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


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Ice Storm's Casino, the bar :


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


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


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


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


"Ah."


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


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


"Sweet !"


"So, how things at your new job ?"


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


Tongue Twister leaves the table and starts walking away.


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


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


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


TT entered the base, deep in thought.
--

Spoiler

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

 

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


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


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


Protecting Equestria from invaders is none of the above.


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


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


Thus, lesson NOT learned.


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

 

Meaning the secrecy is pointless.


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


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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"Uhm, Yin ?" Yang asked.


"An easily forgotten Nothing !"


"Yin ?" Yang inquired again.


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


"YIN !!"


"What ?"


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 


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


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


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


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


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

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

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It kind of made sense to her.

 

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

 

Like the EUP could really change that much. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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EelWvW1.png

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Quote


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

 

 

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

 

Quote

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

She noted what Ice Storm said.

 

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

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  • 1 month later...

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

 

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

Spoiler


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

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"Yep."

 

"Are either of you hurt ?"

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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  • 2 weeks later...

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Polar Vortex growled at her in response.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"Three things : 


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


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


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


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


"It does to those that respect law."


"BUT YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW !"


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


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


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


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

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"You mean like that one over there ?"


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


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


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


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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

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


Then into an even longer corridor going right again !


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


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


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


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


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


"POLAR VORTEX !  WAIT !!"


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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  • 4 weeks later...

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


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


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

 

"These primitive ponies were disturbed and outright weird."


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


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

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


She finally managed to focus through her rage to reply.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Caveat facehoofed while Shady looked confused.


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


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


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


"I know." Tongue Twister replied.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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  • 1 month later...

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"But they have handles and locks !"


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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  • 5 weeks later...

Polar Vortex and Tongue Twister walked down the hallway, echoes from the shallow water they were stepping in the only sound.


"You think this water might turn into acid or ice to trap us here ?" Polar Vortex asked.


"No.  From the looks of it, this corridor was supposed to be dry." TT replied, pointing to the walls.  "Notice the murals ?  They're faded, and half consumed with mildew and grime.  The ponies that built this place would never allow that on purpose."


Polar Vortex had to squint a bit, but there were indeed paintings on the walls.  Most of the color was gone, and mildew grew from the floor almost up to eye level.


Ahead, in the faint glow of TT's light crystal was the end of the corridor - a blank wall with a single sconce holding a crystal.  Once they came within a yard of it, the crystal activated, providing almost as much light as her illumination stone.


Now with more light to see by, TT and Polar noted there were antechambers to the left and right.  The open chamber on the left had gold tiles on the floor and an ocean scene on the wall, while the chamber on the right had obsidian tiles and a mural of the Guardian of Dreams - but with an evil smirk instead of her usual dreamy smile.


They stepped into the gold tile room on the left.  Its back wall opened up into a much larger room filled with gold coins up to a pony's barrel !  Like an expensive ocean, the coins were in waves that washed over the five gold statues in the room.  Judging by the size, they were all of native Tenochtitlan ponies.  One statue was of a stallion swimming in coins up to his neck; another was doing the backstroke.  One had a broad grin and as many coins as could be swept up between his forelegs; two others were filling each other's saddlebags with coins.


All were extremely detailed works of art.


"Those aren't statues, are they ?" Polar Vortex asked.  TT shook her head no before they backed away.  Slowly, and carefully.


They went over to the right antechamber.  Its back wall was a beaded curtain with nothing but darkness visible behind it.  The other wall was decorated with a scene showing town life - merchants and musicians, nobles and commoners,  dogs and foals running about happily.  Upon closer examination, something was slightly off.


It took TT a few moments to realize what - the pony's expressions reminded her of her mother's last family reunion : everyone appeared sinister and plotting something.  Even the foals and dogs.  It didn't quite fit with the Guardian of Dreams' usual peaceful and kind motif.


"Looks like somepony got here before us." Polar Vortex interrupted her musings, pointing to a message written in chalk on a wall.


She noticed the missive was Prench.  "Wow !  He made it this far !  I'm impressed !"


"Who made it this far ?"


"My dad bought a trunk from a young couple awhile ago." TT started, "It belonged to her grandfather.  When dad opened it to see if there was anything actually valuable inside, he found a 1st edition Prench copy of  'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Equestria'.  It was in really bad shape, but there were notes written in many different languages in the borders.  Turns out they were vectors to THIS very vault !  That's why my parents were in here in the first place."


Polar Vortex looked at her askance.  "Well, that would explain why two civilians were in an ancient vault in the middle of nowhere.  There aren't any spas or casinos within miles for them to wander in from.


So what does the message say ?"


She glanced back at the message.  "It says 'Beware your dreams come true.'


Hmph!  Well, that certainly ISN'T creepy or foreboding !" she snarked, "But it does fit in with the rest of the 'not quite right' vibe I'm getting from this mural !"


Tongue Twister cocked her head to the side slightly, examining the mural while trying to piece their few hints together.


Unfortunately, they fit together into something horrible.


Polar Vortex was rather surprised when he heard her growl, and watched her back away from the room, ears flattened to her head, and her expression a mix of terror and rage.
"What is wrong with you ?"


"THAT ..... is the Lotus Eater !" she exclaimed, "One of the Three Mindtwisting Horrors !  An Alpha Zero Class threat !  Not to be messed with !"


"An 'Alpha Zero Class threat' ?  What are you talking about ?"


"I DON'T KNOW !" she yelled in reply, backed up against the door and not taking her eyes of the Dream Room, "My memories have been erased and altered so many times I'm not even sure my name is Tongue Twister any more  !"


Polar Vortex blinked a few times.  "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhkay.  So, whoever you are, any ideas about how to proceed safely from here ?"


"Which monster's jaws do we leap into ?  I - I don't know !" TT replied, eyes tightly closed as she started to pace.


"This is a vault.  There IS a safe way through." she muttered to herself to give herself a focus to fight off her fear and rage, "The builders left hints so that somepony could retrieve whatever is in here, even if it was years or generations later.  They couldn't risk writing down the path, for the unworthy could steal it.  Nor could they rely on memory or stories, for they could be forgotten or the last pony to hear the story dies before he could tell it.  


So far, the hints have been written on the walls.  I can READ ancient languages, so I have the advantage over most adrenaline junky 'adventurers' and grave robbers !"


She ran her hoof through her short mane, looking around for some clue.  Something written on the walls not overgrown with mold.  In the moving light from her illuminating crystal, she thought she noticed some odd shadows on the back of the door.


She took off her headband and handed it to Polar Vortex.  "Hold this up higher and steady." she told him, "So the light comes from where one of natives with a torch would be making it."

 

He did as she asked; TT watched the shadows shift as the light went higher.


"Hold right there !" she stated, looking at the shadows.  There was a message carved into the stone, formed by the shadows only when illuminated from the right angle.


"So, what do those squiggles say ?" he asked.


"An old aphorism : 'the fool presses ahead to hollow glory while the wisepony strides on by.' "


He looked at her expectantly.


TT smiled broadly at him.  "You were wondering which room hides the safe route through ?  The answer is : NEITHER OF THEM !  This pair of traps was meant to distract and destroy the ambitious.  Those that don't know when to quit.  Those that will continue to press ahead despite all dangers, certain they can overcome any obstacle if they just keep trying."


Polar's ears lowered in disgust.  "So it uses a pony's determination against them ?  That's sick !"


"No, that's disturbingly competent trap design." she replied as she wrote some notes.


"Why are you taking notes ?!"


"Because that is what REAL scholars do !"


He was thankfully quiet for a few moments.  "It's going to be rather hard to walk past these traps - if you haven't noticed, there is a wall directly in front of us !"


"Yes.  So there is." TT replied before she pulled down on the sconce holding the illumination crystal.  


Nothing happened.


Pushing up on it, pushing it left or right, and trying to rotate it left or right did nothing either.


"Anypony in this vault would have their own source of light.  So this one is redundant." she mused as she took the crystal out of its holder.
There was a loud, muffled 'click', and the wall opened like a pair of doors into a very short hallway.
 

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  • 2 months later...
Quote

This room was a very large square, with one half flooded with bubbling green slime well illuminated by the half dozen crystal light torches !
Scattered on the floor were bronze weapons of all sorts - all in perfect condition.


All over the walls were pictures of pairs of ponies : one was standing, the other was on the ground, sometimes with a red slash through it.  There seemed to be no pattern : some were white, some grey, some black.  Sometimes the white pony was standing; other times, it was the one that fell.


About twenty feet up the wall opposite the side they came in was a single door.


"So what do all those pictures mean ?" Polar Vortex asked.


"I don't know."


"I thought you could read ancient languages."


"I can." TT replied, "But these are icons, not glyphs.  They represent ideas, not sounds or words.  And without some context, I can't guarantee any interpretation I make is valid."


"Well, this isn't much of a challenge !" Polar Vortex announced as he launched into the air towards the door.

 

And, as soon as he touched the door, the walls on both sides slammed together like a giant clapping his hands to squash an irritating insect.


Stunned, Polar Vortex fell into the slime, but soon struggled out.

 

"This stuff is worse than snot !" he stated as he flung the slime off in an attempt to get clean.

 

"Did you honestly think it would be that simple ?" TT asked over her shoulder as she continued examining the walls, looking for some kind of clue.  She could hear him hacking and sneezing; probably trying to get that stuff out of his lungs.


"Nothing ventured, nothing gained." his voice replied.


"But venturing without a plan can get you killed in here !" she answered.


"I didn't say that." Polar Vortex stated, causing Tongue Twister to turn to face him.


All the slime he'd scraped off had pooled together and formed itself into something vaguely pony-shaped.  Which soon shaped itself into an off-white pegasus stallion.
A slovenly, unkempt duplicate of Polar Vortex !


"Like, welcome to the Challenge of the Inner Darkness dude and dudette !" 'he' stated with a lazy wave of his foreleg, "All ya gotta do to proceed is, like, face your inner darkness !
If you succeed, you can, like, continue on.  If you fail ..."


He raised his wings, and the slime from the pit rose.  It was full of bones in various stages of decomposition.


"... your lives are, like, forfeit.  Or whatever !" he continued, lowering his wings which lowered the slime back into the pit.


"I'll deal with you, you slime-based mockery !" Polar Vortex shouted before he shot into the air, before diving down with a perfect flying stomp -


- a stomp his duplicate evaded with a lazy roll to the left before itching its nose.  Polar Vortex continued his assault with every attack combination he knew.  Which were all lazily evaded or blocked by the duplicate.


"He's you, remember ?" TT yelled at Polar as he launched yet another assault on his duplicate, "Everything you know, he knows.  Thus, he knows what attacks you'll use, and how to counter and evade them !"


"Not if I randomize my attacks !" Polar replied as he started throwing combinations that made no sense.  It worked, more or less - his duplicate had to actually put some effort into evading and blocking the attacks.  


But the darn thing was grinning the whole time.  TT soon realized why - being a magical construct, the duplicate had infinite endurance, while Polar Vortex did not.  So eventually Polar Vortex would exhaust himself, leaving himself defenseless against any counterstrikes.


"You can't win this way Polar !" TT yelled at him again.


"Well, how else am I going to defeat this thing ?" he snarked back.


Tongue Twister sighed.  "The challenge is to FACE your inner darkness !  He didn't say you had to win the fight !  Or even fight at all !"


The duplicate Polar looked irritated for a moment.  "Well, if we aren't supposed to fight, then why are there, like, weapons all over the place, huh ?"


TT smiled at him.  "It's an old con artist's trick !  You give the mark's thinking a gentle nudge in the wrong direction !  Usually, a direction which ensures that you win !"


Polar Vortex seemed like he was actually catching on for a moment - until his duplicate spoke up : "Since there are, like, two of you here, BOTH of you must face your own inner darknesses !  If one fails, BOTH die !"


"What ?!  My life is in HER hooves ?!" Polar Vortex asked, stunned by that revelation.


"Them's the rules dude !" the duplicate stated, "But, then again, does anyone actually, like, win a slap fight ?"


Polar Vortex snorted,  "Oh yeah !  That's right !  She doesn't have any combat training !  She's just a disposable civilian !"


"Or, like, maybe she has a different type of combat in mind !" the duplicate replied when he could breathe through its laughter, "A contest to, like, see who speaks gooder Ancient Ponish or something !"  Which set Polar Vortex off into gales of laughter.


TT glared at both of them, her left eye twitching.  "All right !  THAT'S IT !  You two chucklenuggets brought this on yourselves !" she exclaimed as she walked over to the pit and plunged her foreleg shoulder deep into it.


With a mighty pull, she backed up, pulling something out of the slime pit.


With a shrug and a shake, the slime solidified into a gigantic pegasus mare easily two heads taller than Tongue Twister, with a corpse white coat and dark grey socks, eyes like green flames in inky blackness, a stripe of spiked bone between her eyes and along her brows like a crown, and a mouthful of shark like teeth !


"WHAT IN TARTARUS IS THAT ?!" both Polar Vortexes stammered.


"This would be a copy of Zagzig.  The Horror Within. Aspect of Wrath.  Pretty much my inner darkness !" TT replied with a smile.


"I thought you were insane, but DANG !!" Polar Vortex murmered.


"Dude, you are, like, totally bucked !" the duplicate stated to Polar, "Completely, utterly bucked !  She's, like, no match for that thing !"


"Hey !  She is not a 'thing' !" TT replied, "She is a representation of honestly felt emotions that 'civilized' ponies say we shouldn't express !  And has just as much right to exist as anyone !  Personally, I find the idea that the inner darkness is something to be feared, controlled or destroyed to be utterly ridiculous !"


"Heh ?" both Polar Vortexes reply.


"I made peace with my inner darkness ages ago !" TT replied with a dismissive wave before turning to Zagzig and asking "So, what now ?  Do we have to do something ?"


"Not at all !" replied ZZ as she waved a wing, directing the slime to burn a new symbol on the wall - a pair of grey ponies, both standing with hooves touching.


"Oh !  I get it now !" Tongue Twister exclaimed, "The standing pony is the one that came in.  The one on the ground is the side that was defeated.  The slash represents defeat by combat.
Hmm - it looks like you've seen all combinations.  Over there is a good pony that defeated their dark side.  And that one represents a good pony that LOST to their dark side.
Oh feather mites !  I just realized - MY LIFE IN THE HOOVES OF THAT IDIOT OVER THERE !"
she exclaimed, pointing to Polar Vortex, "If he fails his test, I die too !"


"Yeah.  Sorry about that !" Zagzig replied sheepishly, before she and Tongue Twister got into  a deep conversation about the fickleness of existence.


Polar Vortex was getting angrier by the moment - he hated being ignored.


"Like, can you imagine being treated like you don't matter, like, every day of your life ?" the duplicate Polar Vortex stated to his template, "No wonder she's, like, moody !"


Polar Vortex replied by striking his duplicate upside the head with all the force he could muster.  The stunned duplicate could not evade or block the following attacks, and was soon knocked unconscious back into the slime pool from whence it came.


"That was cold !" Zagzig and Tongue Twister stated in unison.


"You civilians have it so nice and easy !" Polar shouted in reply, "You're soft, and have no idea of what the REAL world is like !  Out here, outside your ivory towers, it's conquer or BE conquered !  Enslave, or BE enslaved !  Win, or die !


And you said that I couldn't win !  Shows how much YOU know !


So, are you going to let us continue or not ?!" he yelled to Zagzig.


Zagzig glared at him, before waving a wing to direct the slime to draw a new symbol : a standing black pony, towering over a grey pony with a red slash through it.
"Watch that one closely." she whispered to TT before turning for the slime, "And do NOT turn your back on him !"  TT merely nodded before asking "Are we getting close to whatever treasure this vault is protecting ?"


"This was the last challenge." Zagzig replied as she stepped into the slime, "The exit from this room leads to the vault, and the treasure."


"Well, it's about time !" groused Polar Vortex as he came up beside Tongue Twister.


Once Zagzig melted back into the slime, the entire pool rose up and divided before solidifying into greenish glass.  Tiles on the floor rose to form a stairwell, leading to a circular door on the back wall on the bottom of the pit.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Short walk to a circular room.  The spells preserving the murals were still active - the colors were as strong and bold as they were when they were first painted !  The reds !  The blues !  The golden yellows !  It was - GLORIOUS ! (normally the yellow pigments fade to a dingy grey very quickly, so rare to actually see them).  Levitating in the center within a glowing field on a circular dais in the middle of the room was a sectioned, cubic box.


TT was overjoyed that she was the first pony in probably millennia to see these wonders.  "Who needs gaudy gold or jewels or trinkets when I HAVE THIS ?  I NEED to come back here with the proper equipment !" she mused, practically drooling, "I'll need high quality cameras. And film !  Lots and lots of film !  And notebooks and measuring tools and every tool I can stuff in my packs !   Hmm - I'll have to come here alone, because I really don't want to risk dying because the pony I came with failed the Challenge of the Inner Darkness !"   PV ruins it for her by whining "So what, exactly, is in here ?"

 

After glaring at him for a few moments, she answered.  "The mural on the left describes the protections on the box, and tells how to open it safely.
The mural on the right describes the rituals needed to safely use what's in the box.
The mural running along the diameter of the room sets the context; the mural running from the ceiling down to the middle is the story of what is in the box.  Along the bottom half of  the wall is the standard mural of an army of ponies watching you."
she stated, "When you give artists a LOT of blank canvas, they really go all out to cover every square inch of it."


She gathered her thoughts for a bit.  "The story : one of the first spirits created everything that is, but got bored because there was nothing new.  He tried creating mindless  animated dolls (ie, mortals) as  worshippers for his amusement, but since they could only do what he animated them to do, they eventually became boring.  Then another spirit granted them the Blessings of Chaos !  The good news was the constructs could think for themselves and do unpredictable things, which made them interesting to watch.


The bad news was the constructs could think for themselves and do unpredictable things, like NOT do what he wanted them to." Tongue Twister continued, pointing at a group of hieroglyphs.


Continuing on, "This annoyed him greatly.  So he tried all he could get away with without incurring the wrath of the other spirits to force the mortals to obey him once again.  Apparently, even gods preferred to not break their toys.  Well, at least they did."


Then her mood and tone became dark "But no one likes being treated as just a toy for some other pony's amusement, so the mortals studied primal magic to see if they could find a way to forge their own destinies for a change.


They succeeded beyond all sense, hope and reason.  They developed the Ultimate Equalizer : the Soul of the Endless Night.  A polished gemstone about the size of an apple, impossibly dark in color but full of stars if one peered into it deep enough.  It could absorb any amount of magic, stripping entire worlds, entire DIMENSIONS of mana.  And the more it absorbed, the more adept it became at absorbing mana.  Eventually, even gods could be drained of their powers.


Once it absorbed all magic, it would absorb the energy of molecular bonds, causing all things around it to disintegrate.  Eventually, the only thing left in the universe would be the Endless Night.  It would then consume itself, turn inside out and birth a whole new universe.


Starting all of creation from zero !  It could literally reset the universe.  And, according to various myths, it's been used anywhere from one to twenty seven times already."


PV was looking freaked out, and asked if it was in the box; TT merely laughed and pointed out that this vault was about 0.01% of the security the SoTEL would require.  


"How old is that story ?" Polar Vortex inquired.


"Extremely old."  TT replied, "About three or more thousand years old.  The SoTEL was a legend the early Quetzalcoatlans claimed another, older culture told about their progenitor's legends about the folly of THEIR progenitors."


Polar Vortex thought for a bit before waving at the mural "So, all of that is a story about a story about a story about a story ?"


"Pretty much."


Polar groused.  "Is there any evidence that this Endless Night thing actually existed ?"


"No, not really."


Polar's eye twitched a bit, before he rubbed his forehead with a hoof.  "You eggheads are infuriating !  Why didn't you tell me the IMPORTANT stuff first ?"


"Because it is all important." she replied with a shrug, "You need context in order to correctly interpret ancient hieroglyphs."


She was going to continue before she noticed something.  "Something's off here."


"Oh, what now ?"


"In the few existing depictions of the SoTEL, it is always the darkest black they could manage.  At one site, the artist had dug a deep shaft behind a perfectly transparent gem in an attempt to convey the sheer anti-light qualities of the SoTEL.  But this one is a glowing purple gem !"


She thought a moment before rolling her eyes and sighing.  She then walked forward and pressed on the glowing gem.


A secret door opposite the one they came in opened into a room with a circle drawn on the floor with glowing runes and a notch, and a shelf with some shards on it.  One of which was faintly glowing.


Tongue Twister's face lit up with a Pinkie Pie level grin.  "I don't believe it !  A still functioning teleportal !"; Polar merely looked at her.


"It's a quick way to get from here to somewhere else !" she replied to his unasked question, "What would be the point of walking all the way back outside through the disabled traps ?"

 

"So, how does it work ?"

 

"Quite simply !" she replied giddily, "You stand in the circle, stick one of those power crystals into the notch and voop !  You're somewhere else !"


"So it's a one-way trip then ?" he replied, deep in thought.


"Of course !  Way more secure that way.  Also why it has an external power source like those crystals."


"Hmm.  Does the power crystal transport with the pony, or stay here ?" Polar Vortex asked, getting an idea.


"If I had to guess, the crystal disintegrates after it powers the arcane circle." TT replied, "No point leaving a door open or a key behind if you don't have to.  Besides, if it didn't turn to dust, there'd be one in the notch from the last pony that used it."


"Excellent point.  So, what's in the box then ?"


"The mural from the ceiling downward relates that, when anypony creates something, there is ALWAYS bits and pieces and scraps left over.  What is in the box is a small bit of the Primal Clay the first spirit used to create All That Is.  The Essence of Creation itself.

 
Well, not really."
TT smirked, "But that story is the easiest way to explain what it is, and the ponies that built this vault really liked colorful metaphors.  This alchemical clay can be shaped into the semblance of any living thing and then, by following the indicated rituals, can be given life and become an actual living thing."


"So you could create a unstoppable monster to destroy your enemies ?"


TT quirked an eyebrow at him, then sighed before massaging her forehead with her hoof.  "Yes, one COULD create an unstoppable monster if one were a blithering idiot !  The major problem with unstoppable monsters is stopping them once the 'job' is done.  Nigh invincible creations turning on their masters and reducing kingdoms to dust are a rather common myth."


Polar Vortex thought for a bit.  "I think it would be best if I brought that clay back to STAR." he finally announced, "I'm pretty sure any hooves but ours are the wrong hooves !
And speaking of hooves, what's with the three-legged pony on the mural right there ?"


"That's part of the listing of rituals that can be done." TT replied as she took a closer look, "Judging by the outfit, that pony was a king injured in battle.  The priests made another leg out of the Primal Clay, did the rituals, and attached it to him.  Going by their expressions of sheer glee, the clay limb perfectly replaced what had been lost; it was like he'd never been injured at all."


"So, you're saying it could replace - a unicorn's horn ?" Polar inquired with a rather sleazy grin.


"Easily.  If there's enough clay to do the job." Tongue Twister replied absently, just noticing that there were a few hieroglyphs she'd never seen before, "And before you ask, there is nothing written here that says how much clay is in the box."


"Is there a way to make more of that stuff ?" Polar asked.


"No.  A secret like that would have been passed down from master to apprentice via teaching.  It would never have been written down." she replied as she pulled out her notebook to take some notes, "That ensures no pony can steal the formula, but unfortunately means it can be lost to time."


She was so busy writing down the rituals and discerning the meaning of those few new hieroglyphs that she didn't notice what Polar Vortex was up to.


Her focus was broken by the sound of a multi-ton stone door dropping into place, sealing the room !  Then she noticed that the box was no longer on the dais.


She turned just in time to see Polar Vortex jam the last glowing crystal shard into the mystic circle's notch.  There was a flash of purple light, and he was gone, the crystal turning to dust as his afterimage faded.


A sound like plaster crumbling caught her attention.  Six guardian goyles smashed through the mural that had been concealing the nooks they'd been lurking in for thousands of years.


Tongue Twister leapt for the teleportal room and slammed the door shut to buy a few moments of time, her VERY colorful swearing in five languages swallowed by the earth ....


Polar Vortex returned to the STAR base, and regaled his superiors with a tale of personal glory and derring-do.  He claimed that Tongue Twister had planned to sell the Primal Clay to the highest bidder, but his vigilance uncovered what she was up to and put a stop to it.


It was unfortunate that she died in that vault, but he was certain there were many ponies that could do her job far better than she ever could.


She WAS just a civilian after all.


Two weeks later, Polar Vortex was in the training room when a shadow passed over head.


He didn't even have time to look up before he was hit with a Pegasus Stomp - a dark grey pegasus had dropped from ceiling height and landed all four hooves on top of his head at the full speed flight and gravity could generate, driving him muzzle first into the floor !


"Great Celestia !  Isn't that Tongue Twister beating up Polar Vortex ?" a blue unicorn exclaimed.


"Yes." a pale grey unicorn replied.


"I thought she was dead !"


"Apparently not." the pale grey unicorn replied as he powered up his telekinesis, "Best take her to the brig before she dislocates another one of Polar Vortex's legs !"


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRiPItZaue4 - Derpy demonstrating VMN technique, and Pegasus Stomp

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  • 1 month later...

While sitting in her cell, to pass the time Tongue Twister decided to practice those advanced meditation techniques she learned in Neighpal.


Sitting on her haunches, she took a few deep, measured breaths as her wings rose, then interlaced the feathers, tenting them before her.


Within moments, she was safely within her own mind.


"Well, THIS is a, well, 'interesting' development." stated the ever positive Yang, "I didn't even know they had a cell to put troublemakers in."


"STAR is a MILITARY organization !" the negative Yin replied with an eyeroll, "So of COURSE they'd have someplace to put her !  Even if it was a closet held shut with a chair.
Which would be one humiliating oubliette."


"But Yin, a closet or a cell can't be an oubliette." Yang stated, "An oubliette is a dungeon where the only entrance is a door in the ceiling."


Yin sighed.  "The word 'oubliette' comes from old Prench 'oubliere' - to forget.  It's where they put prisoners they had no further use for.  What happens if they forget she's here ?"


"I'm sure the stench of my rotting corpse would alert them to the fact that I was in here.  Eventually." Tongue Twister stated.


Yin's left eye twitched.  "I am a representation of your negativity - and you're bumming me out !"


"Reality can sometimes be darker than anything you can imagine." Tongue Twister replied with a shrug and a grin.


"I'm pretty sure things aren't going to turn out that badly." Yang interrupted, "Even evil military regimes had rules about how to treat prisoners.  
Which you are, technically.  You are guilty of assaulting a 'superior' officer, probably dereliction of duty and insubordination at the least."


"True enough.  I had valid reasons; the only real question is whether the higher ups think my reasons are valid.  And if Polar decided to make up some more charges to accuse me of."


"Oh, right.  HIM !" both Yin and Yang replied.


After an unknowable amount of time in the mindscape, Yang broke the silence by asking if there was a way out of the cell.  Just in case, of course !


"Well, this is a very new building." TT noted, "So there is zero chance a previous prisoner dug an escape tunnel."


"But sometimes failsafes are built in." Yin continued, "You know, just in case a prisoner trapped a guard in here, the guard could use a hidden switch to open the door and get out."


TT thought that over for a bit.  "Well, that would be a good idea - IF they were willing to risk the small chance a prisoner could find the switch.  They may not need such a thing, given enough base security - there's always another guard checking in.  And a thorough search could take an hour or more.  And there is no guarantee I'd find a switch even if there was one !"


"Isn't the hidden switch routine a bit from old movies ?" Yang had to ask her anti-twin.


"We have anything else to do with our time ?" Yin replied, which elicted a shrug and a sigh from Tongue Twister.


Then after a few moments of thought, TT continued "We really should figure out what to do afterwards.  All cases, both best," looking to Yang, "and worst." smiling at Yin.
Thus did Tongue Twister remain in her meditative trance ...
 

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  • 4 weeks later...

An unknowable amount of time later inside Tongue Twister's mindscape ...


"How long have I been meditating ?" she asked Yin and Yang.


"How are we supposed to know ?" Yin replies, "Yang and myself are but manifestations of YOUR impulses !  We only know what you know."


"And you are aware that you're talking to yourself, right ?" Yang inquired of TT.


"Of course !" TT replied, "There is no one else here for me to talk to !  And even if there were, they wouldn't."


"True enough." the ever cheerful Yang replied with a heavy sigh, "But we have learned much.  You can tell what an organization is truly like by being at its mercy, and by the way it treats the least of its members."


"We've been at STAR's 'mercy' for, well, however long I've been in this cell !" TT stated, "And I'M the least of the organization's members ! And I'm treated as less than an afterthought !"


She thought for a moment.  "Are we ever SURE I'm a member of STAR ?  Did I actually get that recruitment letter, or was that just a memory cobbled together from bits and pieces of too many adventure novels ?"


Yin and Yang looked to each other.  "Yes, you did get that recruitment letter." Yang stated.


"And that meeting with Black Ice - aka Ice Storm ?"


"Yes.  That happened." Yin replied.


"And that threat that memory of the meeting will be stripped from the applicant's minds if they chose not to join ?"


"That also happened." Yang replied.


TT mulled that over for a moment.  "So, I joined an organization that I cannot resign from ?  THAT'S a red flag big enough to cover all of Canterlot !"


"Afraid so." Yin stated, "Unless she was only referring to the recruitment.  No one ever inquired as to whether members COULD resign without having their minds scrambled."


"Well, if the Higher Ups are willing to use memory erasure to ensure secrecy, it is best to assume they can use those *$%%$ memory spells any time they want, for any reason they like." TT snarled.


Yin and Yang glanced to each other.  "Most likely true.  Better safe than sorry."


"How sure are we of ANY of this ?" Tongue Twister had to ask.


"As certain as a mare whose memories have been mangled many times can be." Yin stated with a half-hearted shrug.


"Hmm.  We'll go with standard protocol then." TT replied, "Assume my memories are valid until evidence to the contrary is presented.  I know it's arbitrary, but it's the best I can do."


"Why are we thinking about resigning from STAR ?" Yang asked, "I know things are slow right now, but this is the first organization that looks like it might be able to get the job done !"


"Ponder with me for a moment." Yin stated as she draped an ink-black wing over Tongue Twister's back, "Can you see yourself doing this 'job' with STAR ten years from now ?


Five years from now ?


Even ONE year from now ?"


For any creatures that could sense the Mindscape, Tongue Twister's anguished scream could be heard half way across Equestria.


"I DIDN'T HITCH MY WAGON TO A STAR !" she fretted, "I HITCHED IT TO A TREE STUMP !


I - was better off before !  Better to be a nothing on MY terms than somepony else's !


My value and worth will NOT shackled to somepony ELSE'S whims !"


With that, Yin and Yang blurred into swirling mists that momentarily formed the ancient symbol of balance before fusing with Tongue Twister's self-image, and she awoke from her meditative trance.


The guards had taken her saddlebags from her - but they'd simply left them on a table on the other side of the room instead of locking them away elsewhere.


TT put a hoof to her lips and whistled, awakening her pet rats Ace and Deuces.


"Bring me the long shiny !" she called to them.  They went back into the saddlebags to rummage for what she wanted - a lockpick.


True, she was nowhere near as good at picking locks as her cousin Lockpick, but she didn't need to be.


She wrote a quick note, and left it on the table.

 

Spoiler

 

A few pointless ruminations : 


1) The Shadow of  Ice is clearly not for defense; it is only good as part of an invasion force, or for revenge.  "Hope for peace, but prepare for war." is a self-defeating idiom : when you see your neighbors preparing for war, do you presume they hope for peace ?

  
Or do you get worried that they might be planning something ?


And once you've put resources into preparing for a war that should never happen, the temptation to USE those resources can become overwhelming (to avoid a Money Pit scenario is the most common excuse).


2) The EUP had the same job STAR does, but they didn't feel the need to skulk about in the shadows in secrecy.  Knowing the Shadow of Ice exists could at least act as a deterrent; as it is now, you're using all of Equestria as BAIT to lure hostiles in.  Since no one knows we have a good defense, they'll be tempted to attack.  That will give you an excuse to pound the invaders into paste.  But how long would it take for anycreature to figure out that the Shadow of Ice is an Equestrian ship ?  


Secrecy leads to the Ring of Gyges scenarios.  These ... never turn out well for anyone.


'Plausible deniability' is only needed if what you're doing is illegal or unethical; protecting Equestria is neither.  But 'plausible deniability' is always great for evading responsibility when mistakes are made.  Or if maintaining a LIE is a good thing ....


3) Rank purely dependent upon martial prowess is NOT a good idea - leadership then tends to degenerate into 'might makes right'.   You know what they say  : "When all you have is a knife, everything looks like a throat."


4) What happens to airships when they're shot down ?  They crash to the ground.  Wreckage falling from the skies tends to produce collateral damage, no matter how careful one is.


Please consider this letter my two weeks notice : I hereby resign from STAR.


I will not reveal the existence of this personality cult to anyone, for I am not an idiot.  And I'd prefer to keep what's left of my mind (relatively) intact.


Signed Tongue Twister, Private Lowest Class

 


She'd arrived at the entrance, as was about to take off when the two unicorns that had taken her to the cell noticed her, and asked WHY she was free.


"Insufficient relevance." TT stated as she flapped her wings a few times to warm up, "I'm - just not worth the effort to prosecute !  Later dudes !"


They watched her fly off for a few moments before one asked "Is 'insufficient relevance' an actual legal term ?"


The other unicorn shrugged.  "It must be.  How else could she be out ?"
 

Edited by NiktoBarada
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  • 2 months later...

Scene : a dark street a few miles away from Las Pegasus some time later.  Tongue Twister is trudging along, wearing a dark, heavy cape to cover her altered wings.1


"Well, THIS turned out to be a horrible week !" she muttered to herself, "Getting cursed by an ancient evil !  AGAIN !!  But this one's going to be much harder to get rid of than that Tenochtitlan shaman's misguided curse years ago !


At least I arranged better living arrangements for Ace and Deuces." she continued with a sigh, "Not sure how safe they'll be with me - or FROM ME - while Hou Shuren's corruption is affecting me !

 

And my cousins were able to shift my savings into more liquid assets; Mom can probably set up a network of accounts so I can get my money anywhere.  I should be fine unless I have to spend more than I have in my bags."


Her grumbling was interrupted by a voice calling her name from a nearby alley.


"How did you find me ?" she glowered at the unicorn stallion, noting there was another pony further back in the alley.


"Your mother suggested we look for you here in Las Pegasus." the unicorn replied, "It seems there were a pair of criminal agents looking for you back at your parents' shops, which drew our agency's attention."

 

"So, what do you want from me ?"


"You were in a temple in Tenochtitlan a few weeks ago, correct ?" he asked.


"Technically, it was a vault.  What of it ?"


"Did you retrieve anything from that vault ?"


She sighed.  "No.  The pegasus I was with, Polar Vortex, stole the 'treasure' and left me there to die !"


The two stallions quickly conferred with each other.  "So there was an artifact there ?"


"Yes."


"Would you happen to know what it was ?"


"Yes.  Primal Clay.  With the proper rituals, it can be used to make any living thing.  Or heal or repair any sort of damage to a living thing.  Well, at least it used to."


"What do you mean by that ?"


"The ponies that built that vault were extremely protective of their artifacts, so they placed a dead mare's curse on it." she replied, "The curse they used randomizes the properties of whatever it is placed on.  The only way to remove the curse is to do the proper chant BEFORE removing the treasure from its pedestal.


Polar Vortex grabbed it before I could do that.  So I have no idea of what the clay would actually do now.  Assuming, of course, anypony could even get the puzzlebox open.  The Zen/Paradox lock can stop anything !"


"The what ?"


"The enchantment on the puzzlebox.  The more force you use against a Zen/Paradox lock, the stronger it becomes !" she replied with a chuckle, "You could summon enough force to split the planet in two, and the lock would meet it with an equal amount of force, cancelling out your attempt, and leaving the box locked an unharmed !"


The two stallions mulled that over for a bit.  "So, this 'Polar Vortex' pegasus has a box that cannot be opened, which contains an alchemical substance of unknown function then ?"


"Pretty much." TT replied.


"Then how was anypony supposed to use what's inside ?" the other pony - another unicorn - inquired.


TT smirked.  "By doing things the RIGHT way !" she stated, "The ponies who were permitted to use it would know the chant to shut down the curse, and the correct way to open the Zen/Paradox lock."


"Would you happen to know either requirement ?" the unicorn asked.


"Of course." she replied haughtily, "Any native pony would know the curse-breaking chant; I've studied the cultures down there long enough to have an excellent idea of which ones to try.  I was distracted by reading the instructions on just how to defeat the lock when Polar did the smash and grab.  


According to the riddle, the lock cannot be opened by any amount of force; if you want it to open, you must ask it to nicely and sincerely.  That is something an invader or thief would never think to do !"


"Where is Polar Vortex now ?" the earth pony asked.


"I would dearly love to know that myself !" TT replied with a stamp, "I owe him a beating for abandoning me in that vault !"


The two agents stepped away for a bit.  "So this whole mission was a wash ?" one agent pony groused to his fellow agent.


"Well, unless tracking down an unusable artefact is relevant, then yes."


They thanked TT for her help before returning to their base to file their report.


Nopony noticed the two ponies on a nearby roof doing surveillance.


"Did you catch that Grab ?" the unicorn stated to his companion, "It appears someone else has snagged our objective.  But since it can't be used, our rivals gained nothing as well."


"Yeah.  But what is up with Tongue Twister ?" Agent Smash inquired, "Is changing some of her colors and hiding her Cutie mark under a heavy cloak supposed to be a disguise ?  Who would she be hiding from ?"


Agent Grab thought for a bit.  "I don't know.  But something seems off about her.  There was  nothing in her files about being so angsty and hateful.


But, then again, there is almost NOTHING in her files at all."


He thought for a bit.  "Contact the Director, and inform him of our progress.  I'll remain here and maintain the watch on her, in case something unexpected comes up."

 

1 as seen in Dark Rendezvous

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  • 3 weeks later...

* Scene : cheap hotel room in Las Pegasus *


"Everything seems to be in order." Tongue Twister muttered to herself as she smoothed out the padded mat on the floor.


Rummaging around deep inside her own mind was always a tricky procedure, but she just had to make sure she could still do it.  She had to know how much she'd been damaged by Hou Shuren's corruption and so, despite it being risky and potentially disastrous, she pressed onward.


Fortunately, "Meihui's Respite, Peaceful and Still" was a very simple and effective meditation technique to remain focused and calm.

 

Good for just a quick, shallow check.   And maybe a bit of simple effort.


She lit the incense sticks, sat in the center of the circle printed on the mat, then took a few deep breaths that grew slower as the seconds ticked by, her wings of mercury draped around her.

 

Spoiler

 

* Within her mind, she was in a boat upon a dark and stormy sea of storm clouds, fishing.  The diminutive Yang flitted about her as blobs of water black as ink drifted through the leaden sky, splitting and fusing slowly at random.  Pale light came from everywhere, yet nowhere.


"The inner machinations of your mind are - most peculiar.  And somewhat disturbing." the largest floating puddle stated once it congealed into the shape of a pegasus mare with glowing red eyes.


"Well, you're free to leave any time you like !" TT replied dismissively to the entity that was once her internal advisor Yin as she reeled in a golden fish.


"I was not expecting things to be so surreal in here." the entity replied, "No matter.  Once I gain control, I will bring unity and order to this silly chaos.  As my master - and eventually yours, Hou Shuren -  will do to the world."


TT merely rolled her eyes at the entity, casting her line out once again.


The entity watched for a few quiet moments before asking  "What are you actually doing ?" 


"Thinking of ways to take Hou Shuren down.  Or at least free me from her corruption." TT replied as she reeled in another golden fish and put it in a covered basket with many others.


"You truly are insane." the entity noted, "Her will cannot be denied !  Her power is absolute !  None can escape her curses !"


"It sounds like I'm expected to give up before I even try to fight." TT replied with a smirk as she cast her line again, "Not going to happen !  If you go into a fight thinking you're going to lose, you probably will.  True, she might win this battle of wills against me, but she's going to have to EARN the victory, for I am NOT going to just give it to her on a silver platter simply because her stooge - that I have no reason to believe - tells me to !"


"Your optimism is as annoying as it is pathetic." the entity stated, "Tell me, oh foolish mortal, what could a nothing like YOU possibly do against the immortal power of Hou Shuren ?"


"The Stream of Silence."


The entity blinked a few times.  "What ?"


"According to the tales of the Mane Six, the Stream of Silence not only removes the ability to speak, it also calms all emotions.  What happens to one such as you when all emotion is stilled ?"


The entity found Tongue Twister's oddly shark-like grin VERY disconcerting.


"I have quite a few other ideas to try too." she stated as she showed off her basket packed full of golden fish, "I can't match Hou's magic or martial arts skills or sheer duplicity, so it would be foolish to even try to go head to head against her directly.


But, as they say, 'if you don't like the rules, change the game.'  If I can't win by her rules, I shall win by mine !


Omnia Vincit Insania !" *

 


Tongue Twister shook herself once she awoke from her meditation.


"Omnia Vincit Insania - 'Madness Conquers All' she mused for a bit, before writing down the ideas she managed to retrieve.  "The good news is it looks like the meditation techniques still work; I'll just need to be mindful of that mass of evil magic congealed around Yin."


"I can hear your thoughts as well as your speech, mortal !" the entity inside complained.


"I know, and don't care." TT 'spoke' back to it, before rummaging through her saddlebag to retrieve an item.  It was a small circlet of gold, with one spot flattened with a clear jewel embedded.  "Let's see what's been going on lately." 


"You have a Mnemnosine's Circlet ?!"


"Yup.  Picked it up a few years ago in Neighpal." TT replied, "Sort of a thank-you gift from a village elder for helping them translate some ancient scrolls.  His chief advisor thought no pony was worthy of anything from the village, so he gave me this pathetic thing !  It doesn't have sound, the image has no color, can only view the Akashic record about a month back, and can only show me things that everypony else already knows.


Which means it will actually work.  After all, I must be one of only a dozen or so ponies that WEREN'T at the Final Battle ..." she finished as she carefully balanced the ring on her hoof by the flattened spot, sung a chant in Neighpalese before gently striking the circlet on edge, making it spin.


The circlet began to spin faster as it levitated slightly, an image forming inside.


"Wow !  Tirek, Chrysalis and Cozy Glow got a major boost in power !" she noted to herself, "And what is that thing they're carting around with them - Grogar's Bewitching Bell ?  They actually FOUND that darned thing ?!


Well, that would make them think they had a chance of winning." she groused to herself as she watched the early part of the battle.  She continued watching the conflict unfold.


"Are those yaks ?  AND hippogriffs ?  Geeze !  Was every creature in Equestria there except me, Sombra, Hou Shuren and her servants robbing the secret vaults  ?
...
Oh come on !  A TRIPLE Friendship Beam ?!
...
Annnnd what is Harmony's Judgement on the Terrible Three ?"
she asked herself as she watched the beam descend, "Banishment to the moon ?  A cell in Tartarus ?  Petrification ?
Hmmm - stripped of all stolen power and reverted to their much weaker, original states ?"
 For a moment, she felt that was a bad idea (and far too lenient), but upon further musing upon the big picture, decided IT WAS PERFECT !


"How is letting the three most dangerous beings in Equestria go free a perfect punishment ?" the entity inquired.


"Those three ?  Dangerous ?" TT replied before laughing and freezing the image, "Not any more.  


Cozy Glow is a filly, so most ponies would be nice to her and do what she wanted.  But now that every creature knows that she's a manipulator, no one will ever listen to her again !  If she showed up at a hospital with a broken leg, they probably wouldn't let her in until after they were sure she wasn't trying to pull something.


Tirek once absorbed the magic of every pony in Equestria - including Celestia, Luna, Cadence, and Twilight.  And even Discord.  


And he still lost.  He is now much weaker than he was then, and the Mane Six are more powerful.  No one is going to let him get close enough to drain their magic, so he's stuck as he is !


And honestly, I'm surprised Chrysalis didn't starve, or succumb to the madness of isolation sickness from all that time alone.  Why she wasn't yelling at rocks or talking to trees I'll never know.


Think about it." she continued to the entity in her head, "She's ruled over thousands of minions for a millenia or two.  Their thoughts a constant, comforting sound in her head.  And now - NOTHING."


She sighed.  "Solitude has a cruelty and a  beauty all its own.  One she gets to experience once again.  When no one will interact with you, the world is just as much a prison as the smallest cell.


It's a very hard and long road they're on.  But it is one they CHOSE to be on of their own free will.  


And who knows ?  Maybe after a decade or two they might give up being so evil, given they have absolutely no chance of succeeding at anything evil ever again.


Hmmm - I wonder if those three will stick together, go their seperate ways, or try to destroy each other ?  Taking all bets !" she continued before willing the image to proceed.


She frowned as she kept watching.  "What are the royal sisters and Discord doing ?"


The circlet dropped to the ground, and Tongue Twister heard the entity in her head laughing.


"Oh, THAT was perfect all right !" it stated between breaths, "They took the law into their own hooves - for if Harmony wanted those three turned to stone, it would have done so itself !  If that were a court of law, Discord and the Royal Sisters would be guilty of contempt of court !  And the judge they showed contempt for - was Harmony itself ! 


For by taking action and kicking the villains while they were down, they questioned Harmony's Judgement !  That - cannot be a good thing !"

 

The entity laughed for a bit more before continuing "You have an appreciation for Taoist philosophy, so tell me : what happens when the Light burns away all Darkness ?"


TT sighed.  "Some of the Light becomes corrupt and turns into Darkness, to restore Balance."


"So your resistance is futile and pointless !" the entity replied, certain it had scored a perfect and irrefutable 'Gotcha !' in the argument, "Now that Light is on the rampage, Darkness must rise to balance it !  If you gave in to Hou Shuren and accepted my  power, you could actually make a difference in the world that is yet to come !  For a change !"


"And then the Wheel would turn once more, and Light would overcome the Darkness.  Meaning yourefforts are just as pointless as my resistance." TT replied, turning the 'irrefutable' argument against itself and crushing it with its own weight, "And the restoration of balance is by Light becoming Dark, not Dark overpowering Light.


So, in the grand scheme of things, attempting to bend the universe to anyone's will is foolish."


With that, she began packing for a long train trip back to Canterlot - and her parents - early the next morning.

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