• Published 17th Nov 2016
  • 2,916 Views, 91 Comments

The Prisoner of Zebra - Tumbleweed

Flash Sentry: hero, heart breaker ... and self-admitted coward. For the first time, he details his own undeserved rise to heroism (as well as the trouble such a reputation brings him) in his own words.

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Flash Sentry and the Inverse Ninja Theorem

My only warning was the faintest shift in the bridal chamber's air currents. For any non-winged readers out there, it's worth noting that every pegasus has a certain sense of spatial awareness. It's not perfect, and it's stronger in some ponies than others, but it's still there. Comes in handy when you spend your whole life on a cloud, you know.

The faintest of ticklings tugged at the very tips of my feathers, and I instinctively glanced over my shoulder. And there they were-- a good half dozen ponies, decked out from ear to tail in black pajamas. They honestly would've looked ridiculous, if it wasn't for the wickedly sharp array of weaponry they carried.

My scream could best be described as “fillylike.”

The ninjas, in damnable contrast, kept silent. As one, they lunged across the room, curved blades gleaming in the evening light. Acting on cowardice-honed instinct, I beat my wings as fast as I could and took to the air. The ascent didn't last long-- my shoulders smashed into the high ceiling hard enough to crack the plaster. Still, I kept myself aloft-- and alive.

The ninjas glared at me from behind their masks, at which point I realized something vital.

None of them had wings.

“Hah!” I pointed a hoof. “Bet you didn't think that through, did you!” I chanced a look towards one of the windows, and geared myself up to make a hasty, airbone exit. But before I could escape, one of the ninjas flung a hoof-full of gleaming metal stars through the air. The spinning blades whizzed close enough to shave a few hairs from my mane. I squealed in terror again, and juked in the opposite direction--

--right into the whirling chain another ninja tossed up into the air. The metal links circled around my rear left leg, and bit into my skin. The ninja on the other end hauled down on the taut chain, yanking me downward. My wing muscles burned with effort as I forced myself to stay in the air, until two more ninjas grabbed hold of the chain as well, and yanked downwards like the world's most unfair game of tug-of-war. I grabbed hold of an ornate, candle-laden chandelier-- and for a few moments, it was enough to keep me out of their clutches. I clung to the polished brass, and flung a few burning candles down at my black-clad assailants, to no effect. The ninjas hauled on my leg again, doing their damndest to wrench the limb clear off. But before they could dismember me like a cheap child's toy, the chain holding the chandelier aloft split a link, sending a good several hundred pounds of pony and light fixture crashing down right on top of the ninjas.

The crack of breaking bone was so loud I could hear it over my own screaming.

Thankfully, it wasn't my bone being broken, otherwise I would've screamed even louder.

“Prince Percheron!” Princess Ianthe's voice called out from the other side of the room. I looked over, and gaped-- Ianthe's normally lovely face was twisted into a look of wide-eyed shock. “What is the meaning of this?!”

“I haven't the bloodiest damn idea!” My voice cracked with terror. As usual, I'd abandoned any pretense at being brave or regal or any of the real Prince Percheron's more admirable traits once somepony tried to kill me.

Princess Ianthe opened her mouth to snap back at me, but before she could deliver any cutting insults or stirring speeches, two of the ninjas stuffed her into a sack. Muffled Zebrican curses issued forth from the bag, which one of the ninjas neatly slung over his shoulder.

I shook the chain loose from my leg, and rolled away from the wreckage of the chandelier. Another masked pony pounced on me, pinning me to the floor. One of his fellows came up after him, clutching some horrible sickle-looking weapon in his mouth. A fresh chill of panic shot down my spine, and a fresh wave of desperate strength flooded my muscles.

My flailings was anything but heroic, yet somehow through all the crying, I landed a solid blow onto the nearest ninja's jaw. The wild haymaker was enough to tear the silken fabric of his mask, revealing white and black stripes beneath.

The odd sight was enough to shock me out of my hysteria. Why the hell would the zebras kidnap their own princess? Not that it mattered to me-- whoever the bastards were working for, it no doubt meant something bad for me.

I scrambled out from beneath the zebra that had pinned me, and then rolled out of the way of a descending sword blade. The blade tore a great rent through the plush carpeting, which was certainly better than tearing a great rent through me. Not like it was my actual bedroom anyway.

Again, the ninja stabbed at me, and again, I barely rolled out of the way. I searched for something, anything I could use as a weapon. I stumbled to my feet, and then spied the chain that'd been wrapped around my leg moments ago. I grabbed it with both hooves, and yanked it away from its comatose previous owner. I swung the chain in a wide, wild arc. The teardrop-shaped weight at the end whipped through the air and crunched right into my assailant's nose.

The zebra ninja fell back, swearing and clutching at his face. He grumbled something unintelligible (but no doubt obscene) beneath his breath, and wiped something green off of his probably-broken nose. But before I could really process what that smear of emerald ichor meant, more of the assassins closed in.

“Back!” I shrilled. I whirled the chain above my head. To be honest, I was more of a threat to the décor than the ninjas, as the heavy weight smashed through something that sounded fragile and antique behind me. The ninjas themselves kept their distance, keeping an eye on me as two of them absconded with the sack full of Princess Ianthe. I gritted my teeth as I watched them clamber out the window, now far less stealthy and graceful given their cargo. There wasn't anything I could do to save her-- hell, there was barely anything I could do to save myself. One of the larger zebra-ninjas slapped my swinging chain out of the air with a well placed kick, and then two more of his fellows lunged at me with a big black sack. I rolled out of the way--

--and nearly into a burning sofa.

White rose petals, it turns out, are very, very flammable.

As are the tips of a pegasus' feathers.*

*I have reason to believe this is actually a reference to an old Cloudsdale legend about a particularly ambitious pegasus with amorous intentions towards none other than Princess Celestia, only to “get too close to the sun.” Certain retellings of the story tend towards the risque, which explains why Sentry was familiar with them.

If I had screamed earlier, the smell of my own singed feathers set me to positively shrieking. I flung myself to the ground and started rolling on the carpet. Thankfully, I was able to put myself out before I could get anything worse than a first-degree burn, but by then a large portion of the bridal chamber had been set aflame. Sometime during my flailing, the ninjas disappeared-- either they figured me out for a fraud on account of my girlish panic, or they decided to leave me to the flames. I told myself the tears blurring my vision were from the smoke, and started heading in the direction I thought the door was in. A few literally hellish moments later, I burst through a set of double doors, and out into the gloriously cool summer night.

I sucked in a lungful of fresh air, and then thumped myself on the chest as I hacked out the last of the smoke. The light from the burning bungalow illuminated another mob of ponies tromping up the path to the commotion, finally drawn in by the unscheduled chaos. A burly pegasus in uniform led the motley mob of guards, servants, and too-curious nobles. And, to Golden Harvest's credit, I remembered the words she'd hammered into my brain that morning.

“Airic! You made it! So good to see you!” I wheezed.

Airic trotted right up in front of me. “Guards.” He said, not taking his eyes off of mine. “Arrest this impostor.”

I don't mind dungeons.

Because if someone's going to bother throwing you in dark and gloomy cell a few stories underground, that means they want to keep you alive (temporarily, at least). It's certainly better than getting executed on the spot. I don't even mind the boredom that comes with being oublietted, as again, working in the Royal Guard teaches one how to deal without having anything to deal with.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to enjoy any blessed solitude, as Airic kept on glaring and yelling and asking me questions. But, in comparison to grappling with changelings, getting shanghaied by insane secret agents, or having cutlery thrown at me by hooded assassins, it was practically teatime. Airic hadn't even hit me, which already put him ahead of Golden Harvest and company.

“Where's Prince Percheron?!”

“Damned if I know.” I leaned back in my chair, trying to get as comfortable as I could, bound as I was to the stiff wooden chair. “Honestly, you should be more concerned about Princess Ianthe. Or did you miss the ninjas?”

“Ninjas.” Airic said.

“Saw them with my own eyes.” I nodded.

Airic's brow furrowed. “I didn't.”

“Well, I imagine that's the point. Ninjas and all.” I shook my head. “But you've got to believe me-- they're the ones who kidnapped the Princess.”

“Did they burn down the cottage, too?”

“Yes! Well, no. Slightly? I never would've started throwing candles if those damn zebras didn't try to kill me.”

“Zebras? I thought you said they were ninjas.”

“They were both! Zebra ninjas! At least, one of them was. I tore off his mask in the fight-- the bastard had more stripes than a master sergeant.”

“Why would zebra ninjas kidnap a zebra princess?”

“Damned if I know! But I bet that Vizier's behind it. The vizier's always up to something. It's in the job description, I think.”

“This pony is an idiot.” A deep basso of a voice said from somewhere behind me. I cringed, and then turned my head as best I could to see Vizier walking into the room. He glared at me hard enough to make me wince.

“I know that.” Airic said, crossly.

“Then you are wasting your time. Our enemies must have sent him to distract us with his prattling.”

“I'm right here.” I said, annoyed.

“So you are.” Vizier rumbled, and took a step back. “These delicate matters should not be discussed in front of the prisoner. If we are to find the Prince and Princess, we must work together.”

“Right.” Airic said with a decisive nod. “Let's go.” And with that, Airic and Vizier left me alone in my stone cell. I slumped my head back, and sighed. Whatever was going on, it was out of my hooves-- and hopefully it'd stay that way. And so, I was left to do the only thing I could.

I took a nap.

Hardly the most heroic of actions, I'll admit, but the wedding was exhausting enough without the long line of ponies trying to kill me. And so, I let myself drift off into a blissful, much-needed rest …

… until someone shook me, and I opened my bleary, smoke-seared eyes to peer at Golden Harvest's characteristically angry face.

“We have a problem.” She said, in a worryingly familiar tone.

“Just one?” I blurted.

“Hold still.” Golden Harvest frowned, and then held up one of her front hooves, just enough for me to catch a glance at the sharpened horseshoe she was wearing. She made a single pass with the concealed blade, and razored straight through the ropes holding me in place. “We've got to get out of here.”

“That's the most sensible thing you've said since I met you.” I wriggled out of the chair, and stretched my wings-- each movement reminded me of just how sore I was. I paused, however, as a thought struck me. “But why did you come back for me?”

“I had to. Otherwise, you'd break and tell them everything you know.”

“Which isn't much.”

“It's enough.” Golden Harvest said, and waved me on, heading for my cell's open door. Two large earth ponies in Perchertanian uniforms lay still on the floor in the hallway outside. They were breathing, thankfully-- I wondered if Golden Harvest had slipped them something, or merely choked them into unconsciousness.

I gingerly stepped over a prone guard, and stuck close to the orange-haired mare's flank. “So now what?”

“Now.” Golden Harvest didn't bother looking back at me as she prowled down the dungeon's hallway. “You shut up, stay close, and do exactly what I say before you can screw anything else up.”

“Excuse me?” I don't know what it was at that point-- the pain, the fatigue, or just the sheer ridiculousness of the whole situation, but I'd finally had enough of Golden Harvest's scorn and disdain. “This whole thing was your idea. Or, well, your organization's, at least.” I planted my hooves, and jutted my chin upward, defiant. “I'm the victim here. It's not my fault I've been kidnapped, mustached, scarred, beaten, burned, and nearly ravished by a heir-crazy zebra princess-- and all … for what, exactly? I'm not going anywhere until I get an explanation.”

Golden Harvest spun around, shoulders tensing in anger. “You're kidding.”

“And an apology.”

“Look, you twit. You'd better stop talking--”

“Or else what? You'll knock me out? Again?” I shook my head, and gave a desperate, mad laugh. “Then you'll just have to carry me out, which will make this even harder.”

The earth pony's front hooves were on me before I could even react-- for a single, terrible moment, I thought she was just going to save herself the trouble and throttle me there, but she just pressed her forehead to mine, bearing down on me with her infuriated glare. “If you could stop thinking of yourself for one second, you'd realize there's more going on here than you know--”

“Like what?”


“What, exactly?” I gingerly pushed Golden Harvest's hooves away from my neck. “Has it occurred to you that things might go a little bit easier if you bothered to tell me some of these mysterious terrible secrets that I'm nearly getting killed over?”

Golden Harvest blinked, and for the first time since I'd met her, I saw her typically annoyed-to-furious expression falter. She chanced another look over her shoulder, down the dungeon hallway, and gritted her teeth. “There's a changeling hive in Perchertania.”

“You can't be serious. You didn't notice when Canterlot got infiltrated-- what makes you certain Perchertania's got the same problem?”

“Thanks to you, actually. The changeling you captured in Canterlot told us there was a rival hive here. They're not as powerful as Chrysalis' lot … but they don't have to be. Especially if Perchertania and Zebrica are at each other's throats.”

A familiar sense of uneasiness coursed through my guts as the pieces all fell into place. “Which is why they kidnapped Princess Ianthe.”

“And Prince Percheron.” Golden Harvest added. “Only the thing is, they weren't expecting anyone to find a replacement Prince, so that's bought us some time. Now.” Golden Harvest prodded me in the chest. “We need to move. Or do you have any more questions?”

“I do, actually.” Vizier said.

A segment of the stone wall next to us slid back, the secret passage revealing the burly, striped form of Vizier-- with Airic standing closely at his side. Armored hoofsteps echoed from either end of the hallway, as a few brigades worth of heavy infantry closed in to block any chance of escape.

I whimpered, and immediately ducked behind Golden Harvest-- if nothing else, at least I'd get to see her vaunted martial prowess demonstrated on somepony else, for once. I figured it was about even odds, too. With any luck, I might even be able to escape in the fracas.

“See?” Airic stepped forward, smiling smugly. “I knew we'd be able to draw his accomplice out. It's just a matter of using the right bait.” He locked his eyes on mine. I refrained from making the obvious lewd joke, both because it wasn't the time, and also because I have standards.

“You've got to let us go.” Golden Harvest said, even as she planted all four hooves, preparing to launch herself at the armored guards if need be. “I wasn't lying about the changelings. The more time you waste on us, the more time they'll have to tear this country apart.”

“Perhaps you are right.” Vizier rumbled, his voice echoing from the dungeon walls. “Which is why you two are going to lead the rescue mission.”