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Although he hid it well, Coltson was actually very nervous about the sending of one of EPIC's agents to deal with SMILE affairs, even more with the fact that this was midway through a possible mission; he knew that EPIC agents tended to get a bit too hoofs on in some situations, as were the old wave of EPIC agents, cover could all too easily be blown here, and the possible recruitment mission would be hard to explain to the changeling in this situation. As he worried about the scenario he had found himself in he realised he had been quiet for a very long time, so long in fact that the pony he was travelling with seemed to be quite oddly rude all of a sudden. He shook his head in bewilderment, watching her move off into the next carriage, he looks over to Naj "So erm... was that me? Or was that you?"

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Tongue Twister was chillin' out in the luggage car, not sure how long those two would be talking, and not feeling like being a fifth wheel.


Ponies, being herd creatures, don't like being alone.


But she wasn't alone ...


"Ace !  Deuces !  Front and center !" she stated, stamping twice in the floor.  They piled out of her saddlebag to look at her.


"Seems like I have some time to kill, so let's play a game - HIDE AND SEEK !" she stated to them, eliciting squeaks of delight (hide and seek is one of their favorite games.  And to play in a new location, with all sorts of stuff to investigate was even better !)


"The field - anywhere in just this car.  Now, no digging into anything.  No eating anything, or soiling anything.  You have fifty seconds."

She closed her eyes, then covered them with her wings.  "Forty nine.  Forty eight.  Forty seven ..."


They scampered off to hide.


When she got to zero, she began her search, singing a song she'd heard at one of her dad's conventions :

"The Little Rare Book Room" :


'Come, they called me;

(The special book room)

The rarest books to see,

(Librarian's tomb)

Kept under lock and key

(In terrible gloom)

To save our sanity.

(It's pointless, we're doomed, thoroughly doomed, utterly doomed!)


(The first I exhumed)

From the book room.


Book of Eibon,

(So frightfully old)

Vermis Mysteriis,

(A sight to behold)

The Monsters and Their Kynde,

(With edges of gold)

Could make me lose my mind.

(All covered with mold, fungus and mold, poisonous mold!)

Kitab Al Azif,

(Its horrors untold)

Still I am bold.


King in Yellow,

(Left me feeling glum)

The Ponape Scriptures,

(I'd stay away from)

And then The Golden Bough,

(My brain had gone numb)

I read them all out loud.

(Well that was quite dumb, terribly dumb, fatally dumb!)

Freed the Great Old Ones.

(Our kind will succumb)

What have I done?

(What have you done?)'


(ooc : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G_iL6TRphg )


She managed to find her pets after a few moments, and headed back to Coltson and Naj.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Naj had heard of a new changeling hive, one which vaguely sounded like the one belonging to this 'Thorax'.  Beyond that though, she didn't know anything about it.  Her job meant she didn't get information the way normal ponies did.  In some cases this meant she knew more, while other subjects would fall by the wayside.  This was one of the latter.  However, she had not been expecting the question, and while she was thinking of a reply Tongue Twister had run off, leaving Naj and apparently Coltson watching her exiting form in confusion.


On 3/7/2018 at 9:05 PM, Switchback said:

"So erm... was that me? Or was that you?"

“Me, if I had to guess,” Naj replied, with a sigh.  “It would hardly be the first time I've caused this sort of reaction.”  A changeling in the open was, she had to admit, a strange and potentially disturbing sight for many ponies.  Those who got to know her were generally able to acclimatize easily enough, but she could hardly meet everypony in Equestria, and that meant there would always be some one new to disturb.  Granted they'd come a ways so far, but Tongue Twister had hardly spoken to Naj during that time, and sometimes there was a delayed reaction.  “I can say this though, she ran off, which means she doesn't need me kicked out.  Or at least, she doesn't want a confrontation.”  That was good, she could work with that.  Some ponies just needed time.


Naj was a little more subdued when Tongue Twister returned, but tried to finish her reply all the same.  “To answer your question, I don't really know much about Thorax's hive.  I cut ties with mine some time ago, and since then I've kept out of contact with other changelings.  Well, with a few exceptions.”  She smiled with what she hoped was a disarming smile.

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Naj was a little more subdued when Tongue Twister returned, but tried to finish her reply all the same.  “To answer your question, I don't really know much about Thorax's hive.  I cut ties with mine some time ago, and since then I've kept out of contact with other changelings.  Well, with a few exceptions.”  She smiled with what she hoped was a disarming smile.


"Ah.  You're an outlier." Tongue Twister replied, "No matter how similar a group, there are always a few that are different.  You decided to be friendlier before most of the other changelings.  Good to know.


Say, did you manage to speak with Coltson ?  I had the feeling you needed to speak with him about something, and that I was in the way.


That's why I left ..."


"GREAT !  DID I MESS UP AGAIN ?" she fretted to herself, "Well, at least Ace and Deuces had fun, so it hasn't been a total waste of time ! 

I just hope this doesn't turn out like that Hearth's Warming Eve party at the palace !"


She sat on one the seats, looked out the window for a bit, before retrieving the book she'd bought from Coltson for her father.


"I hope this will finally get Double Dealer off dad's case !" she stated to both, "She'd been getting pettier every week, and I left to search for this three weeks ago.


I honestly don't know what's gotten into her."


Musical Interlude : "I'm the Bad Guy", via Keroko :


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  • 4 weeks later...

"Well, I sort of have an idea of what it could be ..." she silently mused to herself, "But I can't say : 'It sounds like a Trouble Maker type artifact, Corrupter class, about rank C !  They'd probably think I'm crazy !


Well, they MIGHT think that already; these two are tricky to read.


Probably has to be a rank C or so item - the effects of an Alicorn Amulet, Soul of the Endless Night or a Shining Star of the Dashing Demagogue would have manifested by now.  So many potential sources !  The Abyssinian, Tenochtitlan and Pharoah's Vale cultures could craft some tricky artifacts.  And those are just the better known cultures."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Coltson tries to get Naj's attention as the other mare starts to mumble to herself; he knew this EPIC lot were as well trained to lip read as he was, and what the mare was saying worried him; it meant that she was very near stumbling across a world that was not supposed to exist to civilians. He then wanders forwards "We spoke about what we needed to, Naj here is a fellow purveyor of antiques, although her business often goes across into items instead of books, her employer is after a certain piece that I stumbled across and on the possibility to franchise our operations to cover a larger area. It's all quite boring I assure you. Anyway, look at the time, we're nearing your stop I believe." He smiles that usual warm shopkeeper smile as the train starts to slow down "So this mare, whatever you said her name was, is a bit of a loose bookcover? Just slowly falling more and more off the rails? If so then perhaps we should try and get to your parents at a time when she is not around."

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It turned out that there was a method to Tongue Twister's madness, in that she'd left the room to give Naj and Coltson a chance to speak.  “Oh...Oh!”  Naj said after a moment.  She waved a hoof, as if brushing away the issue.  “I did get to speak to him a little, but it's nothing so urgent.  Actually, if anything, I was hoping to get a chance to see him at work.  Most of what I might want to talk about is, ah, kinda boring.  And might take a while, so it can wait.”  Strictly speaking, that was all true, although whether or not security plans were boring was a matter of opinion.


Coltson caught Naj's attention as Twister mumbled to herself, indicating to the muttering mare.  She wasn't quite as good at lip-reading as he was, her specialization was in more direct sorts of interaction, but there was enough there to be concerned.  Her thinking though, rather than worrying about a civilian, was that maybe Twister wasn't as out of the loop as they might have thought.  Though that too was a complication, and until they knew more about the mare it was something to keep any eye on.


The complications didn't stop there.  Coltson's idea for Naj's cover wasn't quite what the changeling would have used.  And much as part of her was tempted to try to play along, she wasn't sure it was a ruse she could maintain if it came down to it.  Fortunately, she had a way to play things off and resolve the issue, hopefully without rousing any suspicion.  “Heh 'Purveyor',” Naj chuckled and shook her head.  “I work with the REA, and lately I've been doing a lot of 'artifact recovery'.  Sometimes dangerous items pop up which are best kept out of unknowing or unscrupulous hooves.  To that end, it's helpful to know somepony who works with rare books.”  She looking meaningfully toward Coltson.  "Though I suppose,” she reflected after a moment, “I have been working with antiques a lot lately, so the confusion's understandable.”


The train pulled to a stop just as Naj was finishing what she was saying.  They had arrived in Canterlot.  Equestria's capitol had a lot of personal history for the changeling, being both the site of one of her greatest regrets and her greatest triumph at different times.  But today this wasn't her adventure, she was just along for the ride, which brought its own sort of interest.  Naj stepped off the train and then turned to her companions.  “Alright, where to?”

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 "We spoke about what we needed to, Naj here is a fellow purveyor of antiques, although her business often goes across into items instead of books, her employer is after a certain piece that I stumbled across and on the possibility to franchise our operations to cover a larger area. It's all quite boring I assure you. Anyway, look at the time, we're nearing your stop I believe." He smiles that usual warm shopkeeper smile as the train starts to slow down "So this mare, whatever you said her name was, is a bit of a loose bookcover? Just slowly falling more and more off the rails? If so then perhaps we should try and get to your parents at a time when she is not around."


"Yeah, Double Dealer does seem to be slowly slipping off the rails lately." T-Twister replied to Coltson, "It's rather unfortunate too - she's a very decent pony otherwise.  Getting to my parents when she's not around shouldn't be that hard; she's usually rather busy."



The complications didn't stop there.  Coltson's idea for Naj's cover wasn't quite what the changeling would have used.  And much as part of her was tempted to try to play along, she wasn't sure it was a ruse she could maintain if it came down to it.  Fortunately, she had a way to play things off and resolve the issue, hopefully without rousing any suspicion.  “Heh 'Purveyor',” Naj chuckled and shook her head.  “I work with the REA, and lately I've been doing a lot of 'artifact recovery'.  Sometimes dangerous items pop up which are best kept out of unknowing or unscrupulous hooves.  To that end, it's helpful to know somepony who works with rare books.”  She looking meaningfully toward Coltson.  "Though I suppose,” she reflected after a moment, “I have been working with antiques a lot lately, so the confusion's understandable.”
The train pulled to a stop just as Naj was finishing what she was saying.  They had arrived in Canterlot.  Equestria's capitol had a lot of personal history for the changeling, being both the site of one of her greatest regrets and her greatest triumph at different times.  But today this wasn't her adventure, she was just along for the ride, which brought its own sort of interest.  Naj stepped off the train and then turned to her companions.  “Alright, where to?”


Twister perked up the moment Naj mentioned 'artifact recovery'.  "I work with artifacts for the museum.  Translations Dept.  Those 'brave explorers' send all the stuff they find to the Manehattan museum, and a few of those things did NOT like being removed !  Good thing we have some anti-curse specialists on staff.  I think a few might work with the REA too."


Tongue Twister looked around as she stretched her legs and wings.  "Dad's shop is a few blocks from here." she stated as she started out, "He and mom moved here from Manehatten quite a few years ago.  Richer customers."


A few minutes of walking led them to Caveat Emptor's Discount Emporium - a two story building with a freshly painted sign.


The inside was packed with cheap items from all over Equestria, stuffed on shelves in no conceivable order : comic books from Neighpon, 'fine' china from Long Guo, Vonderbolt merchandise, Mogwai repellent, Celestia commemorative plates, and so on.  Most of the ceiling had been removed to expose the upper floor where the more (actually) valuable goods were stored - and make the place more pegasus friendly.


Tongue Twister flew up to look around.  "Daddy ?  You in here ?"


"In the back, dear." a voice called out.  A few crates in the back were surrounded by a gold glow and moved away from a door, allowing a rather well-fed unicorn stallion to come out.  He was pale cream, with tan mane and tail, with a silver Penrose circle cutie mark.


Tongue Twister dropped back down and gave him a big hug. 


"Always good to see you dear !" he stated, before looking at Naj and Coltson.  "Those two aren't cops, are they ?" he quietly asked her.


Tongue Twister sighed.  "No, dad.  They're not cops !  Coltson's a bookseller !  He sold me that book you were looking for !" she continued, pulling out the first edition she'd purchased from Coltson earlier in the day.


"He had one ?!"


"He had four !"


"Truly ?" he replied (clearly impressed) as he examined the book.  "Superb condition.  This should get that harpy off my flank !

Hmm - I just remembered that I never discussed the price with Double Dealer !  How much did it cost you dear ?"


"Total of the book, all train tickets and aggravation ? About ninety bits." T Twister replied, "You're going to charge her about one hundred fifty or so bits, right ?"


Caveat smiled broadly, before pulling Tongue Twister into hug and a wet kiss on her forehead, "That's my girl !  I'm going to put this in the vault.  And could you look over the latest invoices ?  My Manechurian isn't very good, so I have no idea of what's really in some of these crates."


"No problem dad !" she replied cheerily as she checked the manifests.


OOC : Entertaining Interlude via yudhaikeladai : My Little Pony in The Sims - Episode 3 - Lyra and Bon Bon




Edited by NiktoBarada
First Path of the Way of the Nothing - Glorious Irrelevance
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  • 4 weeks later...

"Wow - seeing so many 'wonderful bargains' in one place has rendered them speechless !" Tongue Twister noted SILENTLY TO HERSELF, WITHOUT MUMBLING HER EVERY THOUGHT (as if she had EVER DONE THAT A SINGLE TIME IN HER LIFE !), "Either that, or there's some residue from that Lorelei charm that idiot tried to pawn off to dad last week !


But the answer is like my thoughts, feelings, and existence - meaningless and irrelevant."


She continued checking the manifest, noting that some of the titles to those comics were euphemisms for some rather crude acts ...


And there was a Rosacea hemovoracium in the tallest box.


OOC : thank you EVER so much for giving MY character a mental defect to suit YOUR purposes y'all !  It's not like I have any right to play my character my way or anything, right ?  Or that you can't alter someone else's character or dictate their actions or behavior or qualities without their creator's CONSENT, right ?


Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to return the 'favor' at a more opportune time !

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As they stepped into the bookstore, Naj started to get the uncomfortable sensation of being out of place. The truth was, this wasn't really her field of expertise.  She did like books, more than the average changeling, but the sort she tended to enjoy tended to land squarely in the realms of fiction rather than anything of historical or magical significance.  Much as she did like the idea of seeing Coltson in action, the truth was she was likely to be as much a liability as an asset in this situation.


And, to tell the truth, it sounded like the supposed source of the troubles here was somepony they knew before and hadn't been so bad.  That is to say, somepony who it might be best to talk down, rather than smack down.  While Naj did prefer a peaceful resolution, and was as happy to talk as anyone else, her skill set was focused on the direct approach above all others.  She'd been building up other skills, but a mare would always have her specialty.


It turned out she had a perfect excuse to get out of the was as well, and thanks to what she'd established to be her cover, not only would it fit but she wouldn't even really have to lie about it.  “I just remembered,” she said, when there was a lull in the conversation, “I actually have a few reports I have to make at the castle, while I'm in town.  So, rather than getting underhoof,” she added, with a bit of a grin, “I'm going to get to it.”  She turned and trotted out the door, calling “good luck!” back to the ponies inside as she left the shop for the streets outside, trotting away toward her destination.



I feel it would be best to take my leave here, rather than stay and aggravate the situation.  I would have preferred to try to work something out in private first, but that's just how things go sometimes I suppose.  Better to quit while we're ahead perhaps, or at least before we fall too far behind.


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  • 1 month later...

"Well, when business calls, you have to answer." she replied to Naj as she left, "It has been nice meeting you.  Later, perhaps."


"Hey dad !  Did you really mean to order this rose bush ?" she yelled towards the backroom.


"Oh, it arrived ? Great !" he replied as he returned, then used his magic to open the crate.  Inside was a tall bell jar, and within that was a small, very sad-looking rose bush.  With a single pale bloom.  And some of the narrowest, sharpest thorns imaginable.


"I don't think you should be getting too close to that thing." Tongue Twister warned.


"I'll be fine !" he replied, bringing his muzzle closer to the plant.  "Hmmm ... Looks like it could use a bit of water ..."


The Rosacea hemovoracium - 'blood eating rose' - sensed the warmth and carbon dioxide of his breath.  And lashed out,

Tongue Twister managed to bite the rose near its roots, and carefully pulled it off.  The plant now looked MUCH healthier, and the bloom was now the palest pink.


"WHY DID YOU BUY THAT THING ?!" she asked her dad, gesturing towards the rose.  From several steps away.


"Been getting some rats and mice in the shop." Caveat Emptor replied, "And I know how you feel about cats."


He carefully lifted the rose with his magic and took it into the backroom.  "Feisty little thing, aren't you ?" she stated to the plant as he rubbed his muzzle, "I can respect that !"

Tongue Twister looked to Coltson, slightly embarrassed, "That's my dad.  Mom's office is across the street."



OOC : Stalling as best I can.


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  • 1 month later...


Musical Interlude for this commercial break :


Lullaby for a Princess, WarpOut version



"What to do about this situation with Double Dealer ?" Tongue Twister mused TO HERSELF as she headed across the street, "I have two choices.


One : deal with it myself, and nip the problem in the bud.

Two : ignore it until it becomes a major crisis.  Then continue to do nothing so More Important Ponies can heroically step in to save all Equestria at the last possible moment.


Buck that !  I'll deal with it myself !  Some help would be nice, but its not like I'll ever get any.  Can't wait for something that will probably never come ...."


She entered "Shady's Shipping Shop" and looked around for her mother.

The place looked like it always did - maps of every railroad and mail route in Equestria (along with their schedules and rates), boxes of pre-folded boxes of every useful size, scales and labels stacked up to the ceiling of one wall, far too high to reach without a stepladder.


But since her mother Shady Dealer is a pegasus, she never got around to buying one.


"You in here mom ?" she called out, figuring she's in here SOMEWHERE.


"Tongue Twister ?  What are you doing here honey ?" a stern-looking dark gray pegasus mare with a straight black mane and tail, wearing a red vest and skirt inquired as she came from a storeroom in back, "Something going on ?"


"Yeah.  Found a copy of that book daddy was looking for.  Gave it to him just now.  Did you know he got a vampire rose ?"


"Ah.  That explains all these invoices of dubious provenance." Shady replied, "You actually found a copy of that book ?"


"Yeah.  A bookseller in Ponyville had four copies, and was willing to part with one."

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I think I can save you some frustration.  Stalling is all good, but saving a fading thread would need communicating with participants to get people engaged again and work out when and how people get back to the thread.


That said, I'm don't think this one's going to continue.  Switchback hasn't been on the site in months if their profile is any indication, and my character left the thread and as things stand isn't likely to come back.  You could try to recruit new people, although if that's the case it might make more sense just to start a new thread entirely.


And on the note of communication, I tried to reach out to you months ago to resolve the difficulty we'd encountered, however as far as I can tell you've never ever read the private message.  To summarize: I apologize for the unintentional insult, it's an activity I assume most characters engage in a little bit, particularly my own which always engage in a little, and not something I see as a sign of disability, insanity or lack of intelligence.

I will also note I was frustrated that you choose to be public with the issue, a choice I found to be unfair to me as it took what should have been a private dispute and put it out on public display, and unfair to any readers who now have to deal with an out-of-character argument muddling up the story.


Added a second spoiler bar because I wanted to make it clear that I'm editing this in.

Something else that struck me, is that I usually make my character's thoughts and internal monologue very different from dialogue.  So, generally not written as if they could be spoken but rather as a sort of descriptive perspective, and I pretty much never recolour the thoughts, only words that are actually spoken.  You clearly prefer a different approach.

I also tend to use other's dialogue as a benchmark for what I can or have to reply to directly, as questions asked or topics brought up, versus other more descriptive text that can and should feed into a response but only rarely ends up specifically addressed.  It's been a while so I don't remember the details, but it's possible there was a miscommunication between the two different ways we do things.


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  • 1 month later...

"Dang !  This amulet is ugly !" Tongue Twister thought to herself as she examined the small squat stone carving she wore on a woven thread necklace.   She'd borrowed it from an acquaintance at the Canterlot Museum.  Most other researchers 'knew' it was cursed, and were glad to be rid of it.


But she knew what it was - it was a depiction on a forgotten ancient god of games and death.  Although those two duties seemed disparate, they had one very important thing in common : fair play !  Anypony wearing this amulet cannot be influenced by spells for good or ill.  No spell can make them run faster, or make them lame.  Or alter their mind. 


Unfortunately, the ponies that carved the grotesque thing were Earth ponies; so to them, having wings and using magic were cheating.

Thus, Tongue Twister was resistant to spells, but could not fly while she was wearing it.


She managed to track down Double Dealer, and asked her 'WHAT THE HAY IS WRONG WITH YOU ?!"


Turns out she recently acquired a 'Favor of Celestia' - a brooch with a minor enchantment to help one think clearly.  It is made of gold, and (of course) resembles Celestia's cutie mark.  A disc, then a ring with eight wavy rays emanating from it.


TT noticed that Double Dealer's brooch only had SEVEN rays.  It wasn't a Favor of Celestia, but another very annoying artifact :  The Shining Star of the Dashing Demogogue.  It 'cleared' your thinking by generating mania, shoving aside all other ideas except one.  And the more fixated one became, the more charming and convincing they became.  If left alone long enough, one could have a fanatic army, ready to march forth and eliminate the color green !  Or exterminate rutabagas in our lifetime.  Or something even far sillier.


Double Dealer didn't want to part with willingly, but Ace and Deuces managed to steal it from her (TT's pet rats will do just about anything for some fresh peas !)


Fortunately, Double Dealer wasn't too far along, and went home to figure out how to best undo what little evil she'd done.


Unfortunately, on her way back to her parent's home, some pony in an alley zapped TT with a Reflection Deflection spell.


As always, some other pony had decided that TT wasn't IMPORTANT ENOUGH to remember her own actions !


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Scene :  Small outdoor diner in Canterlot.  Tongue Twister is having some tea with her parents Caveat Emptor and Shady Dealer.


"So nice to have you in town, even for just a little while honey !" Shady stated to her daughter, "I hope you didn't have to take off too much time at the museum to find that darn book !"


"Nah.  Not too many 'brave adventurers' bringing in artifacts lately." TT replied dismissively.


"Oh, speaking of artifacts - how did you manage to calm Double Dealer down ?  She came by the shop earlier to apologize." Caveat asked.


"What are you talking about dad ?"


"After you visited me at the shop, you went to the Canterlot Museum to borrow one very ugly pendant !" Shady stated, a bit weirded out, "Said you needed it to protect yourself from undue influences."


Tongue Twister thought for a moment.  "Hmm - I visited you at the shop.  I borrowed a 'cursed' item from the museum.  I went to find Double Dealer to see what was up with her, and lights in Polohama are magitech items.


Wait - what ?


Just before I came here, I returned the amulet to the museum.  They were NOT happy to have it back.  Before that, I was in the shopping district.  Before that, the main exports of ancient Tenochtitlan were chili peppers and cocoa."


TT dropped her head on the table, then bumped her forehead a few times.   "GAhhhh !! NOT AGAIN !"


Shady comforted her daughter with a hug.  "Looks like another Reflection Deflection spell.  Darn those lazy bullies at SMILE !  Think they're too good to use lies, bribes and threats like everyone else !"


She then gave her unicorn husband the biggest puppy dog eyes she could muster. "Can you do something to help ?"


"Messing with any creature's memory is a line won't cross !  For any price !" he replied, "I don't know enough about those kinds of spells to risk helping her.  Besides, she's managed to break those kinds of spells on her own before."


"I'll be fine mom !" TT stated, "I - just need to buy some supplies to hole up for a few days.  And some aspirin.  A LOT of aspirin."


And so, a few hours later, TT visited her father's shop.


"So, dad, you think you could make this enchanted item for me ?" she asked, unrolling a scroll on the benchtop.


He looked it over.  "A memory vault ?!  Why would you need something like that ?"


"Do you know how many times my memories have been tweaked ?"




"NEITHER DO I !" TT replied loudly, "And it is getting VERY annoying !  I may have done something useful or important - and some OTHER pony decided that I am not worthy to have my own memories !


That crap ends NOW !" she finished with a growl.


Caveat inched away from his obviously irate daughter.  "Okay !  I get the point honey !  A memory vault is a tricky spell, but I can probably do it.  And if I can't, I know a few ponies that can.


Most of the components are inexpensive, but you'll need a matched pair of memory pearls.  Those are not easy to come by.

I know someone in Huangjing that might have some.  You won't mind making a delivery for me, would you ?"


"What do you need delivered ?" TT asked warily.


"Bottlecaps." Caveat replied.


TT looked at him for a few seconds.  "Bottlecaps ?  That isn't code for something is it ?"


"Not this time." he replied, "Collectors of odd things are everywhere.  And Equestrian bottlecaps are extremely rare in Long Guo.  A Longma I met a few months ago was trying to complete a set.  He'll pay top bits for them, but I only managed to get all the ones he wanted a week ago."


TT thought for a bit.  "Well, if that's all you need, I'll do it !" she stated happily, "I'm pretty sure you have one of the other parts - a figurine.  Do you have something extraordinarily tacky and cheap ?"


Caveat raised an eyebrow. "That's pretty much all I sell here dear.  May I ask why you want something like that ?  The figurine holding one of the pearls can be anything, so WHY specifically cheap and tacky ?"


"To hide it in plain sight of course !" she replied, "A little glow in the dark paint on the memory pearl, and it will look fake !  Anypony that sees it will not realize how valuable it truly is !"


"You're as sneaky and underhooved as your mother !" Caveat stated with a chuckle, but thought 'that is a good thing AND a bad thing at the same time.'


And so as one part of Tongue Twister's adventures ends,  another might begin.  Or not.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Tongue Twister laid on her bed back in her apartment in Manehattan.  She had the shades drawn, and was wearing a sleep mask and earmuffs - for the deep rummaging through the mindscape she was going to attempt, there could be no external distractions.


She imagined being on a cloud, floating through the sky on a moonless night.  Off in the distance in every direction she chose to look, were dark clouds with Mind Palaces upon them.  Each one representing a language and the cultures they were from.


She knew A LOT of languages, and so needed truly advanced memory techniques to keep them all straight.


But what she wanted was in a secure Vault on the ground - so she tucked her wings in and spiraled downward through mindspace.


There she found the entrances to her memories - two doors set into a mountain.  One was a thick steel door with sigils on it; the other looked like it was stolen from an outhouse, barely hanging on the hinges.  She went through THAT door, since the other led to endless circling in a labyrinth with no exit.


In the unmarked hallways, she came to an intersection.  She waited for a moment, listening for something.  From one corridor extended two long spider legs, then two more.  Then the creature itself - a dark grey pony spider with pairs of thin, twenty foot long legs were each of a pony's legs would be, and three pairs of yellow eyes.  It was also wearing a tool belt and a hard hat.


"So, what sort of damage was done this time Dream Weaver ?" Tongue Twister asked the arachno-pony (the  Aspect of Creation in her mind).


"Not all that much actually." it replied with TT's voice, "Since the memories were shuffled instead of being crushed, burned, shredded or ripped from your skull, there was almost no damage at all !"


"Hmph !  Thank Celestia for unintended favors !" TT replied, "I guess Whisp is having a conniption fit though."


"To say the least." Dream Weaver replied, "Every time she gets close to getting those recent memories  organized, that spell shuffles them !


So, you're going to do the Multi-Mind technique again ?"


"It worked the last time.  I just need to find at least two more Aspects to help."


Black oil started dripping from the ceiling, gathering together into a puddle.  Which began extending upward like a tethered bubble.  An eye appeared on it, which split into two eyes, which slowly migrated to where they should be on a pony.  Ears and limbs formed, and XynE (Zany - the Aspect of Flexibility) was in da house !  Who smiled and 'squeeeee'd in greeting.


"So, you got victimized by yet ANOTHER self-important twit ?" a harsh voice sneered from down the left corridor - from Zagzig, The Horror Within.  Aspect of Wrath.  Which looked like a more buff version of Tongue Twister.


"Why else would I be here ?" Tongue Twister asked her darkside, "Maybe we'll find out who did it this time, and we'll know who to beat up !"


"Promises promises !" Zagzig groused as he followed Tongue Twister, XynE and Dream Weaver down a corridor to meet up with Whisp (Aspect of Organization).  Who looked like a dark storm cloud in the shape of a pegasus, and even had the white socks that Tongue Twister has.  And the same glasses - the only solid part of Whisp's configuration.


"It is right over here." Whisp announced as she pointed the way.  They were in a library, with endless shelves up to ceiling - which could not be seen due to sheer height.    There, one of the books seemed to glow.


"Ok.  Everybody - GRAB IT NOW !" TT stated as she tried to grab the memory represented as a book - it immediately tried to swap places with a nearby book, but the other four Aspects grabbed the books before the swap could be made.  The Reflection Deflection spell was only intended to work on one pony's mind, and had no defense against being pulled in five different directions, and so collapsed with an implosion of light and concussive force.


TT was upside down against a wall.  "Everyone else alive ?" she asked.


There was a gigantic black stain on one wall.  If flowed back together to form XynE.  "Ow." she stated.


The smoke coalesced back into Whisp.  "I seem to be as intact as a vaporous idea can be."


From behind a shield make of silk, Dream Weaver replied "Aye."


There was a string of curses and swear words (in many different languages) from further down the aisle.  


"Zagzig is fine." XynE stated as she peered at the hulking shape in the distance, "I'd be worried when she didn't swear and curse !"


Whisp did a double take.  "I - keep forgetting that you can speak !"


"Of course I can speak !" XynE replied (with her mouth on the front of her barrel), "It's just that I only speak when I have something relevant to say !"




Tongue Twister opened the book, which became a floating screen displaying the memory it represented.


It showed TT talking with Double Dealer.  Getting the Shining Star artifact from her.  Then turning for home.  Some blurry figure thanked her for solving the problem - before blasting her with the Reflection Deflection spell.


"BOHHHHHHHHHHHHGUS !" whined XynE, "We don't know who zapped us, do we ?", earning a growl from Zagzig.


"Why don't you render your mind impervious to such attacks ?" Zagzig asked her lightside, "You know of such mental conditioning tricks !"


"Those tricks take decades to learn.  I doubt I have the time or dedication to do them properly."  TT replied, "And if they knew we were immune, they'd just hit us harder.  With different spells.  That AREN'T as gentle as the RefDef spell."


"So that's why you're trying to make a Memory Vault !" Whisp stated enthusiastically, "You'll still be affected by the spells.  It's just that you can reclaim what was lost later."


"Correct !" Tongue Twister answered as the surroundings began to fade, "Well, it looks like were done here.  I have a bottle of aspirin with my name on it waiting for me back in the real world.  So just go back to what you were doing to keep our mind functioning !  TTFN !"


Tongue Twister awoke on her bed a few hours later, every limb with the 'pins and needles' sensation, and feeling like some pony was hammering her skull with a sledgehammer - from the inside.


"Hopefully this will be the last time I have to do THAT !" she groused to herself as she limped to the sink to get a glass of water, and downed a few aspirin ...

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Tongue Twister looked over the paperwork her mother had given her - various documents of transit, passports, import/export licenses, and directions.


"Great Celestia does Mom give wonderful directions !" TT said to herself in her room in Manehattan, "This has got to be the most efficient route possible.  Except near the end here - if I stop at this station, I'll have to fly for three and a half days to the east, slightly curving to the north north east along a river's course. 


Or, I can just go to the end of the line.  Then it's just two days straight flying."


She noted that on her map, her mother had drawn a rough cartoon of an elderly stallion, with the words 'Ticket Taker of DooOOOOM !!' written under it.


TT looked at it closely, squinted at it, then wondered why her mom had written it like that.


"Short, straight and direct is always best for long trips." she noted to herself as she headed for the train station.




"Well, THAT was ... cringeworthy !" she noted to herself as she took to the skies, heading twelve degrees, 25 minutes, 15 seconds north of east.

It was times like this, high in the air among the clouds that she REALLY loved being a pegasus !

Ace and Deuces had a rather different opinion of things; being ground creatures, they hunkered down in her saddlebag and didn't move much.


TT figured three stops of half an hour each for meals and such should be fine.  She'd end up on the eastern shore of Equestria, to catch a boat to Neighpon (she can't fly the great distance with no rest stops !)  From there it was a short flight to Long Guo.  Then to the Outer Ward of Heighjing to track down the Longma dad sold that bottlecap collection to.

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  • 1 month later...

Tongue Twister was lounging in a cafe in Las Pegasus, having returned from an unexpectedly successful trip.

She managed to acquire a matched pair of memory pearls, and her dad and his associates were crafting the

Memory Vault for her.  She had also picked up some Hearths Warming gifts - a small cask of beer from Hoofenheim for mom (she used to work in the casinos, and they always had The Good Stuff), and some Polka albums for dad (she loves the big goof dearly, but his tastes in music were, well .... )


She looked around and the busy opulence around her.  "Hard to believe mom grew up here."


"Long time no see, cousin !" a pegasus stallion stated.


"Looking good Crowbar !" TT replied, "How's Uncle Legbreaker doing ?".


"Same as always." he replied, "So, what brings you to town ?  Las Pegasus has never been your style."


"Business.  Been trying to expand my vocational abilities."


Crowbar looked around furtively.  "Now may not be a good time for you to be here."


"Oh ?  What's going on ?"


"Some new casino moved in.  We may have to have a talk with them, to make sure they're not going to muscle in on our territory."


TT held her breath to not snort her iced tea out her nose - Crowbar was talking about Ice Storm's place !


"The folks there have no intention of muscling in on anybody." TT replied quietly, looking about sneakily.


"Really ?  How would you know that ?"


"I have my sources." she replied, "Trust me - it's just some rich stallion trying to get richer without anyone noticing."


Crowbar suspected his cousin was shading the truth a bit, but knew not to press.


"You're sure we won't need to have a meeting with them ?" he asked.


"Probably."  TT replied with a dismissive wave, "But I'm just spinning the breeze here.  Give my regards to Uncle Legbreaker for me."


"Sure.  See you later." Crowbar replied as he walked away, figuring that TT had passed on a warning for him about pursuing the matter further.


TT heaved a sigh of relief.  "Hopefully, STAR will have one less mundane threat to deal with.  And mom's old friends would've been wiped out if they tried to 'deal with' them !


It's funny - if I do things right, nopony should know if I've done anything at all."

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  • 1 month later...

Outdoor café in Canterlot.  Table with the unicorn mare Double Dealer, and Tongue Twister's parents Shady Dealer and Caveat Emptor.


"I'm sorry for any trouble I put you and your family through !" Double Dealer said to Shady, "I honestly don't know what got into me !"


"It's okay Double Dealer." Caveat replied, "It wasn't your fault.  Once some of those artifacts take hold, they're hard to fight off.  I should've thought to look earlier, but artifacts like the Shining Star are pretty rare.  The one you had was only the second one I've ever seen.   Where did you get that item anyway ?"


Double Dealer thought for a moment.  "You know, I - don't remember !  That whole miserable episode is kind of blurry now."


"Don't worry about it.  Fuzzy memories are a common side effect of spells that alter the mind.  Oh, what are you planning to do with the book ?  I know a few ponies that might bid on it."


"Oh, I don't have it anymore."  Double Dealer replied, "Some stallions from the Bureau of Artifact Verification and Fraud Compensation showed up a few days ago, and bought it for fifty bits.

Good thing it was a fake, all things considered."


Shady glared at her.  "The book Caveat sold to you was NOT a fake !"


"Oh." Double Dealer stated, "So, I lost two hundred bits buying a book I really didn't want because my mind was warped by an artifact, and then got cheated by a government organization.  I'm down one hundred and fifty bits !"


Shady nudged her husband.  "I can give you a, refund, if you'd like." he said, barely managing to force out the hated word 'refund'.


Double Dealer thought for a bit, before sighing.  "No.  Keep it.  Consider it recompense for the trouble and aggravation I put your family through for no good reason.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some afterschool programs to set up for tomorrow.   We have a few pegasi foals in the program.  You wouldn't mind stopping by and helping

with some flying around the city Shady ?"


"I'd be more than happy to help some little fliers !" Shady replied, "Same time they usually start ?"


"Yes.  See you then." she said after she picked up the check and left.


Shady and Caveat returned to their home, Shady flying two feet off the ground, and Caveat staying a few feet away (having learned from decades of marriage to her just how much room she needs for proper flaps).  He noticed she seemed deep in thought.


"What's with that look, dear ?" he asked.


"I don't know what you're talking about." she groused, not changing her expression.


"We've been married thirty years.  I know when there is something stirring around in your head.  What is it this time ?"


"That was an oddly specific thing she asked for." Shady stated, "Why that, and not something else impossible to get ?"


"It was just a random idea that popped into her addled head." Caveat answered, fearing what rabbit hole this conversation may be headed into.


"If it was a random idea, it would be an idea already IN her head !" Shady answered tersely, "How many ponies have ever heard of that book ?  Or knew there was more than one edition ?  Or that it came in Prench ?  And I know there is no 'Bureau of Artifact Verification and Fraud Compensation !  There isn't enough of that sort of fraud to have a whole agency for it."


Caveat sighed.  His wife was an expert at probability mathematics, which for some reason led her to see connections where none actually existed.  But she may have a point about that non-existent bureau.


"What are you suggesting dear ?  That someone gave Double Dealer that Shining Star, then suggested she ask for one particular rare book ?  Whatever for ?"


Shady thought for a moment.  "Maybe somepony with a Prench first edition used it to go somewhere he shouldn't have, and found or hid some treasure, and he made notes in the margin !  And now somepony is trying to find it !  Which means examining every single Prench first edition that can be found !"


"That's - highly unlikely dear !" he replied.


"But this is EQUESTRIA !" she stated as she took to the air for a dramatic gesture, "Less likely things happen with disturbing … regularity …. here ?" she continued with a very confused look on her face, looking at something behind her husband.


Caveat turned to see what she was looking at.


"Huh.  A fancy unicorn riding a sphinx.  Point taken dearest !"

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  • 3 weeks later...

"That's not a giant flying kitten !" Shady stammered, "THAT is a sphinx !  Just one of those terrorized an entire kingdom before it was outwitted and driven off by the best Pillar of Equestria - Somnambula !"


"True enough." Caveat replied, "So, what do you think will happen here ?  Standard Scenario BM-1 ?"


Shady thought for a moment.  "BM-1.  Big Monster Attack.  The BM swaggers in, does some damage, attracting the attention of the Mane Six and other Important Ponies.  Who beat it down.  Meaning there really isn't anything for me or Caveat or anypony else to do."


"Yes, I suppose so." she sighed, "That means we can get back to that mysterious book we were discussing !"


"Don't see how that's possible now.  Those 'government agents' bought it from Double Dealer.  It's gone now."


"Oh.  Right." Shady replied glumly, "Nothing to do now but go back home and wait for things to go pear-shaped here.  Then back to normal."


Caveat gave her a supporting hug before they took the train back to Manehattan.


Scene : Caveat's Discount Emporium.  A young unicorn couple have brought in an old trunk to sell.


"This is a very well made trunk !" Caveat stated as he knocked on it here and there to test its solidity, "Where did you get it ?"


"It used to be my grandfather's." the mare stated, "I inherited it a few years ago.  Been dragging it all over Manehattan.  I wanted to see if I can at least get a few bits for it."


"Well, I can give you fifty bits for just the trunk." he stated, "Can you come back in a few days ?  I'll need time to appraise whatever's inside.  You wouldn't happen to have the combination to the lock ?"  She glumly shook her head, before stating she and her husband can come back in three days.


Later that day, he and Shady were checking out the contents of the trunk (Caveat knows a few spells for 'dealing with' stubborn locks)


"I'd say her grandfather was Prench." Shady stated from behind a small pile of books and magazines, "Everything in here is Prench !"


"Yes.  It's genuine Prench junk." Caveat replied, "None of this stuff is worth much.  They'd get more bits from recycling it than selling it !  The trunk this stuff was in is more valuable than all the stuff inside it !"


Shady began laughing before holding up a tattered, moth-eaten book.  "Hey dearest !  Does this book look familiar ?"


Caveat took the book in his gold telekinetic grasp.  Then sighed heavily.  "It's the Hitchhiker's Guide to Equestria.  First Edition.  In Prench.  In worse than Poor condition though; three bits would be a generous offer !"


Shady was grinning, and gleefully bouncing in place.  Caveat noticed, then returned the book to her.  "Okay, you can see if there are any mysterious codes in it."


She took the book and carefully paged through it (occasionally replacing pages that fell out).  "There's a lot of writing in this book."


"That's because books like that weren't meant to be collected; they were meant to be used." Caveat replied over his shoulder, "The last five pages of each chapter were left blank, so the owner could jot their own notes in."


"I saw that.  But there are notes in other languages in the margins on some of these pages." Shady stated, "This page has a note in Germaneic, another has Itailian, and I'm not sure what languages some of these are !  It's all in the same mouth writing.  Why would somepony use different languages in their own book ?


Unless - IT'S COME KIND OF CODE !!" she squealed gleefully as her husband rolled his eyes.

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  • 1 month later...

It took a bit of effort, but Caveat Emptor and Shady Dealer managed to figure out what the various languages were (thanks to having their daughter's coursebooks on hoof - Polyglot's Compendium of the Ponish  Languages was very useful.  Turned out the notes were simple phrases that could be found in any tourist's phrasebook - 'where is the restroom ?', 'how much for a cup of coffee ?' and 'where do you keep the chocolate ?' being the most common.  It made sense, since the first letter of the languages the notes were written in were the clues that mattered;  WHAT the notes said was irrelevant.


"So we have ten different languages, no two starting with the same letter." Shady noted, "And ten different numbers.  So, if we arrange the letters in numerical order, they spell out …"


"BLEARGHXDNM." Caveat stated.  "I - seriously doubt that is a word in any language dear.  But the other option is what ?  Ten numbers in one particular order ?  How does that help ?  What could they mean ?"


"It's a vector !" Shady replied, "Sixteen and seventy nine hundredths miles, at two hundred twenty five degrees, fifteen minutes from true east, starting from whatever longitude and latitude those last six numbers are !"


"Ohhhkay.  But why not just use the longitude and latitude directly ?" he had to ask.


"Maybe it wasn't safe to get those coordinates." Shady replied, "Or there wasn't enough time.  Or there weren't enough unique landmarks to determine position.  Or to reduce the odds of just guessing right - with six numbers, you'd have a one in seven hundred and twenty chance of just guessing right; with ten numbers, you'd have a one in three million, six hundred twenty eight thousand eight hundred chance !"


Caveat looked at her side eyed. 


"What ? I memorized all factorials up to twenty !" his wife replied, "My cutie mark IS for probability and math !  It even has P(i)=n!/r! (n-r)!, remember ?" 


Meanwhile, Caveat had wandered into the aisles of his shop, and came back with an atlas, protractor and compass.


"Let's see - that longitude and latitude.  Go that direction for that distance puts us ….  Uhm, honey ?  Are you SURE you got those numbers in the right order ?  They put us in the Badlands !  Just east of the Sea of Ruin, on the northernmost edge of Tenochtitlan !"


"Well, there ARE many ruins and old temples yet to be discovered out there." she replied.


"And how are we supposed to investigate them ?" Caveat asked, "I'm a curio merchant, and you're a card sharp/shipping agent !  Neither of us is a dashing archaeologist !"


"We can go and take a look.  See what's there." Shady replied, "If it's too dangerous for us, we can just join up with some 'dashing adventurers' that are always swaggering through the jungles.  Or pass the info onto TT. She'll know how to handle it." 


Caveat thought for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of this little jaunt.  But since his wife was all for it, he decided to go along with it.


"That's a very long journey." he began, "The trains don't go out there, and what trails MIGHT be present would be long, constant battle against the jungle.  The fastest and easiest way to get there would be by air.  I think I have just the thing in the warehouse !"


They went around back, to the warehouse where Caveat kept curios that were too large to fit in his shop.  He opened the door and went in, while Shady stayed outside (and well away from the rose bushes on each side of the door.  WHY Caveat's distant relatives sent him a vampire rose she didn't know, nor cared to.)


He returned momentarily, carting a large basket stuffed with steel rods and what looked like yards of grey silk.


"A mini zeppelin ?" she asked.


"Yep.  Should get us there in style !" replied, starting to put the rods together.


"Weren't those recalled a few years ago because of severe safety concerns ?"


"Yep.  That's why I was able to buy this for a steal !" he replied, still fitting parts together.


Shady tried to say  something, but nothing came out for a minute.  "WHY would you buy a flying deathtrap ?!"


"The original models were perfectly safe !" her husband replied, "They had to cut some corners to mass produce them.  But it takes very little money to upgrade a mass-produced model to a safe one  !   With a little work, you can get a safe mini-Zep for a quarter the price of a stock one !"


"It is times like this that I am glad I'm a Pegasus !" Shady thought to herself.


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  • 1 month later...

Scene : Caveat Emptor's shop in Canterlot, two hours after they left.  A cobalt blue glow surrounds the door knob and the keyhole.  A few moments later, the lock was picked.  Two stallions slip inside - an Earth pony Agent Smash, and the unicorn Agent Grab.

"Why are we searching this curio merchant's shop ?" Smash asked.

"He recently purchased an old trunk from that old codger's granddaughter.  He may have hidden a clue in there amongst the junk."

"Who ?  The curio merchant ?"

Grab sighed.  "No you dolt !  The old codger !  He found something about fifty years ago, and we really need to know what it was.  It could be a valuable asset."

"Well, good luck finding anything in here !" Smash replied as he wandered into the store, "Curio merchants rarely organize their shelves.  They've noticed that the more effort a pony puts into finding something, the more likely they are to buy it.  Looks like this one took that idea to an extreme."

Grab noticed a pile of books on the bench.  Every one of them a linguistics text.  A good sign.

"Hey Grab !  I found something ya should look at !"

The unicorn walked into the backroom.  One desk was covered with notes, and the blackboard on the wall had a list of page numbers and a list of many simple phrases in many different languages.

"So, does this mean they found something ?"

Grab smiled.  "Most definitely !  Found his notes, AND deciphered them !"

"That would explain why they left using a mini-zep instead of the train." Smash noted, "They needed to get someplace the trains don't run."

Grab noticed there was an open atlas on the table, with a red circle marked on a spot on the northern edge of Tenochtitlan.

"Well Agent Smash, this is our lucky day !  We know where they went, and I can probably determine the route they took there - so we know where to intercept them when they come back !"

"So we follow standard protocol then ?" Smash inquired, "Let them retrieve the dingus, then steal it from them at the last minute ?"

"Of course.  But first, we update the Director with what we've found.  We might have to keep an eye on the daughter as well."

"Who ?  The merchant's filly ?  Whatever for ?"

"They may have clued her in.  She is their foal after all.  Makes her a potential loose end."  He then looked around furtively, then continued in hushed tones "And I suspect she could be Agent Kilroy."

Smash quirked at eyebrow at his fellow agent.  "Agent Kilroy ?  The nigh mythological bogey* that has hobbled every agency's artifact acquisition missions for years ?  The spook* rumored to know more about ancient magics than the Alicorn Quartet ?  THAT Agent Kilroy ?"

"Yes.  Who better to conceal artifacts than somepony who deals with them for a living ?"

"If she worked for any known organization, we'd know about it." Smash replied with a sigh.

"True - but what if she works for an UNKNOWN organization ?  Or a newly formed one we haven't had a chance to infiltrate or take over yet ?"

"If she's been keeping dangerous artifacts from everypony for years, she couldn't be part of a NEWLY formed organization, now could she ?" Smash stated as he headed for the door, "And do ya seriously believe that any organization could hide their existence for long ?  We do have agents everywhere ya know."

* bogey : an unidentified agent or organization
* spook : slang for an intelligence operative

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Well, THAT was a horrid little adventure ! " Shady Dealer exclaimed as she and her husband Caveat Emptor entered their home in Canterlot, "But that stopover in the Crystal Empire was sort of fun !  Those rooms in the hotel were sweEEEet !  I've never seen a tub that big made of pure crystal before.  At least not in a room we could afford."

"Well, it IS the Crystal Empire dearest." Caveat replied with a chuckle, "Pretty much everything there is made of crystal.  Even the Royal Gardens.  And sometimes the ponies."

"Yeah.  We really need to spend a week or two there."  Shady replied before getting a sweet smile, "Our thirty fifth anniversary is coming up in a few months ..."

Caveat smiled.  "I'll start making the arrangements."  he stated before planting a gentle kiss behind her left ear.

Their tender moment was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Now who could that be ?" Caveat asked Shady as he headed to the door and opened it.

Two stallions in grey suits were standing there - an Earth pony and a unicorn.

"Greetings Caveat Emptor.  Shady Dealer." the unicorn stated with a nod to each, "My associate and I are from the Royal Equestrian Artifact Fraud and Recovery Agency.  It is our understanding that you two have recently returned from an impromptu expedition to Tenochtitlan."

"Yes.  We have.  How did you know about that ?" Shady inquired while subtly twitching her right ear forward twice - a signal to her husband : 'they are trying to scam us'.  He merely grinned in reply.

"It is our job to know everything." the earth pony agent stated, "Especially when the safety of Equestria is involved.  Now what, if anything, did you find there ?"

"Nothing but a whole lot of trouble." Caveat replied with a sigh, "It was some sort of ancient vault full of death traps.  Old, decrepit death traps, but death traps nonetheless.  We didn't get very far in before our luck ran out and we got caught in a pit trap."

"Yeah.  And if we didn't know a way to call our daughter for help, we could've died there !" Shady stated, "Wait - WE COULD HAVE DIED THERE ?!?!" she squeaked then grabbed Caveat with her wings, "If you hadn't used that Remote Presence spell, no one would have known where we were !   No one would realize we were missing for weeks, if not months !  We couldn't die quickly from the spikes, but we would have starved to death in a pit in a vault in the middle of nowhere !"

"Now calm down dearest !" Caveat replied while giving her a hug, "Focusing on horrible things that COULD have happened will only make you miserable."

"So, you didn't find anything ?  Or bring anything back ?" the unicorn agent asked.

Caveat glared at him.  "No.  We didn't find anything to bring back.  We didn't even see anything remotely valuable."

"I see.  Now, your daughter.  Why did you call her ?  Is she a professional adventurer ?"

Shady's rage flared up, but she quickly hid it.  She didn't want her only child involved in any more trouble.  "No.  She's a linguist.  She studies languages.  The only examples of the older ones are in ancient tombs and vaults, so she has experience dealing with their hazards."

"Could she have retrieved something from the vault then ?" the earth pony agent asked.

"We have no idea !" Shady replied, "She was still back in that horrible place when we left !"

"Now, how could we get in contact with her ?" the unicorn agent asked, "We just need to ask her some questions.  Make sure there are no loose ends, or pending threats."

Shady and Caveat looked to each other.  "We're not really sure how you'd contact her via regular means." Caveat stated as he scratched his ear, "She used to work for the Manehattan Museum of Natural History, but they downsized her."

"She was looking into jobs elsewhere - Baltimare, Fillydelphia, the Crystal Empire - but hasn't told us where she relocated to yet." Shady continued, "We've been waiting for weeks to hear something definite from her."

"She rescued you two from an ancient vault." the unicorn agent stated, "So you've had contact with her recently !  She didn't tell you where she was working ?"

"It didn't come up at the time !" Shady snarled at him, "She was too busy rescuing us to make small talk !  And I didn't think of asking where she was working !  It didn't seem too important !  I'm sure we'll get a letter from her explaining everything in a few days."

The two agents mulled it over.  "Thank you for your time.  We will be in touch if we require anything further of you." the unicorn agent stated as they headed for the door and left.

After a few minutes to make sure they were really gone, Shady asked her husband "Do you think they bought it ?"

"Probably not." he replied, "But it will take them a day or two to check their sources to figure that out."

"Oh great !  Even though we bought her some time, we sent some organization with dubious motives after OUR ONLY FOAL !!" Shady stammered.

Caveat mused for a moment.  "She is not without resources or wit, dearest.  She said she was in a 'Scenario 12 B'.  Since she is part of an organization trying to remain hidden, they will deal with anyone asking questions about their agents or employees."

"But what if that gets her in more trouble ?"

"Then we will give her whatever help we can !" he replied, "Perhaps you should give your relatives and old 'business acquaintances' back in Las Pegasus a head's up to look for trouble.  I'll see if I can call in some favors in case they're needed."

Road on the way out of Canterlot

"You do know they were lying to us, right ?" the earth pony, Agent Smash, asked his accomplice.

"Of course." Agent Grab replied, "They were both very good at it.  Probably from being married for so long.  But we do know they didn't get anything from the vault."

"Which means their daughter might.  Where do we start tracking her down ?"

Agent Grab thought for a moment.  "They claimed she used to work for the Manehattan Museum.  Perhaps some inquiries there may pay off - they'd need to know where to send any last paychecks or paperwork.  Or she spoke with other workers."

Smash smiled.  "So we're not wasting time looking in Baltimare, Fillydellphia or the Crystal Empire then ?"

Grab scoffed.  "Of course not !  They were just tossing out cities at random as diversions to waste our time."

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  • 1 month later...

About an hour later - after checking his shop to make sure everything was still there - Caveat returned home.  Where Shady Dealer was writing equations on a chalkboard.


A LOT of equations.

Equations using math so advanced it didn't even use numbers anymore.

"Uhm, honey ?  What are you doing ?" he asked.

"Trying to figure out how much trouble our daughter is in." she replied without even looking away from the board.

"There are equations for that sort of thing ?"

"There are equations for everything !" Shady replied, "You just need the right data."
She then sighed heavily before stating "And I have more than enough."

He noticed she had her wings held tight against her body and her tail was partly tucked under; she was distressed.
He gave her a hug and kissed her just beneath her left ear.  "So, how bad is it ?"

Shady collected her thoughts for  moment.  "Well, in order to simplify the equations, I assumed there were only two kinds of actors - 'good' and 'evil'.  Good groups are working for the good of themselves and Equestria, while evil groups are only out for themselves.  Meaning that they will be sabotaging each other, while good groups usually don't harm other good groups.  The upshot of all those interactions is that good groups are larger but fewer in number, with more resources and tend to last longer, while evil groups are far more numerous but volatile, in a constant state of depletion/replacement.

The evil groups are in a constant state of 'all against all'.  As long as all evil groups have roughly equal resources, there can never be a winner amongst them."

Caveat thought for a moment.  "So they'd each be looking for a Big Score.  Something to give themselves an edge over everyone else."

"Exactly !" Shady replied, "And once one group takes an interest in something, all other groups will follow suit.  Either to get the Advantage for themselves, or level the field by denying the Advantage to others.  Even the 'good' groups follow that logic." 

Caveat could follow her logic, and didn't like where it was going.  "So, how bad are things going to get ?"

"There is a ninety eight percent chance that AT LEAST TWO covert groups interested in her  !" Shady exclaimed, "Seventy two percent chance it's two evil groups, twenty seven percent chance of one good/one evil, bit less of one percent chance of two good groups."

"Hmmm.  Those are winnable scenarios." Caveat stated, "She can either ally herself with a 'good' group, or just turn the two following her against each other."


"You think I don't know that ?!" he replied, "She's not a helpless little filly !  She was never helpless.  She inherited my stubborness, your silver tongue, and relentless drive and sneakiness from both of us !  I almost feel sorry for the fools plotting to use her.

Heh !  Almost !" he finished with a big grin and a chuckle.

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  • 5 months later...

Scene : just outside Canterlot Community Center a few days later

"So, this is where you run your after school program from ?" Shady Dealer asked Double Dealer as they walked through the doors.
"Yes.  I noticed that school lets out after three, but the workday ends at five, or even later." DD replied, "So some colts and fillies needed somewhere safe to be until their parents can get them."

"That's - actually a good idea." Shady replied, "So, how much do you charge to watch the little ones for a few hours ?"

"It's a VOLUNTEER job !  I don't charge for acts of simple decency !" Double Dealer sneered in disgust, "Honestly now Shady, why do you have to be so mercenary about everything ?"

"Mercenary ?!  Do you have any idea of how many good ideas I've seen fail because those in charge thought they were too pure and virtuous to even think about money ?" Shady replied tersely, "There is nothing inherently wrong, dirty or evil about minding the cashflow !  Ponies that act like there is really annoy me !"

They glared at each other for a few moments before Shady broke the tension with a sigh.  "Sorry.  Let's table this for another day.  You asked me to help, and I agreed to do so.  So, you said you've got some pegasi youngsters that could use some air time ?"


"Ah, yes." Double Dealer replied as they entered a very large room set up as a gymnasium with over two dozen fillies and colts playing in groups scattered about, "They should be in here somewhere.  Misty Sonnet ?  Autumn Heart ?"

Shady tried to take it all in.  "How many foals are in this program ?"

"Twenty seven." DD replied between calling out those two names again, "Seventeen unicorns, eight Earth ponies and two pegasi."

Shady did some quick math, factoring in insurance, room rentals, taxes, and miscellaneous expenses that little ones tend to accrue.  "You must be spending over thirteen hundred bits a month on this !"

"Fifteen hundred twenty two, to be exact." Double Dealer replied.

"What ?  How are you planning to keep this program going if you're spending that kind of money ?"

"Something always comes through in the end."

Shady momentarily forgot how to walk from the shock, before scowling and rolling her eyes.  "Oh great - she'll happily stroll into the poor house with a smile on her face just to show off how virtuous she is !"

After calling one more time, two pegasus foals arrived.

The filly Misty Sonnet, with a palest pink coat, white mane and tail.  Like the sky at dawn.  She looked to be nearly a teenager, with a Cutie Mark of a quill in a circle made of clouds.
Her little brother Autumn Heart had deep reddish orange coat, gold mane and tail.  Like the sky at late sunset, and too young to have a mark yet.

"So, what do I do with them DD ?" Shady inquired, "Some high altitude flying ?  Playing at the park ?"

"Well, yes.  Those will do nicely !" Double Dealer answered, "Whatever you used to do with your filly Tongue Twister when she was much younger.  Just be sure to be back here in three hours so their parents can pick them up."


Meanwhile, in the Chairstallion's office of a secret criminal organization :

"Ah.  Agents Smash and Grab.  I presume you have good news about your latest mission ?"

"Yes and no." the unicorn Agent Grab replied, "We watched Caveat and Shady for a week, but they don't have anything from the site.  We think their daughter might have it."

The Chairstallion glared down at them.  "And where is she now ?"

"Her parents tried to give us the runaround, but we got her address !" Agent Smash stated, "Her last paycheck was sent to a post office box in Las Pegasus." 

Their boss thought for a moment.  "That suggests that she lives a few miles or so away from the post office, in a secret location; an egghead like her wouldn't move halfway across Equestria unless she had somewhere to live before the move.  It would be rather unusual for her to have just a PO box.   Therefore, you two will go to Las Pegasus and ferret out where she is, and determine if she has the item.  This is to be PURE recon; do not take any overt action unless you clear it with me first !

Understood ?"

"Yes Sir !" they replied in unison before they turned to leave.

Back in Canterlot, up on a cloud, Misty Sonnet was facing the breeze with her wings outspread to catch even the slightest gust and a look of pure, unadulterated joy on her face.

"Don't get up here very often, do you ?" Shady asked.

 "No !  When we're at school we're not allowed to go above one story without Adult Pegaus Supervision !" Misty replied with a pout, "And there weren't any adult pegasi volunteers until now !  And during the weekends mom and dad take us on 'educational' trips !  And most of that stuff is on the ground !  I've never even seen much of the neighborhood from up here, and we live here !

I think that's the community center over there.  And the market square over there.  But what's that big circular thing over there ?"

Shady looks over the edge (after telling Autumn Heart to NOT see how far that string of drool could stretch before it dripped). "Ah.  That's the new buckball stadium."   Autumn squeaks, then starts bouncing around.

Shady looks to Misty.  "He really likes playing buckball."

Shady watched the little colt bounce about on the cloud for a few moments.  "Autumn Heart ?  Please settle down !  It's a really bad idea to bounce around on a cloud like that."


"Why ?" Misty Sonnet asked, "Daddy said this is a foundation type cloud.  It doesn't hold rain or snow or anything !"

Shady scraped the cloud with her hoof to get a sense of what type it was.  Misty was right.  "Well, that's true.  But if you agitate any kind of cloud enough, it might zap the closest object with a bolt of lightning."

"But we're hundreds of hooves up !" Misty whined, "We're closer to him than anything else !

.... wait a minute ... !"


 Elsewhere in Equestria, another agency is on the move : 

"Ma'am ?  I have the intel you requested." the unremarkable unicorn stated to his earth pony  mare boss as he levitated over two very stuffed folders.

"Any idea why our foes are interested in these two ?" she asked.

"No solid leads as of yet ma'am."

"Hmmm.  Perhaps a recruitment drive ?" she replied as she read the first file.  "According to this, Shady Dealer was a minor cog in the underworld's machine a few decades ago.  Mathematical talent, used for bookmaking, 'creative' accounting, gambling, and money laundering through her card cheating skills in the casinos.  But nothing of note since she got married and had a filly decades ago.

And her husband, Caveat Emptor the curio merchant ?  Multiple charges of grift, sale of property of questionable origin and dubious provenance and quality, and ... 'counterfeit tea' ?  What in Equestria is that ?"

"Do you recall a few years ago, when somepony leaked what Princess Celestia's favorite brand of tea was ma'am ?"

She shuddered.  "Yes.  First there was a run on the product, then the prices went out of control for the few remaining crates.  Almost had to call in the guard to deal with rioting."

"Well, a few days before things went south, tea packed in boxes that closely resembled Celestia's favorite hit the market.  The estimated profit margin on them was about five thousand percent."

"That much ?  Was it actually tea or sawdust ?"

"Turned out it was about thirty percent bargain basement tea, mixed with sawdust filler ma'am."

"And he wasn't arrested on any of these charges ?"

"Correct.  Insufficient evidence ma'am."

The director mare sighed.  It was always the same : 'knowing' somepony is guilty and proving it in a court of law are often two very different things.

"Hmm.  These two must be up to something if they're being watched by a criminal organization.  But what are they up to ... ?

Get a few more agents and keep an eye on Caveat Emptor and Shady Dealer.  I need to know why another organization is watching them."
The unicorn agent gave a quick salute and trotted away.

Meanwhile, in Caveat Emptor's Discount Emporium, Caveat was haggling with a couple of unicorns over a set of commemorative plates.

"Why, exactly, is 'Wonderbolts' spelled with a 'V' instead of a 'W' ?" the stallion asked.

"Well, different languages pronounce letters in different ways." Caveat began, "In the Germaneic tongues, Ws are pronounced as Vs.  'Wunderbar' is written with a W, but spoken with a V, as 'vunderbar'."

"Ooo !  These are imported plates then ?" the mare inquired a bit too excitedly.

"Uh, sure.  Let's go with that." Caveat replied a bit shiftily, "I can sell you the complete set for the low, low price of fifty bits."

"Fifty bits ?!" the stallion exclaimed, "I refuse to pay over twenty !"

"Well, the price is negotiable ..." Caveat replied with a glint in his eyes.  

A few minutes later, the unicorn couple happily walked away with the complete set of plates, paying just fifteen bits.

Caveat was quite happy with the deal, given the fact that he could get TWO complete series of those knock offs for five bits.  True, the paints dissolved in water and the 'fine china' was actually cheap plaster, but since the marks THOUGHT the plates were valuable, they would do everything they could to keep the plates dry and untouched !

A quick glance at the clock reminded him that it was time to close up for the day, so he used a quick spell to dim the lights three times before calling out "The shop is closing in five minutes !  Please bring any purchases to the front counter !"

After a few ponies left the premises (they were merely browsing), Caveat was just about to lock the doors when a hushed cough caught his attention.

He turned to find a cloaked unicorn stallion holding a dusty bell jar up with his telekinesis.

"Ah, I see you found something from the Specialty Collections." Caveat stated as the customer placed the jar on the counter.  Caveat levitated a cloth to clean off the bell jar in order to see just WHAT was being purchased.

"Ah, the Alicorn Amulet." Caveat stated when he saw the silver medallion with ruby red eye looking to the right, "I'm not sure how that got in my inventory, but I cannot in good conscience sell it to you for any price !"

The customer dropped a large coin purse very full of bits on the counter.

"But what do I know ?  I am but a humble curio merchant !" Caveat stated happily, "Enjoy your purchase !"

Once the stallion left, Caveat locked the door, made triply sure there was nopony else in the shop, and then started to count up the day's take before putting it in the safe under the counter.
"FIFTEEN HUNDRED BITS for an Alicorn Amulet !" Caveat mused to himself as he levitated the bits into the safe.  And then levitated out one of seventeen identical "Alikorn Amulets."
A quick polish to activate a weak form of the 'Want It, Need It' spell (to give it that expected dark aura of incredible power that it didn't actually have) and it was ready to be put back in the bell jar.

After casting a minor cantrip, the cloth he used to clean the jar with instead put dust ON the jar, making it look like it hadn't been touched in years.

Caveat smiled at his hoofwork.  "It is little touches like this that really SELL it !" he mused to himself before chuckling at his own bad joke.


Somewhere else : a pegasus stallion is reporting to his boss (agency #2) that TT hasn't returned to Las Pegasus yet.

His boss (codenamed 'The Maestro' - because 'Puppet Master' sounded too blatantly evil) figures she's up to something, since she used to be the agency's best agent.

"'Used to be' ?  What happened ?  She turn evil ?" the agent inquired.

"No - WORSE !  She didn't like all the so-called 'pointless' secrecy !  Didn't see the point in it, and actually thought we should work out in the open !  How stupid is that ?!" The Maestro replied, "We can only keep Equestria safe if we are untouchable and above ALL laws !"

The agent thought for a moment.  "Then why is she still alive ?  Wouldn't it make more sense to eliminate such a potential threat ?"

The Maestro merely smirked.  "To the primitive, less advanced and less experienced minds, yes.  But she knows things that could be of use to us.

Consider, for a moment, Cozy Glow.  A mere pegasus filly nearly destroyed all magic in Equestria !  The only reason she was able to do so was because she knew exactly what to do.
Knowledge is power.  And Tongue Twister's ability to read nearly all languages means she has access to much knowledge.  To things no one but US were meant to know.  Most of which has been overlooked or forgotten by nearly everypony else.

Couple that with  the fact that the only pony better at social invisibility would be Wallflower Blush, and you have somepony that can go almost anywhere, learn anything, and probably not get caught !  Or even noticed !

So The Higher Ups decided years ago that Equestria is safer if  *I* control what she does or does not remember.  As a mere civilian, she of course lacks the morality and strength of character to not abuse the knowledge she's acquired.

And I, of course, have the nigh infallible judgement and authority to decide what is best for her.  And all of Equestria."

"Is ripping memories out of her head safe, sir ?" the agent asked, "Memory spells are rather tricky and exacting to do properly."

The Maestro thought for a moment.  "I've been zapping her for years.  There have been no side effects worthy of MY notice.  Therefore, the spells are completely safe."

"If you say so, sir." the agent replied with a sigh, "So, what are your orders ?

"Make sure that we get whatever she retrieved from Tenochtitlan !"

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