• Published 17th Dec 2011
  • 8,849 Views, 624 Comments

Banishment Decree - Neon Czolgosz

Gryphon warriors don't get fired, they get banished.

  • ...

4. Book of Names, Part 2

“It sounds like a simple job” I say, nibbling on some seedcake “We provide passive security for one of Brickbat's dweebs, make sure he doesn't double cross anyone, and recover the case if anything goes wrong.”

We're in La Tige Peu d'Herbe, an upmarket cafe that does great food for ponies and passable food for griffons. Still, the place has a great selection of wines; and it's nice to be sitting outside on a balmy spring afternoon, eating food and planning jobs with friends.

“What's Brickbat paying you?” asks Dash.

“Two thousand bits” says Trixie, a little too fast.

“Trixie!” I say, “These are trusted friends, we don't need to lie about crap like that.” Trixie stares daggers at me. “We're getting paid eight thousand” I say to Dash and Twilight “and you're both welcome to a cut.”

“So you're actually getting paid sixteen thousand?” Dash says, deadpan. Before I can speak, she breaks out laughing.

“Gilda, please. I'm an ex-Wonderbolt, I'm living rather comfortably indeedy on retirement and consulting fees, and Twilight is the Princess' protégée, she's hardly struggling. It's you that needs the money, and her too probably,” she says, waving her hoof at Trixie.

“Trixie will have you know that she has a great many bits squirrelled away and is merely trying to find a new source of income after having her last job cruelly taken from her,” says Trixie, glaring at me, “She needs not your pity, for the Great and Powerful Trixie desires to retire to some island on the Clopagos instead of a dreary cloud house over some backwater near the Everfree.” Dash snorts derisively.

“You've got a job taking less than a week that involves babysitting a delivery donkey and doesn't require anything illegal on our part; and it's paying sixteen thousand bits? And those sixteen thousand are supposed to be split between two ponies? That seems... odd. Suspicious even.” says Twilight with a frown.

“True, but it's probably not a set up. It doesn't have us doing anything obviously illegal, we don't have to be in any specific place, and you don't bait someone with too good money. Sixteen thousand bits will be Brickbat's way of telling us 'there are details about this job I can't tell you directly, I can't trust anyone cheaper than you, watch all the angles, do your homework blah blah etcetera'” I say.

“So we do our homework” I say, “Trixie, go to the Sunny Skies Office Complex where the meeting is happening. The meeting is in a conference room on floor seventy-six, find out the booking and work details for all the nearby rooms and floors. Find out what keys they use and make sure we have bumps on hoof. Sound good?” Trixie sips her Manehattan and nods.

“Dash, tonight would be a good night to wine and dine - well, scotch and slops more like – any police buddies with an ear to the ground. Check there's nothing big going on, check if Brickbat or any of the other bosses are being moved on, check if it looks like a gang war or some crap is starting up. You can handle that?” I ask.

“Oh mare, I just get the worst jobs.” Dash grins.

“I hope your analyst skills are still up to scratch, Twilight. You need to look over the crime stats, business stats, city health records, all those kind of things. Do some digging and see what you can find out.” I pass her a manilla folder. “A list of names and important details for the major criminals and half-legitimate businessponies in the city; Trixie made it about a year ago. Check records and newspapers and see if there's anything interesting. I'm guessing you know the standard quant tricks, knowing that smuggling is up if lots of little import-export businesses have sprung up but the city isn't getting tons of new taxes in, all that stuff yeah?”

“Oh sure, I did that stuff all day back in Tarandroland and read up on it more afterwards” Twilight says, nodding. “Hay, all I need now is a bowl of moss soup, somedeer accusing me of starting an orgy and Princess Luna telling me to murder somepony and it's like I never left hah hah haahh...” She trails off as she sees our faces. Rainbow Dash has a poker face. Trixie's head is tilted sideways and she has an eyebrow cocked. I remember to close my beak.

“So anyway...” I say, “Did you guys go see your friend?”

“What, Pinkie?” says Dash, “Yeah, we did. Mare was she busy, haven't seen her rush around this much since the parasprite infestation.”

“This new consulting job of hers is a ton of work, she's really stressed” says Twilight, obviously glad that the conversation had moved away from orgies and murder, “After we're done here, we should throw her a party, she looks like she needs it.” Dash nods, and Twilight downs her wine.

Trixie then speaks. “It will be a long day tomorrow, and the Great and Powerful Trixie requires her beauty sleep. We should make a move back to our room.”

We pay the bill and leave.

* * *

If you're in a city and trying to keep a low profile, don't stay at a dingy hostel, cheap motel or two star hotel. They're the first places criminals, bail-jumpers and other poor dweebs go when they're on the run, so they're crawling with cops and bounty hunters and the owners are only too happy to tip them off. Also the rooms always smell funny, the service is awful and they stock nothing in the minibars but Smirnhoof vodka and that foul Buck Daniels whiskey.

Go to a four star hotel instead, wearing a rumpled suit and thick framed glasses. You look like another businesspony or bird among thousands and no one blinks an eyelid. The receptionists don't know criminals by sight and aren't on first name terms with the people after them. On top of that, the service is just great, the rooms are the nicest outside of Canterlot and the minibar is stocked with Johnny Trotter Black. I've gone through about four of them and I feel warm and fuzzy inside.

'Course, I've got my beak buried in Rainbow Dash's soft, downy wings. That makes me feel pretty warm and fuzzy too.

Trixie is in the next room, using her showmare voice. She must be showing Twilight some of her newer illusions. Unicorns, honestly. I tug one of Dash's secondaries a little too hard, just to hear her gasp.

Twilight is saying something, there is a sudden noise of a spell being cast and then silence. Ah, Twilight will have instantly copied a spell it took Trixie weeks to learn, or just done a far more impressive version. Trixie is going to go absolutely-

Trixie is talking excitedly and asking Twilight a ton of questions about whatever the hay she just did.


Whatever. My entire world is sleek, soft feathers and the smell of cheap shampoo. I could spend all night doing this, nipping at Dash's feathers and running my claws through her mane. Back in Speedsters I'd knit knots into her mane to annoy her, but now I'm just gently scratching her head like a nice molly.

Twenty minutes later I'm done on her left wing and go to mix up another drink. Rainbow Dash is lying on her bed in a puddle of pegasus. We both take a drink, and then I dive beak first into Dash's right wing. Her feathers ruffle against my face, and it's wonderful.

“So how'd you end up in the 'bolts?” I ask Dash through a beak-full of down.

“Mmm, did an audition, spent a year or so in cadets, got myself up into the B-squad and then after some missions and a show got picked by the A-squad.” Her secondaries twitch, stroking my face and ears.

“Picked by the A-squad huh? You were screwing all of them, or just the captain?” I ask.

“No, but I did save three of their lives at once” she says, smug as a kitten.

“Oh please, you're not that good in bed.”

“The Young Fliers Rainboom, look it up,” she says, “Anyhoo, after a mission to rescue a diplomat to the Llama Nations Soarin was all like 'yo, why don't we take Rainbow Dash and push her onto the A-squad”

“So Soarin got you into the 'bolts?” There's a knot in the muscle at the far edge of the secondaries; I grind my beak into it to ease it out. That gets a moan out of her.

“Most of the official stuff was Spitfire, but Soarin was pretty much my mentor from when I left cadets onwards.”


“He taught me a lot of things back when I didn't think I could learn nothing from nopony. He taught me to tuck and roll in a crash, stopped me from going crazy half a dozen times in training and he saved my life in Tarandroland. I miss him.”

“He sounds like Scratchy” I say, easing off the muscle and going back to the feathers.

“Wait, your uncle? That one with the eyepatch?”

“Hah, 'uncle' Scratchy, that's him. He's why I'm going to get this banishment notice removed, he's getting old now and there's no way the last bender we went on is going to be the last time we saw each other. He taught me three very important things that will always stick with me.”

“What were they?”

“Pegasi dig scars, liver shots don't leave bruises and napalm sticks to foals.”

“Oh mare Gilda, I'd forgotten griffon advice. It's the best kind. Hey, I've got a tough patch of coverts, could you get into them? They've been giving me problems for ahhhhhhmmmghhh...” I dive straight into the patch she was talking about, moving quickly from feather to feather, trapping each of them between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. The muscles under the thin feathers ease out as I tug gently on them. Dash lets out something between a moan and a whimper and beats her hind legs against the bed.

Ten minutes later I'm dragging my beak down her furthest primary and slowly sliding a claw down her flank. She's practically purring.

“Hey Gilda, how did you get this job so quickly after getting banished? It pays pretty well for something Trixie found out about a few days ago” says Dash, after I straighten the last feather. She gives her wings a spastic ruffle to make the down settle nicely.

“Oh, Brickbat owed Trixie a favour so he kept this job open for us, she Hoofdini'd some asshole for him a little while ago.”

“Wait, what does Hoofdini'd mean?” asks Dash.

“Oh, it's this magic trick that Trixie does. She takes a bunch of knives, some tarpaulin and a bag of quicklime and makes a pony disappear” I say. Dash turns and looks at me, open mouthed and wide eyed. It takes her a second to realise I'm not kidding.

We can still hear Trixie and Twilight through the walls. They're giggling and screaming, and the room sounds of magic and loud *phlumphs *. I think they're having a pillowfight.

Dash dives for the door and I jump on top of her.

“-Celestia, Twilight's sharing a room with that psychopath and you didn't-”

“Dash calm the buck down, it's not like that at-”

“-you just said she cuts ponies into pieces, how is it not like that-”

I flip her over and pin her. She was strong, and I'm glad she's half trying to reach the door instead of trying to fight me back.

“Dash, the last three ponies it happened to were a rapist, a pimp and a mare-beater. Trixie might seem a little crazy sometimes but she's got a heart of gold I promise, and she's never fucked over a pony who didn't have it coming to them.” I'm pleading, something I try not to do very often.

“Gilda, I swear if she does anything to Twilight-”

“Then I'll have lost my clan and the best friend I've ever had. I promise, Dash, she's not like that, and being around a mare like Twilight only makes her more normal. Well, still a dweeb but relatively more normal, y'know?”


“Come on Dash, Trixie has saved my tail more times than I can count. Besides, didn't Twilight say she'd killed somepony back in Tarandroland? Sounds like they should get along just fine” I say, attempting a stern glare.

“Oh that? Oh that was nothing- Oh fine,” she says, seeing my expression “But I'm keeping an eye on her. And you're paying for all the drinks.” She goes back to the bed and onto her belly. I start to rub the muscles between her withers and her wings. She turns back into a pegasus puddle.

“So Dash – You wanna fool around?”

I'd forgotten how hard she could slap with her wings.

* * *

Half of my wonderful saddlebags of tradecraft that I dug from the sewers is uniforms. There's a reason that law enforcement and armed forces have to train their checkpoints and patrols to yell 'oi!' and ask for identification from everyone they see: nopony is going to call out somebird in maintenance overalls just because they don't recognise them, partly out of embarrassment and partly because they don't want to wait six months to get a broken toilet unclogged.

These hundred-floor cloudscrapers that rent office space out to two dozen companies who all hire their own private maintenance guys are easier than a tom during beakball season. Carry a box of tools, have sweat patches on your uniform and look like you'll tear the spleen from the next person that bothers you. Everypony will avoid you like a rabid weasel.

Today I'd actually picked a tinker's overalls. Tinkers are expensive, specialised and complete prima donnas, so nopony bothers to keep them in-house. I had my disguise, my toolbox and my completely unnecessary sunglasses. Time to get to work.

I walk into Sunny Skies Offices and make a beeline for the least crowded elevator. I see Mr Tweedhooves flirting with a receptionist, who is giggling and searching through some files. When I get to the elevator I press the button for the top floor. I get a pretty wide berth from the two stallions inside. Ponies, honestly. Walk into an elevator with a set of talons and no deodorant and they act like something's the matter.

Ponies come in and out for a while, but after floor fifty there's no one but me. I strip off the control panel and stop the elevator between floors. Using some complicated technomancy and a pre-built arcane circuit customised to the make and model of the elevator and you can program it remotely to do whatever you want. You can make it go up, down, up if it has more than five ponies in it, down at two past midday every other Tuesday, everything but make you a meatloaf and give you a paw-job.

I do not have a pre-built arcane circuit customised to the make and model of the elevator. I have some decayed flakes of sapphire from a gemstone battery and a small bottle of Uber-Glue. With some messy-but-effective technomancy I glue specks of sapphire onto the wires connecting the buttons for floors 70 to 80. Send a wave of magic at the right frequency, the sapphires heat up and melt the wires, and no one can reach any of those floors until someone gets a replacement circuit.

Next thing I do is take out a little gift from Twilight that Trixie was raving about, a black piece of stone the size and shape of an acorn's cap. I put it into the top corner of the elevator with uber-glue, and tap it three times while whistling. It glimmers and then becomes the exact colour of its surroundings, pretty much invisible. It's a portable hole, and it will let us keep an eye on anything in it's line of sight if I heard Trixie right.,

One elevator down, five more to go.

* * *

The next bit needs a little finesse. I have to get into the maintenance section in the second basement, but it will be full of the in-house maintenance guys, who will know that I'm not one of them. I can't risk sparking one out or directly lying to any of them, because they're diligent little horseapples who will check over all their equipment to make sure nopony has nicked or damaged it. My plan relies on them not doing any of that.

I get out of the elevator with Trixie, who is now a pink unicorn mare with curled red hair, dressed in a very well-fitted business suit. She had found an empty office and stuffed it full of marketing literature, free t-shirts, those pens that have a laser pointer on the other end and donuts for a gadget and technomancy training company. Knowing Trixie, she's probably getting paid by them to do this.

The central maintenance room is a short walk down the hallway on the left. I hide in a cleaning closet opposite the door. Trixie goes into the room.

I can't hear her exact words, but I know she's telling all the maintenance guys about a marketing meeting for Advanced Equine Technomantics or whoever and promising free donuts and toys. Excited murmurs come from the room, before several ponies trot out. Trixie coughs twice as she walks passed the door, a signal that the room is free.

I wait a minute and then go into the room. It's a classic dweeb-cave. Antibiotic spray on all the desks, posters for Japonese cartoons and My Little Ape, bizarre gadgets, half-built circuits and gem matrices, empty pizza boxes and Red Taurus cans. At the back is the main circuitry cupboard.

I'm no master sourcerer when it comes to circuits, but I've had enough experience on the job to know the circuit for the building fire alarms when I see it. With some solder, a few crocodile clips and a doohickey from Trixie, we can remotely activate the main alarm. This will turn on the sprinklers, send the elevators to the next available floor and shut them down, and turn on a blaring alarm through the entire building.

I hear the door latch click, and dive straight into the cupboard. Not a smart move on my part. It isn't hard to bluff your way out of being in the maintenance room when the head tinker isn't there. It's less easy to bluff your way out of being inside the main circuitry cupboard with a soldering iron and a bunch of wires.

“-yeah she's nice and all, but she's a total muggle and I don't know if it can work out. I mean, last night she asked me if the analytic engine would still work if you put the wrong numbers into it. What's up with that?” The voice comes from a young stallion, he still has a coltish waver in his voice.

“You silly colt, it took me a week to explain the difference between bit rate and baud rate to you-” says a more mature voice, before being cut off.

“Bro you've been in tinkering for less than a year longer than me, and I was having a real bad week-”

“Whatever, progress is fast in technomancy. All I'm saying is that you could do a LOT worse than Saffron for a marefriend, you get me?”

“Yeah, I guess, but she's so...”

“Look, you haven't had the pleasure of training the FNP yet, trust me when I say that ninety percent are like that and then ten that aren't will make you look bad by comparison. Besides, you're in an awesome position. You get to be the powerful and smart technician and she gets to be the pupil who is eager to learn and eager for her teachers praise bro, eh? Eh?”

The younger one laughs. “Whatever dude, just pick up the carrot-cola crate and lets be back up before those buckers eat all the donuts.”

A minute later they are gone and I walk out in peace. I am a lucky griffon sometimes.

* * *

A few hours later we are back at the hotel room, and I'm going through the plan for tomorrow.

“Rainbow Dash, there are three good observation points between O'Brayens and Sunny Skies that give you a great line of sight and no chance of being seen. I'll be covering the two points inbetween so you can hop between them, but that shouldn't be a problem for the fastest pegasus in Cloudsdale right?”

“Nag please, fastest pegasus in Equestria these days!” Dash says smugly.

“What about Scootaloo?” asks Twilight.

“Only on certain tracks, not straight line speed and I said fastest pegasus in Equestria” snaps Dash. Twilight rolls her eyes. I'll have to track down this Scootaloo. I don't know if she's the fastest pegasus in Equestria, but she sounds like a valuable asset for annoying a certain cyan mare.

“Anyway, that should take care of the target until Sunny Skies, at that point we hoof off surveillance to Trixie, who will hoof off to Twilight when the target gets into the elevators. We have complete coverage of floor seventy-six, me and Twilight will be watching from the supply closet up there. We'll be able to talk through these cool headsets Twilight has given us,” I say, pointing to a set of them on the room's table. “Then Trixie joins us in the closet for surveillance and Dash keeps up coverage from the outside of the building. Any questions guys?”

“What happens if the target tries to hoof off to someone else before the hoof off?” asks Twilight.

“Contact the rest of the team through the headsets. Dash, if they do it outside, track the case and keep us up to scratch. Trixie, if they do it inside, follow them. If they try it after they get into the elevators, we shut the elevators down, I retrieve the case and set off the fire alarm to cover our exit,” I say.

“Who's buying the case anyway?” asks Dash.

“Brickbat doesn't know, just that they'll been in the large conference room on floor seventy-six of Sunny Skies at three in the afternoon tomorrow,” I say.

“Hey, if something goes wrong won't it be hard to sort it out with all the civvies running about?” ask Dash. I've got to give the mare credit, she actually pays attentions in briefings now. Then again, the last briefings we went to were for mock missions back in flight school; and I didn't pay much attention to those either. Too much pegasus flank around to think about crap like that.

“There are two conference rooms, a large lounge and a supply closet on that floor, and only one room is booked. We're going to send a magic pulse to disable the elevators from accessing that floor after everyone has arrived and we can evacuate the entire building with the fire alarm if things get really hairy. We've got eyes on all the main entrances to seventy-six and vibration sensors in the ventilation to give us a heads up if anyone attacks the meet. Sound good?” I ask. Dash nods.

“Did you check the list of keys that Trixie so magnanimously provided you with?” asks the powder blue ex-showmare. I pull a set of keys out of a bag.

“Bump keys for all the office and supply closet doors in the entire building, that should have us covered,” I say.

“So that's all? We just watch Brickbat's courier, watch the meeting and then we're done?” asks Dash.

“Hopefully. Twi, Dash, how did the intel gathering go?” I ask.

Dash pipes up first. “I spread a few drinks around and talked to a few sergeants I know in the local police. Sounds like business as usual. No big stings planned, no chatting about some awesome assignment that they just can't tell you about. Twi found some stuff out though.” I turn to the purple librarian.

“There's been a huge increase in organised crime over the past few years, but it's hard to see unless you really comb through the data” she says “I looked up those names you gave me and used newspaper records to see where they had been operating. Not the most reliable method but it worked well enough, see, I found that where these guys have been at work, fire and buildings insurance has gone way up, interest rates on bank loans are way higher, business profits are lower, all those signs of racketeering.

“There are other subtler signs too, like restaurants that do a crime gang's regional dishes doing really well where all the other places are being burned down or falling like dominoes; import-export businesses setting up just like you said.”

“So Brickbat has a little more competition than he's letting on these days. Good to know. Anything else?” I say.

“Yeah, it looks like it might be coming to boil. One of the reason I could track down these guys so easily is because they keep popping up in the papers after being hospitalised after a beating or being dragged out of a burning building that happened to be full of smuggled goods and counterfeiting devices. I mean, you said these were supposed to be heavy hitters and front guys, the exact people who should never be turning up in these articles. It's like they're starved for funds and are having to do riskier and riskier things, but we're in an economic boom so it shouldn't be a problem even for bottom feeders,” she says, almost exasperated “Either every criminal in Equestria has suddenly decided that they want a piece of Fillydelphia, or there's something even weirder going on that I can't work out in just a day.”

Interesting. Brickbat is probably half expecting an attack of some kind but isn't going to say it for some reason. "Anyway, we should all hit the hay. Big day tomorrow, ponies” I say with a yawn.

I don't even hit on Dash that night.

* * *

“You got a visual yet Dash?” I ask. I'm hidden inside a small, low hanging cloud staring at a patch of street through a pair of binoculars.

“Nah not- Wait, that Fourleaf donkey just walked out of O'Brayens. He's got a briefcase on his saddle that he didn't go in with.” Dash is watching O'Brayens and the surrounding streets from a cafe in the Happy Hooves shopping tower. She'll be wearing a hoodie and her hair would have been dyed cobalt. “He's with another donkey and a big draughtspony,” she says.

“A grey draughtspony?” asks Trixie through the headsets.

“Yeah, you know him?” asks Dash.

“That'll be Cracky Fetlocks. Trixie has worked with him, he's a tough pony,” says Trixie.

“They're walking in the right direction, I'll tell you guys when I need to move” says Dash. First five minutes of the operation and nothing has gone wrong. Not bad. I best check on Twilight.

“Yo Twi, is all your arcane scrying shite up and running?”

“Uh, let me go through the checklist...” comes her voice “Yeah, I can see everything I need to. Your equipment is set out, and the node is set up for the one-use teleporter.”

“Cool. You got eyes on all five elevators?” I ask.

“There are six elevators,” says Twilight flatly.

“Just checking.” Smart mare.

Fourleaf and his cronies take a pretty straight route to Sunny Skies, apart from a stop at a hay fries stand near Dash's second observation point where they are joined by a frightened looking, slope-shouldered businesspony. Half an hour later they're walking along the street towards Sunny Skies.

“Hey guys, three ponies have just arrived on seventy-six,” says Twilight through the headset, “and there's another three coming up on the elevators to floor seventy-six.”

“Keep us posted. Trixie, you got eyes on Fourleaf yet?” I ask.

“I see them now, can't talk,” she says.

“Hey Trixie, did you ever get over being shown up by two colts and a bear back in Ponyville?” asks Dash, voice full of malice. Trixie can't reply, but I think she's trying to broadcast rays of pure hatred down the headsets. Twilight scolds Dash, who giggles before mumbling “sorry”.

A minute later, Trixie speaks. “They're in the elevators, time for us to join Twilight. Oh, and Dash? Trixie kicked your flank with a cloud, did you ever get over that?”

I switch on my teleporter just before Dash lets out a torrent of swearwords.

* * *

One use of Twilight's teleportation device and I know I'm not a fan. I now know what milk feels like when it's being turned into butter. When my eyes refocus, I realise we're in the supply closet for floor seventy-six. Twilight and Trixie are sitting next to each other, with various bits of arcana, runes and technomantics around them.

They had drawn circles on the wall, and those circles had magical views of all the elevators, the hallway of this floor and of the conference room. The conference room is massive, with a glass table for big enough for twenty ponies and an overhead projector. Two of the walls are windows overlooking Fillydelphia. Trixie had apparently stuck a portable hole in the light fixtures in there.

I turn to my small bag of equipment on the floor. It contains a gas mask, a stab vest, two fear-gas grenades and a beakball bat. Not as fancy as all that unicorn stuff, but it gets the job done. I slip the vest on and turn to the two mares.

“How we doing?” I ask.

“The meeting has just started. It looks like everypony is there, I'm going to shut off elevator access to this floor,” says Trixie, sending a wave of magic from her horn to a set of chalk runes on the floor. They flash indigo and fade back to grey.

“Sweet. You wanna play 'Spot the Mook'?” I ask.

“Trixie would like that, you go first.”

“What's this you're doing?” asks Twilight, geeky enthusiasm dripping from her voice.

I look across at her. “Oh it's just this game we play on stakeouts where you figure out who ponies are and who they're working for from the way they act and look, you kinda need a good knowledge of spooks and crooks though-”

“Ooh, that sounds really fun! Can I have a go?” she says.

Trixie shrugs and gives me a 'why not?' look. “Go on then, no points for guessing that those donkeys work for Brickbat,” I said.

“Those two” Twilight says, pointing a hoof at the viewing portal “are Equestria Intelligence Service.”

She's pointing to a pair of ponies. On the right is a light gray unicorn stallion wearing a navy cloak with a crimson trim and the chestplate of a Noble House of Pony. His dark grey hair is slicked back and he looks utterly indifferent to everypony and everything around him. The other is a white unicorn stallion, wearing Royal Guard issue pauldrons over a Hawaiian shirt and a hoofball cap over his chestnut brown mullet. He has a thick handlebar moustache, gratuitous sunglasses and a bouncer's facial expression.

Twilight's right. I put on my best poker face, and turn to her. “Hmm. Go on.”

“The one in the cape is a classic middle foal noblepony. He's not getting the big inheritance and gets bored of spending his time boozing and whoring; so joins the army to annoy his family, who get him a half-respectable job as a diplomat after he leaves. At that point he's already got a job with The Guild, as the EIS is colloquially known, and they are only too happy to use his diplomat job as a cover for his spycraft,” she says, like she read it in a book. Even Trixie looks a little surprised.

“Not bad. How'd you figure that?” I ask.

“Three things,” Twilight says “First is his face. Expression of total detachment. Diplomats on stressful assignments like Dog Nations or the Provincial Donkey Territories look like they're one bad hour away from an aneurysm or nervous breakdown. Diplomats on cushy assignments like Camel Sultanates or Japony have easy, drunken smiles and gin blossoms under the eyes. Spies are the ones who look bored when they're not actively conning or stabbing somepony.

“Second is the way he's dressed. Short, slicked back mane. No flashy jewellery that will glint in the light. Chestplate done in black matte for the same reason, with a more obscure crest, denoting his family's lands or business instead of the standard family crest. You'd have to actually look his crest up to find out who he was. Most nobles want you to know exactly who they are, this one just wants you to know he's a noble and buck off. His cloak is a dull, dark colour with no shiny gold trim that completely obscures his cutie mark.

“The third thing is his friend, who's not the normal bodyguard for a noblepony. He's old-school EIS and doesn't care who knows it. The 'tache, mullet and sunglasses scream 'ex special forces', probably Firecasters or the Special Arcane Service, and he's got a Royal Guard falchion in a quickdraw scabbard, which haven't been issued since the Diamond Dog border conflict four decades ago.

“Look at them separately and you might just have a weird noblepony and a soldier of fortune, but together they send a very clear message: 'We are the guild. We have been in places and times you cannot begin to comprehend. Buck off, mere mortals.'” She finishes her speech and looks at me and Trixie expectantly. I blink twice. By Adune, I hadn't even noticed the falchion.

“Well, top marks for Twilight Sparkle” I say. She beams.

“How do you know all those things? Didn't that pegasus friend of yours say you'd only been on one mission?” asks Trixie.

“Well, I grew up in Canterlot and I've read a fair bit of military history, plus there was a 'diplomat' exactly like that one in Tarandroland,” she says, blushing a little, “I don't know about any of the other ponies in there.”

“Ah, the rest are crooks, our speciality” I say, “My turn now.”

There are Brickbat's three couriers, the Guild ponies, and five others. One is a nervous looking earth pony stallion, running to fat, in a poorly fitting suit. Another is a mint-green earth pony mare wearing a very flamboyant suit, lots of jewellery and a nicely styled mane. There are three ponies sitting together, a handsome unicorn mare in a grey three piece suit, flanked by a wiry, boss-eyed navy unicorn wearing glasses and a fitted black suit, shirt and tie; and an older, grizzled, piss yellow earth pony stallion with a scarred face. He's wearing a track jacket and is made from sinew and hate. Brickbat's donkeys and the terrified businesspony are at one end of the table, everyone else at the other.

“Okay” I say, “The flashy green mare and the sweaty businesspony. Both are dirty money ponies, but from different directions. The businesspony used to be an accountant but got caught doing fraud, now he can't get work except with criminals and the more work he does with them the less chance he has of going legitimate. The crooks know he's not one of them and give him a lot of shit for it, which is why he looks like he's about to piss himself.

“The green mare is the opposite. Started off working at a bookies, grew up around criminals, but went off to university anyway to study business or something. She's now a full on money launderer, knows that no scumbags will touch her partly because she's one of them and partly because every other scumbag would cut them to pieces for cutting them off from their money. Mare's got it made, probably treats jobs like this as social calls.”

“Your turn, Trix” I finish.

On the screen, Fourleaf sticks his briefcase on the table and slides it over to the money launderer mare and the Guildsponies, who open it up and look through the documents inside.

“Trixie has the easiest one of all,” she says with a grim smile “That mare is Nicker Cavallo.” She points at the unicorn in the three piece suit. “And I believe that's Ballpoint with the eyes and Knacker with the face.”

“I saw her name in the newspaper archives a few times” says Twilight “She's wanted for murder I think.”

I laugh. “Oh yeah. Cavallo and her crew have taken out more ponies than your average civil war. Dunno what she's doing in Filly though. Manehattan is her stomping ground, not here.”

Cavallo takes out a briefcase from under the desk and slides it across to the businesspony, who is wiping sweat off his forehead. He clicks the case open.

“Trixie has not heard the exact details, but Cavallo did something very bad in Manehattan and isn't allowed anywhere near that city any more. She acts as a scary liaison between the Macaroni family members who'll still talk to her and their dealings elsewhere in Equestria. Best avoid her if anything goes wrong” says the blue mare.

“Hey Trixie, can you see what's inside that case? It looks like-”

She cuts me off. “Bearer bonds. Let me just focus the lens...” Her horn glows and the image clarifies.

Four winds. Reams of Royal Treasury Gilts, worth five thousand bits each. That case can't be worth less than two million bits. I look at the gas and the bat.

“You know Trixie, we could just beat them all up and steal that case...” I say, slowly.

“NO” come three voices at once

“-there's nine of them against one-”

“-you've got enough people who want you dead-”

“-we'll get found out and-”

“Okay, fine, I get it!” I say, “Dash, is everything clear from the outside?”

“Yup” comes the coltish voice through the headset “No roving pegasus squads on stakeout or ponies climbing up the walls.”

One of the runes near Trixie starts flashing yellow. “Trixie, is there something in the ventilation? The sensors are going off,” says Twilight.

“I'm getting readings but they're not pony sized. Rainbow Dash, can you check if there are any birds flapping around the air vents on the west side of the building?” says Trixie.

“Sure thing, I'm on my way” replies Dash.

“Birds...” says Twilight, looking up like she can't remember something.

I look at the screens. The two money ponies have just finished verifying the contents of the cases.

“Uh, guys?” says Dash, a nervous note in her voice “There's a rope hanging down from the top of the building that wasn't here a minute ago, west side. Twi, you don't think...”

“Oh Princess” says Twilight, eyes wide.

“Okay, now the readings are all over the place, I might need to reset the sensors” says Trixie, concentrating on her runes.

Something catches my eye on the hallway viewing portal.

Something very out of place.

“What the hell is a cannon doing in the middle of the hallway?” I say out loud.

Then a lot of things happen at once.

The cannon goes off, against the door to the conference room. The force shakes the entire floor, and the blast not only knocks the door off its hinges but sends the door into the window across the room hard enough to make a door sized hole in it. A dark figure in a hat and cape appears in the hallway, and lobs an apple-sized lump of metal into the room.

A blinding flash of light comes through the conference room viewing portal. The intruder is using military grade distraction devices. In the second it takes to slip my mask on and grab my bat, the figure shoots into the room, bucks both Guild ponies in the face and dives for Brickbat's case. Fourleaf and Cavallo's minions all dive at the masked pony.

I move to the door, but I'm stopped by telekinetic force.

“Twilight, what the fuck do you think you're doing?!” I yell.

“Look at the screen, Gilda!” says Trixie.

The masked assailant is destroying everyone in the room. She bucks a chair straight into Fourleaf's face and slams hooves first into Cracky the draughtspony, knocking him unconscious. Both money ponies dive for cover and every other pony pulls out a weapon. Some strange coiled rope shoots from one of the masked pony's hooves and goes around the neck of Fourleaf's donkey guard.

The donkey is then thrown hard enough at Cavallo and her guards to knock them across the room. The mustachioed Guildspony charges the figure with his sword, who deflects it like it's not even there, jumps above the Guildspony and brings a shod hoof on the back of his head hard enough to knock him out. His noblepony friend teleports him and himself out of the room.

The masked pony swipes both cases and then dives straight out the window.

“DASH! You fucking see that? The case is outside, keep track of that maniac!” I shout.

“Don't worry, Gilda, we know exactly where it's going?”

“What? Why?” I say, still held in place by telekinesis.

“Because” says Twilight carefully “That maniac is Pinkie Pie.”