• Published 30th Aug 2017
  • 1,142 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 2: Premeditation

“Let's start from the top.” Bon Bon said, and pushed the 'next slide' button on the projector. We'd relocated to the secret safehouse basement below the donut shop. It was a lot less crowded than the last time I'd been down there (what, with the changeling invasion and all), but that just meant I didn't have anyone to hide behind. And so, I could do little but watch as Bon Bon laid out her mad scheme.

“The target is the Phoenix Stallionvarius.” A photo of a red-laquered cello popped up. “They call it the 'Phoenix' because of the red finish. It's centuries old, absolutely irreplaceable, and valued around six million bits. At least, that's what he paid for it.”

Another slide, and I nearly jumped out of my chair as I stared at the reptilian monstrosity pictured. Saurian and serpentine, the ruby-red dragon on the slide smiled at the camera, no doubt to show off his rows of chef-knife sized teeth. Almost as an afterthought, I noticed the piles of gold and jewels in the background.

“This is Drake Diamondback.” Bon Bon said. “He's not a Dragon Lord ... but he's close. He's somewhat unique among dragons in that he's got a mind for business. He made his fortune-- and his reputation –as a mercenary, to the point where kingdoms started paying him not to fight. From there, he went into more ... legitimate ventures, at least on paper, and he's been raking in money ever since. He keeps it all here, at the Spitespire..”

Bon Bon cycled to the next slide, showing a jagged granite peak that certainly put the 'spite' in its name. “It's on the very southernmost border of the Dragon Lands-- nominally under the Dragon Lord's control, but Drake runs the spire more or less as an independent mini-kingdom. He hasn't left Spitespire in years-- he's got other, less powerful dragons on his payroll to bring the treasure in. They're probably delivering the Phoenix Stal, along with whatever other treasures they've been able to put their claws on, as we speak. Drake prides himself on his collection-- if it's one of a kind, he's got to have it. In addition to the Phoenix Stal, Drake's hoard contains a large number of other unique artworks and artifacts.”

“I'm sorry.” I raised a hoof. “But ... are you insane? I mean, I thought it was bad enough when we were just taking the cello from some rich and powerful pony-- but a dragon? How do you expect to even get to Spitespire? It's not like dragons are known for their hospitality.”

Bon Bon hit me with the same annoyed glare Carrot Top had used on me countless times (I wonder if they taught that at special agent school) and cleared her throat. “They aren't, no. But, by ancient tradition, Spitespire is open to all dragons. So, to get access to Spitespire, we'll need one of our own.”

“And where, exactly, do you propose to find a dragon?” I grumbled.

“Ponyville.” Bon Bon cycled to the next slide, this one a picture of a far smaller, far less intimidating dragon. There was nothing sharp about him at all: no fangs, no claws, not even the batlike wings. The term 'roly poly' came to mind. “This is Spike, Princess Twilight Sparkle's, uh ... assistant? He's also kind of her little brother.”

“I bet that led to some awkward conversations around the dinner table.” I murmured.

Adoptive little brother.” Bon Bon added on. She briefly looked to Carrot Top with a 'how do you put up with him?' sort of expression, to which Carrot Top could only reply with a shrug.

Bon Bon sighed, and continued explaining. “So if Spike's involved, Princess Twilight Sparkle will be as well. There's no way we'll be able to recruit Spike if Princess Twilight knows what we're up to. Which is where you come in, Sentry. We're going to get you assigned to Ponyville to act as Princess Twilight Sparkle's bodyguard. From there, it'll be up to you to distract her while the rest of us do the dirty work.”

“Distract her.” I said, deadpan.

“I'm sure you'll think of something.” Bon Bon said. “Now, if you're done interrupting, I've got seventy-two more slides to go through.”

I slumped in my chair as Bon Bon went on (and on, and on). From what I could tell, the beginning and end of my part of the scheme was to just stand around Princess Twilight Sparkle and look handsome. And so, I tuned out the rest of Bon Bon's briefing. This, of course, was a terrible mistake, though I wouldn't realize it until much, much later.

Finally, Bon Bon dismissed us-- she went off with Lyra, and Vinyl Scratch took a still-sniffling Octavia off somewhere, the lot of them no doubt all with their own parts to play in Bon Bon's overcomplicated scheme. At least Carrot Top had time enough for a drink, because damn if I didn't need one.

“I don't get it.” I said, over a mug of sweet cider (not my typical fare, but Carrot Top had ordered a pitcher). “Just why are you going along with this? And this time you can't even bother with the usual nonsense about crown and country because I'm fairly certain Princess Celestia would frown on outright theft.”

“Bon--” Carrot Top blinked, and then warily looked over her shoulder on watch for eavesdroppers (there weren't any-- it was a slow night, and we'd picked the farthest, darkest booth). “Special Agent Sweetie Drops saved my life once.”

“So?” I said. “I've saved your life before, and I'm not dragging you off on suicidal ventures like this. In fact, it's usually the other way around. Some thanks I get.” I took a swig of cider.

“That's different.” Carrot Top said, curtly. “I've saved your life, too. Multiple times. We're even.”

“And you haven't gotten the chance to repay her? Fine. Save her life by stopping her. That mare's going to get the lot of us killed, all over an oversized violin.”

“It's not that easy, Sentry.” Carrot Top sighed, and rubbed at her eyes.

“Well, maybe I should just save your life again by stopping you.”

Carrot Top set her mug down with a heavy thump, and eyed me. “We both know you couldn't stop me if you tried.” She was right, too-- her line of business as Special Agent Golden Harvest was hoof to hoof combat. If she put her mind to something, it'd take a whole platoon of royal guardponies to even slow her down.

“Not physically, no. But your friend Bon Bon isn't the mastermind she thinks she is. Any plan that hinges on me is, by definition, a bad plan. If I don't seduce the princess, you don't get your dragon, and then nobody gets to go to the Dragon Lands to get themselves roasted and eaten. I'll just tell Miss Octavia 'I'm terribly sorry, dear, but I quite simply cannot play with the princess' delicate emotions,' and that'll be that. I stay the noble hero, and we all stay here.”

“Before you say no, let me ask you a question.” Carrot Top drained her cider, wiped the foam from her lips, and poured herself another. “Did you see the list of places Diamondback sent his agents?”

“I'm afraid I dozed off after the thirty sixth slide or so.”

Carrot Top leaned forward, and tapped the tabletop with one hoof. “It's not just instruments Diamondback is after-- he's contacted art galleries, museums ... and wineries.”

“Wait.” I frowned. “What use would a dragon have for wine?”

“The same as a priceless cello. Nothing. Diamondback just wants to say he's got the best and rarest of everything.”

“The best and rarest?” The taste of sweet cider on my tongue turned ashy as I realized just what Carrot Top was implying. “You mean ... he's got a Chateau de Cheval?” I'd only had to raid the royal cellars and kill a few dozen changelings* the last time I had a taste of the finest (and, most expensive) vintage in Equestria. My mouth began to water at the prospect, but I shook my head. “No. I'm not going to risk my life on this insane scheme, even with a bottle of de Cheval on the line.”

*Again, see: Sentry at the Charge.

“Not a bottle.” Carrot Top said, smugly. “A cask.”

I bit the inside of my lip, and whimpered softly. “And you're saying we could get it--”

“--as long as you seduce Princess Twilight.” Carrot Top said.

“Hold on.” I held up a hoof. “That last part doesn't bother you?”

“Why would it? It's part of the job.”

“Part of the job? Is this some sort of special agent thing?” A horrid thought struck me. “You haven't, uh ... distracted anypony like that before, have you?” And another horrid thought struck me. “Damnation, that's not what you're doing to me, is it?”

Carrot Top stared at me across the table for a long, long moment-- only to break into laughter. She had quite a lovely laugh, though I preferred listening to it when it wasn't directed at me.

“Oh! I'm sorry, I needed that.” Carrot Top wiped a mirthful tear from the corner of her eye. “But no. It's like you said, any plan that depends on you, Sentry, is by definition a bad plan. So you can rest easy, knowing that the reasons I put up with you are purely, uh ... recreational.” She clinked her mug against mine and chugged down a good half-quart of cider in one go, which likely explained the faint blush on her cheeks. “Besides, I'm not worried about you and the Princess. She's not your type. Too innocent. Too optimistic.”

“Then what's the point of sending me off to woo her?”

“Because you're her type. At least, that's what she thinks. Don't you remember the way she acted around you back in the Crystal Empire?”

“Maybe?” I scratched my head. “I mean, I only bumped into her the one time. I just said something glib and pretended everything was fine. To be honest I completely forgot about her once those cultists dragged me off and tied me to that big rock. And, uh, thank you again or getting me out of that, by the way.**”

**As mentioned before, Flash Sentry's memoirs are woefully unorganized and incomplete. But, from what I have gathered, Sentry's posting in the Crystal Empire took place in the indeterminate period of time between Volume 2 (Carrot and Stick) and Volume 3 (Sentry at the Charge).

“Whatever you said, it made an impression. Which is exactly what we need to get Bon Bon's plan rolling. So are you in?”

“Damn it, I suppose I am.” I sat back in the booth, my palate already tingling in anticipation. “You could have at least bribed me right off the bat, though. Would have kept me from complaining as much.”

“I didn't know Diamondback had a cask until Bon Bon made her full presentation.” Carrot Top finished the last of her cider, and turned her mug upside-down on the table. “Plus, I figured it'd be better for your reputation if Octavia and the other civilians didn't see me bribing you outright.”

“How noble of you.” I drained my own mug and mirrored Carrot Top's gesture. “So I'm in. Now what?”

“It'll take a few days to get you transferred to Ponyville. Until then, we just wait. Although ... “ Carrot Top's smile took on a familiar slyness. “It might help if you ... practiced a little before meeting the Princess.”

“Practice?” I said. “Miss Top, I can be devastatingly charming when I put my mind to it.”

Carrot Top put a hoof over mine, and winked. “Prove it.”