Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

by totallynotabrony

Chapter 13

Melon woke up the next morning already nervous. They’d made a clean escape from the restaurant, but now that he had a better idea of the challenges they faced, the anxiety started to ramp up.

After returning to the cave the previous night, they’d gone over all the information they had. It seemed possible to get from the caves into the castle, though they didn’t know what would be waiting for them when they got to that point.

But it was time to find out. The four of them made ready to head deeper into the cave.

They’d gone over the pile of research materials copied from library books and memorized as much as possible. Melon thought that they would probably not be coming back this way, not if their plan worked. It also wouldn’t do for somepony to stumble on it and either come after them or attempt to break into the castle themselves.

To that end, he gave Dew the lighter. “Destroy this stuff.”

She flicked it, the flame dancing in her eyes in the dark cave. “You’re going to trust me with this?”

Mirror had trusted Melon with it. He said, “If anything, you’re the one who’d be safest. You could put a fire out by summoning a cloud or something.” He laughed. “And you don’t immediately take ‘destroy this stuff’ as a challenge.”

Dew laughed, too. “Yeah, the humidity is pretty high in here.” She raised her head, as if testing the air. “As a matter of fact, I might have to pull moisture out of some of these papers just to get them to burn. A few of them have been lying on the cave floor all night.”

Melon watched her work. None of the Privates had skills that directly applied to being a guard, but all of them had brought something valuable to the job. They’d all done their part to make the red team what it was.

What did he provide? He wasn’t sure. He felt like it was something, but struggled to actually define it. Leadership? How was he supposed to describe that?

Melon put that out of his mind, refocusing on the job at hoof. He looked down the cave into the darkness. Going into the castle to kidnap the princesses gave him the sense that they were on a suicide mission, but he shook that thought away. This was their most difficult challenge so far, and defeatism before they’d even started would get them nowhere.

Dew finished up and gave him back the lighter. The ashes of burned papers had turned into mush under the small portable raincloud she had summoned.

Melon looked to the others to see that they were ready. They nodded. Good. He walked forward.

It was slow going. Alternating unicorn horn lights and making sure nopony twisted an ankle kept the pace cautious, to say the least. But that was probably a good thing, what with the plunging drops and sharp crystals that dotted the cave.

They navigated with a library book. Taking it along into the cave was probably not what the librarians had intended, but they couldn’t find their way without it.

The cave mostly trended upwards, heading towards the top of the mountain where the castle was built. The slope kept it mostly dry, but made the terrain rougher. A couple of times, they had crossed narrow, fragile arches of stone that Melon nearly deemed too risky. He weighed the most, but it was also his responsibility as commander to make that call.

So close to the goal, though, the three Privates were beginning to pick up the pace. Despite his reservations and plans, Melon felt their excitement. They hadn’t been caught yet, and even if they were today, the four of them had held off the entire Guard for almost a week. In their own minds, they were already successful. One more big job would be icing on the cake.

“We’re getting close,” Chalice reported, studying the book. She kept her voice down. It was a subtle reminder to the rest to watch where they were putting their hooves.

The four of them rounded the final bend and found a standard door-sized hole cut into the solid rock. Drawing closer, there were hinges on one side and a latch on the other. The iron door itself was set to the side, leaning against the wall. The hinges were slagged, as if cut with a torch.

“Well, I guess that’s better than if we’d gotten all the way here and it was locked,” Dew optimistically pointed out.

“But who did this?” Melon said. He touched it. The metal was still warm.

Moving even more carefully now, they advanced through the door. Beyond was a passageway that gradually changed from chiseled rock into stone and mortar. This was the castle.

They went up a set of stairs, moving in a combat formation. Melon hadn’t even needed to order it. It helped that all of them heard voices from further down the passage.

Four ponies were arguing in heated voices at the next hallway intersection.

“We’re not done here.”

“You said there was treasure!”

“It’s got to be here somewhere! Those ponies seemed pretty sure about Pants Fightswell.”

“We’re already in the castle. Either we passed it while trying to find our way through the caves, or it’s being watched by dozens of guards.”

Could it be…? The four guards approached the corner. A pegasus stallion wearing a tricorn hat seemed to be the leader. Melon vaguely remembered him from the diner two days before. He and his cohorts were clearly up to no good, but the fact that they’d broken into the castle sealed the deal. They needed to be arrested.

Melon felt a pang of regret, but didn’t hesitate. The red team wouldn’t get to finish their mission. Disappointing, but they were still guards; real world crime had to come first.

He gestured for the Privates to back him. He saw the crestfallen looks in their eyes, but all of them acknowledged the sign. Melon stepped into view, the others fanning out to his sides. “Are you folks lost?”

The leader’s head came around. “Well now, if it isn’t our little band of fancy archeologists.”

“Who are you?” Melon asked.

“The name’s Rum, though I don’t expect that means much in Canterlot.”

“Actually, it does.” In coastal places like Wash Margin, the wanted criminal notices were a little more nautical. Rum was well known, having raided boats and ponies all up and down the coast before disappearing recently. Apparently he’d moved inland. “You’re a pirate.”

That seemed to amuse Rum. “I guess you have heard of me. My fame aside, I couldn’t be so successful without help. And we were just thinking you ponies might be able to assist us.”

“Get them to lead us to the treasure so we can get out of here,” one of the underlings muttered. “The guards could be here any minute.”

Opportunities like this didn’t come along very often, and it almost made up for the sting of having to abandon the red mission. Melon smirked. “They’re already here. I’m Corporal Melon Rind, Lunar Guard, and you’re all under arrest.”

“Well, isn’t that just-” Rum had raised a hoof to the back of his head as if embarrassed, but he flicked it forward, revealing a knife pulled from beneath his hat.

Chalice was closest and slammed the library book shut on the knife with magic. She then whacked Rum across the face with the book so hard he spun in a half circle before going down.

Scootaloo zoomed into the fight, hammering an opponent of her own with pure speed. Beside him, Melon felt a crackle of electricity and the furthest pirate got a facefull of thunderbolt. Apparently Dew had conjured a lightning cloud right there inside the hallway.

The final pirate charged at Melon, crossing the distance. He was a big earth pony. That was fine, so was Melon.

He bent his knees and leaned into the clinch. The attacker’s momentum carried the two of them across the floor, but Melon eventually got enough traction under his skidding hooves to bring the charge to a halt. Then he pushed back.

“Yeah, get him, boss!” cheered Scootaloo. Both Melon and his opponent went up on their hind legs, but Melon climbed faster and rolled the other stallion over. He hit him in the muzzle, just a bop to stun, but the pirate didn’t pull his return punch straight into Melon’s snout.

Melon’s eyes watered and he was sure he was going to have a nosebleed. He traded a few more punches and dodges with the other stallion. He managed to stay on top and didn’t absorb any more significant hits.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see three sets of hooves standing around and watching the fight. “He’s trying to find a rock,” Chalice commented.

Melon saw the pirate fumbling for a nearby stone and swept his hoof away. He continued his motion, throwing an elbow to the chin and using the movement to scoot up further onto his opponent’s barrel. From his higher perch, he brought his weight down behind the next punch and knocked the pirate out cold.

He sagged and took a deep breath, finding his legs beneath him and getting up.

“Well, that’s one for Corporal Rind,” Dew quipped. “We should start a tracker.”

“Not sure I want to do that again,” said Melon. He touched his nose, finding a single drop of blood. “We should go find somepony to turn over custody.”

All of them got quiet. It wasn’t a bad ending to their term as red team, though they wouldn’t be getting the ending they wanted or expected.


“What is the meaning of this?” asked a voice. It was female, and despite the question and the authority in the tone, carried no hint of accusation or hostility.

Melon looked down the hallway and immediately forgot his throbbing nose. It was Princess Celestia.

He and the Privates automatically bowed to her. As Melon dropped his gaze, he wondered how it must look, four limp criminals and four rag-tag faux-archeologists in dirty sweater vests. Fortunately, Scootaloo jumped in. “Sorry for the unexpected visit, Princess. We’re here for the big Guard exercise and accidentally ran into some actual bad guys. This is the pirate Rum and his crew.”

“So I see, Scootaloo,” Celestia replied.

The pirate Melon had fought moaned. The others were similarly coming around.

“Sorry about the mess, Princess,” Melon said. “I’m Corporal Rind. I’m responsible here.”

“Are you hurt?” she asked.

“I’m fine…” Melon wiped his nose.

Celestia lit her horn. Melon felt a zip of magic in his nostrils and the pain went away.

He lowered his head again. “Thank you, Princess.”

Celestia reached out to the four pirates, checking to ensure no permanent damage. “Now, could you explain how you came to be here?”

“Well, funny story,” said Scootaloo. “The red team actually came to the castle to kidnap you.”

Celestia laughed. “That sounds like an incredibly daring raid.”

“This had to come first,” said Melon, gesturing to the detainees.

Celestia’s eyes twinkled. “You can still have a go at my sister.”

Melon blinked. “Uh…”

“She might be a bit grumpy from being woken so early, but I’m sure she’ll humor you. You are Lunar Guards after all.” Celestia smiled. “I’ll stay here and see to these pirates.”

They still had a chance! The exercise would still end on the red team’s terms.

Melon had never met Princess Celestia before today, but her legendary personality had turned out to be even larger in real life. Before he and his team went upstairs to find Princess Luna, he had one last thing to say.

“In that case, Princess, I hereby deputize you into the Lunar Guard for the duty of retaining custody of these suspects.”

Celestia smiled. “I accept the assignment. Good luck to you all.”

The four of them headed upstairs, entering the main castle.

“I can’t believe you did that, boss!” said Dew.

For Melon’s part, he barely believed it either. The day had turned out to be even wilder than how he’d pictured it.

The four of them made their way through the castle, checking every corner for guards and navigating by Scootaloo’s vague knowledge and Lieutenant Mirror’s vague notes. They had to backtrack a few times and narrowly avoided a few patrols.

The guards in the castle didn't seem to be on high alert, perhaps because they didn’t think anypony could actually get in. Well, that was one lesson this exercise had taught the Guards as a whole: a small, motivated group could prove nearly impossible to pin down.

They reached the corner to the final corridor that led to Princess Luna’s bedroom. Melon stopped them there and whispered, “There’s probably guards right outside the door.”

“What’s the plan?” said Dew.

Scootaloo shrugged. “Play it by ear?”

They stepped around the corner, facing two Lunar Guards that flanked the bedroom door. “I can’t believe you got us lost again!” said Chalice, holding the book and loose papers out in front of her.

“It isn’t like this place is exactly easy to navigate,” Melon provided.

“Will there be lunch soon?” Dew asked.

“Who cares about the food? I need to file my permit to open a new haberdashery,” Scootaloo retorted.

“Hold on, this is a restricted area,” said one of the guards.

“Oh great, and now we’ve gone and crossed the Royal Guard,” said Melon. “Not that any of them gave us directions on the way up here.”

“Yeah, what’s the deal with that? Is that what my taxes are paying for?” Chalice asked the guards.

“All of you need to leave. You aren’t supposed to be here,” said the other guard.

“Oh, and what are you going to do to make us?” said Scootaloo.

“Right,” said Melon. “Because what if we weren’t really lost civilians but actually the deadly Can’t Remember Faction and slit your throats thirty seconds ago while you were arguing with us?”

There was a beat of silence, as all of them processed it.

“Because that’s what happened,” Dew helpfully filled in.

“Buck me,” muttered one of the guards.

“We’ll be kidnapping the Princess now,” said Chalice.

“Can they do that?” one guard asked the other.

He shrugged. “If they’re the ones willing to wake her up.”

That was a concern. Melon only just now realized that Princess Luna, technically the highest authority of the Lunar Guard, probably intimidated him more than Celestia.

Fortunately, he had Scootaloo for that, who was more than happy to go bounce on her bed like a filly.

Princess Luna was not a light sleeper, it seemed. She had time to yawn and sit up before opening her eyes to find the uninvited guests. She looked at Scootaloo standing on the bed and then at the other three nearby.

“To what is the pleasure owed?” Luna said, tone neutral but with a nettle undertone.

“Princess, I’m Corporal Rind, Lunar Guard. My squad and I are the red team for the annual Guard exercise. We’ve successfully broken into the castle and made it to your bedroom, intending to kidnap you.”

“Sorry!” called one of the guards from the door.

Luna glanced in his direction and then back to Melon, a contemplative look appearing on her face. “Lunar Guard, you say?”

“Yes, Princess.” Melon hesitated. “For what it’s worth, your sister suggested this.”

“Oh really?” A mischievous smile suddenly appeared on Luna’s face. “In that case, kidnappers be warned, you misjudged your mark.”

She closed her eyes and cast a powerful spell. Outside, the sun was abruptly replaced in the sky by the moon. Luna opened her eyes again, revealing slitted pupils.

The entire blue team, alerted by the change in heavenly bodies, rushed to Luna’s bedroom. As they expected, the red team was there. Completely unexpected, though, was Nightmare Moon.

It took awhile for the Royal Guard to control their collective racing hearts after Princess Luna’s practical joke.

At least it was more amusing than being swarmed by guards. It was time to call it quits anyway. The red team had made their point.

The blue team was rather enthusiastic about finally catching the notorious Can’t Remember Faction. So much so that after arresting them, they were taken to the dungeon in the basement of the castle and locked up.

“A little much, don’t you think?” Melon said to the guard who had just finished locking the cell door.

She shrugged. “Orders from Captain Light.”

“Ah.” Melon glanced over his shoulder at the Privates, concealing his growing concern. Especially when Light walked into the room.

He looked at them with satisfaction, as one might after finally finishing a particularly frustrating task. That expression was instantly replaced with real frustration as Lieutenant Mirror entered the room.

“Good show, everypony,” she said. “I’m sure we’ve all learned valuable lessons that will help strengthen the Guard and improve training, especially if the red team here gets cleaned up and starts working on their debrief.” She gestured at the guard with the keys.

“I’m having them held here until an inquiry can be launched about some of their more questionable activities,” said Light, barely tactful.

“Yes sir, I know how much you love rules,” said Mirror. “And the exercise instructions include giving the red team time to prepare a presentation on their side of the story so that the debrief tomorrow can be as educational as possible.”

“Well then, I’ll leave you to discuss,” said Light. He gestured to the guards under his command.

Mirror raised her eyebrows as they advanced on her, but voluntarily walked into the cell adjoining the others. After it was locked, the other guards departed, leaving the red team alone together.

Mirror took out a piece of string and put it in her mouth. Melon stuck the lighter through the bars and lit it for her. Mirror nodded to him and took the lighter as he offered it. She stuck it in her pocket and put on a contemplative look as she took the first drag on her smoke.

After a moment, she said, “I’m going to rip his guts out through his asshole.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Melon.