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Weeks later, Caveat and Shady are sorting through his mail.

"You're SURE these three tax bills are for three different taxes, right ?" Caveat asked his wife while levitating several sheets of paper in his orange aura, "It looks like I'm paying the same bill three times !

Which would be a pretty good scam, if it weren't so blatant."

"Unfortunately, yes they are three different bills." she replied, "There is only so much grift the government can get away with before someone takes notice."

"True - with so many marks, the odds that one will note something is off is very high." he replied, "I suppose you've noticed those two ponies trying to covertly watch the store ?"

"Yes." Shady sighed glumly.  "I think our TT may be in over her head at whatever she's doing now."

Caveat thought for a moment.  "Well, she's a very resourceful mare.  If she were in trouble, she'd notice long before it was inescapable.  I haven't received any mail from her lately; have you ?"


Shady shook her head.

"Best to assume she's safe then." he stated, "After all, she spends months at a time in the jungles of Tenochtitlan or even more remote and dangerous locales doing field research.  Dealing with the perils of civilization should be a vacation, relatively speaking."

Shady Dealer mused for a moment before heading for the door.  "That doesn't mean we can't help her by taking some of the heat off."

Meanwhile, across the street, two unicorn stallions were sitting at a bistro, trying to hide behind newspapers.

"How long do we have to watch these two ?" one asked the other, "It's been weeks, and nothing of note has happened !"

"That doesn't matter." the other replied, "The boss says to watch the shop, we watch the shop until we observe something of note, or we get recalled."

They heard a chair being pulled beside them, and somepony sitting down at their table.

It was Shady Dealer.

Who flagged down a waiter and ordered a coffee with honey in it.  On their tab.

"We don't know who you are, but this table is private !  Buzz off !" one of the unicorns stated.

"You've been watching my husband's store for almost two weeks, and you don't know who I am ?  Shameful !" she replied with a smirk.

The other unicorn glared at her for a moment before relenting once he accepted their cover had been blown.  "What do you want Shady ?"

"I'm just wondering why you're watching Caveat's shop."

The unicorns had a quick discussion with each other.  "Were you visited by an earth pony and a unicorn a few weeks ago, claiming to be from an antiquites fraud bureau ?"


"Yes.  Figured out pretty quickly they weren't real.  They work for one of your rivals ?"

"Yes.  What did they want to know ?"

"If we'd brought anything back from Tenochtitlan, and where Tongue Twister is."

"What did  you tell them ?"

"The truth - we didn't bring anything back from that horrible vault !  And that we don't know where TT is at the moment !"

"Did your daughter 'TT' find anything of note and bring it back ?"

"I don't know !" Shady exclaimed, "She and some meathead were still in the vault when me and Caveat headed for home.  They might've found something.  Or not.  I don't know."

The two agents mulled it over a bit.  "Have you seen those two fake antiquities assayers again ?"

"No.  They were rather insistent on finding TT, so I'd guess they're looking elsewhere for her."

"Any idea where that might be ?"

Shady sighed, weighing whether or not to trust these two.  "Las Pegasus, most likely.  The last I heard, she took a job out there."

The two unicorn stallions conferred for a moment before getting up to leave.  "You've been very helpful Shady Dealer."

"Does that mean you'll stop watching the shop ?" she asked.

"That would be my guess." one of the unicorns replied, "We're trying to keep tabs on criminal organizations; the fact that one was snooping around here caught our attention.  If they've moved on, then we should as well."

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  • 4 months later...

Rays of golden sunlight shone through the train windows at dawn, crudely awakening Tongue Twister from her slumber.

She disembarked from the train and trudged along the streets of Canterlot, hiding under a dark blue hooded cloak and trying to look like a self-absorbed, conceited snob to blend in and thus go unnoticed by the locals.  

It worked.

"Been so long since I've seen dad's shop from the ground." TT mused to herself as she stood before Caveat Emptor's Discount Emporium.

She slipped in through the front door and looked around - and was quickly engulfed in a carrot orange aura and pulled into a hug by her father.

"What's wrong honey ?" he asked.

"What makes you think something is wrong ?" TT asked, "Can't I just surprise my parents with an unannounced visit ?"

"No." Caveat replied immediately, "You've never made an unannounced visit to anyone in your life.  It's just not you.

And, last we heard, you were way out there in Las Pegasus !  Nopony would go all the way across Equestria just to visit someone out of the blue.

So whatever's wrong must be pretty bad !  Shady's been a nervous wreck for over a week !"

Tongue Twister's ears drooped as she looked around nervously.  "Mom's not here, is she ?"

Suddenly, there was a thump on the second story balcony, a rustle of feathers and a descending shadow -  TT's mother Shady Dealer had arrived !

TT was glomped by her mother, then suffered through a quick exam of her  eyes, ears and teeth.  "WHAT IN CELESTIA'S NAME HAPPENED TO YOUR WINGS ?!"

TT sighed before starting her explanation.  "Flew past a sorceror's battle.  Stayed hidden to watch what was going on, so that when I report to the Relevant Authorities, I could be a bit more informative than 'GAAAAAAAAAAAAA !!! EVIL !!!' " while flailing her forelegs in mock noodle-like terror.

"She detected me.  Not too surprising, since a soul-eater would be able to SENSE nearby souls, and mine was the only other soul around !  

Captured me with some weird, high level spell.  Then she did this to me just to see what happens when a partitioned mind is corrupted !"

Tongue Twister took a few deep breaths to calm down.

"She took out an entire copse of trees just by powering up !  She corrupted my mind, body and soul.  I had no way to prevent the corruption of my body, so THIS is the way I am now.
I scattered the aspects of my mind just before she zapped me, so she got only one of them."

Caveat thought for a moment before asking "Which one ?"

"Yin the Negative." TT replied, "So now the angel on my shoulder is the size of a breezie, and the devil on the other shoulder is the size of a $^@#$%#$% ursa minor !
And if I pull myselves back together, all that negative energy will get mixed in and blended with me; the only way to remain me is to keep myselves seperate !"

Shady Dealer looked at her daughter oddly for a moment before asking "Is that safe ?"

"Not really." Tongue Twister replied, "The technique was never meant to be done for long periods of time.  But I'll adjust."

"And what about your soul ?" Caveat asked.

"Oh, that ?  I made peace with my dark side years ago." TT replied, "Since the dark side of me IS me, when Hou boosted my dark side, she boosted BOTH SIDES OF ME at the same time !  For no relative change; after all, a rising tide raises all boats equally."

She then twitches, mane flares, and she flattens ears against skull for a moment.  Earning an odd look from Shady.  


"Sorry.  That abomination Hou shoved into my head just started screaming because it can't win !" 

Shady blinked.  "Ohhhhhhkay.  So - why are you really here ?"

"I need some rather specialized help." TT replied glumly.

"I don't think I can help with the curse on you honey !  It's beyond anything I've even seen before !  And I've dealt with items from the Vendredi collection !" Caveat stated.

"I know." TT replied quietly, "I doubt a curse from a soul-eating, multi-millenium old Fenghuang sorceress would be easily broken.  I'm just wondering if you have a way to work around the more horrible parts of it ..." she continued, twitching her altered wings.

Caveat mused for a bit.  "I - may have something that might help.  Give me a minute or two to check the 'Special' Collections upstairs."

"Thanks daddy !" Tongue Twister said cheerfully as he meandered into his shop.  

She turned to her mother Shady Dealer and stated "I'm going to be doing a lot of travelling in cognito, so I need to have funds available from just about anywhere.  Any way to disperse money in an untraceable net amongst many banks ?"

"I haven't needed to do that for quite a few years, but I can still manage it." Shady replied, "The simplest way would be to start a business.  Then all I'd need to is just inform one bank, and then they'd sent memos to all the others, enabling you to get at your funds from anywhere.

So if you withdraw from Bank 'A' way out in the boonies, they'll pay with funds on hoof, then send a request to the bank with your main account for repayment.  As long as you keep below about five hundred bits a withdrawal per month and make sure to keep sufficent funds in your main account, there should be no problems."

"That sounds rather legal and above the board for you." TT replied.

Shady merely smirked. "The initial set up should be, to ensure no pony has a reason to notice it.  Where the money going into the account comes from later need not be.  And the cover 'business' can be anything legal.  You have something in mind ?"

"Yeah.  Remember when all the magic in Equestria was drained away ?  Daddy had some pesky items in the 'Special' Collections, didn't he ?"

"Yeah.  At last count, seven." Shady answerd, "And as soon as the wards failed, they all disappeared."

"Yeah, the 'Trouble Maker' enchantment on cursed items does that.  If the item isn't used for nefarious purposes or warded, it teleports to where somepony can find it.  Did he get them back ?"

"Oddly, yes." Shady replied, "He put out a flyer offering a lot of bits for old, oddball items.  Got all the cursed items back, plus more regular stuff he sold later at a big mark-up."

TT smiles.  "He did it the right way !  There are probably dozens of organizations out there dedicated to keeping Equestria safe by tracking down and containing dangerous items - but they insist on doing everything in secret !  They'd skulk about in the shadows, taking months - if not years - to track down a single item, before trying to steal it !

Mom, when did common sense become so rare ?"

"Did it ever exist in the first place ?" Shady answered with a broad wing shrug, "After all, if it were common, would we need a specific name for it ?"

TT  laughed tearfully, before calming down.  "Well, back to business.  I had most of my assets transferred to Uncle Legbreaker to transfer to you, once everything is set up."

"How much did he charge you ?" Shady asked.

"Only twelve percent of the total.  Family discount." TT replied.

"Yeah.  That's uncle LB.  So, what are you going to do for money ?  Track down weird artifacts ?"  

"Maybe." TT sighed.  "Maybe translate ancient writings and stuff like I did before.  Just on a more freelance basis.  Or do everything all those secret organizations do, just out in the open.
Or I could always go walkabout and live off the land and the generosity of strangers.  I honestly just don't know !  I - don't quite fit in or belong anywhere any more."
she continued with a  wave of her mercury wings.

Shady gives her a big hug.  "Well, you could always be a consultant.  There's usually some pony that needs specialized help on a temp basis.  You'd be working with different ponies - and I suppose creatures now, thanks to Princess Twilight's friendship work - pretty much all over Equestria and beyond.  I suspect some of the work will be of questionable legality, or make no apparent sense."

TT thought for a moment.  "That actually sounds like a good idea.  Thanks mom !" 

"Me and your dad can probably slip a few bits your way every month or so.  Maybe do a bit of investigating to help you ?  Find a way to deal with this curse on you ?" Shady offered.

"Thanks, but no.  I have enough funds to last about a year, even with no employment.  This situation should be resolved one way or another before then.  Hou probably has spies everywhere.  Sending money to me or asking too many questions might draw her attention to you and dad.  I'd - rather not risk that."

"If she has spies everywhere, she'd already know your parents." Shady noted, "So we might as well carry on as if she doesn't know or care.  It's not like she's watching you every second of the day.  No offense, but I'm sure an evil immortal working behind the scenes would have more pressing concerns than what you're up to."

"Mom, she told me that I'm an experiment !" TT exclaimed, "She also said she might come back and do 'some more work'.  I don't know if she was telling the truth, or just trying to freak me out, and I don't care !  I don't want you and dad caught up in that !"

Shady was quiet for a moment.  "Oh, speaking of sneaky ponies, have you been visited by a pair of unicorns lately ?  They were here asking about you, because two OTHER ponies were asking us about you !"

"Yeah.  They wanted to know if I got anything from that vault in Tenochtitlan.  I told them there was something there, but the meathead I was with stole it from me and LEFT ME THERE TO DIE !" she replied as her eyes glowed green with vertical pupils and her voice dropped almost an octave. 

Shady flinched, then backed away slowly and waited for her daughter to calm down.

"So, what happened ?" she asked before Caveat chipped in "Yes, I would very much like to know as well !"

He was levitating a small box with his telekinesis.

TT took a few deep breaths.  "We went deeper into the vault.  Found the treasure - a sample of Primal Clay.  The murals on the wall describing what was in the puzzlebox, how to get the box out of the chamber and how to open it were EXQUISITE !  The colors were glorious !  A peerless example of early Quetzalcoatlan glyphs unparalleled anywhere in the world !  I could've run through a whole BOX of film just taking pictures !  It ... "

Both parents coughed to interrupt her.

TT took a moment to recover from the embarassment of her geek-out.  "Well,  while I was distracted reading how to safely get the box out, PV just grabbed it and used the one-way teleporter, which was powered by a crystal; he used the last one there !

But taking the box set off another defense : guardgoyles !  Half a dozen stone golems programmed to tear any invaders apart !"

"Sweet Celestia !" Shady exclaimed, "How did you escape from that ?!"

"The enchanted Power Ponies comic book dad sent in that care package a few months ago.  I read the incantation on the last page and got pulled into the story.  The guardgoyles weren't living things, so they couldn't follow me in.  But what they could do was destroy the comic so I couldn't go back out there !"

"You were trapped in an alternate comic book dimension ?!" Caveat inquired.

"Yep !  I had to spend time in Maretropolis as the supervillain Shadow Wing until some other creatures read their copy of the issue to give me a way out.  By Somnabula's Headdress !  Those two ponies in Vanhoover were rather surprised when three ponies came out of the book when just two had gone in !"

Shady twitched.  "You were in ... Vanhoover ?" she asked with a shudder and a brief look of horror.

"Yeah.  That's why it took me so long to get back.  One week in Maretropolis, then one week in Vanhoover to earn enough money to take a train from there to Las Pegasus.  
Found the twit.  Beat him up.  Got put in the brig for insubordination and assaulting a 'superior' officer.  Possibly derelection of duty.  Quit the organization and walked out because of 'insufficient relevance'."

"You joined a military organization ?" Caveat inquired harshly, "Is that the secret one you didn't want to tell us about ?"

TT looked about shiftily.  "Technically, it was a paramilitary organization.  I didn't know it was like that when I joined dad !  Honest !"

"What in the world is 'insufficient relevance' ?" Shady asked.

"I told the guards that I wasn't important enough to press charges against; they believed me !

Well, at least I think they did."  TT continued while aimlessly gesturing with her mercury wings, "So I may or may not still be a member of the organization, and there may or may not be charges outstanding against me."

Caveat looked at his daughter quizzically with one eyebrow raised; his wife Shady Dealer merely facehoofed.

"Oh, I managed to find something that might be of use in the oddballs collection." Caveat stated to break the awkward silence as he opened the box he'd found.

Inside the box were a set of four royal quality silk slippers with delicate and colorful embroidery.  And wings on the backs.

Shady looked at them closely, then gave up. "What in the world are those ?"

"Winged slippers of course !" her husband answered, "One of the students at Celestia's gifted school was trying to enchant an item to cast that 'Giant Butterfly Wings' spell they use for buckball games.  He couldn't figure out how to create the magical wings, so he improvised a workaround.  That didn't quite work the way he wanted it to, so he sold them to me to recoup some of the expenses."

TT looked at him suspiciously.  "What's wrong with them ?"

"Well, they don't actually enable you to fly, but walk on air instead." Caveat replied as he put the slippers on.

"Like so !" he continued as he steped forward, then started walking up an invisible ramp into the air.  

TT can see very thin clouds forming under his hooves for him to step and stand on.  

"Those are just cloud-walking slippers with an enchantment to create your own clouds !" Shady noted once she felt the thaumic currents that enable pegasi to fly and shape clouds.

"Pretty much." her husband Caveat answered, "You can't move very fast, and you're nowhere near as agile as a pegasus.  You can only do things that you could do on the ground.  Just in the air."

"Uh huh." both Tongue Twister and Shady deadpanned in reply.

"All that means is you can't use these to fly upside down, or perform complex aerobatics." he continued, "Just simple stuff like 'walk an inch off the floor to not set off traps', or 'stroll across a wide chasm instead of falling in.'  The enchantment is also lazy - for every minute the slippers are in use, they must be rested for two minutes." he stated as he descended a pair of invisible stairs, then took the slippers off.

"Then I'll just have to use them sparingly, so they don't quit while I'm hundreds of hooves up !" she stated as she tried them on.  They adjusted to fit her hooves perfectly.

"Magic airwalking or no, these are VERY comfortable slippers !" TT stated.

"Well, when you're crafting an artifact, you have to use components of the absolute highest quality." Caveat stated smugly, "So those are literally the best slippers money can buy, even without the enchantments."

TT decided to test the slippers out, so she vividly imagined a steep flight of stairs, then galloped up them at full speed, going upward as quickly as forward in a broad spiral, then standing on a misty ledge on the second floor.

"These.  Slippers.  Work.  Great !" she exclaimed between deep breaths, since running upward against gravity is exhausting when you can't fly.  Shady looked at her daughter morosely, since it should have taken just three wingflaps and almost no effort at all to reach the second floor.

"That's why he sold you those slippers, isn't it ?" Shady quietly asked her husband, "They wouldn't have been very effective for what he wanted them for : playing buckball !"  Caveat merely nodded.

"Beggars shouldn't be choosers." TT stated as she walked down a far more gentle slope, "You said you got these from one of Celestia's students ?  Did some of them sell you their out of date books by chance ?"

"Of course they did !" Caveat replied, "There are always someponies looking for a little extra spending money at the end of the semester.  Reselling old texts has been a small but very reliable source of income for me for years."

"Oh.  Good.  I'm ... just going to pick out a few things.  Be back in a few." TT stated as she wandered off into the labyrinth of shelves of her father's curio shop.

"Our daughter is planning on going against an ancient sorceress." Shady whispered to Caveat, "She doesn't want us to help or be involved because she wants us to be safe.  
You're going to secretly help her too, aren't you ?"

"Of course I'm going to help !" Caveat replied, "I'm not going to let our only child face off against an ancient evil all alone !"

"Well, we could try to talk her out of it." Shady offered.  

"You really think she'd listen ?" Caveat asked.

"No."  Shady replied, "I wouldn't.  And neither would you."

Caveat mulled for a moment.  "It's still going to be rough going for her, no matter what we do.  Unchosen Ones rarely catch any breaks."

"Well, if you can't catch a break, make your own." Shady replied, "And we can still help.  I'll make a few suggestions to my Las Pegasus relatives to keep an ear out for 'the unusual'."

"I know a few ponies and other creatures that could use the help of a linguistics consultant." Caveat replied, "I'll mention that TT is available.  Just in passing, of course."

"Of course." Shady replied, "Hmm.  Come to think of it, I might have a few business cards back in my shop.  I just need to fill in a few lines and print them out.  And a few other details to iron out.  I'll be back in a few !" she finished, kissed her husband quickly, then gracefully flew out the second story window.

"So mom has a Plan ?" TT asked as she walked to the counter, piles of books and scrolls held in massive hands.

"How are you doing that ?!" Caveat asked.

"Not sure."  TT replied as she placed all her items on the counter, "I think I corrupted the corruption !  I can shape my 'wings' into anything except a functional pair of wings !" she continued as her wings shifted from clawed hands to tentacles to long blades.

"... please don't do  that." Caveat stated, looking rather green and twitchy.

"Sorry.  I'm still getting  used to my new 'condition'." she replied meekly, "They sometimes shift into something hostile when I'm angry.  Maybe if I get used to shaping them when I'm calm, they won't be so prone to doing that."

"That's as good a plan as any, I suppose." Caveat stated with a shrug as he started totalling up the items his daughter had selected.  "Hmm.  Rather random collection of topics you've got here dear !" he continued as he looked at a few of the titles, "Ancient Fenghuang funereal practices ?  Metamagical themas # 113 : Manipulating Thaumic Fields ?  Advanced Tulpamancy ? The Florilegium Mischiefii ?  'Artificing For The Non-Magical' ?

I - hate to tell you this dear, but I don't see how any of what you've got planned from this can work !  Hou has a millenium or two more of practice, and you're, well, a pegasus !"

TT rolled her eyes.  "I'm not going to go up against her directly !  And the idea that only unicorns can do powerful magic is just a few millenia of propaganda !  There were many ancient, NON- unicorn races that could perform spells the likes of which no pony today can do !  

And Cozy Glow came close to eliminating all magic in Equestria.  You'd expect a unicorn to pull something like that - but she's a pegasus filly !  All she needed to do all of that was the know-how !"  TT continued, before getting an idea and happily scribbling in her notebook.

The street level door to Caveat's shop opened, and Shady Dealer walked in.  "I found some blank business card stock in the back and ran off a few samples !  What do you think of these TT ?"

Tongue Twister took a card from her mom.  It showed a silhouette of a pony, but when the card was tilted, the pony shadow disappeared and the words 'Phantom Consulting, Inc.' and an address appeared.

TT sighed.  "Mom ?  Did you 'borrow' these from one of your old jobs back in Las Pegasus ?" she asked Shady.

"No !" she exclaimed before furtively looking away, "Well, sort of.  But that was years before you were even born !  You have to admit, those are some snazzy business cards !"

Tongue Twister mused for a bit.  Yes, they were indeed snazzy business cards.  Then she looked at the address.

"This post office box is in Ponyville !  WHY ?!"

"Well, the job requests, bills and checks have to be sent somewhere." Shady Dealer replied, "Ponyville is centrally located.  
But you don't have to live there.  You can just stop by once a month or so to check the box to see if there are any job offers."

"Ponyville is also the home of most of Harmony's Chosen." TT replied quietly, "If even one of them thinks the dark magic I'm corrupted with is a threat, they'll probably try to blast me with that 'Rainbow Friendship Death Laser' they zap all their enemies with !"

"But that might be a good thing honey !" Shady replied, "Look at what it did for Princess Luna !"

"But Harmony's Judgement - what the beam does - is unpredictable !" TT replied as she rubbed her forehead, "It sent Luna to the moon the first time it was used on her, remember ?

I could be turned to stone !  Or sent to Tartarus !  Or to the moon !  Or it may do nothing at all, since I'm not evil enough !  Or it could strip my darkside away from me !  And since the darkside of me IS me ..."

"It might tear your mind or soul in half !" Caveat exclaimed.

"No !  It would most likely remove the evil that sorceress infected her with !" Shady stated, trying to convince her daughter and herself.

"Yes - and whatever other 'darkness' is in me that doesn't conform to the Perfect Pony Template !" TT replied, "My mind has a different build !  Harmony's Judgement has only been used on ponies with 'standard' minds !  I'd rather not find out what it would do to me; frankly, I'm getting tired of ponies throwing energies at me just to see what happens !  Once was enough !"

She took a few breaths to calm down.  "Besides, they only use the Friendship Laser against major threats.  I'd probably have to come close to taking over Equestria before they'd even think of using that blast on me."

She quickly wrote another idea down in her notebook, then starting packing her purchases into her saddlebags.

Shady noticed that TT was filling both sides equally.  "Don't you usually keep Ace and Deuces in one of those ?" she asked.

TT's eyes got a bit watery.  "They're .... afraid of me now.  I left them with cousin Overcast back in Las Pegasus.  Ace and Deuces are easy to care for, so they shouldn't be a bother."

Shady and Caveat looked at each other for a moment while they figured out how to proceed.

"TT, it's very impressive that  you're working so hard to solve your problem," Shady began, "but this is out of even your league !  Hou is more of a princesses or the Elements level threat." her husband Caveat continued.

TT snorted.  "I know that !  I'm eccentric, not stupid !  I'm going to inform the princesses about Hou.  But really big problems should be attacked from as many different directions as possible.

You know how all the stories end, right ?" she continued with a sigh, "The messenger is of no further use or relevance once the message is delivered.  They fade back into the background, to become Nothings again, while the Special and Important Ponies go off on the Special and Important Mission.  Which is too special and important for the likes of a mere messenger.

Buck that !  


There is no actual rule that says other ponies CAN'T do important things if they want to !  So I'm following the script I wrote for myself, instead of blindly following one history and tradition wrote for me !"

"One's place is what they earn, not what the fates or destiny or somepony assigns you." Caveat stated, earning an odd look from Shady.

"The Aesop at the end of 'The Determinator Strikes Back', issue three." Tongue Twister answered her mother's unasked question.

"You two are insufferable sometimes !" Shady stated, "And I wouldn't have it any other way !"

And with that, Tongue Twister headed out towards the palace.

But made a slight detour to the Castle Gardens first to view the latest addition to the statuary.

"It seems the Wheel has turned further than I thought !" she mused to herself as she examined what became of the Terrible Trio.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Tongue Twister took a few moments to assess what she was looking at as she slowly walked around the statue.

"Queen Chrysalis, fighting with everything she had to the very end, even though it was pointless.
Raging against the dying of the light.  I can respect that !

Cozy Glow, in way over her youthful head.  She may be a manipulative genius, but she's still just a kid.  She saw what she wanted, and went after it.  Too bad it was the wrong target.  She doesn't know what's ahead for her; thus the look of fear.

Lord Tirek, always a slave to his appetite for power, no matter how much power he had.  A hamster running on a wheel is still a hamster, no matter how fast it runs.  He's been in Tartarus before, thus his look of cringing despair.

I wonder what form of petrification the Royal Sisters and Discord hit them with ?"

"How many forms are there ?" the dark magic Abomination in TT's head inquired with a chuckle.

"At least three that I know of."  TT replied, "The first is the gaze of the cockatrice.  If they turn you to stone, time essentially stops for you.  A thousand years could pass, and you wouldn't even notice.

The second is thanatological preservation.  The process killed them, and this statue is composed of their petrified corpses.  Possible, but not likely, given the standard reverence Equestrians have for life.

The worst is the Soul Death .  They are aware but frozen in immobile stone.  I suspect Discord could withstand such treatment, but only because he's an immortal spirit needed to maintain the balance of Order and Chaos.

For mortals trapped like that, the mind can consume itself.  Rage will burn away all sense and sentience in an attempt to maintain its existence.  If you were angry before, there will be NOTHING left but rage afterwards, since there is literally little else to do but fixate upon and plot vengeance.  The more spiritual or contemplative folk might hold up better though.
But 'spiritual' or 'contemplative' are not adjectives I would apply to the Terrible Trio.

Turning foes to stone is at worst, torture and at best, a delaying tactic.  It's hoping that someone in the future can do what you could not."

 "And your paragons of virtue, the Royal Sisters, did this to them ?" the Abomination asked while chuckling, "Doesn't sound too friendly to me !"

"No.  It sounds like kicking someone when they're down." TT replied flatly, "Mercy falls upon the just and unjust equally - THAT is why it's considered a virtue.  I've found that when someone says 'you do not deserve mercy !!!!!!', they never had any intention of showing any.

Harmony's Judgement was to restore them to their weaker forms.  I'd guess as a form of shunning - walking a world that wants no part of you can be quite punitive."

"Let those three walk free ?" the Abomination asked, actually surprised, "They are the greatest threat your world has ever seen !"

Tongue Twister laughed hysterically within her mind.  "Those three ?  A threat ?!  They are not a threat to Harmony's Chosen !"

Her mind went dark and cold briefly as she continued flatly "No one is anymore." before returning to normal.

"Lord Tirek can pull the magic out of living creatures, but has to get fairly close to do so." she continued, "All one needs do is throw rocks, insults, javelins, spears, poisoned darts, kitchen sinks, rotten fruit, or stun spells from range.  Anything BUT magic would do.

Cozy Glow could only manipulate ponies that didn't know what she is like.  Now that everyone knows how she really is, she'd have trouble convincing any creature to lend her even a single bit for food, even if they could see the shape of her ribs under her skin.

Buck, they'd probably attack her on sight !  Despite all the talk of friendship and getting along, some ponies can be VERY vicious, petty and vindictive.  After all, it only took the 'Terrible Trio' a few weeks of spreading rumors to bring back the Windigoes !  One would suspect that if the three tribes were as united as they claim they are, that shouldn't have worked so easily.

And Queen Chrysalis ?  Needing to skulk about in the shadows, trying to gather what few crumbs of love she can stumble upon ?  Hating ponies, but unable to do anything too horrible to them, for fear of drawing murderous attention to herself ?

Letting them wander would be a cruel mercy." she continued before finding a bench and pulling out her notebook to begin some work.  "The Wheel has turned further than I thought.

"Let's see here : 

0.  Find out this mare's name !"  TT took out a pencil and wrote in "Hou Shuren".
"1.  Check/find ancient records from Kastrot and of the Serpent King.  Verify any and all data.
2.  Check with Mom's older 'acquaintances'; Uncle Legbreaker ?  Verify any and all data.
3.  Check with Dad's less savory contacts; acquire new bottlecaps ?  Verify any and all data.
4.  ? Talk with Celestia or Luna (might be easier now that they're retired) ?  Verify any and all data.  Or the Pillars, since they were from all over Equestria and alive a thousand plus years ago and may have heard something.  Verify any and all data.
5.  DON'T GET KILLED from attracting too much attention with all this investigation !"

She noted the arrow from #5 to above #0 to indicate proper ranking.  Then the added 'infinity plus' in front of #4, figuring that the odds that she would have the chance/ranking/permission to do that task at about one hundred fifteen quadrillion to one against.  But there was always a chance that if she didn't do it, someone else would.

After all, Harmony's Chosen are not ALLOWED to fail.  Good will discover what evil is up to.  Somehow.

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  • 3 weeks later...

While contemplating her next irrelevant move, Tongue Twister is scribbling notes in her journal while singing ""Hey There Cthulhu" very quietly.



While following a tangled line of thought, TT occassionally felt something like a large bug smacking against her head.  She looked up and noticed it was Yang.

The miniscule Shoulder Angel of Positivity flew in a complex series of loops and rolls - her contrail formed a message in shorthoof phonetic writing : 'the rabbit will be home any moment.'


TT looked at the plans she'd generated, written upon gigantic mental screens.  They were complex.  They were intricate.

And they were all a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME.

There was no point in her even attempting any of them - since she isn't one of Harmony's Chosen, she is simply not permitted to do anything useful or important.

And dealing with Hou Shuren is useful and important.

Thus, any attempt by Tongue Twister to do anything at all would result in her being shoved aside, forgotten, or having her actions or memories overwritten by the 'more important' ponies.

"If I followed any of these plans, my entire life would revolve around dealing with Hou.

I HATE that nearly everyone I meet believes that my life should revolve around them." she groused as her mindscape grew dark and cold.

"Following any single one of these plots would mean making somepony else the center of MY universe !  I am sick and tired of doing that !"

"Then why not work for Hou ?" the Abomination inquired sweetly, "She could show you how to use all that power she granted you.  You could make the universe revolve around you for a change !"

TT snorted in derision.  "Like she would allow that !  I would just be orbiting around her and her whims.

This story has already been written millions of times.  I know how it ends.  In the end, Good always triumphs over Evil.  

Evil can have fierce warriors beyond number, near infinite power and unparalleled genius, while Good could be about as smart as a bag of doorknobs with just two warriors barely adept at pillow fighting - AND GOOD WOULD WIN.  SOMEHOW.

So I really don't see the point of joining Team Losers.

Hmm - I just noticed that I am in the classical 'Precarious Options' scenario."

The Abomination merely looked confused and asked 'Whut ?'

"The Villain - after curbstomping all opposition - gives the Hero a choice of two mutually exclusive options, A or B.  In such a scenario, the correct choice is 'Tree' !"

"Huh ?"

"Why should the Hero - or even me - limit themselves to just the options an enemy grants them ?" TT replied, "By choosing the Villain's options of A or B, the hero is just deciding which way he'd like to die.  For if the Hero chooses A, he falls into the Villain's plans.

If the Hero chooses B, he falls into a DIFFERENT villainous plan.

By choosing 'Tree' or 'SPOON !' or 'Fish', the villain will have to improvise, for the Hero is doing something the Villain did not account for.  The Hero may still fail, but the odds of success are better than just going along with what the Villain offered."

"You .... are a very strange pony." the Abomination stated.

"You hear that Yang ?" TT mirthfully stated to the flittering spot of light, "A voice in my head is calling me strange !"

The Abomination growled.  "Then what ARE you going to do ?"

TT thought for a moment.  "I shall treat Hou Shuren the way she treated me : as an irrelevant nothing, unworthy of further consideration." she answered, before she waved her left wing in a complex pattern, causing the dozen gigantic screens to shatter into dust, before reforming a single screen just before her.  "As I am a Nothing, I am not allowed to do anything about so important a threat, so I shall leave her to the More Important Ponies to deal with.

I, on the other hoof, have plenty to do on my own.  I shall see if those memories locked away are actually memories, or just flights of fancy from a disturbed mind.  

After all, it's not unknown for archaeologists and those studying the past to encounter Things Mares Weren't Meant To Know.  Perhaps I encountered some of those.  Maybe I translated some ancient texts that granted bizarre powers.  Maybe I was an agent of some secret society tasked with dealing with 'The Unusual'.  Maybe I've saved Equestria from threats nopony else could even conceive of, but all knowledge of my actions - as well as my memories of them -  were erased to ensure the Status Quo is not disturbed.

Or that could just be the plot for a series of comic books I read somewhere and mostly forgot about." she finished with a dismissive wave of her hoof, "I'm not really sure.

And THAT is not a pleasant way to go through life !" she stated, "So I shall deal with that first.  What is that old saying ?  'Clean up your own mess before dealing with somepony else's ?' "

The Abomination fumed.  "You're not going to rage against Hou ?  Or for her ?  Or against the world ?  You're going to do NOTHING with all this power ?!  Just let it go to waste ?!"

"Yes." TT replied smugly, "It was a gift.  A gift unwanted and unasked for, but a gift nonetheless.  Which means that, since it is mine, I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT WITH IT !"

The Abomination howled with rage, and slammed a hoof the size of a building onto Tongue Twister.

Which did absolutely nothing.

TT merely sighed at looked up at the raging mass of dark energy.  "You don't learn very well, do you ?  When you took over Yin, you took over her job.

Which was purely advisory.  You can't do ANYTHING !  Your rage, much like my  existence, is irrelevant and utterly pointless.  You can make suggestions and even make excellent and perfectly valid points, but in the end I decide what I do."

"But I can twist what you do." the Abomination smirked at her, "Remember what happened when you got angry last time ?  I can flood your mind with so much darkness and rage that you'll lose control.

No one can control themselves perfectly all the time.  Sooner or later, I'll slip out.  It may be for just a few moments, but the havoc I can cause in just those few moments will mark you forever !

You mentioned secret organizations ?  How many do you think exist to deal with Hou ?

What happens when one of those agents notices you and your aura of dark magic ?  The 'heroic' thing to do would be to destroy you !  You'll have to fight the 'good guys' to stay alive !  And the more often you win, the bigger the threat they'll see you as !  And the stronger the agents they'll send to deal with you !"

The Abomination started laughing.  "You'll be trapped in a vicious cycle !  You'll have to become the monster they THINK you are and NEED YOU TO BE to justify their existence !

But, if you just stop resisting me and let me take over, I can show you how to use the mercury powers you stole from Hou."

TT smirked.  "I didn't steal those mercury powers; I merely twisted her corruption into a less horrible form.

As for being noticed ?  I am a Nothing.  Beneath the notice of pretty much everyone.  A background pony that barely qualifies to have her own name.  I was honestly quite surprised that Hou did anything to me at all."

With that, she returned to the real world ...


Tongue Twister noticed that she'd filled two pages with near random phrases in multiple languages - they were mnemonic keys meant to jog her memory later.

"Well, at least the train ride to Ponyville will only be half as long as from Las Pegasus to here." she mused as she looked over one of the 'Phantom Consulting, Inc.' business cards she had.  "Just have to stop by their post office to set up a mail box.  

Shouldn't be too trying an ordeal ..." 


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  • 4 weeks later...

When the sun hit the card a certain way, she noticed some writing on it.  It was a very tight and tiny script.  Her father's hornwriting.

The script was an explanation : 'look in your saddlebags for more information', an instruction : 'hold this card up when you speak the verse', and a simple rhyme.

So Tongue Twister read the rhyme enough times to be sure she'd memorized it perfectly, then looked around to verify no one was watching.

Holding the card aloft, she intoned : 

"The message wrote upon this card
Now cross any distance - mile, inch, feet or yard,
To reach any who might have need
Of any skill I possess, I shall take heed !
Be the cause small or be it great, 
I commend ye now to the Winds of Fate."

With the last word, the card began to burn with a golden flame, until there was nothing left but ashes that disappeared into the etheric winds.

"Thanks daddy !" TT thought to herself with a broad smile on her face.



"What just happened ?" the Abomination asked.

"Dad just gave me some help !" TT replied, "He set up the Devil's Business Card enchantment for me !"

The Abomination raised a single eyebrow at her.

"Oh, that's just what it's called." she replied with a dismissive wave of her wing, "It was invented a century or two ago, when all the mages were trying to come up with novel uses of known spells and gave their results all sorts of amusing names.  It was after the 'Alliterative Period'.  When all spells simply HAD to have names like 'Rockhoof's Rapport' or 'Foal's Forebearance' or 'Silversheen's Sycophantic Simulacrum'."

"So what, exactly, does the 'Devil's Business Card' enchantment do ?"

"The card will be found by anyone looking for any help that I can provide." TT answered, "And it can be found in the most unlikely of places.  You could turn over a rock undisturbed for centuries, and there it'd be.  Or on a bulletin board you examined a dozen times already.  Or it will fall to the floor when you throw away your junk mail."

The Abomination mused for a few moments.  "So - it materializes out of the sight of those that have need, to be found moments later ?  That's - actually a very useful spell !  So how come I've never heard of it ?"

"It takes a fair amount of power to use, but most mages feel it is too trivial a waste of power to cast.  I've only seen something like it used once before : a recruitment letter for a secret organization that crossed my desk.

The only reason I could cast the spell was because dad set it up, and I now have enough arcane power to fuel it."

The Abomination was only able to wonder about that for a few seconds before it began screaming from the pain of having its essence drained.

It had lost cohesion and returned to being a dark storm cloud of rage.

"YOU USED ME AS A POWER SOURCE ?!" it howled at Tongue Twister once it pulled itself back into the rough shape of a pony - now slightly smaller than an Ursa Minor.

"This is MY mind.  I can use anything in here ANY WAY THAT I SEE FIT !" she sneered in response before waving a wing to conjure a portal, "If you don't like it, you are free to leave any time you want !

And what are you yowling about ?  You'd have done the same thing to me !"

"Well OF COURSE I'd have done that to you !  I'M EVIL !!  You're not !"

"So ?" TT inquired.

The Abomination tried to say something, but couldn't seem to form words.

"Oh.  I see  you're stuck in the primitive mode of dualistic thinking." TT began, "Where evil is one dimensional 'evil purely for the sake of evil', with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
And good is one dimensional 'happy and virtuous twenty four seven !!', with nothing worse than minor quirks to mar the wonder that is them.

I am quite a bit more nuanced than that !

Good need not be soft.

Or dumb.


Or even nice !


Upon returning to the real world, she headed for the train station to buy a ticket for her trip to Ponyville.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Tongue Twister disembarked at the Ponyville Station, and looked around for the Post Office.


Finding it rather quickly (for despite being home to five of Harmony's Chosen, the town wasn't all that large or busy), she made her way over, keeping her corrupted wings hidden under a large, dark blue cape.


Setting up a post office box for her new business wasn't difficult - for just a few bits a year, she had a valid mail address so others could contact her.


She pinned one of her 'Phantom Consulting, Inc' business cards on the bulletin board, since it never hurt to advertise.  And it could be quite some time before she got a response from that "Devil's Business Card" enchantment her father had set up with her.


She meandered off to the closest restaurant for something to eat.


While waiting for her order of a daisy sandwich and some hay fries, she pondered what she was going to do next.




Within the mindscape : 


"Do you have a death wish or something ?!" the Abomination asked, "The Elements of Harmony live here !  If they detect our dark magic, they'd blast us first, then ask questions never, since they are never wrong !"


"Too true." TT replied, "But cowering in fear or running from shadows isn't much of a life.  Besides, given how far they wander, there is always a chance of running into at least one of them anywhere in Equestria.  Anywhere I could go, there is always a chance that either one of them or one of their acquaintances might notice me. 


We are only in trouble IF somepony detects something unusual from me.  As a Nothing, the odds anyone would notice my existence is close to zero; I was quite surprised and astonished that Hou Shuren actually did anything at all to me.


And 'OUR dark magic' ?  Keeping YOUR dark magic buried under layers of soul-numbing mundanity is no picnic !"


"Well, that is an easy enough problem to solve." the Abomination stated smugly, "Just stop being of three minds, and fuse back together !"


TT snorted.  "Or, I can just tear you to shreds, or drain off all your power and enslave you, or just toss you out."


"Yeah.  Right !" the Abomination replied with a chuckle, "I am far too powerful and too deeply embedded for you to do any of that !"


"You sure about that ?" TT inquired smugly, "I know a few more enchantments that draw far more power than the Devil's Business Card.  And since YOU are the most powerful being in my head, the spells would draw from you first.


And 'thanks' to all those memory and mind altering spells I've been hit with over the years, I have resources even I don't know about !"


Just before she returned to the Material World, she asked the Abomination : "What makes you think I am of just three minds ?"


The Abomination merely chuckled and replied "What makes you think you can restrain me forever ?  Every time you lose your temper is a chance for me to escape and influence you !  


And you have quite a few easy to push buttons !



TT looked around the infamous town of Ponyville.


"There must be something interesting going on around here somewhere ..."

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  • 2 months later...

Caveat Emptor gazed out upon the snow falling in Canterlot, and knew it was good.

For it  meant that Hearth's Warming was upon them once again - and with that, another chance to sell some merchandise !

Standing on the sidewalk in front of his shop, he carefully cleaned his glasses before putting them back on, turning the sign in the window to 'OPEN', and Caveat Emptor's Discount Emporium was open for business.

"Come one and all !  Exotic items from around the world !  Strange and unusual gifts for the strange and unusual creatures in your life !  Today only : ten percent discount on everything !"

A dark stormcloud grey pegasus mare in a red vest and skirt snickered before sidling up beside him and giving him a gently elbow.  "You really need to work on your sales pitches dear !  'Strange and unusual gifts for strange and unusual creatures' ?  Not many like thinking of themselves or their loved ones in those terms."  She leaned in for a kiss and whispered in his ear "You marked everything up 25% last night, didn't you ?"

"Of course !" he replied sneakily to his wife, "It IS Hearth's Warming Eve after all !

Shouldn't you be opening up shop too ?  A lot of folks buying stuff means a lot of folks shipping stuff all over Equestria."

Shady Dealer merely shrugged.  "There's nothing to ship until somepony has purchased something.  I'll give it another half hour or so."

She sighed as she watched the families bustling about.

"I'm sure our little filly is doing fine !" Caveat said to his wife as he gave her a hug, "She's a very resourceful mare."

"I know she is." Shady replied, "But against all this recent craziness ?  That temple in Tenochtitlan ?  Those weirdos from THREE different spy agencies asking about her ?  Her working for some unknown secret paramilitary agency ?  And now corrupted by dark magic ?  When did things get so surreal ?"

"About two or three thousand years ago." Caveat replied, "This is Equestria after all.  Where NOT getting along with your neighbors can summon Windigoes to freeze everypony solid.
As demonstrated just a few moons ago when the Terrible Trio tried to take over."

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  • 11 months later...

"You know you could hire some ponies to help you with inventory." Shady Dealer stated to her husband Caveat Emptor as they walked down the aisles of his curio shop.

He grunted noncomittally as he counted up how many bottles of Raynbow Dashe shampoo bottles were on the shelf.

"You could make more money with less effort if this place were better organized." Shady stated, waving a wing at the shelves, "It is a mathematical fact when dealing with rational agents !"

Caveat smiled at her.  "I'm sure it is.  But ponies are not perfectly rational agents.  Ponies in here tend to wander, picking up items that strike their fancy, and drop whatever they were carrying at the moment.  Figuring that the staff will put everything back.  At the end of the day, I'd have to go through and put everything back !  And the bigger the store, the more effort required to get everything ordered again !

Most curio merchants and antique dealers have found that, if customers have to search for what they're looking for, it becomes an



he stated while posing heroically for a moment before continuing  "The more effort they put into the search for something, the more likely they'll actually buy it !

And by the time they make their way to the counter, they're almost willing to pay whatever price I feel like asking !" he finished with a broad grin, "So I only have to know what I have in stock, not where it is."

"Ah yes - the authentic 'curio shop experience' the hoi polloi go one about." Shady replied, "But why do a physical inventory ?  You have spells to prevent or detect shoplifting, right ?"

"Of course.  But a constant problem for curio shops is that sometimes ponies like to either sell cursed items, or sneak them INTO the shop, so they'll be sold to unsuspecting creatures to cause grief and mayhem.

 That, and strange items can just appear on the shelves of their own accord sometimes.

Like, what are the odds that Starswirl's Journal would end up, a thousand or so years later, in a blind buy barrel purchased by somepony that not only knew what it was, but was a friend of Princess Bookworm ?

Either it's a side effect of the 'Bigger On The Inside' spell, or just so many magic items in one place warping the thaumic fields, but if I don't check once in awhile, I might miss an item.

Like this thing right here !" he finished, gesturing at a carved wooden statue on the floor.

Shady looked at it - it was a badly carved statue of a raccoon.  Sort of.

She squinted at it.  Tilted her head left and right.  "This is a magical item ?  Looks like the perfect gift to give to someone you really don't like !"

"That is one of the most dangerous of the lowest tier cursed items !" Caveat stated solemnly, "It's a statue most of the time.  But once its owners are asleep, it animates and starts stealing small items at random times.  Nopony has ever figured out where the items it takes go.

Eventually, it starts to steal sanity.  It will be in different rooms in the morning.  Or it will subtly change position.

Notice how it has its left paw up, and its right one down ?

One night it might change to left paw down, and right one up.  Any pony looking at it would know something is different, but not be sure what !

Eventually, the unlucky owner would be reduced to a gibbering, paranoid wreck.

The family would have an estate sale, and that thing would be purchased by another merchant.  To start the cycle 

Shady slowly backed away from the wooden raccoon as Caveat went to retrieve something.

"You might want to take a few more steps back dear !" he stated as he took the large bell jar he had balanced on his back and placed it over the ugly construct without using his magic.

The statue animated for a few seconds before becoming still; in a purely instinctual move, Shady flapped her wings and flew backwards about twenty feet.  And upward ten.

Caveat carefully picked it up and started carrying it to the 'Special Collections' room.

Shady took a few deep breaths before asking "ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GONNA KEEP THAT THING IN YOUR SHOP ?!"

"What else am I to do with it ?" he asked, "Let some unsuspecting merchant sell it to somepony ?  Or worse - let it fall into the hooves of somepony that does know what it does, and inflict that thing on somepony on purpose ?
I might be an eccentric con artist who cares about money a bit too much, but some things - are just plain wrong !"

Shady was quiet for a bit before stating "Things like THAT are another good reason to hire somepony !  At least part time !  So there is someone here to help if things turn for the worse !"

"Not many ponies want to work in a curio shop." he replied, "The only ones that do are either thieves, or eccentric."

"Or eccentric thieves." Shady stated before giving Caveat a quick smooch.  "Just please think about it."

"Okay, fine."

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  • 4 months later...

Shady Shipping Shop, Canterlot, half hour before closing for the evening :

"I'm telling you this is the lowest price possible !" Shady Dealer argued with an earth pony stallion, "There are no railway tracks to where you want your supplies to go !  You can get close, but that last quarter mile is going to require overland hauling.  I know a few ponies that would be more than happy to take the order, but they don't work cheap."

"You SURE there's no cheaper route ?" the customer stated, "I heard you were good with calculations and combinations and such !"

"I can only work with what is actually available." Shady replied, "So, unless somepony's built a spur off the main line right there that I haven't heard about yet, the route I've shown you is the least expensive route !  Well, within one point one five percent."

The bell announcing customers rang, and Tongue Twister shuffled in.  "Hi mom."

Shady was taken aback.  "TT ? I thought you were on vacation in Saddle Arabia !"

"We were.  It ended early.  The guest room still available ?"

"Oh of course honey !  You have any bags that need brought in ?"

"No.  Not any more."

"Oh, okay ?" Shady replied as TT wandered off to the stairs in back.

Shady turned to her customer and said "Can we pick this discussion up later ?  Something that needs my full attention has come up !"

The customer glanced back where TT had gone, then back to Shady.  "Yeah.  No problem.  Good luck !"

"Thanks." Shady replied before turning the sign in the window to 'Closed' then heading over to Caveat's shop to get her husband's help.

Tongue Twister was on her belly on the spare bed, with her wings sort of drooping over the edges like they were made of melting wax.  Shady grimaced and stepped behind Caveat for a moment, before getting hold of her emotions - she was never a fan of gross stuff.

"What happened down there ?" Caveat asked.

"Hou Shuren was there, for some unknowable reason." TT groused without looking up as she reformed her alchemic mercury wings back into wing shapes, "The SMART things to do would've been to either retreat all the way back home, or PRETEND she wasn't there.

But us ?  We had to try to figure out what she was up to - EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO CHANCE IN TARTARUS THAT ANYTHING ANYPONY DID WOULD EVER MATTER !  There was no conceivable way anypony could've figured out where she was going, or what she was doing down there !  Other than looking up the names of long dead pharaohs apparently !

But like the stubborn yet incompetent goof that we are, we had to try !  Even though there was absolutely no chance of success !  We managed to get a letter to the organization we may or may not work for, so at least somepony competent may - or may not - know that a potential threat to Equestria is up to something !

And then a pair of pretentious twits stole all our stuff and hit us with a memory erasure spell and left us in the desert to find our way back to town !" she finished with a sigh.

"What is it with SMILE and those darn memory spells ?!" Shady growled, shaking her hoof, "Screwing with pony's memories can't be good for anyone !  It's pretty much an admission you're incompetent - you lack the skill to be covert, so you just brute force 'you not remember nothing !!'."

"They weren't SMILE agents mom."

"How do you know ?  I thought they erased your memories."

"They did.  The memory vault dad got for us worked !  Besides, SMILE uses the 'reflection deflection' spell pretty much exclusively; the walking dung factories that zapped us used a crude memory erasure spell to pull the memories right out of our skull."

Shady blinked.  "Ohhhhkay.  Did you manage to find any clues about what that walking pox Shuren was up to down there ?"

"No." TT replied, "She was looking for some old pharaohs for some reason.  The only name I could find was a 'Theth Ka'.  Who had a grandfather that did something so horrible his name was erased !  So there's no way to find it !"

Caveat thought for a moment.  "Maybe some of the neighboring kingdoms might have records ?" he offered, "I mean, if you're doing something so horrible that the populace rises up and erases all records of you, other kingdoms would be smart to take notice !  In case Theth Ka's grandfather decided to take his malevolence on the road and go after them too."

"That makes sense." Shady noted, "If you did something so horrible that Celestia commanded all records of your existence be erased, no one in Equestria could find out anything about you.

But she has no actual authority to tell the yaks in Yakyakistan, or the dragons or the seaponies or anyone else to do the same.  Foreign records might be incomplete, but they might exist.

And the greater the threat, the more likely someone somewhere took note of it."

"You both sound like you WANT us to continue that fool's errand !" TT exclaimed.

"Well, that's up to you honey !" Shady stated, "You've never backed down from a challenge before ..."

TT fixed a glare on her mom.  "It is only a challenge IF IT ACTUALLY CAN BE DONE !  Digging through a granite mountain with just a wooden spoon is NOT a challenge !  It is an exercise in stupidity !

Trying to figure out what a milleniums' old evile sorceress is up to is NOT a challenge !  It is an exercise in utter futility !  No point in even trying !"

TT took a few deep breaths before continuing "Currently, we are like a puppy chasing after a train.  We couldn't slow it down even if we caught it, and if it ran us over it wouldn't even slow down the slightest bit !"

Shady shuddered a bit, looking a bit green for a moment.  "Thanks for that gruesome image honey !"

"Sorry about that mom." TT replied, "But sadly, it is as accurate as it is gross !"

"Are you seriously going to give up and do nothing ?" Caveat asked, "Somepony once stated that 'all that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good ponies to do nothing'.

That - is not your style !  

How do you think Somnambula felt when she faced down the sphinx ?  Somepony had to step forward and do something, despite the risk."

TT grinned weakly.  "But we are not one of Harmony's Chosen.  We are not the hero scripted to win against all odds.  We are just one of the thousands who were defeated and crushed so everypony can see how powerful the villain is, and how special The Heroes are for managing to defeat them."

"How can you possibly know whether you're one of Harmony's Chosen or not ?" Shady asked, "Only history can show something like that.  Eventually."

Tongue Twister grumbled.  She wanted to refute her mom, but nothing came to mind.

TT sighed heavily.  "Today's been a rough week.  We're going to bed.  Maybe things will look better when we wake up tomorrow.  Can we talk more then ?"

"Of course honey !" Shady Dealer answered, giving TT a quick hug before leaving the room with Caveat.

TT got ready for bed, but was too worked up to sleep just yet.

So she sat on the floor and tried to meditate; it's always helped before.


Tongue Twister's idealized form sat on a floating cloud in an endless void, eyes closed while floating eyes manifested, looked around a bit, then disappeared again.

 "I find this disturbing." Abomination stated as it surveyed the area,  "I am a purely mental manifestation of Shuren's evil influence inside your skull, and I find all of this disturbing !"

"My mindscape, my rules."  TT replied, "When looking for something, manifest more eyes."

"And what could you possibly be looking for ?  A way to defeat Hou Shuren ?" the Abomination smirked, "A waste of time !  There is NO WAY somepony like YOU could ever hope to even inconvenience her, much less stop her !

She's squared off against alicorns - and won !

So what hope does somepony like YOU have ?"

"None whatsoever." TT replied, "I am under the influence of the Nothing's Curse - I am not allowed to do anything useful or important."

TT smirked, then said "But I know a few ponies who can !

Plus a better strategy !" she continued, "I tend to OVER estimate threats.  I've been treating Shuren like an unstoppable world-eating eldritch abomination from beyond the stars.  The ONLY way to defeat something like that is to prevent its summoning.  Which requires getting in front of the problem - figuring out what its servants are up to, where they'd need to go, etc.

But she's not that powerful, and she's already in this universe.  Different situation, different strategy.  In her case, I can figure out where she's been, what she's found.

After all, once she's found what she's looking for, there's no need for her to stay.

So I won't have to worry about running into her.  I can put all effort into searching for actual clues instead of hiding.
Or, in my case, directing others where to search."


*** Next  Morning ***

"This is some great coffee, dad !" TT exclaimed as she finished a cup, "WHERE did you get it ?"

"Your mom got it." Caveat replied, "She set up a shipping route for some of the bigger coffee houses.  Took a can of this in lieu of payment."

TT looked at her dad funny.  "Really ?  That doesn't sound like mom."

"You seen the prices some of those houses charge ?" Caveat replied after taking a big sip, "And ponies can me a grifter !"

The door opened and Shady Dealer walked in, balancing a large package on her back.

"TT honey ?  Did you order something and have it delivered here ?" she asked.

Tongue Twister looked confused.  "No !  We were on vacation in Saddle Arabia, before coming here to divine what else to do with our life.  Why ?"

"This was delivered to my shop.  It has your name on it, but the return address is conveniently smudged beyond recognition." Shady stated as she carefully put the package on the table.

All ponies in the room slowly backed away from the package.

Caveat concentrated for a moment to activate his magic.  A carrot orange aura surrounded the box.

"Hmm.  It's safe - nothing dangerous in it." he stated, "There are a few faint traces of magic, but they seem familiar."

Figuring there was nothing to worry about, TT pulled apart the wrappings and opened the box.  "It's all the stuff those twits stole from us in Saddle Arabia !" she exclaimed as she started unpacking the box.  "Well, most of it.  Our journal !" she stated as she fanned the pages.  They were all there, but some passages were circled in red ink, and somepony had written a few notes in the margins.

"The Florilegium Mischiefii !  But some of the bookmarks are in different places.  And there are a few we didn't place."

TT sighed after she rummaged around a bit.  "Looks like the notes we made about Hou Shuren are missing though."

TT's wings slithered into the box to retrieve the last items : the Winged Slippers of Air Walking, the Wandering Eye gem, the Circlet of Mnemnosine and the Squealer's Stone.

"Well, those are the familiar magics I picked up." Caveat stated.

"But why would anypony send your stuff back ?" Shady asked.

TT smiled.  "The ones that stole them from us wouldn't !  They thought as a 'mere civilian', we don't deserve to have such things.  We suspect a different 'secret organization' saw what was going on and 'acquired' our stuff from them, and decided to return it to us."

Shady Dealer thought for a bit.  "That means there are at least two hostile secret organizations, and and least two, well, potentially benevolent secret organizations that know about you."

"Good !  They can play their secret Spy Games all they want !" TT exclaimed, "The more players, the better the odds Shuren encounters some relevant resistance from somepony.

Unless, of course, they're too busy trying to upstage each other to actually deal with the threat before it's too late.

But their skullduggery and subterfuge dilutes our involvement.  If the interactions go on long enough, they might forget where they got the information from in the first place !"

TT reached for her saddlebags and started loading them up again.

"It was really great to talk with you two !" she said to her parents, "You were right dad - when there's a threat, everypony should do whatever they can.

And whether some pony's efforts are big or small ?  We have to let things pan out as they will before we know."

"Well, you're in better spirits than you were last night !" Shady stated as she gave TT a hug, "Took some time to get that old Pegasus pride and determination back under control, eh ?"

"Yeah." TT replied, "But now, we have some letters to write and have delivered."

"You DO know that some unknown spy organizations are watching you, and might try to intercept your letters, right ?" Shady asked.

"Know it ?  We are COUNTING on it !"

She wrote five copies of the same letter to STAR : 



The debriefing of Agent TT : 

Surveillance of Hou Shuren a complete and utter failure.  No idea what she was doing in Saddle Arabia, nor what she was looking for, other than the names of ancient pharoahs.

Managed to track down a name before situation went pear-shaped : Theth Ka.  His grandfather seems to have done something truly horrible, and his name was erased from history.  Sounds like somepony she would be interested in.

Need to check Sumerian/Akkadian Abyssinian records.  They were Saddle Arabia's neighbors before Theth Ka's reign, so they might have noted what his granddad was up to.

After all, if he's doing horrible things to his own subjects, he might try to go after others as well.  It is always wise to keep your eyes on a horrible neighbor, lest they come after you.

The most complete records of those kingdoms would be in the collections of the Canterlot Museum of Natural History - 'archaeologists' dug them up about a century ago, and CMNH was the only big museum at the time.

Nota bene : Agent TT should not be involved in this adventure - she was contaminated by Shuren's magics.

For one copy, the return address was one of STAR's front organizations in Las Pegasus.  Someone there will know where to direct it.  The 'deliver to' address was one TT knew didn't exist - the post office would try to deliver the letter, be unable to, then send it 'back' to the return address.

It was risky to send via regular mail, but it would easily get lost in the thousands of other letters - making it very difficult to intercept.

She gave one copy to her mom to send via a different route later, and TT went to the newest ice cream shop/STAR front to deliver her copies.

She was, of course, intercepted by some mares from some 'secret' organization, who used some memory-altering spells to recover a copy of her letter from her.

(Fortunately, alchemic mercury makes a great mirror; TT has covered her eyes at the last moment with it !  It required being blind for a moment, but the memory altering spell was blocked - and the agents were none the wiser and thus fell for TT's acting addled.

And thus she was able to actually deliver a copy of the letter exactly as she planned.  The 'secret' organization got a copy of the letter - pretty much as TT planned.)

The fifth copy was hidden in a secret pocket of Caveat's invoice book back in his shop.

As a backup.  Just in case.

"Now we wait and see if any of my efforts bear any fruit ..." she mused to herself as she walked back to her mom's shop, having formulated A Plan for the rest of her life.

Well, something to keep her busy for a month or two at least ....

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  • 1 month later...

It was just a quick trip from home to the Canterlot Museums, Division of Antiquities.  From her days (seemingly long ago) of working at the Manehattan Museum of Natural History, she knew that different fields of study often had entire divisions of a museum dedicated just to them - after all, the tools and expertise needed for cleaning fossilized bones was quite a bit different than translating ancient texts.

Since the Canterlot Museum was the oldest museum in Equestria, even its divisions had divisions !  

The Division of Antiquities, for instance, had a branch for each of most ancient civilizations.  A branch for linguistics, and even a branch for military history, amongst other specialties.

Most of the research materials therein were not available to the public.  Most were too fragile, too valuable, or just not that interesting to anyone NOT in that specialty.

But since Tongue Twister used to work for a museum, she knew a few ponies in the right places.

"Mom and dad were right." TT mused to herself once she talked her way into the less public areas of the museum where the VERY specialized and delicate items are kept and restored, "Keeping an eye on your neighbors was a good idea back then.  Especially if one of your neighbors was a conqueror, or was doing strange or unusual things to his own subjects !

So it would stand to reason that at least one of the countries near Saddle Arabia back then would have taken note of whatever Theth-Ka's grandpa was doing !

Whatever it was, it earned him Erasure from the Book of Eternity !  THAT is a punishment no one even thought was ever actually used because it was so horrible !

Well, at least to the ancient Saddle Arabians.  The neighboring countries, with different beliefs in the afterlife, would have had a different view and may have actually written down what happened.

Now, if only I can track something about it down !" she groused to herself as she picked up a dusty copy of a neo-Akkadian text.  Hopefully some scrap of an overlooked or forgotten ancient text mentioned Theth-Ka so she could track back to his grandfather, and get a clue as to whatever the hay Shuren is up to !

But then she reasoned that there simply could not have been that many ponies doing something horrible enough to require Erasure; so it stood to reason that ANY pony mentioned was most likely Theth-Ka's grandfather.

But there were a LOT of text fragments back here !  It could take years of searching to find anything at all - assuming 1) anypony actually recorded the events, and 2) the record survived intact until now.

"A slim hope is better than no hope at all ..." she mused as she got back to work (on a task no one gave to her.)

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  • 1 month later...

Days later, in the Antiquities department 

"Wow.  There's a LOT of stuff to go through back here !" TT noted to herself as she took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, "Maybe there isn't even a slim hope, and this was all but a fool's errand...."

"Uncover any ancient and forgotten secrets yet TT ?" Past Echoes - a pale grey unicorn stallion and director of the Antiquities Division (and Tongue Twister's old boss) asked.

TT sighed.  "No.  Not even sure there is anything TO find.  The odds of anything from that far back actually surviving this long intact AND being found is infintesimal !"

"Well, stranger things have happened." Past replied, "Starswirl's journal surfaced in a 'blind buy' from an antiquities store.  So, there's always a chance.

A really, really, REALLY slim one, but always a chance."

"Like finding something that completely overturns all history as you know it !!" Cracked Pot, a dark blue unicorn stallion exclaimed as he slapped a hoof on the bench and placed a statue of a blindfolded Saddle Arabian holding a scroll on it.

Both Tongue Twister and Past Echoes rolled their eyes.  "And just what is it THIS time ?" Pale Echoes asked with a sigh, feeling a headache coming on.  Cracked Pot may be one of Equestria's best restoration specialists, but his notions were, well, off.  'Rarely right but always certain' as they say.   

"Why, irrefutable proof that the ancients of Saddle Arabia came from Somnambula !" Cracked exclaimed, "See ?  How does your so-called 'conventional archaeology' explain THIS ?!" he continued with a grin, indicating the statue he'd brought in.

TT tilted her head and looked at it.  "You DO know that Somnambula is a mare, right ?"

Cracked Pot's grin evaporated instantly. "W-well, the ancients sometimes got the gender of important ponies wrong !  They've even got the species wrong at times !"

"And just why do you think this statue has anything to do with the kingdom of Somnabula ?" TT simply had to ask, pretty sure of the answer.

"The blindfold !" Cracked stated, "He's wearing a blindfold !  HOW can you overlook something that unique and diagnostic ?"

"Because it is neither unique nor diagnostic." the elderly pegasus mare Faded Vestige (curator of the Division of Visual Arts) opined, "That is a standard representation of the Lord of Secrets and Mysteries.  The blindfold is a very common motif to represent unknown, 'unseen' knowledge from many ancient cultures.

This statue may not be from Somnambula, but it is exquisite !  The pigments are still intact, and there is very little wear !  Is this one of your restoration works CP ?"

"No.  I found it like this."

"Is there any documentation that goes along with it ?" Past Echoes asked hopefully.

Cracked Pot's shoulders slumped as he sighed heavily.  "No.  The ponies I bought it from at a yard sale said it was something their grandfather or someone bought somewhere."

All museum nerds within earshot grumbled.

"There's something off about this statue ..." TT mused as she looked at it closely.

"Say, does this guy's neck seem just a little too long ?" she stated - just before pushing down on the statue's head.


There was a click.

She then turned the statue's head backward and, with a loud 'CLICK', the front of the statue opened.

Faded Vestige shrieked, then fainted.

Cracked Pot had paled and had a look of absolute terror as he pointed a hoof at TT and yelled "THAT STATUE WAS OVER A THOUSAND YEARS OLD !  DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'VE DONE !?!?"

TT rolled her eyes at him.  "We worked here for YEARS, CP !  Almost as long as you have !  We know how to properly handle artifacts - we're not Daring Do for crying out loud !

And we did not break it.  This statue had a hidden compartment."

Looking inside there were four very dry, very tightly wound scrolls.

"Whoa.   Ancient papyrus.  Almost never see that !  Any way to open them up to read them without them crumbling to dust ?" TT asked Cracked Pot.

"I know a few processes and tricks ... " Cracked Pot replied, grinning ear to ear (for he did LOVE a challenge).

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  • 1 month later...

Manehattan Museum of Natural History, Antiquities Division, one month later ...

"You managed to get those scrolls open without destroying them ?  Impressive !" Tongue Twister stated to Cracked Pot as he unrolled four loosely wound rolls of paper.

"Well, sort of." he replied, "I managed to get them safely rehydrated so they weren't as fragile, but there's a limit to what could be done.  They cracked into long fragments, but they could be put back together.  Like a two thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.

Annnnd the inks faded in a few places.  Plus diffusive bleedover - when scrolls are wound that tight for very long periods of time, ink can diffuse from one layer to another.  Producing ghost images."

Past Echoes squinted at the sheets.  "Considering the sheer age of these documents, I'm surprised there's anything here to read at all.

So, what do you think TT ?"

Tongue Twister looked at the scrolls carefully and adjusted her glasses.  "The writing near the ends is at right angles to the rest - read from bottom to top, farmer's plow style." she began, "It says 'Stalking Heron of Akkadia, report to World's Custodian, a date, and then a description of how much iron ore a nearby kingdom is buying, how many blacksmiths and metalworkers have emigrated, and how the last harvest went."

"You have obviously misread those documents." a sand-colored unicorn stallion pompously announced, "Writing from that age have a very specific format.  And what you described is not it.

And names like 'Stalking Heron' ?  'World's Janitor' ?  Seriously ?"

"Well, these aren't standard documents." TT replied, "These are espionage reports !  Some pony was spying on a nearby kingdom, and transferred the reports via dead drop.  THAT is why they were in that statue's hidden compartment. 

It's just that nopony picked them up.  Hmm - losing hidden items because an agent got 'dealt with' before the item could be picked up probably happens fairly often.

And they wouldn't use their real names on anything that could be found; 'Stalking Heron' and 'World's Custodian' - NOT 'Janitor'  - are obviously code names.  Heron was the spy, Custodian  was the superior reported to."

The unicorn smirked.  "And here I thought Cracked Pot was the one that came up with ridiculous, far-fetched scenarios !"

This earned a growling glare from both Tongue Twister and Cracked Pot.

"And you are ... ? " TT inquired.

"Cunieform Curio." he replied, "One of the ponies hired to replace you when you were let go."

"Actually, we resigned when we took another job in Las Pegasus." TT replied.

"You 'resigned' ?" Curio scoffed, "Was that before or after they found out you were incompetent ?"

"We were translating ancient Sumareian while you were still learning the Ponish alphabet !"

"Well, at least I know how to use pronouns properly... !"

"THAT'S ENOUGH CURIO !" Past Echoes interjected, "You may come from a wealthy family and graduated top in your class in linguistics from Canterlot University, but Tongue Twister has far more real-world experience than you.

And for your information, she DID resign.

And if she asked for her old job back, I would give it to her and make you her assistant in a heartbeat.  IF I was in a good mood.

Have I made myself clear, Curio ?" Past Echoes finished, nose to nose with the offensive stallion.

"Crystal, sir." Curio grudgingly replied.

TT looked over the other scrolls. The second scroll was an economics report describing what the observed kingdom was spending money on, how much money was coming in, and roughly how much they had.

The third scroll began "Stalking Heron of Akkadia, report to World's Custodian, on the Land of Pharoahs, continuing  incident four hundred sixty six : Theth'Ka."

"I've never heard of him." Cunieform Curio announced.

"We would be surprised if ANY pony heard of him !" TT replied, "These events were thousands of years ago; between erosion, decay and recycling by later ponies, not much remains from that time.  Plus the fact that THEY ERASED HIM FROM THEIR HISTORY for committing as yet to be determined crimes would make it kinda difficult to find anything about him."


She turned back to the scroll.  "Hmm - it says that Theth'Ka inherited property and his outlook from his grandfather, Teti-Ra.  Specifically, his habit of doing magical experiments on his subjects."

"What ?  Was he turning them into rabbits ?  Or statues that strolled across the ocean floor to other lands, just to stand around and erode like Cracked Pot suggested when he found those lumpy rocks in Maretonia ?" Curio simply had to ask.

TT glowered at him before looking back to the scrolls.  "Nope.  It says he was experimenting with memory alteration spells."

TT thought for a moment.  "Ouch !  THAT would explain why he was Erased !  He as violating the Ka !"

Curio sighed.  "And that is ?"

TT raised an eyebrow at him.  "Most ancient magical theorems split ponies into three parts : Mind, Body, and Soul.  The ancient Saddle Arabians had the Mind and Soul in one container : the Ka.  That was considered the eternal part of a pony.


Either only the gods would wise enough to violate somepony's Ka - in which case Theth'Ka and his grandpa were committing blasphemy, or not even the gods would mess with somepony's Ka.  In which case they committed a crime beyond all mortal comprehension.

Why did you not know what the Ka was ?  Did they stop covering comparative religions and worldviews in those 'higher than thou' schools or something ?" she asked Cunieform Curio.

"A translator translates.  Nothing more.  Nothing less." he stuffily replied.

"Huh ?  Without knowing the historical background, you'd have no context to translate correctly !" TT stammered, "You're ignoring the nuance and most of the beauty ancient texts provide !"

"Hmph !  I do not concern myself with the silly superstitions and foolish beliefs of long-ago cultures." 

TT's right eye twitched.

"You don't 'concern yourself with silly superstitions and foolish beliefs' ?" TT replied, "We live in a world where the sun, moon and stars don't move unless a pony wills them to !  

A world where a unicorn would develop a spell to turn apples into oranges - just because !

Where things can be turned into teacups on a unicorn mare's whim.

Where spirits capable of freezing the world are held at bay by friendship and unity.

We were almost conquered by a magic-stealing centaur, the queen of the changelings and a pegasus filly that became an alicorn from using magic stored in the 'mythical' Grogar's bell.

And you think some of those ancient stories are just too fantastical to be believed ?

Seriously ?

We will admit that it can be quite difficult to determine what stories are possibly accurate, which may hold just a grain of truth, and which are pure folklore." she continued, "But to dismiss all old knowledge right off the bat ?  Not the smartest move.  It is, at the least, a hint on where to look for more accurate knowledge."

"So, what's on the fourth scroll ?" Past Echoes inquired, trying to divert attention into a more productive direction.

"Oh, right !" TT replied, before reading the last scroll.  She tilted her head.  Then squinted a few times.  Then looked confused.

"It says that Theth'Ka died and was entombed as was the custom of his people." TT began, "His final resting place is not to be disturbed, for there are many terrors and dangers buried with him.  If the sun scarab can fly between Nethos and Heptas in nine days, then his tomb is located fourteen days as the sun scarab flies from Nethos, six days as the beetle flies from  Heptas, seven days flight from Dem'ma, and three days as the scarab flies from Wep.

I - have NO IDEA where any of those locations are !" TT whined as she rubbed her forehead, "And I doubt anypony else does either !  All those locations are code words !  Only someone in World's Custodian's organization would know what they refer to !

They could be cities.  Or natural landmarks that may or may not still exist."

"Soooo - there's an undisturbed ancient Saddle Arabian tomb of terrors out there, but nopony will ever be able to find it because the mapmaker used code ?" Cracked Pot asked.

"Yeah.  Pretty much." TT replied, "Unless we get really, REALLY lucky and stumble across something relevant ...."

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  • 2 months later...

Tongue Twister was always ambivalent about hot air balloons.  They could fly great distances, and were the easiest way to reach pegasus cloud cities, but they moved very, very slowly.

When her wings were still flesh, feather and bone (seemingly so long ago), she could have easily flown thrice as fast as a balloon; maybe even four times !

But after that encounter with Hou Shuren near the Whitetail Woods ?  She couldn't even get off the ground, since wings made of alchemic mercury were too heavy and too insensate to use for flying.

So she kept her altered wings under a short, dark blue cape (with a string of text in an unknown language embroidered in a spiral), held together with a ying-yang clasp.

Once the balloon landed, she headed to a STAR front to give a debriefing - her latest 'mission' was an abject failure, since there was no conceivable way anypony could have succeeded.

Hou Shuren has a friend and accomplice - of unknown actual appearance and species.

Shuren was looking for something in one of Saddlelon's libraries - no conceivable way of ever figuring out what (short of a wish or high-level divination).

She is obviously up to something, but there is no possible way to ever figure out what in time to stop her.  So they'll have to do things to standard way : LET the villain become ridiculously powerful, and ONLY fight back when she has her hoof on the world's throat !

What's the point of being a hero if you can't heroically save the world by heroically doing something heroic and the last possible moment, winning against NOW impossible odds ?

TT had a few other things to do while in town (like see if she could get a good price on a vardo, and maybe look for a glassmaker that has Klein bottles for sale for a tulpamancy project she was planning), and while she was working out where to go next, she was interrupted by two very well dressed ponies asking if she was Tongue Twister - a tan pegasus mare and an offwhite earth pony stallion.

TT was trying to figure out who would want to talk with her (since the Devil's Business Card enchantment her dad cast for her was still running, they might be customers !), but then she noticed the well-hidden dark glasses in their pockets.

Her mom Shady Dealer had warned her about ponies like this : they were S.M.I.L.E. agents !

Zap-happy morons who didn't know the meaning of 'subtley' or 'competence'.

Who relied on their memory-altering spells to cover up their indiscretions and fumblings.

"Yes.  Who wants to know ?" TT replied warily.

"The Canterlot Revenue Service." the pegasus mare stated while flashing a badge (much too quickly to be read) while her partner stood there, looking stoic and menacing, "We have some questions we need you to answer." she continued.

"Ah.  Well, we don't have any of our financial records with us at the moment, but we'll do our best to answer whatever questions you have." TT replied.

"Uhm, sure.  Please follow us to the office." the pegasus stated, looking a bit confused as to why TT was referring to herself in the plural.

The 'office' was a small room on the first floor of a strip mall that had seen better days years ago.

"This is not a CRS office."  TT noted after a quick, furtive look around, "And you are not agents from Internal Revenue.  So, what do you really want from us ?"

"What makes you say that ?" the stalliion asked with an evil glare.

"There is enough legal money flowing through Las Pegasus to support an actual office." TT noted, "And the Revenue Service works for the Crown - you have essentially unlimited funds !

So there is no reason to take anyone to a virtually abandoned office in a strip mall !

So, again, what do you want from us ?"

The agents looked to each other for a moment, before the pegasus mare nodded, then pushed aside a picture on the wall and pressed the disguised panel hidden behind it.

The whole floor slowly dropped until they were in a new room with a single door opposite them.

They headed through the door, and the 'office' rose to its previous position.

They passed half a dozen armed guards in the hallway to an interrogation room.

"You wanted to know what we wanted from you ?" the stallion asked gruffly, "What do you know about a unicorn mare named Hou Shuren ?"

"What makes you think we know anything about anypony ?" Tongue Twister asked as she took a seat and sat down.

"S.M.I.L.E. has eyes everywhere." he replied, "You've been acting rather suspiciously for the past few months.  That's why we intercepted one of your letters addressed to a non-existent recipient here in Las Pegasus.  You mentioned this 'Hou Shuren' while you were in Saddle Arabia.  Seemed to think it was important enough to write somepony a letter about her."

Exactly as I expected !" TT mused to herself with a smirk.  "Fair enough.

We encountered the sorceress Hou Shuren a few months back.  She was in a magic duel with Sombra out by White Tail Woods.  She was concerned there was a slim chance he might go to Canterlot, where there was a slight chance he might accidentally stumble upon one of her schemes.

So she just slapped him around for a bit to delay him until her scheme was done before letting him go.

Have you ever encountered magic so concentrated in one spot that you could HEAR it ?  THAT's the levels of power we're talking about here !

We were passing by overhead and noticed the battle starting.  We thought it best to observe and gather some information more useful that 'GAAAAH !!!! EVIL !!!!!!' " TT continued, waving her forelegs about in a mock panic.

"After she trapped us in some sort of spell, we tried to escape.

We failed.

Then she said : 'When sentient life will forget what Equestria or Long Guo were, I will be there. When Equinekind will leave it's cradle, and spill to the sea of stars, I will still be there. When this universe collapses unto itself and gives birth to a new one. I. Will. Be.There.

Now be silent, or I will rethink skipping dinner.'

We remember that, for some things are just too horrible or too strange to forget, even if you want to.

Planning to out-live the entire universe sounds rather dangerous to me !

And it turns out Shuren is a soul-eater.  And our soul was the only other one in the area at the time of the battle.

So she noticed we were watching, and decided to do an experiment on corrupting somepony with a partitioned mind or something.  It did not go well for us ..." TT stated as she extended one of her wings.

She'd shifted it to look like a collection of partially melted bones barely held together by some sort of slithering silverish liquid.

The earth pony stallion grimaced and stepped back; his pegasus partner barely managed to not throw up before TT refolded the wing back under her cape.

"Things were rough for us for a few months." she began, "So we went to Saddle Arabia for a vacation.  To get away from all the drama.

It was purely bad luck that Hou Shuren was in Saddle Arabia at the time.

From what we could find out, she was looking for something in one of the four city-sized libraries in Saddlelon.  No idea what she was looking for.  Nor any idea if she was successful or not."

"Why didn't you tell anypony about any of this ?!" the pegasus agent asked.

TT smirked.  "Who would we tell ?  The only organizations that could do something about her insist on working in absolute secrecy !  There is no way to contact them about anything !  If they had their way, nopony would even know they exist at all !

If we were to go spouting off about universe-ending unicorns to anypony else, we'd probably get stuffed into a psych ward somewhere !

And Shuren most likely has spies everywhere.  If we become the nail that sticks out, she'd be the hammer that beats us down !  We suspect we'd perish from some 'unfortunate accident'.  Or just disappear off the face of the world.

And why would anypony believe our tales of terror ?" she continued with a sigh and a shrug, "We are not one of Harmony's Chosen.  We are nopony important.  There is no reason anypony would ever take us seriously.  Until it is far too late.

We're just an employee at the Natural History Museum.  Or, at least we were ..." TT continued, wiping her eyes and secretly tapping the left hinge of her glasses three times to activate one of her enchanted glasses' defensive spells (just in case).

"Well, S.M.I.L.E. knows about her now." the pegasus mare agent stated, "We've taken down threats far greater than a unicorn sorceress trying to become immortal !"

Tongue Twister laughed derisively.

"Oh, you think so ?" she began as she looked off into the distance, "The Light has burned away all Darkness.  So The Wheel must turn once again to restore balance.

The Script has been written; Hou Shuren's ascension to godhood cannot be stopped.  By anyone.  Without her permission.

Then The Darkness shall reign.

Then The Wheel will turn once more.  And The Light shall reign.  Then The Wheel shall turn once more.  And so on and so on and so forth.

Nothing lasts forever, for only The Nothing is forever.

And as the bard once said : 'Life is a poor player that struts and frets its hour upon the stage, then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot.  Full of sound and fury - signifying NOTHING.'

Now, if there are no further questions, we'll be leaving now." she stated as she stood up.

Only to be pushed back by the earth pony agent.

"I don't know WHO you think you are, and frankly I don't care !" he stated, "WE decide when the interview is over !  NOT you !"

TT smirked at him, knowing full well what was coming next.

"No, we don't think so.  We have rights !" she stated plainly.

The agent snorted.  "This is a secret organization.  We are ABOVE all laws.  You only have whatever rights WE feel like giving you !"

"Well, that was rather blatant." TT replied with a smirk, "But, then again, why be subtle or competent if you' re just going to rip 'inconvenient' memories out of our head ?

You could torture and abuse us for weeks to get the information you wanted, then just wipe our memories and toss us in a ditch somewhere with the implanted suggestion that we were in an accident !"

"Why would you think we could do anything like that ?" the pegasus agent asked.

"S.M.I.L.E. isn't as secret an organization as you think it is !"

The earth pony stallion agent grumbled.  "You may know more about our organization that a civilian should." he stated as he put his dark glasses on and pulled out a tubular device, "But that doesn't mean you can do anything to stop us !"
There was a bright flash of light as he activated the device to cast the Reflection Deflection spell.

Tongue Twister's glasses were now burnt black and smoking from bouncing the spell and changing its polarity.

The two agents were now stunned, since their glasses only blocked their memory-altering spell in its original polarity.
TT tossed her destroyed glasses into a nearby waste bin before rummaging around in her mane to find a pair of enchanted glasses. 

(her glasses have a minor hex on them - a hexed item cannot be lost or destroyed, for that would make it far to easy to evade the effects of other curses placed on the same item).

It was easy to 'convince' the agents that the interrogation had gone well, and that she'd been properly dealt with.
Now back in an alley a few blocks from where she started, she looked around as she tried to decide what to do next ....

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  • 3 months later...

After nearly an hour of searching the various local vendors, she found somepony that had Klein bottle necklaces for sale.


After purchasing one, she filled it with a blue fluid that had a slight glow.  It was just a few ounces of liquid, but it could be converted into a respectable amount of vapor with minimal mystic effort.  


She wasn't sure what tulpamancy combined with standard pegasus weather control (both boosted by ancient dark magics) could do, but it might be interesting to find out.


One good thing about Las Pegasus is that you can buy nearly anything there, if you know where to look.  Even wagons and vardos.


Tongue Twister was looking at a slightly larger, oddly aerodynamic model.   


Since she had to pull the darned thing herself, she tried on the harness and pulled - and was surprised that the wagon wasn't quite as heavy as she thought it'd be.


She checked its walls - it was composed of solidified clouds !

"This is a pegasus built vardo ?" she asked the used wagon salespony, "These things are rare !"

"Tell me about it !" the earth pony salespony groused, "If they're not maintained, they disintegrate within a month !  That's why you never see one for sale on the ground !"

He sighed.  "I've had to hire a pegasus to come in and keep it intact every other week !  Honestly, it is becoming more trouble than it is worth.

Especially with the prices he charges for such simple work !"

TT smiled.  "We do believe we can make a deal !"

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  • 5 months later...

Desert outside of Las Pegasus, far away from any witnesses :

Tongue Twister had purchased the vardo, and noted that it has some features the used cart pony either hadn't known about or failed to mention : many secret compartments !  Each wall, floor and ceiling had a hidden space large enough to hide quite a bit of stuff.  She suspected the previous owner may have been one her mom's relatives or 'business acquaintances' that might have used it to run contraband, but that didn't matter now.

It took a few hours, but she'd managed to fit all her belongings into the wagon (plus her notes and journals in the hidden compartments), increasing its weight by a sizable bit.

She could still pull it; it would be slow going, but she could now go anywhere.  It's not like she needed a fixed address or needed to be anywhere in a hurry or anything.

"Now, for some experiments ..." she mused to herself as she got atop the vardo, sat down and started concentrating.

The liquid inside her necklace bubbled, and impossible amounts of very dark clouds poured out of it and gathered beneath the harness.

The clouds condensed into the shape of a rhinoceros, which then started pulling the wagon at an ever increasing rate of speed.

"Since when are rhinos this fast ?" Abomination asked within her mind as the desert scenery blew past in a blur.

"It's not a real rhinoceros." TT replied, "It is a figment of my imagination given solid form.  It is as fast or as strong as I want it to be.  Well, as long as I can maintain focus.  And within the limits of the material and energy used and so forth of course.

Being imaginary, a mental construct is not constrained by mere reality - BEHOLD !"

With that, the rhino sprouted a gigantic set of dragonfly wings and took to the skies at a forty five degree angle.  And increased speed.


Okay, that's wrong on so many levels." Abomination noted flatly as they flew along.

"Yeah.  Can't argue with you there." TT replied in her head, then changed her mind about what form the mist she was shaping with tulpamancy was - the rhino with dragonfly wings shifted into a gigantic dragonfly.

"Why are you doing this ?"

"What ?  Why should I pull this wagon all the time if I don't have to ?" she replied to the voice in her head, "Besides, I can't get better at tulpamancy if I don't practice."

She was able to maintain speed and distance for almost half an hour, before the headache that was building got too strong for her to take.

So she returned to the ground rather far east of Las Pegasus and recalled the 'vaporous servant' back into its bottle.

"Probably best to do that on a limited time basis !" she noted to herself before she got into the wagon, took some aspirin and layed down for awhile.

Until a random memory floated into her consciousness.

"I wonder if it is still there ...." she mused to herself as she stepped out into the desert and looked around to get her bearings before heading out into the night on hoof.

"What are you looking for at this hour ?" Abomination inquired after what seemed like an hour of meandering.

"A Way to the Wanderer's Library" TT replied, "I think there's one marked by a circular outcropping of thirteen stones around here somewhere.  It was rather hard to find the first time, even from the air !

AH !   There it is !"

As TT had stated, it was a roughly circular collection of rocks of various sizes, with graffiti of unrecognizable symbols on them.  The tallest stone was easily twice the height of the average pony, while the smallest was hoof-sized, barely big enough to trip over.

"I do not see a door to anything !" Abomination growled inside TT's head.

"That's because that if you want the Way to open, you have to knock first !"


"A 'knock' is a simple ritual that has to be performed at the site to open The Way." TT explained, rubbing her chin as she tried to remember the specifics about THIS particular way.

Oh, right.  The knock for THIS door had some rather specific and peculiar requirements.

So she faced the largest stone, and began singing to it in Italeian


She quit after the first eight verses, but that was enough to satisfy the conditions of entry.


The symbols moved around on the stone, and a door made of finest mahogany appeared like it had always existed there.


She opened the door and trotted inside ...

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  • 1 month later...

Upon entering the opulent lobby, TT was faced down by an indescribable eldrich entity glowering down at her.

"WE HAVE A LIBRARY CARD !" she shrieked at the hulking thing, rummaging around in her mane before pulling out the card for the Wanderer's Library and presenting it.

The thing looked at her for many tense moments.

"We had an unfortunate meeting with an unpleasant ancient sorceress who decided to use us for an experiment.  That's why we're not like we used to be when we got the card."

The thing looked at the card for many tense moments, before giving it back to her and shuffling off.

TT had noticed that the Abomination in her head had been very quiet, for quite some time.

"What IS this place ?!" it finally inquired.

"The Wanderer's Library." TT replied to the voice in her head, "An extradimensional space that is the seed of ALL knowledge in ALL universes.  It has a copy of every book ever written anywhere in the omniverse.  Every book that will EVER be written.  And some that never will be - due to a universe being erased.

There are an infinite number of bookcases of unknowable length.  There is no ceiling, for the shelves extend hundreds of miles high.  It would take a lifetime to read even one shelf in one bookcase.

If knowledge is power - BEHOLD INFINITE POWER !" she continued, laughing maniacally in her head.

Abomination was actually boggled trying to imagine what could be learned here, before noticing that Tongue Twister (the host) was looking for something.

"Ah !  The next issue of the Power Ponies graphic novel series is in !" she thought to herself as she grabbed at copy and sat down in one of the comfy beanbag chairs nestling in an alcove.

"WHAT ?!?!" Abomination exclaimed, "You have access to INFINITE power, and you're wasting time reading a COMIC BOOK ?!?!"

"It's a graphic novel." TT sniped back.

"WHO CARES ?!  Why aren't you utilizing this library to its maximum advantage ?  You could become nigh omnipotent with the knowledge in here !"

"Omnipotence is boring!" TT noted to it, "There are no worthy challenges to a being that can literally do anything by simply wishing to.

Besides, I'd never know a moment's peace.  Once other creatures realize what power I have, they'd either try to take it for themselves, or eliminate me to stop me from maybe, possibly using it against them someday.

And the more power I'd need, the longer I'd have to research to get it.  I figure a few decades might be enough.  Assuming those in the outside world don't increase in power at an equal or greater rate.

Besides, I am a Nothing." she continued, "Thanks to the curse of En P'e Ce, I am simply not allowed to do anything useful or important.  Or anything at all really, if it would draw attention or glory away from a 'more important pony'.  And ALL ponies are considered 'more important ponies' when I'm around."

Abomination raged and cussed, for being essentially a manifestation of Shuren's dark magic inside TT's mind, she could do nothing else.

An hour later, while putting the graphic novel back, she ran into an older, storm cloud gray mare with a blue and white mane and glasses - Tongue Twister !

And another older, storm cloud gray mare with a blue and white mane, wearing what looked like a silver body suit - Tongue Twister yet again !

Tongue Twister 1 noted the other two looked a bit older than her, and thus inquired "So, we surmise you two are from the futures ?"

"Yeah, I'm from a time about twenty years ahead of you." TT 2 stated.

"Your present is ancient history to me." the eldest TT 3 stated to TT 1, "I took the Nap Eternal, and woke up about a thousand years later.  I think.  This hydrargyrum is fascinating stuff !" she continued as the silver outfit she was wearing slithered about her for a moment.

"Ohhhhhkay." TT 1 replied flatly, "So, why are you two here ?  Trying to alter the timeline for our mutal benefits ?"

All three laughed at that joke.

"Nothing so grandiose." TT 2 stated, "Just trying to catch up on some light reading.  Things are so chaotically wonderful in my time, I can hardly find a quiet place to study !"

"How so ?" TT 1 inquired, while TT 3 looked confused.

"Decades of peace and unity." TT 2 stated, "The lessons of Friendship took root everywhere !"

"Really ?  Not like that when I'm from." TT 3 groused, "The magic of friendship was nothing but a memory of old, nearly forgotten stories."

"How bad was it ?" TT 1 asked.

"Pretty bad.  Unicorns lost most of their magic.  And spent most of their time being gloomy, living among the trees for some reason ..."

Both TT 1 and TT 2 snorted at that amusing image.

"But it wasn't just the unicorns that lost their magic - pegasi lost the ability to fly !"

TT 1 and TT 2 gasped in horror and took a step back.

"What happened ?" TT 2 asked, "Everything was so wonderful in my time !"

"I don't know." TT 3 shrugged, "Very few intact records remain.  All that is known are just vague folk stories.  Like how only the pegasus royal family could still fly.  Turns out they were faking it for generations."

TT 2 looked heartbroken, until TT 1 reminded her that TT 3 was from A future, not necessarily THEIR future.

TT 2 rubbed her forehead.  "Multiple universes and time shenanigans are SUCH headaches !

I'm - just going to go over there and browse some feel-good literature." she stated as she wandered off.

TT 1 watched her leave and, once she was out of earshot, asked TT 3 why SHE was there.

"I was looking up anything available on ancient Equestria - ie, YOUR time."  TT 3 stated, "And I just ran into the middle copy of us by the Neighponese graphic novels.  She remembered that you might be here too, so we went looking for you."

TT 1 sighed.  "I'm not even going to try to think about any of this." she stated as she walked off, "Be you later !"

TT 3 smiled and waved back as she turned to the stacks.

After a few hours of light hearted reading to calm down, Tongue Twister headed for the exit, but upon leaving, was overtaken by a brief sensation.

It was like her body was being shifted, and everything tasted sort of harpsichord C3# purple for an instant.

"Not this again !" she groused to herself.

"What 'Again' ?" the Abomination asked - once he managed to pull himself back into shape.

"That was a dimensional reset." TT stated, "Someone must have tweaked reality while we were in the library.

We were outside the universe when it was changed.

So now we no longer quite fit.  That sensation was reality making us fit !"

"How could you POSSIBLY know that ?!"

"I read a lot of speculative fiction." TT stated calmly with a mental shrug, "As well as theoretical thaumaturgy.  And anything else any pony hired me to translate into a different language over the years."

"But what did you mean 'Again' ?  You've gone through this before ?"

"Hard to say."  TT replied in her head, "Anyone inside a universe when its tweaked would have no way of ever knowing it happened.  The only reason I noticed this time was because we weren't in the universe when it happened.

And given the sheer number of powerful unicorns, alicorns, ancient and forgotten magics (and magicians), the odds that THIS was the only alteration is astronomical !"

Tongue Twister sighed heavily.  "Since there is no way of knowing how big a change has been made, NOW we have to check some records to make sure we still actually exist in this new universe !

As a pegasus mare Equinologist with a linguistic Talent.  And still the daughter of Caveat Emptor and Shady Dealer - a unicorn stallion and a pegasus mare respectively.

I may have to quite literally find myself !"

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  • 6 months later...

Tongue Twister pulled her Vardo into Ponyville.


Even after a few days on the road, she was exhausted from a horrible job in Saddle Arabia.


So here she was at the Ponyville post office, to see if she had any new job offers in the mailbox.


The pickings were very slim, but she wasn't desperate for funds just yet.


She had other things to do : go to Las Pegasus to file a report.  STAR might want to know that one ancient horror has been sort of dealt with.


And she'd heard a rumor that someone was going to search the ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters.  Hope they got someone competent at surveying and archaeology - the last thing anypony needs is for a group of 'brave, stalwart adventurers' to go rampaging through the ruins, ripping it apart looking for treasure, only to have the whole thing collapse just as they 'heroically' escape.

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