• Published 6th Jul 2018
  • 869 Views, 91 Comments

Five Friendly Venoms - Tumbleweed

It was supposed to be a routine visit to Ponyville-- But, as always, things soon take a turn for the worse as Flash Sentry finds himself facing stunning news-- as well as a brand new mission.

  • ...

Chapter 3

“Just because Tempest Shadow conquered Canterlot doesn't mean she's a bad pony.” Princess Twilight said.

“Of course not.” I said. I'd slept through the first half of the Storm King's invasion, and spent the second in varying states of flight and/or terror, but that's another story altogether. Even still, Tempest Shadow sounded like exactly the sort of pony that I wanted nothing to do with.

“Which means there has to be a good reason Tempest Shadow hasn't written back to me.” Princess Twilight nodded, speaking more to convince herself than me. “According to my contacts, Tempest Shadow was last seen headed for Cowloon. Have you ever been there, Flash?”

“I can't say so, no.”

“Not surprising. It's practically on the other side of the world, a little island just off the southern coast of Minotauria. The funny thing is, it's arguably an Equestrian colony-- or, well, arguably not, depending on who you ask.*” Princess Twilight lapsed into an academic, lecturing tone.

*To this day, Cowloon has been the subject of a contentious border dispute between Minotauria and Equestria. Namely, both nations claim the island city of Cowloon belongs to the other. As a result, Cowloon remains a vaguely autonomous (or possibly just anarchic) city-state. Given the lack of direct governance, Cowloon has long been a haven for 'independent traders' of varying degrees of legitimacy.

“From what I've read, Cowloon can be a little ... rough. Hopefully this should help.” Princess Twilight levitated a set of plain saddlebags out of her closet, then draped the surprisingly heavy luggage over my back. “I'm not going to say this is everything you could need on your trip, but it's a start. There should be enough bits in there to cover your expenses-- for a little while, at least. I'll be more than happy to reimburse anything further so long as you bring back the receipts. But on top of that, I've packed binoculars, rope, a first aid kit, matches-- standard kit, as my brother would say. Oh! And there's a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the bottom, in case you get hungry. Hope you like raspberry. You do like raspberry, don't you?”

“I'm sure it'll be delicious.” I said.

“Good! I wish there was more I could do-- like, if I thought ahead, I would've come up with some spy gadgets or something just like in all those Ian Fresian*books, but I just didn't have the time.”

While largely unknown today, Ian Fresian was a popular author of espionage fiction in Sentry's time. Some of his most popular works include “From Equestria, With Love,” and “Dr. Neigh.” For full disclosure, I should note that Ian Fresian is a distant relation of mine, on my father's side. It should also be noted that I haven't inherited any of my great-great-great grand-uncle's penchant for fiction, as my talents run more toward the academic.

“That's probably for the best.” I said, even as visions of exploding umbrellas or switchblade sunglasses and other such devices of impractical mayhem danced through my head. “I never needed much beyond my own hooves anyway.”

“Spoken like a true professional. I knew I could count on you, Flash.” Princess Twilight smiled at me, then tightened the buckles of my saddlebags with her magic. “I wish we had more time to review Tempest's dossier, but every minute could be critical. The first train to Manehattan leaves soon, and even then you're going to have to hurry to catch the tramp steamer-- from there, it'll be two weeks sailing to Cowloon. That's where Tempest Shadow was headed when we lost contact-- hopefully you should be able to pick up her trail from there.”

“Hopefully.” I said. “But ... Princess, you still should know it's a big world out there, and I'm just one pony. I'll do my best, but it's probably better not to get your hopes up.”

“Don't remind me-- statistically speaking, the chances of one pony finding another pony, especially in someplace as crowded as Cowloon, are ridiculously small. But something tells me if anybody can find Tempest Shadow, it's you, Flash.”

She turned out to be right, unfortunately, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

“We'll find out soon enough, eh?” I fell back on easy bravado, by reflex.

“I guess we will. Just be careful, Flash-- I may have lost one friend already. The last thing I want is to lose another.”

“You won't, Princess. I'll be back in Ponyville before you know it.”

Princess Twilight smiled a crooked, girlish smile, and nodded. “I'd like that. Now come on-- you've got a train to catch.”

She saw me off at just the break of dawn, making sure I boarded the first train to Manehattan. She at least sprung for a first class cabin, so let it be said that Princess Twilight is nothing if not generous. I waved to the princess through the window as the train chugged out of the station, and then slumped into my seat once she passed out of view.

Between the softness of first-class seating and the fatigue of the previous night, it wasn't long before I fell asleep. The trip was long enough to get a few much-needed hours of sleep, with enough time to scarf down Princess Twilight's sandwich and come up with a plan. The beginnings of a plan, at least.

Way I figured, there were three options, of which I could do nothing to affect any of them. If Tempest was in trouble, well, any pony who could attain the rank of General in the Storm King's army could handle herself. Alternately, if she had relapsed into villainy, she'd no doubt come a calling once again, most likely with a new army of monsters at her back. Or, if something had killed Tempest Shadow already, there'd be no bringing her back-- not to mention I wanted nothing to do with anything formidable enough to put the likes of Tempest Shadow in the ground.

The solution, of course, was simple. I'd promised Princess Twilight I'd look for Tempest Shadow, but I certainly didn't promise I'd find her. All I'd have to do is lay low for a little while, and then I could return to Ponyville with a couple of exotic souvenirs, a contrite expression, and some fabricated story of how Tempest Shadow's trail ran cold.

By the time the train rolled into Manehattan Station, I found myself feeling something close to optimism. Why, this whole thing would practically be a vacation-- one paid for by Princess Twilight, no less. The real key was to pick the right place to lay low; someplace pleasant ... but plausible enough that a murderous unicorn would possibly go there. Perchertania, perhaps? If I were feeling really ambitious, I might even grow myself a moustache and see what kind of royal hospitality I could soak up before anyone noticed there were two Prince Percherons running about.*

*See: The Prisoner of Zebra.

Ultimately, I decided against a trip to Perchertainia-- mostly because I wanted to keep that particular trick up my sleeve in case I really needed it. No, I figured I could keep a low enough profile by sticking to the larger, more crowded cities: Manehattan, Fillydelphia, maybe even a jaunt to Las Pegasus. All of them paled in comparison to the clubs and bars of Canterlot, of course, but I'd make do. One occasionally has to make sacrifices for the good of Equestria, after all. No, the last thing I wanted was to sail across the whole damn world to chase after some scar-faced megalomaniac. So I'd just 'happen' to miss the tramp steamer that was supposed to take me to Cowloon, and the rest would work out from there.

It was a good plan, a great plan, if I do say so myself-- which is why I of course had to abandon it as soon as I stepped off the train. For right there, staring me in the face, was a newspaper stand, with the headline of the Manehattan Times staring me right there in the face.


I spent the first bit of Princess Twilight's travel money on a newspaper, and immediately scanned the cover story. The headline had the most of it, of course, but I picked a couple of key phrases out, such as “violent escape,” and “swearing revenge,” and “current whereabouts unknown.” Considering I had been instrumental in Cutie Cue's capture, I knew I'd be near the top of her revenge-list. With Carrot Top off ... wherever she was, there was no way I could fight Cutie Cue on my own.

Suddenly, Cowloon seemed like a far more appealing prospect.

Princess Twilight's schedule and instructions were characteristically meticulous. With the added impetus of an escaped murderer out there, I made it from the train station to the docks in record time. Mistmane's Maid was a battered little freighter, probably about as old as her namesake. The boat had everything one would expect from such a vessel: a surly captain, a suspicious-looking crew, and a lingering, briney smell that I care not to remember (no matter how hard I try). Still, the ship was ready to cart me halfway across the globe, and quite speedily at that. No sooner had I gotten situated on board, the captain started barking out orders, and so we were underway.

I leaned against the stern railing of the Mistmane's Maid, watching the city as we set out. The thrum of the engines and the splash of the waves fromed a steady, almost hypnotic rythm-- that was in soon broken by, of course, the sound of a mare shouting my name.

“Flash! There you are!”

For a moment, I feared Cutie Cue had found me already-- until I realized the voice came from above me, and Cutie Cue didn't have wings. And so, I glanced up-- at which point I saw a blonde pegasus with a gray coat and a lazy eye come a-swooping down on me with the sort of speed that could've gotten her into the Wonderbolts.

“Ditzy?” I managed to recall her name. “What in blazes are you doing here.”

“Looking for you!” Ditzy Do skidded to a halt beside me, panting. Her coat shone with sweat, and her wings trembled. “You've got to help!”

“I, er, I'll do what I can, but I'm afraid I'm otherwise occupied--”

“It's about Carrot Top.” Ditzy Do looked up at me, eyes (well, eye) pleading.

“It is?”

“Something's happened, but I don't know what. While you were giving your lecture at Princess Twilight's school, I delivered her mail-- you know, bills junk mail, that sort of thing –but there was one letter that really got her attention. She took one look at it, and then she told me that she had to go-- but she wouldn't tell me where. I ... I've never seen her act like that, even when she was ... um, on the job.”

“Wait, you know--”

“She's my best friend. So I know ... enough. Not the whole story. I don't want to know the whole story, either, honestly. But I'm worried. Carrot Top tried to throw the letter away before she left, but I miiiight have hung onto it. Here.” Ditzy Do pulled a torn envelope out of her mailbag and foisted it on me. “Does this look familiar to you?”

I slid the letter out of the envelope and looked it over. There wasn't a return address, of course-- nor were there any words at all. Just a simple pictograph: four rectangles, arranged into a square. Some kind of mathematical puzzle, perhaps? I shook my head, and looked back at Ditzy Do. “Not in the slightest.”

“Oh.” Ditzy Do's ears splayed back. “I ... I was hoping you knew. Especially after I heard you took the train to Manehattan-- my friend Boxcars told me Carrot Top left Ponyville just a few hours before you did.”

“She did?” I said, and looked out to Manehattan, wondering just what sort of trouble that would make Carrot Top drop everything and head to the big city. I ran a brief timeline in my head; the newspaper announcing Cutie Cue's breakout was fresh as of that morning-- could Carrot Top have gotten the news earlier than that, somehow? And where did the strange, pictographic letter come from?

“I was just hoping-- “

“I'm sorry, Ditzy.” In contrast to most of the apologies I've given over the years, I meant it. “I ... I've got no idea where she's gone. She could be halfway across the world by now, if she caught an airship or a boat out of Manehattan like I did. But ... Carrot Top can handle herself. And if she doesn't want to be found, well ... she doesn't want to be found. I wouldn't even know where to look.”

“Then what are you doing on this boat?”

“I'm not at liberty to give the details, but I'm on assignment from Princess Twilight herself.” Which sounded a fair bit better than 'I'm running away from an escaped killer,' at the very least. “I can't just drop everything to look for Carrot Top.”

“Oh. Oh.” Ditzy Do held a hoof up to her mouth. “One of ... those things, huh?”

“I'm afraid so.”

“Well, I'm not gonna stop looking.” She nodded, resolute, and splayed her wings out, rejuvenated after her brief rest. “I'll stay here in Manehattan to see if I can find any leads. If I do, I'll send you a letter--” The grey pegasus paused, glancing around. “Where are you headed, anyway?”

“Cowloon. It's a ... long story.”

“Really?” Ditzy Do said, blinking. “Why does that sound kind of familiar ... ?” she shook her head, and then looked over her shoulder to Manehattan again. “Nevermind, I'd better go. Just ... be careful, Flash. I don't want to have to tell Carrot Top that's something's happened to you. She ... “ Ditzy Do paused, biting at her lower lip. “She cares about you, Flash.”

As the pegasus looked up at me, full of the foolish hope and optimism that came from assuming my heroic reputation wasn't a sham, I couldn't bring myself to say anything. Ditzy Do must have taken that for agreement, because she just smiled, pulled me into a brief hug, and took off to the air once again, flapping back towards Manehattan (albeit at a more leisurely pace).

It wasn't until Ditzy Do was well out of earshot that I let my mind go back to the letter Carrot Top had left for me, and I finally gave voice to my thoughts.

"At least she used to.”