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A mysterious figure... stumbling through the dark town... (closed - cubbage and strong copper)


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Well, so much for delaying the dragon. And now Strong Copper was going to be suspicious of him. Probably would be best to part ways about now. "I'm just staying at the local bed & breakfast. I can walk myself back. You sure you don't want any help out here, though? More eyes might be helpful. Of course, I understand if Spike made you suspicious of me. I guess it's not common to wander around at night, and just my luck that there would be a shadow demon stalking the streets the night I can't sleep." He sighed. "Well, on the bright side, I think I'm finally getting tired enough to sleep. Now the question will just be whether any nightmares wake me up. It was nice to meet you. I'll head back now." And with that, he turned away from the unicorn and started towards his hotel. Hopefully, Strong Copper wouldn't follow. Then he could double back and start tailing the pony. If he had a talent for finding monsters, then Lope would most likely want to be near him. He'd be the most likely to spot the creature first. If Strong Copper did follow him, though, well... "Horseapples," he muttered, defeated. 

 

"I'm on my way," came a response in his ear. Hopefully she'd be able to resolve a situation if one arose. If not, it'd still be nice to fill her in on everything he had learned, and especially on the possibility of S.T.A.R. agents en route.

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It was only a couple minutes after Spike vanished that the pair would hear the quiet, yet distinct purr of engines in the sky, and indeed siluetted against the stars and moon a large airship was coming into view. If either cared to speculate, on its origins based on the direction, it had no doubt been in one of the Canterlot skydocks... though it must have already been prepared to leave, given the time it would usually take for such a ship to ready itself and its crew...

 

Of course the first question would likely be if this was simply a coincidence. After all, why would the princess send an entire ship down to ponyville? Though on the other paw, she cared so deeply about the small town that it also was not entirely out of the question...

 

The ship, though, was not slowing down, in fact it was accelerating. If either stallion had a pair of binoculars (or a similar spell) they would see that this was, indeed, just a shipping... er... ship... and given the current time, it was indeed just a coincidence that it was passing them just after spike's teleportation.

 

But, just as it was passing over the town square, a figure leapt from the railings, no doubt causing some shock from any onlookers... at least until they spready their wings and began to circle down. As the figure got closer, they would notice it was a blue and brown griffen, wearing a large red captain's coat with gold trim on it. She also was wearing gold-rimmed goggles that glowed with a pale green light, no doubt night-vision goggles of some sort.

 

If either of the pair kept up with the news, they would no doubt recognize the figure as a formerly infamous Sky Pirate, who's name was cleared (though many question just how innocent she and her crew really were) and most speculated she was now be a Privateer for the princess...

 

The Griffen landed with all the grace expected of her - meaning she stumbled and ended up summersaulting with her captain's coat flipped over her head (which gave the pair a nice look at all the various pouches and weapons on her belt) but she quickly rightened herself, muttering about it being 'too bloody early for this' Despite the lackluster image she had garnered so far, she stood up proudly, quickly removing the now-broken goggles and stashing them in one of her belt-pouches " 'ey yeh Skallywags, Cap'n Harle Blackclaw at yer service" she said with a bow, her strong cockney making it a little difficult to understand her words "Now th' queen's r'port said that hur hatchling said there was a ghost here... ev'ry ghost I've met I've punched so I dont believe in such faff as ghosts, vampires, sin eaters, demons, or aubergines" She looked at the two "alla that out of the way, 'ow can I help unmask this faker or take down this beast? been a time since I had a proper fight" she grinned viciously

 

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As much as Strong Copper might have wanted to say otherwise, the stallion was his own pony and was free to make his own decisions... even if they were unwise, strange and possibly idiotic. So... he let the stallion go. If he was legit just going back to where he was spending the night, good. If this whole thing was some kind of prank he set up, then Copper was simply going to have to unmask him and likely beat the snot out of him for getting everyone in a tizzy and keeping him from a quiet night inside, reading a book where it was warm.

 

Lowering the light  from his horn a little, Strong Copper stepped back into the darkness of the night alone once again. Now that there was true quiet in the streets it was possible to pick up the sound of his hoofsteps touching Ponyville's paths, but the noise was deceptively soft; It suggested that he was actually a lot further away then he actually was, which meant following him via sound alone would have been problematic for anypony actually doing something so strange and incriminating as to follow him on a dark night like this after claiming they were turning in.

 

Copper had only just had a few moments to continue his search when the airship flying overhead was noticed. For a moment he paused and actually considered the possibility that Princess Twilight had called in some quite literal big, magical firepower in response to a somewhat vague threat to Ponyville, but unless she decided to teleport it here herself (and that certainly had to be very noticeable), this was likely unrelated. Turning his attention away from the irrelevant airship, Strong Copper didn't notice anything leap off of it. At least, not until something heavy landed suddenly to the side and slightly behind him, causing the unicorn to spin around with an opening stunning spell already traveling to his horn and being too far gone to stop when he had spotted the difference between an attacker or a shadow entity and a face planting griffin. Forcing his horn upwards, the magical bolt of orange light slammed into a wall rather then into the griffin's feathery face with a bright flash and a solid bang of sound. 

 

"WHA-" Copper started, only to stop himself because it was the dead of night and enough ponies were likely already going to be annoyed at being jostled from their sleep by the noise that had already happened "What do you think you are doing?" Strong Copper asked at a much lower tone, glancing around to get better situational awareness. "Look, I'm sorry about  almost stunning you, but you really shouldn't have dropped in like that. You're going to get yourself hurt if you do stuff like that."   

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Lope was already around the corner and making his way down the next street when he heard the shot go off. His training put him into auto pilot, and his athletic cutie mark propelled him back in no time, ready to face any threat. There! A griffon? What was a griffon doing here? Assessing the situation on his way, he determined nothing hostile was going on -- at least not at the moment. He skidded to a stop by Strong Copper. "What's going on here?? Is everypony alright??" he asked frantically. 

 

His trainer, a scarlet unicorn with auburn hair, wasn't far behind him, having been on the way to him already. "I heard a stun spell! What happened??" Her horn was charged and ready to attack as she looked between the three creatures before her.

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As soon as she spell began glowing harle raised her front-right claw, which was inside a dark purple gauntlet with a gem on the back, as she did a shield of what looked almost like deep space appeared to protect her... but... it felt wrong... the feeling of the gauntlet was unsettling, unnatural, and off-putting and the shield of stars and space also felt like it didn't even belong here, like it was from some forbidden dimension... clearly this was utilizing some form of very dark magic...

 

Once the spell missed though harle lowered the shield "Might trigger-happy there, mate" she said, unclear if it was meant to be a joke or an insult "don't worry 'bout me, the blokes I run with make this look like a boring Tuesday" she commented

 

When the others returned Harle made a dismissal wave with her claws "Nothin' out of the ordinary, gov" she commented "Name's Harle, th' queen sent me here after her hatchling said there was some trouble, claimin' a ghost or monster, so seein' as I was in the district, I was sent to investigate" she explained

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There were some sensations that you encountered in Strong Copper's line of work. Having all your skin decide that it wanted to be the furthest point away from something at the exact same moment was one of them... and generally a sign that you were dealing with something very, very bad because all the ponies who encountered it that didn't get this feeling and/or were unlucky enough not to have a means of getting out of the area fast enough tended not to have children. The fact that the owner of the item in question didn't seem to take having a stunning spell fired in her general direction or claimed to be from the government didn't exactly help the unicorn relax after the dark magic gauntlet stopped doing its vileness.

 

"Oh I'm sorry, maybe next time you're walking through town in the middle of the night alone, looking for an unknown entity that may or may not be hostile to you I'll just arrange for some griffin to randomly face plant into the ground behind you before using some unholy magical artifact so you can show me how a professional should handle themselves." Strong Copper snapped sarcastically in annoyance at Harle... and that was before his attention turned towards one of the two ponies who seemed to have appeared in response to his spell going off... and his gaze narrowing. "...For somepony who had several minutes head start to walk in the other direction, you got here remarkably quickly." Copper was clearly not a happy pony as he made this minor accusation, the shock of encountering 'a thing that should not be'  unexpectedly clearly having shaken him somewhat, but physically it was possible to tell that he was reigning that in when he finally turned to the newly arrived unicorn who had clearly bringing a spell to bare.

 

In a much calmer, more gentle voice then when he had spoken to Harle and... currently unnamed suspect number 1, Strong Copper told the scarlet mare "Everything is fine Miss. Harle here merely decided that the best way to great someone was to give them a jump scare is all." Hopefully him calming down would encourage some calming down in others... before he looked at Harle again. "Just so we're on the same page... Princess Twilight Sparkle sent you here after Spike returned to her?" The title was stressed a little.

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Lope Lighthoof

Lope was taken aback by the accusation, even though he was already aware that Strong Copper was already suspicious of him. "I'll take that as a compliment, thank you. I'm an athlete," he said, moving his rump so that the three horseshoes on his flank were visible. "It's my cutie mark. Getting places remarkably quickly is my thing." The stallions suspicions earlier may have somewhat warranted, but this was a downright accusation, and Lope was not fond of those."And I might point out that for somepony who had several minutes to search for a shadow creature, you stayed remarkably still," he said back, more so trying to come back with something than point out any real suspicious activity. He then turned his attention to the griffon. And his fears were confirmed with Strong Copper's question. This must be the S.T.A.R. agent he was pleading wouldn't show up. And now his trainer was right here. This was about to get ugly...

 

Tangent Line

Tangent had been scouting a nearby street when Lope had given the signal for backup. "Horseapples" was their predetermined safety word for if they needed rescuing but couldn't risk blowing their cover. And from the sounds of it, it had been a good thing he called when he did. She showed up just in time to see a frazzled unicorn about to throw down with a griffon, and Lope standing nearby. After the unicorn's explanation, however, she powered down her horn. No need for her intervention here, it seemed. Then, the stallion asked the griffon for clarification on who had sent her. And from the way he asked, it sounded like he was pretty sure of the answer himself. Great. If somepony -- or rather, somecreature (Celestia, how she hated this new terminology they had to use on the job) was about to claim jurisdiction on this case over her and her trainee, then this was about to get ugly...

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Harle rolled her eyes at copper's remarks, but nodded "aye, gov, that's wot I said, yer queen, Twilight Sparkle, that purple pony with the wings and the horn, Sent me, Harle Blackclaw, out here, wherever here is, because the gel's hatchling, the little purple dragon, ran back scared out of 'is wits claimin' there was a ghost or somethin' out here" she said, slowly and elaborating at every point, wheather she was being an ass or wheather she though copper was slow was up for debate... of course considering how abrasive most griffens were, it was likely the former... "An' like I said, I dont believe in such faff as ghosts, vampires, sin eaters, demons, or aubergines, so I'm eager to find this creature, drag it to the nearest jail, and get back to me bed" After that she held up that purple gauntlet again and the gem in the back shifted to a yellow color as energies swirled around the gauntlet and upward, forming a glowing yellow orb above her that seemed to follow her as she moved. As she cast it though, the unicorns would all feel the local magical aura warp, bulge, and buckle in unnatural ways, that gauntlet was extremely powerful and using extremely dark magics...

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Strong Copper needed to sit down on the ground for just a moment so that he could use his front hooves to pinch the bridge of his nose properly. This whole situation had just... gotten frustratingly out of control and he needed a moment to center himself and resist the urge to blast the griffin who kept using that dark magic artifact that kept triggering his sense of fight or flight alongside making his skin crawl.

 

Deciding not to acknowledge the counter point that he hadn't gone far at all or continue to bicker with anyone at the moment because there were bigger things to worry about, the copper colored unicorn let out a breath before lowering his hooves back to the ground and drawing on his mark to give him the strength to pull rank despite the fact that legally, he was probably the only one here who didn't have some kind of government job to lend him any actual authority as he barked "Alright! I think it's time we got some things cleared up before we go forward."

 

Turning to Harle first, he decided to explain "My name is Strong Copper. Over the last couple of nights ponies have been seeing something vaguely pony shaped made out of living shadow. Likely some kind of shadow entity, which before you say anything, such beings have been confirmed to exist but very little is actually known for sure so we don't know if it is hostile or a threat to anyone. I wanted to confirm one way or the other before calling others in, but since you're already here we'll make use of you."

 

Turning towards the two ponies, who almost certainly listened to what he had just said to the griffin, he looked serious as he said "As for you two..." He paused for a moment, turning to the unicorn mare first and... seeming more relaxed with her then the stallion he was suspect of as he said "It's a pleasure to meet you, but while I won't fault your bravery in jumping into a possibly dangerous situation, unless you can give me a good reason why you should be here I'm going to have to ask you to go home." Looking at the stallion, his gaze hardened again. "Remember that offer I made earlier? About how if this was all some kind of prank you were pulling that you should speak up now? Last chance to do so. Because from here on out, if it turns out you were behind things not only will you have two people who are very annoyed on being out here on a wild goose chase, but you will be brought before Princess Twilight Sparkle to explain to her personally what made you think this was 'funny'."

 

He wasn't going to stereotype all griffins as the sort to be jerks or who would resort to physical violence if properly motivated by irritation, but Harle did seem like if she found out she came all this way at short notice, cutting into her sleep because some jerk was pulling a prank and didn't know when to stop, someone was going to be roughed up... which was fine, because he would be helping out.

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Lope Lighthoof

There it was with the accusations again. He wasn't entirely sure why Strong Copper was so suspicious of him, but he knew it was getting on his nerves. "Look, you see any horn on this head? I'm an earth pony. That means I can't cast spells. How would I be behind this? Besides, as far as pranks go, making a shadow figure is a really dumb idea. There are so many better things I could d--" he stopped because Tangent had put her hoof over his mouth, which he immediately took to mean he should be silent. Then she began to talk.

 

Tangent Line

And as usual, her partner showed his inexperience. After all the years they'd been working together, she would have thought he'd know better than to try to differ suspicion by claiming over qualification for the suspicious act. She was lucky enough to put her hoof in his mouth before his own went any deeper. "Wait, so you both are here on orders from Princess Twilight Sparkle? To investigate reports of a shadow creature?" she asked. She tried to sound like a confused tourist, like her alibi, but the agent side of her was beginning to show, and it came off as slightly defensive. Hopefully it wasn't enough to cause suspicion. Lighthoof was always the better one when it came to the acting. 

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Harle nodded along to what copper said, but when lightfood claimed he couldn't do anything because he had no horn, she snorted, pointing at the hovering ball of light above her "wot's that about no horn, no magic, gov?" she asked with a bit of a smirk. she held her tongue about how easily confused the second pony was, since it seemed clear to her that this was the earth-pony's mate, but many unflattering words were going through harle's mind right now, though she did find it a little strange that the seemingly... less intelligent pony was shutting up the earth-pony like that... if she was this simple-minded, she shouldn't have known that he was about to blurt out that he had some unholy ritual on his basement or whatever... things weren't adding up, and a rogue like Harle knew how to look for these things...

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"Please stop drawing any more attention to that abomination of magic then it's mere presence warrants. I don't like feeling my skin crawl." Strong Copper muttered darkly... before he took a deep breath and decided to refocus on the two ponies because they had wasted enough time with this back and forth and he had work to do.

 

"My job and talent is to investigate and handle the magical, paranormal or supernatural entities and creatures that roam this world. Preferably in a manner in which all parties involved can live content lives, but sometimes that can't happen. This can be a dangerous line of work." Having felt the need to stress the reality of his job a little, Copper gestured towards himself as he explained "I've trained for this, with almost a lifetime worth of research, first hoof experience and luck to give me a firm foundation to work with no matter what happens." Turning his hoof towards Harle, he continued "I've only just met Harle, but I'm guessing that if Princess Twilight Sparkle is willing to send her into a situation like this, this delightful example of griffonkind likely also have enough history with dangerous, possibly unknown situations to be trusted being sent into them." A little bit of flattery hopefully would help ease the tension between them since it was clear he didn't like her magical do-hicky. There was likely going to be a conversation about it in the near future.

 

Looking back at the two ponies, he finally made the point "So please, for your own well being and safety, go back to where you are staying for the night. There is a very good chance that this is just a situation where a pony believed they saw something and riled up the rest of the herd, making them prone to jumping at shadows that aren't really there. But on the chance that it isn't, your safety should be the number one concern.

 

His wording sounded official enough... but  a keen observer might have noticed the fact that he completely failed to answer the question about if he was actually working for the palace directly or not. He was qualified to be doing it for sure, but if he was actually drawing a paycheck for his work... that was left unsaid.

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Tangent Line

Though he hadn't answered her question directly, Tangent assumed that if he was hunting monsters and talking with a griffon who actually had been sent by order of the princess, he could be trusted. She sighed, and removed her S.M.I.L.E. badge. "My name is Tangent Line, and this is Lope Lighthoof. We're agents of the crown as well, here hunting the same thing you two are. While Princess Sparkle isn't necessarily aware of our presence, she is aware of our organization and has given approval for the League to deploy agents as it sees fit, which in this case, is here. No, I am not allowed to answer any other questions about the League or who we are, unless you'd like a lovely memory-altering spell to help you forget you even saw us when this is all over. And now that you know who I am (she turned to the griffon), do you mind showing me a permit for that item there? Dark magic like that is normally kept under strict lock and key, not given to reckless privateers to use as a flashlight." The aura was making her skin crawl just as badly, a sensation she had only felt when finding out a threat was much bigger than she could have imagined, like when what was thought to be some kind of basilisk in the Whitetale Woods had turned out to be a hydra. The pony sending in the report just hadn't gotten close enough to see more than one head. She also turned her curiosity to the copper stallion. "And as for you, if you're a monster hunter, you must have some kind of credentials other than a cutie mark. Do you have some kind of license? Like you said, this can be a dangerous line of work."

 

Lope Lighthoof

Lope, meanwhile, was blissfully unaware of the gauntlet's dark nature, having no horn to feel its aura through. If his partner was serious about it, though, then that meant it was probably bad news. He mostly just hoped that her confession had differed suspicion from him. He didn't like being accused of things. He was generally good-natured and likable. Then again, he generally didn't meet ponies in dark alleyways. He was also busy praying to Celestia this wasn't about to become an argument of jurisdiction. It was one thing for them to be told to go home for being out when they shouldn't. They were used to that kind of thing. Usually Tangent would just cast a spell to change his coat and mane colors and he would go about as a different stallion for the rest of the night. But for someone to tell them to challenge their authority, even indirectly, usually got Tangent fired up pretty quickly. She put a lot of time and research into cases before going out into the field, and was never anything less than furious when she was told it had been for nothing because she didn't have authority over the case. Hopefully, the four of them would be able to work together, pool their talents, and catch whatever this thing was so that they could get home sooner and he could sleep.

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Harle sighed "since we're apparently doing show-and-tell" she snarked, reaching inside her coat and producing her own badge "Agent Harle Blackclaw, S.T.A.R. Special Forces" she gave all three of them time to inspect it so there would be no questions on its authenticity before she returned it to her coat, she then rolled her eyes "I know its not standard field equipment... bloody hell..." she explained as she pulled out another wad of papers and started flipping through them... clearly all of them permits for one thing or another... well mostly permits, a quick eye would notice she just flipped past a reciept for fish from a local market "Its a prototype... or something... what's it called again when its the original that a prototype is based off of?" she cocked her head to the side for a moment in thought before shrugging and continuing to flip through her papers, finally landing on one and showing it to the pair. It was an authorization from Commander Ice Storm to use the "Aura Manipulator" in the field to gather information for classified future projects. Oddly enough the permit included a note from both the Commander and one of the head researchers that the device was safe unless used around a unicorn with a broken or damaged horn... clearly they had done extensive testing... and clearly they knew what kind of eldrich magic they were dealing with... maybe...

 

((and what acronym are you going to pull out, copper? We already have S.T.A.R. and S.M.I.L.E., plus if I decide to get really cheeky E.V.I.L. will show up, what're you going to add to the alphabet-soup? XD))

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In his line of work, Strong Copper had encountered a great deal of stories, folklore and tall tales in his day to day life. When dealing with folks who go out of their way to delve into areas where the strange and unseen tend to dwell, fact and fiction are often difficult to tell apart. However, there was a kind of story that arose every now and then; Government Spooks. The term 'Spook' was a somewhat uncommon one these days, since it was generally used to describe some kind of unknown shapeshifting creature and with Changelings having stepped into the light of the world stage a proper name had been given to most (but not all) of the creatures residing in such stories. Government Spooks were a different, albeit a similar kind of story. 

 

It was rare to have a situation where they was encountered, but there were generally a few tell tale signs. They tended to think everyone local was an idiot or a threat to them and they despised anyone knowing who they were, what they actually did for a living or anything related to questions in general directed towards them. They worked for the Equestrian government and actually had the pull to back that claim if they were forced to make it, but exactly what department they belonged generally didn't exist if anyone ever actually tried to look into it, the name itself as easily made up as the name of the pony who was actually on the ground. 

 

Government Spooks tended to be somewhat condescending and a special kind of insanity that only comes about from taking the long road via sanity with a gear or two warped to create a mindset that was logical and the rational understandable... but still fundamentally wrong in the process. They also only tended to appear when a situation was in the process of going rotten or had gone completely rotten and it was about to burst. Bad things were ahoof if a Government Spook showed up.

 

So Strong Copper instantly understood that the names of the two ponies were false and instantly discarded whatever value 'League' might have had to reveling who they were. They were simply Government Spooks and if they were here, there was something active in Ponyville at the moment. All he needed to know really. 

 

Upon being asked if he had a license or anything... Strong Copper sighed before his horn lit up and he brought out his wallet. Two cards were flashed in short order. One was a simple ID card that had his name, occupation ect on it... while the other was a bit more interesting in that the Equestrian government recognized one Strong Copper as having been legally approved to use his expert judgement to act when it came to wild, magical or 'mythical' animals in relation to settled zones, trade routes and generally whenever a species recognized as being sapient enough to be recognized as a possible citizen of Equestria was endangered. 

 

Putting the cards back and the wallet away, he decided to ask the spooks a question. "Okay. You wouldn't be here if it was nothing so... how bad is the situation in Ponyville currently and what are we dealing with?"

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Lope Lighthoof

And there it was. The S.T.A.R. card. He turned away his head as his superior began to speak.

 

Tangent Line

"What is S.T.A.R. doing on this case? This is clearly a sign of monster activity, which puts it under S.M.I.L.E. jurisdiction." She was trying to remain civil for the time being. Best not to get into an argument with a griffon carrying a dark magical gauntlet. But having somepony else jump in last minute on her investigation made her skin crawl worse than that artifact did. "And as for your question," she said, turning to the copper pony, "we're not entirely sure. We have several theories based on the creature's reported behavior, but no real leads other than spooked ponies. Like you said, most of our intel is coming from ponies who thought they saw something. Doesn't mean there's any monsters necessarily, but we were dispatched to assess the situation regardless. There's a possibility it's linked to the same powers that corrupted Stygian or Luna, though it's unknown whether those powers are still lurking around Equestria, and if they are, it's unknown if they have enough concentrated power to take shape yet. The most likely locations for it to be found are in areas where moonlight and torchlights aren't corrupting the darkness, like in alleyways or under porches, etc." She then turned back to the griffon. "In other words, this is most likely the work of a monster, and not a pony. Which makes it a S.M.I.L.E. case, not a S.T.A.R. case. Unless of course, you want to use your gauntlet as bait. I'm sure a creature of dark magic would love to suck the energy from that infernal thing."

 

Lope Lighthoof

Lope was impressed with Tangent. Though her irritation was obvious, for the most part she hadn't condescended (except maybe to the griffon towards the end there), and she hadn't really told off the other two creatures for stepping on her case. With Strong Copper, it made a bit of sense. He was a private eye, from the looks of it, and one who specialized in their kind of work, so she probably didn't have any good reason to tell him off. But with S.T.A.R. agents, she usually wasn't so kind. 

 

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Harle rolled her eyes "Trust me, I'd rather be back in my nice warm bed, but the queen treats this town and that dragon of hers like her own children" she explained "Apparently there's also a risk of other trouble with this incident, something that She's tracking obcessivly" she explained "If you want to take the lead, then I'll gladly hang back and act as backup if things get nasty - I've been in my share of brawls" she didn't bother to explain that most of those were with the guards who were trying to arrest her on false charges in the past, but she assumed her reputation as a former pirate preceded her "and the gauntlet doesn't have any magic in it... well it is made of magic materials and does store a small amount of some icky black energy for the shield, but otherwise it drains power from the aura like you ho- *cough* like you ponies do" she said, catching herself before she called them 'horn-heads' 

 

((if either of you are familiar with Thaumcraft, Harle is literally using the Voidmetal version of the Casters Gauntlet from Thaumic Augmentation)

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For his own part, Strong Copper listened to what had to be said. The GS calling themselves Tangent seemed to be the one that was in charge of the pair and they did seem to hold him in some degree of respectful regard, quite possibly because despite him being effectively an independent pony he had managed to largely work out what their organization had. Granted they clearly didn't like Harle, but that was clearly a combination of contrasting jurisdiction between governmental organizations and the presence of an artifact that, while authority to use it was granted, still seemed to give any unicorn that came near it a deep sense of 'nope'. On the plus side, Harle seemed to be willing to work under the GS' authority in order to prevent at least one of the sources of strife from sparking into full on conflict.

 

Clearing his own throat, Copper added "For what it's worth, I'm also willing to work under your direction. Considering my current plan had been to wander around and either get lucky and find it or have it decide to revel itself to me, I'm not against hearing a better one." Considering the somewhat... unearthly nature of the creature he had been searching for, having it come to him wasn't the worst idea in the world since tracking a shadow at night wasn't exactly a simple prospect. Still, if a better plan was presented he would love to hear it. "However, I must stress that we don't actually know if this thing we're looking for has malevolent intentions. There are enough stories and folklore about 'shadow entities' to suggest neutral or even benevolent examples exist as well. I'm not saying we shouldn't use caution, but coming at this thing with hostile intent from the get go is going to ensure a fight regardless of what it's intent actually is."    

 

   

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Tangent Line

Their cooperation was... weird. Normally, S.T.A.R. agents weren't nearly so docile in yielding control of an investigation, especially if they were one of the members who hadn't been made aware of S.M.I.L.E.'s existence, which most hadn't. There was a growing awareness of one another within each agency, but there were still many from either side who hadn't heard of the other. She herself wouldn't have known S.T.A.R. existed if she hadn't nearly gotten into a firefight with several agents on a mission during her junior days. Subsequent run-ins became more common, and now it was getting to the point that S.T.A.R. was threatening to make S.M.I.L.E. obsolete. But not if she could help it! S.M.I.L.E. was her life, and her parents' before her. She refused to let it die out during her lifetime. 

 

She had to take a beat to respond, having a response prepared months in advance for opposition, but nothing prepared for cooperation. "Well then, as long as we're all in agreement that S.M.I.L.E. will be running point on this, let's fledge out a four-pon-- er, four-creature plan. My standard investigative process is to learn everything we can about the case before arriving on scene. Then my partner and I gather our own clues, first in the field to see if we can find the source of trouble right off the bat, and then if we have to we turn to interviews and interrogation. Naturally, we don't do this first because we try to keep a low profile. However, with you two not under that restraint, we might be able to gather information tomorrow more effectively. Until then, we should fan out. I have a spell I use to communicate with my partner up to a mile away. With your permission, I'll cast it on you two, as well, and that way we can relay information from four different areas of the town." She kept a cool head and voice, so nopony would have guessed it, but she was actually beginning to enjoy herself. It felt a little like directing a team rather than a partnership, something she aspired to do within the agency one day. Her voice, however, conveyed only command and field experience. 

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Harle gave the pony speaking an odd look, it wasn't exactly unpleasant, but it was clear she wasn't too happy "I dont much like having magic cast on me, I'd rather use m' headset, I can get extras for all of you to borrow" she said as she tapped the side of her head, the feathers moving under her claws to reveal the well-concealed headset "Single, toss three more headsets in the chest, set to my frequency"

 

After a moment, and before anypony could protest, harle raised the gauntlet, which had shifted to a green eye-like gem on the back, and made a punching motion, causing a tear to open up in the very fabric of reality... much like the rest of the magic, this tear seemed to also radiate an 'otherworldly' quality, not as intense as the glove itself, but it didn't seem quite right itself. Harle then pulled her gauntlet back out of the hole, which closed up. in her grip now were four similar headsets to her own, but sized to fit ponies. she then offered them to the other three.

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It wasn't often that Strong Copper needed to sit down in order to make use of his front hooves, either to rub his temples or bring them together in front of him in concern. Tonight had managed to make him do it twice as he watched as the divide between the two agencies seemed to grow wider as friction already started to dig in, despite the compromises made so far. The fact that reality had just been torn in a manner in which it really shouldn't have been also continued to flay his slowly fraying nerves. Taking a deep breath as his horn lit up and he accepted one of the headsets, he quickly slid it on as he politely said "Thank you Harle." before quickly muttering more for the group as a whole to hear "Can we please just get things underway before you start fighting each other and someone ends up in the hospital?"

 

"Because if you're not going to be able to work together without punching each others tee-..." he paused as he glanced towards Harle and caught himself before he finished the full saying "-lights out, then you might as well go home and get some sleep because I'm not here to be a peace keeper or a referee. We've got things to do.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Tangent took a wary step back from the tear in reality, and again warily accepted a headset. "Personally, I feel magic is a bit more reliable, But I'm willing to compromise for the evening," she said as she slipped it into her ear and watched her junior do the same. In response to the copper stallions remark, Tangent simply said, "I couldn't agree more. We should fan out. I assume you both have some way of improving your vision in the dark?" she asked.

 

Meanwhile, Lope waited patiently. Though Strong Copper had been suspicious of him only a few minutes earlier, Lope was actually coming to like this pony. He seemed sensible, and from the sounds of it, he wanted to avoid an argument as much as Lope did. Tangent also seemed less temperamental tonight, as she accepted the griffon's way of doing things with little fuss. He hadn't known her to be this docile in the past. Maybe it was the surprise of cooperation catching her off guard?

 

"Copper, cover Southside. Lighthoof, take North. I'll cover East. Blackclaw, you're on West. Your aerial reconnaissance will be valuable, so I hope you came ready to spend a couple hours in the air. Don't be stupid. Any of you. If you see something suspicious, call it in before you investigate. The last thing we need is someone injured or worse on  what should be a simple investigation. Everyone clear?" Ok, so maybe the idea of running a team was starting to go to her head a little...

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Harle shrugged "er they might still be magical... dont really know, the commander supplies m' crew with the headsets" it was starting to become clear to them that harle was not the 'brains' of the operation... or any operation... wits? sure. survival skills? sure. good in a fight? absolutely! but brains...? maybe her egg was cracked before it was hatched...

 

The griffen held up the odd gold goggles she had been wearing when she arrived, causing another shard of enchanted green glass to fall from the right lens "well, one side's only cracked, hopefully it'll still work" she said "I'll have to get singlestone to put in an order for another pair... but for now I work with what I got... still got my floating orb of light that should help" she nodded at the glowing orb that was still following her around... though how useful it would be up in the air was doubtful not to mention it might as well be a flashing neon sign pointing out her location... once again, making it clear that somepony else took care of all the 'thinking' work in her crew...

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The hardest part of all of this, Strong Copper decided privately within the confines of his own head, was to keep himself from sighing and frowning at the fact, that despite all assurances that everyone could at least work together and be professional about all this, there was this cloud of doom that seemed to linger overhead. However, there was a good chance that it was just his own habit of seeing the worst case scenario getting the better of him again. All he could do was do the best he could, let them do the best that they could do... and hopefully at the end of all this it will be enough.

 

"Even if you don't see anything, try to send a small message every... maybe ten minutes or so? Just to let everyone know that you're fine." Strong Copper suggested, wordlessly accepting his assignment to get out the southern areas. If nothing else, it would be a lot less work on his part.

 

 

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Lope Lighthoof

The earpiece was strange to get used to, but it didn't take long before it settled in and he could forget it was there. "Good idea," he said in response to Strong Copper's suggestion. "And remember to keep a low profile. We don't want to spook the locals. After all, we still don't have confirmation that there's really something to be afraid of out here." He then waited for Tangent to give the OK to roll out.

 

Tangent Line

Agent Line looked strangely at the griffon's night vision gear. "Maybe I should cast a night vision spell on you... That light might scare away whatever it is we're hunting, plus it could wake up the locals." she suggested. 

Copper made the suggestion about checking in regularly, which she agreed with. Lighthoof commented about keeping a low profile, which she whole-heartedly agreed with -- part of the reason she wanted that... thing floating above the griffon's head extinguished. "Agreed. Have an excuse in mind in case someone asks why you're out so late. Honesty might be an element of harmony, but it certainly isn't an element of stealth."

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