• 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 4: Prior Offenses

It wasn't a valet or a butler who met me at the door, but rather, the little dragon we'd come here to recruit in the first place. Looking down at Spike, yet another twist of uneasiness wracked my belly-- this was our ticket into the Dragon Lands?

“Er, hello.” I said, smiling. “I'm Lieutenant Flash Sentry-- I need to speak with the Princess.”

“Lieutenant?” Spike's looked over my dress uniform (which was far more comfortable to travel in than full armor), eyes already gleaming with boyish anticipation. “Are you in the Royal Guard? Are you here for some kind of super cool adventure?”

“Yes to the first, no to the second.” I said. “But I do need to see Princess Twilight, if she's in. State business, you know.”

“Oh! State business!” Spike opened the door all the way. “I know how that is! Sometimes I belch out a letter from Princess Celestia and the next thing you know Twilight's freaking out and getting out the emergency checklist.”

“Here's to hoping this won't be checklist worthy.” I said.

“It's Twilight. Everything is checklist worthy.” Spike said, good naturedly, and led me on. I'd been to the Palace of Friendship once before-- though it had been during a victory ball, and I'd spent most of the party hanging around near the exits in case King Thorax and his changelings suddenly turned evil and started trying to eat everypony's brains. Without the decorations and shoulder-to-shoulder guests, the Palace of Friendship was almost quaint in its lack of pretention. You'd think Princess Twilight would've started putting up some paintings or sculptures of herself by that point, but in their place there were assorted photos of the Princess (both pre and post wings) laughing and cavorting with various other ponies.

We found Twilight in a humble sitting room, enjoying a late breakfast with two of her hoofmaidens: a chubby pink earth pony, and a scrappy-looking pegasus with an obviously dyed mane.*

*For the record, Rainbow Dash's unique hair color was perfectly natural. Pinkie Pie did have a little bit of a sweet tooth, though. It goes without saying that they were both my friends, not hoofmaidens.

“Hey Twilight!” Spike said, without much in the way of ceremony. “You've got a visitor!”

“Mmf?” Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship and Magic, looked over in mid-bite of her scone. Her eyes went wide at seeing me (no doubt due to a combination of my inherent dashing handsomeness and Princess Twilight's likely cloistered upbringing). She choked down her mouthful of pastry, and managed a polite smile. “Oh, hello! I, uh. Wasn't expecting company.”

“It's a boy.” The pink pony murmured to the pegasus, at which point the two started sniggering amongst themselves.

“Lieutenant Flash Sentry, at your service.” I sketched a quick bow, and then presented Princess Twilight with the envelope bearing my orders. “Quite literally, in fact.”

The princess levitated the letter over and read it-- two, three times –and finally set it on the table. “But ... this doesn't make any sense! I don't need a bodyguard!”

“Yeah! You don't look that tough.” The pegasus said. “What's one dude going to do the next time Tirek starts throwing fireballs around, huh?”

“To be honest, you're absolutely right. I'm just one pony. But, orders are orders-- and politics are politics.” I focused my attention on Princess Twilight. “Now that you've earned your wings, you've got to look the part.”

“I don't look like a princess?” She said, and self-consciously wiped scone crumbs from the corner of her mouth.

“But she's got the wings and everything!” The pink pony tugged at one of Twilight's wings, stretching it out to its full length. I had to admit, the Princess had a quite ... impressive wingspan.*

*For the two thirds of the audience who cannot fly, it's worth noting that wings and plumage have long been used as benchmarks for physical beauty (and sometimes fertility) in traditional pegasus culture.**

“Yes.” I looked away from the Princess' pinions before it would be impolite. “She certainly does. But where are the courtiers? The advisors? The staff? For better or worse, there are some ponies who simply won't follow princess who isn't, well, princessy enough. My assignment here is meant to assuage those more conservative sorts-- you're just lucky it's only me they've sent, and not a full regiment.”

**There is, Professor Fresian, such a thing as too much context.

“I-I- guess you're right.” Princess Twilight fidgeted a little bit. “It's just that I don't know what to do with a bodyguard.”

I waved a hoof, idly. “You're not supposed to do anything-- at least, nothing that you wouldn't be doing anyway. It just falls on my shoulders to keep you safe while you're doing it. Though to be honest, with what you've accomplished on your own so far, I imagine I'll mostly be standing around just for show.”

“Oh! Oh! Oh! I know what we should do!” The pink pony said. “We should have a party! Everypony who comes to Ponyville should get a 'Welcome to Ponyville' Party! Especially when we've got a big fancy hero who's here to help out!” She began to vibrate with excitement at the prospect of an impromptu celebration.

“Please. There's no need to trouble yourself on my account.” I said.

“Yes. Yes there is.” The pink pony said with eye-narrowed vehemence.

“It'll be easier if you just let Pinkie Pie throw you a party.” Princess Twilight said with a wry grin. “Don't worry, it won't be any trouble at all. Not to mention it'll give you a chance to meet, well ... everybody, I guess. Can't really bodyguard me if you don't know the ponies in town, right?”

Ah, I realized, there it was. The ol' Flashy charm was working its wonders already, and Princess Twilight was already making excuses to spend time with me. Apparently, Bon Bon's intelligence on Princess Twilight's predilections was correct. For the first time since Carrot Top dragged me into the mad scheme, I found myself thinking that it just might work. All I had to do was stand around and look handsome for the Princess, distracting her long enough for the others to pull off their parts of the plan. And once I had my hooves on a cask of Chateau de Cheval, I'd just let Princess Twilight down easy with some noble nonsense about being torn between love and duty, and I could quietly get myself reassigned somewhere other than North Yakyakistan. Easy.

Or so I thought.


While the Palace of Friendship was sorely lacking in both staff and guards, it at least had a well-stocked larder. Within a matter of hours, Pinkie Pie laid out a frankly stunning array of snacks, not to mention a surprisingly well stocked bar. And that's before one gets into the decorations, the invitations, the sound system-- I'd seen military operations pulled off with less precision.

Though as Pinkie Pie laid out her plans, I could see Bon Bon's influence as well. None other than Vinyl Scratch was there to provide musical entertainment (through a frankly ridiculous battery of sound equipment), and somewhere in all the commotion I heard Ditzy Do chirp “Special delivery!” before Twilight waved her off to set her package somewhere out of the way.

By nightfall, the entire population of Ponyville had crowded into the Palace of Friendship's central ballroom, laughing and drinking and dancing. Ponyville was such a quiet little hamlet that the residents no doubt took any excuse they could to have a party and distract themselves from their otherwise dreary agrarian lives. Apart from some small talk and polite hoofshakes, most of Ponyville paid me no heed. While perhaps not the most flattering of circumstances for my ego, at least it gave me enough room to carry out my 'mission.' Even someone as charming and handsome as I wouldn't be able to woo Princess Twilight with a gaggle of toadies and hangers-on surrounding me.

Which isn't to say it was easy. Princess Twilight was understandably more popular than I was, which meant she was nearly constantly surrounded by at least two or three of her hoofmaidens, ranging from an elegant-looking unicorn with perfectly coiffed mane, to a burly earth pony in a cowboy hat who probably would've been a better pick for Twilight's bodyguard than I was. But I was patient, and soon enough, Princess Twilight's friends left her alone for just a moment, and that's when I swooped in. Literally.

I took to the air, and scooped up two flutes of champagne from the bar before alighting in front of Princess Twilight.

“Flash!” She blurted, and then covered her mouth with one hoof. “I mean, um, it's a pleasure to see you, Lieutenant.” The Princess wore a plain, yellow dress of conservative cut-- honestly something more suitable for a schoolteacher than royalty.*

*There's no reason one cannot be both.

“And it's a pleasure to be here.” I foisted a glass of bubbly onto the princess. “Ponyville's just such an interesting place.” I lied.

“Isn't it? When Princess Celestia first sent me here, I thought it would be super boring, compared to Canterlot, but since I got here, I've met the best friends I've ever had! Plus, you know, the whole 'saving the world' thing. And, uh, becoming a princess, too.” She fluttered her wings for a moment, and then pulled them closer against her sides.

“Sounds like you've been busy.”

“Oh, definitely! Like the saying goes, idle hooves are Discord's playthings. Which, uh, may have some literal truth to it, because there was this one time where Discord-- well, um, it's actually kind of gruesome –but it's okay because that was in the past and Discord is our friend now. Ostensibly. But apart from that one time he brought an ooze monster to the Grand Galloping Gala he's actually been pretty good. Mostly good. Ish.”

“Of course.” I paused, and looked over my shoulder. “You, er, didn't invite Discord, did you?”

“Nope.” Twilight said, giving a relieved sigh of her own. “He's on vacation, so things should be nice and quiet. Or, well, as quiet as things get around Ponyville. Sometimes it seems that there's some new problem every week-- some new monster crawls out of the Everfree, or a rogue sorcerer rolls through town, or somepony starts messing around with ancient and unpredictable magic ... I, uh, may have done that last one once or twice myself. Like the time I experimented with time travel but it worked out in the end because I managed to create a closed-causality loop, instead of branching off an entirely new timeline and--” her ears splayed back for a moment as the realization hit her. “I'm just babbling at this point, aren't I?”

“It's fine.” I lied again. Only through my years of experience at bluffing did I keep a straight face. As Princess Twilight listed the strange and arcane horrors that the quiet little town of Ponyville had to offer, my guts twisted in uneager anticipation. No wonder Princess Celestia had sent her favorite student here-- the town was a deathtrap, and the only thing keeping it standing was a little purple mare of untold arcane power.

And now, her 'bodyguard.'

Right then, I reached the logical conclusion. I needed to woo Princess Twilight as quickly as possible, allowing Bon Bon's plan to continue as quickly as possible, which meant I could get out of Ponyville as quickly as possible. With any luck, the whole affair could be wrapped up before the next disaster struck, and I'd be expected to protect Princess Twilight from a rampaging demigorgon or what have you. It was time for decisive action.

“Princess Twilight, may I have this dance?”

The Princess' cheeks went scarlet, sure as if someone had flipped a switch. She looked down at her hooves for a moment, and then back up at me. “I- I'd like that very much, Lieutenant.”

I offered a gallant hoof, and the two of us trotted over to the dance floor. We passed a clump of Princess Twilight's friends along the way-- the five of them watched us with rapt attention, and murmured amongst themselves. I ignored them, and kept my attention focused on Princess Twilight Sparkle.

Vinyl Scratch waved to me from atop her sound-system fortress, and put on a fresh record. Immediately, the speakers started blaring out a fast-paced track that sounded like nothing so much as an electric keyboard being flung down a flight of stairs.

“Oh, I love this song!” Princess Twilight's initial shyness gave way to girlish enthusiasm as the eardrum-punishing beat throbbed through the ballroom.

That's when she tried to kill me.

Not on purpose, mind you. But the arrhythmic flailing that Princess Twilight launched into definitely ranks as one of the more harrowing experiences I've endured. For a moment, I thought she was having a seizure as she threw her legs out in all directions. The Princess kept her eyes shut as she 'danced,' forcing me to duck and dodge with a prizefighter's footwork to avoid getting kicked in the head. The worst part was, I couldn't face Princess Twilight in the same way I would deal with 'normal' combatant (i.e: running away). The entire dance floor had cleared out within moments, and the crowd watched the two of us from a theoretically safe distance. Even in a backwater like Ponyville, I knew the reputation-sinking rumors would start flowing if I were to do something so crass as run out on Princess Twilight Sparkle. On top of that, I didn't fancy explaining to Carrot Top how I'd screwed up the 'easy' part of the plan. After an excruciatingly indeterminable length of time, the pounding beat of the song subsided, and Princess Twilight's nigh epileptic gyrations followed suit.*

*While this passage is certainly unflattering, I insisted it be left in the text. To censor an academic work would be a crime against the greater truth, and more a stain on my reputation than anything Flash Sentry could reveal. In fact, I welcome Flash Sentry's viewpoint, as it is a good reminder that, despite Princesshood, I'm not perfect. I'm just another pony with the same quirks and foibles as anypony else. Though I'm not that bad of a dancer.

Anymore.

“Wow!” Princess Twilight's sides heaved. “That was exhilarating.”

“I'll say.” I wiped a sheen of cold sweat from my forehead.

To her credit, Vinyl Scratch must have seen my harried expression, as she soon swapped records, and put on a far slower, far more civilized string instrumental. I perked my ears, and picked up a familiar few bars-- ah, that was more like it.

“Princess,” I said, “you don't happen to know the Winged Waltz, do you?”

And there was the shy, girlish blush again. “No.” She said, voice small.

“Well.” I favored the Princess with another rakish grin. “I can teach you, if you'd like?”

“I- I'd like that.”

“Just follow my lead.”

There's an old saying about the waltz: four became three, so two could become one. The waltz is easily the most romantic of dances, and when one or the other of the dancers has wings (usually the one taking lead), it allows the opportunity to literally dance on air. On top of that, not only does a proper waltz (airborne or otherwise) offer a couple an excuse to remain in close contact, but it's also got enough of a high-class veneer to make one look past the occasional wandering hoof. Not that my hooves were wandering, mind you. With the whole of Ponyville watching, I was the perfect gentlecolt.

Even still, Princess Twilight held me tighter.

The waltz wound down, and I eased Princess Twilight back down to the floor. The Princess fluttered her wings, and took a step back, suddenly realizing just how close we were.

“So ... that was the Winged Waltz?” Princess Twilight's voice quavered, just slightly.

“It was.” I said. Our eyes met for a moment, lingering in one of those magical little moments--

“WOO TWILIGHT! GETCHA SOME!” The pink party planner pony yelled from the other side of the dance floor.

“Pinkie!” Princess Twilight said, aghast. She facehooved, and looked back to me, expression pleading and apologetic. “I'm sorry, Flash-- my friends can be a little too supportive, sometimes.”

“It's fine.” I said. At the edge of the dance floor, one of Princess Twilight's friends fainted dead away in embarrassment, while the other three piled onto the pink one and dragged her away before she could offer any more 'encouragement.' “But maybe we should continue this conversation somewhere a little quieter?”

“Quiet. Right.” Princess Twilight nodded decisively. “I know just the place.”

Her horn began to glow, and before I could get a word in edgewise, the whole world blinked away. I instinctively held a hoof up against the magical glare, and by the time my vision cleared, the dance floor (and everypony on it) was gone. Princess Twilight was still there, though, smiling. “This was the quietest place I can think of.”

I looked over Princess Twilight's shoulder, and picked out the bookshelves behind her. At least, I presumed they were bookshelves-- it was hard to tell with the room spinning and all.

“A library?” I said, more than a little dazed.

My Library.” Princess Twilight said with no small degree of pride. “It's the most comprehensive collection of magical texts outside of Canterlot, and it's not too shabby in most other subjects, too. Can I show you around?”

“If you like?” I took a step to follow her, and promptly fell over.

“Oh!” Princess Twilight immediately started fretting and fussing over me. “I'm sorry! I forget how disorienting a point to point teleport can be for someone who's never done one before. Passing through a pinhole-fold in spacetime can really do a number on your inner ear if you're not expecting it.”

“I've had worse.” I said, in what was probably the most truthful thing I've ever said to Princess Twilight.

“I'm sorry!” Princess Twilight nervously bounced from hoof to hoof. “It's my fault-- I shouldn't have teleported you without asking! It's ... it's not presumptuous to teleport on a first date, is it?”

“I wouldn't know.” I said, and finally got back to my feet.

“Oh.” Princess Twilight said. “You ... you've never been on a date before either?”

“I- what?”

“It's okay! I know what it's like to be so busy that you don't get the opportunity to hit certain social benchmarks at commonly accepted times. I mean, who's got the time to go out on dates when the world needs saving, right? Though, uh, technically I may have been on a date before but then there was this thing with a misguided sorceress who turned herself into a demon but everything worked out in the end. Except for the date. But now we're here! And, uh ... that kind of reminds me of something.”

“Oh?” I said, having mostly cleared my head of its post-teleporation fog.

“Flash, can I ask you a question? Or, uh, I just did, ha-ha, but can I ask you another question? Or really, uh, several questions?”

“Feel free.”

“Don't worry! I won't ask anything too personal. I mean, we just met! Well, except for the times we literally bumped into each other in the Crystal Empire and that's not a big deal because I bump into ponies all the time. Guess I should watch where I'm going, right?”

“Right.” I said.

“But, um. The question! That is, uh-- Flash, you don't play guitar, do you?”

I blinked, and shook my head. “Can't say that I do.”

“Oh, okay. And, uh, I'm guessing you don't have a car, either.”

“A car? As in part of a train? Not on a royal guard's salary.”

“Oh!” Twilight facehooved. “Of course, the techno-linguistic context here is completely different, and--” she pulled in a bracing breath, and looked up at me. “How much do you know about dimensional physics?” She inched closer to me, and I realized that the academic question was the closest thing she could manage to a pick up line.

“I honestly haven't given much thought to it. Never had much of a head for magic.”

“Oooo-kay.” Princess Twilight scratched the back of her neck. “So, uh ... what if I told you there was another world with another you in it and I went to that world and kinda-sorta dated other-you but then I had to come back only to meet you-you? I mean, you're a completely different person, but you're still Flash Sentry, just a little ... different, you know?”

“Princess,” I said, slowly. “Just how much champagne have you had tonight?”

“Only a little bit!” Princess Twilight blurted. “But all of this makes sense in context, I promise!”

“I'll take your word for it?”

“I never should have told you.” Princess Twilight's whole body drooped in dejection. “I mean ... you're obviously not Flash Sentry-- or, uh, the Flash Sentry I met and danced with and technically dated in another dimension. But you look like him, and you sound like him, and, and ... this is going to require further research.”

Princess Twilight turned for the bookshelves, but I stopped her with a gentle hoof on her shoulder.

“Wait.” I said, soft but stern. “I know I'm not the ... other pony, in this other dimension.” And a good thing, too-- as if there was another Flash Sentry out there, I knew he'd be as much of a cad and a bounder as I was. “But who cares? I mean, you're here, I'm here ... why don't we just take things slowly? Just get aquainted, enjoy each others' company, that sort of thing?”

Princess Twilight turned back to me, and her lips curled into a nervous but genuine smile. “You're right. It's not fair to compare you to a version of yourself you didn't even know existed until now. But ... I'd like to get to know this dimension's Flash better, if that's alright?”

“I'd like nothing more than that, Princess.”

“Please. Call me Twilight.” The Princess smiled, and then, in what was no doubt a monumental feat of courage for the poor filly, she closed her eyes, puckered her lips, and planted a fleeting, chaste kiss upon my cheek. The smooch was so quick, so light that I barely even noticed the contact.

That is, until Princess Twilight started glowing.