• Published 7th Oct 2012
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Dusk's Dangerous Game - Airstream

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Opening Move

A purple unicorn sat in her tower high above the trees of the Everfree Forest, the evening oil of her lanterns burning bright against the gathering blackness of the twilight hour outside. The light glinted off of her mane, a simple black streaked with purple, pink, and a band of deep red. The mare herself noted that her hair had begun to grey a bit, though she was hardly approaching thirty years of age, a quarter of the way through her life if it was to be considered average. Of course, Twilight Sparkle's life was anything but average, as the events of past years had attested.

Her gaze lit briefly on a map tacked to her wall, displaying the city streets of Canterlot. Several buildings were marked in red, denoting hideouts and supply centers, as well as a short list of agents stationed in the Capitol. After taking the information presented to her, she turned to a locked scroll case that was kept very nearly constantly by her side. Her horn flashed, and one end fell open, allowing her to review the simple roll of parchment inside. She read over its contents one more time, before rolling it back up and putting it away, frowning to herself.

A sound of hooves echoed from the hallway, and Twilight turned to see the familiar and admonishing face of the mare she loved behind her. "Altro Ala Mia, what are you still doing up? Come to bed, you've been awake since dawn."

"I can't, Tara. I'm so close to finally giving us the upper hoof, but there's just nopony I can trust to take this last position. I need somepony on the inside, respected enough to gain trust but not so well known as to attract attention, and with the necessary skillset to accomplish this without a hitch."

"You need a perfect spy."

"No, that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid. Spies are spies, they act a certain way and attract suspicion by avoiding suspicion. I need something different, something less...one-dimensional." she said, as she trotted over to her window, looking down at the courtyard below. It was the changing of the Guard, ponies in dark armor taking over their comrades' posts as the sun dipped behind the trees. Twilight watched as the magical defenses she had helped to build around the castle were activated.

"A difficult task, to be sure. Have you asked Glimmer?"

There was a beat of silence. "Tara, you're brilliant. I'm going to make that up to you. Give me an hour, and then I'll be along. And could you call her in?"

The grey Pegasus smiled broadly. "Of course. One hour, mind. No more. And then I'm going to ensure that you sleep." With that, she kissed Twilight on the cheek, trotting out through the same door she had entered.

Twilight contemplated the scene in front of her. Her castle, the Regia, was layed out before her. Her walls were strong, the battlements patrolled by elite soldiers, protected by the most powerful wards and spells known to ponykind. With the help of her Steward, she had ensured that beyond the fields of food she could see in the distance, any pony traveling through the woods towards this castle with hostile intent would quickly be dealt with. So why did she feel so unprotected?

She swiftly realized that Tarantella's idea would not, in fact, work. Her deadline was only a few short weeks away, and it took more time than she had to place an agent into position, especially with the kind of talents she needed.

A soft sound behind her caused her to jump slightly, and she turned around swiftly, only to sigh in relief at the sight of the snow-white Pegasus hovering a few inches above her carpet. "You wished to see me, Milady?"

Twilight sighed. She had tried to dispense with the idea of "Lady Twilight" and "Milady", and had been completely unsuccessful. Especially with Glimmer's kind. Her young assistant had a very defined sense of social order and hierarchy, and clung to that tightly. This made her invaluable as a diplomat, and combined with her talent for organization and curious nature, she was the ideal candidate for Twilight Sparkle's new assistant when Spike was away.

"Glimmer, how would you go about getting an agent into place in Canterlot before the Midwinter solstice?"

The Pegasus frowned. "Even for us, it would be impossible. These things take time, especially so close to the breast of our opposition."

Twilight slumped. "That's what I thought. Can you think of no way to place an agent in that time?"

Glimmer sensed the quiet desperation coming from her mistress. "We cannot place an agent. But you could recruit one."

Twilight looked at her curiously. "Recruit?"

"Yes. Take a pony already in place. Bribe them, threaten them, do something to turn them. Give them your order. With Celestia's grip on the minds of Equestria, it will be difficult. But not, I think, impossible."

Twilight thought about that for a moment. For the most part, the ponies of Equestria acted normally. But such was Celestia's hold on them that many would resist that sort of treatment, especially if they knew it would harm the Princess. It was infuriating, that magically induced loyalty they all retained. There were ways to get around it, of course, but it would be difficult to do so without raising suspicion. Twilight realized that she might have to break her promise to Tarantella.

"Thank you, Glimmer. You may leave."

"Would Milady like me to tidy up the room?"

"That would be fine, if you like. Leave the charts on the table out, and be careful you don't fall off the bookshelves."

"Very good, Mistress."

As the young mare busied herself clearing the room, she flew over to a nearby radio, face screwed up in concentration as she fiddled with the dials. Signal was difficult to come by in the Everfree, but Twilight's tower had better reception by far than the rest of the castle. With a hum, music filled the room, a soulful voice singing about the sky falling. Twilight recognized the tune, and tapped her hoof along as she pulled forward a list of prominent ponies in Canterlot. She checked off the names one by one, rejecting them as she looked over their qualifications and traits. This one was too old, and far too loyal to Equestria. That one wasn't well-known enough to access the parts of Canterlot Twilight would need him to access. The song faded out, and Twilight listened as a voice came over the air, one that sounded surprisingly familiar.

"That was 'Sky Fall', an up and coming new hit from Sapphire Shores for part of her new album, The Fires of Whitetail. Up next we have 'From the Khan With Love', an old hit from Blue Note and the Bass Gang, right after the commercial break here on the Canterlot Broadcasting Network. This is your host for the evening Sweetie Belle, and we will return right after these messages."

Suddenly, everything fell into place. Twilight smiled, double checking the variables in her mind. Glimmer turned, her head cocked to one side. "Mistress? Do you need me to take a note for you?"

"Yes, Glimmer. Get a message to Grapevine, ask him to find out everything he can about CBC and a new host of theirs, a young unicorn by the name of Sweetie Belle. Tell him it's urgent and secret. I want a report on my table in two days if he can swing it."

Glimmer nodded. "Of course, Milady. Anything else?"

"One more thing. Contact Chrysalis and tell her we might be needing a few warrior drones. If this goes right, we will have to pull out of Canterlot entirely, and I'd rather not leave our agents unprotected."

The Pegasus sighed, setting the books down gently and trotting over to the window. With a rush of green magic, the young Changeling dropped her disguise and used her now-reformed body to send a message out over the wind. A moment later, she buzzed an acknowledgement. Focusing, she re-instated her new body, panting with exertion. "She will be able to spare them, if they are given bodies to wear."

Twilight walked beside her, nodding in approval. "You're getting better. Soon you'll be able to wear the body you created just as easily as your copies."

The mare smiled in gratitude before returning to her work. Twilight Sparkle looked out of her window, over the fields and trees below. It was hidden by distance, but she could sense Canterlot staring back at her. She allowed herself the small luxury of pride, though she had little opportunity to display it in the past. This was it, she could feel it. The endgame had begun.

Celestia was waiting on her next move, and Twilight Sparkle's final gambit would pay for all. "That's all well and good," she mused, "But gambits rarely go well for the pawns."

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