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NiktoBarada last won the day on June 19

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About NiktoBarada

  • Birthday 06/14/1965

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    Pittsburgh, PA
  • Interests
    Science, science fiction.

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  • Main Character
    Tongue Twister

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  1. Tongue Twister watched the shadow panthers, trying to figure out WHAT they were. Psychic projections ? Manifestations of rage ? Thaumic constructs ? Certainly not illusions ! She didn't know, couldn't guess, but decided that for the moment it really didn't matter - they could be solid enough to do damage. They didn't seem to harming any pony, but that could change on a whim ! "This is comic book villainy 101 !" she noted to herself, "'If being pursued, endanger some bystanders, and escape in the chaos !' It's White Tail Woods all over again ! Except THIS time, there's a crowd. Which means the local law is going to show up soon and Start Asking Questions. At best, they'll delay us for a few hours. At worst ? Days, maybe months, depending on the legal system and how much behind-the-scenes influence Hou has here !" The only way to figure out Hou's next move would be to ask about in the libraries to see what she's been reading. Only problems are that she was in disguise, and this is a BIG library ! We'd have to search through every list of every book retrieved BY EVERY STALLION AND MARE PAIR DOING RESEARCH AT THE TIME ! And even then, there is no guarantee we'd uncover the pattern of what she and her friend were looking for; we'd be more likely to either find someone else's research/plot, or go off on a random tangent. Given her centuries of experience being covert, it would be near impossible to pick up her trail by any means. This will be quite a challenge ... "But as uncle Legbreaker says : 'if someone slams a door in your face, find a nearby window and fly in ! Or a nearby wall and smash through with brute force !' Or the Caballeron Routine. Why expend effort when you can just hold back and let that adrenaline junky Daring Do find the temple, neutralize all the traps, defeat the guardian and get the McGuffin ? Then just mug her as soon as she exits the temple !" She noticed that Sombra was battling somepony with his shadows. "Sir ! This battle is a completely pointless waste of time !" Tongue Twister shouted to him, "It might be best to get out of here and regroup before the local law arrives ! They could make things - complicated !" Especially with an Equestrian celebrity in the fracas ....
  2. "Did you really think you'd get away with that stunt ?" the Abomination smirked at the immobilized Tongue Twister from inside her mind. "Nope. This is pretty much what I expected to happen." "Say what ?" TT had to focus for a bit - even thinking was like trying to walk through thick tar. "It was a very crude ritual. Predates the unicorn's codification of magic. I'd have been greatly surprised if she DIDN'T notice me pulling on her with her OWN magics." "Yeah, whatever." the Abomination replied dismissively, "The misery you are feeling now is but a tiny fraction of what her wrath can inflict ! If you want it to stop, all you have to do is give in. Submit to her superior might and will. Sacrifice who you are to become what she tells you to be. Accept that you are a nothing compared to the eternal glory that is Hou Shuren." TT smirked (with some effort). "And why would I do that ? I have endured far worse than this, and did not yield. Thanks to that Dreamslayer, I know what it feels like to be torn apart and eaten ! It was the second worse thing I've experienced, and outlasted. This - ranks third." "Third ? What was first ?" "Not telling. You'd just try to dig it up and throw it at me again." "True. But no matter. You cannot last against Hou's might forever. Sooner or later, your defenses will crack. She has broken far greater than you !" TT sighed before starting to repeat a Neighpalese mantra : "All is illusion. Illusion is nothing. All is nothing. From Nothing, all arose. To Nothing, all shall return." Abomination thought nothing of it at first - but then noticed it was getting darker and colder in TT's mind as other voices joined in one by one. "What are you doing ?" "Oblivion Loop." Tongue Twister replies, "When trapped in a harmful illusion, shutting everything down and starting fresh really clears the old noggin. Since I can't trust what my senses are telling me at the moment, I'm just going to shut out what they're telling me. At least until something from the outside 'wakes' me up. Or I get too bored to continue. Whichever comes first ...." *** After an unknown period of time, Tongue Twister woke up. She was still in the marketplace, near the set up stage. There was screaming. And Saddle Arabians running about for some reason. She noticed the shadowy 'panthers' stalking about. "What fresh madness is this ?" she groused to herself when she noticed an Equestrian unicorn mare surrounded by those shadowy felines. Normally, the best thing to do would be a swoop : gain altitude, swoop in, grab the victim, then fly off and up to a nearby safe rooftop. But with her wings of alchemic mercury, she couldn't fly any more. So that effective idea was out. So she did the next best thing : get a good running start, then use her wings to push upward suddenly, catapulting herself twenty feet into the air. Then landing with all four hooves on the skull of one of the panthers, using her weight, speed and gravity to slam its head into the ground. "WHAT THEY HAY ?! This isn't fur ! There's no bones !" she noted before yelling "MOVE !!" to the unicorn mare while motioning over her shoulder (with one shadow down for a moment, there's a gap.)
  3. Later that day, in the room she'd rented ... Ancient ponies that had written languages wrote down everything that they thought was important. The more important it was, the more permanent the media inscribed. Prayers to the gods to ensure an easy trip to the afterlife. Incantations to keep evil spirits away. Glyphs to gather and shape the magic that flowed all about them. All available and waiting for anyone that could read them (assuming, of course, 'brave adventurers' and 'intrepid treasure hunters' didn't destroy the buildings first !) The spell Tongue Twister was setting up was primitive. Crude. And about as subtle as a slap upside the head. It could easily show the direction of the magic's matching source, but not the distance. It was not very efficient, and far more energy escaped into the aether than into the spell - in fact, the only reason she even had anywhere near enough power to cast it was because she'd been loaded up with dark magic ! She'd drawn a large circle on the floor with a four-pointed star within in a single line while chanting in a language unheard for 1200 +/- 50 years, then emptied a bag of ball bearings in its center. Sitting nearby, she closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, then extended one wing into the center of the circle. From comparing one society's beliefs about magic with all others, TT had concluded two things were needed : a way to gather the magic that flowed through Equestria, and a way to shape it so it actually does what you intend. Many societies had magic, and many different ways of using it. The unicorn way was to gather the magic, use their ego and will to shape the power, then use it to beat the universe into submission !! What Tongue Twister was doing was the exact opposite : allowing the magic to flow, without trying to guide it, or wanting it to go one way or another, or even hoping it worked. No expectations. She literally removed herself from the equations and let the dark magic within her reach out to its original source. The ball bearings began to twitch, then rolled in tight orbits until they formed a straight line. "She's that way, sir." she stated to Sombra once she used her compass to get the bearing of the line. A quick trip outside and a check of the compass told her which way to look. Off in the distance were the ziggurats of the Palace of Thought.
  4. Tongue Twister was actually impressed at Sombra's illusory disguise, since it was not a commonly used spell. He even managed to alter his voice ! She'd seen unicorn spell matrices before in her dad's shop, so she knew that it was a moderately difficult spell. Theoretically, any unicorn with sufficient power and skill could cast a disguise illusion, but like arcane bolts and teleportation, most didn't learn unless it was needed for their Talent, or had time and power to investigate the finer points of spellcrafting. It was like walking backwards from Canterlot to Manehattan - one could do it if they really wanted to and tried, but ...... why ? She noticed the stage being set up, then Sombra's questioning look. She cleaned the dust off her glasses to get a clearer view. "Hmmm. It looks like an entertainer is setting up for a show." she answered his unstated question before looking around, "Not a very big venue though. And kind of out in the middle of nowhere."
  5. "One can never be sure what spells any given unicorn knows." TT thought to herself, "Theoretically, any unicorn with enough power and skill could alter their appearance with an illusion. Just so few have any need or desire to learn such a feat." TT looked around to get her bearings. "We're about an hour away from a town, sir. And about a day or so away from the Palaces of Thought. You're the only one that should need a disguise, since no one will notice me if they don't recognize you. And I have spent months here doing research over the years, so some locals recognizing me would not be all that strange or concerning. Hopefully the Librarian's Truism will keep Hou and company stalled for a bit - the bigger the library, the longer it takes to search for one desired reference. Even an army would need days, maybe weeks, to do a proper search of the Palaces." Tongue Twister sighed, recalling that her mom could not only calculate the expected search time, but give the odds of Hou succeeding by then.
  6. Tongue Twister's hidden wings twitched under her cape as she and Sombra trudged along - as they usually did when she was deep in thought. "What could she be after ?" she groused, "Saddle Arabia and the Pharoah's Vale are home to ancient knowledge and powerful artifacts. The likes the which Equestria hasn't seen for millennia. Could that stone be part of a matched set of horrible items ? One to steal memories, one to shove false ones in, and the Mind's Eye gem to get a clear view of what needs to be done ? The instructions on how to make such things would be worse than the items themselves ! And that is something that might be tucked away in a forgotten tome in a secret room in the Palaces of Thought !" she finished with a shudder. She took a few deep breaths to calm down. She didn't have enough information to figure out Hou's final goal, so there was no sense burning her brain out trying to guess. "Focus on what you can do. Focus on what you do know." she quietly chanted to herself, "What I do know is we might need a bit of money soon ! I was planning on being on vacation for a few weeks. But this mission to figure out what Hou Shuren is up to and, if possible, stop it takes precedence. No point trying to pick up Hou's trail - she knows we're here, and she didn't get to be thousands of years old by being stupid. Probably pulled the fake ID shuffle, at least six identities deep given her near unlimited resources, making her and her friend nearly untraceable by normal means. But like daddy says : when normal means are shut down, go to ABnormal means ! And magic is the most abnormal means of all ! I should be able to make use of the Law of Contagion, given I have some of Hou's 'freely given' magic running through me. Just need to find a long stick, some alchemic chalk and candles, and some open space. Or a small bag of iron filings or ball bearings ... Since Hou and accomplice are hiding, the odds of running into them by accident is virtually nil. And when dealing with powerful magic wielders, one does NOT want to encounter them without a very good plan ! So that sort of twisted to our advantage. Which leaves the money situation ... Well, the good news is that since Sombra is here, that means this is an official STAR mission. I can just file for reimbursement to cover whatever costs we accrue. The bad news is that requires paperwork back at base. And a short wait. I doubt any of the banks around here have a transfer agreement with accounts back in Equestria. I HAVE funds back home - but I doubt I can access any of them here in Saddle Arabia !" She had just strolled past a freshly posted sign while deep in thought - but backed up to take a closer look at it. "What fresh pile of lies is this ?!" she exclaimed to Sombra, "A bounty ? On you and anypony aiding you ?" "Well, that would solve the money issue if I could pull a Las Pegasus double dip !" she mused to herself, "Turn Sombra over, then break him out once I get the bounty. But that would get us deeper in whatever trouble we're in now. And we'd most likely be forced to leave Saddle Arabia - leaving Hou and company free to do whatever they like unimpeded ! Enlisting the law to hinder your foes. Clever ! Just like what the crime families in Las Pegasus used to do to their 'competitors' - why attack them yourself when a simple tip to the law can have them taken out of the picture with no effort from you ?" Tongue Twister started thinking up a cover story - she, at least, had a reason to be in Saddle Arabia. Explaining Sombra might take some effort. She figured the best cover story would be the truth - or a very carefully edited 90% of it ....
  7. Sombra became aware of a second presence of magic, and he knew it to be whoever Hou Shuren's companion was. He would definitely make a note of it, even as he dug his heels into the stand and pushed back against the combined resistance before.. the magic disappeared entirely, and that eerie feeling of being watched vanished. The king blinked, entirely caught by surprise. What had that been about? TT had noticed Sombra's magic flaring, and him looking annoyed. "They've stopped for now. Let's move on, shall we?" "As you wish, sir." she answered after checking her Squealer's Stone - it was back to its resting state. "Pity one can never find a cockatrice or a banshee when you need them. But, then again, how often does one actually need them ?" she groused to herself. "That was probably just a bully's poke. A demonstration of power to show they could mess with us if they desired, and we could do nothing in return. But since we already know they're here, that was kinda pointless." Sombra gave himself a shake and started off, grumbling under his breath before he thought to return to the conversation he and Tongue Twister were having previously. "As far as I'm aware, I'm not a projection from some dimension. I was still very much present throughout my loss of body, and even during my banishment at that." TT shuddered, trying to imagine what that must have felt like. "Well, it was just a possibility." TT stated, "One of many, and with little information to sort out higher from lower chance of being right, it will have to remain just a musing. Speaking of musings, do you have a plan about what we should do once we catch up to Hou and her ally, sir ? It - didn't go very well the last time." She sighed. "But, then again, no one knew what she could do the last time. Now we do. There was an old Feng Huang saying : Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. Every time she shows off her power she gives us a hint. Hou is a plotter. She has wheels within wheels within wheels, all spinning in perfect accord. All it would take to bring it all crashing down is a little well-placed chaos. Some disinformation to get a few of the wheels going the wrong way. We didn't have a way to do that - until now ! If she's even a tenth as smart as she thinks she is, she'll have a few of her agents looking for us in the next town. To 'deal with' any ponies that are asking about her. Not sure whether they'll go for the 'Las Pegasus mob' solution, or just the 'harass, misdirect and stall us' routine. But they will be in contact with their boss. From Sun Tzu's The Art of War 'No soldier is closer to a leader in the whole army than his spies.' Fooling a few of those could be just as good as tricking Hou herself."
  8. "Thanks for the help Berry." TT replied, "Not sure how we would have gotten away without creating an even bigger scene. 'Bitters and tonic' eh ? We shall remember that. We suppose that is a combination so horrible no one would order it on purpose. We did have a good time. All things considered ..." It was a short walk back to the hotel. It was supposed to be a quick trip to Ponyville. Just go to the post office to set up a post office box so anyone that responded to dad's "Devil's Business Card" spell had somewhere to mail their responses to. Then go back home to Las Pegasus to clear up a few loose ends. But she'd decided to join a local contest - The Running of the Leaves - on a lark. And actually won ! By the time all that was over, the last train to Las Pegasus had left, so she now to wait until early tomorrow morning for the next one. With a heavy sigh, she got ready for bed and tried to get to sleep. After listening to some music, she finally nodded off. Within her dreams, she was flying in a nondescript bright blue sky (as a pegasus, this was a most excellent dream !) Below and around her were countless floating islands, each with a building in a different architectural style, each island connected to a few others by webbing. It was how her mind retained and recalled the vast amount of information needed to speak nearly all known languages - an enhanced form of the Mind Palace technique. But instead of having just rooms full of things she wanted to remember in one building, she had cities in the clouds connected along lines only she, Whisp and Dream Weaver could make any sense of. Coming to rest upon a cloud, Tongue Twister looked upon her works, and was happy.
  9. With that, the alarm bells screaming in TT's head doubled in number and volume. "We've found that limits define who we are." TT replied as she slipped away, "Without them, you become blurry and nebulous. Like a cloud that can be dispersed from the slightest breeze. No discipline, no direction. A state we are trying to avoid. We are greatly flattered by your attentions, but we cannot deal with any more potential drama right now. We had an unfortunate encounter with a most unpleasant sorceress - WHO CONTAMINATED US WITH ENOUGH DARK MAGIC TO GIVE NIGHTMARE MOON A RUN FOR HER BITS ! We - are not comfortable with the directions things are going. Thus, our presence here can only bring everypony else down." Tongue Twister was trying to be gracious, but was preparing her mental defenses and counters, since she recognized the slick and honeyed words of emotional manipulation when she heard them. "Why does everyone want to override my decisions ?!" she groused within, "I say 'I do not want to do X', and then, for some reason, everyone feels an overpowering need to goad or coerce me into doing X ! Like my having feelings and opinions of my own is a challenge to them that MUST be overcome ! Like my feelings and opinions mean NOTHING AT ALL. And I ^%&#%^%@$&%^& HATE that !!!"
  10. "We would surmise you know more about it than anypony else, sir." TT replied, "But the ability to keep coming back after being destroyed is a common element in mythology. Creatures not native to this dimension could supposedly 'project' themselves into ours, forming a body out of local material. Since the projection is merely a shell, it could be destroyed, and all that would happen is the invader would be sent back home to stew for a bit. Or gather enough energy to try again, and again, and again, and again. The only way to permanently defeat them is to destroy them in their home dimension. So unless somepony can get into the Umbrum and 'deal with' you there, you may be technically invincible. That won't help against being imprisoned in stone or on the moon, but short of that, you may have a lifespan closer to stars than ponies. But who's to say, really ?" she finished with a shrug, "Not enough data to be sure." TT smiled. "This road has been a major trade route for millennia, sir. Crossing should be no problem." Sombra flicked his tail, as if swatting at a fly that wasn't there- or perhaps it was, in a sense. The feeling was only stronger now, and it wasn't put into words until Tongue Twister spoke it aloud after he caught her staring at a peculiar crystal. His dark brows furrowed. "So THAT'S Umbral magic !" TT noted to herself, "Last seen in major use about a thousand years ago. Feels different than most darker magics we've been around." "Who else would it be ?" she asked, "We're merely surprised it took her this long to get around to doing it."
  11. "We've never understood the appeal of immortality, sir." TT stated with a shrug as she looked at a clear oval crystal before putting it back in her robes, "Some ponies can't find things to do on a lazy afternoon; but extending that to years, or centuries ? We can see an extension of a few years, or maybe a decade or two. But only if there is an important task that only we could accomplish. Part of the definition of being mortal born is you are born, you live for awhile, then you die. Like everything else that exists - even civilizations, mountain ranges and stars have finite lifespans ! Anything that lives can be killed, if only for a little while. It is merely a question of how. But as the ancient cultists supposedly said : 'That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons, even death may die.' " After checking her map, they headed due south. "And off to the right, in that gap in the Antlion Mountain range, is Pharaoh's Vale. Testing location and burial location of generations of Saddle Arabians. And quite a few very troublesome entities and items." she announced, "We'll need to get on the other side of the river, sir. Either here or over a bridge later. Otherwise, the Shatt al Malik starts heading northwest, then south. It will pass Saddlelon, but the journey would be twice as long." She looked at the crystal again. It was now swirled sky blue and white. "We were wondering when this would happen." she stated, "We are being watched. Don't know by who, or where. But somepony is using surveillance magic."
  12. TT had to smirk at that. "Well, she did suggest she's planning on outliving the universe." Then got solemn and morose. "Back in White Tail Woods. We were pulling our scattered selves back together after she flooded us with dark magic." She then changed her voice to a fairly good imitation of Hou Shuren. "Nothing is Forever? Well, then it pleases me that I will be the first... When sentient life will forget what Equestria or Long Guo were, I will be there. When Equinekind will leave it's cradle, and spill to the sea of stars, I will still be there. When this universe collapses unto itself and gives birth to a new one. I. Will. Be.There." There are some things that are so horrid, or so bizarre, that cannot be forgotten. Even if one wants to. Upon further reflection, she was merely kicking us when we were down. She noticed we were trying to recover, and by Mad Villainy 101, one should always stop such things. If she needs souls to stay young, she'll eventually run out. Unless there is an easy way to get to other worlds and other universes. Then she'd be a plague of locusts that strips worlds and dimensions of souls. That does sound scary. But The Caretaker, He Who Waits Between Worlds, the Nothing and the All-Consuming Void don't like competition or upstarts. They would deal with her. If they actually exist, of course." she continued, "Ancient societies had some rather imaginative concepts of the universe, and their place in it." "Very good, sir." TT replied as she took out her map to double check a few things. "This is a major trade route, so the path should be easy. Heads due south beside the Shatt-Al Malik, then the Shatt Al-Iblis. Very few chances to get lost. As the highest ranking member of this rather small team, any ideas or orders, sir ?" she inquired.
  13. "Your concern is appreciated, but not necessary." TT replied as she put her glass down, "A gracious host looks after her guests. And a good guest knows when to go home. This has been more fun than we expected, so we bid thee all a good night." She leaned in close to whisper in Berry's ear : "If you're trying to alleve loneliness, we'd say you are doing very well indeed ! Quite the selection you have here."
  14. TT thought for a moment. "Merely seeing the memories of who the stone once belonged to sounds oddly limited. Like a small function of either a memory vault or mind siphon trap. Or an incompletely enchanted artifact - it was supposed to do more, but the enchanter didn't get around to finishing the job. We'd guess there is much more to the stone. As to why Hou is here, probably Evil Schemes 101 : the bigwigs don't usually get involved unless it is really, really important. She stayed hidden in the shadows for centuries, then challenged you to combat, just to stop you from potentially interfering with a robbery. Now she's in a distant country herself, when she could've just sent some minions or henchponies." She sighed. "But we don't have enough info to even guess properly. Best to hold off until we know more." She looked around a bit, trying to locate a familiar merchant's stall, "Saddlelon is the closest town from here. If she were going to Pharaoh's Vale, she'd have to go through Saddlelon. If she wanted to go to Manephis the long way, the only road goes through Saddlelon. There - really aren't that many options. Unless you want to head out into the tractless Great Desert. Not a good idea. But we do know that if you're looking for ancient knowledge, Saddlelon is the place to go. They have libraries nearly the size of cities." Then she noticed they were standing in front of a merchant's stall - the one she was looking for. The Saddle Arabian native stallion noticed Tongue Twister and smiled. "Ah, Miss Twister ! You are here moons earlier than usual." "Yeah. Business this time Sekani." "Ah. So you'll be wanting the usual gear anyway ?" "Yep. Times two." TT replied, gesturing to Sombra. The merchant nodded before turning to the back of the stall and shouting some commands to two younger natives. Within moments, she and Sombra had everything they'd need for a trip to Saddlelon.
  15. At the mention of what the Remembrance Stone could possibly do, Tongue Twister's pupils went vertical as her sclera turned black, and she growled lower than any living creature should be able to. She took a few deep breaths to calm down and regain control of her temper. "Sorry about that sir." she stated gruffly while not looking up, "There are five things we hate most in this world : things that shove memories into your head, things that rip them out of your head, things that can read them, things that can twist or alter them, and things that can control minds." After a few more cleansing breaths, she reverted to normal and continued "We asked around. Hou's headed for Saddlelon. And from what you stated, most likely looking for the directions on how to use that stone properly. Or tracking down the last user to gain their secrets; after all, if they could make something like that, who knows what else they could make. We don't see anything else valuable enough for her to show up in person. Oh, more bad news : she has an ally. A unicorn stallion. Don't know how powerful he is, or what he's up to, but he is at a minimum on rather good terms with Hou."
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