• Published 7th Apr 2017
  • 3,420 Views, 250 Comments

The Amulet of Shades - Sparkle Cola



Unfortunately, the Nightmare Moon Incident had one further complication...

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Chapter Ten: Amulets

It wasn’t what they were expecting.

Tempest blinked as she looked around the corridor. Save for a narrow path that looked like it had been cleared of debris, the area looked like nopony had used it in months. Sunbeams poured from cracked windows, dust dancing in the glowing shafts. Cobwebs garnished the edges of a few chairs and debris, stray webbing blowing gently in a breeze. Several ceiling tiles hung loosely, and a fluorescent light fixture hung down, partially torn from its housing. Off to the right, a few bags of refuse slumped against the wall, likely adding to the rank and musty smell.

Meadow frowned as she looked back at Tempest, raising an eyebrow while she waited for the unicorn to join her. She lifted a hoof and pushed the hanging light fixture to the side before letting it swing to and fro. Ahead of her was a closed door, which seemed more groomed than its neighbors. Some light, plus a few murmurs, seeped in from the bottom of the door.

“Weird,” Meadow exclaimed under her breath.

Tempest came up alongside her, lifting a hoof to stop the sway of the fixture Meadow had just disturbed. She spoke in a hushed tone as well. “Indeed. Are you sure these are the ponies we want launching a revolutionary technology?”

Meadow rubbed her chin and gazed down a darkened corridor to the left. “Perhaps. From what I know of these two, they would sell their soul for the chance. Are you sure you don’t want ponies knowing who invented the technology?”

Tempest closed her eyes and hummed. “That would be best. All will come out soon enough. We just need a wagonload of these on the streets.”

Meadow grinned. “And high places! Don’t forget that…”

“Mmm.” Tempest cocked her head, looking at the entrance with a bright red sign that read PRIVATE. “One would think these two worked entirely alone, but perhaps that is for the best. What was the deal with the big sign and the goons outside?”

“Maybe they are making Effervescence?” Meadow guessed.

Tempest furrowed her brows. “Which is what?”

Meadow’s eyes darted to the side for a moment. “It’s an illegal drug that… never mind.” Meadow shook her head.

“Whatever,” Tempest said. “Perhaps they have employees that use a different entrance?”

“Uh, I doubt it, Temp.” Meadow replied. “It’s just… weird.”

They stopped their hushed talking and listened at the door for a moment. While there may have been two distinct voices, neither one was clear enough to make sense of what they were saying. Whatever they were doing, they hadn’t noticed the whispered conversation just outside their office door.

With a shrug, Meadow turned her head back to Tempest and gestured with a hoof. “I guess we knock?”

Tempest smirked before rolling her eyes. “Well, I don’t see a doorbell...” She clopped a hoof on the door a few times. causing the voices on the other side to fall silent. Meadow and Tempest looked at each other in bemusement, the latter furrowing her eyebrows at the former.

“Hup! Busy! Very busy my good sirs!”

Both mares stepped back.

“That’s right my boys!” A second voice chimed in, as if the stallion’s lips were grazing the door’s surface. “Besides, I distinctly recall telling you two not to intrude upon our working hours… even if it were an emergency— ”

Especially if there were an emergency—!”

“No emergency of any sort unless you actually see fire—”

“That’s right my lads! You have to see the fire! Smoke isn’t good enough, no sir—you have to see the fire… visibly!”

Tempest pursed her lips, and she glanced down at Meadow. “Do they always finish each other’s sentences?”

Meadow shrugged, her eyes wide. “Sentences?” she snorted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished each other’s sandwiches!” She reared up, displaying her pale blue belly while placing an ear against the door. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “What do we do?”

Tempest frowned in consideration. Many magics could be used to get past the door. She could even set up a motion trap, given enough time. She could always teleport in, but she would need to scry the area first to avoid crashing into something. Powering the door down wouldn’t be a problem, but doing so would not set a good precedent for a healthy business relationship—like any of the solutions in her head. What was it with these two, anyway? This didn’t appear like a reputable business at all. Maybe they should just call off this venture and follow another lead…

Making a decision, she whispered back to Meadow, still listening at the door. “Why don’t you circle around, Meadow? Check for a back entrance and convince them to stay if they try to bolt. I’ll talk to them here. If nothing else, I’m not so bad at magically picking locks.”

Meadow grinned, clucking her tongue as she turned to stalk down the corridor before turning a corner. “Picking locks, Tempest? The daughter of a princess?” She snickered as she disappeared around the corner, before suddenly sticking her head back out and waggling her eyebrows.

Tempest huffed. Meadow was finding new ways to surprise her every other hour.

She then faced back at the door and addressed the closed aperture. “Um, hello, Gentlemen?”

Nopony replied. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she could make out some hushed whispering.

Clearing her throat, she raised her voice. “If I could speak to you for a moment, I would love to tell you about an interesting proposition...”

Nopony replied. Tempest crept closer to the door and put her ear on its surface.
A slam rattled her eardrum. Tempest jumped back. Scurrying hooves, rushed whispers, and more slamming sounds—cabinet doors, most probably—erupted from the other room. Among the now harsh whispers she could make out were some phrases about Canterlot and the Royal Guard. It sounded like they were most definitely not interested…

“Okay…” Tempest sighed, narrowing her eyes at the door latch. “Let’s see how modern lock engineering stands up to 5th century tinkering.” Shaping her magic into a green telekinetic spindle, she fed the energy into the lock while closing her eyes. She expanded the nubs of her magical force outward from the central spike and pressed them into the tumblers. The moving parts were spaced much closer together than expected, and grime wedged between the driver pins and the key pins made them extremely stiff to maneuver.

Tempest increased the force she was applying, then bit her lip and pushed harder. If she added much more force than this it would likely only break the lock. She grit her teeth in annoyance. “Stupid… feathering… driver pins!”

She heard the sound of a second door swing open from inside.

“Hello, boyos!” chirped Meadow.

Scrapes and scuffles leaked through the door before a couple of muted thumps and crashes rattled the wood in front of Tempest’s face.

“Damn it Meadow, what did they do?!” Tempest spat. She augmented the magical energy through the spindle, melting the pins into slag before ripping the wasted metal out and stripping the lock clean. With a stab of telekinetic force, Tempest wrenched the door out of the way and leapt into the room, her horn blazing with power. “Meadow! Meadow! Are you all right?”

As the smoke from her little botched “procedure” cleared, Tempest looked around. The owners of the two male voices were crouching behind a large oak desk—so much for that particular threat. One was dabbing at his muzzle with a kerchief while the other one was wincing and rubbing at the base of his horn.

Tempest turned to Meadow. “Are you okay? What happened?”

Meadow frowned as she waved both hooves in the air. “Don’t look at me! I’ve never seen a clumsier pair of unicorns! Right boys?”

Both unicorns sat up a little taller and glared at the earth pony. Tempest studied the two for a moment. They were middle-aged and had strikingly similar colorations between their cream-yellow coats and manes of white and poppy red. Both wore pin-striped suits of blue and white—suits that looked like they hadn’t seen a dry cleaner for years. One had grown a stylish moustache, so at least it was easy to tell them apart.

“Come, you two.” Tempest smiled to each in turn, trying to extend an open hoof of invitation. “There’s no need to flee or to fear: we are not from law enforcement.”

The moustached one raised a hoof. “The Royal Guard, then?”

“Of course not!” Meadow replied, her voice as peppy as ever. She stepped a little closer, gesturing to herself with a hoof. “Do we look like Royal Guards?”

“Maybe not,” replied the other unicorn, his ears folding back. “But you sure hit like one.”

Tempest’s eyebrows shot up. “Hit? You… what?”

“We know agents of the crown when we see them!” The non-mustached pony declared. “And let me assure you, there’s a perfectly good reason why we haven’t paid our taxes over the past six years— “

Perfectly legitimate reason that we’ve already told the judge—”

“Reasons that have been pardoned by Princess Celestia herself—”

“Quiet!” Tempest yelled. “We are not guards, or agents, or anything else representing Canterlot... or any other authority for that matter!”

The two unicorns exchanged a look before standing up, dusting off their clothes and taking a seat at their desk. The one with the moustache spoke up with a broad smile. “I told you it would happen, oh brother of mine! These two ponies have heard of our exploits and our marvelous successes. They know about our stellar reputation—”

“—our talents as salesmen extraordinaire?”

“The very best salesmen nonpareil!” The two finished together, almost as if it had been rehearsed. Were they… were they actually posing?

Tempest rolled her eyes and used some precise telekinesis to close their jaws from yapping again. Meadow Lark came up from behind her and floated across the office with her arms folded, grinning at the two suddenly nonplussed ponies. After a beat, Meadow spread her arms wide with a smirk. “How would you two gentlemen like to become filthy rich?”

* * *

The throne room was always impressive. Or maybe the term impressive fell far short of the magnificence that was the center of Canterlot Castle’s seat of power. The polished marble floors gave off a warm glow as the daylight poured in through the soaring windows to either side. Princess Celestia’s Day Court was inundated with light, banishing any shadow to the far corners of the hall to cringe and cower behind the gold-shod hooves of the Honor Guard.

At least that was the way Cirrus liked to think about it. Princess Celestia was best princess. And she never appeared with more radiance than while administrating in the throne room at mid-day.

Two griffons were standing on the lower dais in front of Celestia’s throne, and it looked like Celestia was adjourning the meeting. Collegiate robes covered the griffon on the left, though a few of his black, green-tipped feathers peeked out of his garb. In his talons were a large tome and several scrolls. His partner wore a stoic face, but the subtle frown lines—hidden under her silver and maroon feathers—betrayed her displeasure. As the two made their way past Cirrus towards the exit, Cirrus gave each a polite nod. The black one returned his nod in kind. The female let out what sounded like a low growl.

Ignoring the slight, Cirrus brought his eyes forward to his ruler, Celestia smiling warmly at his approach. “Ah, Cirrus—my eye in the sky. Thank you for coming.”

Lowering himself down to one knee, Cirrus dropped his head low and flared out his broad wings. “Always, your majesty. My assignment is complete.”

Celestia stood up from her throne and descended the carpeted stairs to join him on the marble floor. Just once he would enjoy seeing her glide down instead. That mental image wormed his way to his face in the form of a smile, which he tried to conceal with his hoof as the Princess walked past. “Indeed. And you have my thanks, Agent Cirrus, even if the mission was somewhat strange. At ease.”

Cirrus smiled as he brought his head up to meet her gaze. “Thank you, your majesty. It wasn’t a difficult assignment, but I agree it was a little different. Nurse Merry Rhymes has now boarded an airship back to Manehattan, but her travelling partner, Dr. Epsilon Saltz, has declined the Royal voucher for his free return-flight.”

“Oh?” Celestia raised an eyebrow, coming alongside of Cirrus. “Then what might the good doctor be doing then?”

“Dr. Saltz is meeting with some of the bigwigs over at the Canterlot Regional Medical Center.” Cirrus’ wings twitched a little as he recalled the doctor’s gruff manner. “It seems that the hippogriff was dissatisfied with the answers I could provide about the afflicted librarian, so he is consulting with his cohorts. Either that or he is looking for an excuse to snoop around.”

The smile on Celestia’s face faltered. Her eyes lost their focus as if gazing at something distant. “No matter.” She sighed. “He can depart when he likes.” She turned around and began circling to the side of the throne where a ramp led up to her briefing room. Cirrus kept pace at her side. Princess Celestia wasn’t normally this pensive, and he wondered if things didn’t go well when she visited the sedated librarian.

“Cirrus? I have… a different assignment for you.”

“Your Highness?” Cirrus raised an eyebrow. “Regarding the unrest in Gryphus? What has changed?”

“Nothing has changed, Captain—I just don’t require your particular skills in Gryphus at this time. Or perhaps it would be better to say that there is a matter more pressing where I could assign you.”

Cirrus pursed his lips as one of Celestia’s guards opened the massive door leading to her briefing room. It was emblazoned, like many other things in the throne room, with her symbol. Celestia acknowledged the guard before leading the way inside.

“I am needing your eyes in the sky for a different task.” Sensing the ponies’ movement, magical lighting switched on as Celestia made her way down to the head of the table.There were about twenty chairs on either side. Cirrus followed her part of the way along the elongated table, internally debating whether he should sit nearer to the middle, or closer to her highness. Or maybe he should take a seat at the opposite end? Closer was better, but he didn’t want to look like he was presuming anything.

He settled for three seats away. Celestia just watched him in silence with a raised eyebrow, her mane flowing regally. There was a subtle smirk on her face.

Crap. I need to consult with the manual about where a lone agent is supposed to sit when invited into the briefing room. I must look like an idiot.

Straightening up in his chair, Cirrus cleared his throat. “I understand, Princess. How may I serve?”

Celestia settled into her seat, her smile becoming a little warmer. “I need you to return to Manehattan for your next assignment. There are two primary objectives.”

Cirrus gave a smart nod. “Yes, your grace. What are your orders?”

Celestia’s horn glowed for a moment. A chime sounded from outside a door behind the head of the table. After a brief pause, a dark brown pony in uniform walked in, a file folder tucked under one wing. She was a striking figure, with a two-tone auburn mane and bright green eyes. She deposited the file folder on the table in front of Cirrus before turning and coming to stand at Celestia’s side. Cirrus had to snap his head down, his eyes front and center, as it seemed this pony did not have a bad angle from which to view her. The muscles of her legs were particularly um… toned.

Stop it, brain! Just stop—she far outranks you and you are completely useless around the mares besides!

“Thank you, Colonel Mocha.” Celestia turned to address her military advisor, but she still spared an amused glance back at Cirrus.

Did she notice me checking out my superior? I’m so gonna get Klugetown duty for this!

“Your efforts to pull this material together quickly are appreciated.” Celestia’s tone never changed from her warm and enthusiastic demeanor. “Captain, please open your folder and follow along. Your two objectives are as follows. First, I need your skills in surveillance over Manehattan and elsewhere if necessary. You are to pursue the suspect depicted on page one.”

Cirrus’ eyes fell upon an artist’s rendition of a yellow mare, with a charcoal mane highlighted by yellow tips. The area depicting the cutie mark was left blank.

“This pony was last seen in the company of the mare pictured on the second page, a smaller earth pony by the name of Meadow Lark. They are both wanted for further questioning regarding yesterday’s incident at the Manehattan Library.”

“Understood.” Cirrus responded, beginning to leaf ahead in the binder.

“Not… quite.” Cirrus looked up quizzically, finding the solar ruler gazing steadily at him. “There is more to this to be sure. Colonel?” Celestia turned to the mare in uniform, who cleared her throat.

“Yes, Princess…” Colonel Mocha focused her sharp green eyes like a lance. “Agent Cirrus, what you don’t know yet is that Princess Luna has already assigned one of her top agents to this case.” A weight materialized on Cirrus’s mind, but he hoped this conversation wasn’t going where he thought it was.

“Colonel?”

“Princess Luna has assigned her unicorn specialist, Agent Narcisse Pavo to the case.” Colonel Mocha smirked. “I can tell by your expression that you know him well?”

“We aren’t friends if that’s what you’re implying.” Cirrus fought to recompose himself, belatedly realizing that he had been scowling. Then his brain rewound what he had just said. “Um—Ma’am!”

“Indeed.” Cocoa intoned. “We need you to trail him and smooth over any feelings or feathers that might have been infringed. He is not known to handle matters delicately. Can we trust you with this assignment, agent?”

Cirrus tried to hide a frown. Why should he, a Solar Agent, have to clean up after a semi-rogue Lunar Agent? However, both mares were gazing at him expectantly. What could he say?

“You have my word, Colonel… Princess. I will do what I can.”

“Thank you Cirrus.” Celestia smiled. “But of course, the first priority is the two mares. Either bring them in, or provide us with as much intel as you can gather.”

“I’ll depart within the hour.”

“Thank you. You are dismissed.”

* * *

Flim and Flam were in awe. Their mouths were hanging open, almost drooling. Meadow had certainly caught their attention when she flew across their office with her new amulet. Then attention gave way to excited approval when she permitted Flim to try it out. It took several minutes, some false starts, and a few new contusions, but it wasn’t long before Flim was floating several hooves above his chair, laughing while his brother cheered him on

“Good show, brother! Good show!”

Meadow had a rapt audience, both sets of ears perked as she detailed what a large revolution such technology could bring. With each new idea and application, whether it be flight, vision enhancement, or instantaneous communication, Tempest watched as Flim and Flam’s eyes grew, shaking their heads in astonishment.

Flam finally stood up in resolution, tapping his hoof on his desk to gain everypony’s attention. “You two have certainly made a compelling case. If this indeed is what you purport it to be, we are about to be very rich indeed! But there must be a catch.”

“That’s right, oh brother of mine!” Flim leaped to his side. “You two have something that is entirely unheard of, something that will change life as we know it across this fair nation.” He leaned forward and rapped his hoof on the desk to join his brother’s. “If these remarkable amulets work as you say, then why us?”

“Just so!” Flam exclaimed. “What’s to stop you two from making them yourselves? Or better yet, what’s to stop you from selling them to the biggest and most trusted manufacturer known! I dare say these amulets will simply explode in Gryphus or Minos: nations that are just starved for more magic! You would be an overnight sensation, rising rapidly to become some of the richest and most influential ponies anywhere! Why use the Flim Flam brothers at all?”

Flim pushed his brother in the head. “You make too fine a point, brother! What are you thinking, pushing them out our door?”

“It’s a fair question! You were making the same point!”

“But you go too far! They were wanting us? Why in all of Luna’s starry mane would you put other ideas in their head?”

Now the two brothers were nose to nose yelling at each other. Tempest grimaced.

“It’s not about the money!”

With the voice magnification spell she used, Tempest’s voice cut across the argument in one fell swoop, leaving both unicorns looking back at her in shock. After a blinking for a moment, they relaxed from their confrontation, only to turn back toward Tempest in disbelief.

“What do you mean ‘it’s not about the money?’” The consternation caused Film’s voice to briefly go falsetto. “How can you—I mean, this will be the biggest thing since… well, since big things started to become a big thing!”

“Hear, hear!” Flam clopped his hoof down on his desk a few times before getting up to stand on it, striking a dynamic pose. “You have the chance to change the world, dear ponies. You have this breakthrough—these... amulets, technology the likes of which we have never seen!”

Flim joined him on the desk, striking a pose of his own. It was quite the show; for a second Tempest thought she was about to be dropped into an onstage musical, curtains, spotlights, and all.

“That’s right brother of mine!” Flim cried. “Why—amulets will reach into every home, into every life! Ponies will be accomplishing dreams they never dared to strive for. Foals will have blessings earlier generations could not even conceive! Lives will change forever!” Flim was now pointing at the ceiling, his hoof almost scraping the surface before he swung it around and pointed it accusingly at the two mares. “And you have the gall to sit there and claim you don’t care about the money?!”

Meadow dropped from her position floating near the ceiling and landed with a clop. She had taken the amulet back and was using it to simply float about, the novelty not having worn off. “Are you two even hearing yourselves. In one breath you speak about all of the good we can do and then you wind up only focusing on the money!”

The two unicorns looked at each other before dropping their hooves to their sides, still reared up balancing on the hind legs. As one, they responded with a flat look. “And—?”

“And we want none of it.” Tempest asserted. “We want to remain in anonymity. You two can claim whatever you want. Just don’t link the technology back to us.”

Both stallions’ jaws dropped. They slid off the desk and onto the floor. “But why?” Flam sounded like his soul had been wounded. “You two could be the richest ponies in Equestria if you play your cards right. Don’t you even want a cut?”

Tempest opened her mouth to speak but Meadow cut in. “Of course we want a cut. We require finances for our own ends, of course.” Both unicorns seemed to relax slightly, which left Tempest feeling tense, but amused as Meadow continued, “But we only ask you send us 10%.”

Both unicorns opened their mouths, but Meadow cut them off with a wave of her hoof. “You two will send our share to a bank account of mine in Gryphus. You will also send your P&L statements so we can track your progress. We are generous mares as that 90% should convince you. But if you cross us…”

Could two ponies look scared and pleased out of their wits at the same time? Meadow did sound rather scary there, though. Tempest continued from Meadow’s implied threat.

“If you cross us, we have a way of bringing the whole network down. Which would spell utter doom for you two, the “proprietors” of the technology. Any questions?”

Flam raised a hoof. “And… why aren’t you going to a big company? Somepony like Amarezon or General Arcanic?”

Flim punched him in the arm. “Shut up, you ninny! What are you trying to do?”

“Too high profile,” came Meadow’s smooth reply. “Going to that level, we would have to deal with all sorts of oversight, regulation, and testing… No, we want this to come out overnight. It has to come up from the grassroots level.”

“And it will.” Tempest smiled. “Hocked by the very best salesmen nonpareil! The two ponies that could sell boxes of sand to a Saddle Arabian.”

Flim and Flam began to grin like the idiots they were. “True, true!” Flim cried. “What do we do?”

“Show us your ways!” Flam added.

Meadow began to pace back and forth in front of the twins. “We know that you two are motivated by the bits… but you must do it in the way and in the order we dictate. Is that understood?”

Both stallions nodded their heads, their smiles widening.

“We need you to make amulets and sell them: but not just to anyone. We want you to especially target law enforcement and military personnel. And there will only be three types of amulets at the start.”

“We are your ponies—just say the word!” Flim responded, before pointing at the amulet around Meadow’s neck. “What kind of amulets are we going to make? Are we giving ponies the gift of flight?”

Tempest stood up joined Meadow. “As Meadow said, we will do this in phases. Safety of course is our top priority. Flight amulets could prove disastrous in the wrong hooves, so they won’t be part of the first batch.”

Flam began to sputter. “But Miss! Just think of the effect! What faster way could there be to promote it? What better way to have the impact we want—I mean impact you need!”

Tempest motioned with her hooves for silence. “All in due time. The first run will focus on one type of amulet per pony tribe. This will roll out of control if you deviate from that course.”

Both unicorns looked as if they were choking on something very sour, but they both schooled their features and relaxed, if only partially. “G… Go on.” Flim grunted out.

“We will show you how to make amulets of speed for pegasi, amulets of strength for earth ponies, and focus amulets for unicorns so that they might better multi-spell when an occasion calls for it.”

At this, Flim and Flam were standing up again, frowning. “But… that’s not near enough!” Flim blurted. “I mean...those are all so subtle! Those won’t sell like flight!”

“That’s right!” Flam agreed. “The impact of those will be negligible. Think about it! X-ray vision for our doctors! Force armor for our police! Protection from extreme heat for our fireponies!” Flim nodded feverishly in agreement. “You honestly want to limit our amulets to… that?”

“Exactly that.” Tempest insisted. “We want to minimize the uproar. We want to help the guards and the police in ways that are subtle—we don’t want to shake things up that violently.”

Meadow spoke up again. “And we don’t want criminals equipped with overpowered amulets and harming our law enforcement.”

The twins were not convinced. “But there has to be something! We need to offer something that will send their collective imaginations soaring!”

“All in due time.” Tempest repeated patiently. “Are you on board or not?”

Flim and Flam’s eyes were wide, and their chests were pounding. They looked like they wanted to go on, but they hesitated. After exchanging a look between them, they both turned and gave a single nod. “We are your ponies.”

“Good!” Meadow chirped. She walked up between the two of them and wrapped a hoof around each of their necks. “So, who wants to learn how to make amulets?

* * *

Luna’s eyes narrowed as she watched Special Agent Cirrus trot down the ramp again, having carried another bundle of equipment aboard the Daybreak, Celestia’s fastest ship. Her hoof pressed against a file folder emblazoned with the title Manehattan Mission - Agent Cirrus in big block letters. Her other hoof propped up her chin while she leaned out over the railing of the castle’s fifth floor veranda. The irony that she was spying on her sister’s spy was not lost on her.

Luna wasn’t normally up at this hour of the day, but she had several important meetings of an international flavor to attend to—not that going without sleep was much of an inconvenience for her. But now that she had learned of Cirrus’ mission, she was glad that was awake early.

Her normal routine was to receive a briefing on the events of the day in one hoof while an attendant put a steaming cup of java in the other. Luna called it her Briefing and Brew session. But what caught her eye today smacked a little of Solar interference, so she dropped everything and made a beeline straight to the solar branch Royal Guard offices. After a few questions, she had the file in hoof and was up to speed in short order. That led her to the fifth floor veranda to watch the Daybreak depart.

Having completed his tasks, Cirrus trotted back up the Daybreak’s ramp, followed by a flight attendant. Slowly, the incline of the ramp leveled out as it elevated into position. Luna turned and began to pace back towards the double doors her ears swiveling back as she picked up the drive of the ship spooling up. It was time to have some words with Celestia.

Sister… usually your heart is in the right place. Without doubt you lead with the skill and experience of thousands of years. Why then are you still taken with episodes of stupidly myopic administration?

Luna shook her head. She loved her sister, but once in a while they enjoyed some spectacular differences of opinion. Such could be expected, of course, by two wise beings who shared rule, sisters no less. But it was aggravating when Celestia fell into old patterns. Patterns that were frustrating. Patterns that rankled. Patterns that slapped Luna’s pet peeve in the muzzle and made her sit up and take notice. Too often, Celestia tried to rule for the both of them.

Entering the castle’s corridor from the veranda, Luna addressed two attendants waiting just inside the door—both officers of her Night Guard.

“Lieutenants Striker and Wedge.”

Both the pegasus and earth pony saluted. If either were concerned about the gathering storm in Luna’s voice, they gave no indication.

“Striker, you will attend me as I go to Celestia’s office. Not the main one off the throne room, but her private study atop the Solar Wing.” She turned the earth pony, her glittering turquoise eyes pinning him in place. “Wedge?”

“Yes, your majesty?” The earth pony’s voice wavered, but not his legs.

“Inform Celestia that I seek an immediate audience with her. I will be waiting in her study. Dismissed.”

Without another word, Luna spun on her heel and headed to her destination, the pegasus falling into step behind her while the heavier hoof falls of the earth pony left with some haste in the opposite direction. Luna shook her head again. Narcisse would complete his assignments successfully. He would get results quickly, and do so with distinction. She was well aware that he rubbed ponies the wrong way, but that didn’t make him a bad pony, neither did it make him a bad agent. He was decisive and sure. Most agents were susceptible to hesitation and equivocation. Narcisse produced results.

Celestia would do well to not interfere with a decision of the Lunar crown, nor with an Agent of Moonlight.

* * *

The ornate double doors swung open, brushing across the plush patterned carpet with barely a whisper. Their hinges didn’t make any sound at all. Luna filed that little tidbit away for later—one should always have an eye for future pranking opportunities. The rich wood accents and cream colored walls seemed to brighten a tad as Celestia came into view. .

Celestia gave the room a quick scan before her eyes fell upon Luna, seated patiently next to her desk. With a smile, Celestia inclined her head in greeting, but before she could speak she noticed the folder held in Luna’s hoof. Luna remained impassive as she watched her sister chew on that before proceeding forward again, her smile falling just a smidge.

Celestia walked past her sister, circling around behind her desk before taking a seat. “Good afternoon, Lulu. Sleep well?”

Luna said nothing as Celestia’s magic flared, shunting the documents on her desk to the side, before they sorted and stacked themselves in short order. That done, several scattered quills stood up and flew in formation to land neatly in a cup-like holder. It was the alicorn version of fidgeting, and Luna was unimpressed.

“My sleep was unremarkable.” Luna didn’t even try to hide the flat tone in her voice.

Proceeding as if Luna’s reply was expected, Celestia folded her hooves on the desk at met Luna’s eyes. Her face was a picture of innocence.

“I see you have brought Lieutenant Striker with you today. How is his new little bundle of joy? Any early aeronautics?”

“The lid on the crib is secure.” Luna’s tone and apathetic eyes belied her response. “Just a high-speed projectile of love.”

Celestia closed her eyes with a pleased grin. “That sounds darling, Lulu. So to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

The folder smacked on Celestia’s cleared desk.

“Enough frivolities, Tia. I just watched Agent Cirrus, your peeping pegasus, board your fastest ship. That was after reading the details of his assignment.”

Celestia didn’t rise to the bait. Her magic simply lifted the folder and placed it neatly atop the stacked pile of documents. “And?”

“And as usual, you take one too many liberties interfering in my affairs!” Luna replied hotly.

“Your affairs?” Celestia raised an eyebrow, her smile flattening into a line. “These are Equestrian affairs, Lulu.” Celestia rested a hoof on the stack of documents for emphasis. “Unexplained magical attacks on our citizens? Such things will not be tolerated and will not be left unexplained or uninvestigated. I would like our combined forces to look into this report. Such would only be reasonable.”

Luna glanced behind her at the office door still ajar, and flicked her horn to the side, nudging it closed with a click. In an instant, a soundproofing spell was placed on the interior of the study.

“You do not need to dictate the importance of teamwork to me, Tia.” Luna’s voice had dropped to a growl. The temperature of the study plummeted. “I am well aware this is an Equestrian affair, and as you no doubt are aware, I am employed every day in the protection of our subjects. Do not dictate what is reasonable to me.”

Celestia stood up, returning Luna’s tone with diffidence. “Cut the theatrics, Luna. What is it about Cirrus mission that has you sucking the heat out of my study? There’s a layer of ice now forming over my Earl Grey tea.”

“You have assigned your agent to trail my own. Explain.”

“I have sent Cirrus to bring in two mares for questioning.” Celestia’s horn glowed for a few seconds until steam started coming from her teacup again. “He has also been ordered to gather intel on them. What is so bad about his visiting the same ponies Narcisse has seen? Wouldn’t that give us a more complete picture?”

Luna’s gaze turned flat. “Verily? Sister, you might think that you have a clever tongue, but what works to placate the nobles will not deceive me. I read the file, and it only confirmed what I already suspected.” Luna’s magic snatched the folder from Celestia’s desk and rattled it in front of her face. “You no doubt called him for a briefing? Perhaps only a couple of hours ago, in which you made sure he explicitly understood what was implied in the assignment?”

Celestia frowned slightly. “And what if I did?”

“Trust, Tia!” Luna barked, before getting up to pace back and forth. “After all of these years, I still lack your trust! Oh, you say you want to enjoy the fruits of a balanced co-rulership, but even now I see that I am secondary! It is still the same story, no matter how you try to re-frame it!”

Celestia let out a long sigh before rubbing her face with a hoof. “Luna, as usual you are making too much out of a very little thing. This is not about you or your leadership. Narcisse is—”

“He is my agent, Tia! Of the fact that Narcisse is a flawed pony, I am well aware!”

“He is not suited for this task—”

“He is exactly suited for this task!” Luna cut in again, tossing her mane to the side and glaring at her sister. “I selected him for his particular skill set, flaws and all!”

“ Luna—”

“When I received my nighttime briefing, before you were even aware of the situation, I reviewed the case and made a decision. I stand by that choice. While you find distaste in Narcisse’s particular style, I find utility.”

Celestia blinked. She opened her mouth to retort, but was left speechless.

“I sent Narcisse, because I knew he would get the results that I require. To protect Equestria.” Luna swooped out of her chair, her wings twitching before she opened them and took to a hover, filling the room with her presence and her voice. “You would do well to remember that what I do, I do for the good of our little ponies. I do not make decisions rashly!”

With that, Luna’s magic flashed, teleporting to the other side of the double doors. Her guard wasn’t expecting such an entrance, if the surprised yelp were any indication.

Celestia blew out a sigh and started to rub her temple with her hoof.

* * *

The floor hummed beneath her hooves as Twilight crept towards the bridge of the airship. It was the strangest itinerary ever planned. Thus far she had made six long distance teleports, each jump advancing her progress eastward across Equestria, one such jump hitting a distance of one hundred and sixty kilometers. Teleport jumps this wide all at once required a truly massive discharge of magic, thus necessitating some downtime to cool off her horn.

It would be great to simply teleport straight from Ponyville to Fillydelphia into her throne room, but even alicorns had their limits.

Having to recover from each jump wasn’t a problem, though. Not really. Sure, she had to conduct an ongoing invisibility spell, and once she even had to resort to a distraction spell when a crew member got too close, but for the other five jumps she simply made her way carefully onto the bridge so she could get a view of the navigator’s display terminal. Once there, she could figure out the actual position and heading of the nearest airships, sneak into a lavatory, perform a scrying spell, and fwoom! Onto the next stop. She was halfway to her destination by now.

Her plan was foolproof.

Was all of this really necessary? Probably not. She could have teleported across Equestria at ground level without such meticulous planning as to do pinpoint jumps from ship to ship… but where was the fun in that? She was doing this to show it could be done. That was all.

And it would make for a rather fun tale to share with Starlight Glimmer. But that was all!

The door to the bridge opened, allowing a smartly dressed flight attendant, a bat pony mare, to exit pushing a serving tray with her front hooves. Apparently it was lunchtime onboard, and the in-flight meal consisted of apple, walnut, and gorgonzola salad with a sweetened balsamic reduction. Twilight swallowed as her mouth began to water like crazy. In all of her preparation, she had not thought to pack a lunch. Scarcely breathing, she watched the attendant as she sauntered past, her cute derriere swaying back and forth as she reached the doorway to the passenger area.

Scrunching her muzzle, Twilight’s mind raced as she tried to come up with a ruse to make off with a salad. Or maybe two…

Hmm. Perhaps if I create a noise near the door to the bridge she’ll come back this way and—WHY IS THAT MARE PAUSING AND TURNING HER HEAD BACK THIS WAY?

Heart thumping in her chest, Twilight tried to make herself look smaller, even though she was already invisible. The mare hesitated, looking perplexed as she sniffed the air a few times. How sharp were bat pony noses? The mare took a longer sniff, turning part-way around. Twilight dropped her head quickly to take a whiff of her own coat behind her foreleg. Had she been working up a sweat? Wait, was the shampoo she used this morning mango scented?

Crap! Oh crap oh crap oh crap!

Twilight lit her horn and created an air-blocking force wall. Just in case, Twilight readied a sleep spell. The last thing she needed was to be discovered stowing away aboard a commercial airship. Her, the Princess of Friendship, on the eve of Friendship Day!

She would never ever live that down.

Finally the mare gave up, shrugging and continuing on her way into the passenger area of the ship. Twilight let out a sigh of relief before she eased back into the walkway, continuing forward until she arrived at the door to the bridge. Now all she had to do was sneak in, scan the navigation display, and find a quiet spot to scry the ship and depart. Twilight put a listening spell up on the door of the bridge.

“...This is NT Sparrow CZ1C. Confirming magical distortion on board beginning at 2:15 PM. Magical distortion is ongoing but at a much lower level. The series seems to follow the pattern suggested by other ships reporting in. An initial magic burst intrusion followed by low level interference. Copy Condor DZ89A…”

“Condor Copies, Sparrow. Your data agrees with our earlier readings: initial burst occurring at 1:58, followed by low level interference, and then a terminal burst at 2:15 PM, coinciding with your initial. The pattern is a repeat from the four previous airships we have spoken to. Point of origin appears to have been Ponyville. Canterlot has been notified, and specialists from the Foal Mountain Outpost are on an intercept course. Additional ships to your East have been notified and we will continue to track…”

Twilight switched off her listening spell, her eyes widening.

Oh no. No no no no no… Don’t tell me there are instrument upgrades in our Equestrian Fleet that I was unaware of? They’ve been tracking me the WHOLE TIME?

Her mind raced. How does one avoid getting tracked by government specialists? What could specialists do? Would there be unicorns with them with magic tracking spells?

Crap. Crap crap crap crap crap! If ponies are on an intercept course, and they have been tracking my average time at each ship in-between jumps, then I need to get off of this thing in the next three minutes! But to where should I jump?

The door to the bridge flew open, and two more ponies, this time bridge crew members in uniform trotted into the cabin space from the bridge. The two unicorns waved their glowing horns about like dowsing rods.

To make matters worse, Twilight’s horn began to tickle—the kind that heralded a letter from Spike. The timing couldn’t be any worse. With her heart galloping, Twilight shrank back up and scanned outside a window. They were high above the canopy of trees, but she could make out a clearing below. Racing to complete the spell, Twilight activated her magic…

…too little too late.

Spike’s letter materialized in a flash of fire and smoke right in the middle of the cabin. Scrambling to add the letter to her teleport spell, Twilight felt the familiar lurch of connecting two points in spacetime simultaneously. Fortunately, she remembered to teleport 10 meters off the ground so that she could bleed off the velocity imbued into her state of motion while on the airship.

Feeling the snap of wind as she flared her wings to slow down, Twilight finally came to a gentle landing, panting and shaking her head in disbelief. Without delay, she cantered over to the nearest tree cover, all the while snorting and cursing her idiocy.

“I suppose if I ever try to do that again, I’ll also research the latest specs on airship instruments and sensors. I wonder if Celestia has ever tried something as stupid as that.” Twilight wasn’t exactly sure where she was, but she knew the Foal Mountains were only a few miles to the north. A plan would have to wait, though. Spike’s letter was top priority.

Dear Twilight,

I have just received invitations for you and the other Elements of Harmony to gather and report to Canterlot Castle at your earliest convenience. Celestia is trying to cleanse a Manehattan librarian from some kind of curse, but she has been unsuccessful and wants to try the Elements of Harmony. The librarian is being kept under magical suspension until you and your friends arrive. Princess Celestia knows that there may be some schedule conflicts, so her instructions are that when you are done with your visit in Fillydelphia, you could please come back home without delay. As soon as the Elements are gathered, a royal chariot will be sent to expedite the journey.

As for myself. I’m keeping out of trouble. Hope you are enjoying your trip to Fillydelphia. Say hi to Fizzlepop for me, and let her know Starlight is darn sneaky.

Sincerely, Spike

“Sneaky, huh?” Twilight eyed the airship—a dot in the sky now—and suppressed a grin. With a sigh, she stretched her wings out, preparing to take to the sky and get her bearings in order to complete her teleport jumps, this time along the ground. Captain Berrytwist wouldn’t be pleased to hear about this side venture, so she didn’t need to know!

Another tickle; another incoming letter. Folding her wings back closed, she waited until it appeared, this one sealed with Celestia’s insignia and marked by her distincitve and flowing hornuscript.

Please forward to Princess Twilight Sparkle ASAP

Twilight wondered what this letter would be about. She hoped that nothing had changed with regards to the librarian, and that the afflicted pony would be safe and sedate until everypony could gather. Twilight broke the seal and opened the letter.

Dear Twilight,

I hope you are well, and that your speaking tour on our eastern coast is a rousing success. While I know you expected to arrive in Fillydelphia last night with your entourage, I have a sneaking suspicion you are elsewhere.

I am hearing some interesting reports from the Equestrian Aviation Administration, so I wanted to put a question to you: What made you want to go airship hopping across our fair nation, spooking several flight crews and administrative officials along the way?

* * *

“So… when do we make our move?”

Tempest furrowed her eyebrows at Meadow. “Have some patience!” She shook her head before leaning forward, peering over the edge of the roof again. “You wouldn’t make a very good spy, would you?”

Meadow sat back with a huff. “Well… it’s just that there’s nothing to do up here! And I gotta just keep quiet all the time!”

“Shh!”

Meadow rolled her eyes. She scuffed her hoof back and forth, watching as the sun continued to set, shadows stretching across the roof of the Red Manticore Hotel. The air was steadily growing colder, but the nearby exhaust vent kept them toasty.

From their vantage point, they could see a good portion of the Fillydelphia Convention Center, and most of the entrances. The jagged and soaring roof of the Center at least gave them something interesting to look at—a far cry from the boring buzz cuts of the other buildings’ roofs. After a few moments in silence, with nothing to distract her except for the meandering buzz of a few flies in the air, Meadow nudged Tempest’s shoulder with a hoof. “So do you think they’ll comply with our wishes?”

“Who?” Tempest replied, not moving from her vantage point and not even facing Meadow. She decided she might as well lower her voice to a whisper, matching Meadow’s tone, but she continued to watch the entrances for activity.

“The twins! Flim and Flam—they didn’t really sound happy about working under such restrictions…”

Tempest twitched an ear. “Well, they don’t have much of a choice. From what I can tell, those two have no knowledge of magic runes at all. They will make what we let them make.”

“And the emitter?”

Blinking, Tempest turned to regard Meadow, forgetting the Convention Center for a moment. “What about the emitter?”

Meadow gave a knowing smirk. “There’s a unicorn horn mounted in it, isn’t there?”

Tempest’s hooves scrambled for purchase as she spun around, pushing forward and pressing Meadow backwards against the edge of the parapet, a hoof firmly trapping her against the brick of the wall. “What? How? What makes you think that—”

“Hee hee!” Somehow, that laugh that Meadow gave was more disturbing than anything she could have said. Tempest released her, falling back onto her haunches. “Aw, c’mon Temp. It wasn’t that hard to figure out. Are you really so surprised?”

Tempest gave a rueful chuckle. “Heh… heh heh. I guess not. I guess not for anypony paying attention.” She pushed at Meadow’s shoulder. “Let’s just not let that little tidbit out.”

“And if the twins open the casing?” Meadow prodded. “What if they want to branch out? What if they accidentally break it?”

Tempest frowned as she got back up to look over the edge again. “We just tell them that if they crack open the emitter, all production stops. All bits stop... All things considered, we should pay them a follow-up visit.”

“Soon…” Meadow agreed. “Especially if they forget your little detail of adding the eye insignia to the backs of each.”

“Mmm.” Tempest continued to frown as she watched the center. Meadow was making a lot of sense. She had also been helpful in noticing a particular flyer about an upcoming event. Celestia’s former faithful student, the Princess of Friendship herself, would be speaking in the Convention Center Tomorrow. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Not to abduct the princess—not yet, anyway. It was too soon for that. But it would allow her to gain first hand knowledge about Twilight Sparkle and the kind of security that surrounded her. If given the opportunity, perhaps she could test Twilight’s defenses, maybe even see them in action.

Either way, getting to Princess Sparkle might turn out to be her best way of either manipulating Princess Celestia, or drawing her out in the open.

Movement.

Eleven uniformed ponies were approaching a back entrance, following an older stallion that seemed to be holding a set of keys. Each pony’s head moved to and fro as if they were searching the area for threats, taking in every detail. There didn’t seem to be any chatter among them.

The mare at their lead, walking next to the older pony with the keys, seemed to command a daunting presence all her own. Tempest couldn’t tell if the mare was wearing a uniform or armor, but underneath it the mare had a deep grape coat and a spiky fuschia mane. Tempest wasn’t sure, but it looked as if the mare had a broken-off horn.

After the group had entered, Tempest stood up, looking over to Meadow. “You think Twilight Sparkle is with them?”

Meadow grinned. “Looked like a security detail to me. C’mon! We won’t know for certain unless we go down for a closer look.”

“Let’s do this. Just… stay on the ground. I don’t want anypony knowing you can fly yet.”

Author's Note:

Hope y'all enjoyed the latest chapter. While nothing too tremendous was going on, this chapter was of course setting things up. So... big things later, I guess. Will it be the biggest thing in the history of big things? We'll see.

Big thanks to Seriff Pilcrow and his going through this chapter. He is Daring's whip that snaps at my tendency to verbosity.

snap

You can read his fic over here

Hey, while I have you here, I wanted to include a little more art. Here is Agent Cirrus. He will continue to feature in his role. This is included for those of you who may have missed my blog or posting in the art group.

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