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[STAR members] Shadow of Ice, Base, north of Las Pegasus

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Ice Storm's Casino, the bar :


"Don't see you out this way too often cuz !" Icepick (a sand colored pegasus stallion) said to Tongue Twister, "What brought you out ?  Checking up on one of your dad's money-making ventures again ?"


"No.  Not this time." she replied, "They're considering downsizing back at the Manehattan museum.  So I got in on the ground floor of something out here before things went pear shaped back home."


"Bogus !  The MMNH not need translators of ancient artifacts anymore ?"


"They do.  It's just that they can get three translator interns from the college for what they pay me."


"Ah."


"So, this is the newest casino.  Kind of ice themed."


"Yeah !  Great place !  Overcast got her first real job as a dealer at the poker tables last week !"


"Sweet !"


"So, how things at your new job ?"


"Reminds me of a joke." Tongue Twister replied, "An ice goddess, an invincible warrior, a Shadow Lord and a mortal walk into a bar.
The staff set up a table for three."


Tongue Twister leaves the table and starts walking away.


"Wait, what ?" Icepick replies, "Was that a joke ?  Where's the punchline ?"


"I said it reminded me of a joke." she replied, "I never claimed it was a good one."


Icepick watched her leave, greatly confused.
"TT always was a little off." he thought to himself as he finished the drink she left behind, "Shady Dealer should have never married a unicorn !"


TT entered the base, deep in thought.
--

Spoiler

[ ooc note : all of this occurs in her head]

 

"Well, THIS tolls the funeral bell !" she fretted, "What have I gotten myself into ?!  That offer to work for STAR sounded good ... in principle.  But this needless secrecy ?  Can only lead to trouble.


The EUP had exactly the same mission as STAR - and THEY worked out in the open !


'We need to maintain plausible deniability !', the higher ups doth proclaim.  But you only need plausible deniability when whatever you doing is illegal, immoral, or unethical, and you want to maintain a FACADE of decency.  


Protecting Equestria from invaders is none of the above.


'We need to make all invaders know that Equestria is NOT an easy prize to be taken !'  intone the officers.  But how can invaders learn that if we work in secret ?


Equestria will not change - it will look as 'soft' and 'weak' as it always did; the invaders will learn that one particular airship can stomp their behinds.  But since its alliance is secret, no one is expected to make the connection that it represents the defensive power of Equestria !


Thus, lesson NOT learned.


And once they notice that it only defends Equestria's interests, you'd only need the brains of a tree stump to deduce that the ship is either Equestrian, or an allies.

 

Meaning the secrecy is pointless.


Equestria needs defenders.  But is the current way STAR is intended to work the way to do it ?"


The Angel and Devil of Decisions appeared on TT's shoulders - Yang (a pure white pegasus mare with a large black spot on her forehead, representing the positive and light), and Yin (a pure black pegasus mare with a large white spot on her forehead, representing the negative and dark).

 

"STAR actually has the resources to do the job." Yang stated.


"If being a bigger menace than the threats we defeated is 'doing the job' you mean !" Yin snarked back.


"Ice Storm definitely wants to protect Equestria." Yang replied.


"Tempest seems to be doing what she did before.  EXACTLY as she did before." Yin retorted, "Different goal, but same methods.  A hammer and chisel are great for sculpting, but not so good for cooking."


"And no one's sure of what Sombra is up to."  TT interjected.


"This disharmony can only lead to disaster if allowed to continue." both Yin and Yang say as one.


"So, I should stay and attempt to sort things out ?" TT inquired, "The organization is new, so it will take some time for things to settle down."


"As a single pebble can start a city-breaking avalanche, so can a few words into the right ponies' ear have great influence !" stated Yang cheerily.


"Why should they listen to you at all ?" inquired Yin after she got done rolling her eyes, "You are merely a mortal amongst divinity !  An irrelevant piece of background furniture !  Cannon fodder to be used or ignored !"


"Uhm, Yin ?" Yang asked.


"An easily forgotten Nothing !"


"Yin ?" Yang inquired again.


"A single grain of sand on the infinite beach of their relevance !" Yin continued.


"YIN !!"


"What ?"


"Are you going somewhere with this line of thought ?"


"Oh.  Right !" she sheepishly replied before turning to T Twister "So - what will you do if things take a turn towards the dark ?"


T Twister sighed.  "If that happens, then the moral thing to do would be to take the whole organization down."


"Even if you have to go down with it ?" inquired Yin.


"Yes." T Twister replied, "I joined this organization of my own free will, so I have no excuses.
At the least, the best place to disassemble an out of control organization from is from within."


"So, observe, hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and do the best you can with what you've got.  Same as usual." Yin sighed.


"The Plan is as formless as water.  It can adapt to any situation !" Yang cheered, "Being inconspicuous is a good thing in this case !"


Yin facehoofed before she and Yang disappeared in a puff of imaginary smoke.

 


--
Having devised something that vaguely resembled a plan, T Twister went to the base's locker room to stow her bags.


She'd recently received a care package from her parents in Canterlot - homemade snacks, and a magazine from her father.


Tales Of The Almost Unbelievable, Issue # 472.  With stories with titles like 'The Human That Fell Into The Sky', 'Hayburger Zombies', 'How a Street Thug Beat A God', and 'Orange Frogs and Poodle Teacups'


"I don't know where dad finds these things, but they're always a hoot !" she chuckled to herself as she put it in her bag.


"Okay you two - no funny business until I get back !" she stated to Ace and Deuces.  Ace gave her a salute, while Deuces sort of half saluted, yawned, then went back to sleep.

T Twister went to the gym for yet more training (alongside the rest of the 'fodder'), and waited for someone to show up.

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It kind of made sense to her.

 

Loose was still kind of mad, there was no denying that, but she understood why they never accepted her. It wasn't because she wouldn't be able to keep up, it was because they wouldn't be able to keep up with her. She can still fight, she can still train, she can accommodate herself into the military, but they cannot accommodate themselves around her. Such an army has been around for a long time and as far as she knew, it didn't really change much. Of course, the members changed all the time, but the overarching principles remained the same, and with her in, then there would have to be several changes. 

 

Like the EUP could really change that much. 

 

But luckily, she managed to find this instead. Some private elite force that was willing to take her in, a force that existed because the EUP was apparently too incompetent. She didn't really need an opinion on whether or not that was true, because this was the best option she had. She was basically a vigilante now. Like in those stories, except more real. Or maybe she was a mercenary. Glorified mercenaries they were. 

 

She was given the rank of E-4, or a specialist. She didn't have to work her way up the ranks since this was newly formed, there were plenty of positions available so she didn't have much opinion on the judgment of her commander. She was still an enlisted though, and in the eyes of the army, that meant she was the working soldier. There to do the physical work, because who would ever trust her to be an officer? Not even herself. 

 

With her enlistment came her transfer to the new base, which was located near Las Pegasus. Not quite finished, but enough to satisfy her needs. Or at least she thought, she hadn't actually explored the entire base yet. 

 

When she walked into the gym, she sensed around. A gym it was, but more so suited for the combat of a soldier. She noticed another pony there. She recognised her from the first session. To be fair, she only really paid attention to half of that, but she still remembered this pony. Tongue Twister wasn't it? And she was a linguist, mostly working for museums. That's what Loose remembered. Certainly a better candidate for the specialist role then she was. 

 

"Yo, um hey you're here too, Tongue Twister right?" Loose walked in introducing herself. Tongue Twister was an enlisted too right? So it was okay for her to act like this? "Seems pretty cool here to me. I was expecting maybe, dark colours, maybe... well, I'm still expecting it because, I can't see colour to satisfy that expectation right?"

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It was only a few minutes before another pony came in.

 

She was an Earthpony mare, with an orange coat, red mane and tail, a Cutie mark of a horseshoe on fire, and milky white eyes.

 

"Yo, um hey you're here too, Tongue Twister right?" Loose walked in introducing herself.  "Seems pretty cool here to me. I was expecting maybe, dark colours, maybe... well, I'm still expecting it because, I can't see colour to satisfy that expectation right?"

 

"Yes.  I'm Tongue Twister.  And you're Loose Cannon, if I recall.  I remember you from the meeting." she replied, "You said something like 'no one is  meaningless', and 'we need to fight so those that can't won't have to'.  Very civic minded.  Probably why you received one of those enchanted recruitment letters like I did.

 

The deserts around Las Pegasus can get surprisingly cool at night.  They painted this place in neutral grays, for easy maintenance I'd suppose."

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Yeah, that's right. She did say that cheesy speech. Well, it was kind of cheesy to her and she swore she wasn't in control of herself, which was a lie, it wasn't much different from her normal speech. "That's right, I'm Loose Cannon. When you're good at martial arts there are really two options to protect others. Teach them how to fight or fight for them," She explained. As she talked her positioning would drift more so away from the mare as she examined the room. "And I don't think I could possibly really teach anyone much. Could you imagine that? Sensei Loose?"

 

"Well, I mean, I don't think you can because I bet you don't know me very well. I'm not entirely sure how I got the invite, but I'm not going to question the methods of the Commander. All I can tell you is that I took this job because nopony else would have me, some stuff about accommodation," She trailed out near the end.

 

"I don't think it would matter what colour they painted the place if it's supposed to be concealed. Maybe some colours to indicate guidance and stuff? It doesn't matter to me," she turned back towards Tongue Twister. "You're a linguist right? And you work with artifacts? Do you think any of them could be vital to our defense?"

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EelWvW1.png

 

The meeting that she had been apart of had taken a lot less time than she had envisioned it taking. Truth be told, Tempest, while a powerful mare was still very much a loose canon. Their pact was the only guarantee that she would remain loyal to her. The sooner that she was able to solidify her research on prosthetic horns and the method that she was envisioning... and making it work, the better. After all, if she could get a mare like Tempest unwaveringly loyal to her, that would make everything much easier for her later. The biggest problem was that it didn't seem like Tempest and Luna were going to get a long very well. As much as she was hopeful that both of them could look beyond the past, she wasn't surprised that the two didn't trust each other. However, if this was going to work, they would have to prove to each other that they could be trusted. Luna wasn't just going to openly trust her because of what she did, and Tempest wasn't going to trust Luna because she would feel like they have constant eyes on her. Waiting for her to mess up so that they could take advantage of that. It was a delicate situation.

 

She would have to deal with that in time as it rose though. Right now, since she was on the base anyway, the most important thing for her to do right now was to mingle with the rest of the staff and soldiers on the base. After all, what reason would anypony here have to follow her if she didn't at least make an effort to prove to them that she was a mare with trusting. It was just as important that everypony here trusted her as much as she was trusting them. She figured the best place to start, would be the first place that most soldiers would go in a place like this. Either the gym, or the mess hall, and she went with the gym first. It was on the way to the mess hall from where she was so it made sense.

 

She approached the door and as she did she could here some of the conversation that the ponies were having inside. It was muffled from the door and the walls but she started to open the door and make her way inside. Inside, were Tongue Twister and Loose Canon. Some of her more unique soldiers that were more to add to the list of ponies that current Equestrian Society had failed. Those who wish to help defend our land should never be denied the opportunity to at least try. If it ends up not being something they can do, at the very least Ice Storm would give them a chance to try. And if they couldn't fight, there were plenty of other uses that she could find for them to let them fell useful in what ways that they can. nopony was ever useless here. She heard them start talking about the paint and how cool it can get here at nights.

 

Ice smiled a bit as she started to speak up. "I've done what I can to accommodate for the temperature loss at night. Keeping the base underground like I have allows it to stay at a more consistant temperature than it would be on the surface of the desert. It actually serves multiple purposes. Not only does being underground make it harder to detect, it also saves on maintenance by quite a bit actually. Not only that but it's also completely protected from the sandstorms that like to pop up out of nowhere. I do know that in some of the upper levels it can get a bit cool or warm depending on the time of year its in and I made sure that all of the climate controls were one-hundred percent functional before I even considered opening it," she said with a smile. "As far as the colors go, everything in the base right now is basically a primer. We haven't decided on a a color scheme for the organization yet, but it's a work in progress. Once we get that finished, we'll completely overhaul the colors here."

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"That's right, I'm Loose Cannon. When you're good at martial arts there are really two options to protect others. Teach them how to fight or fight for them," She explained. As she talked her positioning would drift more so away from the mare as she examined the room. "And I don't think I could possibly really teach anyone much. Could you imagine that? Sensei Loose?"

 

"Everypony has to start somewhere." T Twister replied with a shrug, "One of the things you need to be a teacher is to know the subject better than your students.

But I do believe the title 'Sensei' takes a few decades to earn." 
 

Quote


"Well, I mean, I don't think you can because I bet you don't know me very well. I'm not entirely sure how I got the invite, but I'm not going to question the methods of the Commander. All I can tell you is that I took this job because nopony else would have me, some stuff about accommodation," She trailed out near the end.

 

 

"Ah.  CYR - 'Cover Your Rump.'  A very common - and rather annoying - practice." T Twister mused to herself, "You might be able to do a job very well, but if hiring you means spending a few extra bits, they won't !"

 

Quote

"I don't think it would matter what colour they painted the place if it's supposed to be concealed. Maybe some colours to indicate guidance and stuff? It doesn't matter to me," she turned back towards Tongue Twister. "You're a linguist right? And you work with artifacts? Do you think any of them could be vital to our defense?"

 

"Yes.  I'm a linguist." T Twister replied, "I work with artifacts because they're the steadiest source of novel languages to study - just about every creature in modern Equestria speaks Ponish, or a variant of it.  I've been dealing with artifacts most of my life - dad sometimes imports a few trinkets with 'peculiar' traits.

And considering how dangerous some artifacts can be, keeping them out of circulation seems a very good idea !"

 

About then Commander Ice Storm came in.  T Twister gave her a quick wing salute.

 

"Ah yeah.  Those sandstorms  !  Been caught in them a few times too many." T Twister stated, as she recalled a few excursions she and her cousins faced when they were foals.

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She was nowhere near the age of being a Sensei at that point, and she didn't really feel like competing with her old teacher. "Things might change when I get older, maybe I will become a teacher. If I'm still alive by then. I don't really expect to live that long and I'm kind of okay with it," she explained before thinking. She heard someone come in behind her but she didn't bother to check who it was while she continued. "Do any of those creatures have their own significant language as well? I never really thought about that, or are they all just dialects of Ponish? I wouldn't entirely be comfortable with calling it Ponish in that case." Hopefully she asked that correctly because she got lost on her own words.

 

When she heard the commander speak, Loose quickly turned herself around and snapped her own salute. She wasn't expecting a visit from the commander so soon, what with all the stuff going on. But maybe there was a reason. "Commander, I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon, what brings you down here at this time? You really put a lot of thought into the base. I'll have more comfort knowing that the base is adequately designed even if I would have tolerated the conditions otherwise," She complimented. "When you do overhaul the colours, I do ask that you let me know so I won't feel so left out."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A smile beamed across Ice Storm's face as the two cadets turned to her and saluted her. She gently raised a hoof and dismissed the formality. "I appreciate it, but when we aren't on the battlefield, there is little need for such formalities," she said with a bit of a jovial tone. One that was very much different from when she took on the persona of Black Ice when she was at the meeting the first time. It was obvious that she was much more laid back now that they weren't dealing with important issues themselves. In fact she relished the opportunity. When Tongue Twister mentioned that she had been caught in those sand storms a few too many times.

 

"I'm sorry to hear that. I myself never got caught in a sandstorm, so I can't say that I know what that's like, but I have been caught in a blizzard. I remember very little of it though. I remember I was very young and traveling to Canterlot. I made it halfway up the mountain when it hit. next thing I knew I felt a surge of magic, and I blacked out. When I woke up the blizzard was over and I was in a small igloo. To this day I'm still not entirely sure what happened or how I survived. I just know when I woke up, I had my cutie mark," she said with a smile as she looked over to Loose Canon that seemed surprised to see her. Almost like she wasn't sure that she was supposed to be down here or the like. She figured that she would still be dealing with the important stuff.

 

"Well the meeting I had planned for today didn't take as long as I was expecting it to, so I have a bit of time to kill while I'm here so I figured the best way to utilize that time is to get to know the ponies that I will be fighting with. As for the base itself, a lot of thought has to be put into something of this magnitude. It's really hard to keep something like this hidden in plane sight, so it took a lot of strategic planning and a lot of utilizing a lot of the natural resources in the area. Most of the rooms and corridors in the base are just extensions of the cave systems in the ravine, but reinforced and expanded for what we needed. This way all of the structural integrity remained intact above us. That being said, when we do finally decide on a color scheme for the organization, I will make sure to let you know," she said with a smile.

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"Do any of those creatures have their own significant language as well? I never really thought about that, or are they all just dialects of Ponish? I wouldn't entirely be comfortable with calling it Ponish in that case." Loose Cannon asked.

 

"I've traveled quite a bit, doing field research." T Twister replied, "Ponies have no trouble understanding griffins, dragons, diamond dogs, and hippogrifs.  The languages they speak are essentially ours.  Possibly a side effect of us having an immortal ruler.  The only ones that sound different are the yaks, but they use the same words with a different grammar.  Probably because they were isolated for so long.

 

Ponish from a thousand years ago seems to been the same as now - the ponies of the Crystal Empire sound no different than anyone else.

 

Creatures from more isolated realms - like the Zebras, and the isles of Neighpon  and the Fillypines - still have their own.

 

It's like my instructors said : 'if there are many different languages, they will all eventually become one.  If there is one language, it will eventually split into many.'"

 

She noted what Ice Storm said.

 

"So you learned what your special talent was the hard way ?  That - could be rough.  Your special talent could've been fire control, and having to find out by being caught in a forest fire or something."

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"Well, if there is nothing else, I'd like to get back to training." T Twister stated as she trotted into the gym and began placing a few posts into a random arrangement - a small metal forest.

 

She walked to the opposite side, hunkered down and ran around the track, slowing down a bit to weave through the posts.  She wasn't above average speed by any stretch of the imagination, but that was why she was trying to improve her best times.
 

Spoiler


ooc : The song runnin' through her head  : The Moon Rises, in Polish https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URSLw_MDqFA

 

 

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After a few laps, Tongue Twister had managed to cut her best time through the course by nearly two seconds.  It was progress - slow, but actual progress.

 

She went home to her apartment, prepared a simple meal, took a bath and played with Ace and Deuces (being older male rats, they're rather lazy,  and enjoyed belly rubs.)

 

She was just about ready to put them back in their cage for the night when Deuces spoke up and said (in her father's voice) "You have a minute dear ?"

 

TT looked at the rat, then became very angry.  "DADDY !  I asked you to please NEVER USE THAT SPELL !  Forcing your presence through his mind like that really distresses him !  Now he's going to be a nervous wreck for a few days !"

 

"I know honey, but this is really important !" Caveat/Deuces replied with a placating gesture, "Me and your mother are stuck in a pit trap in an underground temple in Tenochtitlan !"

 

TT blinked a few times.  "How in Celestia's name did you two manage to do that ?!"

 

"Well, you remember that book Double Dealer asked me to find ?" he began, "Turns out that some shadowy agency may have suggested she ask for it.  Your mom's guess : they were looking for one particular copy, so they wanted all copies they could find.  We found one.  There were notes written in the margins.  Ten different languages.  We used some of your old text books to figure out what the languages were.  Turned out that if you put the page numbers they were on in alphabetic order by language on them, they were vectors to someplace near the Badlands."

 

"So mom dearly wanted to take a look.  And you went with her."  TT stated.

 

"Yep."

 

"Are either of you hurt ?"

 

"No.  We're fine.  For now.  But we'd rather NOT be here !  So if you could come to help us get home as soon as you can, we'd greatly appreciate it !"

 

"I'll be there as soon as I can Daddy !" Tongue Twister replied with a determined tone, "Where, exactly, are you ?"

 

"You got a quill and some paper ?" he asked.  She nodded, and he told her the vectors he and his wife had used.

 

"Hope to see you soon honey !" he stated once he verified TT had written down the numbers correctly - before breaking contact and letting Deuces faint.

 

She consulted the more accurate maps she used for her linguistics research in the region.  "It's going to take me a day, maybe a day and a half to get there.  I hope you and mom can hold out that long !"

 

She packed her saddle bags with as trail rations and bottles of water that would fit in one.  Then brought half a dozen more.

In the other she packed a few minor artifacts, some light crystals, and Ace and Deuces (she wasn't leaving them home alone, for bored rats are destructive rats, and she doubted she could find a sitter on such short notice).

 

She wrote a letter explaining what she was doing and where she was going (and a map showing the exact location), and put them in an envelope to be delivered to STAR tomorrow morning.

She was NOT going to risk some officious twit telling her 'sometimes, sacrifices must be made for the greater good.  And the secrecy of this organization is the greatest good that is, was, and EVER shall be !  Request denied !!'  That and the fact that, since she'd only been with STAR for such a short time, she probably didn't have many vacation/personal days to use.

 

Once on the roof, she got her bearing and put on her flight goggles.

 

"Luna, may your stars guide me to where I need to be !" she chanted as she got a running start and launched herself into the night ...

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Most ponies will tell you that the shortest route between two points is a straight line; however, the shortest route is not always the safest.


As it was in Tongue Twister's case.  A direct line from Las Pegasus to Archaeological Site Tenot 11-25-9 (closest to where her parents are trapped) would have her flying over the Great Forest of Leota (and disturbingly close to the Gates of Tartarus) and over several high mountain ranges.  


Since she had to SURVIVE the trip to be of any help to any pony, she took a slightly roundabout route.  All she had to do was follow the Trensal River northward until twenty miles out of Saraneighvo, then turn ninety degrees left over some smaller mountains.  Keep the Forest of Leota in sight (and a few miles) to the left.  Hook around the northern end of the Webwing mountains.  Look around for either an archaeological site or dad's Mini-Zep.


It would be around ten monotonous hours of continuous flying, but that was no problem for a pegasus mare with years of adventuring experience in remote locations she had to fly into.


It should've  been a long, but simple and uneventful journey.


Unfortunately, Tongue Twister is not that lucky ....


"YO !  Polar Vortex !" she yelled at the off-white pegasus stallion trying (unsuccessfully) to conceal himself within a cloud, " You've been tailing me for over twenty miles !  Are you going to help me or arrest me or what ?!"


"Just following to see who you're going to contact to sell stolen information to."


"Uh, what stolen information ?" TT asked, fearing where this conversation was going, continuing to wing her way northward.


"Secret projects are most vulnerable to discovery and sabotage while they're being built." he replied, "That's why I was on patrol and noticed you flying over the base !  What other reason could you possibly have for doing that so late at night - other than espionage ?"


"Hm.  'Espionage'.  That's a mighty big word for a muscle bound psychopath like you." she replied, "Are you sure Tempest would approve of you having enough brain cells to know words that big ?  Especially when those brain cells 'should' be focused on how to inflict maximum pain ?"


Polar Vortex growled at her in response.


"Okay, stop with the dominance displays already !" TT replied with a wave of her hoof, "My parents got trapped in a temple out in Tenochtitlan, and I need to rescue them !"


Polar Vortex raised an eyebrow.  "Am I supposed to buy that story ?  HOW did you find out they were in trouble ?  Did they send you a letter a day before they 'got trapped' ?"


"No.  Daddy used a Remote Presence spell targetting one of my pet rats so he could tell me directly ...  Wow !  That does sound rather suspicious and unbelievable when you say it out loud, doesn't it ?"


Polar Vortex zipped ahead of her to block the way, using his imposing size and wingspan to greatest effect.  "And how would your father be able to use any kind of spell, hmmm ?"


"Daddy's a unicorn." TT simply replied as she clapped her wings together over her back, causing her to suddenly drop into a steep dive, shooting under Polar Vortex.


"Where did you learn evasive maneuvers ?" he called to her once he got turned around.


"I spend months at a time in jungles, where there are MANY creatures that would like to eat me !" she replied, "Apparently, ponies are a tasty part of a nutritious breakfast, lunch, or dinner !
So, are you going to help me or stop me or what ?"


Polar Vortex thought for a moment.  "Why should I stop you, when your inevitable failure advances my career ?  I can tell Ice Storm I went to help you rescue your parents, thus getting in her good graces.  And I can tell Tempest I retrieved a deserter, getting in her good graces as well !"


TT was quiet for a few moments as she continued to wing her way through the night air.


"And what if I succeed ?" she eventually asked in a bored tone, recognizing a blowhard when she sees one.


"Oh, you won't.  You're a civilian.  You don't have what it takes." he replied snarkily, "I know because I've seen your files.  And how well you do in training."


"And that sort of attitude is WHY I took off instead of verbally jousting with jarheads." TT replied, "I'll have as much time as I need to explain myself AFTER the job is done.  Just not before !  Thus the old adage : 'it is easier to get forgiveness than permission'."


"Forgiveness for TREASON ?  Good luck with that !" he chuckled mirthlessly, "There is nowhere in Equestria you can hide !"


He was rather distressed when he noticed that Tongue Twister was smiling.  Then she replied : 


"Three things : 


One : as I have not attacked the Royal Sisters, or in any way acted to overthrow the government, I am only guilty of insubordination and desertion at most.


Two : Tempest turned three of the four princesses INTO STONE !  She helped a tyrant take over Equestria.  Yet she was forgiven; I suspect because she is useful and thus above the relevant punishments we lesser beings must endure.  But if she can be forgiven for her crimes against Equestria, why can't I ?


Three : I have no intention of running away.  After my rescue mission is done, I am returning to base to turn myself in."


Polar Vortex nearly fell from the sky from surprise.  "What ?!  That makes no sense at all !"


"It does to those that respect law."


"BUT YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW !"


"Only because it is, for the moment,  in the way of serving a greater good.  By turning myself in afterwards, I am respecting those who wrote the law, no matter how limited or misguided their current work.  Law states 'if you do X, you get punishment Y.'  Respecting the law means accepting the consequences of your actions."


Polar Vortex twitched a bit as his mind twisted itself into knots, trying to figure out what TT was up to.  "YOU'RE INSANE !"


"So what if I am ?" she replied with a shrug, "Being sane was not listed as a requirement in the recruitment letter for this 'organization' ."


She used his momentary boggling to gain some distance.  "Some ponies are just so easy to mess with !"

 

 

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Six hours into her flight, Tongue Twister took a quick snack break atop a cloud drifting in the right direction.  Coupled with a few minutes rest, some dried fruit and a bottle of water can work wonders for one's morale (and energy reserves).


"You keep vermin in your saddlebags ?" Polar Vortex asked.


Tongue Twister turned her head to glare at him, the cloud she was sitting on darkening and starting to grumble with thunder.  "Ace and Deuces are PETS !  Not VERMIN !"


"They're rats.  So by definition they are vermin."


"They're DOMESTICATED rats !  They're centuries - hundreds of generations - removed from their feral ancestors !" the cloud now giving flashes of light from lightning.


"They're still rats." he replied, "Why would anyone want them as pets ?"


"Because they're smarter than dogs, but far more portable !" TT replied while shouting over the thunder from the cloud she was resting on, "Why am I wasting my time with you ?  I don't have to explain myself to anyone !"  She launched herself into the air with a kick to the cloud, releasing a lightning bolt towards Polar Vortex.


"Some mares are just too sensitive !" he noted to himself as he effortless evaded TT's bolt.


Four hours later, swinging around the end of the Webwing mountain range.


"So what, exactly, are you looking for ?" Polar Vortex asked.


"An archaeological site, like a temple, or some other stone constructions." TT stated over her shoulder while scanning the ground below, "Or a deflated mini-zeppelin."


"You mean like that one over there ?"


She looked to her left, and there on the ground was large wicker box stuffed full of what looked like silver grey silk. She landed to take a closer look.
"Well, this is dad's old mini-zep alright !" she stated to Polar Vortex as he landed, "He hasn't used this thing since I was a filly !"


"Weren't those recalled a few years ago because they weren't safe to be in ?"


"They were only dangerous because they cut corners to mass produce them !" TT replied, "Just replace the skeletal rods and a few other parts, and they're just as good as the high end models !  At a fraction of the price .... which is why daddy bought the thing in the first place."


"So he and your mother must be around here somewhere." Polar noted as he looked around, "But I don't see any ancient ruins.  Or modern ruins.  Or anything that even looks out of place."

 

"Well, maybe we just need a higher vantage point !" TT stated as she flapped straight upward into the sky, slowly circling as she caught the morning thermals.
Then she noted what looked like a very deep well, partially covered with a large circular capstone, a few dozen yards from the mini-zep.  She smiled, figuring that her mom probably did what she was doing now.  She signalled to Polar Vortex, hovering straight over the site until he came over.


"Are those hieroglyphics on that stone cover ?" he asked.


"Yes.  Very badly eroded ones." TT answered, "They look early Quetzalcoatlan, but I can't be sure.  These are in really bad shape !"


"Rather odd entrance to a temple." Polar noted as he looked down the shaft into the darkness, "I would've thought it would be a big, showy structure above ground."


"Well not all ancient structures are like those mentioned in Daring Do books !" TT growled before heading down the shaft, carefully using the deep hoofholds the original builders carved into the sides of the shaft.  She noted that they were dusty and slightly crumbly from age, but there were two other series of cleared holds on the way down - most likely the ones her parents used earlier.


"A virtually untouched early Quetzalcoatlan site ?!  These things are rarer than eleven leaved clovers !" she thought to herself, trying hard NOT to squeal in delight.


Polar Vortex headed down, then noticed there was light coming from the bottom of the entry shaft.


"A light crystal with a long wire wrapped around it, stuck into a headband ?" he inquired about the odd headgear T-Twister was wearing.


"We need light, and this keeps all hooves free !" she answered, looking at the bare walls of the room they were in as she scribbled down some notes.  The room was shaped like a long triangle with the points rounded, and a single opening in the center of the smallest wall.  There were two sets of hoofprints leading through it.

 

There was a short corridor forward, which turned to the right for a few yards.  Which then turned into a much longer corridor going left.


Then into an even longer corridor going right again !


"This isn't much of a maze." Polar Vortex noted as he looked down the corridor - it was so long he could barely see the wall at the far end.


"This isn't a maze.  The builders crafted this corridor into the shape of a serpent." TT replied gleefully, "In their mythology, snakes had the power to go back and forth between the worlds of the living and the afterlife.  The early Quetzal masons would never think of building any kind of underground structure without honoring the Serpent King in some way."


"Interesting." Polar deadpanned, "Oh look - a mural of some snarling old  stallion surrounded by weapons on the wall, and a tile floor.  With various animal symbols on the tiles.  Just like in Daring Do !"


TT was scribbling notes as fast as she could, making note of the artwork, the shape of the corridors, barely noting that Polar Vortex had trotted forward.
"Wait a minute !  That temple Daring was in for her book was dedicated to the Spirit of Peace.  The glyph of the first syllable of his name was a rat.  Thus the safe way through was the 'Path of Peace'.  The rat tiles.


But this mural is of the Spirit of War !  The glyph for the first syllable of his name is a jaguar !"


"POLAR VORTEX !  WAIT !!"


But TT's warning was just too late - he stepped on a rat tile, and poisoned darts shot from the walls to the left, right AND from behind them !


Or at least that's what was supposed to happen - the darts fell out of the walls and clattered harmlessly to the floor.


Polar blinked a few times.  "Well.  That was ... convenient."


"This vault must be MUCH older than I thought." TT stated, "Nopony's been in here to keep the traps properly maintained for centuries !"


"Vault ?  I thought this was a temple or a tomb."


"Nope.  If this were a temple, it would be above ground so everypony could get in.  The walls would be covered with illustrations of their religion's stories.  The traps would be meant to scare or contain, not harm.


If this were a tomb, it would be the final resting place of somepony important.  The walls would be covered with illustrations of all the great things they did, and a few prayers to the gods for good measure.  The traps would start to become more harmful.


THIS is a vault." TT finished as she waved her hoof at the walls, "Nopony is supposed to be down here.  Which is why most of the walls are bare.  And the traps are probably lethal."


A smile slowly formed on Polar Vortex's muzzle.  "Then there must be something valuable down here !"


TT sighed.  "WHY does it always have to be about money ?!"  "Yes, there might be something valuable down here.  That, or something very dangerous."


A few yards down the corridor they passed another mural - this one of the Spirit of Peace.  Polar Vortex carefully stepped on the rat tiles - and no darts fired.


Tongue Twister merely hovered a few inches in the air, avoiding the pressure plates altogether.  But she did notice piles of darts near the walls, meaning her parents must have come this way.


Another few yards along they found another mural, of a mare with her eyes closed and a serene smile on her face, and floating in a bubble at an angle.


"The Guardian of Dreams." TT stated, "Her symbol is the moth."


Polar Vortex noted some tiles had moth symbols carved into them, then stepped back startled when he noticed there was a different mural on the opposite wall.  This one looked like a shifting mass of shadows, eyes and teeth !


"That would be the Guardian of Dreams when somepony dared to offend the gods.  No one escapes She Of The Countless Eyes."


"Yeah.  I much prefer Princess Luna as the guardian of dreams."

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After a few more turns of the corridor (which mirrored the ones on the way in - Tongue Twister checked !), they came to another room like the first : a long triangle with the points rounded, representing a snake's head.


"Wait.  They gave the snake TWO heads ?" Polar Vortex inquired.


"Yes.  Makes it twice as dangerous." TT replied, "Attack one head, the other bites you; attack the body, and BOTH heads bite you !"

 

"These primitive ponies were disturbed and outright weird."


Tongue Twister gave him a glare that would freeze a forest fire solid.  "No.  They valued different things than you do, and expressed their ideas differently.  That does NOT make them 'disturbed' or 'outright weird' !"


"Well, if they were so great, how come they aren't around any more ?" Polar Vortex asked with a smug grin, rendering her stunned by his sheer ignorance.

"Funny how these so-called smart ponies always go silent when confronted with True Logic !!!!!!" Polar Vortex mused to himself when she still hadn't recovered after three seconds.


She finally managed to focus through her rage to reply.


"The hypothesis with the greatest consensus is that they were done in by climate change.  They created artificial islands and farmed them heavily, getting seven harvests a year.  Then the rivers dried up.  Less food led to more stress led to civil wars.  What caused the drought is still under investigation.  No amount of magical or tech greatness can help when there isn't enough food and everyone is fighting for scraps.  Do you 'think' Equestria would hold together for long if food production dropped to ten percent ?"


"We'd last longer than these ponies did, that's for sure !" he replied as he started down the exit, "We'd probably solve the problem quickly and easily, because we're better !"


Rather than get into an argument with a blockhead, TT looked for signs that her parents came this way.  And soon found one - two sets of hoofprints in the dust leading up to a door.


The door opened into a large room, longer than it was wide, and very high.  The walls were covered with circles of various sizes, all with a line through them, turned at random angles.  On the far wall was an alcove with what looked like a gold necklace resting on a shelf, and a closed door to each side of it.  The middle third of the floor was taken up by a massive eight by eight grid of tiles with Quetzalcoatlan numbers on them.  TT did a quick check, and there was no discernable pattern to them.  Equal numbers of odd and even numbers, ranging from one to nineteen with many repeats, but no repeats within a given row.


"Sweet Celestia !  A MATH puzzle !" Polar stated with more than a hint of terror in his voice, "And there are no hints painted on the walls this time !  Just lots and lots of circles with lines through the middle of them !"


"Then it's a good thing we're not here to solve the puzzle, isn't it ?" she replied as she took to the air for a better look.  Her parent's hoofprints stayed in the left wall border, but only went halfway across the tiled area, then simply disappeared.  They'd never reached the other side of the room.


"MOM !  DAD !  YOU IN HERE ?" she shouted.  


"TT ?  Is that you ?"  "We're down here !" came her parent's muffled voices from under the floor.


Remaining in the air, she depressed one of the tiles at random, triggering the pit trap.  As expected, the whole tiled area opened like a pair of doors hinged at the front and back.  Tongue Twister flapped extra hard and fast to keep from being pulled down into the pit by the vacuum the swinging doors had generated.


Moments later, a dark grey blur streaked out of the pit and hovered near the ceiling.  It was an older pegasus mare, with a dark stormcloud grey coat and a mane of straight black hair, woven into braids with strands of palest gray (usually kept immaculate, but currently frazzled).  Her red vest and skirt were smeared with millennia old dust.  Tongue Twister's mother, Shady Dealer, obviously did NOT have a good day !


"FREE AT LAST !" Shady cried out in sheer joy as she zoomed around the room, refusing to touch down.  So TT flew up to intercept her with an embrace.


"This place is HORRIBLE !" Shady exclaimed, "I want to go home !"


"Yes.  I know.  That's probably best for everyone mom." TT replied.


"Uhm, I'm still down here." a voice from the pit stated.


Shady and TT looked at each other, then dived as one into the pit to retrieve TT's father, a heavy set tan unicorn with white socks, and a light brown mane and tail - Caveat Emptor.
Once they put him safely on the floor (well away from the trap door), he cleaned his glasses, put them back on and asked "So, you got any snacks ?  Some fresh water ?  It was rather unhealthy down there !"


Tongue Twister merely smiled at him and started hoofing over the many bags of dried fruits and bottles of water she'd brought for just this occassion.  Then, with an echoing groan and a screech, the trapdoors slowly closed.


"Daddy, where did you get all these dirt prints all over you ?" she asked after she noted them and tried using her wings to dust them off - they were shaped sort of like long, serrated triangles the color of rust.  When she took a closer look at some of the dust on her wings, she noted that it WAS rust.


"Probably down in that pit.  There were hundreds of piles of dust down there !" he replied.


TT mused for a bit, then carefully went to the edge of the trap, and carefully depressed one of the triggers.  The trap opened again, and she peered inside.
As her father had stated, there were many triangular piles of dust scattered all over the floor.  And what looked three small tunnels on each wall.  She jotted down a few notes.
"Uhm, Daddy ?  Those piles of rust used to be spikes !" she stated, "They were meant to impale and slash anyone that fell in the pit.  The serrations worked like barbs on a fish hook, keeping the victim pinned to the floor.  I suspect those tunnels lead to the outside, and allow small carnivores and scavengers to get into the pit to eat whatever was bleeding down there.
This trap can dish out some well thought-out carnage !  That's - rather excessive for even a vault of this period.  If they had used their standard bronze instead of iron, or even obsidian or flint for the spikes, you and mom would be dead !"


When she turned back to them, Caveat had a blatantly fake smile on his face, and Shady looked horrified and twitchy.

 
"Well, I think we've had enough adventure for the decade !" he finally stated as he hugged his wife, "I really think we should go home now !  Before our luck runs out !"


"Oh, yes !  Of course !  Right this way !  Sorry !" TT replied as she trotted up to them, "Just go back the way you came in.  All the traps are defunct.  I'll be there to help you repack the mini-zep in just a few moments."


Her parents looked at her with concern, but headed out.


TT walked over to Polar Vortex, deep in thought.  She really didn't want to be poking around in an ancient deathtrap, but given the level of security so far, whatever was in here might be dangerous.  Better that she and STAR find it and deal with it now, before anypony else gets any funny ideas.  "It should take just a few minutes for me to escort them back to the min-zep and get them safely on their way home, and return.


Until then - DON'T.  TOUCH.  ANYTHING !" she punctuated with an accusing hoof and leaned in virtually nose to nose, "So far, all of the traps we've found have been defunct.  But that doesn't mean all of them will be.  And there may even be more traps in this room we haven't activated yet.  If that pit trap is any hint as to what level of peril we're facing in here, I'd suggest being really, REALLY careful about collecting things and poking around !"


With that, she turned on her heels and started out.


Polar Vortex glared at her.  He was HER superior officer !  He does NOT take orders from subordinates !


Scene : a few minutes later, out by the mini-zep.  


"Okay dear, we've been understanding so far, but WHAT IS GOING ON ?!" Shady Dealer asked, "Why did you move to Las Pegasus ?  Why haven't you sent us any letters ?  And who was the jarhead  back there ?"


"I - kind of have a new job now." TT answered quietly, looking everywhere but at her mom.


"It's not something dangerous again, is it ?" Caveat pressed.


"I'm in a Scenario Twelve B !" TT stammered as she flapped her wings as a nervous gesture.


Caveat facehoofed while Shady looked confused.


"Are you going to be needing any help to get out ?" Caveat asked as he gave her a quick hug.


"No.  I can handle it." TT replied, "One good thing about being a 'mere civilian' is that I'm easy to overlook."


Caveat sighed.  "Well, be sure to let us know if you need anything.  Anything at all."


"I know." Tongue Twister replied.


"Sooooo - any idea of the easiest way to go home ?" Shady asked as she finished up loading a few things into the mini-zep, "We took the most direct route."


"Yeah.  From here, just head fifteen degrees south of true east.  Keep the ice fields of the Frozen North miles but in sight to your left.  After about an hour or two you'll see the Crystal Spires -  gateway to the Crystal Empire.  You can take a train back home.  You should get there a bit after lunch." TT replied. 


After a few more good byes, Caveat stepped into the mini zeppelin and took off as Shady flew alongside.  Tongue Twister watched them for a few moments before heading back into the Quetzalcoatlan vault.


"What by Celestia's blessed pinions is a 'Scenario Twelve B' ?!" Shady Dealer asked her husband.


"From the sourcebook of Ogres and Oubliettes." he replied, "They have an assortment of starting scenes for the game when running moderate to high level characters.  They're modular and random, so the GMs can generate many different scenarios - one from column A, then one from column B, and so on.  In a Scenario Twelve B, the characters join a vast and powerful but mysterious organization with unknown motives.  They have to find out what is going on, and deal with the situation."


"That's why she hasn't told us anything." Shady glumly deduced, "The less we know, the better off everypony will be." 


When Tongue Twister got back into the vault, Polar Vortex was staying near the ceiling, avoiding the now very wet floor, and doing his best to evade half a dozen giant leeches (each the length and thickness of the average pony's leg !)


TT noticed an empty spot on the shelf where a gold necklace used to be.


"You just HAD to grab the jewelry, didn't you ?" she yelled up at him after rolling her eyes.

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"Well, it IS the treasure this vault was meant to protect !" Polar Vortex shouted back.


Tongue Twister sighed as she dropped slightly and hovered over the pit.  "No, it isn't.  It's just a minor item meant to fool intruders into thinking they've found the valuables and not searching more thoroughly."


The giant leeches sensed her body heat and headed straight for her.  Having almost no intelligence, they activated the pit's triggers and fell right in.


"So, you mean the REAL valuables are hidden somewhere else ?"


"Of course.  The level of lethality we've seen so far is way in excess of the material value of that ceremonial necklace.  Which means there's a secret door somewhere in here we haven't found yet."


"What about those two doors over there ?" Polar Vortex stated with a wing motion.


Tongue Twister went over and looked at them each carefully.  She pulled a feather out of her wing and used it to probe around the crack around the doors.  
"These aren't doors." she stated with a smirk, "They're just carvings on the wall meant to look like doors."


"But they have handles and locks !"


"Mere distractions." TT replied as she carefully stood beside the door and depressed the handle - and a pit opened in front of the door, where she would've been standing.
"These locks don't actually do anything - they're just meant to waste a thief's time." she stated as she carefully used a feather like a lockpick - half a dozen spikes shot from the wall !
If she'd been standing where a thief would've been, two spikes would've gone through her head.  Another pair through her neck.  The last pair through her chest.  A few seconds later, the pit opened up and the spikes retracted.


"Hmm - a trap that cleans up after itself.  Truly state of the art !" she stated before writing down her observations in her notebook, "And you'll note that they worked perfectly.  So no more assuming the traps won't work !"


"Now where to start looking for the secret door ?" she mused to herself before noticing a discoloration on the floor in front of the alcove where that necklace used to be.


"See that ?  It's water damage." TT explained to Polar Vortex, "The bane of all underground sites.  No matter how well built or sealed, eventually water leaks in and ruins everything.  There must be a passageway behind this 'wall'."


She tried the usual technique of pushing on the walls and ledges to see if anything moved.  But nothing did.   Then she noticed the pegs that once held the necklace could move slightly.
"Could you put that necklace back Polar Vortex ?  I think it has to be in place for the triggers to work."


He shrugged, but grudgingly put it back.  Then a simple push on the shelf's back wall caused the wall to swivel open.


TT peered into the darkness, and noted that the hallway curved to the left.  They headed into the narrow hallway, splashing in the shallow water on the floor the whole time.


"I hope the rest of this vault isn't flooded." she stated, "Otherwise we're going to have to bring in a team with the proper equipment to complete the job."


After what she thought was a few loops, they came upon an actual door at the end of the hallway.  She examined the door, and noted a single glyph inscribed upon it - a rounded off square with nothing inside.


"So, does that mean there's nothing to worry about beyond this point ?" Polar Vortex asked.


"Most certainly not !" stated TT, "Ancient Quetzalcoatlan used symbols to represent phonemes and syllables inside a square shape.  There is usually a gap in the border to indicate where the next syllable is - they didn't write left to right as we do, but in a continuous line that could go back and forth, up and down, or even in spirals if the writer wanted to.  The 'empty square' is o'hm' - it represents the unknowable.  The mysterious.


In other words - MAGIC.  Whatever defenses are beyond this door are based on magic."
 

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