• Published 16th Mar 2016
  • 1,768 Views, 178 Comments

Daring Do and the Sword of Excalibur - Silver Malice



When Scootaloo collapses, screaming about a magic sword, evil gryphons, and a strange golden mare with grey mane, it’s up to Rainbow Dash and her hero Daring Do to keep Scootaloo from the clutches of an evil fanatic in search of the sword Excalibur

  • ...
11
 178
 1,768

Chapter 3: Spies and Secrets

Both Shekel and Scratch had remained behind rather than join the war party heading out after the ponies. They found themselves held back at the roost as the hunter squadron poured out of the spire in a wave of dark feathers and metal claws.

Rather than going on the search and destroy crusade, they had instead been chosen to lead the group responsible for spying on Ponyville. In some ways that was the more important mission, for it would be spying on Ponyville that eventually delivered the key into their talons. This thought was most comforting to them. However, they suspected that the decision had been partly influenced by the fact that neither of them had much stomach for violence. Often when such physical activity broke out, they had a talent for becoming distracted and bored.

Sometimes they would just disappear from the battle altogether. This was not the best kind of behavior one really expected to see in such so called warriors. Griffon warriors who did not fight: truly a piercing shame that neither griffon in question could really live down. Their half-breed nature was quite conflicting. Try as they might, spilling blood was not one of their passions and, therefore, they avoided it like the plague. For this reason, they often were posted on guard duty instead, or their more proven profession, spying and infiltration. To save their honor, both griffons had to make the decision: either carry the shame or change the game. Switching over to spying and infiltration had been a big decision for the two of them.

Infiltration, unfortunately, also had been a bit hard to get into for the two. Basically, there was no way to avoid the fact they were griffons. No matter of disguise or make-up could get around that, even factoring in the renowned lack of IQ possessed by the pony race. Therefore, stealth and speed had been the chosen methods for both lieutenants.

Even in this, though, they were not above possessing serious flaws. In their minds, it wasn’t just that they were not the most reliable fighters, or at times the best spies in Mordrue’s entourage. The most pertinent reason they had been kept back, they figured, had been simply that Mordrue did not trust them to get the job done. For all his talk of the so called true master race, he often insulted and berated his followers, Scratch and Shekel especially. Sometimes they wondered if he looked down on them for their half-breed nature, other times they wondered if it was just becasue he trust them as he did Dukat or the others. Of course this had deserved some precedent. While they were great spies, they also were prone to arguments and philosophical debates, often at the most inopportune times. Too many times in the past had their poor judgement or lazy attitude snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Too many times had their nonsensical arguing distracted them from achieving their mission’s goals.

For this reason, they surely thought, Mordrue had insisted that they remain behind to keep focused on stalking the key. After all, this would allow them to remain within full range of his magic. Safe away from the protection spells and magic of the pony Princesses, he could keep an eye on them using his Scrying mirrors. If either of the griffons were to get in over their ears at all, he would be aware of it, and could delegate their responsibilities to others. Knowing the two griffons in question, Mordrue had every reason to suspect that the task at talon would eventually prove too much for them to handle.

Both griffons had agreed to their leader’s commands, accepting responsibility for the mission and accepting their potential to screw it up. While readying themselves mentally for trading in their armor and helmets for scarves and vests, the braces around their wings were removed. Most of the griffon flock wore a set of metal braces along their wings to give them better strength and allow the wings to hold up the griffons’ weight while armored. Removing these braces would mean that they couldn’t carry their armor or fly as efficiently as they could with the braces on. Despite the tactical disadvantage, it would be worth it to not draw attention to themselves. Secrecy was the key, as they did not know exactly what the ponies knew, so they did not want to arouse any unnecessary suspicion.

To protect against any pony recognizing their brands, they intended to use dye and makeup to cover the sword and eye insignias on their hips. Before they could don their new disguises, however, both of them were given a new set of requirements by the chief. Shekel’s brown and green fur had to be combed and straightened out as Scratch had to be washed and dusted, his usual grime and dirt scrubbed out of his fur and wings.

“I’m glad I hate water and I’m glad I hate soap,” stated Scratch, hugging his body tight while being washed in the Spire’s resident bird bath. His griffon attendant, Loot, was currently dumping a bucket of water over his head, making sure to roll his eyes as he did so. He too was glad: glad that the stench of mud and decay were slowly disappearing from his nose.

“You think you got it bad? You’re not the one being ripped apart over here!” came the resounding squawk from Shekel. The brown and green griffon was feeling like his fur was being pulled out as his own stylist, Moula, combed him harshly and furiously. The oddly colored griffon’s tangled fur proved to be more than a match for the comb and talons of his frustrated attendant.

“Of course, could be worse. We could be tracking down them other ponies, and I don’t have to tell you, my lad, how bad a sting magic can leave on ya, right?” growled Scratch, grimacing as Loot began scrubbing the soap and herbs into his blue-tan colored fur.

Looking down at the fiery green streaks burned into his own fur, the other griffon agreed with a growl. “Aye. Always leaves a mark, somehow.”

It took the pair and their attendants another hour before they were washed and made fully presentable. The two dedicated attendant griffons, after such hard work and skill, soundly collapsed onto their sides. Both gasped for breath and rest, having been tested as though on quantum cosmology by the whole ordeal.

Both griffons ignored the plight of their fellows, and instead, looked upon the other. Each remarked inwardly how posh and silly the other looked. They were salt of the earth type griffons, meaning they didn’t care much about how they looked or about petty things like hygiene. Too see the other now, so unfamiliar looking without their dirt, dust, and grime was an epitome of comedy. Of course, neither had ever seen the other so presentable, for they had never in their lives looked as presentable as they were now.

The plan to infiltrate Ponyville had taken some time to be finalized by the company of griffons remaining at the Spire. Together, they had decided for themselves their own roles, obligations, and targets. Scratch and Shekel had taken official charge, declaring themselves Mordrue's direct lieutenants. It seemed just assuming command was good enough for the rest of the flock. It also helped that while they were not the best fighters, both griffons were as intimidating as timber wolves when angered. It was also true that among the flock, though most of them would die before admitting it, it was agreed that Scratch and Shekel were the better idea prone.

Both of them had demonstrated this ability when they came to the conclusion that the birthday party provided the best way for the spies to slip into Ponyville without question. They had also fabricated a notion to be presented to any inquiring equine that Princess Twilight herself was the one who'd hire them while she was away. This was agreed by the griffon company to be a good enough excuse to get past the ponies’ basic suspicions. As of course, everyone knew that ponies were dimmer than a burned out torch. Their over reliance on emotions and friendship made them generally trusting and open, and therefore, weak. As it was preached by Mordrue, “It was the griffon’s duty to take advantage of others’ weaknesses, to enhance their own strength.”

Now was their chance to demonstrate this lesson clearly and precisely.

Mordrue's teachings usually involved taking advantage of others’ weaknesses, or more precisely, the opportunity provided by said weaknesses. The griffons of old Griffonstone had once prospered under such beliefs until their own weakness had arrived, until the inferiors had polluted their strong blood lines, as preached by Mordrue.

What Mordrue preached was truth, and truth was strength.

They had spent enough time spying on the ponies and their village to recognize that the party was the talk of all of Ponyville by now. By infiltrating the various groups working on the celebration, it provided an opportunity to: spy, sabotage, and undermine, which could not be passed up. The idea about even snatching the key from the celebration while using the party as a cover, had been very tantalizing among their flock.

Now, the two lieutenants stood tall and proud, looking in the bird bath's reflection to see themselves more clearly. Standing there in their dress disguises, they decided they looked as ordinary as a blue-tan and brownish-green griffon could.

“We’re looking right posh indeed, Shekel me boy. But, a thought does occur: given the need for help all over town for this here celebration, do you think anypony would find the site of two dusty and grimy griffons odd?” contemplated Scratch.

“I suppose that does make sense. We could have easily gotten to work without showing off how shiny our feathers and beaks are,” replied Shekel, now interested in Scratch’s point.

“Then why did we have to be half drowned and scalped for these disguises?” asked Scratch.

“Oh, this isn’t for the disguises,” interjected Loot, the attendant having recovered quicker than his companion. “The chief just wanted you two to look and smell clean.”

Scratch groaned as he shook his hind quarters to bring feeling back into it. “I tell you what, that’s the problem with administrative types, Shekel. They like to dictate and control everything. Even how you look and smell.”

“Hmm, makes you wonder if we should instead be living under a representative commune, eh?” added Shekel. “Them ponies seem to have something like that.”

“Not at all lad. What they have is an absolute monarchy that adheres to a Magna Carta of plutocrats and the occasional democratic committee.”

“Yes, but I thought their Princesses were in charge?”

“They are, but only because their magical afflictions have granted them supreme over-lordship of their people and the world. I mean, one would think it would be impossible to have more than one kingdom when the rulers of one are basically the ones who bring the sun and moon to steady orbits around the rest of the world?”

“Sounds inherently authoritative?”

“Aye, which is why none of the other kingdoms trust or like Equestria, and good on them. Leadership should be determined by a democratic collective support, not because a pair of tarts use hocus pocus to control the moon and sun.”

By this point, the rest of the spies for the day had arrived and were waiting impatiently for their two fellow griffons to zip the hole that makes the words.

“Ah, for the love of Tashar, will you two shut it and get on with it please?” growled one of the assembled griffons, his natural talons scratching into the stone of the spire with impatience.

“Calm your wings there, ya drooling parrot. Me and my mate here are just finishing up our conversation,” Scratch growled hotly, watching intently as the other griffon just glared back at him and sat on his haunches.

“Alright, lads, here’s the plan for today. Me and Shekel will take a look at the celebration preparations, see if this party will give us an opportunity to snatch the key. Meanwhile, Loot and Moula will go to the boutique shop and offer your services. Rumor is the tart running the operation is behind in her production."

The two attendant griffons gasped with surprise. Loot was as sure as day the dominant of the two, brown and white colored, and not above snapping his beak in irritation. He glowered at the lieutenant, thinking to himself that him and his brother were better suited for cosmetic duties than actual fieldwork.

“Why are we involved?” asked Loot spitefully.

“Because you two know how to sow, and be primp and proper… and none of the rest of us can STOMACH THAT ROT,” yelled Scratch menacingly. The brown and white griffon drooped his ears back at the others aggressiveness, making sure to lower his head as a sign of submission.

“Right. Got it,” he whimpered as his companion gently stroked his shoulders in sympathy.

Scratch shoved his talons under the whimpering griffon's beak as well, outstretched and demanding. “By the way, give them back. Now!” He watched as Loot, very reluctantly and with a desperate look of longing, dropped into his outstretched talons the several golden gills (ancient gryphon-money) he had pilfered from the other while washing him.

“Next on the list. Nickel. Quarter. You two will be partnering with Sawbucks and Two Bits. You’re all going undercover as workers to help the local apple farmers. We overheard the orange mare the other day. They’ll be needing strong able bodied builders, so you’ll be contracting to help do some construction for the party.”

Several of the large and strongly built griffons grimaced as they looked between one another. All of them despised earth ponies, especially any earth ponies that had to do with fruit. This particular dislike was mostly due to the fact that the only fruit they had ever eaten were limes and lemons. The climate of their previous home had not been suitable for growing or consuming anything else. This has led to many griffons despising the taste and smell of fruit. Since the earth ponies often were the primary growers and gatherers of such, they were seen as guilty by association. It was flawless griffon logic, which of course meant to any non-griffon, it wasn’t flawless at all.

“Finally, Fiver and Tenner… the two of you shall be the boss's eyes and ears. Once we have something to report we’ll tell you and then you will relay it to the chief through his mirrors.”

The two griffons in question, both brothers, wore big grey trench-coats about their shoulders and dark sunglasses across their eyes. Grey stained, wide brimmed hats completed their disguise. The two of them stood side by side as they tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.

“Alright, everyone has their assignments? Good, then let’s get to work lads.”

~

Scootaloo had been overjoyed to see both Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle after all she had been through in the last 24 hours. The orange furred pegasus nearly jumped for joy when her two fellow fillies blasted through Nurse Redheart’s forelegs as the white and pink mare brought her something to eat. The nurse just gave a sigh before she lowered the tray onto the bed and walked out. Princess Twilight had been very persuasive in her appeal to allow the kids to be together. The three fillies then talked long and deep afterwards. Mostly, they had talked about how she was feeling, if she remembered what had attacked her, and when she would be out of the hospital.

Scootaloo felt a bit flustered given the fact she had no answers to any of those. That weight of not knowing, nor being in control of her own life, was a crushing feeling. However, it was also fleeting once Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle got to discussing her birthday celebration, more assured now than ever that Scootaloo was in desperate need of one. Scootaloo liked remembering how nice it felt to smile again as the other two began to argue over whether they should use red streamers or just pink confetti.

All this time, Spike had been snoring away on the small cot by the bed, small trails of smoke leaking out of his nostrils. His tail flicked back and forth as he slept, the spikes on his back shifting position with the rise and fall of his breath.

“Anyone else notice how weird Spike’s body is acting?” asked Sweetie Belle, looking at the strange site of the little dragon.

“He’s been like that ever since he fell asleep,” answered Scootaloo, not mentioning how glad she was for the dragon’s protective presence... even if he was currently out like a busted up light-bulb.

“He’s starting to smoke a little. Anyone else think that could be a fire hazard?” continued Sweetie Belle, thoughtfully.

“Leave him be, Sweetie,” demanded Apple Bloom, hotly.

“Just saying,” trailed Sweetie Belle, regretfully looking away from the living, sleeping toaster oven.

Scootaloo tested herself to see if she was strong enough to sit up, and found she was, the dizziness and ache that had been plaguing her all morning now gone, finally. Pulling off the bed sheets, she shakily got on all fours on top of the bed. She started testing her wings, flapping them up and down, wanting to make sure they weren’t chaffing on the bandages wrapped around her sides.

There was only one thing remaining that she had control over that had been bothering her all this time. “I really want to know when I can leave here,” she asked out loud to no pony in particular.

“Sooner than you think, darling,” came the rich, answering voice of Rarity from across the room, the white and purple mare having entered the room relatively unnoticed.

“Hey, big sis,” said Sweetie Belle gleefully, jumping over to give her big sister a welcoming hug.

Rarity responded in kind, giving the young filly a nuzzle about the cheek. “Oh thank you, Sweetie Belle. Ah! I see Spike is still asleep… nice security we have here,” replied Rarity, hugging her sister close. As she did so, she gave one of her traditional sighs upon realizing she needed to, once again, wake Spike up.

“What do you mean by, “sooner than you think,” Rarity?” asked Apple Bloom, inquisitively.

“Well, Scootaloo is set to be released this afternoon. Her wound is no longer serious and the hospital staff is a mite worried that Spike might burn down the whole building if we remain here any longer.”

Scootaloo felt her heart leap for joy at hearing she would be leaving the hospital, her previous encounters here having not left a great impression upon her. At the same time, she also felt a serious sense of dread, worried that whatever had attacked could come back.

While she was worrying over her thoughts, and before she could ask the others about her danger, Rarity set to gently prod Spike awake.

“Time to get up now, Spikey Wikey! Come on. That smoke is starting to really fog up the room.”

Spike groaned a bit before rolling onto his back and slowly opening his eyes. The first thing he saw upon opening his sleep heavy eyelids was Rarity’s pretty face. The sight of his long fantasized love interest nearly made him choke on his own tongue.

“Ugh, R-Rarity… hey, how are ya?” Spike asked, trying to play off his initial surprise as smooth as he could. The baby dragon hopped up onto his feet and leaned against the wall.

“Oh, I’m fine, Spike. Now come along. We’re taking Scootaloo out of the hospital, and you and I are in charge of watching her for tonight.”

“Y-You and m-me?”

“That’s right.”

“Oh my gosh! That’s… um, I mean, cool.”

Apple Bloom leaned her head over to whisper into Scootaloo’s ear. “Nice recovery on that one, huh?”

Scootaloo just nodded, mostly just happy that she wouldn't be alone again. However, the lingering doubt still remained. Was she safe? Or would whatever had attacked her come back? Were her friends in danger, then? When would she have answers?

The silence which followed her only added more to her uncertainty… and the growing dread and misery building inside her.

~

The griffons had infiltrated the town easily enough. Flying low to the ground they had managed to avoid the notice of the skyfaring pegasi. Making sure none of the pony flyers caught them spilling out of the Everfree the griffons made every available sacrifice to avoid any situation in which they would have to explain themselves. Should they have been caught coming out of the forest possible suspicions might have been raised and ruined their cover. Not many good things came out of the Everfree forest. The griffons who dwelt there knowing that better than most.

Passing through the apple and wheat fields they remained low until they had passed into the township itself. They expertly darted between the decorative houses and street corners, making sure to steer clear of the main street. Finally, they came to where they wanted to be: just on the outskirts of the town center. After they all were once more on terra firma Scratch and Shekel led the group of griffons towards the Town Hall. The ponies seemed to be running about more than usual today; mares, stallions, and foals all milling about together in a convoluted mess.

A particular pair of mares wearing aprons and trailing another pair of young fillies just out of nursing, passed by struggling with trays of baked goodies and treats piled high between them. On the opposite side of the street, a gang of mixed colored mares were busy folding and forming flower arrangements as a dull grey pegasus with strange mismatched eyes was being laden down with boxes and supplies by several other ponies. Many other ponies were running back and forth, entering and leaving shops and or dragging large boxes. The township was in a bit of bustle today, it would seem. Apparently, the ponies in this town were pretty dedicated to their parties.

As they walked across a bridge over a small stream, the griffons came into sight of the Town Hall. Making their way toward it, they kept an eye on the shops and ponies around them. As they went along, none of the griffons felt like they would be given much trouble, the behavior of the ponies only reinforcing the ideals and lessons that Mordrue had taught them. Ponies were nothing but addle brained and foolish. Lesser beings, too naive or stupid to realize they were so weak willed.

Finally, they arrived in the town square right in front of the Town Hall. Standing outside the hall on the set of steps, was the grey maned and tan colored mayor of Ponyville, Mayor Mare. The seasoned mare was currently engaged, talking with an oddly dressed pony with a white mane and a pair of large, round, indigo colored glasses. Both ponies did not seem to notice the gang of griffons collected at the far end of the square. Taking the opportunity presented to them the griffon flock moved quickly to close the distance between them and the Town Hall.

“So you will be able to photograph the whole thing then?” finished the mayor, her words just catching the ears of the griffon group as they arrived at the bottom of the steps.

“Ya! It vill be a piesh of cake!” answered the odd pony, turning immediately from the mayor without further ado and hopping off down the steps and across the square. Shaking her head the mayor turned to find another odd sight for the second time today. A flotilla of griffons who were now standing before her.

“May I… help you?” she asked timidly.

“Yes you may, ma’am,” answered the lead griffon, a blue-tan furred fellow with a bright green vest, yellow eyes, and a charming grin around his beak. “We’re here to help around town with the celebration.”

“Oh! I didn’t realize that there were so many… out of towners, coming,” followed up the mayor, looking around the lead griffon to look at the group collected behind him, remarking to herself at the size and build of each one.

“Oh, Princess Twilight er, uhhh--outsourced us--to help you in her absence, of course,” added the lead griffon. “My name is Scratch, by the way, and this is my crew.”

“Pleased to meet you, but, uh, Twilight never informed me of any of this.”

“Well, given she’s a Princess and you’re, well… a mayor, I doubt she feels she has to inform you about anything hmm?” poked the griffon.

Mayor Mare was quite taken aback by the griffon’s words. On one hoof, the griffon was being a jerk, on the other hoof, though, he had a point. Since becoming a princess, Twilight had not consulted or really even addressed her that much in the running of Ponyville. Deep down, the griffon’s words latched onto that part of her that dwelt in dark thoughts. She had been doing her best to conceal these very thoughts in her heart for a long time. Everything boiling down to the simple idea; what possible reason could a town have for a mayor, if they had a Princess instead?

“Oh... well… that may be true... okay, fine. D-Do you have your tasks already?” asked the mayor, dejectedly. Deciding then and there to bury those thoughts once more deep down in silence.

“That we do. My boys know exactly where to go to keep an eye on things,” grinned the griffon, a collection of groans from his fellows answering him in turn.

Not understanding what he meant nor why his fellow griffons were groaning into their talons, the mayor simply nodded her head. The griffon’s words had deeply affected her, cutting deep, but at the same time, making her feel unfettered. For so long she had kept her worrying insecurities over her failing relevancy unhealthily bottled up inside her heart and mind. Ever since Twilight's ascension, she had been seeing herself as more of an over-titled secretary than a mayor. Now that she was able to just admit it to herself, however, it took a heavy load off her heart. Dropping those feelings of denial was so liberating for her. It was strange that this griffon could say something like that and she didn’t even question it. Almost like the griffon had a direct connection to her innermost feelings. This got her to wondering if the griffon could understand her in the way she had imagined another might understand her one day.

Coming up close to him, she pressed against the griffon’s tall frame. She just loved the way his pretty yellow eyes widened in surprise as she draped herself across his strong chest. She shivered with anticipation as one of his talons came up reflexively to catch her while in order to keep balanced, one of her hooves responded by twisting in his chest fur. It almost looked like they were engaged in a dance with the mayor being pulled into a romantic dip.

“And do you know where you have to go?” she winked at him, her blue eyes practically shining as she gazed into his sunflower yellow.

“Ugh... heh… umm, y-yes!” stammered the griffon, sweat beginning to pour down his fur as he caught a glimpse of the conflicting sea of emotion behind her blue eyes. “I mean, in terms of the celebration, yes.”

She just grinned at him, pivoting herself back onto her four hooves as she turned around. As she did so, she made sure to give his cheek a playful swat with her tail.

“Well, once you're done, if you want to keep an eye on me, that would be most pleasant,” she smirked at him, pretty much forgetting his cruel bluntness from before.

Being a mayor for so long had made even the concept of dating an endangered species. Now, though, with Twilight as the princess in charge of most things, she had found a lot more time on her hooves. Perhaps this was a sign to change a few things. She would have to thank Princess Twilight for going over her head and bringing her such a fine specimen… even if he was a griffon.

Scratch couldn’t believe what had just happened. Had that pony just… come on to him? The blue-tan griffon had to admit that the tan earth pony had an alluring quality about her. He had no qualms about older females and he had never had much luck with Gryphon females, due to his half breed nature. He also appreciated her for her tan colored fur, which was identical to his own. Her blue eyes also did pair nicely with his own set's bluish tint.

However, such thoughts were not proper for one such as he. He was a proud griffon warrior, and anypony, especially an earth pony with no wings, and no talons, was beneath him and his superior bloodline. That was what was preached by Mordrue, and what Mordrue preached was truth. He would not betray the teachings or the oath he had sworn to his master and high priest.

He was brought out of his thoughts by the collective snickering and muffled laughter from his fellow griffons. The whole lot of them barely contained their mirth at his awkward discomfort.

“Hey, Scratch, don’t plan the wedding too early,” snarled Two Bits, the oversized griffon giving the other an excited smirk.

“Alright, alright! Enough you bunch of cawing seagulls. We have a job to do,” snarled Scratch. “You all know your duty, and just keep in mind: you screw up on this one, it’s not me you answer to, it’s Mordrue.”

At that the laughing and snickering died down, none of the assembled griffons interested in explaining any kind of failure to their leader. Without further discussion, they split up and melted into the Town Hall and square.

~

The Apple family had volunteered their services to help with setting up the Town Hall for the birthday bash. The orders had come down that very morning that the hall would be free up on Scootaloo’s birth-date, so they could have the party there after-all. This of course meant there needed to be modifications made, platforms and a stage to be built, and a bunch of other construction jobs and other jobs requiring serious horsepower. This demand had been met by Applejack, her brother Big Macintosh, and several of their fellow farm hooves, Caramel, Apple Fritter, and Golden Delicious.

Right now, most of them were working on getting the stage set up. However, the beams and planks meant to cover the framework they had spent the morning building had other plans. The large blocks of wood proving quite heavy and a bit difficult to carry even for the mightiest of them. Big Mac handled as much as he could even as his usual impressive strength dwindled. The weight he was carrying while considerable, was still too much for one pony. The Apple family were built strong from their hard working lifestyle, but they couldn't handle this task alone; They needed more horse power.

The answer to this labor shortage came with the arrival of several gryphons, whose leader asked if they could be of assistance. The gryphon leader went on to identify himself as Two Bits and then introduced his big brother Sawbucks, as well as their friends, Nickel and Quarter. They were all equally strong and well built, and took to the task with the utmost dedication. Both Applejack and Big Mac were appreciative of the help, and so both pony and gryphon sweated and toiled in hauling the materials for the stage. None of the ponies however, noticed the way the gryphons were scanning the walls and exits. They also missed the gryphons checking out the strength of the flooring and wood. Good thing, too. Otherwise someone might have suspected something.

~

Rarity had been in dire trouble all day. She needed to leave the boutique in order to look after Scootaloo, but she was also expected to finish the curtains and decorations for the stage and celebration. In addition to those duties, she also was in charge of creating the outfits for Scootaloo, her sister, and Apple Bloom. Things had become so much more complicated than usual. Her boutique in Canterlot had taken so much of her attention over the last few weeks that she had allowed herself to be overwhelmed at the last minute here at home.

“Oh, this is absolutely dreadful! A travesty! A day of infamy!” hollered the white and purple mare, pacing back and forth on the verge of tears. “Oh, how can I finish these dresses and curtains for the party while also meeting my promise to Twilight and Rainbow Dash?!”

Hurling herself on her sofa, she wailed in dismay, framing her hoof across her forehead as she sobbed into the plush pillow and satin coverings. “Oh, how could I be so foolish as to let myself be overwhelmed once more? Oh, who may save me from my unfortunate and unprecedented lack of insight and management skills?”

As if in answer, a hard sounding knock echoed throughout the boutique from the front doors. Curiosity overcoming her, Rarity abandoned her dramatic moment to skip from her sofa and over to the entrance-way to her shop. The unicorn charged her horn and opened up the engraved oaken doors to see a pair of well dressed and well trimmed gryphons.

“How may I help the two of you?” asked Rarity, no trace of her earlier distress upon her face.

“Afternoon, ma'am. We’re both freelance stylists and dressers. I believe a miss Twilight Sparkle asked us to drop by and help you out. My name is Loot and this is my twin brother, Moula. We’re at your service.”

~

Scratch and Shekel had both arrived in the Town Hall at around the same time the Apples and griffons were just getting around to putting the finishing touches on the stage. Nodding their heads to their fellows, both griffons maneuvered their way through the collection of building supplies, party decorations, and pony laborers. It was then that they came upon the oddest site they had seen all day: a prancing pink pony with frazzled mane and hair. She was hopping up and down a step ladder, stringing streamers and balloons from the wall and rafters.

“Shekel, watch yourself, lad. This pony has my gullet itching something fierce,” whispered Scratch, his eyes not leaving the prancing pony. Something was telling him they were playing with fire with this one. The pink pony finished decorating that corner of the wall, landing expertly down on her feet as she finally came face to face with the two griffons before her.

“Hey there, you two! New faces in Ponyville are always a welcomed surprise, and I for one just love surprises!” she squealed in glee as she began hopping around the two griffons. Both avians couldn’t keep track of her, her pink body moving so fast. She resembled a pink blur more than a flesh and blood pony.

“Uh, em, yeah. We’re new here,” answered Shekel, his head swirling as he was rendered dizzy by her frantic movements.

“Twilight Sparkle asked us to help with the party,” followed up Scratch, who was a bit more recovered than his partner.

“That’s Twilight! Always a great thinker, and such a wonderful princess! Hiring a group of griffons to help out is really unexpected, but totally appreciated, especially after all the accidents from using the ladder! Ouch!”

The pink pony stopped moving about to dig in a large box labeled, Pinky’s Party Plans and Presentations. She pulled out a hoof-ful of streamers, balloons, and miniature glass balls. “This is great timing, too. Since I kind of need to get these from down here to up there and the ladder is a bit too short for me. But you have wings and that means you can reach up top, right?”

Both griffons looked at the other, sharing a grin on both of their beaks as they realized they were officially in. “Uh, yeah. We can reach. The name’s Scratch, by the way.”

“And I’m called Shekel.”

“Pretty as pink to meet you two! My name is Pinkie Pie!”

~

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of town, no one, surprisingly, noticed the griffon in a dark trench coat slipping behind one of the decorated houses. The griffon himself was shocked no one seemed to notice him and wondered if the trench coat, glasses, and hat, actually carried some sort of invisible magic? While he contemplated this, he felt his pocket start to vibrate. Pulling out the polished crystal shape of a smooth silver hand mirror, the spy muttered a quick word in ancient gryphonian. He watched as the silver surface of the mirror rippled like silver waves in a marble colored ocean before being replaced with the green eyes of his master.

“Report, spy!” came the soft, yet commanding, voice of the black furred priest.

“Agent Tenner reporting here, sir! As for what I have to report, well…”

“Speak up, boy! I can't hear you!”

“Sorry, sir! Just remembering the proper code words. Alright. Here it is. The eagles have landed and the complacent squirrels harvest no nuts.”

“What?”

“The wolves have entered the flock, and the shepherd is asleep at the crook.”

“What in the name of Tashar are you talking about?”

“Oh. Sorry, sir. We’ve infiltrated the town and the ponies, as of yet, suspect nothing.”

“Good. Once you have any important information about the key, contact me immediately”

“Yes sir.”

~

The train had finally arrived at Canterlot central station, much to both Twilight and Rainbow Dash’s delight. Rainbow Dash had been on edge the entire ride, her passion and agitation boiling and compressing inside of her, unable to handle being cooped in the iron box when her wings and body were on edge to zoom through the skies. Many pegasi had this affliction, commonly referred to as Skyrage, which was an insistent need to use their wings and feel the giddy feeling of flight, almost like they were on a drug. She had been impatient the whole train ride, snorting and fidgeting, the tension in her wings causing her to have to pace back and forth in the train car every five minutes.

Twilight had nearly yelled at Dash then, the constant fidgeting and building emotions radiating off the cyan pegasus putting her on edge as well. Fraying her own nerves, it had been a source of pure frustration watching the blue pegasus's antics. Her being on edge was another story, and Twilight found that she had to keep her alicorn magic under control to ignore the consistent feelings and desires to forcibly sit Dash down. The purple alicorn could barely stand it. She couldn’t be responsible for both Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash, especially not when Dash was so impatient and hard to reign in.

Once the train had passed into Canterlot's main station, however, both mares had finally allowed themselves to relax. Once the car had come to a full stop at Canterlot station, Rainbow had barreled through the train doors and came to a halt on the stations boardwalk. Twilight gingerly followed after her, arriving just in time to catch Rainbow Dash about to fly off. Twilight made a quick lunge, biting her friends tail to hold her in midair.

“Twilight let go of my ermpptthhhhhh...tail, buck!” grunted Rainbow, surprised at how strong her purple friend was at the moment.

“Not ermpp, till, emrph, y-you, mrphhh, listen!” answered Twilight, her mouth holding firm to Dash’s rainbow colored tail. Dash reluctantly lowered herself back to the ground, as Twilight spat her tail out and gently placed her hooves on Rainbow's shoulders.

“Rainbow, you can’t just zoom off! We have to stick together and be smart about this, please,” she begged the impatient pegasus. Turning the other mare’s head with her other hoof, she stared into Rainbow’s eyes, forcing them to stare into the face of the other. The purple alicorn’s eyes gazed into her own, bringing with them a sense of calm. Rainbow’s breathing slowed and her anger and impatience slowly died down, the feelings leaving her with her friend’s help.

“I know you feel loyal to Scootaloo, Dash. I know you want to help her. So do I. But we can’t allow ourselves to let impatience and rashness hinder our mission.”

Dash nodded in response. She knew deep down that Twilight was right. <Twilight was always right>. Sighing in acceptance and letting her tensed muscles and limbs drop, she pressed her head to Twilight's, making sure to avoid the horn.

“Okay, Twi. I’m with you. What’s the plan?”

“You and I are going to pay a certain adventuring mare a little visit,” grinned Twilight, loving the way Dash’s frown turned into a similar grin as her own.

~

Together, both of them flew from the station and over the streets of Canterlot, looking for the building that was holding the gala for A.K. Yearling. Passing above the lit streets, both mares flew like the wind, Rainbow’s keen young eyes scanning the signs and buildings as they zoomed overhead.

Twilight looked up to see Canterlot Castle coming up on her right. Even from this height she could see Princess Luna’s tower, the princess of the night having left minutes earlier to draw the moon up into the sky.

As they passed by the castle, Luna’s tower already fading in the distance, Twilight couldn't help but wonder if the night princess would visit Scootaloo’s dreams tonight? Should she inform Celestia right now? Or perhaps call upon Luna to watch over Scootaloo? Was she leaving Scootaloo in danger? Could her friends actually protect her? But those thoughts faded soon after as she realized she needed to remain focused. They would go to the princesses only once they had an idea of what they were actually dealing with.

Finally, after flying for what seemed like hours, Rainbow instantly halted in mid-air. Of course, she forgot to alert Twilight, who slammed right into her back. The alicorn groaned as she tried to pry herself from her entanglement with Rainbow Dash.

“Oh, for the love of Celestia, Rainbow! Warn a pony next time, huh?”

“Sorry, Twi, but I think I found the place we’re looking for.”

Following the hoof Rainbow was pointing, Twilight saw the bright flashing lights below, the large building being identified as Canterlot’s Saddledome. A large white banner across the front entrance read: Welcome A.K. Yearling.

“Rainbow Dash, prepare to crash this party,” started Twilight, her cyan colored friend only giving her a full on grin.

“Twilight, crashing is what I do best… er wait... I mean...!”

~

They both landed at the entrance way, the two, large, bouncer ponies taking one look at Twilight’s wings and horn before backing away, allowing them to enter without accost. The blue pegasus pushed her way through the crowd to come to Twilight's side, whispering into her ear, “Hey! Look at that! Being a princess has its perks, huh?”

Twilight smiled as she nodded. “Yeah. That does come in handy sometimes.” The purple pony lead the way into the Saddledome’s main ballroom. The Saddledome was Canterlot’s version of the Town Hall from Ponyville, just on a grander scale, with the building being used for balls, receptions, weddings, and the occasional sports tournament as one of the facilities happened to be a large indoor courtyard.

The ballroom they were in now was quite large, comprised of marble floors and white stone pillars, great banners of red velvet and purple lining draping from the rafters, walls, and large stained glass windows.

The room itself was packed with a list of Canterlot's top and brightest, ponies draped in the finest silk and fashions. As they passed by a rather large group of ponies, Twilight could recognize Hoighty Toighty parading around the ball room, showing off his newest suit and keeping a wary eye on some of the more promiscuous attendees. In this case that would be Filthy Rich and his wife Spoiled Rich, who Were currently deep in conversation with Fancy Pants and his alluring mare-friend, Fleur. The high class ponies giving each other grins and looks that spoke of far more than a formal relationship. Twilight altered her gaze, not wanting to pry, or even think about what that could mean. In doing so, she managed to catch a unwanted glimpse of Prince BlueBlood, currently being surrounded by a gaggle of swooning mares.

"Too bad Rarity isn’t here to warn them off that one shoe pony," thought Twilight, as she and Rainbow passed the mares and the yuppie prince-ling. The blue pegasus rolled her eyes as they did, calling the gaggle of mares a bunch of airheads under her breath.

At long last, they finally caught sight of their target. She was sitting at a large table, signing books for a large line of well dressed ponies. Signs of, "Congrats on the New Series," littered the table and floor around her. A.K. Yearling or, as she was otherwise known as, Daring Do, looked quite dashing tonight, wearing a silken dress that shielded her wings from sight and a beautiful green scarf that wrapped around her neck. She wore on her head a wide brimmed satin hat with a phoenix tail plume dangling off the side.

“Looks like we didn’t get here in time to catch her before the party,” whispered Rainbow once again in Twilight's ear, the purple alicorn shaking her wings and head in reply.

“We’ll just have to tell her what's up now,” replied Twilight.

Both mares headed over to the table, noticing the golden-brown mare perk up as she caught sight of the two of them in the corner of her eye. Rainbow made sure Daring recognized her by giving her a quick wave. The adventurer/writer finished signing the book on her desk before politely asking the rest of the line to postpone themselves so she could take a break. Once they had dispersed, she trotted over to her friend.

“Rainbow Dash, ya old blazer, how’s it going, sister?” asked Daring Do enthusiastically, coming right up and giving Dash a friendly embrace.

“Hey Dar--I mean, Miss Yearling. I’m doing great… oh! Congrats on the new series by the way. I’ll have to pick up a copy.”

“Yeah, it was quite surprising to me as well, but my--other job--has been kind of dull lately, so I've had more time on my hoof.”

Twilight had remained silent and to the side while the two mares greeted each other before intervening herself, trying to hold in her excitement to meet A.K. Yearling and Daring Do once again.

“Um, Miss, er, Yearling? We have some important matters to discuss. Is there somewhere private we can go?”

“Oh, hey there, Twilight. Nice pair of wings by the way. I heard you had become a princess, of course, had to find that out on my own. What’s up with that, Rainbow Dash? Can’t write or mail a letter anymore?”

Rainbow gave her a sheepish look as she shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, "That’s our Rainbow Dash!"

“Sorry Dar--er--I mean, sorry A.K.--er--Miss Yearling--whatever. Totally skipped my mind to let you know. I mean, it was just one of those things,” Rainbow stammered out apologetically.

“Yeah, well, it didn’t matter much anyway. For the last year or so, I’ve been waist deep in the Swamp Jungles of Gangren.”

“Really! Oh, clouds! That’s so totally AWESOME!” cried Rainbow Dash a bit too loud, a dozen heads swiveling to look at them from across the Ballroom.

Both Daring Do and Twilight gave Dash a death glare, the blue pegasus once more donning a sheepish blush as she realized her mistake. “Heh heh. Sorry about that.”

“Yeah... so, back to that privacy idea,” added Twilight, keeping her glare focused on Dash.

Nodding her head, Daring Do, quickly scanned around in order to see if any pony was paying them any attention. Aside from a few glances in their direction, none of the high society really seemed interested in them. Surprising, given they had the Princess of Friendship and the best author in Equestria standing right there, but, then again, there was no accounting for the elite's ability to ignore others. Leading the other two behind her, Daring made her way through the ballroom and through a side door into one of the Dome’s private studies.

Briefly, she rested her head against the door, keeping one of her ears pricked to monitor for anyone listening outside. Daring looked the other two mares over, pulling off the scarf and shaking off her silk dress to reveal her golden-brown fur and green vest.

“So what brings the Princess of Friendship and the best assistant adventurer I have ever had to Canterlot looking for me?”

Twilight and Rainbow looked at each other, Twilight nodding for Rainbow to take the lead. The blue pegasus took charge of the conversation, glad that Twilight was giving her this chance.

“Well, one of our friends is in trouble and we think you're involved somehow,” said Rainbow.

“Whoa! Hold up! Who?” asked Daring, leaning away from the door, now having some slight interest.

“Our friend. A young filly named Scootaloo. She’s an orange pegasus… what?” Rainbow trailed off, seeing Daring having gone completely stock still. Despite her golden-brown fur she seemed to glow deathly pale.

“You said an orange filly… does she have purple hair?” asked Daring frantically, the cool and calm demeanor she had displayed up till now vanishing in an instant. Now it was replaced with one of a stressed out, hyperactive wreck.

“Yes! But how do you know that?” asked Twilight, beginning to find herself a bit alarmed at the other mare’s reaction.

“What's wrong with her? She is okay, right?” pleaded Daring.

“She’s fine, but she was attacked a few nights ago,” replied Twilight.

“Attacked!? By who!?” Demanded the golden-brown mare, her eyes growing unimaginably more wide and frantic. Gripping Twilight about the shoulders, Daring’s fur now was glistening with a thick layer of sweat. The alicorn grimaced at how hard Daring Do was holding her, her own eyes beginning now to show some panic themselves given the adventurer’s alarming behavior.

“We don’t know who it was, but they clawed her deep. She had been feeling sick all day, and all of a sudden started having visions.”

“Visions, of what? Whom? Spill it Princess!” growled Daring, snorting a gruff of hot air from her nostrils in annoyance.

Rainbow Dash came forward at that and put her own hooves onto the adventurer’s, “Hey Daring, why not let Twilight go? I think you’re bruising her.”

Daring seemed to calm down once the other pegasus took her hooves into her own, the touch of another bringing her calmness and reassurance. She released Twilight, who gave Dash a thankful smile, before turning to focus back on the golden-brown mare.

“She said she saw a golden mare, with a grey rainbow streak, carrying a young filly. That’s you, isn’t it?” asked Twilight.

“Um, well, uh… what else did she see?” stuttered Daring, her eyes looking down from Twilight's, making the purple alicorn start to feel suspicious.

“She said something else about a pair of green eyes,” finished Twilight.

Daring at the mention of the green eyes, growled and snorted like a feral animal, her eyes turning from wide and frantic, into deadly daggers of furious magenta.

“That twisted, black furred, flying snake! If he so much as touches her again, I’ll rip out his spleen and strangle the BUCKER with it!”

Both Twilight and Dash were taken aback by the adventurer’s very imaginative words, shocked to hear their favorite literary hero and favorite author using such violent and graphic language.

“Who are you talking about Daring?” demanded Twilight.

“Mordrue… a griffon high priest. He and I have some… history.”

“If you two have history, what could he possibly want with Scootaloo?” asked Rainbow, completely puzzled.

“He doesn’t just want Scootaloo. He wants what she holds inside of her. A magical key to a weapon of unbelievable power. She has it inside of her. Taking her gives him the key to finding it and wielding it. It also gives him a way to hurt me.”

“How can he hurt you, and how do you know what Scootaloo has inside of her?” inquired Twilight, though, deep down in her egghead mind, the princess was starting to think she just might know the answer.

“Tell us NOW, Daring! Scootaloo could be in a lot of danger!” followed Rainbow.

“I know he can hurt me by taking her, the same way I know Scootaloo holds a magical key,” sobbed Daring, newly formed hot tears streaming down her cheeks, as her body shook with repressed pain and misery. “I know because I’m her mother. Scootaloo is my daughter!”

Both ponies stood in absolute shock and surprise, neither of them really prepared for such a magical bombshell. They couldn't even bring themselves to hold Daring who had broken down into frequent sobs, sliding herself down onto a heap on the floor.

“Huh,” muttered both Twilight and Dash, still at a loss to say anything else.

Author's Note:

Whoa shots fired huh, what's going to happen next?

Tune in to Thursday when i bring the next installment.