• Published 16th Dec 2011
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Daylight Burning - Guesswork



The return of an ancient enemy draws the ponies into a deadly spy game.

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Chapter 4: Red Tape

Chapter 4





"So let me get this straight," said the intelligence agent in his cultured Trottingham accent. He was a charcoal gray earth-pony with a shock of white hair, and he peered down at a sheaf of papers through owlish spectacles. "You and your friends arrived in Ponyville at 0200 hours, at which point you parted ways with the dragon and came directly to the castle?"

"Yes," said Twilight Sparkle for the hundredth time. "Pinkie Pie had a premonition of danger while we were in Fillydelphia. I thought it best to check on Celestia and Canterlot. I only wish I had arrived sooner."

Why is this taking so long? she thought, blinking painfully against the light of the interrogation lamp. It's getting hot in here, and I need to get back to work. I successfully deceived the Nightmare, and once I'm free of this garbage, I can start figuring out what's really going on in this castle...

"Your friend, Pinkamena Diane Pie," the agent said, flipping through the papers quite nimbly with his hooves. "The one with the 'premonition,' as you call it. Chaotic alignment, it says here. Non-magical divination. Conditional reality bending. Very unusual powers for an earth pony. And she has a history with the chimera Discord, am I correct?"

Not this again... "I wouldn't say a history, per se. There was this one time a few years ago he managed to get into her dreams from his stone prison. But it was actually more of a... playful thing. No harm came of it, and it was an easy matter to seal the minor leak in his petrification spell."

"Why didn't she approach you about it immediately?"

Because she liked it. "Pinkie is Pinkie," said Twilight with a sigh. "What more can I say? In the end it was harmless. Romantic, if you must know."

The agent arched an eyebrow. "Actually, that doesn't sound the least bit harmless to me."

"Discord was bored," said Twilight. "There was nothing he could do to affect the real world anymore. And he and Pinkie can be like-minded at times. They were just having fun."

"The last time I checked, Discord was still an evil demigod, master manipulator, and one of the Marenarchy's arch nemeses. Not one of your Ponyville fun-pals. I think that Pinkie Pie's gallivanting clearly constitutes a breach in national security."

"Look," said Twilight. "First of all, you don't have to tell me a thing about Discord. I know all about Discord, okay? Second, I understand how this all seems on paper, but even Celestia waved it off after a time. Those of us who know Pinkie trust her implicitly. In fact, she's saved my life several times. What have you done for me lately?"

The agent was eating honeyed oats out of a bag. "Oats?" he offered.

Twilight just looked at him.

"Intestinal blockage is a real threat, Miss Sparkle," said the agent. "Fiber will save your life, too."

"I get enough fiber, thanks."

"That's what they all say," sighed the agent, shuffling his papers. "But it's never true."

"That's it, I've had enough of this!" said Twilight. "What is your name, anyway?"

The pony gave her a sympathetic half-smile. "I know you won't like this, but my name is privileged information."

"Of course it is," Twilight said. "Of course it is! Well you listen to me, whoever you are. I answer directly to the Princess. Not to you, and not to your boss. Now I am here voluntarily as a favor to Guard Captain Shield Banner, and I do not appreciate being locked up in this tiny room with this lamp in my eyes, while you stuff your face with oats and crack wise at me! Quit bogging me down in administrative nonsense and open this door right now!"

"You know what I think?" said the agent. "I think Luna is still alive."

"You...what?"

"Missing body. And then you come in here with her scent all over you." The agent placed his hoof into the saddlebag that lay against the wall and pulled out a small crystal orb with a single point of light inside.

"A magic dampener?" said Twilight, raising an eyebrow. "Is that really necessary?"

The agent continued to remove orbs until he had half a dozen of them arranged on the table. It was the most Twilight had ever seen together like this. Each cost a king's ransom.

That's enough to slow even me down, she thought, trying not to let her sudden sense of panic reach her face. What in the world are this pony's orders?? Did Nightmare Sun find out about me? Is this my last chance to escape!?

"Expensive toys," she observed. "Don't you think those might be more useful to the ponies tracking down Spike?"

"But I am, Miss Sparkle," said the agent. "You ought to know that you don't fool me one bit. I haven't been in Canterlot long, but I know that ponies around here are a little afraid of you. 'Greatest unicorn in a hundred generations,' the Princess says." He arranged the orbs carefully on the table. The tiny point of light in each one pulsed in sequence as the dampeners began attuning themselves to one another.

"You're making a mistake," said Twilight.

"I know all about you, Miss Sparkle. I've seen your file. I know the real you. They call you an 'operative,' but you're not a war mage and you're not a spy. You're just a librarian. And I can see right through you, Twilight the Librarian. For better or worse, you know what really happened to Luna. And you are going to tell me everything, right now."

She sent a powerful blast of telekinetic force hurtling forward, charging it with enough magic to take down the opposing wall and anything else in her way. Twilight didn't like injuring one of the Princess's soldiers, but it was suddenly now or never.

The massive vortex of energy disappeared down into the six spheres, leaving only a gust of wind that whipped the agent's cloak over his thigh. He was a blank-flank. Secret Police. The agent slammed both hooves down on the desk, causing Twilight to recoil away.

"You're not taking me seriously, Miss Sparkle," he said. "I am not bound to any code of ethics. I can do anything I have to in the name of protecting the Princess. Even to you." He sat back down and fixed his cloak. "I do respect you for trying to escape just now. You're braver than you look. But if you try to scratch me again, kitty, I'm getting you declawed. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

Twilight desperately tried to think of a way out, but there was nothing.

"Yes, Miss Sparkle?"

"Yes."

"Good." He pointed his hoof at her. "I'm going to hold you to that, now, okay?" The agent turned to the door. "Doctor Stables, you may enter."

The door opened and the squat form of the Royal Physician appeared. He didn't make eye-contact with Twilight.

"Give her the shot, doc."

Stables dipped his mouth into his saddlebag, retrieving a single syringe.

"Truth serum," said Twilight.

"Lucky for you," said the agent, as the doctor prepared the injection. "I find that a little chemical persuasion is often more effective than nastier options. The side effects are still rather severe, I must warn you. But I would have to be an idiot to spare you the needle when we've only just met, don't you agree? Now, tell me what you know about the coup attempt tonight, what you really know, and maybe we can avoid this whole unpleasant business."

"Spike is innocent," said Twilight, changing tactics. "He didn't do this. It was Nightmare Moon. She attacked Luna and took control of the Princess's body. The creature wearing the crown is an impostor."

"Well, well," said the agent. "Now we come down to it."

"Whatever happened at the castle tonight had nothing to do with Spike or any of us. Spike has been with me all night in Fillydelphia. Your ponies should have been able to tell you that much."

"Spike is resistant to magical detection, as you well know, Miss Sparkle. It wouldn't be hard for him to fake his whereabouts."

"Well, he didn't. He's been framed by the Nightmare. If you are really Celestia's soldier, then help me."

"Why did you lie in the first place?"

"I had to assume that you would take the impostor's word over mine. Am I wrong?"

"That depends." He leaned forward. "Is Princess Luna alive or not?"

Twilight looked at the agent for a moment. "I don't know."

He scratched his chin with a hoof. "I must admit," he said at last, "your story is so crazy that it rings true. I'm inclined to hear you out. But only under the effects of the serum, of course, just to make sure we have trust between colleagues. Doctor, you may proceed."

"I'll need you to restrain the prisoner," said Doctor Stables gruffly.

"Very well," said the agent, and he walked around behind Twilight and clamped her hooves firmly to her sides.

The doctor approached them and raised the syringe.

"Doctor Stables," said Twilight. "Listen to me. You know this isn't what Celestia would want."

"Hurry up," said the agent.

Stables refused to look at Twilight. He held her shoulder still and set the needle to strike.

I can't believe this is really happening, thought Twilight. I'm sorry, Princess. I almost made it.

"Oops," said Doctor Stables, and he stabbed the needle into the agent's foreleg.

"No!" the agent shouted, slapping the doctor's hoof away, but it was too late. The injection had gone in. "You little sack of mmmmphhh--"

Twilight kept her hoof clamped firmly over the agent's mouth as the tranquilizer tore his strength away. He beat weakly at her foreleg and tried to elbow her in the ribs, but whatever Stables had hit him with was potent. Within ten seconds, the agent was sleeping like a foal.

That's twice you've needed saving in a single night, Twilight, she thought to herself. We've got to get these averages back up.

"Took long enough for him to go down," snorted the doctor. "That clop-promazine cocktail I gave him was the strongest stuff I had."

"Wow...is he going to be okay?"

"Yeah, he should be out for a few hours, though. It's too bad it came to that," said Doctor Stables. "It sounded like he was starting to believe you. Just not fast enough."

"So...so you believe me?"

"Of course I do! I am Celestia's doctor. I had better know when something is disastrously wrong with my patient."

"Oh, thank goodness! Quick, get these dampeners put away." The two ponies scooped the orbs into their lead-lined case. Twilight's horn crackled back to life, spitting off a few purple sparks. She looked towards the doorway. "What about the two guards outside?"

"What guards?" said Stables. "Both of them were called away on emergency orders a few minutes ago."

"How did you manage that? You're just a doctor! No offense."

Stables grunted. "I've been working in this castle for a long time. I know how things work around here. It shouldn't be too hard to escape if you go now."

"I'm sorry, but I can't leave quite yet," said Twilight, putting her saddle bags back on. She kept the dampeners. "In fact, do you think you can get me into Celestia's bedchamber?"

Stables looked her over. "More favors? Wasn't saving your flank enough?"

"Thanks, doctor."

"Oh, think nothing of it!" he grumbled. "And yes, I think I can. But you're going to need a disguise."

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