withdrawal of sleep, and step into the glass shower, the warm water soothing my muscles and making me more awake and alert with every passing second. After brushing my teeth, drying myself off, and — more often than not — shaving off my facial hair, I’d comb my short gray-purple hair and throw on an undershirt, long sleeve overshirt, and jeans. Blues and purples are my favorite colors, so most of my clothing choices reflected it. Of course, these clothes wouldn’t stay on once I got to the Agency, as they would be stored in a locker until the end of the day as I wore my guard uniform.
After eating breakfast, which normally consisted of cold cereal, I’d throw my tablet into my newspaper bag and push open my apartment door, remembering to grab my phone off the kitchen table and place my keys in my pocket. The door would automatically lock behind me, and I would walk down the long, white hallway, step by step. Uninviting, devoid of all color, but strangely compelling. It seemed to me an omen, ‘today is a blank slate,’ and I always relished the time it took for my legs to take me down the empty hall and to the elevators.
The lobby of 22 was large, but not underused. A coffee shop was imbedded in the wall directly opposite the elevators, and there were two relatively good restaurants to either side of the building exit. The bottom level of this apartment building was all used for commercial applications, and there were many different shops around the back of the building too.
Walking from 22 to my place of work took about ten minutes on a good day, but on this day the streets were jam-packed with ponies coming to Canterlot for the annual Canterlot Street Fair. The fair was a week long event hosted by one of the huge, fancy hotels in the downtown commercial district, and brought in travelers from all corners of Equestria — and even some from further around Gaia. It wasn’t uncommon to see the occasional minotaur or griffin on the side of the road chatting up a shop owner or haggling prices.
I adjusted the straps on my messenger bag to snugly fit around my shoulder as I waited for one of the many street lights to change. During the fair’s runtime I tried to avoid Main Street as much as possible, as the swarming mass of Gaians would only slow me down. The street directly south of Main was my best bet on days like this, especially because of the sloping nature of the mountain. Other Gaians wanting to bypass the throng would have an easier time going north, as they would be walking downhill. Delayed gratification, especially in places like Canterlot, was a luxury.
Of course, the detour left me running five minutes late to my job, so I hastily jogged the rest of the way to the EIA office at Canterlot Palace. The large double doors that served as the entrance to the building were emblazoned with black EIA insignias. The curving words at the bottom of the logo spoke of unity in old Equish.
NOS UNUM SUMUS
I repeated these words under my breath as I pulled open the doors and made my way inside, hearing the catch of the hinge squeak under the weight of the glass. The receptionist glanced up at me as I walked towards her desk and smiled, holding up a finger telling me to wait. Her name was Lily Ink, and on the back of her hand lay her cutie mark — a yellow lily flower on a sheet of paper.
She brushed her yellow hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand and looked up again, putting down the phone receiver she was holding a moment earlier.
“Good morning, Trance!” she sang, smiling widely. I smiled back and waved, walking towards the main desk.
“Hey, Lily,” I replied. “Do you have any messages for me?”
“Well…” she grinned, pulling open a drawer and rifling few a couple of files before taking one out, handing a sheet of paper from inside to me.
“What’s this?” I asked, glancing down at the paper.
“Summoning,” she simply replied, still grinning. I look down at the paper, and sure enough the royal seal is emblazoned at the top of the document in gold wax.
“Ah… Captain Shining Armor?”
“Nope,” she laughed. “Higher up.” I raised my eyebrows and scanned down the page before jumping to the signature at the bottom. My breath caught in my throat.
“... Princess Celestia?”
“Yep! You’re famous, kid.”
“... I guess… why?”
“The guard who delivered it didn’t say anything else except that it was urgent. So, you should probably head up there. She actually sent someone down for you!” She gestured to the corner of the room where a pony I had never seen before stood, wearing a coat and EIA badge.
“Tell me how it goes later!” Lily yelled after me as I walked towards him. I smiled and laughed, promising her I would, before following the stallion back out the door the way I came.
— — —
A few minutes later, I was standing directly in front of the giant golden doors in Canterlot castle that led into the Solar Court. The two guards on either side of the door stopped me when I tried to open them, asking for a permit, but the escort I had with me held up a hand and they backed down, their magic opening the gilded doors for us.
The Solar Courtroom was massive, covered by a large, arched ceiling embroidered with intricate metalwork and the occasional jewel here or there. The room itself stretched nearly five hundred feet long, the marble floor contrasting with dark wood benches every five feet. Stained glass lined the walls, depicting the important moments in the history of Equestria, starting at the founding of the nation and ending after Nightmare Moon’s banishment. Even the council seats at the front of the room were as fancy as the walls, made out of complex marble sculpting and holding a slab of black terrazzo that absorbed any light that touched it.
Yet the real “attraction” of the room sat on a golden throne at the back of the room, her hand resting on her chin as her ethereal hair flowed behind her in an invisible wind. Her white silk dress hung haphazardly on her shoulders and her regalia was slightly crooked, but as soon as the door swung open she shot up from her seat and adjusted her clothing—and bored expression.
“Ah, Trance Leap, is it not?” Princess Celestia asked as I walked forward.
“Yes, your majesty,” I spoke while bowing. The princess rolled her eyes and gestured for me to get up. While I did, I noticed her summon some papers and began rifling through them, pulling out a choice sheet and setting it atop one of the terrazzo slabs at a council seat.
“Mr. Leap,” she spoke, “you are going to have to sign this agreement before this conversation can continue.” I raised an eyebrow and moved towards the table, glancing down at the paper in question and getting much closer to the Princess than I normally would have been comfortable with.
“A non-disclosure agreement?” I asked, confused. She nodded, the necklaces around her neck making small tinkling noises as she did.
“... any reason that you can give me?”
“The contents of this conversation could very well jeopardize the safety and security of Equestria, especially the Governmental Branch.”
“So it could put you and your advisors at risk.”
“Can’t think of a better reason than that.”
“Mmm… some would beg to differ.” I looked at her with an expression which could only be interpreted as ‘are you serious?’ She laughed slightly and handed a quill to me, placing a fresh pot of ink beside the parchment. Quickly signing my name at the bottom without reading the document—a fact that I only realized after I gave it back to her and it was safely teleported away—her hands lit up and she cast a spell that covered the both of us in a small golden bubble.
“Silencing spell?” I asked, recognizing the magical signature.
“Exactly,” she replied. She gathered the other papers into her arms and strode towards a side room, opening the door and ushering me inside. The room was sparse yet ornate, not as over the top as the Courtroom, but still had a flair or importance. Another marble table dominated the center of the room, with the same black terrazzo topper. I began to get a feeling only one designer drew up the plans for furniture in the Solar wing.
Princess Celestia sat down at the head of the table and motioned for me to sit on her right. The chair was pulled out for me and I sat down, pushing it up to the table again.
“So,” she began, putting her hands under her chin, “you are a Corporal in the Guard, correct?”
At that moment I realized I was still wearing my street clothes. In a secret meeting. With the Princess of one of the most powerful countries on Gaia.
“Uh… yes, your majesty. Sorry, I was kind of rushed when I got here, didn’t have time to change into my uniform—”
“It is quite alright, Corporal. As Commander of the Guard, I personally can tell you that I do not mind.” I relaxed. “Plus, if this meeting goes the way I want it to, you won’t be wearing it after today.” Not relaxed anymore.
“I’m… losing my job?” The Princess laughed and shook her head.
“No, no, think of it as getting a promotion.”
But then again, that didn’t make any sense either. When I first joined the Guard, my advisor told me that I would be called to him whenever my position was changing or I was getting new duties. Why would a routine promotion get me called to a secret meeting with Princess Celestia after signing an NDA?
It seemed as though she could read the confusion evident on my face and began pulling individually marked papers out of the small stack and placing them in front of me. Her face suddenly got incredibly serious extremely fast.
“Nothing that we are about to discuss is to leave this room.”
I nodded quickly, glancing down at the papers. It seemed to be in small print with a plethora of sections that I was guessing I’d have to read later.
“I understand, Princess.”
“Good,” she started, the same slight smile overtaking her features as she leaned back. “This will be a quiz.”
“A quiz?” I asked, surprised.
“Well…” she shook her head, “kind of. I can guarantee you will get the majority wrong. So, let’s start off easy.” I mentally prepared myself for what was to come, running through my entire four years of Guard Training in about four seconds. “How many branches of the Equestrian Intelligence Agency were created after Nightmare Moon’s banishment?”
“Three, your highness,” I quickly answered.
“What?” I asked, confused. “There’s the Central Branch, the International Branch, and the Governmental Branch, your highness. No disrespect to your greatness, but I think you’re mistaken.”
Princess Celestia laughed and threw a pointed look my way.
“I’ll explain more later. Now, next question. How have you been sleeping lately?”
“Dreams? Feelings? Insomnia? Tell me about how well you’ve been sleeping.” I rubbed the back of my head, avoiding the Princess’s gaze.
“Um… fine? I mean, my dreams aren’t constant given that I’ve always had an ability to lucid dream. But on average I get probably… seven to eight hours a night?” Princess Celestia smiled and leaned in slightly, resting her chin on her left hand.
“Tell me more about your ability to lucid dream.”
“Well…” I racked my brain, trying to remember when it started. “I guess the farthest back I can remember was back when I was six or seven… it just came naturally. One moment I’m awake and the next I have this feeling that I’m dreaming. It’s happened consistently, every night since then, your highness.”
Princess Celestia shuffled around the stack of papers again, pulling out a sheet marked with a gigantic stamped “CLASSIFIED” across the front. She gave it a quick look, flipped it around, and slid it towards me across the terrazzo.
“Recognize any of these?” she asked, watching me closely. I picked up the sheet and read the top. It was mainly simple information, like my name, species, address, date of birth, dream cycle, height… wait what?
The entries were all dates and times. The top of the page was the most recent.
June 21st, 3071
10:23:03 - 7:00:12
WARNING - LUCID DREAMER
Simple dream. No Skitters seen, seems to be a pattern. As Corporal Leap is - of
course - a lucid dreamer, the NSA might be keeping their distance. Don’t want to
raise too much suspicion after all.
Nothing new to report. PC is meeting with this kid tomorrow.
“... how did you-” I started before Princess Celestia cut me off.
“What do you know about the Night Skitter Army?” I shook my head.
“The what-what?” I stammered back. The Princess’s eyes narrowed and she stood up, taking the paper away and putting it back in the stack with all the rest.
“How good are you at changing things in the dreamscape?”
“Uh, f-fairly good, I ju—”
“Have you ever had dreams you can’t explain?” The Princess was getting closer, leaning further and further across the table in front of me. I shrank back into my chair.
“No, do you want me to fini—”
“What happens when something attacks you in your dreams?” She was basically standing over me now, her long arms supporting her rather impressive angle over the countertop.
“Nothing ever has, it’s all under my contro—”
“Good.” And just as suddenly as her frantic line of questioning began it ended, pulling herself back towards her side of the table and stood properly. “Any questions?”
“Walk with me.”
— — —
The Princess led me back through the Solar Courtroom, passing two nobles who bowed to the Princess but stuck their noses up at me in disgust once they were no longer in Celestia’s view. She tactfully evaded all of my questions as we walked through the castle halls, covering at least a quarter of a mile of ground as well as going down into the earth about ten stories, before coming to a stop in front of two large doors. The doors were large—almost three stories, if I had to guess—, ornate, and tapered to a point at the top. Princess Celestia nudged me with her hip, breaking me out of my confusion, and I noticed a line of guards at the base of the doors. They held their spears together in a defensive fashion even as the Princess stepped forward, conjuring a ball of magic in her hand which she offered to a female guard with more ornate armor. I recognized this guard immediately as a Decurion, assuming that the other guards standing at attention behind her was a part of her complete squadron.
The Decurion nodded at Princess Celestia before dispelling the ball of magic she was given, bowing and allowing the members of her squad to do the same.
“At ease, Decurion,” Princess Celestia stated, waving her hand. The Decurion stood up straight and moved to the side, the rest of the guards following her lead. The Princess nodded to her and walked forward, allowing the doors to be magiced open for her by two guards who surrounded the doors with their golden auras.
Princess Celestia motioned with her hand for me to follow and I did so quickly, walking alongside her through the double doors which shut with a surprisingly quiet woooosh behind us. The area we had stepped into was thrown into pitch blackness until the Princess performed a light spell, creating two “gloves” of light which clung to her hands. I followed her lead, however my spell was much less focused as I had simply conjured an artificial light source that floated in the musty air in front of me.
I suddenly had a sinking feeling in my gut and quickly realized the floor had started to move downwards, taking us even further underground. I couldn’t hold back my questions any longer.
“Ah,” I started, clearing my throat. Princess Celestia turned and looked at me expectantly, the three artificial light sources in the space casting strange shadows across her countenance. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll be taking this route to work every night from now on, Corporal Leap,” she spoke, looking up. I nodded, still not exactly happy with the answer I was given, before my breath stopped in my throat.
“Wait… every night?”
As soon as I said those words the platform stopped moving, shaking me slightly as I regained my balance. A stream of light from the opposite wall we entered from blinded me for a moment, getting larger as I realized it was simply another set of double doors being opened. Princess Celestia dispelled her light sources and I did the same, choosing to scatter my source instead of simply wink it out of existence.
As my eyes adjusted to the new lighting my jaw dropped.
“Welcome to your new workplace,” Princess Celestia said, smiling.