• 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 3: Accomplices

I did.

Several times, in fact.

The next few days were quiet enough, allowing me to get back into my standard routine. Which is to say, I spent most of my on-duty hours avoiding anything that looked like actual work. Every now and again Carrot Top would brief me on the progress of Sweetie Drops' mad plan-- typically over dinner, and typically courtesy of an Equestrian Intelligence Office expense account.

And typically, I didn't pay too much attention to the scheming bits-- Carrot Top just dropped little tidbits like “the professionals from Las Pegasus are on their way,” or “Lyra's finally found enough fancy rats,” or something even more nonsensical. At which point I'd feign understanding and order another round of drinks. Had I paid attention during the initial plotting back in the donut shop, it might have made sense, but I wouldn't put money on it.

One fact, however, did manage to get through my thick skull.

“The orders assigning you to be Princess Twilight's bodyguard are coming in tomorrow.” Carrot Top told me. “Try to act surprised when they come in.”

I didn't have to act surprised, let me tell you. As it's not very often when Captain Shining Armor himself is the one delivering the orders. Getting called up before the Captain of the Royal Guard is one thing, but when said Captain comes all the way down from the Crystal Empire, that's something else entirely. And, despite my reflexively-guilty conscience, I reminded myself that I technically hadn't done anything illegal yet, so it's not as if Captain Armor was about to start a court martial. And so, I put on a stony, vaguely heroic expression, and marched up to meet my fate.

“Lieutenant.” He said, sizing me up from behind the large desk of the large office he'd commandeered for his visit.

“Sir.” I stood at attention and snapped off a parade-worthy salute.

“At ease.” Captain Armor returned the salute, and gestured to the single chair in front of his desk. “Make yourself comfortable, Lieutenant Sentry. “You may want to be sitting down for this.”

“Sir?” I sat down, but the hardwood chair was hardly comfortable, let me tell you.

“Just ... read this.” Captain Armor slid an envelope across the table. The paper was sealed shut with a blob of red wax-- bearing nothing less than the royal seal. I opened it up, and scanned the tersely worded orders accordingly. Sure enough, I was being ordered to Ponyville, post haste, to act as Princess Twilight Sparkle's bodyguard. On the one hoof, I'd been expecting this-- on the other, I hadn't been expecting the orders to come in from so far up the chain of command. What strings had Carrot Top and Bon Bon pulled?

Captain Armor must have seen my stunned expression. “I know this is ... unprecedented, especially since Princess Twilight has saved Equestria several times already without a military escort.”

“You're right, Captain.” I nodded gravely. Tactically applied humility had always been a foundation of my overblown reputation. “Are you sure there hasn't been some kind of mistake?”

“Unfortunately, no.” Captain Armor sighed. “It's politics, like everything else. Somepony, somewhere, has got the idea that Twily-- sorry, that Twilight is a Princess in name only, without the proper ... accoutrements.”

“If you'll forgive my saying so, Captain, hasn't she already got the wings? Seems pretty open and shut there.”

“You'd think so, but here we are anyway. Some of the more conservative elements at court are insisting that Twilight should have her own regiment of royal guardsponies-- something we simply haven't the numbers or budget to field. Which is why it's come to you.”

“Me, sir?”

“Somepony got the bright idea that if we didn't have the means to train and recruit a regiment from scratch, the least we could do is send one of our most notable, most decorated guardsponies. Your name was one of the ones put forward, and so ... here we are.” Captain Armor gave a long-suffering sigh, and sat back in his chair. “Once Cadance found out, she couldn't stop laughing.”

“Laughing, sir?” I said, the politest echo you'd ever meet.

“She told me it was a long story.” Captain Armor looked up, and met my eyes with a surprisingly steely gaze. “But. Off the record, I want you to know, Lieutenant ... I know your reputation.”

My heart skipped a beat (probably more than one), but I kept my face blank. “Reputation, sir?”

“I know what you did at my wedding. And I know you've worked as a 'liaison' with the Equestrian Intelligence Office on more than one occasion.”

“That's ... correct, sir. Though I thought that sort of thing was, ah ... classified?”

“My wife sits on the throne of the Crystal Empire.”


“If I were a more paranoid pony, I'd start wondering why the E.I.O. had suddenly taken interest in my sister. But, I'm better than that.” Shining Armor said. “So all I'm going to say is this: if my sister gets hurt-- physically or emotionally –I'll have you assigned to the coldest, remotest weather station in Yakyakistan I can find.”

I swallowed, feeling my mouth go dry as I squirmed beneath Captain Armor's parade-ground glare. “Y-yakyakistan, sir?”

North Yakyakistan. And you will thank me for it, because if you're all the way out there, there's a slim chance that Cadance and Celestia will forget that it was Lieutenant Flash Sentry who was responsible for something happening to Twilight.”

“Understood, sir.” I rasped.

“Good!” Captain Armor's glare melted away, and he just grinned. “It's a good thing I'm not a paranoid pony, isn't it? I'm sure this is just another trivial political matter that everypony will forget about in a couple of weeks. Something else will come along to distract the nobles, and then it'll be easy to transfer you back to Canterlot. So long as there aren't any ... incidents.”

“I promise you, Captain, that there won't be.” It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I was (and still am) an adept liar.

Captain Armor, chivalrous git he was, took me at face value, and nodded. “Very well, Lieutenant. Dismissed.”

I snapped off another salute, and marched straight out of the office. I made it just out of sight, around the corner, until the shakes set in.

“So how did it go?” Carrot Top asked, materializing next to me. The only reason her sudden appearance wasn't startling was because I was already too preoccupied with visions of Celestia's wrath and/or freezing my pinions off on some forsaken Yakyakistan peak.

“I'm doomed.” I murmured, staring out a window.

“So the usual, then.”

“I'm sorry,” I shook my head, “it's not your tail on the line here. Captain Armor is going to pay close attention to everything I get up to-- there's no way we'll be able to bamboozle Princess Twilight Sparkle without him noticing something's amiss. And then it's off to a Yakyakistan gulag-- if I'm lucky.”

“Captain Armor won't notice.” Carrot Top said. “Remember, his own fiance was replaced by a changeling for who knows how long. Whereas you have seen through multiple changeling disguises on multiple occasions.”

“Mostly through dumb luck.”

“Still counts.” Carrot Top patted me on the shoulder. “But think-- if Shining Armor was too dense to notice when the one pony he loved more than anyone else in the world had been kidnapped, what makes you think he'll do any better when some of Equestria's most skilled special agents are involved?”*

*At this point, I should note a key piece of information (since Carrot Top neglects to). Namely, during the First Battle of Canterlot, my brother was under the influence of Queen Chrysalis' dark and powerful powers of mesmerism. In fact, that Queen Chrysalis had to resort to such extreme measures when her typical shapechanging would not suffice is only a testament to the strength of my brother's love for Princess Cadance. That Carrot Top would describe such a traumatic episode in such a reductive matter is a sign of ignorance at best, or crass manipulation of Flash Sentry at worst.

“You ... might have a point there.” I had to admit.

“Of course I do.” Carrot Top nudged me in the side. “Now come on. You'd better get packed if you're going to make the morning train to Ponyville.”

I've played the spy game enough over the years to know that coincidence-- while not impossible –is very, very improbable.

And so, when one particular car of the seven-fifteen to Ponyville happened to seat no less than three musicians, two special agents, and one so-called Hero of Equestria, I couldn't help but notice. Though what really caught my attention were the three ponies who I didn't recognize from our conspiracy: two unicorn brothers in boater hats, and a blond-maned pegasus with a lazy eye (she had rather nice plumage, though). The former sat at the back of the car, playing an idle hand of cards between them, while the latter chatted enthusiastically with Carrot Top, catching up in the way that old friends do. I wondered if the poor mare's eye was an old war wound, but she prattled on with no small degree of enthusiasm.

Once the train was well under way, Bon Bon got out of her seat (leaving Lyra sprawled in a strangely bent position) and made a brief circuit of the train car, first checking the door at one end, and then the other, making sure nopony was coming. She peeked out the windows on either side for good measure, and then nodded.

“Right. We're clear.”

At that signal, everypony in the car turned their attention to Bon Bon. She looked over the motley bunch of ponies, and nodded. “We don't have much time, so I'll make this quick. For a job this big, we needed some extra help, which is why I've recruited--”

“Flim Flimflam!” Said one of the boater-wearing unicorns.

“And Flam Flimflam!” Said the other. To this day, I forget which one had the moustache.

“--them.” Bon Bon grumbled, glaring at the pair with a look that I thought she'd reserved only for me. “They'll be covering some of the ... social engineering aspects of the operation.”

“Which is a polite way of calling us grifters.” Flim said, adjusting his bow-tie.

“Hucksters,” said Flam.

“Hustlers,” said Flim.

“Swindlers,” said Flam.

“Confidence ponies,” said Flim.

“And while calling us such things might be hurtful--” Flam held his boater over his heart.

“-that doesn't mean they're not accurate.” Flam mirrored his brother's gesture, and winked.

“As, in fact, my brother and I are the best in the business! And, given how your esteemable mastermind has been so gracious as to offer us a generous percentage in your little venture, it is our pleasure to offer our services.” Flim spun his hat on his hoof, and deposited it back onto his head.

“Thank you, gentlecolts.” Bon Bon facehooved. “And, for added air support, Carrot Top has brought in her friend, Ditzy Do.”

“Hi!” Ditzy Do waved a hoof to the crowd.

“So, we all know what we have to do. Consider phase one the ... practice run, I guess. Work the kinks out of the plan. So, is everyone ready?”We nodded our agreement (or, at least, they nodded agreement, and I just nodded along to look like I knew what I was doing) and Bon Bon smiled. “Good. Now rest up-- it's only getting harder from here.”

Once Bon Bon had given her 'inspirational' speech, we all settled in for an uneventful ride to Ponyville. The train lumbered into the station, and we all went our separate ways, on our seperate business. I did, however, take a few moments to flit over to Carrot Top's side before she could disappear into the crowd.

“Forgive my asking, but ... are you certain it's a good idea to bring in more ponies?”

“It's Bon Bon's operation-- so it's her call. And she's right-- if we're going to pull one over on Diamondback, we'll need as much help as we can get.”

“And you trust the Flimflams?”

“Of course not.” Carrot Top said. “But that means we just have to keep an eye on them.”

I bit back a comment about eyes, and glanced over my shoulder to where Ditzy Do was making a beeline for a breakfast cart. “What about your friend? What's her story? Let me guess ... another Special Agent? Ex Wonderbolt? Storm-chaser?”

“She's a mailpony.”

“A mailpony.” I blinked. “We're not going to ... mail the cello to Equestria, are we?”

“Look, Sentry.” Carrot Top said. “Ponyville is sandwiched right between a gate to Tartarus, and the edge of the Everfree forest. It's been attacked from everything from parasprites to full-on dragons-- and that's before you start counting the chaos gods and evil sorcerers Princess Twilight has to deal with.”

“And?” I said.

“And,” Carrot Top went on, “Ponyville has never had a lapse in its postal service. Ever. Delays, sure, but there's not a single letter or package that goes undelivered in this town. All because of her.” Carrot Top gestured towards her friend, who had closed her eyes in bliss as she scarfed down a blueberry muffin. (Not that I blamed her-- the refreshments on the train from Canterlot weren't particularly palatable). “She's the most reliable pony I know. Plus, I need somepony in the crew besides you I can trust.”

“You don't trust Bon Bon?”

“Special Agent Sweetie Drops always put the mission before everything. Before herself, before other ponies on her team, and certainly before ... extenuating circumstances. But that was then. She's lightened up a lot since she met Lyra, but then there was the bugbear incident ... “ Carrot Top shook her head. “I'm just hedging my bets, that's all.”

“You'll forgive me if I find that more than a little terrifying.”

“You'll get used to it.” Carrot Top said.

“I haven't yet.”

“Better get started, then.” Carrot Top held a hoof above her eyes against the glimmering crystals of Twilight's tree-palace at the center of town. “Because Princess Twilight's new bodyguard is about to report for duty.”