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The Secret Rally (Sign-up in OOC Thread)


Bellosh
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In the shadowy corner of the warehouse’s bustling basement, a lone figure stood there as it watched WRAITH underlings scramble to make final checks. No one dared to glance in the figure’s direction, or trot anywhere nearby unless urgent matters were at hoof. Few have ever seen this enigmatic individual in-person, and even fewer knew the story behind the mystery leader behind the globe-spanning organization determined to rule Equestria. It wouldn’t be long now however for those two issues to start being... rectified.

“Number One,” reported an officer; “The expected amount of guests have arrived, and everything is set for your entrance. Once we have confirmation that the perimeter is clear, the main event can proceed.”

“Does it usually take this long to sweep the perimeter?” questioned the figure in the shadows accusingly.

“Ummm, no Number One,” the officer trembled; “It’s just that we have detected a disturbance that we haven’t been able to trace, and our front-door guard is dealing with a suspect individual. Once the situation’s dealt with, it will be safe for you to make your entrance. I assure you, there will be no delay.”

“Very well,” the figure stood there without making any gesture; “You are dismissed.” Soon, the good ponies of Stalliongrad will have their first look at the hero who’d free Equestria from the clutches of Princess Celestia.....

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Dog could mean well... Or Dog could genuinely enjoy causing misery and damage. Though the latter doesn't necessarily put guests at ease. Perhaps it was easier to say he doesn't know any better.

Not that that'd be fibbing, per se.

When the helmet came off, Dog seemed confused. His nose started twitching as another new scent hit his nostrils, though to be fair the pepper scent was a bit overpowering. It seems the dye might go unnoticed for now, though Dog's nose couldn't be fooled for long. Could it? Didn't matter, because Dog had a whole new problem. This Stalliongrad---ian(?) mare was confiding in Revenant. and it seemed the ball was in his court again. 

But, Dog was going to do his job, like he always did. He still needed to search everything. Thankfully, he knew what he was searching for. It had been hammered into his head enough for him to know a camera, microphone, or basic scrying device. Though after tonight he was probably going to forget it once he got angry at something. Like the sun getting in his eyes in the morning or something. "Stupid Sun Princess..." he grumbled to himself, getting lost in his own annoyance... And it hasn't even happened yet! But he was getting distracted! She seemed to do... Something... But she wasn't taking it off. Very well.

"Then Dog take helmet!" he grunted impatiently, snapping his beefy paw out to yank it off the mare.

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Oi.

 

If this show didn't get a move on in the next five seconds, something, or someone, was going to break. Courtesy of his hoof.

 

Because blimey, this chap was taking forever. First with the staunch refusal to speak, and now with...this. Still, Revenant didn't let his irritation show, his eyes expressing a polite interest in the proceedings as the other stallion let loose his concerns. Didn't want his face to be seen, eh? Didn't even want to be pinpointed, if the comically thick accent was any indication. And well, that was all well and good, that - but that's where the fellow was sadly mistaken, thinking that his wants really meant anything. This was a rally for WRAITH, and the rules of WRAITH meant far more than some business owner's ill-conceived attempt to remain anonymous as he stirred up trouble for the establishment. 

 

"Standing 'round out here for this long will've drawn more eyes on you than your face, mate," Revenant pointed out languidly, eyes crinkling upwards as his smirk widened underneath his face mask. "Rules are rules, ponies are required to undergo a search before entering the warehouse." 

 

Or they would be, if they weren't going to be searched more forcibly than their initial request had warranted.

 

Dog was speaking again, apparently intent on taking the helmet by force, but Revenant had had enough. The darkly colored Unicorn coughed once and shifted from where he was leaning against the wall, catching the Diamond Dog's eyes as he did so. "Be quick about it, chap," Revenant instructed, waving one hoof in a sharp circular motion above his head to further emphasize his desire for the brute to conduct his search in a swift yet efficient manner. But even as his eyes remained on Dog, Revenant caught the slightest shift of movement in the shadows behind their guest, the waiting operatives picking up on his signal. If it was the team he thought it was, then they'd have the entire warehouse covered and locked down, to ensure no pony made a slippery escape.

 

Perfect. 

 

The Diamond Dog was the bigger threat, reaching out for the stallion as he was, and that focus is what Revenant exploited as he abruptly and swiftly lunged forward off the wall, a full body tackle intent on pinning the other to the ground. 

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Red's helmet was a mk-II PVC RH-special. It was padded heavily, with specially designed funnels routing sound to the wearer's ears, and was custom built for its wearer to fit around and conceal her horn. She'd designed it herself, and had the outer shell cast with a mold she subsequently stole from the manufacturer. The visor was specially tinted one-way glass, designed so that Red could see out of it, but nopony could see into it easily. Polarised lenses could penetrate, sometimes, but not for long. And of course, every now and again it had its drawbacks. Their field of vision was limited to a 60 degree arc, and sounds behind them were harder to hear. This had the side effect, at this moment, of preventing Red from noticing the diamond dog reaching for her until he shouted. Subsequently, she barely noticed the Stallion lunging. And she definitely didn't notice until far too late.
Revenant moved to pin them, and Red's helmet was knocked off in the scuffle. It bounced across the street before rolling back and coming to a rest at Dog's paws. As the helmet flew off, Red had taken a quarter of an instant to turn and position themself to run. It didn't work, of course, they were slippery but they never trained for hoof-to-hoof combat. with the net change amounting to her softening her landing and keeping her head from bouncing off the cobblestones. The padding of her uniform kept the rest of her safe, and she ended up on her back letting out an exasperated 'Oof!'

Thankfully, nothing major was damaged. She couldn't move her forehooves, but that was due to the stallion pinning them to her chest. Her mane was in complete disarray, so that was one griffon out of the bag, but she could manage. She used her horn, now plainly visible, to rearrange her mane inter her best Vanneigh White updo and fluttered her eyelashes at Revenant.

"Well," she said in a husky tone of voice. "Red's secret is out of bag now, da? This is not worst..." she let her eyes roam up and down what she could see of Revenant. She was taking stock of him in the new, and frankly terrible, situation, but was disguising it behind a sultry look as she continued, "position Red has been in." she lied.

"I am Red Herring, master thief, and I am come to be offering services." She declared, mind racing

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It wasn't that Kahz was incapable of being patient.  If he had a pressing reason to be still and wait in a place, he could manage it.  What he couldn't stand was being just outside of the real goings-on, learning and contributing nothing while idling about.  Were it not for this fact, he would be quite happy to spend an evening chatting up a Qilin mare.  But, as he had come here to actually do some fact-gathering work for the hive, it was time he earned his pay.

"Tell you what,"  He remarked to Yu, as if floating a suggestion.  "Why don't we go down to the front and see for ourselves what the fuss is all about, eh?  We ain't got much to worry about, really.  After all, nine times out of ten if you actually go and do something, nopony reacts in time to stop you.  So what do you say?"  He offered her a crooked leg as a kind of escort, but whether she accepted or not, the changeling would be on the scene just about the time Revenant had pinned the helmetless Red.  It was just just too perfect an opportunity.

"Oh, my!"  Kahz exclaimed, in well-practiced intonation.  "do hope I'm not interrupting anything."  He gave the pinned mare a grin, which might have been amusing, or reassuring... or extremely worrying, depending on how much of their confidence was faked.  The changeling was willing to bet on it being counterfeit.  "Not to be intrusive, gentlecolts and gentle canines, but we were getting a little anxious back there.  All bustle and no explanations, you know.  But, I'm glad to see you have matters in hoof, or paw, as it were."

The diminutive changeling's own fearlessness and charm were not, in fact, fake.  After all, given that a barely grown colt was probably capable of seriously cracking his chitin, what particular reason did Kahz have to be afraid of Dog or Revenant?  

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Yù arched a brow as Kahz spoke up once more. He certainly seemed the nosy type. But well, given the situation and the strange kerfuffle going on just slightly out of ear shot, the qilin couldn't help but to be the littlest bit nosy as well. "Hmmm. You know what?" she began, standing up and taking the offered leg in hers. "Let us shall."

Upon arriving to the entrance, the two were met with a most...interesting sight. With Revenant having pinned a rather attractive mare to the ground, and Dog standing menacingly near by. Though she wasn't sure if there was any way other than menacingly that the diamond dog could stand. Surely the mare didn't try getting into a scuffle with one or the other of them. Not unless she had a death wish or something. "I must say I am surprised this little tumble only drew us over. Seems like quite the show you three have put on."

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Dog had to say, he was honestly frustrated. If Revenant wanted the pony flattened, all he had to do was ask! Now here was Dog with a lot of pent up rage and nothing to take it out on. Now he had a helmet in his paws, and all he wanted to do was smash it into bits.

" This is not worst... position Red has been in."

"DOG IS UNCOMFORTABLE!" the large canine announced immediately, looking more than a little nervous.

Indeed, the two seemed compromised. And then guests started to come out of the woodwork to check on the situation. "What was he supposed to do?! 'Guests leaving too soon' wasn't covered in his orders! Were they supposed to stay inside and out of sight? Could they come outside? "Inside!" Dog barked to the guests, just wanted to reduce the amount of things he had to deal with. This mare was doing enough. He didn't like being confused! Wait, this was a mare? When she had the helmet on she sounded much different. And the captured mare was a 'master thief'? Weren't thieves sneaky? Wait a minute! "Wait... Is uncomfortable pony sneak pony?!"

Dog was supposed to destroy sneak pony!

He seemed very close to taking all his frustrations out on the helmet in his paws. "Dog supposed to crush sneak pony! Can Dog crush sneak pony?!" he asked, a bit out of character for him. He ground his teeth, the helmet in danger of giving under his tensing paws as he awaited an answer.

In any other instance he would just go for it, but... He really didn't want to crush Revenant too. If he could avoid it.

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Well, now...wasn't this a bloody surprise, and not exactly the pleasant sort.

 

Well, it was, but not in any sense that was relevant to the current situation at hoof.

 

Said situation being, of course, the complete and utter lack of a fight that the intruder had put up, save an aborted turn that he'd interrupted with his tackle. And naturally, catching the eel off guard had been the entire purpose - but for a pony who'd put up such a fuss on keeping her appearance a secret, said success was a little too blinding. Especially with this new bit right here, fluttering eyelashes and a seeming indifference to the now compromised privacy she so very much valued, laid bare for all of to see. 

 

A master thief, she said - and it was she, easy to tell now, what with the removal of that bloody helmet. A master thief that had been about as subtle as buck all. Was the mare a diversion? Sent in to be captured and put the minds of WRAITH at ease over a failed break-in while the real threat lurked in the shadows? If she was, then that meant there would be a subsequent break-in to retrieve their fellow eel from holding...unless, of course, she was an unwitting scapegoat, a sacrifice for the greater good or some such thing. 

 

He happened to be quite knowledgable on that subject matter, as it was.

 

And on the matter of the casual spectator, as well - though the fact that both the Changeling and Qilin had been completely undeterred by the bulking presence of Dog's back, still guarding the entrance like a good doggie, was something that had to be addressed. Dog was put in place to intimidate and ward off attempts...and to crush others, yes, but still, intimidation. Even those within WRAITH's infrastructure held a healthy dosage of fear towards the volatile and, to their simplistic minds, unpredictable Diamond Dog. Just another tool to keep the riff raff in check. 

 

That would be a problem addressed another time, however, for Revenant still had his hooves full in the present - quite literally. "It may not be the worst position you've ever been in, true - but I can assure you it will be the best, love," Revenant purred, before stepping back to bodily heave the mare upwards, even as he glanced towards the shadows and gave a quick toss of his head. Immediately an operative came slinking forward into the light, producing two items from his coat - one was WRAITH's patented magic nullification ring, a necessity now that the mare's identity was revealed to include Unicorn magic, while the other was a pair of magical shackles, made to fit onto the ankles of opposing and diagonally crossed legs. Looked like silver bracelets to the untrained eye, but an attempt to stretch the legs out further than a simple walk caused shimmering bands of rope to appear between the shackles, preventing them from moving too far apart. In essence, a pony could neither gallop nor trot, not even bloody pace, without falling over onto their face. 

 

"'Fraid you'll have to wait until the next sneak pony, mate," Revenant commented idly, not releasing his hold on the thief as he shot the Diamond Dog a somewhat apologetic grin. "Crushing is for the uncooperative sort, right, and I'm sure our guest here means to be all kinds of...cooperative, tonight." The darkly colored Unicorn took the time to glance back at the two onlookers as well, eyes narrowing a bit onto the Changeling. "S'alright there, no harm in wetting your nose a bit, eh?" Red eyes slid over towards the Qilin in their midst, crinkling upwards as his hidden smile took on a distinctly sly edge. "Apologies for the wait and the commotion, yeah? Rest assured, we've only the safety of every pony on our minds. Go on back inside, and rest easy for the evening."

 

A deaf pony could have heard the lack of a question in his words, and the slight creak of metal as the helmet in Dog's paws gave a soft sound of distress.  

 

And in this, Revenant had no hurry, easily waiting for the two interlopers to proceed back inside while Dog retook his position in front of the door, before finally returning his attention back onto the sneak pony - master thief - whichever. "For a master thief, you certainly know how to make a right brilliant entrance," the darkly colored Unicorn commented, one eyebrow raising slightly. "But we are only too happy to discuss potential partnerships." Two more operatives appeared then, each taking hold of the mare on either side as Revenant held out his hooves for the two items, intent on fixing them onto the Unicorn himself. "Why don't we take this inside while we better consider how our little family might benefit from your...services."  

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  • 2 weeks later...

"DOG IS UNCOMFORTABLE!"

 

Red smirked internally. This was turning out fairly well. Too many witnesses for anything overtly violent, between the strange bug-pony hybrid, and the strange dragon?-pony hybrid. Unless those two were already members of whatever group this rally was for she wagered that this number 2 would be unwilling to overtly harm her, and the guard dog was uncomfortable with her current predicament. This was good, uncomfortable people weren't as attentive, and often distracted themselves with -  "Wait... Is uncomfortable pony sneak pony?!" -other...tasks. Fortunately, Revenant came to her rescue, and Red was quick to smile and chuckle her agreement to the darker unicorn. 

 

"Best?" she asks, looking Revenant over as he helped her up, surreptitiously trying to take stock of what gear he might have on him she could make use of, if she could get a hoof on it without being noticed. "Is big claim, but Red just might believe it," she continued, "but 'little family'? This Red does not find so easy.

 

She holds her forehooves out for what she assumed were manacles of some kind. She'd figure out how they worked as they went along. It was the ring that most concerned her, as she wasn't sure how or what it was. Hopefully when she picked the lock on the manacles she could just pull it off of her horn, but she wasn't about to try to use any magic once he put it on her. That left picking the manacles to her manual dexterity, which wasn't as spectacular as telekinesis, but she wasn't worried at all, especially with her lockpicks concealed in the zipper track of her suit, or the hairpin holding up her mane.

 

While she was thinking all of this, she was still talking. "Is small gathering, Red did not see so many ponies enter, but Red is found quickly? Red thinks there is pony using seeking spells, easy to avoid or distract with time to be ready, and alarms on places locked, alarms can be silenced or fooled, and eyes watching everywhere that can't watch always. Red can slip through these or seem boring. But Red does not think 'little family' can have so many hooves in such a small place. Red thinks 'family' is very big, and something very important happens here tonight, so 'big family' keeps big eyes peeled, yes? Red is careful too. Is how Red came to find invitation. Is how Red got paper invitation is on. But Red is not so good Red can find out plan for something so secret."

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To say that Kahz was disinclined to leave the scene was an understatement.  In fact, he was tempted to pull out the fact that he was a Hive plenipotentiary rather than a prospective recruit, in the hopes that it would grant him VIP access.  However, that probably wouldn't have worked anyway, alienated the pretty Qilin mare beside him, and it would be best to save that card for later, when it might actually be trump.  

 

Therefore, he just bowed to Revanent, in the polite manner of the Far East.  "In that case, I'll leave you two alone to... sort things out."  They all seemed on top of things, here, and it would be interesting to hear later of how this situation would ultimately be handled.  Was WRAITH the sort of organization to take in such an unusual volunteer?  And what would that say about their capabilities?  In any case, it was clear that direct action against them would be... inadvisable.

 

Extending his hoof again to guide Yu back to the main gathering hall, the changeling remarked casually, "Of course, I don't think much will come of it.  A mild, improvised flirtation at best.  The stallion struck me as a stallion who keeps his passions reserved for a very few, regardless of what face he presents to the world."  He smiled up at the exotic mare.  "Professional judgment; and honestly the same would probably apply for you or I with him."

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Despite the whole event being insanely stressful, Yù was surprisingly finding herself relaxing. Between the polite company of the changeling, the humorous position that Revenant found himself in with the interloper, and the hulking Dog's awkward discomfort it was almost enough to make one forget that she was at a rally for an organization that was blackmailing her into working for them...Almost.

 

With a soft giggle, Yù once more took Kahz's offered hoof and followed along. But not before tossing a glance over her shoulder with a playful wink and a cheeky comment. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do~" It was true what they said. If you can fake something long enough, eventually it will become true. In this case, it was Yù faking being remotely comfortable about where she was.

 

When she and her smooth talking acquaintance were back to the main area, the Qilin glanced around at the crowd. It really was a motley crew: ponies, diamond dogs, dragons, griffons, caribou. All mingling and chatting, giving the warehouse that dull murmur one hears when so many are talking at once. Yù sighed softly "You know, if you didn't know better, you'd think this was some sort of strange school reunion."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Dog was beside himself.

 

He wanted to crush something. Or some pony. He had a target, but was called off by Number 2. Not fair! The guests were starting to go back inside, but Dog was still stuck standing there as his friend and the lucky sneaky mare figured their little predicament out.

 

But the guard dog was too frustrated to worry about restraint. Catching a glance at the helmet in his paws, as if he forgot it was there earlier, he let out a huff, and a grunt, and with loud metallic groaning and cracking, that helmet was crushed flat in his paws as if it were made of aluminum.

 

Dog physically seemed to relax once the deed was done. He finally got to break something, and he didn't seem to care about potential consequences. He tossed the wrecked helmet over his shoulder, letting it hit the ground outside the warehouse with a hard 'clack!'. He sighed with great relief, rolling his shoulders with a smirk on his big, dumb muzzle.

 

"Dog feel better..." he declared to nopony in particular.

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Casket walked past the crashed helmet. Almost similar to his own chitin armor, a hard exterior casing, he sighed. Perhaps it was fate's way of being ironic, or perhaps trying to tell him a message. Yes, he knew that the hive was...flawed, he didn't need anypony to tell him that. Nor did he need the universe to tell him this was a terrible mission he knew that thank you universe. So with a heavy heart he slowly walked towards the entry point. With a green flash, Shield Tsunder appeared, brushing his coat off irritably.

 

"This seems appropriate. Apro-priaate." Casket checked his voice. Perfect and akin to the long-gone sound of the real Tsunder's voice, he felt satisfied. One could never be too careful, and many a changeling had been in a sticky situation because a fully grown mare had sounded like a pubescent colt. It was so easy these days to trip up, so easy to slip and fall - ponies were far, far too careful for his liking, or his position. What might have been envied and revered in the older days of the hive, a high intelligence operative and interrogator, was now a position drones looked at with fear. Sometimes he felt the gaze of changelings on his back, and it felt as if every time he left the hive they looked on at a corpse's procession. goodness gracious, he was a professional. His job was not to get killed. Yet, after Canterlot's failed attack this wasn't a changing perspective. They were weary, and he was wary. So when he could take a mission that wasn't with ponies, wasn't an infiltration attempt, he snapped at it faster then the starving pupae that could be called drones snapped at the smallest morsels of love. Still... he was dubious of this affiliation. Sure, they were attempting to overthrow Celestia (A name he spat with bitter tone) but they were unorganized. They were not a hive, nor a pony society he had studied for years, and it made him edgy that they were unknown to him, a drone designed to understand such things. Walking towards dog, he looked to the canine being and spoke firmly.

 

"Sheild Tsunder. I believe that I am invited to this.. "Gathering" as you'd call it?" "Sheild" spoke in the typical lisp of a posh unicorn, as Sheild had been so many years ago when he was abducted from Canterlot.

 

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About bloody time.

 

Revenant shot a patently patient smile at the Qilin's backside as she and the Changeling left, but his attention remained focused on the interloper - who was still behaving with an inordinate amount of complacency. Though he supposed if her plan was to get caught in the first place, as it was seemingly becoming more apparent, it would be detrimental to act out against WRAITH's wishes. 

 

But was that it, really? The darkly colored stallion stared impassively at the thief as she made her speech, one eyebrow raised even as he continues to study her. She provided a fairly accurate layout of the securities they had set in place, true - but nothing, Revenant noticed, so specific that it indicated intimate knowledge acquired without the knowledge of his people. All broad, vague statements about security that any idiot might put in place in order to protect his investments. There was also the contradiction in her words, tagged along with her apparent desire to offer her services to WRAITH - able to slip past all these securities she had so aptly pointed out, yet she had alerted nearly their entire force to her presence, and gotten caught. Revenant was still betting on some blinding distraction bit that was being played up to allow her fellows ample sneaking opportunity. 

 

That, or she had just made a huge dog's breakfast out of the entire thing.

 

"Right aces, love," Revenant crooned, and didn't even glance at the distinctive sound of crushing metal originating close to his right. Dog had apparently run out of his already short patience for sneak ponies, and had most likely taken it out on the interloper's helmet. He could almost be proud of the Diamond Dog for his amazing restraint. "But for such a sharp little filly, you've a poor way showing off your skill set to potential investors of said skills, eh?" The question was rhetorical as the mare provided no inkling of resistance to his magical contraptions, prompting Revenant to first slip the ring onto the Unicorn's horn, then the shackles onto each of her four legs.

 

Immediately, the magical items flashed briefly in resonance with one another, before settling down to, what appeared to the untrained eye, rather unusual accessories. The ring would automatically lose its enchantment once the rally ended and the spellcaster for these rings provided the counter spell - wouldn't really do to have potential WRAITH assets wandering around with their magic perpetually locked up, as amusing as it might have been - but the shackles would be removed by key only when he deemed it necessary. Depending on how the "master thief" played her cards, that might turn out to be never.

 

And, well. Also depending on how generous Number One was feeling today. 

 

And, just perhaps on how painfully crushed deprived Dog managed to get for the remainder of the rally.

 

Before Revenant could fully remember all the times Dog had managed to get into that safe of crushing-deprivation, however, the appearance of a new pony around the corner of the warehouse had the stallion tensing briefly, blood red eyes flicking over to the other stallion, before falling back onto the interloper. They had already dragged this on for too long, especially here, exposed on the street, and the appearance of another guest was the catalyst he needed to take one step back, turning his head towards the officers still on the scene. 

 

"Reinforce the warehouse's perimeters," Revenant ordered, "and set up a few more scouts on the upper levels inside the building. Dog," the stallion continued, with a falsely polite nod towards the stallion requesting permission into the rally, "take care of him. And you - " 

 

Ring, shackles, master thief. Revenant took a brief step back and gestured towards the entranceway, one foreleg spread wide in invitation even as the unseen smirk underneath his mask lifted upwards. 

 

"After you."

 

 

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'Sure Strike' took calm, cautious steps forward.  Her destination was a warehouse among a number of essentially indistinguishable warehouses, which was perhaps the idea.  A phrase came to mind, about forests and trees.  Where better to hold a secret meeting, than building a potential observer couldn't tell apart from those surrounding it?  It was a sign of cleverness, and given that the group holding it wished to overthrow the princesses and completely overturn Equestria, cleverness was a dangerous trait.

 

Hence the caution.  'Sure Strike' was invited to the meeting being held here, but that didn't mean she wasn't in any danger.  A presumption or word too out of place might find her branded a traitor, and who knows what the group would try to do to her then.  All the more so because 'Sure Strike' didn't actually exist.  The grey earth pony wasn't truly a pony at all, but rather a disguise for a changeling who didn't want her identity known tonight.  If they discovered what group that changeling was a part of...though she was not overly concerned about that, she doubted her real name was anything more than a footnote in some forgotten dossier, if it had been recorded by this group at all.

 

She was perhaps not the most experienced spy, but she could act confident, the most important part of any espionage, and given her profession she should be able to act like a jaded guard easily enough.  That was the cover story this evening, 'Sure Strike' was a guard who'd become disheartened with how Equestria had been run by the princesses.  No longer able to accept how vulnerable her nation had become, she'd thrown her lot in with a group that was sure to provide stronger leadership.  Naturally, she would not be wearing her golden armour this evening.

 

The false earth pony reached the designated warehouse, the one mentioned in the invitation that had arrived sometime after she'd taken a peculiar quiz, only to find another pony was already there.  Thinking several ponies waiting in a queue would be too conspicuous, 'Sure Strike' decided to linger.  She kept herself visible enough to make it clear she wasn't hiding from the security that was sure to be watching her wouldn't think she was trying to hide, while being concealed enough that a casual observer wouldn't find cause to investigate.  She idly listened as the stallion currently at the gate gave his name as Shield Tsunder, taking note of it but otherwise it was meaningless to her, as a name she didn't recognize.

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“Number One,” reported the officer with a hint of relief; “Sentries report the perimeter’s clear. We can proceed with Phase Two.”

 

“Then let us begin,” declared the shadowy figure in the corner; “The audience is waiting.....”

 

-----------

 

*INSIDE THE WAREHOUSE*

 

“Ponies and Griffons,” the announcer on stage – a fervid mare dressed in WRAITH fatigues – was working up the crowd; “Minotaurs and Diamond Dogs! Caribouuuu!! Drrrrragons!! And Changeliiiiiings; raise your voices!!!” A round of rancorous cheers followed. “TONIGHT, we reveal to the good citizens of Stalliongrad the champion of the New World Order! Our savior... will lead Equestria back from the brink of destruction, and e-rrrrrradicate a monarchy that acquiesces to terror and chaos! WRAITH will ceaselessly fight to restore greatness to Equestria; leading this charge... is no other than the honorable and fearless..... SHADOOOWMAAAAAAANE!!!!!!!!!!!”

 

Even louder cheers shook the warehouse as a section of the stage opened up, revealing an industrial lift. As spotlights shined, several ponies rose upward, nearly all wearing the concealing black uniforms of WRAITH elite operatives. One figure stood above the rest; taller, wearing a cloak of light grey, and enigmatically distinguished by a white and red mask that suggested a hint of otherworldliness. There was no mistaking who this mysterious leader was:


Shadowmane.....

 

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A school reunion?  Not quite the right metaphor, Kahz had to say.  "I should say it was more like freshman orientation.  I wonder when the College President will show up?"  In the meantime, the small changeling was content to hold back and observe.  Two more latecomers entered in, and through his own magical sympathies, he could sense that they were changelings in disguise.  He wondered, though, were they infiltrators of Equestria come to report their findings, or else infiltrating WRAITH itself?

He wouldn't hinder them either way, as he was not yet certain at this point what the Hive's own best interests were in this fight.  Oddly enough, though, neither of them were the right shape to be Sachadara, his 'escort' into the depths of this organization.  Perhaps she was already with the leadership?

Speaking of, Shadowmane herself (Himself? Itself?) had arrived onstage, to the roaring cheers of the crowd.  For the little changeling, the rush of emotions was heady stuff; usually one only got that kind of love when one was being a rock star on stage.  It reminded him a little bit of Chrysalis' own gatherings, only here there was no trace of the apathy or cynicism that was growing in the Hive-

 

*This one is Dangerous with a capital D.*  The thoughts came to him with a kind of cold clarity, muffling the crowds as if his head had been suddenly dunked in water.  *If they made an effort, WRAITH could suborn our own operatives if they got caught up in this.  Her Majesty hasn't commanded this kind of fanatical loyalty from her masses since before the First Invasion.  Who's to say that these people would stop at toppling Equestria's monarchy?*

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Now that he had gotten at least SOME destruction out of his system, he could fill the void with enough focus to do his job again. Splendid!

 

But not one, but two guests arrived one of them speaking before the second arrived. Another talker.  "Sheild Tsunder. I believe that I am invited to this.. "Gathering" as you'd call it?" "Sheild" Another talking unicorn, even. He could feel his rage slowly start to bubble back up.

Meanwhile Revenant was taking care of the sneak pony prisoner still, and Dog just stared in the second's direction hoping for guidance. Was he to carry on as usual? Could he destroy them?  

 

"Dog-" 

 

"Dog!" he bellowed back, honestly without even thinking about it. He just knew he had to give some kind of acknowledgement.  "-take care of him."

"Dog take care of pony!" he assured, going right back to guard duty. Carry on as usual, or at least that was how he understood it. But remembering that the first had annoyed him, mostly for being a unicorn and being social, the irrational guard dog just glared, bearing fangs as he did with the first talkative unicorn. "Password!" he demanded, but then remembered there was two. "One at time! Give Dog password! Then Dog search!" of course, he was trying not to shout... But it was hard not letting stress get to him. Normally he was employed by WRAITH in situations where he could easily find an outlet for stress.

 

But his demeanor changed once again, ears perking as he heard the announcer inside the warehouse. A sharp whine left the Diamond Dog, anxiously looking back toward the door. He knew he couldn't just leave the door to see Number 1. He was ordered not to! But the temptation was certainly there. His expression had changed from angered to desperate, gesturing for the guests to come to him. "Password! Quickly!" He wanted to at least listen to the speech without having to worry about guests in front of him.

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As she was formulating a response to Khaz's correction, the qilin's reply died in her throat as the exuberant voice of an announcer broke the chatter of the warehouse before working it into a frenzy of cheers. "...For a secret rally, they sure could wake the dead." Yù mumbled out loud as she gazed over the veritable sea of excited n'ere do wells and blackguards and dapper dandies alike cheered and hollered as a figure, mysterious and disconcerting to gaze at; though perhaps that was just her nerves, became alit by the spotlights upon the stage. 'Shadowmane' they called them. Fitting for a group like this, though the lithe figure was far from what she had expected to see in their leader. Something more...menacing. But looks could be deceiving, and there was no chance that they got to where they are by being a pushover.

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As she entered the building, carefully and surreptitiously testing the limits of her tethers by shuffling her hooves forward as they came down, she took stock of the assembled crowd and noticed a smaller section of ponies than she would have thought. Whatever this was about, it must either appeal to foreigners more acutely than nationals, or it was aimed more at them.

 

As she listened she leaned toward the latter option, or she would have until she heard the master of ceremonies's announcement. Overthrowing the monarchy? They don't think small, do they? She thought to herself. I'll need to be more careful than I thought a minute ago. I really shouldn't be here.

 

"This Shadowmane," she said aloud, "she knows how to make entrance. Red sees why all the security now." Her voice was calmer now. She knew she'd be walking out of here just fine tonight, thanks to her trump card. They weren't just paranoid mobsters, they were an organized revolution. And that meant they had to avoid attention. She still kept her over-the-top accent, but mostly so that she could keep Amber safe.

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  • 4 weeks later...

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Good Dog.

 

And not a moment too bloody soon, if the roars from inside the warehouse were any indication. 

 

Honestly, the cheers from the crowd as Shadowmane made his grand reveal, probably weren't all that ideal, given the hour of the night. Still, they had chosen these docks for a reason - little to no activity during the night hours, removed from any residential areas, and the buildings themselves were thickly built. All of Equestria could cheer themselves bloody hoarse for all Revenant cared, and in truth, their fanatic love for a leader they'd never even seen was only made that much more blinding, right. 

 

All they needed was a face, and it didn't even have to be a real one. Right brilliant, that.

 

"She?the darkly colored stallion chortled, keeping a hoof on the thief to steer her towards one of the loading platforms of the warehouse off to the side. It afforded him a lightly better view of the main stage and a bit of extra security on hoof, with various grunts keeping careful watch the closer ponies were to Shadowmane, but still allowed him a wide view of the warehouse as a whole. "Stereotyping the sleek and slender frame as a female one, eh? Bad form, love," Revenant mock-chided, forcing the Unicorn to sit down in front of him while he leaned against a pillar - though he, too, had often entertained notions of Number One's gender. The magical manipulation of his voice, combined with an appearance that remained covered at all times, made it impossible to tell whether he was actually male or female, but Revenant had always defaulted to male. 

 

Not that it mattered, in the end. Number One was Number One, because he simply was. 

 

 

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The Trojan was installed just in time.  Through his now augmented aetheric sight, Daedalus could see and hear everything the Scryer could see and hear.  For a moment the sudden influx of information was overwhelming, making him grind his teeth and shake his head in agony as his mind reeled from sensory overload.  One deep breath later and all was right again.

 

The walls were transparent when viewed through the aether, allowing him to see patrols moving outside and hear troopers talking who were out of physical earshot but within range of wards or scrying sensors.  As he quietly slipped back into the crowd, Daedalus made sure to maintain his perception wards.  After all, he was there to observe, not cause a scene.

 

It was with augmented eyes that Daedalus watched the voluptuous mare from earlier riling up the crowd.  He’d almost forgotten in his urgency to set up the spell.  A brief gesture of his head and a facsimile of the magic inhibitor appeared on his horn, an illusory construct that would fool all but the most attentive of mages.

 

“Showtime,” he muttered as the cheers shook the foundations of the warehouse.

 

Daedalus wrung his brow in confusion as the platform seemingly appeared out of nowhere.  He knew it was a trap door by logical deduction, but the lift and its shaft did not appear at all on the scryer.  Despite their mundane appearance, they were magically concealed, as was whatever lay beneath.  The thought of it brought more mysteries to the fore.  Were there more tunnels beneath being used by this… WRAITH?  Had the entire warehouse block -- or dare he think it -- beyond been subsumed into some sort of base?  Daedalus made mental notes to pursue reconnaissance later.

 

The operatives were taller than the others, bulkier, too.  They were likely some sort of elite unit, meaning whoever was coming up with them was somepony important.  As expected, Shadowmane was fully concealed from head to hoof.  From this angle, it was nearly impossible to discern what species they even were.  The uniform was unisex and the mask and armor hid every identifiable feature.  Even the scryer was of little help, as whatever magic was concealing the lift shaft was also actively preventing Daedalus from using the scryer feed to peel back Shadowmane’s uniform.


With investigation stalled, Daedalus could only stand idly, watching and listening to the new arrival...

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"My fellow Equestrians."

 

The voice that seemed to come from Shadowmane was a type of voice that few others have ever heard in their lives. The sound coming forth from the masked figure could not be described as either male or female... or for that matter, any living creature. To put it plainly, the speech of Shadowmane was seemingly not of this earth. Some would think that it could only come from a divine immortal; a being infinitely more than even the mightiest alicorn. To others, it conjured visions of terrifying golems devoid of life. For all however, Shadowmane's voice commanded respect, and it was effective at silencing the crowd.

 

"A long time ago, I was once... an ordinary being like yourselves. My family lived in a village on the Equestrian frontier, where we lived a humble existence. Every day, we went through believing the fantasies that Equestrians are taught ever since they leave the mother's womb."

 

"When I was just a little child, a pack of hydras descended upon our frontier village. By the time Princess Celestia arrived at our village to try saving it..... I was the only one left." Shadowmane paused to let those grim words seep in. "Taking pity, the Princess took me in as one of her own. I became her student so that one day, I could pass her lessons down to the next generation of Equestrians."

 

"It was in the course of my studies that I began to learn the Truth about Princess Celestia. This Truth, all of you know it in your hearts already. So say it! TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT CELESTIA!"


The audience took it as its cue to get all their thoughts about the Princess out of their system. "Liar!" "Cheater!" "Corrupt!" "Speciest!" "Weak!" "Traitor!" And there were plenty other words uttered so unspeakable in polite company that they shall not be repeated here in writing. There were even a couple of "Long Live Luna!" chants from a few attendees if one's ears were carefully attuned enough to tune out all the booing. Shadowmane meanwhile waited to let the crowd's Celestia-hate run its complete course.....

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'Wake the dead,' eh?  Well, it wasn't outside the realms of possibility that WRAITH would count one or two necromancers under their banner.  Kahz was not such an expert on pony magic that he could have recognized one on sight, but this was definitely the sort of organization that they would thrive in.

 

All the while, as the noise and anticipation of the crowd grew, the changeling tried to keep his analyst's eyes peeled.  The number and composition of the group, its apparent commitment, the stated aims measured against their observed capabilities... these all whirled in his head as he stood back from the main body of the crowd.  It was hard to make out individuals, besides the apparent leader on the stage (he wasn't going to jump to conclusions there; that get-up was just made for a series of body doubles).  Once or twice, he thought he caught a glimpse of 'Number Two,' though true to his title, that stallion was content to retire into the the Shadow(mane) of Number One.

 

And what a shadow!  He recognized the tricks he himself used to stoke the emotions of a crowd during a concert.  But instead of the love and admiration of fans... Shadowmane was bringing forth a different harvest.  A dark, sour-bitter scent permeated his specialized senses, and turned his stomach.  This... this was hatred...  Hatred of a kind Kahz hadn't believed ponykind capable of.  *Was Sachadara right after all?  That you could bend them to do anything if you got them alone?*  

 

It was a sickening thought, and on top of his queasiness at having to absorb so much negative emotion, he simply couldn't keep it down any longer.  Nipping over quick to one of the acolytes who had unwisely left their hood down, Kahz retched into the receptacle, zooming back before anypony had detected what happened.

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The figure spoke. Yù could feel her heart sink in her chest just from the first line. That voice was unnatural, be it 'naturally' unnatural, or from a source of magic of some sort, it put the qilin ill at ease. She had never felt her heart racing so fast, and it was absolutely not a good thing. The more this thing, this Shadowmane, spoke the more she realized the kind of trouble she had found herself in. Don't cry, not now, don't you dare cry. She thought to herself, even as her body lightly shook.
 

Her nerves hadn't even allowed her to notice that Khaz had slipped away to deal with his own reaction to the feelings permeating the room. Though his were easily more overwhelming for him than Yù's were for her. "I shouldn't be here..." she muttered quietly to herself. She wanted to be anywhere but here at this point. The hateful, rancorous cacophony that echoed across the walls against a principality she knew next to nothing about was hard to stand. Were...were there qilin and longma back home that felt this strongly about the Empire? Surely things weren't this bad. Out of instinct more than thought, Yù grabbed on to her changeling acquaintance for comfort.

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