• Published 30th Aug 2017
  • 1,143 Views, 132 Comments

Octavia's Eleven - Tumbleweed



When Octavia's priceless cello is stolen by a greedy dragon, it's up to a ragtag crew of musicians, scoundrels, and special agents to get it back. But things are never that easy, especially once a certain princess gets involved.

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Chapter 1: Motive

The mare was crying, and it wasn't my fault.

This wasn't the delicate, “pretty-crying” you see so often in cheap melodramas, in which the heroine sheds a few silent tears and looks off into the distance wistfully. No, the poor mare's normally lovely face was twisted into an ugly mask as her tears poured down her gray cheeks. Every so often, she would stop her sobbing in a vain attempt to compose herself, only to launch into a fresh bout of waterworks.

It was a good thing the donut shop* was relatively empty, or else ponies would have started to stare (or, even worse, somehow put me to blame for the lady's emotional distress). As it was, I could only stare across the table in awkward silence. I would've made some excuse to slip out of the booth, but Carrot Top sat at my side, blocking me in (no doubt intentional, on her part).

*Likely Joe's Donut Shop, a hidden-in-plain-sight safehouse used by the Equestrian Intelligence Office. See also: Sentry at the Charge.**

Silent and unbidden, the mare's friend, a white unicorn in too-trendy sunglasses, floated a handkerchief over. The gray mare blew her nose with a foghorn's volume.

“It's okay, Octavia.” Carrot Top reached across the table to pat the crying mare's hoof. “Take your time.”

“I'm sorry.” Octavia sniffled, and started to adjust her bow tie, which had been knocked slightly askew in her lamentations. “It's just ... it's ... it's gone!” It looked like she was about to start bawling again, but the unicorn sitting beside her touched her shoulder and calmed her down. Octavia put her hoof over the unicorn's, and smiled wanly. “Thank you, Vinyl. I don't know what I'd do without you.”

**At the time, I had no idea about Joe's affiliation with the Equestrian Intelligence Office. I thought Princess Celestia just kept visiting for the chocolate cake donuts. They were that good.

“Er.” I said, as the little moment of emotional vulnerability seemed even more private and awkward than the crying from moments before. “Forgive me for asking, but just ... what's gone, exactly?”

“My Stal.”

“Your what?”

“Sorry-- musician slang. I ... had a Stallionvarius cello-- the Phoenix Stal, to be precise. One of sixty-three surviving cellos crafted by Stallionvarius, the greatest builder of instruments who ever lived. It's centuries old, priceless-- and ... and ... gone.” Octavia shuddered.

“It was stolen?” Carrot Top said.

“Yes. No. It's ... complicated.” Octavia sniffled. “The Phoenix Stal, like many Stallionvarii, is technically owned by a holding corporation. The corporation entrusted the cello to me, to ensure that it would be played as it should.”

“And they've given it to another musician?” I said.

“No.” Octavia shook her head. “I would be more than happy to hand the Phoenix Stal over to a musician more skilled than I am. That's ... not what happened.”

“Then what did happen?”

Octavia's composure wavered, but she kept her voice steady. “As I said, the Phoenix Stal was owned by a holding corporation. The problem is, corporations can be bought and sold. I ... I don't know the exact business details, but the holding corporation was bought out by a much larger business, and they ... they took it from me.” Octavia's lower lip began to quiver. “And the worst part is, they're not even going to play it! They just told me that it was the now the property of some 'collector'--” Octavia spat the c-word. “They don't care about the instrument-- they just want it as a trophy!” At that, the poor mare's resolve finally broke, and she went back to crying inconsolably.

I winced. “That's ... a tragic story, but if you'll excuse my asking, just what do we have to do with it?” No sooner had I asked the question, Carrot Top elbowed me in the side. I winced, but kept myself together. “It's a valid question.”

Octavia blew her nose again, and blinked a fresh set of tears from her eyes. “When my friend Lyra found out about the Stal, she said that she ... knew some ponies who might be able to help. Which is why I asked you to come here.”

“Who's Lyra?” I said, blinking. I'd used the 'I know a guy who knows a guy' routine more than a few times myself, but I'd never been on the other end of the chain.

“That's, um, me.” A minty-green unicorn waked through the door, with a blue & pink haired earth pony close at her side, both wearing saddlebags. The two trotted up to our table, and Lyra smiled, awkwardly. “Octavia and I used to play together in the Canterlot Fillyharmonic.” She scratched at the back of her neck. “But really, this was all Bon Bon's idea.”

“Harvest.” The cream-colored pony nodded to Carrot Top with professional (if not friendly) courtesy.

“Drops.” Carrot Top mirrored the expression and the gesture.

“I'm calling in that favor.” 'Bon Bon' said.

At those words, an all too familiar prickling set into my feathers. I'd long since learned that anyone who knew Carrot Top's nom du guerre was dangerous company. Invariably, ponies who knew Special Agent Golden Harvest's true identity were either terribly dangerous themselves, or (even worse), the kinds of ponies who invariably sent me straight into the jaws of danger “for the good of Equestria.” What good Equestria got from my typically panicked flailing, I couldn't tell you, but damn if that stopped anypony.

“This is a terrible idea.” Carrot Top spoke up while I was still trying to think of a way to weasel my way out of the fiasco before it even began.

“I know.” Bon Bon pulled up a chair, and Lyra did the same. “But you've seen how important this is to her. She needs help. Professional help.”

“I'll say.” I murmured, only to catch another elbow from Carrot Top.

“You've got a plan?” Carrot Top said, not missing a beat.

“The start of one.” Bon Bon pulled an intimidatingly unmarked envelope from her saddlebag and tossed it onto the table. Carrot Top scooped it up before anypony else could, opened it up, and immediately started scanning the documents and dossiers within. I craned my neck to get a look, but all I could really see was an eclectic collection of maps and photographs. It must have meant more to Carrot Top than it did to my untrained eye, as she soon slid everything back into the envelope, and placed it flat on the table.

“So you're really going to do it.” Carrot Top closed her eyes. “You're going to steal the most valuable cello in the world.”

“Steal?” I said.

“Yep.” Bon Bon nodded.

“You do know who's got it right now, don't you?”

“Yep.”

“And where he's probably keeping it?”

“Yep. You in, or are you out?” Bon Bon said.

“We're in.” Carrot Top nodded. “But after this, we're even.”

“Square.” Bon Bon nodded, and the two of them shook hooves.

We?” I said.

“Yes. We are going to help.” Carrot Top said, levelly. “For better or worse, you're a key part of the plan. Besides, I'd think that the great and noble Flash Sentry would be more than happy to help out a lady in need.”

“But--” My wings fluttered a bit, desperate to escape. But, even if Carrot Top hadn't trapped me in the corner of the booth, I knew I couldn't show myself to be a craven coward in front of such an audience. Carrot Top already had my number, of course, and Bon Bon likely sized me up in just the same way-- but the three musicians just looked at me with renewed hope in their eyes as they realized that Flash Sentry, Hero of Equestria, Slayer of Changelings, and Otherwise Dashing Fellow was going to help them. Desperate, I played the only card I could: my already overblown reputation. “I ... I simply can't. I'm not a criminal.” I tried to make myself sound properly heroic.

“Uh huh.” Carrot Top rolled her eyes. “I know you better than that, Sentry.”

“Well, er--” I fidgeted slightly. “I'm not a professional criminal.”

“That's fine.” Carrot Top said. “You don't need to be one-- everyone's got a role to play in Bon Bon's plan, and from what I've seen, you've got the easy job.” If more dire words have ever been spoken, I'm unaware of it.

“And just what am I supposed to do, exactly?”

“Simple.” Carrot Top said, as casually as if she were sending me off to get a fresh round of coffees. “You're going to seduce Princess Twilight Sparkle.”