Pony POV Series
My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic
Shining Armor 14 Part 1
semiT malC-Calm Times
By LZ and Kendell2
Editted by Alexwarlorn and Louis
It was after lunch. We'd once again boarded the ships, and were awaiting the hour we'd leave Zebrawa. Myself, Commander Shepard, Lance-Corporal Audience, and Minuette, were to explain a few things to the bulk of the civilians, after I shared concerns with the Commander that the security detail ahead needed to be taken seriously. The troopers and hoofmaidens had already been informed the night before.
Cadence had felt I was being paranoid again.
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Was she correct?)
I cast a look over the rest of the civilians assembled in the hangar, Cadence's entourage of nearly forty.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Forty? Wow...Why does she get that many when Celestia normally only gets like six guards to pull her chariot?)
One, Celestia's over a thousand years old, so I guess she's a little old school (Cadence is the only ‘contemporary Alicorn', after all). And two, because this was a diplomatic party, so people wanted to tag along, I think Sunset became a Hoofmaiden for that reason.
Plus half were civil servants: accountants, news aggregators, data aggregators, secretaries, even a couple of lawyers. That group was largely autonomous, and Minuette and Sunset were the ones mainly delivering their work to the Princess. I'd kept forgetting to ask to get whatever newspaper clippings from home they prepared.
The rest were two cooks, a group of personal trainers, a group of laundry workers, the dressmaker and her assistants, the pet care specialist without any pets, a masseuse, a pair of personal shoppers, two farriers, an armorer (the Air Navy had snagged him), and the remainder were odd-jobs ponies meant to cover anything else that might crop up. Virtually all of them had been in the background. But I'd wanted to see how they'd been doing and make sure they knew what was happening ahead, as did Commander Shepard.
"Zebrawa was a little tighter for security than we'd hoped but we've not heard any problems reported by you or other civilians on the trip. That said, Triana is at least in theory less secure. Technically, it's still at war with the South. However, there's a large multinational contingent. Columbians, Ponsians, Neighponese, Germanes, Prench. They're all soldiers and largely keep to themselves. The locals however might see foreigners like us as easy marks, so we're going to have to make sure anypony leaving the embassy has their destinations planned and troops accompany them," I said.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): And let me guess, you were going to make sure Cadence saw any destination plans of yours?)
Yes. Most definitely.
"The good news is though, ironically enough the more secure docks mean we don't need to spare as many Air Naval Cavalry to watch the ship. We can have more troops covering you when you go out shopping or on the tourist trail. Technically at war or not, it's a nice city," Shepard added.
Minuette then consulted her notes. Her reaction to finding out more detailed schedules were needed was akin to Twiley when she found out she needed to make an extra large checklist. Seriously, how did those two not know each other?
"Yes, the city has a fair few tourist sites and some museums, mostly filled with things they've dug from the desert. There's no real large parks, mostly just city squares and markets. There's a zoo, and the Grand Bazaar is probably one of the better marketplaces to visit for local flavor. A fair few other nightspots are aimed at the foreign troops, as well as the researchers and contractors coming to do archaeological stuff in the desert..."
"Archaeological stuff?" Somepony asked. Audience spoke up.
"There's a large number of digs in the desert, though many of them are pretty close to the border. As a result a lot of survey teams hire private security firms to protect against raiders. The raids never get too far from the border and they're rarely a real danger, just meant to harass the defenders more than anything. It wasn't that bad when I was there a few years ago."
He hadn't added his mother was probably in the desert at a dig right now, or that by saying so he'd accidentally convinced Cadence and the Hoofmaidens to disregard the 'border raiders' and plan to visit the Equestrian archaeological digs. He'd apologized as soon as they were out of earshot. Still, we'd get to say hello to Doctor Audience hopefully. I hadn't seen her for a while.
"Yes, though I don't think we'll all be going to the digs. Maybe a few... is anypony here maybe interested right now? We'll probably ask nearer the time..."
Despite my still present paranoia, I couldn't help imagining Twiley's reaction had she been present.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Oh! Like this? Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes....)
Hehe, yeah, exactly like that, you're pretty good at it.
"What kind of border raiders are we talking about?" one of the civilians asked.
"Just small groups that come in and cause a ruckus or try to steal things. Nothing serious," I lied.
Bond had told me that was the official line we were to stick to. However, it was an open secret amongst everypony else that some of the raids and groups were Spetsnaz and mercenaries scouting out for a possible conflict. Apparently, things like this happened every few years when the Southern government wanted to distract their citizens from some internal troubles. I had no doubts the Hooviets would play some sort of game while Cadence was here. And I probably would have been even if I wasn't paranoid about Makarov.
Still, the civilians didn't seem as enthusiastic as Cadence about visiting the digs. Though Minuette seemed to be excited about it for some reason.
"Okay, so, a few last things. There's actually a Little Italiponia district here, the Italiponians did most of their Zebrafrican trade here during the Merchanteering Era, so if you speak Italiponian you've got good odds of being understood if they don't know Equestrian. Roughly a third of the population here is actually Donkeys, and finally the food prices, especially fresh or imported stuff, are usually pretty high for tourists," Minuette finished.
"On that last note, by the way, I'd like to add this is a last chance for anypony feeling homesick to head back early. We're unlikely to run into any ships heading back home in the coming months, and there's a supply ship from the Royal Fleet Auxilliary delivering here soon. It'll also be the last chance for those of us staying to stock up on creature comforts from home in decent numbers."
I'd already made sure the ship's loadmasters and galley quartermasters were to be well stocked with teas I liked rather than trying to prepare a stash. Unfortunately, cow's milk wouldn't last long even with the preserving spells - we'd be buying local by Zebrabwe, and most cows in Zebrafrica could command a high price. Maybe I'd need to make a stash of creamer packets, I had thought at the time.
"Anypony have any questions?" Shepard asked.
None were forthcoming.
"All right, then. If you want to order something specific from the RFA ship, there's a couple of Ensigns will be at an information desk at the library, just go there to make requests. "
The crowd began to disperse and head for their cabins. I made sure to catch Audience's attention.
"Lance-Corporal, can you find Corporal Apple and both of you come to my quarters? I need to discuss something with you."
He nodded in reply, only for Minuette to then speak.
"Actually, Captain, can I quickly check something? Princess Cadenza wanted me to make sure you're feeling okay, she thought you seemed jumpier than usua... jumpy at breakfast."
"...Please tell Her Highness there's nothing to be concerned about," I lied.
I had considered adding something like 'pleased to note her concern' but I worried it would come across as sarcastic...
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): I can't imagine why.)
..., or cause Minny and the Hoofmaidens to release a new single. Oh, who was I kidding, they'd probably have done that no matter what I'd said replying to that.
Anyway, I went to my room, and it was a few moments later my junior NCOs knocked at the door.
"Ellis, Captive, thanks for coming so quickly. I just need to ask how you two have both been doing the past few weeks after Columbia..."
"Ah'm okay, Sir. Ah did have a couple'a nightmares but they were back in Colombia, should be on record ah think."
"I'm fine as well, Sir. I'd had one odd dream but we think it was unrelated..."
"What was the dream?"
"Well, there was a giant monster stomping through Manehattan and I was in charge of the Guard force there. I was about to come up with a plan when a Neighponese Shinobi from the Special Copyright and Piracy Squad showed up and told me I couldn't refer to it as a kaiju because they'd trademarked the term."
"I had to replan it to work around the trademarks. I have no idea why I dreamt that, Gag assures me it's a generic term and that you can't really enforce any trademark on it at this point, especially not in an international context."
What a crazy dream, everyone knows Guard protocol for a giant monster attack specifically calls for aid from the Princesses, he wouldn't have been in charge of the defense anyway.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Wait...what? You're serious?!)
Yeah, Article 1954. We live in Equestria, which has Hydra and at least one Ursa Major (we're not sure how many actually exist) among other things. And unfortunately, there are still uncommon occasions of Equestria threatening events besides ones that require my sister and her friends. And yes, we do guard the Princesses, but we're not about to pretend they're not goddesses. They are the big guns from time to time and protocol lists what qualifies as needing their intervention and what Guards are supposed to engage on their own (for the record, the Mayor of Ponyville was violating protocol, since Nightmare Moon was classified as an Equestria threatening event, as I said before, the correct order was ‘fall back and regroup', and then send a letter to Canterlot reporting an Equestria threatening event).
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): For the record, Mayor Mare had just witnessed an old mare's tale come to pass, it wasn't exactly easy to make a rational decision at a time like that, especially when everyone expects you to make some kind of choice.)
...I can sympathize with that...
"Uh, sorry if this is outta line, Sir, but, uh, Ah'm wondering how you've been doin'? With respect you've seemed kinda... jumpy, lately," Ellis said, with the honesty his clan is almost as famous for as their apples.
"No, I've had no problems, but thanks for asking," I lied again.
Interviewer's Notes: Pegasus: (How'd you fit your muzzle through the door with all the lies you were telling?)
Hey, I know it looks bad but we didn't want the civilians to freak out knowing our old buddy Makarov was involved.
"Shiney, I've said it since the Academy, but you need to learn to relax a little more," Ace noted, seeing my barely hidden apprehension at the scene before us.
"I can relax just fine, Ace, it's just..."
"...You're worried about stories from pubs in Caledonia? Relax, it's a nice enough place. Look, see, ‘it has been five days since somepony smashed a bottle over somepony's head'! I've seen worse in Canterlot..."
Caledonia? When was I there with Ace?
"It's a joke, ye ken," Somepony nearby said.
"Yeah, but the unicorn doesn't know that," Ace faux-whispered to the bar patron.
"I'm aware it's a joke," I sighed, as we made our way over to the bar itself. The strong smell of salt and alcohol in the air didn't do wonders for my apprehension.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Oh, so it wuz just a normal bar, not a pole-dancing place?)
Pardon? Did you just say...?!
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): It looked fun when Flut-)
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Dear, remember what you Pinkie Promised.)
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Oops...Sorry!)
...I'm going to pretend that didn't happen...
"Anyway, what're you having, Sparks?"
"I'm not sure... Salt and Lime?"
The Barpony gave me a steely glare. "We don't do cocktails."
I tried not to sigh, but he burst out laughing and covered it.
"Just kidding ye on, mate. We've actually got a very good range of them. Wide range of soft cocktails, we're proud of our Vodka specialities... But a Salt and Lime, you say?"
Ace ordered something with a long instruction list that probably had half a salad and a little paper umbrella involved at some stage. The Bartender got to work.
"So, how are things on the ground?" Rimmer asked.
"Going fine, I guess. Got a decent team under my command, even if Reinolds keeps dropping the darned stun grenades at the doorway instead of throwing them in the rooms..."
"Heh, gotta watch out for them. There's always one on every entry team fumbles the grenades."
...When was I on an entry team?
"I wish there wasn't, I'm a bad shot as it is, hard to stun-spell something if I can't see or hear."
I blinked as the bartender appeared to be readying a miniature chainsaw to prepare Rimmer's drink, but was then distracted by some loud applause from other bar patrons. There were a group of Deer and Ponies. One unicorn was on his hind legs, a cutie mark of a golden ape-skull, like an actor... like Makarov... or something. He'd just finished a song, and from the sound of it he was being congratulated ‘on another fine performance'.
"Roedinian expats, spring equinox. They celebrate..."
"Mother Deer bringing new life to the land, yes," I said absent-minded...ly...
"It's why we've got so mony vodka options. Plenty o' refugees who ran fae the Iron Antlers crackin' live in these parts. The wan singin' is an actor actually, famous for Shakespony and the like."
The Bartender sighed.
"Mind you, the wan time he did play a Roedinian character fur some reason he used a local accent. Fur a Cervanian-born ship's Captain...."
"...That play about the submarines?" Ace said, clearly better versed in theatre than I.
The Bartender nodded, and passed the now-prepared drink over. As expected there was an umbrella.
"So, what is it you're up to right now in the Air Navy?" I asked, looking around the bar, noting an awful lot of Deer....
"Just testing the new light airships, those Ordnance Carriers. Not rated for any live fire yet, and the boffins still have teething troubles with those things they think could be used to stun Dragons, but they're brilliant machines. Not as fast or nimble as the old mark one featherlimbs, but Earth Pony engineering and Unicorn magic have combined to build a darn good flying machine. Now if only we could channel Pegasus Kinesis into it, then it'd be perfect."
"Thought they were... Griffin built..."
We only just started testing them... this was a year ago, we didn't have those then...
"Nah, airships are pony made, Sparks. These ones were just Griffins using the same ideas."
"Certainly safer than helicopters..." Someone commented as they neared.
"Amen to that! And it's good to see you, Dima. Sit with us,"
I turned to see the Deer who had spoken, and that Ace had invited to join us. He was a Roe deer, and I felt I'd seen him before now I think about it....
"Er, know much about helicopters..." I said to him...
"My mom flew one in the war. As you can tell she was lucky enough to survive it, but she hated the cursed things even when she flew them."
"Oh, introductions. Dima, First Lieutenant Shining Armor Sparkle. Sparks, Second Lieutenant Dimitiri Maka-
There was a loud banging, and it took me a startled few seconds to realize somepony was knocking on the door. I felt strangely cold and unsettled, and I realized I seemed to already be halfway out of bed before I'd heard the noise properly...Ugh, just once I'd like to wake up in a perfectly normal fashion...
"Y-yes?" I tried not to stammer, but failed.
"Captain? You wanted to be informed if we arrived ahead of schedule? We should be docking within the hour."
I could barely hear him for the banging noise, and it took awhile for me to realise it was my heart pounding. The Air Naval Cavalrypony at the door seemed to be aware I was half awake, but he didn't seem too inclined to drop the grim expression he had.
"I... I see, thank you, Petty Officer..."
"No problem, Sir. I've already informed the Princess' hoofmaidens on the way here. They didn't seem too pleased..."
I didn't see a trace of humor in his eyes. They just looked pretty harsh, really. The scar he had above one didn't help...
"Yes, I, uh, I can imagine."
"I'll let you get to it then, shall I, sir?"
He left, and a moment later I was wide awake as I turned the shower on full blast with the cold tap...
Unfortunately for anypony expecting a long story about antics and shenanigans in Triplneigh... Well, it was rather quiet.
Buisnessponies here, Government hoofshakes there, dinners over there, what the heck was that oh it's a cat somepony help Gag please, okay that was a barking parrot?
"Parakeet, Sir," Garnet corrected.
In fact, it was honestly that quiet I thought I had died and not noticed.
"...Er, I think the fact you're asking me to check your pulse kind of confirms your not-deadness..."
"He could be a zombie," Thunderchild noted.
"I hope not, if he has to eat brains he'd starve around here," Cadence sighed.
"...Ladies and Gentlecolts, I think we just suffered a royal burn. Garnet, put the ointment away, it was metaphorical."
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Surely SOMETHING interesting happened in Triplneigh!)
...Well, there was the time Cadence had me sneak out to Little Bitaly with her...
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Wait, really?!)
...and the Hoofmaidens and the rest of my squad because there was a free evening and she had nothing better to do but spy on Sunset and Ranger dating.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Oh. Wait, you went along with it?)
Look, I was kidding when I said ‘snuck out'. She consulted me and the ambassador on the ‘put a disguise on and travel the evening incognito' bit and though I noted misgivings I had to concede the area was very secure. I wasn't initially told about the ‘spy on two lovebirds' bit though. Plus, it was either we do this or endure Gag doing stand up comedy at a local nightclub.
Anyway, for some reason, Gag and Garnet were needed. I was a little worried why the princess and hoofmaidens wanted Garnet along, but the look they gave each other and me made it clear I was missing something, of the sort that pressing the matter would just result in ridicule. And possibly an extra verse to the song sang behind my back at some point.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Did you figure it out why?)
Nope. Just in case I had Ellis come along too.
...Hey, don't you three start!
"Look on the plus side, Shining, you're not in the luggage bay again," Cadence noted as we walked our way down to the seafront.
The whole area overlooked the bay, the shapes of the various Allied ships hanging low in the sky or nestled into the docks. Cadence had put on a pink unicorn disguise and hid her wings below the hoody this time. I managed to avoid the dreaded penguin suit, and convince everypony that us all wearing sunglasses was a bit obvious. Even if it'd look badflank.
"Gag, tell me Ranger listened to somepony sensible about advice," I had to quickly say as we neared and passed a number of decent-looking places. "And somepony told him trying to get advice from The Lord Flashheart was a bad idea after having his memory erased."
"They might have been directed to a nice place by the Circus ponies back in Zamunda. They eat out a lot in the places they visit, they're probably know a lot of good places."..." Minuette quickly reassured.
"...Hopefully not too expensive, Privates don't get paid much," Gag muttered.
"Tch, stallions! Never realize that price is no object to true love, right, Garnet?"
"It's nice if the stallion can afford it I suppose, but I'd rather get a nice regular ruby over a shaft-closer Fire Ruby."
"...Shaft-closer?" I wondered.
"It's a Fire Ruby so big the whole mine shuts down for the week because selling it covers the wages for the whole holiday. You see, only dragons can really grow Fire Rubies, so any natural one is worth a lot. So big ones are really valuable."
"...Those are valuable? Dragon-grown ones?"
"Well, yes, but if a dragon grows it to eat it, it's really not worth much...."
"...Only about ten thousand or so by the time they do eat it, not that Dragons think about selling one of their gems," Garnet finished.
"Shining, I really don't think Twilight would let Spike sell one instead of eat it anyway, you know how much he loves them," Cadence reminded me.
"...You're right, she'd think it'd be worth it to let him enjoy it even if they were valued at a million bits."
"And your family is already nobility, Shining."
Anyway, Cadence soon halted us. I took the opportunity to look over my shoulders, just to be safe.
"This is the place. Now, here's the plan. Garnet, Gag, this place doesn't have reservations so you two go in and get a table. They spot you? It's just a coincidence. The rest of us? They do takeout, so one by one we all go in!"
"...Uh, beg pardon, Prin... Your High... What are we meant to call ya, ma'am?"
Cadence opened her mouth to say something...then promptly facehoofed.
"...I forgot to think up a codename didn't I? Um, how about, Decoy... Squirrel?"
"Uh, Rhapsody..., that's a bit obvious," I tried my hoof.
Twinkle Shine and Minuette made an odd gasp.
"...How about Sing Song?" Cadence then asked.
They made an odd reverse gasp.
"Ah like it," Ellis noted.
"...Hang on, wait, who pays for that table, I'm pretty sure we said something about not earning much money earlier..."
"Uh, Garnet, they do takeout, I don't imagine it's that expensive..."
"Then it's settled! And I was going to pay for everyone, I'm a princess!"
Somepony passing gave her a look.
"...So Daddy says."
Technically that was true, I guess.
"Anyway, let's get on with it."
That meant that we five wound up waiting and looking over the bay, one of us going in occasionally. I felt a little alarmed as Cadence took her turn, but everything seemed okay. Not even a parrot barking....
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Parakeet.)
Species doesn't matter! That thing would've been creepy even if I wasn't paranoid!
"...So why are all these ships here anyway?" Minuette wondered.
It took me a few minutes to remember we'd left Audience at the Embassy.
"It's part of how the war was fought. The Hooviets had backed the south to try and win, but the war with the Dragons weakened them. With Hooviet influences gone, Ponsia and Neighpon moved in to try and stop the war. They managed to get a ceasefire, but the Hooviets came back ten years later and propped the South up when their regime looked unstable. So everyone else made sure to keep the North safe and stop the war restarting," Cadence tried.
"And we play a part too, sending supplies and aid, don't we?" Twinkle Shine mused.
"Yup. In fact, ya know that really big ship over there? Take a close look at the top deck..." Ellis grinned.
"...Is that a farm on the deck of a ship?!"
"Shore is! Royal Fleet Auxiliary food farm ship. Some of mah cousins work on the RFA Apple. Yeah, Ah know, imagine that, relatives o' mine on a floating farm called Apple, shocking, yeah?"
That got a few chuckles.
"Good way to deliver supplies, take a whole farm crewed by Earth Ponies along. And a nice way to restock during long voyages when land is still awhile away," I mused.
"There's rock farm ships as well. Mah cousins the Oranges have been ponderin' trying to have commercial floating farms on sea-ships, go around the Equestrian coast selling oranges and running a sort of cruise... Point is, when ya got Earth ponies and Pegasi, all yah need is some good soil and some seeds to grow crops fast. Surprisin' thing is, it took so long fer somepony to realize it Ah guess."
Of course, they'd still have problems staying in places like this for long, apparently. But the hope is, ships like them might someday be able to take farms away from the drought areas and grow at sea before coming home for a harvest. I know Earth Ponies were proud of them too, it was a good way to prove to stubborn ponies who said they didn't have magic that they did, since without it, the ships would be completely impractical, if not impossible, and it was hard to prove otherwise.
But yes, our little spy mission was remarkably not noticed. Even when Cadence and the other two hoofmaidens squeed and were moments from a song as Ranger gave Sunset a brief but affectionate nuzzle...
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony, Pegasus, Unicorn): Aw....)
Don't you three start!
Dang, and I thought Zebrawa had been hot and dry! Well, considering we were in a desert, I suppose that's to be expected.
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Technically, a desert doesn't need to be hot, in fact the north and south poles are deserts.)
Point is; we were in the desert, it was hot, and I wasn't a camel, so I wasn't enjoying it.
We were finally getting around to visiting the digs, and I noticed several artifacts that strangely resembled cheese...
"Now where is...oh, there she is," called Audience, waving to a somewhat older blue-furred mare with a brown mane. Her Cutie Mark seemed to be eyes either a disapproving glare or a motherly gaze, hard to tell.
She wiped sweat off her brow and galloped over. Dr. Patient Audience was always pretty physically fit, even in her old age. She naturally bowed to Cadence.
"Hello, Princess Cadence," she stated, then looked over to Captive and gave a small wave.
"Hello, Dr. Audience. How is the dig going?" Cadence replied, giving a small smile.
"We've made a lot of interesting discoveries...most of which strangely involve cheese."
"Wait...what? But...that doesn't make any sense..." I'd thought I was just seeing things from the heat!
"Oh, it makes a good bit of sense. The tribe in this area had an intense fear of elephants as they largely had genes that caused Dwarfism, so they used the cheese to repel them, though it was actually the mice they attracted that scared the elephants off," said Minuette suddenly.
"...Dr. Audience, is that right?"
Dr. Audience gave an annoyed look at her son.
"Actually, that's correct from what we've found...how did you know that, Miss..."
"Minuette..." Minuette suddenly looked quite confused. "I...don't know..."
And then there was an awkward silence. Dr. Audience cleared her throat.
"They're also rather fiercely protective of their artifacts."
"How so, Dr. Audience?"
"Captive, if you call me that one more time I'm renting your room out to your cousin Critical Audience."
The Lance-Corporal eeped. "Yes mom..."
"As for your question, we found a warning reading ‘A note to my successors: Don't pull the switch near the chasm. It causes everything past it to die from magma.'"
"Uh...Is there a volcano nearby?" I blinked in confusion.
"No, and that's why it's odd. It possibly explains all the elephant fossils in volcanic rock at the valley bed three miles north. But I've learned you should take ancient warnings seriously."
"Sounds like a bad Daring Doo book..." Gag commented.
"Good books, I was consulted on them. Sadly real archaeology is nothing like Daring-Do, I'm afraid...unless you're a post-graduate."
Before you ask, no, she wouldn't divulge the author's name...I wanted to know too...
Dr. Audience gave a sigh. "Though you wouldn't know it, given what happened with Professor Elemental's finds..."
"You heard about that?" asked Cadence. I had a similar reaction...and a mild dose of paranoia.
"Yes, I feel bad for the poor stallion, but it's actually not that uncommon lately, unfortunately," the mare replied, giving a sad sigh.
"What do you mean?" My eyes darted around in rampant paranoia.
"A lot of strange finds have been disappearing lately. Mostly theft but a couple of disappearances seemed to be arson."
"...Commander Bond, did you hear that?"
Bond trotted up and gave a nod. "Yes...Dr. Audience, may I talk to you about this? I've been looking into Professor Elemental's case, it might be of use."
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): What was Bond doing on a leisure visit?)
Cadence invited him to try and give him a break from his investigation...yeah, that didn't work out.
"Well, I could get you a list of the victims' names, but other than that, there's not much..." Dr.Audience rubbed her chin.
So while an aide got Bond the names, Dr. Audience took us looking around at the ruins. I noticed two things. One, the private security roaming around.
"Yes, as you know, the Guard can't legally supply any cover to protect us outside Equestria and local security has more on their plate. So we hired an, ah, private firm... Many of them are... former Guards though, so they should be up to standards," Dr. Audience explained.
"...Isn't that those two guys that showed up with that group in Columbia?" Twinkle Shine wondered.
"...Nope," I lied.
"Definitely not," Cadence helped us play along with Baseplate and Price's terrible disguises.
I don't think Minuette fell for it though, that's the problem with trying to wear a disguise around someone with an eye for detail...
And two, that Running Gag was staring at the wall writing.
"Something wrong, Gag?"
"Oh, no sir, I was just wondering why they recommend cheese dipped corn on the cob..."
"What?" Patient blinked, looking back at us.
"Right there, it talks about dipping corn on the cob in cheese... weird..." Gag pointed at the wall.
"Are you even trying to joke anymore?" I face hoofed.
"Actually, that's not a joke, it's exactly what it says. How'd you know?" Said Patient, blinking.
"I can learn any language, it's my special talent," Gag chuckled.
Patient actually looked interested.
"Really? Well, can you read this part here? We've had trouble translating it."
"Alright, I can take a look." Gag trotted over to the inscription in question.
"It says ‘On every second year, we celebrate Pandemonium for inspiring us to drive off the dreaded Elephants from our land using cheese. Let her be praised..."
"...Pandemonium?" My eyes went wide.
Dr. Audience scratched her chin. "According to what we've found, she's some sort of imagination goddess they worshiped..."
I looked at a picture above the inscription resembling some kind of snake-shaped creature. "Pandemonium..."
So yeah, Triana was relatively uneventful minus the possible mention of an ancient imagination goddess who may be connected to my archenemy.
We had the normal farewell dinner and that was it really...
Though one thing to note did happen on the way to Sangala.
"Shining, mind listening to this letter?" Cadence asked during a quiet moment.
The Hoofmaidens had their typical reaction.
"It's to my aunt about Twilight saving the world."
And there they go disappointed.
"Sure, if it's about Twiley I guess I can proofread it."
Cadence cleared her throat. "'Dear Aunt Celestia; Zebrafica is lovely this time of year, the diplomatic mission is going well. Thank you for sending Shining Armor to be my bodyguard, it's nice to have a very dear somepony here with me. He's been strangely looking over his shoulder lately but won't tell me why. Do you know?"
"Continue..." I gave a small glare as she chuckled.
"I hear Twilight is staying in Ponyville, that you've given her an assignment studying friendship. To think, that little filly saved the entire world, I'm so proud of her...Twilight studying friendship, are you sure she needs to study it? When I was little, when I didn't have anyone I really connected to except you and my parents...She was the first one I really clicked with. That I really came to think of as my friend. I think she was the one who taught me an important lesson; how it feels to actually form a real friendship...And that's a lesson I use a lot out here on this trips, forming friendships between Equestria and these other places...I owe Twilight a lot...
Love, Princess Cadence'."
"...Other than the ‘me looking over my shoulder part,' it's perfect," I replied, somewhere between ‘I'm so proud of my sister' and annoyed.
"Is it a lie?"
"Then I'm not taking it out," she said, rolling up the letter. "Shining, we just went through what is technically a war zone without any complications, and you're still paranoid."
"I've got a psychotic deer who can brainwash ponies with his presence who tried to murder me with a small army, I think I have a perfectly rational reason to be paranoid."
"Then save it for the Hooviet allied territories, have fun while you can!"
As much as I hate to admit it, she had a point...unfortunately it was somewhat invalidated by the fact I was ALSO being hunted by some wolf thing and that psychotic deer was actually an imagination demon probably trying to eat my very existence...and also I was a paranoid, and since when is that rational?
We were in the air, heading for Sangala, and I was awoken by a horrified scream. It sounded like...
I was out of my bed and to her room in under three seconds! I burst in...
"Princess, what's happened?! What's wrong?
...And I was greeted by three bemused hoofmaidens, too stupefied to even be startled at my entry. Two guardsponies were also inside, probably for the same reason I had entered. Cadence was looking in horror at a newspaper, the Canterlot Times
"Shining, it.. It's terrible, we...."
"What?! Has there been a train crash back home? An airship crash? Building collapse in Manehattan? A train crashed into a building and collapsed it onto an airship? Some disaster?!"
Then I realized I could see the front page. It said that the Prime Minister had caused a scandal by calling an opposition MP a ‘derp'. But the point was, the main story was facing me. She was reading the back page. The pages where...
"A complete disaster! The worst possible thing!"
"Oh no... Oh, no, NO, NO! IT CAN'T BE TRUE!"
"It is!" She burst into tears.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! HOW COULD WE HAVE LOST TO PAISNEIGH BUDDIES?!"
"It was 2-2! They won on away goals!" Cadence sobbed.
It was horrible. We'd won 1-0 in Caledonia. They'd won 2-1 in Canterlot, the second leg of the tie. Because of the away goals rule, each goal scored away counted double to decide who won: so they effectively had four, we had three. 2-2 draw, but the rules gave them the win. We'd lost to a team that played out of an eight-thousand capacity stadium in a town barely bigger than Hoofington... Sure, Caledonia was still in Equestria, and it was the second-largest of the five Equestrian hoofball association areas, but it's like saying the tortoise is the second largest out of a lion, a hamster, a mouse, and an ant.
At this point, one of the Guardsponies burst out laughing.
"MACTAVISH! THIS ISN'T FUNNY... Oh... Oh Celestia, no, you're Caledonian, don't tell me..."
"S-Sorry, sir, ma'am, I... I actually support Mayre United and Clydesdale HC, but it's... Uh, well, sorry..."
"...It's just a game of Hoofball, it's not the end of the world." Minuette eventually said.
She received deadly glares from three Guardsponies and one Princess.
"Just a game?! We're out of the Equropa League already! That was the second leg of a qualifying match! And we lost to a team that has a stadium a tenth the size of ours!"
"And in terms of Equropean hoofball for the next year it IS the end of the world! Oh, Auntie, what if Trottenham win it?!"
I gave a brief filly-like scream of horror at the mere idea! Nightmare...
"I'm going to have to praise them for a special recognition aren't I? My birthday speech is the next speech, and them winning is a big event, for Hoofball up there and for their team. I can't not praise them..."
I waited outside, mourning our horrific loss in the most dignified fashion I could while also keeping up my now favorite pastime
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Looking all over in blind paranoia?)
I heard the door open and turned to see Cadence emerge. I was a bit stunned, to say the least. "Wow...doing something new with your hair?"
Cadence's mane was now braided, something I hadn't seen since she was in high school. It also had several Zebrafican local hair pieces I didn't quite know the names for strewn about.
"See, told yah he'd go wild for it!" I heard Twinkle Shine say under her breath.
"Yes...Twinkle Shine had the wonderful idea that I should perhaps do my mane up in a local style to show my support and respect of the culture."
Twinkle Shine nodded. "Yeah, I wanted to start in Zebrawa, but it didn't work out..."
Cadence nodded. "We had agreed the mohawk hadn't worked. It looked okay on Zebra and Mactavish, but not so much on Princesses..."
I wasn't sure whether or not to fight the urge to imagine Cadence with a mohawk.
"And Triana's only real style is just basically a mohawk with the hair loose instead of spiked..." Minuette cut in.
"How about I give you a new look too, Captain? You and the Princess would look like a good with matching manes!" Twinkle Shine chuckled, producing her styling tools.
Not even Cadence's pink fur defended her from the blushing that created.
"No thank you..."
When we arrived in Sangala, all pony hell completely failed to break loose. Unless you count the temperature. Fortunately the hangars could be air-conditioned for when we held one of those weekly birthday parties, though we just found it easier to host it at the embassy this time.
Really, there's only a few things I can really say about the place: they built a lot of structures mostly underground to keep cool (the tallest building was a whopping five floors high off the ground, and about ten below it), and the whole country seemed to have a lingering smell of Dragonwine on the wind. And other than the fact there was an oil field upwind of the embassy clanking away that took a little getting used to, the place was calm.
I did find something an oil worker said alarming though.
We'd gone out to see the largest field, and I was at first a little surprised to see they seemed to be using old tanks as transport and cargo haulers in the desert - I guess it made sense to stop ponies and dogs overheating as well as provide something with shade and magic inside to keep cool. It was also a lot easier than walking over sand apparently. We were standing on the roof of one below a tent-canopy as it drove towards the oil fields.
"Okay, Your Highness, let's look at it this way. You have four legs. You weigh under eighty kilograms. That's four pressure points. Your hooves aren't all that big, so your weight is spread out over those four points. That means you exert more pressure with each hoof into soft surfaces. A track spreads it out, that's why tanks are able to handle rough terrains wheels, and hooves can't. So walking basically means that for your size, you're putting more pressure on a smaller area compared to the tracks on the cargo hauler," Audience explained, once more going into that mode that reminded me why he was about the only one I considered a good match for Twiley.
"So, I'm lighter than a tank, but more of my weight sinks in?"
"Yes. It's about surface area really. More surface, better spread of weight and force. A lead pipe can weight the same as a sword and be swung with the same force, but the pipe spreads the impact out more. A sword focuses it onto the pointy bits, so the force is concentrated into a smaller area. It's why arrowheads that are pointy are a bit better than rounded ones, apart from better ballistics. Even then, the ballistics are helped by that too: they do have to go through air, after all..."
"Speaking of air, why didn't we just assume the Princess would fly if she started sinking into the sand?" Sunset pondered.
"Actually, that reminds me, one time, my buddy Heath decided she wanted to try building a machine that walked, yah know, somethin' like a pony, and so she looked at all these giant robot stories and manega and stuff fer inspiration..." Ellis began.
"...It crashed and she suffered a serious injury?" Minuette sighed.
"Uh, no, she realized the concept was pretty much incompatible with the limits of modern engineering so she just went back to buildin' carts."
"Maybe she should speak to some Hooviets..." I muttered, knowing that only Cadence seemed to even remember what I was meaning.
"Ah, so think mysterious stories of tripod machines are Hooviet, Captain?" The Diamond Dog driving our transport noted.
"...Tripod machines? Where did you hear about them?"
"There stories from all around continent of odd goings on. Ponies and Zebras find interesting things, and those things... or those ponies .. vanish. There stories of big walking metal machine roaming the forests in South Triana, Buranada, Nambutu... Stories of odd things in the sky, high above where even Pegasis can fly..."
"Odd things like what? Strange clouds?" Minuette wondered, seeming oddly flustered by the idea.
"Black triangles, that magic says not there..."
Actually, I just remembered, he was kind of strange and he was probably making it up. And it's kind of hard to understand a Diamond Dog speaking Equestrian anyway, since their native language doesn't translate well; for one it has no pronouns, so they have no concept of pronouns and...
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Get on with it!)
"...Ponies say black triangle seemed to be high, over the flight ceiling sometimes, and any time black triangle was down low, would zoom away up high and fast... "
"That's impossible, the air is too thin and cold up there to get that high... and the jumbajets are meant to lurk at thirteen thousand meters so some ponies are afraid of even trying to go that high," Gag noted.
"Pegasus myth, they're meant to be monsters that try to eat you. It's a bit like the Boogeymane for foals with feathers except there's no wigs dancing to disco music involved," Thunderchild explained.
"I think whoever saw it was making something up to try make money or something," Twinkle Shine declared.
"Seen five different places nine times?"
After that I'd asked around while Bond took a look into things. The next night, he told me that all the sightings were remarkably consistent. Some in Sangala near the Trianan border. Some in Zebrinia near the border. Some from Kundu. One from a ship north of Djelibeybi. But the bit of information he found that stopped me feeling as worried was a little note he'd been able to get his hooves on from spies somewhere.
"...Makarov has no idea what they are?"
"Seems not. Reports indicate that the Hooviet rank and file see them as a bad omen, the officers are trying to keep a lid on it, and Makarov wants to think it's some alicorn trick," Bond noted.
"Probably not. Usually things like this are just oddities in the manastream or someone playing around. And the way the manastreams and ley lines cross in the areas of sightings, could just be extra activity from the mana. Things seem to be a bit active what with recent magic surges..."
"Princess Celestia has personally looked into it and assures us we've nothing to worry about as far as UFO sightings are concerned. There are no unidentified objects."
"...So the objects aren't really there and it's like a sort of group hallucination?"
"Something like that, or just mirages. They're mostly harmless. Princess Celestia says so herself."
"Alright, so nothing to worry about."
"Seems so. One down, four hundred and seventeen to go, Captain?"
"Why does everypony think I'm paranoid about that many things?"
"I'm paranoid about a lot of things myself, Shining. Maybe even more than you are," Bond noted
I'd managed to go to sleep that night feeling a little content for once.
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): So when did you notice all the sightings were in or very near to Hooviet-allied lands?)
...It took me a while.
"...and this arctic civilization was said to have vanished mysteriously a thousand years ago when a unicorn king with a heart of black magic took power..."
Ugh...Ok, I know Twiley would find this interesting, but to me it's just kind of dull. I was on guard duty at the School for Gifted Earth Ponies in Manehatten. It wasn't well known by most, but Pegasi and Earth Ponies both had their own schools for ponies with skill in their types of magic. Some ponies claimed they were just for show, but seeing as a foal had just used Earth Pony magic to make a flower go from a bud to a bloom as I stood here to give to their fillyfriend and the entrance exam is making supposedly infertile seeds sprout (not sure if that's a test of character or not), those ponies had clearly never actually been there.
But as much as I like Dr. Patient Audience, I don't really care for ancient history and myths. Yes, I know just how ironic that is.
So I was basically just standing there, not really needing to try at the whole ‘stoic guard stares into the distance' thing, boredom was doing a perfect job of that!
Captive Audience was there too, but having a much funner time than I was having. Then again, I guess he's used to hearing his mother giving lectures. Plus he was on leave from training instead of on guard duty, so unlike me he probably wanted to be there.
"Lieutenant Shining Armor?"
I looked over to see an older pony in guard armor standing next to Captive.
"Oh, hello, Brigadier," I replied, greeting Brigadier General Observant Audience, otherwise known as Captive's dad. He looked to his wife.
"So, how you liking Dr. Audience's lecture?"
"Uh...it's kind of interesting...what with the arctic ponies and all..." I said, trying to appear observant and interested instead of bored stiff.
"Not sure about it myself. Especially the whole unicorn king part, how could one pony conquer a whole kingdom by themselves?"
"Yeah, it is kind of hard to believe, but stranger things have happened..." I said, barely remembering any mention of said king. "We have Article 1954 for a reason."
"Yeah, but we haven't had one of them in years. They don't happen that often."
"Thank the Princesses," I replied, remembering reading about that Griffon who'd got his claws on a magical amulet that turned him into a cosmic energy powered monster about 20 years ago. Didn't help he thought Griffonkind and Ponykind being at peace was a disgrace to Griffonkind and prove Griffons were warriors by wiping out Ponykind...Thank the goddesses that didn't pan out and he got subdued by the Guard after being defeated by Celestia before he even got to Canterlot...
"So, how are things at work?"
"Oh, right, I'm your boss...How are your parents? Wait, no, I met them last week. Blast. You should get into Cricket, I can talk about that."
"Uh...ok, sir...How are you doing, sir?"
"Pretty good, all things considered," said General Audience, rubbing his chin. "Had to deal with some robbers trying to break into the treasury, again, planned a birthday party for my brother Tough Audience, and had to help a friend of my investigate a unicorn messing around with forbidden time travel spells...."
I blinked. "Wait...what was that last one?"
"Anyway, Dr. Audience said-"
"Ahem," came said mare from directly behind him. Apparently we'd missed her concluding her lecture.
"I see where others stumble blind, to seek a Truth they never find..."
I blinked, taking a few moments to realize I needed to shut off my clock. Which for once actually read the time I'd set it to the previous night.
I didn't know which shocked me more, the fact I'd dreamt about a memory I actually understood perfectly, or the fact I'd been wakened by my alarm in my own bed for once.
Things were then calm. I'd began to relax.
We were a little surprised by discovering there was actually a wine-tasting festival for Dragons underway in Zebrabwe when we got there, apparently sampling the Sangalan blend in more temperate conditions. Apparently this season was particularly sweet crude or something. I'm afraid Spike is too young to drink the stuff so I have no idea about it. Nor did I want to be close to the festival in the event some dragons got drunk. Still, I somehow imagined it would have spooked off any Hooviet nastyness.
Wolfy nastiness, not so much. I kept close to the Princess when I could.
Twinkle Shine managed to cause a little bit of a ruckus getting into an argument when she heard what the Government were doing to the Catoblepas population. Namely, bombing the hay out of them. Despite my dislike of creatures like that, I couldn't help but agree the Government's attempts to cull dangerous forest animals to protect the rubber industry did go overboard given they'd dedicated their entire artillery corps to the task.
(Interviewer's Notes (Earth Pony): Um, but rubber comes from trees, if they blew up the trees to get the monsters...)
Yeaaaah, that's what I thought. Turned out the President hadn't agreed with such force either but Parliament had overruled him. Rather complex thing where if the vote wasn't two thirds of the Senators in favour, he could veto, but it was a popular vote and he was pretty much forced to go along with it.
Then it turned trying to bomb an area populated with fully grown rubber trees is a BAD IDEA since the shells and bombs have a chance of BOUNCING OFF! Making things unpredictable and making it near impossible to actually hit what they were aiming at. They REALLY didn't think this one through. Though I guess when they do explode on impact, the shrapnel spreading out would be more effective, but that's probably just going to give the animal rights groups more ammo, and they could be more trouble to deal with than the Catoblepas.
At least they weren't using cannon balls, the trees had a habit of bouncing those right back! Which made them surprisingly popular as ship masts in the old days.
Leboa-Seko was calm too. Hard not to be, even if the Leboans as a whole seemed to be on a sugar rush the whole time. Seriously, the entire nation seemed to be bouncing with energy.
Some claimed a legendary pegasus from the age of myths, Whizzer, had settled in their land and inspired their lifestyle. The funny thing is, Audience said that the myth made no sense that they'd have a PEGASUS in a zebra native country as such a central figure.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Maybe that means it's true.)
Don't be silly.
It was almost a relief the Sekoans were a little more shy and introverted. It was technically two countries in one.
The nation's federal capital was really more for administrative purposes than a real seat of government. The state parliaments were in Genosha and T'Challa, meaning we actually had larger consulates in those cities than our main embassy - which was actually just an office. Technically, we met three heads of state - First Ministers of Leboa and Seko, and the Chief Minister of the Federation.
As a result we pretty much toured both islands staying on the ships overnight.
Of course, the main attractions at those islands were really the Lightning Birds. It was actually mating season, and much like their Phoenix cousins, they put on displays of their elemental power to try and attract mates. Pretty much everypony spent dusk on the decks of the airships watching the shows as night fell. Made me wonder if Princess Luna had one as a pet, she seemed to like lightning and her sister has a Phoenix.
In fact, the only sour point in Leboa-Seko was a dream I had about my ex...
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): ...Ex? As in ex-marefriend?)
Yes... I've tried my hoof at dating a bit when I was younger.
I don't mind Vinyl Scratch's music, but I'm not particularly fond of it either. But eh, it was her choice where we went...
Her name was Rising Star. And she was your typical pretty unicorn mare, perfect white fur, yellow star cutie mark, beautiful blue mane and pink eyes...but the conversation?
"...so then I said that's my ex-boyfriend! What were you thinking?!"
"Uh, that's not exactly the best thing to tell your dat-"
"...but then she says ‘keyword is ‘ex' Rising!' Ugh, seriously, can you believe that?!"
I looked over to the DJ, wondering which was more annoying, listening to my date talk about her ex-boyfriend or the dubtrot that was steadily becoming more repetitive as far as my ears were concerned...
"Are you even listening to me?!"
I blinked, looking to Rising. Even without the screeching of the base being broken or whatever it is they say, she was a little hard to listen to at this point.
"Yeah, ex-boyfriend dating your best friend, right?"
"No! He's dating my TWIN SISTER now! Now pay attention! It gets weirder!"
You'd think that would be an entertaining story...it wasn't...In fact if I had to choose between reading mom's novel or rehearing that conversation again...I'd hear the conversation again, but it's close!
Unfortunately for me, the only two things I had to listen to was her or dubtrot, neither of which interested me at all...and I was so bored I may have fallen asleep on my hooves...girls don't like it when you do that.
"Huh?! What?" I asked, looking around, then finding Rising Star staring daggers at me.
"...So, you were saying?"
I found myself in her telekinesis and lifted off the ground. "Whoa! Hang on!"
And she threw me face first into the punchbowl. "Ugh...well...I expected something worse than-AGH!"
"Jerk!" She yelled, as I crumpled to the ground in agony from a very unpleasant buck and the music just kept playing.
The other clubbers seemed more interested in the ‘wubs' than the fact I'd just been kicked in... Well, you know. At least she wasn't an Earth Pony.
And that's why I hate dubtrot. Why Cherry Coke tried to set me up with her, I've no idea.
...Please believe me, she was the worst by far. The other two, there just wasn't anything and we broke up by mutual agreement after a few dates.
(Interviewer's Notes (Pegasus): Other two? Wow, you are inexperienced... That's not a good sign.)
...What's that meant to mean?
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): Er, let's move on, please, Shining...)
Moving onwards, Kembezi presented a small problem though. After Cadence mentioned my name, the President seemed to recognize me...
"...You are the brother of Twilight Sparkle, yes?"
"Yes, President Zalika... Wait... Uh oh. You were..."
"The Ambassador to the Solar Court some twelve years ago, yes."
"I-in her defence, she was rather young at the time..."
Most of what I recall there, apart from the fact I'd met the Zebra who Twiley had thought had painted-on stripes again, was that we started holding the five-a-side hoofball tournament we'd planned (Team Misfit Actual lost in the quarter finals, Team Hoofmaiden was out in the knockout rounds. Scientists from Enterprise won it.). They seemed to play a lot of music in Kembezi too, mostly local sung poetry. Cadence claimed the nation's folk songs had been a precursor to Hip-Hop, and almost everyone seemed to speak Equestrian passably - albeit all in rhyme. The hoofmaidens were in heaven.
The next stop on the tour was Bulungi. They seemed to have a major Parasprite outbreak underway, with music being played all over the place to lure them away. The locals seemed convinced Cadence's presence was boosting the power of their music. Personally, I think they were just feeling inspired...
...One citizen however decided to help show that fate has a sense of humor.
"...So you failed to notice he'd already painted the stripes until he asked you to take your barding off so he could finish?"
"...Yes, Sir," Pike did his best impersonation of a half-zebra, half-pony, half-sheep.
"Okay, well, maybe Twinkle Shine or somepony can help wash it off. But how on earth did he manage to start painting your stripes ‘back on'?"
"He was a fairly young colt, Sir..."
"I mean how'd you not notice? Clearly he thought you were just a stripeless Zebra and wanted to help, but how'd you not notice?"
"...Orders were to stand at the post and not move for anything but an emergency, I thought it was flies or someone playing the ‘get the Guard to move' game or something."
"Good grief, Pike, when somepony starts painting you, you can move! Look, never mind, just try get it washed out..."
And then we went onto Mazuri. Things were calm. I'd began to relax.
And then The Doctor showed up.