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Elsewhile in the Royal Guard : Chapter 1

By ChaosMageX
Created: 20th December 2020 02:59:12 PM

  1. "Elsewhile in the Royal Guard"
  2. by ChaosMageX
  3.  
  4. Written for the Royal Guard Mare Thread on /mlp/
  5.  
  6. CHAPTER 1
  7.  
  8. "Do a card trick for me, Dexter."
  9. >You are Second Lieutenant Mystic Foundry, and you are so bored.
  10. >Your request is directed at your fellow unicorn and Royal Guard Officer, 1st Lt. Dexter Scuffle.
  11. >At this point, you are desperate for any kind of anodyne to this tedium.
  12. >Cracked crucibles, it's not fair!
  13. >You thought joining the Royal Guard would be more thrilling than this.
  14. >You thought you'd get to lead and assist platoons in the heat of battle, building a bridge or something else cool like that.
  15. >Instead, you've been stuck plowing papers with other "support" officers.
  16. >But even doing paperwork wasn't as boring as this.
  17. >Officially, you are "presenting yourself as a fine officer of the Royal Guard."
  18. >But really, you're just serving as a living decoration for this hallway.
  19. >Just standing outside the office entrance, right alongside the stallion you had been helping to plow those papers earlier in your shift.
  20. >Really, he's the better living decoration between the two of you, able to stand out anywhere with his dark gray and black dun patterned coat.
  21. >You, on the other hand, just tended to blend in with the rest of light gray unicorn mare guards.
  22. >The only thing that really distinguishes you is your darker muzzle and your straightened wintergreen mint mane and tail.
  23. >It certainly complimented Dexter's blue mane with shocks of white guard hairs sparsely distributed within it, almost like two different flavors of toothpaste squirted out onto two gray toothbrushes, except one also has some charcoal bristles.
  24. >"My my, giving an order to a senior officer. You are quite the brash butter bar."
  25.  
  26.  
  27. >You scrunch your muzzle in frustration at his smug response.
  28. "Come on, Dex, it's just a request! We finished the GEO-INT paperwork over an hour ago, and I'm tired of counting ceiling tiles!"
  29. >Oh Cupronickel!
  30. >You quickly cover your muzzle with one of your hooves and can't help but blush with the realization of just how loud you had just been.
  31. >Your ears twitch and swivel as you listen for any further reverberation.
  32. >You hope you didn't accidentally throw your voice down the hall just now.
  33. >Lieutenant Scuffle can't help but chortle at your embarrassment.
  34. >It was like one of those breathy chuckles you'd hear from nobles, but not nearly as obnoxious.
  35. >Still, it makes you blush just a bit harder now, as you nervously look in his direction.
  36. >He looks back at you with a cocky grin and then opens his mouth, sharply breathing in.
  37. >"You really want me to perform a card trick for you while still on duty?"
  38. >Your eyes widen as you start scanning down the halls again.
  39. >What the buck was he thinking?!
  40. >He was just as loud as you were, if not louder.
  41. >You snap back to face him as you hear him laughing.
  42. >"Oh, relax. Mare, you really are new. Our shift is almost over, and hardly anyone comes down the halls at this time. Most of the enlisted are already half-assing their way through any remaining duties, so you don't have to worry about them anymore."
  43. >He bats a forehoof in a scoffing motion as he finishes talking, and then uses it to hold back the last of his snickering.
  44. >You hang your head and sigh with relief, but still can't help but look down both directions of hallway one last time.
  45. >...And then shoot one last scrunch-faced glare at Dexter, which gets him to finally stop laughing.
  46. >He clears his throat and looks at you sheepishly, though it's only for a split second before he puts on his airs again.
  47. >You can't help but smile back at him, and you end up giving a little chuckle yourself.
  48.  
  49.  
  50. "Heh, when aren't the enlisted half-assing their duties?"
  51. >You chuckle a bit more, but it transitions into a groaning sigh at the end.
  52. >Still, Lt Scuffle doesn't notice your groan at the end, or at least he doesn't seem to, and just laughs along with you.
  53. >To this day you still wonder if you should have enlisted rather going through officer training school.
  54. >But your recruiter had been really adamant about commissioning you instead.
  55. >'You have a degree from Canterlot University. It would be wasted by just enlisting,' he said.
  56. >'We need more officers with degrees, and it can be just as exciting as enlisting,' he said.
  57. >Little did you know that he meant more "support" officers, because apparently there weren't enough platoons to go around.
  58. >At least not for the most junior officers fresh out of training.
  59. >Suddenly, Dexter's response snaps you back out of your depressingly pensive state.
  60. >"Well, one would hope when they're doing anything mission critical, which if done incorrectly could put ponies' lives at risk. I would hope that Private Winding Path delivered the GEO-INT reports to their correct destination, without getting lost...AGAIN, or delivering them to the wrong office...AGAIN, but at this point I'm not getting my hopes up. And that's why we always have to fill out the final compiled paperwork in triplicate."
  61. >He might have shown any signs of irritation on his face, but you could tell there was something there with his word emphasis.
  62. >"I'm just glad I don't have a platoon to deal with, and I only have to interact with the enlisted that are part of whatever Intelligence assignment I'm leading."
  63. >Okay, now this surprises you.
  64. >Joking aside, yes, you had heard that were always a few enlisted that could be a hoofful...well, more than a few at times.
  65. >Still, not wanting to lead a platoon or see any action?
  66. >Then again, do any Intelligence Officers ever get to see any action?
  67.  
  68.  
  69. >"I really prefer dealing with other officers, even NCOs, over enlisted, and I'd rather that not come to an end."
  70. >He heaves a sigh, but then starts to perk up again and turns to look at you with a friendly smile.
  71. >"By the way, thanks again for your assistance with the kill box reassessments. This is the first time I've had the privilege of working with an officer with expertise in metallurgy and structural engineering. With a skillset like that, I'm surprised you didn't become a warrant officer."
  72. >Okay, now you can really feel how red your cheeks are getting from the warmth of the diluting blood vessels, but compliments tended to do that to you quite often.
  73. >It always feels nice, because you know that you aren't really that special, and you're only as privileged as you are mostly because of nepotism.
  74. "Oh, s-stop. I'm not really that skilled."
  75. >"Yes, you are. Your analysis of proximity structures and their abilities to withstand different GTG and ATG conjured ordinances will help save the lives of both soldiers and any civilians who get caught up in a potential battle. Take it from The Illustrious Dexter, your skills were vital to intelligence today, and the Royal Guard is lucky to have you!"
  76. >You can't help but laugh out loud as he brings up his stage name, and then quickly stifle that laugh and almost instinctively look back and forth down both sides of the hallway, if only briefly.
  77. >And again, Dexter takes notice of this, another grin starting to spread across his muzzle.
  78. >"The Illustrious Dexter takes pride in his work with all sources of intelligence, and that includes your intelligence!"
  79. >You can't help but feel a bit lauded by the compliment he snuck in, and you know it's showing on your face, despite wanting to hide it.
  80. >He definitely has a flare for the dramatic, that's for sure.
  81. >Apparently it's the same flare he uses as a performance magician when on libo.
  82. >Now that's something you still want to see!
  83.  
  84.  
  85. "Well, never mind my skills, I'm more interested in yours, particularly the ones you use outside the guard. Please Dexter, do a card trick for me."
  86. >You look at him with pleading eyes, hoping that he's finally ready to concede.
  87. >He smiles excitedly as he suddenly jumps back away from you and gets up on his hind hooves, dramatically waving his forehooves in the air.
  88. >Guess he is ready.
  89. >You blink a few times in shock from that sudden move, but then find yourself grinning wildly along with him.
  90. >"Well, if you insist. Behold, as the Illustrious Dexter performs his renowned feats of prestidigitation!"
  91. >As his announcement echoes down the empty hallway, he pulls out a deck of cards that had been hidden under his uniform's saddle.
  92. >This time though, you're far to focused on him to worry about anypony who might have overheard it.
  93. >Dex levitates the deck in front of himself, striking poses while shuffling it with cardistry and waving his black striped forelegs around.
  94. >He finishes it off by making the cards fly out from the deck in an arc and land on his raised right hoof, which was black like his other three, almost like he's always wearing socks under his sabots.
  95. >He then uses his levitation to draw four cards from the top of the deck and keeps them floating between the two of you.
  96. >He sets the rest of the deck aside, and you watch as the sparkling yellow aura evaporates from them once they've settled onto the floor.
  97. >It's the same sparkling yellow as his eyes, which you now look back towards.
  98. >Those sparkling eyes are framed by black freckles that increase in density as they converge into the darker gray stripe going down the center of his face.
  99. >From his black cobweb tipped horn to his equally black muzzle, you can't help but marvel at his rather interesting grullo dun markings.
  100. >Coat patterning isn't unheard of amongst ponies, but it isn't exactly common either, so ponies with multi-colored coats did often get more attention.
  101.  
  102.  
  103. >"I know you're distracted by The Illustrious Dexter's rugged good lucks, but you should really focus on the cards."
  104. >His words cause you to snap back to attention and look at the four cards facing you in mid-air.
  105. >There is one from each of the four houses of a typical deck, and that can't be just a coincidence.
  106. >"You can pick one of the four cards in front of you, or you can choose one from the deck, though I must warn you, doing the latter will make the trick more difficult."
  107. >He gives you a playful wink, and you give him a cheeky grin in return.
  108. "I'll take one from the deck!"
  109. >He sighs, but since his grin barely fades, you aren't sure how much of it is sincere as opposed to acting.
  110. >"Very well, if that's what you want."
  111. >He quickly scoots the rest of the deck from his side to in front of you, spreading out in a classic ribbon flourish in one smooth motion.
  112. >"Pick a card, any card."
  113. >You look over the selection, your vision darting around to see if you could spot any duplicates or anything else out of the ordinary.
  114. >"I can assure you that it's just a simple deck of cards, nothing more, nothing less. And there's nothing up my greaves, either."
  115. >He briefly takes off his sabots, showing that there's nothing hidden in them.
  116. >He also pulls back his leg armor, confirming his word that he's not hiding anything in them either.
  117. >Like any magician's opening pledge, everything seems legitimate, and you finally settle on the Jack of Clubs, plucking it from the spread with your own levitation.
  118. >The four other cards still floating part ways, two on each side, as Dexter reaches out his hoof and gently taps your card.
  119. >His yellow aura envelopes it and overwhelms your own, causing it to twirl a few times in the air before stopping to face him.
  120. >"Hmm, not the best choice, since it'll make the next part still more difficult, but I'll make do."
  121. >He gives another wink, and taps it again.
  122.  
  123.  
  124. >Your card resumes its slow twirling, completing a couple full rotations before Dex's aura fades and it drops to the ground, landing face down in front of you.
  125. >"Now do me a favor, and keep your card under your hoof, so I can't manipulate it in any way."
  126. >You giggle a little in your excitement before doing as instructed, putting your right hoof over the card.
  127. >You then get a rather naughty idea and give him a smug grin before starting the slide the card towards you under your hoof.
  128. >You watch his face for any negative reaction, seeing if you're doing something you're not supposed to, something that could potentially mess up the trick.
  129. >Surprisingly though, Dex seems unphased by your actions, and even mirrors your smug expression.
  130. >"Go on, slide it around all you want, but just remember to keep your hoof on it, because you don't know what I'll do if you let go."
  131.  
  132. Suggested background music: www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxabLA7UQ9k (Hans Zimmer - 'Time', from 'Inception' [2010])
  133.  
  134. >He gives another wink and then draws his two sets of two cards each back together in front of his face, as if drawing a curtain between you and himself.
  135. >He taps the bottom of each card in succession, causing them to swivel around to face him.
  136. >His smug look fades, replaced with a frown of concentration as he squints his eyes and presses his hoof to his chin.
  137. >"Mmm, mmm, mmm, what a shame. You know, The Illustrious Dexter doesn't really like these number cards."
  138. >His eyes snap wide open and his gleaming grin returns.
  139. >"What do you say we change that?!"
  140. >He rapidly taps each card again with one hoof, while his other waves back and forth in front of them.
  141. >The four cards start spinning, much faster than he made yours spin, to the point of becoming a blur in your vision.
  142. >After a few more waves of his hooves in front of and behind the spinning cards, they all stop at once to face you.
  143. >They've all changed to aces!
  144.  
  145.  
  146. >Not only that, but their respective houses match the ones of the number cards that they had replaced.
  147. >Your eyes widen, and you want to clap, but refrain so you can continue to restrain your own card.
  148. >You know that there's still more to come as he reaches up to lightly touch each card once again.
  149. >He resumes the same silly pensive pose as he squints at the cards.
  150. >"Hmmm, aces are good, but faces are also good!"
  151. >He beams once more as he taps the leftmost card, the ace of diamonds, and it starts to twirl about.
  152. >Faster and faster it goes, as Dex waves his hoof in a circle around it in the opposite rotational direction.
  153. >Its motion again speeds to a point where you can't distinguish its front and back, and it is at this point that two additional cards break away from it, seemingly from both sides.
  154. >As if torn away from it by centrifugal force, but still locked to it by centripetal force, their orbit stays synchronized until all three slow to a stop.
  155. >The two new cards move to the sides and all three do a final spin to face you, revealing themselves to be the king and queen of diamonds, with the original ace of diamonds between them.
  156. >You audibly gasp as your eyes grow even wider as your mind races for an explanation, but your mouth is faster.
  157. "Wait, what? Did...did one of them come from the ace's face? How is that even possible?"
  158. >He simply scoffs through his grin and waggles his hoof.
  159. >"Tsk tsk, you know a good magician never reveals his secrets, and you ain't seen nothing yet."
  160. >It couldn't have been teleportation, could it?
  161. >You would have noticed the typical flashes and bangs of such spells if it had been, right?
  162. >You find yourself looking for his secrets, but then again you aren't really looking.
  163. >You don't really want an explanation, because that would ruin the trick.
  164. >You want to be fooled, and you want to see what's coming next.
  165.  
  166.  
  167. >Turning the cards is his own magician's turn, and he sure turns them fast to hide his secrets, making his seemingly ordinary cards do extraordinary things.
  168. >He then begins to turn the next card in the row, the ace of clubs, giving a gentle tap to set it rotating along a different axis, this one somersaulting end over end.
  169. >Like the last card, its motion soon speeds up beyond your perception, until two more cards are flung out from it.
  170. >When they slow to a halt and present themselves, it's the king and queen of the club house, matching the ace that spawned them.
  171. >He moves on to the ace of spades next, choosing to gyrate it around its center.
  172. >Surely since it's always facing you in its rotation, you'll be able to catch something this time, right?
  173. >Like a spinning rotor, it blends itself into a translucent circle as it picks up speed.
  174. >But again, all it takes is one fanciful wave of Dex's hoof to coax two cards out of both its front and back, sliding off of the ace with their faces towards you, spinning about it and spinning about their own centers like a pinwheel of pinwheels, which slows as if the gust driving it has just died down.
  175. >You blink your eyes a few times in disbelief, watching the rulers of matching house of spades stop alongside their ace.
  176. >Dex finishes off with the ace of hearts, prompting it to pirouette along its opposing corners.
  177. >Its airborne dance quickens to obscure its features, just like the three before it, and it summons its monarchs like them as well.
  178. >At this point, you stand up almost out of reflex, leaning forward to look more closely at his floating marvels, hoping to satiate your curiosity.
  179. >You even attempt to move closer, shuffling your hooves along the floor, careful not to lose your jack of clubs.
  180. >If anything, you apply more pressure to tighten your hold on it, because you can tell what's probably coming next.
  181. >Your actions certainly get an amused look out of your entertainer.
  182.  
  183.  
  184. >"The Illustrious Dexter can see that you're amazed and perplexed by his sleight of hoof, which means this next part will surely blow your mind."
  185. >His amused expression brightens into a cocky grin.
  186. >"Granted, it won't be easy, given the card you picked, but The Illustrious Dexter can still pull it off!"
  187. >He gives you a wink, which only causes you to scrunch your nose in frustration, applying as much pressure to your card as you can, almost threatening to crack the tiled floor beneath it.
  188. >"Now let's see if these queens and kings can complete their families!"
  189. >You knew this part was coming, and you are wondering how he's going to pull it off.
  190. >You want to know, but at the same time, you don't.
  191. >You want to be amazed by his skills as his magician's show enters its third and most difficult act.
  192. >As if on cue, Dexter stands upright on his hind hooves, building drama to the approaching climax.
  193. >He begins dancing around, striking pose after pose as he gesticulates his free forehooves around the twelve suspended cards.
  194. >Each in turn resume their previous motions, their velocities mounting as they coalesce back into four houses.
  195. >The kings and queens nestle in close to their central aces as their gyrations pick up speed.
  196. >As the pair come together, a possible interpretation of it enters your mind, and you can feel yourself blushing.
  197. >Even some of Dex's own moves seem to add to this interpretation.
  198. >Or maybe your thoughts are just drifting there on their own, and you can't help yourself, especially with those sock-like coat markings of his.
  199. >Everything seems to get more brilliant as the very luminosity of his levitation auras intensifies around them.
  200. >He strikes one final dramatic pose and then everything immediately stops, as if suddenly frozen in time.
  201. >His magical light fades back to its idle levels, but the radiance of his confident smile remains.
  202. >His eyes shift side to side as the cards slowly pull themselves apart for the big reveal.
  203.  
  204.  
  205. >The aces are now gone!
  206. >In their place are the jacks of all four houses, in between their respective parental cards.
  207. >This includes the very card you had originally picked from the deck, the jack of clubs.
  208. >You knew it was coming, but you still can't believe it.
  209. >Your eyes grow wide in wonder, and your blush flushes from your face in your shock.
  210. >There couldn't have been any teleportation.
  211. >You would have felt the heat and displacement of the air, especially under your very hoof.
  212. >You can't help but just stammer out your inevitable question.
  213. "B-but wait? What? H-how?"
  214. >"Why don't you check under your hoof?"
  215. >You cautiously lift your hoof, and see the back of a card, and nothing else.
  216. >No scorch marks or any other sign of a teleportation.
  217. >No other evidence of any other kind of foul play that came to your mind.
  218. >You flip the card over to reveal ace of clubs.
  219. >You quickly draw your hoof back as your jaw slackens.
  220. >"I'd check that card a little more closely if I were you."
  221. >You reach down again, and with a little prodding, you slide the ace of clubs over to reveal the other three.
  222. >Your jaw fully drops at this point.
  223. "Seriously, what?! How?! I slide the card on the floor...multiple times! I even flipped it over just a second ago. Why didn't they come apart until now? How did you switch them?!"
  224. >Your eyes dart between the aces on the ground, the face cards that are now slowly drifting down to join them, and Dex's face, which is now starting to crack up.
  225. >He snickers a little, and then a lot.
  226. >At first you scrunch your muzzle up again in frustration, audibly groaning as you rack your brain for how he could have pulled it off.
  227. >But in the end, he did pull it off.
  228. >He had executed the most difficult part of the act, and brought back what he made disappear, and he's now reveling in his prestige.
  229. >He bursts out in laughter, the same breathy kind of chuckle you had heard from him earlier.
  230.  
  231.  
  232. >"Haha... I told you before, Misty, a great magician never reveals his secrets."
  233. >You finally concede to having been fooled, full stop, and a smile starts to creep across your own face as you take it all in.
  234. >You join him in his laughter, barely noticing that the rest of the cards have now settled onto the floor.
  235. "I have to admit, Dex, you are one Tart of a magician."
  236. >"That's the Illustrious Dexter while I'm performing, and the trick isn't over yet. Haven't you wondered what happened to the four cards at the beginning of my trick? The ones you didn't pick?"
  237. >You stop laughing with a gasp as the realization hits you.
  238. >The trick still isn't completely over?
  239. >Dex gives you a sly grin and once again moves the deck in front of you, spreading it again to show all but four cards face down.
  240. >Your eyes widen again as they jump from one pip to the next.
  241. >Those are the same four cards he had drawn at the beginning!
  242. >He really did make reappear everything he had disappeared.
  243. >Auras appear around them as he draws them out halfway to further confirm their identities.
  244. >He then flips the enter deck over in a classic wave flourish to show the rest of the cards.
  245. >Of course, after a quick scan, you see that the ace and face cards are indeed missing from it, still where they had landed, sequestered before the spread deck.
  246. >You look down at the cards again, then back up at Dexter, and then start laughing again.
  247. >He joins you in your laughter as he starts to clean up, pulling the flipped cards out and collecting the deck back into a stack.
  248. >"And now that the trick is over, you can call me Dex again."
  249. >He proudly sighs as he adds the four beginning cards back to the deck, followed by the face cards.
  250. >You give one last impressed glance at the four aces as he picks them up last.
  251. "Heh, in doing this trick, you certainly dealt me the best hoof of cards pos-"
  252.  
  253.  
  254. >You are cut-off mid-sentence as Dex suddenly freezes up.
  255. >His smile completely vanishes, replaced with a gravely serious expression.
  256. >His eyes dart between your own and down one direction of the hallway a few times.
  257. >His ears swivel in that direction as well and twitch a few times.
  258. >You start to feel flushed again, but in a bad way this time, and you turn your head to stare straight down it.
  259. >He whispers quietly yet forcefully while levitating his completed card deck back under his saddle.
  260. >"Lieutenant Foundry, you need to stand at attention, RIGHT NOW. That's an order. Someone is coming."
  261. >You quickly scramble back to your post on the opposite side of the door, following Dex's lead in once again becoming a living statue.
  262. >But your ears stay swiveled, and you continue to peer down that direction out of the corner of your vision.
  263. >It couldn't just be another wayward tourist or passing staff worker, otherwise he wouldn't be taking this as seriously, right?
  264. >Your paranoia from earlier starts to creep back into your head.
  265. >You know that this is likely the one kind of pony you didn't want to overhear you shirking your duties.
  266. >A superior officer is approaching.
  267. >Maybe this is why he was so relaxed and brash about being loud earlier.
  268. >He probably would have known well before you did if any VIP was coming down the hallway.
  269. >But how can he be sure that's who's making their way in your direction?
  270. >Maybe he just takes any passerby this seriously, just in case, but then again, he wouldn't have been so loud earlier if that was the case.
  271. >Either way, he must have really good hearing, or a much keener sense of magical auras then you do.
  272. >His own muzzle was starting to scrunch a little, as if he had just caught a whiff of something foul.
  273. >You still aren't picking up anything, and these hallways tended to carry sound quite well.
  274. >You continue to listen attentively, wondering when you'd finally get the same hint that your peer did.
  275.  
  276.  
  277. >You finally start to pick up the sound of slow hoofsteps.
  278. >There's a slight clang to each that would indicate sabots, or really heavy horseshoes, but there's also something else.
  279. >But there's something else along with it, a small clinking rattle that accompanied each step.
  280. >Little bits of a lighter metal were bumping into each other.
  281. >It's probably some kind of decoration rather than armor.
  282. >Hollow but muted, because there's something inside each piece to keep them from resonating like bells.
  283. >What could it be that's like a muted wind chime?
  284. >As the source of those sounds finally rounds the last corner, you get your answer: Aiguillettes.
  285. >The blue tail of the mare who just appears to be woven into five of them, split off from a single weave halfway down its length.
  286. >It gives her tail a rather unique look shape that resembles a flagellating whip, with five dark metal aglets on its tips.
  287. >As she approaches you both, they sway with her gait, tapping against each other to continue making their almost pleasant noise.
  288. >Despite this strange appendage, it doesn't really matter as much as her shiny silver Royal Guard armor, particularly the insignia and trim on it indicating her rank.
  289. >You and Dexter both immediately salute this Captain, almost concurrently, with Dex beating you to it by just a heartbeat.
  290. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see that Dexter is no longer scrunching, but instead stone-faced, staring straight ahead to some distant point, as you probably should be.
  291. >You try to look straight ahead again as the green coated Captain approaches you both, trying your best to match your colleague's stern expression.
  292. >The Captain has a pleasant smile on her face, but you don't want to take any chances.
  293. >Hopefully she's just passing by, and has business elsewhere.
  294. >Unfortunately, she slows to a stop in front of Dexter, and your heart starts to sink.
  295. >It's unsettling when a superior officer just approaches you without stating their purpose.
  296.  
  297.  
  298. >As she gets right up in front of him, you notice that she's slightly shorter than the average adult mare.
  299. >Then again, it might just be a matter of perspective, since both Dex and yourself are taller than average unicorns.
  300. >Regardless, she has to tilt her head in order to meet his gaze.
  301. >"It is a pleasure to finally meet you in the flesh, Lieutenant Dexter Shuffle..."
  302. >She walks to his side, looking him up and down slowly, taking full advantage of his obligation to stand at attention until ordered otherwise.
  303. >You can tell by the look in her light blue eyes that she's mentally untacking his armor, piece by piece.
  304. >"Mmm, oh yes, and what interesting flesh it is. I could probably pick out 10 or 20 shades of gray from your coat, perhaps even 50 or more, if allowed a more...intimate inspection."
  305. >Either she's deliberately speaking with a sultry tone, or her voice just naturally sounds like that.
  306. >She licks her lips to punctuate her sentence, and you find yourself struggling to maintain your composure.
  307. >Busted bellows, is she actually serious?
  308. >Is she really one of "those" officers?
  309. >You had heard some rumors of fraternization throughout your days of officer training, but you had hoped they weren't true.
  310. >Nevertheless, Dex seems to remain professional and never once loses his icy visage staring off in the distance.
  311. >Given his talents with cards, you aren't surprised that he's good at holding a poker face.
  312. >The Captain's hungry eyes finally settle on his saddle.
  313. >"However, my current inspection has told me all I need to know. Mmm, oh yes, I know all about you, my little card colt, and I know that you likely have a deck of cards on you, and I know that you've likely been using it to perform your little magic shows while on duty. I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate them from you."
  314. >Her lips curl into a wry grin as she stares down at his saddle.
  315. >"Fork them over...now! That's an order, Lieutenant Scuffle."
  316.  
  317.  
  318. >Dex audibly snorts, his eyes narrowing into a glare for just a brief moment.
  319. >His little hint of anger vanishes as quickly as it had appeared, and it's clear the Captain caught sight of it.
  320. >Her eyes snap to meet his and her mouth opens slightly to emit a shuddering sigh.
  321. >She's definitely not making any attempt to hide her intentions, and you can see some red in her cheeks.
  322. >Dex's yellow aura appears over his saddle's decorative pommel as he lifts it up and withdraws his deck of cards again.
  323. >In the blink of an eye, a light blue whip construct manifests from the tip of the Captain's horn, curls through the air, and wraps its end around the deck several times over.
  324. >She forcefully yanks it out of his telekinetic grip and starts using her magic whip to playfully twirl it around.
  325. >Her face twists into a sadistic smile as she suddenly slaps the deck against his left cheek, and then brings it around to slap his right cheek.
  326. >The force of the whipped blows is enough to knock Dexter's head to one side and then the other, but he manages to keep his body completely still.
  327. >You can't help but involuntary wince at the sight of what must be painful, and you instinctively lift the foreleg closest to them, but only slightly before catching yourself and putting it back down.
  328. >This time Dex keeps his angry glare for more a split second, and his cheeks twitch, but it only elicits another excited shiver from the Captain.
  329. >Her cheeks gain a bit more color, so you know that sadist is clearly being turned by this.
  330. >"Mmm, oh yes, your daddy trained you well, didn't he? I'd expect nothing less from a Scuffle."
  331. >You can't help but glower at her for a moment, and unfortunately she brings her gaze upon you right as you do so.
  332. >With a wild look in her eyes, her evil grin only widens as she swings her whip your way.
  333. >Dex's deck strikes your right cheek before you can do anything to block it.
  334.  
  335.  
  336. >Smelly smelters, that stings!
  337. >You try to stifle your cry of pain as it makes its impact, but a little bit still escapes your lips.
  338. >You draw your forehoof up to rub at your cheek without even thinking about it.
  339. >"Don't think I haven't forgotten about you, Lieutenant Mystic Foundry, and I don't recall giving you permission to at ease."
  340. >Right as she finishes saying that, the cards make contact with your left cheek with all the force of the last blow, if not more.
  341. >You fully cry out now, but do your best to keep your forehooves down on the ground and maintain your stance, albeit with a little faltering.
  342. >You grit your teeth as a few tears run down your now throbbing face, which hurt more than they help.
  343. >"Mmm, oh yes, I know a new junior officer fresh out of training when I see one. Frankly, I don't think most of the officer schools are nearly as hard on you butter bars as they should be, and that's why you soften and melt so easily."
  344. >You take a few ragged breaths before trying to regain your composure.
  345. >You do your best to try to completely wipe whatever look of pain and anger is on your face, resisting the urge to touch it again.
  346. >The Captain can't help but chuckle wickedly while watching you try.
  347. >Superior officer or not, who the buck does she think she is?!
  348. >Her laughter starts to settle down as she positions herself to be equidistant from both of you.
  349. >"Ah, but I guess I am being a bit too forward before properly introducing myself. I am Captain Verdonia Whiplash, and I am your new commanding officer."
  350. >You almost choke on your own spit right there, and you can't help but cough a few times.
  351. >Did she just say what you think she said?
  352. >Your coughs and shut eyes stop you from seeing Dex's reaction, but it's probably similar.
  353. >However, you still manage to hear Captain Whiplash's rather loud cackle over your fit.
  354. >It certainly helps that the hallway is amplifying it, and the echoing makes it sound even more diabolical.
  355.  
  356.  
  357. >"Mmm, oh yes, you both heard right. You're going to be serving under me in the newly reformed Seventh Company, The Lucky Seven! The brass brought its title out of retirement to use it as part of a new joint special task force regiment. You'll both be receiving communiques officiating it after your shift ends, but I wanted to come and personally surprise you two with the news beforehoof, and now you can both be at ease and rejoice."
  358. >You manage to quell your coughs enough to hear that, but you're sure you must have misheard at least some of it.
  359. >You are about to open your mouth to say a few choice words to your new captain, but Dex beats you to it, and you hear the stern anger in his voice.
  360. >"With all due respect, Captain, I disagree with your methods of introducing yourself. In fact, I think they are in violation of several rules of behavior within the Royal Guard."
  361. >Captain Whiplash simply chuckles again and gives him a cocky grin.
  362. >"I could argue that your little magic shows are also a violation, but I won't tell if you won't. Besides, I deliberately held back and didn't leave any lasting injuries on either of you. You can even think of my slaps as love taps if you want."
  363. >She licks her lips and gives Dexter a seductive wink.
  364. >Now that you're at ease, you finally give her the full force of a judgmental look of disgust.
  365. >She just ignores you and instead looks up at Dex's cards, which are still hanging off her conjured whip.
  366. >"Mmm, and speaking of which, you can feel free to swing by my office at any time to get them back, and when you do, I want you to demonstrate all of your skills with them to me, and I mean ALL of your skills, in a more appropriate venue than here."
  367. >She leans towards him and gives yet another flirting wink while the rest of her horn starts to glow.
  368. >A light blue aura appears around her saddlebag and opens it up, while her whip deposits the cards into it.
  369.  
  370.  
  371. >It then dissolves along its length, from its tip down to its base at the top of her horn.
  372. >She blows some of the lingering magical sparkles in Dex's direction, and he scrunches his nose at them, as if trying not to inhale any before they fade away.
  373. >At this point you've had just about enough your new 'Captain' and you decide to beat Dex to the punch.
  374. "Captain, I would like to remind you that fraternization is also against the rules of behavior for Royal Guards, and we are still on duty."
  375. >Despite the proverbial venom that is dripping from your voice, it doesn't seem to phase her at all.
  376. >Instead, she whips head to stare in your direction with those same wildly excited eyes and twisted grin she had given you before whipping you.
  377. >"Mmm, is that a bit of jealousy I detect from you, Lieutenant Foundry? You know, green is my coat color, not yours."
  378. >You suck in your lips and take a few steps backwards.
  379. >You can feel the blood rushing back to your cheeks, which actually brings back some of the pain along with it.
  380. >Your ears flatten from the mixture of embarrassment, irritation, and throbbing aches.
  381. "N-no, I was just pointing out that you're blatantly disregarding rules for Royal Guard interactions like Dex was."
  382. >"Mmm, oh yes, you call him Dex. Sure, there definitely isn't anything there."
  383. >This time she winks at you, and you scrunch your muzzle and scowl at her.
  384. >"Don't be jealous. I'm sure there's enough of him to go around."
  385. >You briefly look over at Dexter, who appears to be just as repulsed as you are right now.
  386. >You desperately want to be bailed out of this, but you know that would just mean passing her back to him.
  387. >You won't be free of this nightmare until she leaves.
  388. >No, wait, you won't be free of her at all because she's your new commanding officer now.
  389. >Contaminated Crucibles full of Cracks!
  390. >"But enough about him, at least for now. I actually want to see you demonstrate your talents for me, Lieutenant Foundry."
  391.  
  392.  
  393. "M-my talents?"
  394. >You stammer at her sudden change in topic, but then again giving ponies whiplash is probably her specialty, both figuratively and literally.
  395. >"Mmm, oh yes, Lieutenant. I want to familiarize myself with the skills of all of my new subordinate officers. After all, one can't be a good top without intimately knowing their bottom, inside and out."
  396. >Again, you scrunch up your muzzle in disgust for a moment.
  397. >Did she really have to work innuendo into everything she said?
  398. >At this point there's no doubt that she's one of those salt-licking officers.
  399. >Then another creepy pondrance enters your mind: Is she just joking, or does her barn door swing both ways?
  400. >The thought sends an uncomfortable chill down your spine, and you can't help but noticeably shiver.
  401. >Oh Cupronickel, what if she interprets that the wrong way?!
  402. >All you can do is watch her nervously as her horn lights up again.
  403. >She looks back at her opening saddlebag, that devious grin never leaving her face.
  404. >A long cylindrical object starts to rise out of it, and your mind rapidly populates with images of potential weapons.
  405. >Given what she's already done to your face, it wouldn't be a surprise.
  406. >Even Dexter's eyes narrow as he also focuses on whatever surprise the Captain has in store for you.
  407. >In all likelihood, she's deliberately taking her time in pulling it out and probably enjoying every moment of it.
  408. >More details come to light as the mystery object slowly emerges, revealing a metallic sheen and corrugation along its length.
  409. >As its other end finally comes out, it's obvious now that it's a cut off piece of construction rebar used to reinforce concrete.
  410. >It might have even been manufactured by your father's company, but you wouldn't know for sure without getting a closer look.
  411. >You start leaning forward to try to get that closer look, but the rebar itself starts to accelerate towards you.
  412.  
  413.  
  414. >The Captain's surrounding aura vanishes as it's lobbed through the air towards you, gravity starting to take hold.
  415. >"Think fast, Foundry!"
  416. >Captain Whiplash cackles as the rebar seems like it will reach the fragile tile floor before it reaches you.
  417. >You scramble to finish pulling your mind out of the mess that she had dragged it into and focus on the new task at hoof: meeting her challenge of catching this thing before it breaks the floor.
  418. >You regain your composure just in time, and your red aura envelopes the metal cylinder, arresting its motion at an angle, with one of its ends just a few centimeters off the ground.
  419. >For a moment, you notice a few flashes of yellow amongst your red magic before they disappear a moment later.
  420. >Despite laughing like a maniac the whole time, the Captain is able notice this as well, and she's looking over to Dex now.
  421. >Dex glares right back at her with that frigid poker face of his.
  422. >Even though his horn is completely inert at this point, there's no denying his assistance.
  423. >She stops laughing, and her devious grin transitions into more of a wry one.
  424. >The Captain lifts up her tail begins gyrating her hindquarters, causing her end appendage to whip around in a spiral.
  425. >Her horn glows faintly and the five metal aglets on her tail glow along with it, leaving trails of light in their wakes as they accelerate.
  426. >In an instant, she pirouettes on one of her hind legs and brings her flogging tail down upon his face.
  427. >You wince at the sight and the accompanying sound of those clattering metal tips as they demonstrate that they are more than just decorations.
  428. >Like last time, the force is enough to once again knock his head to the side, but his legs don't falter.
  429. >Dex manages to shake off the blow and continue his stone-faced glare, which she meets by looking over her shoulder.
  430.  
  431.  
  432. >"Now now, Lt. Scuffle, I wanted Lt. Foundry to catch it, but I do appreciate your eagerness to show off your own skills. Again, you're more than welcome to swing by my office later to do so."
  433. >She gives him yet another seductive wink before turning her head to look over the other side of her withers at you.
  434. >You barely notice this, though, as your eyes are glued to her aiguillettes, which have since stopped glowing and settled to hanging at end of Captain Whiplash's still raised tail.
  435. >They gently clink against one another as they lose the last of their momentum, making deceptively pleasant sounds.
  436. >"Oh, don't worry, Lieutenant Foundry, I'm not going to use my tail on you. Not unless you disappoint me in your demonstration, that is."
  437. >You can't help but gulp as she gives you that same wry grin she had just given Dexter.
  438. >"Mmm, oh yes, Lieutenant, I see that you're not the best catch, but that's not what I wanted to see. I've heard that you have a talent for magical metallurgy. You can heat and even fully melt metals in order to reshape and recast them however you want, is that correct?"
  439. "Y-yes...Captain."
  440. >You can't help but struggle a bit in responding, both out of fear and persisting disbelief that she's your new CO.
  441. >"Good! Then you won't mind demonstrating that special talent of yours with that piece of rebar you're now holding. Now, I want you take it and..."
  442. >As she says this, her horn lights up again and her aura begins lifting up the back of her armor.
  443. >You blush and take a step back, your eyes widening and ears drooping in shock.
  444. >You swear to Celestia, if she's about to ask you to do something kinky, you're done.
  445. >You'll march down to the nearest JAG office and... and...
  446. >Well, you aren't sure of all the details of reporting sexual harassment, but you'll certainly find out.
  447. >Hopefully Dex would be more than willing to help you.
  448. >After all, he's watching attentively with that same stoic look, as if he'd never been hit.
  449.  
  450.  
  451. >"...form it into the shape of a five-pointed star..."
  452. >You can now see her cutie mark, a long light blue flogging whip with five tips, sparkles along its length, curling around to end with a five pointed white star at the base of the handle.
  453. >She reaches one of her forehooves back and starts slapping it against her backside to punctuate each word.
  454. >"...just... like... this!"
  455. >As she does so, you can't help but notice how remarkably well toned her flank is.
  456. >It barely jiggles at all with each hit, and given how loud each one was, they had to be rather hard hits.
  457. >She's definitely a mare that kept in shape, but probably not just for the purpose of fulfilling her duties in the Royal Guard.
  458. >You push those thoughts out of your mind and gulp again, trying to stay focused despite worrying about how many other forms of corporal punishment she might have up her greave.
  459. >You look at the star in her cutie mark, but not for too long.
  460. >You wanted to avoid any potential innuendo around this mare.
  461. >You then focus intently on the metal bar, bringing it up to your eye level.
  462. >You slowly scan it from one side to the other, quickly counting off the number of corrugations and making rough measurements.
  463. >You then move on to the difficult part, invoking nine wisps of deep red magical energy from your horn.
  464. >You mentally guide them as they snake their way through the air and enter into the rebar at evenly spaced points along its length.
  465. >As they enter, these points begin to glow red hot, and in your mind you can abstractly gauge the temperature, as if you're receiving feedback from the metal itself.
  466. >You narrow your eyes in further concentration, and begin bending the metal point by point into the desired star shape.
  467. >After about a minute, you complete the shape, with the center forming the top point of the five and two ends nearly touching the valley between the bottom two.
  468.  
  469.  
  470. >You take a moment to verify that the shape matches, lining it up with her cutie mark in your vision, but again, not looking for too long.
  471. >And now comes the even more difficult part: retrieving as much energy as you can.
  472. >You refocus your mind, making further adjustments in the depths of your consciousness as you eye each still glowing point.
  473. >One by one, a deep red wisp starts to emerge from it, causing the glow to begin to fade.
  474. >You have to be careful to draw the energy out in just to right way to properly temper the metal and keep it from becoming brittle.
  475. >Luckily, the Captain had inadvertently given you a rather easy alloy to work with, but it still took a massive amount of concentration.
  476. >Thank Celestia it isn't one that has to be annealed.
  477. >As each wisp grows in length, the point they emerge from dims and blackens, leaving something that should be cool to the touch once they fully leave it.
  478. >They disconnect from your work and weave through the air back into your horn.
  479. >You take a slow, satisfying inhale as you feel the energy reentering your body.
  480. >Granted, you aren't able to get all of it back due to entropy, but you've tried to refine your abilities so you don't lose much more as waste heat.
  481. >You breathe a sigh of relief as the job is finally done, and just sit there on your haunches for a moment as you admire your work floating before you.
  482. >Despite the tense circumstances, you still can't help but take pride in getting to use your special talent.
  483. >Cpt. Whiplash seems to be admiring it as well, looking at it with that same wry grin.
  484. >She had turned herself back around while you were working, and even though you hadn't focused on her, it was obvious she had been taking her time to give Dex a full view of her flanks, especially considering she didn't drop her armor back down to cover them until she after had finished turning around.
  485. >You aren't sure how much time she spent watching you and how much time she spent watching Dexter.
  486.  
  487.  
  488. >"Mmm, oh yes, very impressive Lieutenant Foundry."
  489. >Despite the indignation of likely not having had her full attention, you still can't help but blush a little.
  490. >You muster a small smile at the complement, looking at her and then your work, and then back to her, and whip starting to emerge from her horn.
  491. >Wait, what?
  492. >The Captain's blue construct quickly wraps its end around the top point of the star, and yanks it out of your telekinetic grip.
  493. >Your red aura disintegrates, causing the star to bounce and twirl around on the end her magical whip like a fishing lure.
  494. >You gasp as your smile gapes open in shock.
  495. >"What a shame that this angle here is off, and this part is a hair too long..."
  496. >As she says that, a second whip construct grows out of her horn and wraps itself around the middle of one of the star's sides.
  497. >"...and this part is a hair too short..."
  498. >And then a third whip manifests and wraps itself around another of the star's sides.
  499. >"...and this part is crooked."
  500. >A final fourth whip wraps around one of the bottom points, and then all four whips appear to tighten their grips around the metal.
  501. >As their coils constrict, they begin to glow, brightening along with point at the Captain's horn tip from which they all emanated.
  502. >"It isn't up to my standards yet, which means that you aren't either, Lieutenant Foundry."
  503. >As soon as the Captain finishes speaking, the coils around the metal are glowing as bright as the sun, and you can hear the metal groaning, along with faint magical buzzing that's growing louder.
  504. >You also notice that her whips are growing longer.
  505. >The arcing curves that go back to her horn are getting further away, and the shape of the star is starting to distort.
  506. >After just one more second, there's a loud snapping noise, and then another three in rapid succession.
  507. >The five broken pieces go flying in opposite directions as her whips let go and begin dissipating into dust.
  508.  
  509.  
  510. >She once again cackles wildly as she watches both you and Dexter scramble to catch them before they hit the tiles.
  511. >Fortunately, both of you had been paying attention and could easily tell what was coming next.
  512. >You manage to catch two with your levitation, one just narrowly avoiding a meeting with the marble.
  513. >You frantically look over and then sigh with relief when you see that Dex successfully managed to catch the other three.
  514. >But then you see his eyes suddenly widen in shock and you quickly shut yours in reflex as something rapidly enters your field of vision.
  515. >Five other pieces of metal make contact with your cheek, brushing up the side of your face and over the top of your muzzle.
  516. >You are literally blind-sided by the blow and your balance starts to falter.
  517. >Worse still, you lose your levitation spell and hear the two pieces of rebar you caught clatter onto the floor.
  518. >Hopefully their proximity to the ground allowed them to fall softly enough to not damage the marble tiles.
  519. >But with your equilibrium compromised, you're now more concerned about your own upcoming congress with the ground.
  520. >Your armor might protect you from the impact with the ground, but it certainly won't protect the ground from its impact with your armor.
  521. >Luckily, you feel your motion slow to stop halfway through your fall, cushioned by a cloud of yellow magical energy that then envelopes itself around you and props you back upright.
  522. >Once you've regained your footing, you take a few ragged breathes as you try to shake off the throbbing pain.
  523. >You rub your face with your hoof again and glower at Captain Whiplash, who this time had spun a full 360 degrees with her attack in order to face you again after it.
  524. >And all the while, she never ceases that maniacal laughter of hers.
  525. >Busted bellows, the nerve of this bitch!
  526. >You open your mouth in preparation for saying something out loud that you'll probably regret later, but the Captain cuts you off.
  527.  
  528.  
  529. >"Mmm, oh yes, you can consider that a non-judicial punishment for failing to meet my expectations. I'll remind that like with Dex, I didn't leave any lasting injuries, but if you want to talk dirty to me, by all means, go right ahead."
  530. >Is she a mind reader or something?
  531. >Then again, the look on your face probably did betray your intentions.
  532. >She licks her lips and winks at you.
  533. >"It'll just mean that you're a glutton for punishment, and I love doling out punishment."
  534. >You shut your mouth again, but your muzzle remains scrunched, probably harder than you've ever scrunched it up before.
  535. >"Still, thank you for the demonstration. Your skills have been duly noted. Now clean up this mess before your shift ends. As for me, I'm off to introduce myself to my other new Lieutenants. Oh, how I love getting new toys to play with. Welcome to the Lucky Seven, you two!"
  536. >She starts that wicked laughter of hers one last time, and turns around as swiftly as she did when whipping her tail.
  537. >This gets a flinch out of you, and that only gets her to laugh harder, her hysterics echoing throughout the hallway.
  538. >She trots off and rounds the corner, but you and Dexter both stay quiet until her laughter and hoofsteps start to fade into the distance.
  539. >Once things finally get quiet again, you exhale your held breathe, and Dex does the same.
  540. "I can't believe that evil bitch is our new Captain. There has to be some kind of mistake."
  541. >"Don't worry, I'll be sure to look into it, but I have a bad feeling that it's no mistake."
  542. >You give him a pitiable look, and sigh again.
  543. "I can still hope."
  544. >You weakly smile at him, still feeling the pain in your cheek, and he smiles right back.
  545. "You know, you were really impressive standing against her. You didn't even flinch any of the times she hit."
  546. >He stands up on his hind legs and strikes one of his dramatic poses.
  547.  
  548.  
  549. >"Ha! The Illustrious Dexter always keeps his composure under pressure! Whether he's pulling a 24 hour staff shift, or facing down a psychotic BDSM bitch!"
  550. >You can't help but giggle at this display of his, which is just about all you can muster at the moment.
  551. >He joins in your laughter, and sits back down next to you.
  552. >"Well, you gotta admit, this shift has been anything but boring."
  553. >You scoff in amusement and look over at the pieces leftover pieces of the star you had crafted.
  554. >Thank Celestia you were right: They were close enough to marble floor that their final drop didn't seem to damage it, at least not visibly.
  555. >You gather them up, along with the pieces Dex had long since set down.
  556. >Together, you arrange them back into the rough shape of a star.
  557. "Well, the Captain's 'introduction' isn't what I would consider entertaining, but you're technically correct. I think I'd rather go back to counting ceiling tiles for now."
  558. >"Well, you could always pretend that they're kill boxes on a map."
  559. >He jokingly grins at you and you playfully nudge him with your hoof.
  560. >Just then you here clock tower chimes, announcing the current time is 1500 hours.
  561. >"Oh good, just one more hour to go. Shall we assess the ROEs for ceiling tiles one alfa through five zulu?"
  562. "Okay, but you have to provide the latest inspection intel for each, Lt. Scuffle, 35D."
  563. >You both share another laugh, and you can feel the pain in your cheek finally fading away.
  564.  
  565.  
  566.  
  567.  
  568.  
  569.  
  570.  
  571.  
  572. >You are Lieutenant First Class Diamond Rain.
  573. >Yes, that's right, First Class.
  574. >Only the best for daddy's little girl.
  575. >He had finally bought you that commission you'd been wanting.
  576. >And it isn't just any ordinary commission either.
  577. >Word is that you've been fast tracked into a special new unit in the Royal Guard.
  578. >How exciting!
  579. >With your golden mane and tail done up, and your wings freshly preened, you trot your way to your post for your first day on the job.
  580. >You are all too eager to start presenting yourself as a fine officer of the Royal Guard.
  581. >Your armor is polished up and your sky blue coat has a great sheen to it.
  582. >You are more than ready to show off your radiant beauty for all to see and then get down to some paperwork later on in your shift.
  583. >Today is going to be great day, you can feel it!
  584. >As you turn around another corner in the hallway, you see some pony ahead of you, moving in the same direction.
  585. >It's another guard pony, a stallion, who appears to moving at a rather slow pace, since you're rapidly catching up to him.
  586. >As you get closer to him, you start to notice the insignia and trim on his armor that indicates his rank: Lieutenant Second Class.
  587. >Hmph, a rank under you.
  588. >He's obligated to show you the respect you deserve as you pass him, then.
  589. >You don't see any wings, but from the angle you can't tell if he has a horn yet.
  590. >Either way, he's a grounded pony, naturally beneath you, and should show you the proper respect regardless.
  591. >You start to notice dappling on his light brown coat.
  592. >Well, it was either dappling or he's really dirty.
  593. >Gross, gross, GROSS!
  594. >It had to be a coat pattern.
  595. >Something that dirty surely wouldn't be allowed in the Royal Guard for too long.
  596. >And surely he isn't heading towards the same post that you are, right?
  597. >You start to alter your path in order to ensure some distance stays between you and his potential filth when you pass him.
  598.  
  599.  
  600. >As your angle of sight changes, it doesn't seem like there's any kind of horn there, though it's still hard to tell with all those ghastly green dreadlocks coming out of the crest hole in his helmet.
  601. >There's also something rather weird about these dreads, as they have little white strands within them that and you can't quite tell if they're also hairs or something else.
  602. >The same goes for his tail: thick green dreadlocks emerging from the dock guard with mysterious little white strands woven into them.
  603. >What could those creepy little things be if they aren't hair?
  604. >Again, how is a member of the Royal Guard allowed to be so unkempt?
  605. >It's now clear that he's an Earth Pony, so you shouldn't be surprised he's so dirty.
  606. >Even though you're clearly eyeing him, he doesn't seem to even notice you at this point.
  607. >The nerve of this colt!
  608. >You give him the classic stink eye and clear your throat to try to get his attention.
  609. >There's no response whatsoever, and he just continues his slow trot, not even turning his head to acknowledge you.
  610. >You clear your throat a bit louder, transitioning the noise into a loud whinny.
  611. >His lilac eyes finally move to their sides as he slowly turns his head to look at you.
  612. >Despite their lovely color, there is something really unnerving about how he's looking at you.
  613. >Still, the expression on his face seems more bored than anything else.
  614. >You slow your pace down to match his, keeping a wide berth out of both disgust and wariness, but not letting up on your own dirty look.
  615. >His apathy is more apparent than ever as he looks you up and down a few times and then turns his sight forward once more.
  616. >Not even a salute!
  617. >How dare he?!
  618. >You outrank him and he should show you the proper respect.
  619. >You audibly scoff and quicken your pace again, putting more distance between yourself and him.
  620.  
  621.  
  622. >You turn your muzzle into the air and pout to show him your disappointment, flipping your luxurious mane emerging from your own helmet crest as an added punctuation.
  623. >You have more important things to do than stop to teach some grounded pony a lesson, no matter how much that lesson is needed.
  624. >You take one last turn and spot the door with the correct identification number at the dead end of this final hallway.
  625. >It might not be in the best location for showing off to tourists, but you can still let your beauty shine even here.
  626. >Standing to the sides of the door are two fellow guard pegasi, a mare and a stallion.
  627. >Your face brightens into a smile as you canter over to them.
  628. >You stop in front of them and give them a proud salute, which they both return in kind.
  629. >Finally some guards with proper etiquette!
  630. "Lieutenant First Class Diamond Rain reporting for duty, sir. By the glory of the Morning Dawn, I hereby relieve you at this post."
  631. >"By the peace of the Evening Dusk, I stand relieved. You're early, Lieutenant."
  632. "Punctuality is important for Royal Guards, is it not?"
  633. >"That it is. Enjoy your shift, Lieutenant, and good luck."
  634. "Oh, I intend to! And you enjoy your libo, sir."
  635. >He nods at you with a cordial smile and begins making his way to the hallway intersection.
  636. >You take your post and about face to look down the hallway with that bright smile still on your face.
  637. >It's finally time to show off to any ponies that approach your post, and you are more than ready as you flip your mane again.
  638. >Unfortunately, the only pony approaching right now is the one you passed earlier.
  639. >The officer you had just relieved seems to spot that pony just as he's about to head down the hall you had come from.
  640. >His own smile instantly vanishes and his hooves shuffle around as he abruptly chooses another direction and canters away rather briskly.
  641.  
  642.  
  643. >Meanwhile, that earth pony officer is certainly taking his time getting to wherever he's going.
  644. >It's almost 1600 and if he has the evening shift, he's going to be late unless he picks up his pace.
  645. >But then your bright orange eyes widen as the possibility suddenly dawns on you.
  646. >The color starts to drain from your face as you struggle to keep your grin up.
  647. >The other guard next to you doesn't seem to be fairing much better, a big frown spreading across her muzzle.
  648. >Each hoof-step that earth pony takes ominously echoes down the hallway as a harbinger of his presence.
  649. >Once he reaches the intersection, he stops in place, and his head turns in the opposite direction to you.
  650. >He stares off into the distance for a few moments, and then his head turns in your direction.
  651. >Oh dear Celestia.
  652. >Please don't let him be stationed here.
  653. >Please don't let him be stationed here!
  654. >PLEASE DON'T LET HIM BE STATIONED HERE!
  655. >You force your smile to stay in place, but you know your eyes are betraying your thoughts.
  656. >After a tense few seconds, he does what you feared he would: He starts heading in your direction.
  657. >The corner of your mouth twitches as you try to keep your elegant smile in place in spite what's happening right now.
  658. >You can't believe this wretched mud pony is going to be the one you'll be collaborating with on your assignment.
  659. >Could he actually be the organic structures and terrain expert you're expecting?
  660. >There's no way.
  661. >There's no bucking way such a disheveled individual could have expertise in anything!
  662. >Internally, you can't help but pardon your Prench, even if you didn't say it out loud.
  663. >Your smile starts to decay away into a frown as he takes his sweet time sauntering towards the other morning guard.
  664. >She seems even more nervous than you are, actually shaking in her sabots as she raises one foreleg to salute him.
  665. >He then stops his walk and raises his own foreleg to return that salute.
  666.  
  667.  
  668. >Unbelievable!
  669. >So he'll salute this mare but not you?!
  670. >Your nervousness is quickly replaced by indignation as your muzzle scrunches up.
  671. >What does she have that you don't?!
  672. >Even lowly mud ponies should find you attractive!
  673. >You once again give him the stink eye while he rattles off the ritual greeting in a deep droning voice.
  674. >"By the glory of the Morning Dawn, I hereby relieve you at this post."
  675. >"B-by peace of the Evening Dusk, I s-stand relieved."
  676. >She quickly darts around him and makes her way to anywhere but here at a canter so fast it's almost a gallop.
  677. >As her rapid hoof-steps fade into the distance, the Lieutenant just stands there for a few seconds, staring at the spot where he should be standing.
  678. >His eyes are darting around, as if he's studying the floor itself.
  679. >Now that you think about it, that might have been why he was moving slowly down the halls beforehand.
  680. >But what could he possibly want to know about the floor anyway?
  681. >You wouldn't put it past a terrain expert to be obsessed with the ground he walked upon, but still.
  682. >After a few more seconds, he finally snorts, trots into position, and turns around.
  683. >He then strangely shuffles around a little, moving to what might have been an exact position he just finished pre-determining.
  684. >What's so special about that exact spot?
  685. >You wouldn't know, as you're a weather control officer.
  686. >Your own expertise is in the clouds above, not the ground below.
  687. >In every single way, this stallion is beneath you, which makes it even more insulting that he hasn't directly saluted you yet.
  688. >Even though he's creepy and you'd really rather not interact with him outside of what your duties mandated (and you desperately wish he wasn't part of your duties), you can't contain your indignation any longer.
  689. "What's your name, Lieutenant JUNIOR GRADE?! Answer me, that's an order."
  690.  
  691.  
  692. >The stallion merely snorts and his eyes slowly drift slowly towards you.
  693. >He pauses, seeming to study you for a moment before he answers in that same low deadpan voice.
  694. >"Mikhail Rhizos V"
  695. >You freeze for a moment as your brain grinds to a halt and tries to start again.
  696. >The Fifth?
  697. >THE FIFTH?!
  698. >There's no way this filthy loathsome pony is of noble blood!
  699. "Who do you think you are?! The fifth! There is no way in Celestia's Equestria that you're a noble."
  700. >"I never said I was. I am of the fifth generation in my blood line make a pact with mycorrhizae. My name has been passed down to each first born male because it sounds like mycorrhizae."
  701. >Okay, you weren't expecting that kind of answer.
  702. >Then again, you don't know what kind of answer you were expecting, or really what answer, if any, would have satisfied you.
  703. >But you still aren't satisfied, so you continue on.
  704. "Mycorrhizae Pact? What preposterous poppycock are you blathering on about?"
  705. >"Every member of my family forms a symbiotic bond with mycorrhizae. It enhances our natural Earth Pony Cultivation Magic."
  706. >You just stand there and stare, your indignation giving way to confusion.
  707. >"I noticed you looking at my mane earlier. The white mycelium you see is part of the hyphae that lives on and inside my body."
  708. >You simply aren't following any of this and can only give him a quizzical look.
  709. >"It is better known as fungus."
  710. >You suddenly feel physically ill.
  711. >He... has fungus... living... inside of him.
  712. >You are certain that your nauseating disgust is showing on his face.
  713. >Now you know why those other guards were so eager to get as far away from him as they could.
  714. >He isn't just a filthy peasant, he's an absolutely disgusting fungus pony.
  715. >Despite the look you're giving him, he shows absolutely no reaction whatsoever, remaining stoically aloof.
  716. >Maybe he's just used to it by now.
  717. >After all, if what he says is true, his whole family must be used to it by now.
  718.  
  719.  
  720. >It does seem rather sad, but that doesn't change your absolute revulsion at the very idea he literally has mushrooms growing inside of his own body.
  721. "That... is disgusting. You... are disgusting."
  722. >"I... don't care."
  723. >Okay, he's definitely mocking you.
  724. >He might not be smiling, or showing any sign of amusement, but you know that he's mocking you.
  725. >Your muzzle scrunches and you flick it up and look down it at him.
  726. "How dare you, you uncouth rapscallion."
  727. >This time his face does give you a slight reaction: one of his eyebrows raises and he gives you the stink eye this time.
  728. >"How dare I what? State the obvious? I literally don't care what you or any other 'noble' think of me or my family. In the end, all of you always come crawling back to my family for the sporocarps your 'refined' culinary palates demand."
  729. >You have never felt so insulted in your entire life.
  730. >This is one of the few times a lower class pony has ever talked down to you, and you never enjoy it when it happens.
  731. >This instance is special though, as you aren't just a class above him.
  732. >You literally outrank this pony, and yet he's still speaking as if your roles are reversed.
  733. >The absolute nerve of this knave!
  734. >By now his face has returned back to its neutral state, but you are still fuming.
  735. "How dare you speak to me like this?! I outrank you!"
  736. >"Well, unlike you and so many other nobles, I didn't buy my rank. I earned it, by crushing enemies of Equestria on the battlefield."
  737. >He raises one of his forelegs, flips his hoof around, and curls it inward, causing the joints to audibly pop.
  738. >"And when I say crushed, I literally mean crushed to death."
  739. >And now you're feeling scared again.
  740. >Maybe it isn't just disgust that causes other ponies to run away from Lieutenant Rhizos.
  741. "S-so, you're one of those 'mustang' officers then?"
  742. >"I've heard others use that term to refer to my battlefield promotion, so yes, I guess I am."
  743.  
  744.  
  745. >You take a step to the side, trying to regain some of the distance you had kept from him when you first saw him.
  746. >You realize now that that was a very wise decision at the time.
  747. >Fear now creeping into every part of your body, you simply try to hold on to your noble aloofness as you take a pass on your turn to speak.
  748. >"In fact, I only just recently completed my officer training to make it official, and unlike you nobles, I wasn't fast tracked through it. I'm not afraid to get my hooves dirty, especially with the blood of my enemies, and you would be wise to remember that."
  749. >He idly inspects his hoof as he says this, almost as if it's coated in blood and he's admiring it.
  750. >You really wish you could be anywhere else right now, on any other assignment right now.
  751. >Even field work would be better than having to deal with this psychopath.
  752. >Under normal circumstances, you'd probably think someone talking like is just full of manure, but there's something else here.
  753. >The air just didn't feel right; that is, it's full of foreboding, like he's hiding his true power.
  754. >Granted, you're hiding yours as well, but if he was an enemy combatant, you'd definitely want to fall back and see what he's capable of.
  755. >You wish you weren't indoors, so that flying away would be an option.
  756. >Regardless, you can't do any of that here, but then again, he's not an enemy combatant.
  757. >For Celestia's sake, think rationally here!
  758. >You're in polite society, bound by the rules of civilization.
  759. >You aren't savages eking out survival in the badlands.
  760. >You're of a higher class, a better bloodline, and a superior rank.
  761. >You need to regain control of this situation, and finally teach this grounded pony the lesson you wanted to impart earlier.
  762. >He needs to know his place!
  763. >You shake your head a few times to regain your composure, but not so hard that you mess up your mane.
  764. >You tilt your head to look down your muzzle at him, and give him your best stern look of unamusement.
  765.  
  766.  
  767. "You have absolutely no right to speak to me, a superior officer, in such a manner, Junior Lieutenant Mikhail Rhizos the Fifth. I don't care how much your family has refined its own bloodline, as it was never a noble one to begin with. To speak with such contempt, insubordination, and lack of decorum is inexcusable, and I ought to issue you a non-judicial punishment right now for doing so. Never forget that I out class you and outrank you. You don't outrank me, and I-"
  768. >"Mmm, oh yes, but I outrank you both."
  769. >This new voice that just interrupted you punctuates itself with a rather unsettling cackle.
  770. >Mikhail, who had barely been paying attention to you at all, snaps to attention and gives a salute.
  771. >There is no shock in his face, but that's the fastest you've seen him move.
  772. >You turn your head and see a rather diminutive unicorn mare standing before the both of you.
  773. >There's no mistaking her armor and its Captain's insignia and trim, though.
  774. >You feel like all the air has just been kicked out of your gut.
  775. >You sharply exhale the last of what you'd been using for your speech, and fully turn forward to face her at attention, giving a salute of your own.
  776. >"I apologize for interrupting such a scintillating conversation. Believe me, I wanted to listen in longer, but it was starting to get a little too uppity for my tastes. Then again, I'd expect nothing less from such a pompous noble."
  777. >You don't drop your salute or your posture, but your muzzle does twist up again at the insult.
  778. >"Mmm, oh yes, I can smell a high and mighty noble from over a klick away, and I mean that quite literally, given the expensive perfume that you're wearing. I prefer toilet water myself, or really I should say I prefer making conceited guards like you drink toilet water... out of an actual toilet."
  779. >She laughs again as she trots up to you.
  780. >Your muzzle remains scrunched up, and you struggle to find the right tone with which to respond.
  781. "I beg your pardon, Captain?"
  782.  
  783.  
  784. >She sighs and shakes her head, then speaks with a feigned frown and pitiful tone.
  785. >"I knew I would be getting at least one subordinate who paid their way into an officer commission in the Royal Guard."
  786. >Her face shifts back into an evil grin as she takes a few steps back.
  787. >"But you know what they say: Buyer... Beware!"
  788. >In an instant, she pirouettes on her rear hoof and the end, or rather ends, of her strange looking tail accelerate towards your face.
  789. >What in Celestia's name is she doing?!
  790. >You only have a split second to act before this attack injuries your face, or at least messes up your makeup, neither of which you wanted.
  791. >Your wings, which had been neatly folded at your sides, unfold ever so slightly.
  792. >An ordinary pony probably couldn't tell the difference unless they're looking really close, but it gives enough clearance to let air flow between your feathers, air which you can now manipulate with your natural pegasus weather magic.
  793. >Hopefully the air is humid enough for you to do this, but if not, your breathe should provide just enough moisture for good protection.
  794. >You exhale out of the side of your mouth as your wings clasp back down against your torso, and the air flows mix over the half of your face about to face the impact.
  795. >What you're doing should also be hard to see if you've done it right, and you hope you have.
  796. >The five pieces of tail jewelry make contact with your freshly formed icy wisp of a cloud instead of your face.
  797. >It dissipates as it takes the brunt of the strike and the metal accessories go gliding past your unharmed visage.
  798. >You grin smugly as the Captain completes her spinning attack and stops to face you again.
  799. >She's still wearing her evil smile, and her bulging eyes complete her wicked look.
  800. >"Mmm, oh yes, I'm impressed. Don't think I didn't see what you did there, you mischievous little bitch. Or should I say rapscallion? That is the word you nobles like to use, isn't it?"
  801.  
  802.  
  803. "Indeed it is, and I'd say that you are the tactless rapscallion here, Captain..."
  804. >You deliberately trail off with a sardonic tone, as it is really the only way you can express your sheer outrage at her behavior.
  805. >Just as she could easily recognize you as a noble, you can easily recognize her as the same thing that your colleague is: another peasant who has managed to claw their way to a tenuous grasp on power, and who obviously has no real respect for their newfound position and others who hold it properly.
  806. >Unfortunately, in this case, you are the one who's powerless to do anything about it, at least at the moment.
  807. >Once this situation ends, on the other hoof...
  808. >Well, you'll certainly have some reports to file, letters to write, and people to call upon.
  809. >This vainglorious grounder just messed with the wrong pegasus.
  810. >Luckily, she isn't giving off nearly the same kind of a vibe that Lieutenant Rhizos was giving off, so you're able to retain your composure.
  811. >You look over to him for a brief moment, and in spite of everything that's just transpired in front of him, he still looks as apathetic as ever.
  812. >Returning your sights to the Captain, you see that she's also been looking over towards Mikhail at the same time.
  813. >As soon as you're looking at her, she's looking at you again.
  814. >Well, she's looking at the both of you.
  815. >"Mmm, oh yes, I suppose I am once again being too forward. I really should remember to introduce myself to my new subordinates before putting them in their place. I am Captain Verdonia Whiplash, and I am your new commanding officer."
  816. >What she said earlier just before her egregious assault on your poniage suddenly starts to make sense.
  817. >The news finally sinks again, and your rage morphs into furious exasperation once more.
  818. "I'm sorry, did I hear you correctly, Captain?"
  819. >You hope that your venomous tone more than hints at your waning patience and composure.
  820.  
  821.  
  822. >"You heard right, Lieutenant Diamond Rain. You and Lieutenant Mikhail Rhizos are now two of my subordinate officers in the Lucky Seventh Company."
  823. >As those words final words are uttered, your jaw drops.
  824. >Sacrilege!
  825. >You must have misheard her.
  826. >There is no way in Celestia's Equestria that the powers to be would bring such a hallowed and historied name out of retirement and then put the likes of HER in charge of it!
  827. >Under any other circumstances, you would have been absolutely ecstatic to have the honor of serving in such a company.
  828. >The blood that courses through your veins is what makes you the only one here worthy of serving in such a company.
  829. >These two aren't worthy of even serving as enlisted in it, let alone as the officers at its helm.
  830. >If this isn't some elaborate prank, heads are going to roll for this, starting with hers.
  831. >You're going to see to that.
  832. >You sharply inhale and then give a loud whinny.
  833. >Your ears are now folded back and there's fire in your eyes.
  834. "This is an absolute outrage. There has to be a mistake. When my father hears about this-"
  835. >"'When my daddy hears about this.' Mmm, oh yes, I suppose you'll send the full force of the House of Rain against me. I think you'll find that they don't have as much power as they used to, at least in this case. Although I have to admit, they did manage to spawn an heiress who isn't completely useless, at least as far as actual combat is concerned."
  836. >That mocking tone just elevates your resolve.
  837. >The halfhearted compliment at the end is futile at this point.
  838. "You crass, presumptuous, arrogant-"
  839. >No one cuts you off this time.
  840. >No, it's that feeling again, that grim feeling in the air you picked up on earlier, only it's even stronger this time.
  841. >You look over at Mikhail, and he doesn't look bored anymore.
  842. >No, there's a frown on his muzzle now.
  843. >It's a small one, but it's a frown nonetheless, and he's staring right at you.
  844. > ゴ ゴ ゴ ゴ
  845.  
  846.  
  847. >You still aren't sure what to make of how the atmosphere around him feels right now.
  848. >It's more than just the ick factor of him using his own body as a terrarium.
  849. >As far as outward appearances go, his disheveled visage actually makes him appear quite harmless, at least to an ordinary onlooker.
  850. >But you have a way of feeling how the air flows around ponies, and you are definitely picking up on something from him that shakes you to your very core.
  851. >You've never experienced anything like this before in your entire life.
  852. >If you had to give it a name right now, the closest word that comes to mind is blood lust.
  853. >That's something that you'd only ever expect to sense from some feral animal, or an enemy creature on a battlefield.
  854. >Given that you've never encountered either before, and pray everyday that you never do, it would make sense.
  855. >The fact that you're feeling it from a fellow pony is unsettling to say the least.
  856. >All of your resolve starts to drain out of you again, your righteous indignation giving way to paralyzing fear.
  857. >Captain Whiplash definitely notices your reaction, and she is absolutely beaming right now.
  858. >She's just as much of a psychopath as he is.
  859. >"Lieutenant Rain, for your sake, I order you to shut the buck up. Your highfaluting attitude is clearly upsetting Lieutenant Rhizos, and I've had just about enough of it myself, at least for today. The only thing I have left to say to you is that there is no mistake. You'll both be receiving official communiques with all the details at the end of your shift, but I wanted to come by, introduce myself and surprise you two with the news beforehoof. If you still have a problem with it, you can take it up with whoever you wish afterwards, but for now, you will follow my orders, or you will face the consequences. Is that clear, Lieutenant? Please nod so we don't have to hear your voice for a while."
  860. >You nod affirmatively, but add one last muzzle scrunch.
  861.  
  862.  
  863. >Captain Whiplash then directs her full attention at Mikhail, and you take a few steps back at the same time she takes a few steps towards him.
  864. >"Mmm, oh yes, what an impressive sight you are, Lieutenant Rhizos. I know about you too, and I loved everything I read, especially all of the sordid details of your actions against enemy hostiles that earned you that battlefield promotion and commission."
  865. >She licks her lips rather seductively.
  866. >"If only I could have had the pleasure of having you serve in my infantry company before both our asses got dragged back to the capital and its stifling environment. At least you're in my company now, so some good came out of it."
  867. >As she draws closer, the tip of her horn begins to blow, and mystical blue whip construct snakes its way out of it.
  868. >"However, you really should learn to control your aura better. It can be a liability in battle against ponies and other creatures sensitive to it. However, I think I know how to slake your thirst for violence right now, and get a good demonstration of your abilities in the process."
  869. >She starts laughing maniacally, and begins swinging the whip she summoned.
  870. >With one final swing, it makes the familiar cracking noise as its tip goes supersonic on route to Mikhail's face.
  871. >You wince as you imagine the damage that's about to do, especially to a defenseless earth pony, and shut your eyes in doing so.
  872. >That was clearly a mistake, as you hear a strange rumbling sound.
  873. >When you open your eyes again, you can't believe what you're seeing.
  874.  
  875.  
  876. >Your eyes open wider than they had been before as you gaze upon what appears to be a thorned root-like vine emerging from the floor... the ceramic tiled floor.
  877. >You knew earth ponies can make plants grow faster and hardier than usual, but this is ridiculous!
  878. >You look down towards its base, and see that the thick marble tile has been lifted up and is still completely intact.
  879. >There appears to be a dense clump of a white fuzzy material holding the tile up, likely the same 'mycelium' that the Lieutenant had mentioned earlier.
  880. >The Captain's whip construct is wrapped around the top of this freshly grown plant, having failed to reach its intended target.
  881. >She's cackling like a madmare now, while Mikhail's frown seems to have disappeared.
  882. >His face might be neutral again, but you can still feel that ominous air about him, though it seems to have lessened slightly.
  883. >"Mmm, oh yes! It's true, you really can bend plants to your will. Let's see how well it works!"
  884. >Four more whips quickly emerge from her horn, while the first uncoils itself from the plant.
  885. >All five ready themselves and begin whipping around rapidly in many different directions.
  886. >You keep your eyes glued to the pair and try not to blink, but you're still in disbelief.
  887. >More floor tiles rise up and are pushed out of the way as more root-like thorn covered vines grow out from under them.
  888. >The existing ones don't stop growing either, as they branch off to continue to block every single one of the Captain's attacks.
  889. >It starts to get to the point where Mikhail is surrounded by a semi-circle of displaced tiles and brambles that are growing thicker with each blow.
  890. >It's starting to look like he's inside a tent of trees.
  891. >The Captain finally lets up on her attacks, but she doesn't let up on her laughter.
  892. >"Mmm, oh yes, absolutely amazing! I'm tempted to go all out and see if I can penetrate your defenses. Don't worry, I'd let you penetrate mine in return."
  893.  
  894.  
  895. >She gives him a flirtatious wink, and you retch a little.
  896. >Well, they do seem to be cut from the same crazy clothe.
  897. >Captain Whiplash's laughter finally dies down, but her insanely excited look persists.
  898. >More importantly, her absurd methodology seems to have worked, as you're no longer getting that bad vibe from Mikhail anymore.
  899. >Regardless, the Captain raises her magical weapons again in order to initiate another attack.
  900. >Maybe she doesn't pick up on the change in him, or maybe she just doesn't know when to stop.
  901. >Either is plausible at this point, and by now you're tempted to make a run for it and get help from someone competent and high ranking.
  902. >"ATTENTION!"
  903. >Oh, thank Celestia!
  904. >You immediately turn to stand at attention and salute whoever just said that, and you get a look at who that is.
  905. >You do your best to hold the standard stoic guard expression, but internally you could just cry as your savior has arrived.
  906. >The Captain also turns and salutes, wiping the grin off her face as her whip constructs start to dissolve into magical dust.
  907. >You're glad that reprehensible mare realizes that playtime is over.
  908. >Even Mikhail gives a salute that's barely visible from within his organic enclosure.
  909. >His expression doesn't change at all, but his plants do start to whither and recede back into the ground.
  910. >Your noble white knight manages a much better stern look of unamusement than you could ever muster.
  911. >Well, not exactly white, since his coat is red.
  912. >Actually, it's multiple shades of red, and its dun patterning makes his identity unmistakable.
  913. >Before the three of you stands none other than Lieutenant Colonel Righteous 'Rex' Scuffle.
  914. >"I'm glad I caught you two before you literally killed one another."
  915. >He trots forward in parade style from the hallway intersection, looking down his muzzle at the Captain in particular.
  916. >Maybe it's just because she's in the middle of it all, because he first addresses Mikhail.
  917.  
  918.  
  919. >"Lieutenant Rhizos, clean up your mess and restore the floor to as close to its original condition as possible. I will get an inspection unit deployed here and any damages you have failed to fix will be taken out of your next paycheck. Afterwards, you will resume your duties alongside Lieutenant Rain. Do I make myself clear?"
  920. >"Sir, yes sir!"
  921. >Mikhail's voice is just as deep and droning as every other time he's spoken, but it's certainly louder.
  922. >As he speaks, what's left of his vines are already reaching over and pulling the floor tiles back into place.
  923. >They are even being carefully aligned and gently lowered back into place so that they are perfectly level with the rest of the floor.
  924. >Even if you can only see it out of the corner of your vision, which is locked at attention, you still can't believe it.
  925. >Ltc. Scuffle also seems to be rather impressed, staring it for a moment and then giving him a nod of acknowledgement.
  926. >He never loses that look of disappointment, though, like a parent watching their foal clean up a mess they made.
  927. >He then directs his withering stare at you.
  928. >"Lieutenant Rain, you are also to resume your duties alongside Lieutenant Rhizos, and you are not to antagonize him any further, regardless of whether or not you have already done so. Do I make myself clear?"
  929. >You don't take your eyes off him, but you do reflexively blush and fold your ears back.
  930. >Either he just read your mind, or he at least read your dossier and predicted your behavior.
  931. >Still, you try to keep the rest of your expression intact and make your response loud and clear.
  932. "Sir, yes sir!"
  933. >"I don't care who started this whole mess, but I'm finishing it. All I'm certain of is that Captain Whiplash made it worse. I'll deal with her momentarily, but as for you two, I don't want any further messes between you two. Do I make myself clear?"
  934. >"Sir, yes sir!"
  935. "Sir, yes sir!"
  936. >"And as for you, Captain Whiplash. My office. NOW! That's an order."
  937.  
  938.  
  939. >The Captain just gives a wry grin before saying her affirmative in a sultry tone instead of shouting it.
  940. >"Sir, yes sir."
  941. >This mare literally has no shame.
  942. >The Lieutenant Colonel merely snorts in her face and then about faces and begins marching off.
  943. >The Captain follows in tow, and as she's moving away, she looks back at Mikhail and gives one last suggestive wink.
  944. >You swallow back down what comes up and keep holding your pose until they are both out of sight.
  945. >You sigh and look over at Mikhail, who is just standing there, still at attention, with the floor around him seemingly good as new.
  946. >Putting the tiles back was one thing, but how in Equestria did he restore the grout between them?
  947. >You lean in and try to look closer, but the only damage you spot are some cracks in a tile below one of his rear hooves.
  948. >In fact there's something weird about those cracks, something you hadn't noticed before.
  949. >There were a few of his mycelium strands, running down his leg from the base of his tail (at least you hope that's where they're coming from), and into the cracks.
  950. >So that's how he got his plants to grow out from under the tiles!
  951. >One thing's for sure: You know not to underestimate this earth pony's power, that's for sure.
  952. >On the other hoof, how vulnerable are his plants to frost damage?
  953.  
  954.  
  955.  
  956.  
  957.  
  958.  
  959.  
  960.  
  961. >You are Lieutenant Colonel Righteous Scuffle, and you'd rather be doing anything else right now.
  962. >Unfortunately, you have to wrangle this wretched wench of a Captain, who is now one of your subordinate officers in your new Battalion.
  963. >You can't help but think back to what had brought you to this point as you try to steel yourself for dealing with her.
  964. >If you had known your promotion would entail dealing with malfeasants such as her, you might have declined, even in spite of your father's inevitable disappointment.
  965. >At first the prospect had been exhilarating.
  966. >Leading a new interdisciplinary unit comprised of some of the most talented and promising officers gathered from all over Equestria.
  967. >Father would be so pleased!
  968. >You had eagerly accepted the offer, but as more details revealed themselves, the prospect about-faced and became rather disheartening.
  969. >You're still aghast at some of the officers that had been chosen, present company included.
  970. >It's particularly horrifying that your present company is part of the leadership of the new Lucky Seventh Company.
  971. >You were flabbergasted as to why topside would choose her out of all the available captains for such a coveted position.
  972. >You might not be privy to their classified selection process, but you at least have your own theory behind their reasoning.
  973. >Be that as it may, it doesn't change the fact that you now have to rein her in, a circumstance you knew would be unavoidable but still didn't expect to come so soon.
  974.  
  975.  
  976. >Now you are trying to get to your new office as quickly as possible while still maintaining the decorum expected of a high ranking officer of the Royal Guard, and you expect your ward to be doing the same.
  977. >At least you know that she is still following behind you.
  978. >As if her vile aura isn't enough, the annoying clinking of the aiguillettes in her tail accompany it and serve to indicate her continued proximity.
  979. >You turn your head back slightly and glance over your withers.
  980. >To your displeasure, she certainly isn't performing the elegant prancing canter that you are, but she's at least matching your speed, albeit a little too close for comfort.
  981. >Your eyes narrow into a glare and you snort at her as a non-verbal command.
  982. >Thankfully, she gets the message and slows up to spread the distance between her muzzle and your hindquarters to a more appropriate length, but not before giving you one of her harlot winks.
  983. >The audacity of this mare is unfathomable.
  984. >To act in this fashion towards her subordinates is one matter, but to do it towards a superior officer is quite another.
  985. >You really wish this could be the last time you will have to deal with her, but you know that probably isn't going to be the case.
  986. >No, this is a special case, a case that's now in your custody for better or worse.
  987. >You spend another brief moment glaring at her before returning to a more stalwart gaze in your direction of motion.
  988. >As you travel through the corridors towards your new office, the guards stationed along the hallway show you the proper amount of respect with salutes, as far as you can tell from your peripheral vision.
  989. >However, even out of the corners of your eyes, you can't help but notice at least a few of them cringing at the sight of the Captain following you.
  990. >Nonetheless, none of them break their salutes, and for that you can take more pride in them than in her at the moment.
  991.  
  992.  
  993. >You don't even stop as you approach the door to the office space of your Battalion's HHC, telekinetically opening it from afar, and crossing the threshold without skipping a step.
  994. >Once you're sure the Captain has done the same, you close the door behind her without even looking back at it.
  995. >You are almost at your destination, and you quickly stride past other offices as your anticipation begins to rise.
  996. >You might not be able to outright cashier her, but you're certainly going to do everything within your power to reign her in.
  997. >Unfortunately, some of your gusto is sapped as you remember the ritual needed to open your office door.
  998. >It's a step that's installed into the entrances of all SCIF offices of all high ranking unicorn officers, and normally this ritual wouldn't be a problem for you... if it wasn't for the unsavory nature of the mare now watching.
  999. >You slow as you approach the iron structure clad with decorative veneer and your rank and name freshly emblazoned upon it... as well as your nickname.
  1000. >Your horn glows as you remove your armor's front badge, readying it to be inserted into the lock.
  1001. >You stop just in front of the door and insert your security badge while turning your head to look at Captain Whiplash.
  1002. >She's not just eyeing you in kind, but also nodding her head toward the second step of the authentication process.
  1003. >She sits on her haunches at your side with a wry grin on her face, her hungry eyes darting between you and the waiting hole that's isometrically locked to your horn.
  1004. >You glare and snort at her again, but all she does is salute you, her expression unchanging.
  1005. >A soft sigh escapes your lips as you turn your head back towards the door and start lowering it in preparation for what you're about to do.
  1006. >You lift one of your forehooves to hold your badge in place as your horn stops glowing.
  1007.  
  1008.  
  1009. >You gingerly align your cranial appendage with the matching concave conical keyhole and start to push yourself forward.
  1010. >As it slides into place, your eyes shift over towards Captain Whiplash, and you give her a full blown stink eye.
  1011. >She's still saluting you, but you can hear her breathing heavily through her teeth.
  1012. >You fold your ears in anger as you penetrate the lock all the way up to your horn's hilt at your forehead, and wiggle your head a little to get it fully into place.
  1013. >Both the badge lock and horn lock start to glow a bright blue color, which matches your magical aura.
  1014. >The glow starts to spread out across the entire door as jagged lines, and soon an entire blue aura envelopes it.
  1015. >Various runes and symbols appear, floating within the aura for a moment before they both vanish.
  1016. >Finally, there's some mechanical noises as the more traditional locks disengage, and then all the glowing ceases.
  1017. >You gently extrude your horn from the lock and place your badge back onto your armor.
  1018. >The Captain sighs in satisfaction to punctuate the end of the unlocking ritual.
  1019. >You don't just snort this time, but also give an angry nicker as you raise your head back up and stare straight at her.
  1020. >Still, you do it only briefly, before your horn glows again to grab the handle and pull the door open.
  1021. >Once it's halfway ajar, you gesture your head in the direction of the threshold, and begin to enter.
  1022. >The Captain drops her salute, her grin fading into a smug smirk as she stands back up and follows you inside.
  1023. >You first enter a sparsely furnished antechamber, with little more than a few seats and some decorations.
  1024. >After Captain Whiplash has fully crossed the threshold, you close the door behind her, reengage both kinds of locks, and then open the one to the office proper.
  1025. >It's a smaller door, but it's nonetheless as heavy-duty and ornate as the entryway one, without any locks.
  1026. >At least that's how it's meant to appear, anyway.
  1027.  
  1028.  
  1029. >Your office itself is just as you left it, rather minimalist, but with all the necessary equipment to fulfill your bureaucratic duties.
  1030. >You round the edge of the your corner desk, which isn't nestled into the corner like one would expect it to be, put positioned at 90 degrees so that half of it juts out like a wooden peninsula to divide the room.
  1031. >At the edge of the other half of the desk, in the back corner of the room, sits your espresso machine for fueling all of your late night paper plowing.
  1032. >Many of those papers are sitting in neat stacks in the inbox and outbox on either side of the standard binary typewriter between them.
  1033. >There are many, many more inside the several filing cabinets lining the back wall, which you peruse for a moment to locate the right drawer and open it to pull out this odious officer's dossier.
  1034. >A gentle ticking from an ornate pendulum wall clock is the only sound in the room.
  1035. >You take a seat in the swivel chair at the center of it all, and turn around in it to face Captain Whiplash, gesturing with your free forehoof at the opposing hot-seat on the other side of the dividing desk.
  1036. >Your serious expression doesn't leave your face as you stare her down and wait for her to comply with your latest nonverbal command.
  1037. >Her own smug expression doesn't leave her face as she salutes you again and then proceeds to sit down.
  1038. >Without taking your eyes off her, you levitate her file out of your hoof and simultaneously levitate an empty coffee cup into the machine.
  1039. >You start telekinetically manipulating its controls to begin the brewing process.
  1040. >You know your new office well enough already, as well as your old energy supplying friend, to do this without even looking in its direction.
  1041. >In fact, you had been about to prepare a fresh cup just before you were alerted to the situation with this miserable mare and had to hastily leave to deal with her.
  1042.  
  1043.  
  1044. >As you finish what you started, you also crack open the folder now floating between you two, poring through its contents for the second time.
  1045. >You flip through page after page, quickly reacquainting yourself with every sordid detail of her service history.
  1046. >You occasionally glance up to see what she's doing, but to your disappointment she's not intimidated by her situation in the slightest.
  1047. >In fact, it's quite the opposite, as she has tilted back her chair to balance it on its back legs, turning it into a makeshift lounger and gently rocking it back and forth in anticipation.
  1048. >You had hoped that your blind operation of your coffee machine and the sight of what's obviously her paperwork would help build tension, but she seems indifferent to it all.
  1049. >Her smug smirk has turned into a smile at this point, and she's staring you down as well, as if daring you to start chastising her.
  1050. >With each rocking motion she makes, those damned decorations on her tail slide along the floor and clink against each other.
  1051. >Each little noise is like a hammer on your temple right now, and you really need your caffeine.
  1052. >She's got a whole Tartarus worth of nerve, that's for sure.
  1053. >Even though you're literally looking into her past at this very moment, you could almost swear she crawled straight out of that very place instead and somehow faked it all.
  1054. >You have to give her this, though: she at least knows to not speak unless spoken to, and it's finally time she's spoken to.
  1055. "Are you at all aware of the gravity of the situation you are currently in, Captain Verdonia Whiplash?"
  1056. >You gently lower her dossier onto the desk so it's resting neatly between you and her, still open, on a page summarizing the most recent grievance against her, which had been filed about a month ago.
  1057. >As you release it from your psychic grip, you lock your stern glare directly on her eyes, but you still see no anxiety there, only pride and smug satisfaction.
  1058.  
  1059.  
  1060. >She manages to keep her own sight squarely aligned with yours, not deviating even once to peek at the open page of her dossier, as if it didn't matter to her.
  1061. >Her irritating smile opens up as she takes her turn to speak, her voice rich with the same smugness plastered on her visage.
  1062. >"Mmm, oh yes, Lieutenant Colonel 'Rex' Scuffle, and it is quite an interesting situation indeed, one that I plan to take full advantage of."
  1063. >You can't help but widen your eyes for just a moment at her blazen emphasis on your nickname, but you quickly narrow them again in dissatisfaction.
  1064. "That's Lieutenant Colonel Righteous Scuffle to you, and by 'take full advantage of,' I sincerely hope you don't mean behaving as egregiously as I personally witnessed just moments ago."
  1065. >She simply winks at you before continuing.
  1066. >"What you call egregious, I call an appropriate way to quell Lieutenant Rhizos' bloodlust by giving him the confrontation he was so obviously craving. I would hope that an officer as experienced and high ranking as you would have also picked up on his aura."
  1067. >She chuckles, and you can't help but sigh in further disappointment, closing your eyes and resting a forehoof between them.
  1068. "Rest assured, I would have dealt with any inappropriate behavior from the Lieutenant in my own way, using the proper methods as outlined in the Royal Guard Code of Conduct."
  1069. >Your eyes snap back open and you immediately drop your hoof down from your face and onto the desk, rather hard.
  1070. "I certainly wouldn't have used your iniquitous methods, which is why I am reprimanding you here today, in case you haven't picked up on that yourself!"
  1071. >Your raised voice fails to elicit any kind of negative reaction from her, so you lean in closer, placing your other forehoof not so gently on the desk in the process.
  1072.  
  1073.  
  1074. >As if on cue, the espresso machine in the background starts to hiss with steam as the brewing process gets underway.
  1075. >You narrow your eyes again, but she mockingly puckers her lips as if expecting a kiss, given the current proximity of your muzzle to hers.
  1076. >Knowing this mare, she might genuinely be expecting one.
  1077. >You recoil back as she starts imitating osculation noises, and she breaks into an outright laugh.
  1078. >She stops after a few seconds and licks her lips seductively, relishing in your chagrin.
  1079. >"Mmm, oh yes, you are being quite forward, aren't you, Lieutenant Colonel? Reprimanding me on the first day, probably as an excuse to get us alone together in your office. It does seem large enough to accommodate all manner of activities, including rather... intimate ones."
  1080. >You blush and frown for a moment, but the scarlet coloration of your cheeks quickly spreads to the rest of your face as another emotion overtakes your mortification.
  1081. >An angry neigh escapes your lips and you loudly snort as you push off your desk and settle back into your chair.
  1082. >It's followed by an embittered sigh as you take a few deep breaths to try to regain your composure.
  1083. >As your burning rage fades away, you close your eyes for a moment to rethink your tactics.
  1084. >Luckily, right at that moment the fresh brew begins pouring into your large mug.
  1085. >You could definitely use that boost right now, especially since your long pause has given this capricious Captain another chance to speak.
  1086. >"What's the matter, sir? Have I flustered you like I do with so many other gents playing soldier? I honestly expected better from a Scuffle. After all, you're one of the few noble houses that still work their way up the ranks through merit, unlike the other pompous pricks who just buy their way to the top."
  1087. >She pauses, tilts her head to stare down her muzzle at you, and licks her teeth to polish her sardonic smile.
  1088.  
  1089.  
  1090. >"For that, you have a little bit of my respect, though your seemingly fragile constitution is eroding it away. I must say that your brother was far better at..."
  1091. >Okay, now this wretched wench is going too far!
  1092. >Your eyes widen and you perk a brow as you loudly interject with your hackles raised.
  1093. "You would go so far as to brag about accosting my own brother?! You really are attempting to make this affront as personal as possible, aren't you? The actions you've demonstrated just today alone would be enough to warrant a full court marshal against you. I'd personally cashier you from Royal Guard right now if I could."
  1094. >She guffaws again, rather maniacally this time, raising her voice to match your own volume.
  1095. >"Mmm, oh yes, those are the key words, aren't they, Lieutenant Colonel? IF. YOU. COULD. But I know that you can't. You can drag me into your office and posture all you want, but at the end of the day, I'm here to stay, courtesy of authority higher than yours."
  1096. >She laughs again, leaning over the desk to better throw spit from her outburst onto your face.
  1097. >"So unless you want to take advantage of our privacy together for other purposes, I think we're done here."
  1098. >You glare at her with such intensity that you're sure that even your eyes must be red now.
  1099. >You spring forward in your seat and slam your hooves onto the desk again, raising your voice to a point it reverberates around your office.
  1100. "WE ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT DONE HERE, CAPTAIN WHIPLASH!"
  1101. >You flare your nostrils and practically snort steam into her face.
  1102. >The sound of pouring in the background slows to a trickle right as you finish shouting.
  1103. >You shut your eyes and take another deep breathe as you levitate the frothy concoction from the machine to a waiting coaster.
  1104. >Thank Celestia it's ready.
  1105. >You move it quickly yet carefully.
  1106. >You don't want to give her another opening to respond, but you also don't want to spill any of your brew.
  1107.  
  1108.  
  1109. >You open your eyes and assume a calmly serious expression once more.
  1110. "I may not know the reasons why topside put you in my Battalion, but I firmly believe it's for the purpose of finally instilling the discipline that you've been sorely lacking through all your time on deployment. Soldiers like yourself have been away from the capital far too long, and have become far too cavalier in the execution of their missions, you especially so. Have you not even noticed how thick your dossier is? Your abject actions are simply beyond the pale!"
  1111. >You psychically spin the document around, lift it off the desk and hover it right in front of her face, flipping through page after page.
  1112. >You hold it close enough that each page just barely brushes past the end of her muzzle as you turn them.
  1113. >She does at least seem to scan them for the few seconds you leave each open, but her face just takes on a look of fond nostalgia, with a flash of pride here and there as she admires her misdeeds.
  1114. "You're actually proud of this behavior, aren't you? Well, I'm certainly not proud of it, and believe me, it stops right here and now. I intend to make sure of that."
  1115. >Your horn glows a little brighter as you raise your mug to your lips and quietly quaff down a large amount.
  1116. >By Celestia, you've been needing this, but you still imbibe as politely as possible, despite it likely not mattering to her.
  1117. >You aren't an animal like she is, and you intend to maintain that distinction.
  1118. >The driving force of habit is thankfully assisting you in this matter.
  1119. >Your beverage immediately acts as an anodyne against those annoying sounds from her tail.
  1120. >And just like that, you get a wonderfully awful idea for disciplining her.
  1121. >It does give you pause, as the very notion of doing this to any pony repulses you.
  1122. >Still, this horrible whorse repulses you even more, so you proceed anyway.
  1123. >Your horn grows brighter still, as you pull open a drawer on the desk and remove a hoofkerchief.
  1124.  
  1125.  
  1126. >At the same time, you're still holding your drink and her dossier, which you're still leafing through for her benefit.
  1127. >Hopefully all of this multitasking will be enough to camouflage your true intentions.
  1128. >Her chair is tilting back at around 15 degrees, and given her slovenly posture, the base of her tail should be about... there!
  1129. >You clairvoyantly brush your aura against it, as imperceptibly as you can muster, tracing its braids along its length to the point where it divides into those five obnoxious aiguillettes of hers.
  1130. >You continue gulping down your drink, your expression unwavering.
  1131. >Has she noticed anything yet?
  1132. >She ought to be taking the opening you've left her any moment now.
  1133. >"Mmm, oh yes, my methods may seem unconventional to you nobles, but I can assure you that they are what gets the job done out in the actual field, a place many of you are too finicky to ever set hoof."
  1134. >The beginning of her diatribe is enough of a signal for you to continue.
  1135. >If she had noticed anything, she would have definitely led with something much more scatological, given where your magic had just been.
  1136. >Feel free to continue your screed, you miserable whorse.
  1137. >"I'm sorry if they might offend your fragile sensibilities, but you armchair commanders honestly don't have a bucking clue what shit's like out there. You sit here in the capital, high upon the ivory pedestals most of you have bought for yourselves, and move us around like chess pieces, all without the foggiest idea of what goes into an action you see as simply as one piece removing another from the board."
  1138. >Your new tactic must be working, since her language is getting increasingly vulgar.
  1139. >Good. Let's continue now, shall we?
  1140. >You draw your quaff to a close and begin lowering what remains of your beverage back towards the coaster.
  1141. >At the same time, you unfold and raise your hoofkerchief to your haughtily cocked muzzle.
  1142.  
  1143.  
  1144. >You don't dare open your eyes for even a moment as you dab away any lingering foam from your lips.
  1145. >All the while, your covert aura makes its way over to the dividing knot and singles out the base of one of her five tassels.
  1146. >"If you ask me, I was dragged back to this decadent wasteland to whip you pompous, pampered pricks into real soldiers that can actually handle unexpected events..."
  1147. >As she takes a dramatic pause, your third eye begins to probe into the portion of her tail that you've ensorcelled.
  1148. >As you suspected, it is warded, and there's actually quite a fair bit of mana flowing through it.
  1149. >You'll have to pick your way through it, but that shouldn't be an issue, since you seem to finally be getting under her skin.
  1150. >Not literally, of course, as this twisted mare might actually enjoy that, but certainly both psychically and psychologically.
  1151. >Your telekinetic grip tightens and you hold your breathe for moment, hoping she doesn't notice your machinations.
  1152. >Suddenly, she abruptly ends her reclined posture, her chair flopping forward as it settles back on four legs.
  1153. >This would have been disastrous for your attempts, had you not anticipated her movements in advance.
  1154. >Fortunately, at this point your conjured construct has clamped itself around the desired area.
  1155. >Still, you can't help but hold your breath for a moment, right as her forward momentum propels her in front of your face again, her muzzle stopping just a few centimeters shy of your own.
  1156. >"Like the reappearance of Nightmare Moon, for instance."
  1157. >You quietly exhale in relief and half open your eyes for a moment to look down your muzzle at her.
  1158. >Praise Celestia, she hasn't noticed anything.
  1159. >Good to see that she is now properly focused on one who is above her in every way.
  1160. >She's smiling, albeit differently than before, the corners of her mouth faltering, almost as if she's struggling to maintain it.
  1161. >Her eyebrows are now noticeably irate, and even twitching periodically.
  1162.  
  1163.  
  1164. >But her eyes are just as wide and full of lunacy as they've been throughout this meeting.
  1165. >You simply snort and close yours again, frowning disappointingly with all noble arrogance you can muster.
  1166. >"From what I've heard, Her return caught the brass with their tails up and their flanks bare. I imagine it looked exactly like what I see whenever one of you self-centered douches decides to test your mettle out in the field. At the first sign of any real danger or combat, every single noble I've ever had the displeasure of meeting immediately pisses themselves and runs the other way with their tail between their legs, all while throwing the real soldiers at their command its way, using them as nothing more than disposable fodder. Every. BUCKING. Time. With no bucking regard for those lives, as long as it saves their pissant hides."
  1167. >Throughout her castigation, you carefully pick through her protective barrier bit by bit, all while ensuring that you're levitating at least two items in order to mask your spellwork.
  1168. >You have to appreciate her skills, as this is no easy feat.
  1169. >It's like trying to pile up a mound of loose, dry sand, and keep it from settling again.
  1170. >You fold up your hoofkerchief and begin to set it down, but before it even reaches the drawer you drew it from, you're already picking your mug back up for another sip.
  1171. >Her dossier is still in your psychic grasp, but you've since left the pages idle for quite while.
  1172. >It's nearly at its final page anyway, and you've lowered it back towards the desk so as to not obstruct her view of your visage.
  1173. >You want her focused of your blue-blooded, properly refined indifference.
  1174. >You finally have the upper hoof in this interaction, and you don't intend to lose it.
  1175. >You've almost reached your end goal, but you need to keep her talking.
  1176. "Hmm, your vituperative opprobrium of the Royal Guard High Command is duly noted, Captain Whiplash, but I doubt it will be seriously regarded by them."
  1177.  
  1178.  
  1179. >You swallow more of your drink, but not nearly as heavily as before.
  1180. >Just enough to signal her to continue her diatribe.
  1181. >Fortunately, she does, and with notable irritation in her voice now.
  1182. >"Heh, better opprobrious than obsequious to those damned dickheads who obviously have no idea what the buck they're doing. Unfortunately, it seems like you're just as bad as they are, which is a real damn shame. I had thought a noble who actually worked his way up the ranks through a decade's worth of merit would actually have some damned sense, but you've clearly proved me wrong. You're just as much of an arrogant airhead as the rest of them, and that's why I'm here to whip you all into shape, starting with your brother and that uppity little bitch who are directly under my command."
  1183. >You finish your sip as you finish your spellwork, finally having exposed her vulnerable hair.
  1184. >It's finally time to tighten your aura and begin reshaping it to razor thin edge.
  1185. >You mystically lift and unfold your hoofkerchief once again as you continually refine the bulwark against her powerful protection.
  1186. >After cordially drying your lips, you open your eyes halfway and scowl down your muzzle at her.
  1187. >You need to keep her temper rising and focused on you and not her broken wards, so you deliberately increase the conceit in your voice.
  1188. "My my, how presumptuous of you, Captain. Except they aren't directly under your command. You're just the Executive Officer of the Seventh Company. Major Gleaming Starbeam is their Commanding Officer."
  1189. >You can now feel the contempt in the heat of her breath, and her feigned smile is starting to fade.
  1190. >"Nnn, oh please, from what I've heard, the Major is an international mare of mystery, so for all intents and purposes, I might as well be their commanding officer in what's sure to be her frequent absence."
  1191. >Your spell begins rotating like a bearing around her braids.
  1192.  
  1193.  
  1194. >Even though it's now unprotected, it's still quite a bit of course, tightly braided hair that you have to cut through.
  1195. >You only have one shot at this, and the rotation helps in keeping that protective 'sand wall' of woven mana at bay.
  1196. "Except she won't be absent for much longer, and the only reason she's absent now is because your new assignment hasn't formally begun yet. You merely took it upon yourself to 'introduce yourself' to the Lieutenants prior to the official ceremony, and in an extremely odious manner as well, and that is why you're in my office right now."
  1197. >Her smile is completely gone by now, her mouth joining the rest of her nonplussed look.
  1198. >It's barely audible, but you're able to hear her teeth grinding in between her words now.
  1199. >"I don't need any of that pomp and circumstance to make my authority known, just like how I don't need this cute little lecture you're giving me right now."
  1200. >Your conjury's rotational speed increases, and thankfully she hasn't noticed what's surely now a disruption in her mana flow.
  1201. >Like holding back water in a pipe, it's getting considerably more difficult with each passing moment.
  1202. >Celestia, this is more arduous than it should be!
  1203. >The Captain must really care about her tail, which means this really will be an ideal punishment.
  1204. "But you're under my authority, as well as hers, and despite what you might believe to the contrary, consider the following..."
  1205. >"I..."
  1206. "If your theory as to why you've been 'dragged to the capital' is indeed correct, why didn't the Royal Guard High Command give you a warrant in order to directly consult with you on how you would handle unexpected events?"
  1207. >"Nnn, well..."
  1208. "At the very least, why didn't they promote you to a Major and make you the Commanding Officer of the Seventh Company?"
  1209. >"Y-you..."
  1210. "I would say my theory as to why you're here holds more weight than yours, and with that being said..."
  1211. >SSSSSSLICE!!!
  1212.  
  1213.  
  1214. >Your conjured blade closes around her braid like a guillotine.
  1215. >In an instant, you snatch up a fifth of her tail and send it slithering through the air like a flying serpent.
  1216. >Her eyes widen into saucers as she suddenly hears and feels what's just been done to her.
  1217. >You shut your eyes and loudly snort to punctuate your accomplishment.
  1218. >You wiggle your prize in a long arc around her body, floating it over the desk and dossier between you and her before making another long arc to complete its S-shaped flight path to rest behind and above your head, in plain sight but out of her reach.
  1219. "You will respect my authority from this moment onward."
  1220. >She sharply exhales, losing whatever retort she was about to deliver.
  1221. >You give her your most powerful authoritative glare yet as you hammer each word into her.
  1222. "Do I make myself clear, Captain Verdonia Whiplash?"
  1223. >She frantically shifts in her seat, moving the rest her tail in front of her face.
  1224. >Her still wide eyes rapidly dart between the damage and the missing piece mockingly suspended above.
  1225. >"M-my... tail... my w-wards... h-how..."
  1226. "I might not have my brother's flair for showponeship, but I can assure you that I have plenty of my own tricks up my greaves."
  1227. >"B-but..."
  1228. "Despite your attempts to speak out of turn, you still haven't answered my question. Have I not made myself clear?"
  1229. >Her eyes narrow and her hackles rise to clearly show her grinding teeth.
  1230. >The breathlessness in her voice abruptly disappears, and it's replaced by a much darker tone.
  1231. >"H-how... dare... you..."
  1232. >A chill seems to fall over the room as her aura grows much more malignant.
  1233. >Yes, there's obviously anger there, and even a tinge of bloodlust that briefly flashes in and out, but there's also something much darker.
  1234. >There's something off about her aura, something you can't quite place, something you've never experienced before.
  1235. >This frigid sensation permeates deeper into your body, right down to your bone.
  1236.  
  1237.  
  1238. >But it goes even deeper than that.
  1239. >It's starting to feel like an icy clawed fist is contracting around your beating heart.
  1240. >The lighting in the room ostensibly dims, save for the sheen of her exposed teeth.
  1241. > ゴ ゴ ゴ ゴ
  1242. >Is this some kind of heinous spell of hers?!
  1243. >No, her horn isn't even glowing!
  1244. >This is entirely the strength of her aura alone.
  1245. >You gasp with a start and your eyes widen.
  1246. >You grab your hoofkerchief and cough a few times into the frog of your hoof.
  1247. >You grit your teeth as you try to hold back more and clear your throat.
  1248. >You gruffly croak out a response between more coughs.
  1249. "How... dare... I...?"
  1250. >Your telekinetic grip on her former appendage starts to falter.
  1251. >It wavers in the air and begins to slowly fall, drifting like a feather.
  1252. >The frosty fist within your chest contracts further, but not just around your heart.
  1253. >The icy feeling is starting to flood your lungs and fill your skull.
  1254. >Even a winter spell from a skillful unicorn or pegasus couldn't do this.
  1255. >Whatever this is, it ends now!
  1256. >You immediately exert your own aura, upping your willpower as a heat rises within you.
  1257. >Fighting fire with fire, this burning fire within you will counteract this malevolence.
  1258. >It instantly vaporizes what felt like ice within you as its warmth radiates from your core to outside your body.
  1259. >The supernatural ambiance within the office's walls completely flips, as a sensation of increasing heat fills every fiber of your being.
  1260. >A very loud neigh bubbles up from within you.
  1261. >You're sure that your eyes are now burning with a righteous fury, as righeous as your very namesake.
  1262. >It certainly isn't the flustered fury you had felt at the beginning of this congress.
  1263. >That sensation has long passed, along with your patience with this mare and her sickening tricks.
  1264. >You regain your magical grip on her severed tassel and bring up towards the ceiling.
  1265. >The glow around your horn and her hair intensifies, illuminating the entire room.
  1266.  
  1267.  
  1268. >The buzzing hum of your magic becomes audible and increases in frequency.
  1269. >You exert as much force as possible on both ends, crumbling its metal aiguillette in the process.
  1270. >There are a few tinkles from individual hairs breaking as the tensile strength gives way, and then...
  1271. >SSSSSSNAP!
  1272. >The gruesome sound reverberates throughout the office as the braid is bifurcated.
  1273. >At this point, it's as if the room has been bifurcated as well, with her frosty aura on one side, and your fiery aura on the other, and a sharp invisible border between, stubbornly resisting what entropy would dictate to occur.
  1274. >You don't even give the echo from your action time to fade before replacing it with something louder.
  1275. "I am your Commanding Officer now! I will not tolerate anymore of your obscene behavior in my Battalion! You will hold yourself to the Royal Guard Code of Conduct and every time I catch you acting to the contrary, I will severe another portion of your tail. I will strap you down and shave you down to your bare dock if I have to!"
  1276. >Her scowl is unwavering, but she's since dropped her hackles.
  1277. >What, no bawdy response to the obvious opening you've given her?
  1278. >Good. Maybe you have found the perfect NJP for her after all.
  1279. >Your magic once again powers up as you exert extraordinary force upon the segments.
  1280. "DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?! YOU..."
  1281. >SNAP!
  1282. "PREPOSTEROUSLY!!!"
  1283. >SNAP!
  1284. "PROMISCUOUS!!!"
  1285. >RIP!
  1286. "PLEBIAN!!!"
  1287. >RIP!
  1288. >You suspend the shredded remains of her tail segments in a swirling cyclone above your head.
  1289. >It's almost a cartoonish illustration of your fury and wraith.
  1290. >You finish by elegantly spitting into your open hoofkerchief.
  1291. >She finally gives a faint return to your call, dripping with disdain.
  1292. >"Sir... yes... sir..."
  1293. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU, CAPTAIN!"
  1294. >"SIR, YES SIR!"
  1295. >Finally some obedient gusto, even if it's clearly fueled by anger.
  1296. >You give her a wry grin while continuing with a more measured tone.
  1297.  
  1298.  
  1299. "I probably don't have to remind you that the manes and tails of ponies have magical properties and can't be restored with spells, except in rare cases with something on par with a miracle—something you certainly don't have access to."
  1300. >"THAT IS CORRECT, SIR!"
  1301. >The Captain angrily snorts at the end of her return.
  1302. >Her angry look might persist, but her eyes are now glazed over.
  1303. >The reflections from the lights in the ceiling are much sharper now.
  1304. "From this moment onward, this will be your non-judicial punishment for any serious infraction of the Royal Guard Code of Conduct. I will not hesitate to use it on you again, should you ever find yourself in this office again for such an infraction. You will not resist my attempts to use it on you again, should I ever find the need to do so. Do I make myself clear?"
  1305. >"SIR, YES SIR!"
  1306. >Your wry grin widens and you idly look up at swirling tempest of fragments above you.
  1307. >As you speak, you begin shaping the tempest into a narrow tornado that elongates and funnels down into a waiting rubbish bin beneath your desk.
  1308. "Rest assured, it will grow back naturally. After all, I did 'no permanent damage' to your body, and nothing that would inhibit your ability to continue to fulfill your duties as a member of the Royal Guard. These are your own words from reports about your own non-judicial punishments executed out in the field, are they not?"
  1309. >"THEY ARE, SIR!"
  1310. >Her voice quivers a little, just barely detectable in her shout.
  1311. "Good. Then you may dine on those words outside of my office. Now we're done here, Captain. You may show yourself out."
  1312. >Right as you finish speaking, the last of her locks land in the waste receptacle.
  1313. >It's punctuated with a metallic clang as the crushed remains of her tail decoration bounce around within it.
  1314.  
  1315.  
  1316. >You wave your hoof in a dismissing gesture, timed with you remotely opening your office's inner door.
  1317. >A slow twist of the hoof, and the floating mathematical glyphs of your chamber's safeguards appear upon the outer door for a moment and then fade away.
  1318. >Another wave, and the outer door opens to present a clear exit.
  1319. >The outside light comes pouring in, snuffing the last of her spooky aura.
  1320. >Actually, her aura had already lost most of its intensity, but the pain, anger, and resentment still hung in the air, like a malodorous stench that just won't dissipate.
  1321. >Yours has faded along with it, as such a barrier is no longer necessary to fight off whatever was emanating from her.
  1322. >"SIR, YES SIR!"
  1323. >She shouts loud enough for the entire HHC office to hear her.
  1324. >She then robotically gives a salute, steps out of her chair, and sulkily trudges out of your office.
  1325. >As she is leaving, you can just faintly pick up the sounds of some sort of lullaby that she's singing to herself.
  1326. >"Shine on, little moon, shine on..."
  1327. >"Shine on, little star, shine on..."
  1328. >You sigh and wipe your brow with a second hoofkerchief, having since put away the one that's now thoroughly soiled.
  1329. >Dear Celestia, what horror have you placed at my hooves?
  1330. >You realize that this probably isn't the last time you'll have to deal with her, but at least you've now found an effective, though rather brutal, way to deal with her.
  1331. >Hopefully you don't have to use it again any time soon, not just because of the limited number of times in which you can do it.
  1332. >You sigh again and forlornly gaze at the pile on top of your previous trash.
  1333. >To rob a pony, even a commoner, of even a portion of their mane or tail, is not something you take lightly, even in spite of the circumstances that forced your hoof.
  1334. >Your brow furrows.
  1335. >You can't argue that this wench deserved such a hard blow, though.
  1336. >Maybe this will finally ground her back in reality and remind her of her place in this world.
  1337.  
  1338.  
  1339. >You're even tempted to spit upon the remains, but you hold back.
  1340. >Instead, you distract yourself by idly looking up at the clock ticking away on your office wall.
  1341. >Good. You managed to wrap up this unpleasant meeting up with plenty of time to spare before your next one.
  1342. >This gives you more than enough time to prepare a second cup, which you still really need right now.
  1343. >You look over and see that Captain has finally exited the antechamber.
  1344. >Glowering at her one last time, you wave your hoof dismissively one final time as you telekinetically slam your office's outer door behind her.
  1345. >You're pretty sure it collided with her four remaining aiguillettes, as there's some audible clinking from behind it.
  1346. >Luckily, none of them got caught in it.
  1347. >You still need those other four intact in case you're forced to dispose of them as well.
  1348. >Why in Celestia's Equestria is she in your Battalion?!
  1349. >Well, you'll at least have a chance to ask soon, but you doubt you're going to get a clear answer.
  1350. >You look over at the waiting shallow telecom cauldron in the far side of your office, and then back up at your clock again, before putting your full focus into preparing more of your liquid energy and analgesic.
  1351.  
  1352.  
  1353.  
  1354.  
  1355.  
  1356.  
  1357.  
  1358.  
  1359. >You are 2nd Lt. Mystic Foundry, and flaming forges, are you ever glad to be done 'presenting yourself as a fine officer of the Royal Guard.'
  1360. >Despite the typically tedious routine of playing hallway statue being livened up by your new CO 'introducing' herself, that only made you more relieved to finally be relieved from your post at the end of your shift.
  1361. >It's because of that encounter that you're now following the senior Lieutenant back to his office instead of returning to your own.
  1362. "I'm really glad you keep some JAG forms on hoof, Dex. Thanks for giving me some from your office. I didn't think to keep any in mine."
  1363. >He looks at you with that confident stage smile of his.
  1364. >"No problem, Misty. After you've served in the guard for a while, you'll find that it's helpful to have some on hoof, especially when dealing with grunts. Even though NCOs are almost always present to bust their heads for you, they'll usually want you to write your own witness reports to corroborate theirs for any particularly egregious incidents. The more the better, and the sooner the better, which is why we're going to my office right now to write up our own, while all the sordid details are still fresh in our minds."
  1365. >His smile fades away over the course of his speech, along with the rest of his cheerful expression, and you can't help but cringe yourself at the mention of 'sordid' details.
  1366. >The involuntary motion breaks your pace, and you drop your parade step for a moment to quickly catch up.
  1367. >Dex, on the other hoof, manages to sigh without skipping a single one of those fancy steps.
  1368. >"This is my first time having to write up another officer, though, but the forms I have are general ones, so they'll still work. I'll give you the rest of mine when we're done, so you can keep them in your own office."
  1369.  
  1370.  
  1371. >And just like that, that friendly smile of his is back with a wink and a nod.
  1372. >You can feel yourself blushing a little.
  1373. "That's really generous of you, Dex, but I don't think I have the space in my carrel office. It's really just a glorified stable stall with a drafting desk built into it, and any space I have in its drawers is quickly filled up with projects I'm assigned."
  1374. >Lieutenant Scuffle merely chuckles at this.
  1375. >"Heh, you should count yourself lucky you get a private space of your own. Most butter bars who aren't assigned to a platoon get stuck at open desks in large office spaces. At least that's how it typically works in the Intelligence Branch, and even then, you still figure out how to save some space for things you'll need that you'd otherwise have to run all around Canterlot to procure."
  1376. >His playful mockery certainly gets a pout out of you, and you scrunch your muzzle up.
  1377. >You have to admit that he does have a point, though.
  1378. >You had never realy travelled around Canterlot that much prior to serving in the Royal Guard.
  1379. >Even while attending both university and officer training school in this city, there was never really a need to leave their campuses that much, aside from leisurely activities.
  1380. >Granted, you still had to navigate its many streets, but for leisure there was rarely a schedule or deadlines or any urgency in doing so.
  1381. >Nowadays, more and more often you find yourself having to take not just unfamiliar streets, but also many of the bridges and tunnels linking neighboring buildings and guard stations.
  1382. >Both the metropolis itself and the interiors of many of its buildings are so labyrinthine that you could swear Minotaur architects designed them.
  1383. >Still, you know it's actually because the city started as the just the royal castle and all of the buildings nearby it are merely extensions to it built and repurposed many times over the course of the centuries since it was founded.
  1384.  
  1385.  
  1386. >Throughout that history, most of the lower classes occupied temporary structures surrounding the castle that were often relocated or outright destroyed as it expanded.
  1387. >Even then, there weren't that many peasants that lived nearby the castle, as Canterlot is literally built on a plateau on the side of a mountain with very little arable land, and the mountain has simply been dug out on one side and built up on the other to allow for that expansion, and to get building materials for it.
  1388. >It's really quite fascinating from an engineering standpoint, and rather impressive what they've managed to accomplish without the aid of modern construction techniques.
  1389. >Still, the ever changing use of the older buildings, as well as more recent rennovations and additions made to many of them out of the demands of those new uses, has certainly created challenges in finding the right path to one's destination.
  1390. >Smoldering slag, just how far is his office anyway?
  1391. >Granted, he is in a completely separate branch of the Royal Guard, and you've already crossed two of those many above-street bridges and passed through several guard-only restricted access points.
  1392. >Despite Canterlot's complexity, you're actually starting to doubt that this is a shorter journey than to the nearest JAG office.
  1393. >On the other hoof, you haven't had an opportunity to visit any of the Canterlot offices of the Intelligence Branch before, so your curiosity is certainly piqued.
  1394. >Though you do wish it had been under better circumstances, this is as good an excuse as any to accompany one of their officers and see it first-hoof.
  1395. >And yet, despite the urgency of your rather fast movement through mazes of corridors, you still haven't reached your destination.
  1396. >You're starting to see why long time residents often affectionately call this place Canter-a-Lot.
  1397.  
  1398.  
  1399. >You've both been moving at close to a canter for quite a while now, all while trying to maintaining the decorum of a parade march, which involves lifting your legs even higher than the fanciful civilian sashay that's typical of this city.
  1400. >Well, Dexter has certainly been maintaining it since the start of your journey, and you've been imitating him out of courtesy.
  1401. >From what you've read in the official Royal Guard Code of Conduct, it isn't required for officers to move like this outside of ceremonies, though it is still encouraged.
  1402. >However, these overly exaggerated movements executed at this expeditious speed are getting exhausting.
  1403. "Dex, I know it's important that we file the paperwork ASAP, but could you slow up a little? Your parade march is practically a canter, which is impressive, but rather hard to keep up with after a while."
  1404. >"Ha! The Illustrious Dexter always does his best create a good impression! While in uniform, one must always do their best to represent not only themselves, but the Royal Guard as a whole.
  1405. "Yeah, but I'm simply not used to doing a parade march at this speed for this long."
  1406. >"Nonsense! We've only been travelling for about ten minutes, and we're nearly there."
  1407. >Smelly smelters, it's only been ten minutes?!
  1408. >At least you're 'nearly' there, but then again that depends on his definition of being 'nearly' there.
  1409. >Has he really trained as hard as the typical enlisted?
  1410. >Maybe if you had enlisted instead of taking your commission, you wouldn't be struggling like this.
  1411. >He looks back at you with a smile, but it does disappear as he notices your strife.
  1412. >"However, I seem to have forgotten that other officers usually haven't been trained as hard as I have. My apologies, Misty."
  1413. >Oh, thank goodness, he's lowering his speed!
  1414. >You both slow down to a more comfortable trot, while still fancifully raising your forelegs to retain your officer airs.
  1415.  
  1416.  
  1417. >Sighing not only in relief, but also to help catch your breath, you take a moment before speaking again.
  1418. "Are you sure you aren't a mustang officer, Dex? You seem athletic enough that you could put a lot of the enlisted to shame."
  1419. >"I did a lot of horseshoe camp and dressage as a foal, and I've just maintained it into adulthood. It's not that difficult."
  1420. >He really does have a point, even if it does make you pout again.
  1421. >You really should try to get some more physical training in aside from the bare minimum required for the Royal Guard.
  1422. >Although the physical requirements for officers aren't as stringent as those for enlisted, it's obviously not enough.
  1423. >Especially if you're finally going to get to see some action out in the field!
  1424. >If there's ever a reason to get into better shape, it's that.
  1425. >"This is the last bridge we'll need to cross. It leads into the Intel Office Building where I'm currently stationed."
  1426. >Those words cause your face to light up in excitement.
  1427. >It's then literally lit up by the outside light as your round the final interior corner and exit onto the connecting bridge.
  1428. >There's a set of guards at both ends, standing like symmetrical statues at the sides of the doors... out in the hot sun of this late summer day.
  1429. >It's only 16:15 at the latest, and Celestia's Orb is still bearing down strong on everything at this time of year, despite the waning length of each new day.
  1430. >As much as you dislike 'presenting yourself' when on duty, at least you got to do it indoors, unlike these poor guards, who are actually guarding for the sake of security.
  1431. >And throughout this heat they still have to retain the decorum of all guards, because they are still visible to civilians passing by in the streets below and the skies above.
  1432. >All four briefly salute the both of you, and even though you aren't required to, you salute them back out of sympathy.
  1433.  
  1434.  
  1435. >You only have to be out in this swelter for the approximately 30 seconds it will take to cross at your current pace.
  1436. >That's enough time to casually admire the aging architecture of one of the buildings alloted to the Intelligence Branch.
  1437. >But it's something that Dex notices that brings you both to an abrupt halt about three quarters of the way across.
  1438. >Maybe you'll get more time to look at the scenary after all.
  1439. >You really don't mind being out in this incalescence yourself, since you're used to standing near very hot metal processing equipment for extended periods of time.
  1440. >You are curious to see how long Dex is willing to put up with it, though.
  1441. >Oh, the amusement you would get timing how long ponies new to your father's business could stand inside one of his steel mills before having to take a break on their tour.
  1442. >You stop near him, sit down and start looking over the outside of the Intel office to try to distract yourself.
  1443. >It looks just like any of the many other many castle-esque cylindrical towers in the area, nothing really too distinct about it.
  1444. >If it wasn't for your own intel, you probably wouldn't even know it's an Intel Branch office.
  1445. >Behind the exterior supporting columns were some rather large windows that had been added later to let more light into it.
  1446. >All of these windows had white curtains within them to allow this light while obscuring all interior details from the outside.
  1447. >Obviously a former defensive tower that was no longer needed for defense as further extensions to Canterlot Castle were added around it.
  1448. >And it's obvious those defenses haven't really been maintained as a result, except for occasional aesthetical touch-ups.
  1449. >Cupronickel, those old crumbling columns could really use some rebar reinforcing!
  1450. >Maybe they'll add it in the next rennovation of the building.
  1451. >These decaying details don't seem to be what's caught Dex's eye, though.
  1452.  
  1453.  
  1454. >He's staring stone-faced at something seemingly innocuous: a stray calico cat sunning itself on the Intel Office roof.
  1455. >He loudly snorts and takes a few more slow steps towards the building.
  1456. >The two guards have taken notice of this and are now looking at the animal as well, but they're just as perplexed as you are.
  1457. >You look back over your withers and the other two guards are equally confused, one even scratching his head.
  1458. >The cat, which had been lying on its side, lifts its head to look over at you and your associate, and then looks over at the guards further away, and then the two closest ones.
  1459. >It has a tired look on its face, as most ponies would expect, and it simply yawns like nothing is happening.
  1460. >What in Equestria is Dex seeing that you and the other guards aren't?
  1461. >Maybe it's that same 6th sense that tipped him off to the good Captain's presence before you even heard her coming down the hallway.
  1462. >Or maybe he just hates cats and wants to scare it off, but that seems a little too mean for someone like him.
  1463. >At least that's the impression you've gotten from him so far, and you hope he isn't about to reveal a darker side of himself.
  1464. >He takes a few more steps forward and over to the side of the bridge closest to the furry critter.
  1465. >He places his forehooves on top of the parapet and stares down the feline for a few moments.
  1466. >A smirk spreads across his muzzle and he takes a deep breath to shout up at it.
  1467. >"That's a cute glamour you've got there, but the Illustrious Lieutenant Dexter Shuffle can see right through it!"
  1468. >He's shouting a mix of his stage name and his actual guard rank... at a cat.
  1469. >A cat with a glamour, apparently.
  1470. >What exactly is a 'glamour' again?
  1471. >There isn't really anything glamorous about a stray cat, but the way he's using it, that word sounds more like one of those esoteric magic terms.
  1472. >You aren't really familiar with very many spells outside the realms of metallurgy and alchemy.
  1473.  
  1474.  
  1475. >But you're sure you've heard that term used at least once or twice in the past.
  1476. >Cracked crucibles, its meaning is on the tip of your tongue.
  1477. >Dex's shouting is making it hard to think, and it also seems to making that cat's eyes widen.
  1478. >Oh slag, did he really just frighten that poor innocent kitty?
  1479. >"Why don't you show us all who you really are?"
  1480. >That's a rather unusual question for him to ask, but it definitely crashes your train of thought as its implications start to dawn on you.
  1481. >And then a smile spreads across the feline's face.
  1482. >Wait... a smile?
  1483. >Okay, that's really creepy.
  1484. >That definitely isn't an ordinary cat.
  1485. >And it isn't just any smile, but a really big and bright one, showing off all its teeth.
  1486. >It's smiling like that one cat from that one story.
  1487. >A chill runs down your spine as you look over see that the other four guards now have serious expressions on their faces and are brandishing their weapons at the feline.
  1488. >"Well, it's about bloody time one of you noticed me, and I was even making it easy for all of you."
  1489. >Hold on...
  1490. >Did that cat... JUST TALK?!
  1491. >And with a sweet sounding mare's voice with an accent?
  1492. >That's when you finally remember what a glamour is: a magical disguise.
  1493. >"At least a dozen guards have passed by over the two hours I've been lying here, and not even a pawful so much as glanced at me, let alone taken a second look. Buncha absent-minded wankers."
  1494. >Ooookay...
  1495. >What in the name of all the alloys is that cat that isn't really a cat talking about?
  1496. >That cat stands upright and does the classic cat stretch, first forelegs and then rear legs, and then walks along the edge of the roof.
  1497. >Before she gets too close to the two guards at the building she's on, she crouches and jumps.
  1498. >The talking feline seems to defy gravity and soar through the air, jumping a lot further than you'd expect even the most acrobatic cats to be capable of, to land right in the middle of the bridge.
  1499.  
  1500.  
  1501. >She raises a paw to tap at an area at the base of her neck, and five rather exquisite looking green stones materialize out of thin air.
  1502. >The way they're arranged, they're likely hanging off a heavy-duty necklace.
  1503. >You know you've seen that material before.
  1504. >If memory serves, it's something from out in the desert regions within Southern Equestria.
  1505. >The name seems to be escaping you at the moment, though.
  1506. >You're far too focused on the possible threat standing before you to contemplate it further.
  1507. >What you see next really shocks any other thoughts out of your mind.
  1508. >The feline's head starts morphing in shape, with the muzzle growing a little longer and the pink nose melting away as its nostrils grow bigger.
  1509. >It shapeshifts from feline to equine, complete with a blonde mane, though the ear fluff and slitted pupils remain, albeit with smaller copper brown irises that make her scleras visible.
  1510. >The spots of red and black disappear from her fur, and the remaining white shifts its hue to a light green tint.
  1511. >A pair of feathered wings manifests on her back, with the feathers seeming to sprout out from the expanding limbs.
  1512. >These new appendages spread as she stretches them out before folding them back up again.
  1513. >So it's a pegasus in disguise then?
  1514. >You'd expect the paws the change into hooves next, but they haven't yet.
  1515. >Is she just taking her time in removing her glamour?
  1516. >A little tuft of hair that matches her mane appears at the end of her still feline tail.
  1517. >Articles of apparel are appearing on her body now, and there's something surprisingly familiar about them.
  1518. >It actually looks like guard armor, only sleaker than the light load-out armor that you're wearing.
  1519. >Rather than segmented metal, it's more individual plates attached to a skin-tight under-armor.
  1520. >Under-armor is usually used for full load-outs for field work, but it's rarely as tight fitting as what you're seeing right now.
  1521.  
  1522.  
  1523. >Her outfit is completed with the appearance of a typical Royal Guard helmet with a crest matching her mane.
  1524. >The insignia and trim of it all indicates a Specialist rank.
  1525. >Sabots specially designed for paws instead of hooves are the last component to manifest, so it definitely isn't stolen.
  1526. >Whoever and whatever she is, she's definitely an official member of the Royal Guard, albeit a rather small member.
  1527. >... Scratch that, a formerly small member.
  1528. >She's started growing in size.
  1529. >She's already enlarged herself to the size of a filly, and her armor has grown along with her.
  1530. >A few seconds later, and she's grown to the size of a full grown mare... and then a stallion... and then even larger than that.
  1531. >She's now even taller than Dex, though her growth seems to finally be slowing down.
  1532. >You remember from your fillyhood reading a picture book that showed the sizes of various exotic animals in comparison to ponies.
  1533. >She's close enough to you that you can tell that her feline body is the same size and shape of a full grown lioness.
  1534. >She still hasn't lost that giant grin of hers either.
  1535. >That rather hungry looking grin full of lots of sharp lion teeth.
  1536. >As if she just read your mind, that maw opens and her rough feline tongue licks her equine lips.
  1537. >She raises up one of her now semi-armored paws, her rectractable claws emerging for a moment to glint in the sunlight.
  1538. >Oh Celestia's Solar Furnace!!
  1539.  
  1540. Suggested interlude music: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otd15iyp51E
  1541. Run The Jewels - 'Meowpurrdy feat. Lil Bub, Maceo, Delonte' [2015]
  1542.  
  1543.  
  1544.  
  1545.  
  1546.  
  1547.  
  1548.  
  1549.  
  1550. >What is she going to do?!
  1551. >You are still Lt. Mystic Foundry, and you are still terrified from those fearsome looking claws emerging from the holes in the toes of this strange guard's sabots.
  1552. >Their gleaming sheen in the late afternoon sun certainly shows that she takes good care of them.
  1553. >Further outward they emerge as her toes spread while she reaches her paw up into the sky.
  1554. >Logically, you know her intentions are benign, but then why is she moving like that?
  1555. >Is she just stretching some more or is she deliberately showing you just how long and deadly her reach is?
  1556. >Her long foreleg begins to quickly descend.
  1557. >Is she really going to swipe you?!
  1558. >Her paw waves sideways in front of your face... and bends up into a salute against her own forehead.
  1559. >You had flinched and recoiled back, even though you realize now that her claws had already retracted.
  1560. >Her mostly harmless paw hadn't even come close to you, although you did still feel a breeze from its motion.
  1561. >"Lieutenants! Counterintelligence Specialist Dalia Duplicité, at your service."
  1562. >She still hasn't lost that grin of hers, and you can now tell by her twitching that she's even holding back laughter.
  1563. >You blush and pout while robotically returning her salute.
  1564. >She drops her salute and bursts out laughing now, which only makes you blush harder.
  1565. >"Oi, don't be nervous, Lieutenant. I don't bite... much."
  1566. >She licks her lips again, seeming to intentionally show off that strange combo of pony lips and feline teeth.
  1567. >Those incisors of hers are massive!
  1568. "Specialist, I- I just don't like being laughed at, and I order you to stop!"
  1569. >And just like that, her laughter stops on a dime.
  1570. >Her expression snaps back to usual stoic look expected of guards.
  1571. >She stands at attention and salutes you again.
  1572.  
  1573.  
  1574. >"Orders are orders, Lieutenant."
  1575. >Now that she's standing at attention, she's standing at her full height, and her imposing size becomes more apparent.
  1576. >Granted, she isn't really that much taller and larger than you are, but you know you're tall for a unicorn.
  1577. >Maybe that's what throws you off so much when meeting creatures larger than you.
  1578. >You're so used to looking down on other ponies that you aren't used to looking up.
  1579. >You shake your head a few times to try to flush away your blush, and then clear your throat.
  1580. "Thank you, Specialist. At ease. If you don't mind me asking, why haven't you completely removed your glammer yet?"
  1581. >She drops her salute and looks at you rather quizzically, in a way you'd expect from a cat.
  1582. >She may have the face of an equine, but her mannerisms are definitely feline.
  1583. >Maybe this is her actual form after all.
  1584. >Something definitely seems familiar about her, and you rack your brain, trying to recall the menagerie of creatures you've met alongside your father during his business dealings.
  1585. >She looks you up and down again, and that grin of hers returns.
  1586. >It's almost like she can see the gears turning in your head.
  1587. >"Heh, ne'er met a Sphinx before, 'ave ya Lieutenant? What ya see is my natural form and size."
  1588. >And just like that, everything clicks into place and you swallow down what was on the tip of your tongue.
  1589. >The memory of that envoy comes rushing back.
  1590. >The pony faces.
  1591. >The lion bodies.
  1592. >The green glowpaz jewelry!
  1593. >You should be ashamed of yourself for forgetting such a material!
  1594. >But the similarities ended there, and you can't hold back the urge to spit up some of what you swallowed.
  1595. "No, I've actually met Sphinxes before, but they weren't like you..."
  1596. >Her smile starts to widen.
  1597. "Well, not entirely. They had pony heads and lion bodies, but they didn't have wings. They also had ram horns that they could use like unicorn horns."
  1598.  
  1599.  
  1600. >"Haha, I can see yer confusion, Lieutenant Foundry! To be more specific, I'm a 'ipposphinx... a Hipposphinx. The wanks you met were Criosphinxes. There are also Androsphinxes, but we all tend to use the shortpaw 'Sphinx' moniker."
  1601. >Spc. Duplicité's answer only seems to add to your confusion, and her laughter isn't helping either.
  1602. >That's further compounded by the thicker Britannian accent her laughter caused her to momentarily slip into.
  1603. >You distinctly remember the members of that envoy, those 'Criosphinxes' apparently, having Prench accents.
  1604. >But now you're now more interested in third kind of Sphinx you haven't met yet.
  1605. "Andro... Sphinxes?"
  1606. >"Yeah. You've obviously never met one, but you'll know 'em by their lack of wings and horns, as well as faces like bloody baboons. Don't tell 'em that, though. They tend to be sensitive about that comparison."
  1607. >She chuckles and winks at you, but all you can do is stare in bewilderment.
  1608. >So Sphinxes have different tribes like ponies do?
  1609. >And there might be the same kind of subtle distaste between them as with pony tribes?
  1610. >Maybe that's why that envoy made no mention of there being other kinds of Sphinxes.
  1611. >"I'm also willin' to bet you those Criosphinxes you met were doing business with your family's company, right? The Foundry Steel & Alchemy Corporation?"
  1612. >The question, despite being a common one when you give your name, still has you taken aback.
  1613. >Maybe it's just the smug way she's looking at you now.
  1614. "Y-yeah. That's correct."
  1615. >"Oh, don't be so coy now. You're the heiress to the company. Figures they'd want to put you in the Engineering Corps for the experience..."
  1616. >She leans in slightly, though at her size she's already practically in your face.
  1617. >"But they didn't, did they? You joined the Royal Guard on your own, against your family's wishes, am I right? You are a naughty girl, Lieutenant."
  1618. >She leans back to her original position and snickers, covering her smile with her paw.
  1619.  
  1620.  
  1621. >Smoldering Slag, it's like you've just gotten the wind knocked out of you!
  1622. >It's one thing for some people to already know about your family from your name and start asking questions.
  1623. >But it's quite another for them to already know the rather personal answers and start blurting them out right in your face.
  1624. >You shrink back, sit down and look at the bridge's floor, and then begin sheepishly drawing circles on it with your hoof.
  1625. "How did you know that? I haven't told anyone that, not even at the Canterlot Officer Training Academy."
  1626. >Suddenly, you don't hear her supressed laughter anymore, and she speaks with a much more sympathetic tone.
  1627. >"I wouldn't be much of an Intel Agent if I didn't already know who you are, Lt. Foundry. Sorry if I've upset you, ma'am."
  1628. >You stare up in shock and see that her demeanor has totally changed.
  1629. >Rather than a teasing grin showing off those intimidating teeth of hers, she now has a warm and welcoming closed lip smile.
  1630. >She's even extending the paw she was just using to contain her laugh, as a gesture of assistance.
  1631. >You reach your hoof up and take it, getting back up, albeit shakily.
  1632. >Her sabot's paw pad coverings are a lot softer than you expected, even when bearing part of your weight.
  1633. >Rather unusual for armor, but there must be some reason for it in the design.
  1634. >Once you've let go, she uses it to salute you again.
  1635. >"I apologize, Lieutenant. I like to tease ponies, but I never want to upset them."
  1636. "Thank you, Specialist."
  1637. >You meekly smile and salute back at her.
  1638. >"I'll be sure not to bring up any other intel I have on you unless you bring it up first."
  1639. >You nod as you drop your salute and she drops hers in kind.
  1640. >But then she winks at you and that evokes a rather unsettling feeling within you.
  1641. >Cupronickel, just how much more information did she have on you?!
  1642. >"Your companion, however, is still fair game, especially since he's my new Platoon Leader."
  1643.  
  1644.  
  1645. >Your eyes open wide as you're shaken from this worry and reminded of where you are and who you're with.
  1646. >Spc. Duplicité's devious grin is back and she's now looking past you.
  1647. >You look back over your withers and see Dex sitting down and smiling at what appears to be a card in his hoof.
  1648. >Of course that magician pony would have a second deck on him.
  1649. >From what little you can see of it, it doesn't appear to be a playing card though.
  1650. >It looks like it has writing and some charts and even an identification photo on it.
  1651. >It's too small to see at this distance, but whoever it is has light green fur.
  1652. >Did he somehow conjure up some kind of mini-dossier trading card for the Specialist, right there on the spot?!
  1653. >Unfortunately, the moment he notices the both of you looking at him, it seems to vanish with just a flick of his fetlock.
  1654. >His smile expands into a full beaming grin from the Specialist's announcement, along with whatever he got off that card he summoned.
  1655. >"Really, now? Well, in that case, it is your Illustrious Lieutenant's great pleasure to welcome you to his new platoon!"
  1656. >Your smile returns as you watch him rush over and extend a hoof to shake the Specialist's paw.
  1657. >She just as eagerly accepts it, though the shake itself is much more controlled and formal.
  1658. >Afterwards, they exchange their own salutes, and she still has that chilling smile of hers.
  1659. >"I know a lot about you too, Lt. Scuffle, and I'm quite pleased that it was you who finally saw through my glammer, though I was expecting you to be crossing this bridge eventually."
  1660. >Dexter's eyes narrow and his grin gets a little more smug too.
  1661. >"And I hope that you will continue to live up to what I now know about you, Specialist, especially since you'll be serving under my command."
  1662. >She eyes the hoof he'd used to shake her paw, where that little trading card of his had disappeared.
  1663.  
  1664.  
  1665. >"Heh, yeah, what you 'now' know about me. Don't think I didn't catch your little last minute study session there, Lieutenant. That's a neat trick, but I'm sure you have plenty of others up your greaves."
  1666. >Dex waves that hoof around in a circle a few times and takes a small bow.
  1667. >"Oh, the Illustrious Dexter has many tricks, but I'm sure you already know that. I'm pleased that my reputation as a magician precedes me."
  1668. >The Specialist holds back another chuckle.
  1669. >"It most certainly does, along with a lot of other things."
  1670. >She winks at him like she did at you moments ago, and that unsettling feeling of yours returns again.
  1671. >"Granted, it isn't as good as a full dossier, but it'll do in a pinch. You have a rather impressive record of counter intel missions, Specialist."
  1672. >"Heh, maybe my own reputation precedes me as well, but on the other paw you did have a cheat card."
  1673. >That remark gets you wondering, and you glance over at the four opposing guards on the bridge.
  1674. >The two guarding the Intel building appear to be smiling themselves and occasionally directing whispers at each other.
  1675. >Meanwhile, the two guarding the opposing building look more annoyed at the whole situation than anything else.
  1676. >Maybe what they say about rivalries between the divisions of the Royal Guard are true, but then again Dex has been nothing but friendly towards you so far, despite knowing you're an Engineering Officer.
  1677. >Or maybe it's just the heat starting to get to them, which is actually rather disappointing from a duty standpoint, considering their shifts likely started no more than a quarter hour ago.
  1678. >Her continued speech snaps your eyes back to looking straight at her and Dex again.
  1679. >"As for your reputation, is more personal information off the table for you as well?"
  1680. >At this question, Dex simply turns up his muzzle in snooty noble fashion.
  1681.  
  1682.  
  1683. >"Hmph, the Illustrious Dexter has nothing to hide unless it's been ordered classified. Besides, odds are by now just about everything significant about my personal life has already made it into Canterlot Match or another one of those detestable gossip magazines. Being a blueblood, even partially, is not without its own burdens, and after a while you learn to ignore it and just grow numb to it."
  1684. >Partially blue blooded?
  1685. >Now that gets you curious, but the mere mention of those magazines stomps it out with anger.
  1686. >Thankfully your little internal family scandal hasn't made it into one yet, but you're still dreading the day it eventually does.
  1687. >A few had already speculated on its possibility from the process of forging new rumors, but it hadn't been officially confirmed yet.
  1688. >Unfortunately, that had led their reporters sometimes stopping you while you were cantering around the streets of Canterlot.
  1689. >The fact that the Specialist was able to find out about it through whatever channels the Intel Guards have access to only enhances your dismay that they'll eventually confirm it too.
  1690. >"Good to know, though those rags are just taking the piss most of the time anyway."
  1691. >Even the Specialist has a distaste for them!
  1692. >Now you can't help but interject with your own frustrations with those publications.
  1693. "Heh, tell me about it. I might not be a noble, but I get also sometimes get photographed by paparazzi because of my daddy's company."
  1694. >Dex's snobbish expression suddenly vanishes, replaced by that poker face of his as he holds up a hoof and starts scanning the horizon.
  1695. >Just like that, the conversation grinds to a dead halt, and the Specialist assumes a serious face.
  1696. >Lieutenant Scuffle's eyes bounce from rooftop to rooftop until it finally stops on a building about a quarter klick away.
  1697.  
  1698.  
  1699. >And sure enough, from that distance you can see a fushia pegasus hovering above it and wielding a camera with a rather hefty telephoto lens.
  1700. >The photographer seems to have just taken off from the rooftop they were hiding on, and now they're slowly flying towards your location.
  1701. >Dexter sighs and forlornly hangs his head.
  1702. >"This is my fault. I should have just ignored you, Specialist, and filed a report about your presence inside. But no, I couldn't help raising my voice to shout at you, and I had forgotten that Lieutenant Foundry is also a pony of interest to the press until she just now reminded me."
  1703. >You look over and scowl at the flying photographer off in the distance before turning back to Dex.
  1704. "Cracked Crucibles, you're right. That pegasus probably recognized the both of us stopping to talk and they're likely concocting some sort of story about us to go with their photos right now. But we're both Royal Guard Officers in uniform, and surely they can't know we're between shifts right now."
  1705. >"Oh, they know, alright. They always know. It's a logical assumption. Most shift changes occur at 16:00, and since we're travelling together after that time, by now we're either off-duty or extremely late for our shift, and if it was the latter we certainly wouldn't have stopped, at least not for as long as we have. However, I'm more worried about how much of Spc. Duplicité's actions they might have seen than any gossip about the two of us."
  1706. >The Specialist turns to look up at the interloper and raises her hackles in anger.
  1707. >Her fierce feline eyes almost seem to glow and she emits a lion-like gutteral growl.
  1708. >"Are you bloody serious? Sekhmet, I'd forgotten about the pissload of nonsense like this that occurs in this city."
  1709. >Okay, those teeth of hers were intimidating when she was just jovially jesting, but now they're downright scary.
  1710. >Dex snorts and looks over at her with disappointment.
  1711.  
  1712.  
  1713. >"Maybe that's why none of the other Intel Guards that passed you stopped like I did. If they did notice you, they likely did what I should have done: Went inside and reported your presence, only to have been informed of who you are and that you are on libo, apparently spending it sunning yourself in your feline disguise for whatever reason. Instead, I let my curiosity and bravado get the best of me yet again."
  1714. >You can't tell if he's more disappointed in her or himself at the moment, though the Specialist's scowl does slacken into an apologetic frown as Dex diatribes.
  1715. >You glance over at the door guards again and see that all four of them are equally annoyed at the unwanted presence.
  1716. >Do these Cursed Contaminants really have nothing better to do with their time?
  1717. >You squint and put your hoof above your eyes to block the sunlight for a better look.
  1718. >You can now see that it's clearly a mare up there, and a rather young one at that.
  1719. >She's likely no older than a teenager, which would certainly explain her brazenness.
  1720. >Her light violet mane is styled up into a short ponytail and her actual pony tail is styled the same way.
  1721. >The fushia filly's look is completed by a reporter's cap, likely used to shield her own eyes from the sun.
  1722. "It looks like she's just a foal. Probably one of those overly ambitious high school reporters, out to make a name for herself among her peers."
  1723. >Dex stares back up at the approaching youngling again.
  1724. >"Well, that would explain why she's wantonly violating restricted airspace above these Royal Guard buildings right now."
  1725. "Shouldn't the air patrols have gotten her by now? She isn't just trespassing at this point, she's also taking photos."
  1726.  
  1727.  
  1728. >"Oh, they will, but their next pass through this area isn't for at least another five minutes. I saw what was likely the last patrol pass by right as we were exiting onto this bridge. This airspace may be restricted by default, but this is a rather low priority zone, since it's close to the city's center and no particularly useful information can be gained from the air. You'd have to actually enter the buildings for that, and that's what they're out here for..."
  1729. >He gestures towards the door guards and they're once again brandishing their weapons upwards and trying to look as intimidating as possible.
  1730. >"Unless, of course, someone does something stupidly revealing like what I ended up encouraging the Specialist to do."
  1731. >He gives Spc. Duplicité another quick look of disappointment.
  1732. >"Beforehoof, she was likely just hanging out on the rooftop of that civilian office building she seems to have taken off from, probably just pretending to nonchalantly enjoy the view of Canterlot's Skyline, when in reality she was looking for something to turn into a story. The air patrols typically ignore ponies on non-military rooftops unless they have probable cause not to. Unfortunately, my shouting at you is likely what got her attention in the first place."
  1733. >There is definitely some irritation in his voice now, almost as much as there'd been when he talked about Captain Whiplash.
  1734. >Meanwhile, the Specialist has also gone back to glowering at the approaching interloper.
  1735. >"Sorry for this, sir. I haven't been in Canterlot for quite a while, and if I'd remembered how numerous these knobs are in the city, I wouldn't have even played my little game. I even knew it would end in someone loudly calling me out from this bridge."
  1736. >The anger in her eyes quickly fades away as she notices just how serious Dex is.
  1737. >Now it seems to be her turn to hang her head in shame.
  1738.  
  1739.  
  1740. >Dex sits down, closes his eyes and turns his muzzle up into the air in order to speak with maximum noble condescension.
  1741. >"Yes, Specialist, this whole half-baked charade of yours was rather irresponsible. For both our sakes, you had better hope she didn't photograph you midway through undoing your disguise or even just being significantly smaller than your default size."
  1742. >The Specialist looks back up with a start and her eyes widen.
  1743. >Even her pupils widen to a rounder shape, but that's the only tinge of panic in a scowl of indignation.
  1744. >"Oh bullocks! Sir, please forgive me. It hadn't occurred to me that I could be photographed. I had figured that even if a passing civilian had witnessed me and attempted to tell others, they probably would have been dismissed as a made up story or hallucination."
  1745. >Dex merely snorts at this.
  1746. >He then opens his eyes and looks right at her with his stone cold poker face.
  1747. >"The fact that you're in Equestria's Capital City is no excuse for breaching any protocols you would have otherwise followed on an actual counterintelligence field mission to prevent compromising your identity and abilities. Though the Royal Guard has done its utmost to prevent enemy agents from entering this city, that doesn't discount the possibility that one could have still slipped through the cracks. I doubt it's that child up there, given her brash disregard of a controlled airspace and her general air of ineptitude, but if there's even a chance she has taken a clear photograph of what you've done, and it gets published, the consequences could be dire. Even if it only ends up in an insignificant student publication, there's still a strong chance it could spread further, and eventually end up in the possession of enemies of Equestria."
  1748. >The Specialist solemnly stares back at him, silently acknowledging that she's ready to recieve her punishment.
  1749.  
  1750.  
  1751. >"However, I am still partially responsible for this incident, both as your new C.O. and for drawing this attention to us in the first place, and I-"
  1752. >He suddenly stops and his sharp stare shifts off to the side.
  1753. >The rest of his head quickly follows to look back up into the air towards where the paparazza is.
  1754. >...Where she had been.
  1755. >It's just empty air now.
  1756. >You furiously scan the skies only to find her already beyond the building where she had taken off.
  1757. >"Ummmm, Lieutenant... she's, uh, flying away..."
  1758. >One of the Intel guards sheepishly speaks up, but Dexter's eyes stay fixated on the fleeing pegasus.
  1759. >"I can see that, Private, thank you."
  1760. >He tilts his head slightly in Spc. Duplicité's direction.
  1761. >"Specialist, you're currently the only one here with wings. We ca no longer wait for Air Patrol's next passby. Apprehend that miscreant pegasus by any means necessary. GO! NOW!"
  1762. >Spc. Duplicité salutes him and her frown flips into a smile in an instant.
  1763. >"Roger! I'll get the little git!"
  1764. >She spreads her generous wingspan, and with a few strong flaps she's off the bridge and racing to catch up.
  1765. >Her takeoff wash sends a torrent of wind along the bridge, but it's a welcomed cooling breeze by everyone else.
  1766. >She shouts up at the fleeing photographer just as she gets into the air.
  1767. >"Oi! Stop right there, criminal!"
  1768. >Unfortunately, the paparazza doesn't arrest her motion, and doesn't even seemed to have taken notice of her pursuer yet.
  1769. >Meanwhile, Dex then tilts his head towards the Intel guards.
  1770. >"Private, stand ready to assist in apprehending her if necessary. Have your partner proceed inside, alert them to the situation, and have an interrogation room standing by. Our little interloper has just turned this incident into a fiasco. Those were all ORDERS, by the way."
  1771. >"SIR!"
  1772. >"HUA, SIR!"
  1773.  
  1774.  
  1775. >They both salute him and the first guard presses a switch on his spear that causes its sharp end to split in two and fold away.
  1776. >With the sharp parts now sheathed into the sides of the shaft, a catch lasso begins to emerge from the open hole.
  1777. >The second guard seems all too eager to obey Dex's commands to head inside and out of the heat.
  1778. >Dexter finalizes with a tilt towards the other two guards, not daring to take his eyes off the suspect.
  1779. >"You two be ready to assist as well, just in case. I doubt we'll need you for what seems to be an adolescent foal, but looks can be deceiving, as you've already seen."
  1780. >Given their greater distance away, they just silently salute him.
  1781. >"Lieutenant Foundry, I'm sorry you had to get caught up in all this. I think it would be best if you left and procured paperwork at the nearest JAG office regarding Captain Whiplash."
  1782. >You blink a few times in shock, and not just at the fact he's dropped the pleasantry of using your nickname.
  1783. >In all this commotion, you'd forgotten the whole reason you'd accompanied him in the first place.
  1784. >But now that you're here, you certainly aren't missing this.
  1785. >You do your best to muster as serious a look and as deadpan a tone as he's giving you right now.
  1786. "With all due respect, Lieutenant Scuffle, I would prefer to stay and assist in any way I can, especially considering I may also be at fault here if that pegasus did indeed recognize me. Also, it would help if you had an officer from a different division corroborate this incident as well as the one with the Captain."
  1787. >This gets a scoff out of him, but it's a good one, since he's smiling again.
  1788. >"Hmph, very well. Hopefully we'll have the situation well in hoof and you'll only need to observe. Right now all any of us can do is observe, and pray to Celestia that little brat isn't smart enough to swoop down into the back streets."
  1789.  
  1790.  
  1791. >His stare still doesn't break, and you decide to join him in it.
  1792. >You don't want to miss a moment of how the Specialist plans to catch that filly.
  1793. >But when you do look up again, something seems off about what you're seeing.
  1794. >Given the Specialist's rapid acceleration, she should be well on her way to catching up, but it looks like she's actually slowing down.
  1795. >Judging by the perspective, the pegasus hasn't sped up her flight.
  1796. >She's still roughly at a canter pace in the air, ostensibly not in that much of a hurry to get out of there.
  1797. >Either she still hasn't noticed the Specialist's pursuit and doesn't realize how much trouble she's in, or she's just trying not to lose her junior reporter hat in her own draft.
  1798. >Or maybe she's overconfident and possibly planning to do exactly what Dex said.
  1799. >No wonder he isn't taking his eyes off her.
  1800. >Despite the paparazza's pace, the Specialist doesn't seem to be receding into the distance to join her.
  1801. >On the other hoof, it does seem like she is indeed catching up, based on the buildings she's already flown over.
  1802. >There's also something weird going on with her shadow, though given how shadows of pegasi and other flying creatures bounce around the sides of tall structures and in between their edges, cross streets and alleyways so rapidly when they're flying, it's hard to keep track of them.
  1803. >You almost wish it was closer to noon again so that it'd be easier to track them that way.
  1804. >Unfortunately, your only choice is to keep your eyes fixated on them.
  1805. >It appears that the pegasus has finally realized she's in trouble.
  1806. >The details of her face are hard to discern at that distance, but given her erratic evasive maneuvers, she's probably terrified.
  1807. >You can just barely see the small silhouette of her lost hat falling to the ground as she fumbles between it and her camera.
  1808.  
  1809.  
  1810. >As you watch the chase scene unfold, you find yourself blinking more and more, not from the bright sun, but from whatever weird vertigo you're getting.
  1811. >You're definitely no Artillery Guard, but you've never felt this off just watching things in the sky before, and it just keeps getting stranger every second.
  1812. >"Oh Celestia, she wouldn't..."
  1813. >Dexter's exasperated exclamation certainly hints at something.
  1814. >She wouldn't what?
  1815. >At this point there's such a forced perspective that it almost looks like Spc. Duplicité is a giant compared that filly photographer.
  1816. >It's like she could grab her with one paw...
  1817. >And she just did!
  1818. >Impure Ores that was bizarre!
  1819. >Maybe she just swiped her paw and it only looks like she had grabbed her.
  1820. >Dex heaves a harsh sigh.
  1821. >"She would. Oh, this entire ordeal will entail so much paperwork."
  1822. >What sounds like a hoof meeting face gets you to turn and see that that is indeed what Dex is doing, but with what seems like practiced poise.
  1823. >You quickly look back and see that the Specialist is returning at a much faster pace than she had left.
  1824. >At least that's what your vision is telling you, but the volume of each flap of her wings is already rivaling and now surpassing what you'd heard from her takeoff, when she was right next to you.
  1825. >When you notice her clenched paw, you see something that makes your brain seize up for a second.
  1826. >It's the photographer's frightened face poking up from the top of her fist!
  1827. >And now your brain finally makes sense of what your eyes have been telling you, but you can still scarsely believe them.
  1828. >There were old stories and rumors about Sphinxes being able to enlarge themselves to epic proportions, but you had always thought those were greatly exaggerated.
  1829. >It had still been enough to make you nervous when meeting that envoy of Criosphinxes, something that they seemed to greatly enjoy, but certainly didn't demonstrate to confirm.
  1830. >Well, here's your confirmation now!
  1831.  
  1832.  
  1833. >Celestia's Solar Forge, she's got to be over five meters from head to paw, probably around four meters at her withers... err, shoulders.
  1834. >She's flying parallel to the street, but far above the buildings because her colossal wingspan exceeds the road's width, and her enormous shadow is completely covering it.
  1835. >There's at least a whole second long interval between each wing beat as she makes a tight banking turn to orient herself with the bridge.
  1836. >The breeze coming off of them is rather gentle, though, probably because of the wide distribution of air over their entire surface area.
  1837. >You can't help but gasp in awe and just leave your mouth hanging open afterwards.
  1838. >Your audible exclamation is soon accompanied by a chorus of others, not just from the other guards on the bridge, but from a hoofful of ponies on the street below.
  1839. >In her case that expression is probably literal now, but with paws instead of a hooves.
  1840. >You even hear the sounds of a couple of carriages clamp down on their brakes and come skidding to a halt.
  1841. >It's very lucky that this is happening now of all times during the day.
  1842. >This is essentially the middle of the dead period in between the schools letting out at 15:00 and most adult ponies not leaving work until 17:00 or later.
  1843. >Most foals had already made it home by now, and the streets were mostly occupied by other Royal Guards travelling around shortly after the 16:00 shift change.
  1844. >Granted, there are always civilian exceptions, but given the current heat wave, the streets are even sparser than usual for this time of the day.
  1845. >Otherwise, her looming ubiety would be drawing a much larger crowd.
  1846. >Her flapping starts to increase in frequency she slows to a stop and prepares to land.
  1847.  
  1848.  
  1849. >Would the structural integrity of a stone bridge, especially one as long and old as this one, be enough for a creature as massive her?!
  1850. >Busted Bellows, this bridge better have hidden reinforcements on its underside or within it!
  1851. >You quickly light up your horn and perform a quick scanning spell of the span's structure to try to assauge your anxiety.
  1852. >As you sweep from one end to the other, you notice that the guards of the opposing building are looking just as nervous as you are.
  1853. >Well, the mare is, at least.
  1854. >The stallion, on the other hoof, is clearly blushing, having been granted a generous view of the her gigantic gluteals, and probably other assets.
  1855. >Hopefully those are decently concealed under armor, but you haven't gotten a clear look at her rear end at any size, so you can't be sure.
  1856. >His reaction might indicate otherwise, but right now you're more concerned with whether this span can hold the weight of her derrière and whatever might be covering it.
  1857. >Your scan leads you past Dex, who has since dislodged his hoof but still looks very displeased.
  1858. >As you conclude your magical inspection over at the other guard, you let out a raspy sigh of relief from the detection of what's probably a structure of steel beams tucked underneath the bridge to enhance its strength without ruining its aesthetics.
  1859. >The sorry state of columns around the Intel building had worried you, but perhaps it's next on the city's list of restoration projects.
  1860. >Hopefully it will be enough, but you won't know for sure until she lands.
  1861. >Her final few flaps batter everyone below her with stronger gusts of wind, which are becoming more annoying than refreshing, though her huge shadow is still welcomed for blocking the sun.
  1862.  
  1863.  
  1864. >UUWWOOOOGGAA!
  1865. >If that horn is any indication, she's certainly disrupting the meager traffic that there is.
  1866. >You peer over the parapet and sure enough, the offended noise had come from a stallion who had decided to take his Duesenross out for a spin.
  1867. >Of course it's a Duesy, out of all the brands of electric carriages that would be roaming the streets.
  1868. >Why are you not surprised?
  1869. >It's usually during the periods of low traffic that these boys whip out their D-Rods and go galavanting around the streets to show them off as they weave around pony-drawn carriages.
  1870. >That brand is rather popular because of its greater speeds and longer range with redesigned motors and the most efficient power storage gems yet, after all.
  1871. >Most of the cheaper brands could only match an average pony's gallop, though all lazy carriages can travel at least four times the distance a pony-drawn carriage can in a day.
  1872. >Although some brands are starting to catch up in that regard.
  1873. >Automobile Engineering isn't your forte, but it's still fun to follow.
  1874. >Luckily it seems to be only one motorist who chose to brave this heat, though he did have its roof up for shade and its windows down for cooling.
  1875. >That might explain why he hasn't yet noticed what every other pony has.
  1876. >It looks like he had to come to a quick stop behind a pony-drawn carriage that had already skidded to a halt several meters ahead of the bridge, but his horn is the only giveaway since all automobiles tend to run so quietly.
  1877. >There are rarely even any brake noises because the more modern self-propelled carriages can use their own engines as brakes to reclaim energy.
  1878. >He opens the door and starts to climb off the saddle seat designed to support his torso and free up all four of his limbs to operate the controls.
  1879. >Once he's out, he finally focuses on something other than the carriages completely blocking the road, and he's instantly rendered as dumbstruck as every other pony at what he sees.
  1880.  
  1881.  
  1882. >A sudden cease in her flapping flurries and a loud thud accompanied by shaking under your hooves brings your attention back to the elephantine matter at hoof.
  1883. >You can hear the metal you detected earlier start to groan under the addition of so much weight, but this unnerving noise thankfully soon subsides.
  1884. >The bridge is wide enough that four ponies could easily walk across it right next to each other, and yet she just barely fits on it.
  1885. >As she looks down at you with her positively massive eyes, you can now discern details of the brilliant mix of golden, bronze and copper colors in the irises surrounding her slitted pupils.
  1886. >Each of her eyeballs must be the size of a beach ball!
  1887. >She awkwardly smiles down at Dex, showing off those huge incisors of hers, which have got to be at least 30 centimeters in length now.
  1888. >Nevermind how painful getting chewed up would be, her mouth is big enough that she could probably swallow you whole if she wanted.
  1889. >And as if on cue, that gigantic mouth of hers opens for her to speak.
  1890. >"You did say to apprehend her by any means necessary, Lieutenant, and this was the best way to do it on my own."
  1891. >Dex simply gives an annoyed nicker in response.
  1892. >Surprisingly, her voice isn't really that much louder, in spite of how big her lungs must be.
  1893. >Maybe she's talking quietly relative to her size in order to be considerate.
  1894. >As she talks, she brings her fist forward to present her prize to her CO, and begins to slowly uncurl her toes.
  1895. >Each of her paws is as big as your whole torso now, and as she opens her fist, you catch a glimpse of the underside of her sabot with the same pad protectors you saw and felt earlier.
  1896. >It still looks the same, only much bigger, and you have to wonder if it also feels just as soft.
  1897. >A full grown pony could curl up and use it as a bed if she allowed it.
  1898. >She could also probably crush a full grown pony in one of her paws if she wanted, or just bat them around like a giant cat toy.
  1899.  
  1900.  
  1901. >Her mouth doesn't close when she finishes speaking though, and she's now staring down at the captured filly.
  1902. >"Now don't try to run away again, or you'll be going in my mouth next."
  1903. >She opens her mouth even wider and lolls out her tongue.
  1904. >It's wide enough that she could easily use it to scoop you up into her muzzle, and rough enough to stab you beforehoof.
  1905. >Tempered Steel, it's like the top of her tongue is completely covered with caltrops!
  1906. >You're only wearing your light loadout of armor right now, meant more for presentation within the city as opposed to field use.
  1907. >Yeah, you definitely wouldn't want to come in contact with those anytime soon.
  1908. >Fortunately, her mammmoth maw isn't directed towards you, but at the captured paparazza, who looks more terrified than any pony here.
  1909. >Tears are streaming down her cheeks, her ears are folded flat onto her skull, and her tail is tucked so far between her legs that it's clamped onto her underbelly.
  1910. >She still has her camera and it appears to be intact, but she's hugging it against herself with both her forelegs and wings in an iron grip.
  1911. >The filly shakily nods in agreement, and stays glued to the spot where she's been set down.
  1912. >The guard's catch pole starts to enter the corner of your vision, albeit rather shakily.
  1913. >Despite all this, as the Specialist finishes releasing her own grip, she stretches her toes back to show off her claws for emphasis.
  1914. >They gleam in the sunlight, and just like her teeth, they are very big and scary sharp, like swords made out of keratin.
  1915. >Slag, now you can't stop thinking about forging a sword in the shape of one of her claws, perhaps even a set of hollow caps for her actual claws to strengthen and shield them.
  1916. >You're also extremely curious about the kind of spellwork that went into the metals of her armor to allow it to so seemlessly change size as she does and still retain its structural integrity.
  1917.  
  1918.  
  1919. >Now that it's been enlarged, you can really start to appreciate the kind of detail and craftsponeship that went into it.
  1920. >Some of the finest metal workers in all of Equestria must have been commissioned to create it.
  1921. >It isn't really a surprise that the Royal Guard would greatly value troops that can size-shift like this, especially to this gargantuan size, and probably wouldn't spare any expense in creating armor that could be tactically advantageous at any size she's capable of assuming.
  1922. >You can't help but activate another scanning spell to check for any of the telltale signs that the metals and alchemy could have been sourced from your family's company.
  1923. >It's much more discreet than the one you had used on the bridge, and your horn only faintly glows in the process.
  1924. >Your eyes widen as you begin to pick up signs that it just might by a Foundry Steel creation.
  1925. >If it really is, how could not have known about this?!
  1926. >Perhaps the manufacturing was part of a classified government contract, one of the many Foundry Steel has acquired over the years.
  1927. >You haven't been privy to any of the finer details of any of these contracted projects yet, despite being groomed to potentially lead the company someday.
  1928. >You had your suspicions about what some of them might have been for, but you had never even contemplated manufacturing armor for Sphinxes or even Dragons that could function at this scale.
  1929. >Your scans are inconclusive, and you can't risk using anything stronger to more deeply analyze the armor, especially while the Specialist is still wearing it and its magic is likely very much active while she's at her maximum size.
  1930. >Not to mention that she's looking down at you and every pony else right now.
  1931.  
  1932.  
  1933. >No, you definitely don't want her to notice your scan and you don't want to risk tampering with her armor's spells and causing her to have a wardrobe malfunction.
  1934. >Especially not at this size, out in the open in the middle of the city.
  1935. >Even if she could immediately shrink down and hide upon that happening, there are over a dozen ponies looking right at her now.
  1936. >Given her position on this bridge above a street, huge pieces of her armor could end up falling on top of them and crushing them.
  1937. >Oh, but how your mind is now flooding with burning white hot questions about its inner workings!
  1938. >Especially when you're technically getting a magnified view of it like this.
  1939. >Maybe you could attempt to penetrate it just a little bit deeper, while the spells are actively keeping it large, just to get a feel for the spellwork involved.
  1940. >As you intensify the strength of your scan, what appears to be an outer shielding and reinforcement spell seems to rise to counter it, increasing its magnitude as you increase yours.
  1941. >Anodized Alloys, a lot of work most certainly did go into not only the craftsponeship, but the spellwork as well.
  1942. >Oh how you wish you could go a little deeper, since is the just the tip of the scanning spells at your disposal, but the risk is just too great.
  1943. >You can look, but you can't touch, neither magically nor physically, at least right now, so you settle for looking.
  1944. >Your eyes rapidly dart around her undercarriage, taking in every detail that they can, from the tips of her sabot toes to the top of her pauldrons.
  1945. >From the base of her crinet to the crest of her helmet.
  1946. >From the front of her breast plate to the rear of her... uhhh... more private protective measures.
  1947. >Could the armor around her nether regions actually have been specially reinforced to allow her to, for instance, disable an enemy vehicle by simply... sitting on it?
  1948.  
  1949.  
  1950. >There's no doubt she could easily kill at least three enemy combatants all at once underheath her huge buttocks, but to also be able to use it as a gigantic shield would be a rather useful asset on top of that.
  1951. >Just what kind of metals would it take for that kind of extreme usage?
  1952. >Would it need to change its thickness along with its size to allow for mobility at her smaller sizes?
  1953. >For that matter, what about the thickness fluctuations for the rest of the components of the armor?
  1954. >Practicality at these larger sizes in one thing, but surely weight must also become a factor.
  1955. >Then again, you aren't sure just how strong she is and what the maximum carrying capacity would be on a full loadout for a creature as massive as her.
  1956. >"See somethin' you like down there, Lieutenant Foundry? Don't think I don't feel you ticklin' me right now."
  1957. >You yelp in shock and cease your spell immediately.
  1958. >Though you wish you could stop it, you vividly blush.
  1959. "J-just admiring the craftsponeship of your armor, th-that's all."
  1960. >That wry smirk of hers returns yet again, though given that it's now four times as large, it seems to burn right into you.
  1961. >Slag, those teeth of hers!
  1962. >It's like she really does want to eat you and she's more than capable of doing so right now.
  1963. >"Yeah, sure you were."
  1964. >You don't think it's possible to blush any harder, but you somehow manage to pull it off.
  1965. >You shake your head a few times to try to clear it up.
  1966. >Before you can say anything more in response, the door guard's spear turned catch pole slips around the meddler's neck and he pulls another switch to begin tightening it.
  1967. >It tightens just enough for her to not be able to slip her head out of it.
  1968. >Luckily, there are safety mechanisms in place to prevent it from choking anyone in its grasp.
  1969. >Not many guards are skilled enough to use an actual lasso to apprehend criminals, so these catch poles that double as conventional long spears are the next best thing.
  1970.  
  1971.  
  1972. >Despite being rather mechanically complex internally, it's still cheaper to make them for each guard than it is to invest the hours to train them how to use an actual lasso.
  1973. >However, newly enlisted guards did get a signing bonus if they could demonstrate skills with an actual lasso, strangely for almost every division of the Royal Guard, including the Engineering Corps.
  1974. >You don't know how a lasso could be useful in field construction or destruction, and you certainly don't know how to use one, but maybe now you'll get a chance to see someone in your platoon use one.
  1975. >The guard tries to hold it steady despite his own nervousness, and two new guards just now emerge from the doors of the building.
  1976. >Once it's secured around her neck and its tightening mechanism clicks to indicate that it has stopped, he then fastens the other end onto his armor to allow him to guide her until she can be more properly restrained.
  1977. >Dex looks back at them and solemnly nods.
  1978. >"Good, now we can proceed inside."
  1979. >There's some bitterness in his voice, but he seems to either be calming down or holding back his anger.
  1980. >"Specialist! Disperse the crowd and return to your normal size... NOW!"
  1981. >Well, he's certainly using that angry energy in barking his commands.
  1982. >Spc. Duplicité retracts her claws and raises her massive paw to salute him.
  1983. >"Yes, sir!"
  1984. >She then looks down at the crowd, that grin of hers widening into a full smile that shows off her monster feline teeth between her huge equine lips, surely giving all of them the same nightmare fuel they give you.
  1985. >"THE LOT OF YOU CAN SOD OFF NOW! THIS IS OFFICIAL ROYAL GUARD BUSINESS. NOTHING MORE TO SEE HERE!"
  1986. >Her voice is a lot louder now, utilizing the full power of her tremendous lungs.
  1987. >And if that isn't enough, she ends it with a roar, an actual lion roar that reverberates down the street.
  1988.  
  1989.  
  1990. >You aren't sure if you've ever seen ponies disperse faster, with the pedestrians all galloping away from a standing start.
  1991. >The carriage pulling ponies rush to undo their brakes, and even the motorist is scrambling to get back into his Duesy.
  1992. >You can hear a small bell ring twice to signal it starting up, though really it's just standing by to move again.
  1993. >For automobiles, "starting up" is more a matter of reconnecting their inverters and other systems to the power storage gems in their traction batteries.
  1994. >Uwooga! Uwooga!
  1995. >He gives his horn a few feverish taps, and his car quietly swerves around the carriage it's behind almost immediately after the other one in the opposing lane passes it.
  1996. >It then silently accelerates off down the street and into the distance.
  1997. >When you return your attention back to the bridge, you can see Specialist already in the process of reducing herself back down.
  1998. >She's now only twice your size, though her shrinkage is starting to slow.
  1999. >As striking as her full size is, there's still something strange about seeing her around the same size as Princess Celestia.
  2000. >You can only guess at Celestia's true size, since you've never seen her up close before, and for all you know she could size-shift as well.
  2001. >Who knows what you could do with the immense power of an alicorn?
  2002. >When her shrinking finally stops, you have to squint for a moment, because you could have sworn her 'default' size was a little bit smaller.
  2003. >Maybe that sneaky Sphinx is keeping a few extra centimeters to lord over you.
  2004. >Or maybe it's just your wild imagination at work again.
  2005. >Slag, would you also be this touchy about other mares being taller than you?
  2006. >You haven't really noticed this about yourself before, as it's been rare for you to meet other ponies taller than you.
  2007. >Maybe it's just the way the Specialist was teasing you earlier.
  2008. >And maybe that's also why she's decided to keep a few extra centimeters, to use as another way to tease you.
  2009.  
  2010.  
  2011. >Your mind is broken out of its endless loop as she walks past you, and you look back to see every pony else already inside, except for the two replacement door guards.
  2012. >Dex is still straddling the door's threshold and beckoning you both into the building.
  2013. >You do measure up her height against yours as she walks by, but she really is only a centimeter or two taller.
  2014. >You also catch a quick glimpse of her hindquarters and thankfully it's decently covered, though the armor is divided up into plates on each of her cheeks.
  2015. >There's a third narrow plate in between that has some rather suggestive shapes and engravings to it, so you can now see why that stallion was blushing.
  2016. >As the Specialist proceeds forward, she turns her head back and mockingly winks at you, which only gets you to pout back at her.
  2017. >As she passes by Dexter, he gives her a glare of discontent, but his expression lightens once he turns back to you.
  2018. >Both his reaction to her and to you certainly help lighten your own mood, though the situation still remains rather tense.
  2019. >"Misty, were you still interested in corroborating this incident as well as the one with the Captain?"
  2020. >His use of your nickname certainly brings a smile to your face.
  2021. "You bet your ass I am!"
  2022. >He smiles in return and gently snorts.
  2023. >"Hmph. The Illustrious Dexter only gambles his hindquarters in certain special circumstances."
  2024. >He winks at you and you have to try your hardest to surpress a laugh as you get up and trot past him into the building.
  2025. >You aren't about to pass up a chance to see the inside of this place, and you certainly aren't going to miss a moment of what happens next.
  2026.  
  2027. Dolph C. Volker - How Sharp Are Cheetah Tongues? | BIG CAT Licks Friends Arm Until Bleeds For Science
  2028.  
  2029.  
  2030.  
  2031.  
  2032.  
  2033.  
  2034.  
  2035.  
  2036. >"Good afternoon, Sergeant!"
  2037. >Aww yiss, you love the sound of that!
  2038. >You are Sergeant Bezequille Quartz now, not Corporal.
  2039. >You return the guard's salute with a bright smile.
  2040. "Carry on!"
  2041. >As you pass him the hallway, your vibes increase, but you know it isn't him you're looking for.
  2042. >Every pony has their own unique vibes that send tingles down your spine, but there's a different set of sensations telling you to keep looking.
  2043. >Your Earth Pony Intuition already knows that you'll soon make a lot of new friends, likely the members of your new CT Squad.
  2044. >Yeah, the Clairvoyant Triad you'll now be leading instead of supplementing!
  2045. >And it only took you two years in the Royal Guard Intel Branch, with just 6 months in a Shaft.
  2046. >It's because you're so wondrous!
  2047. >And your hooves are so thundrous!
  2048. >You're as wondrous as you wanna be!
  2049. >As you round another corner, the beckoning aura gets stronger.
  2050. >Yeah, it's definitely another seer seeking you out, and you're as ready as ever to make an impressive impression on them.
  2051. >Your light loadout armor with its new rank trim and insignia is shined bright.
  2052. >Your multi-colored mane and tail is styled like porcupine quills to fit your name.
  2053. >Your tan coat is presentable enough, and your fetlocks are freshly trimmed.
  2054. >Your siesmothaumic 6th sense is strumming on your muscle fibers like a kickass guitar now.
  2055. >And as if on cue, at the other end of the hallway, a pegasus trots into view from behind a blind corner.
  2056. >That one final spasm from a fulfilled prophecy rocks through your whole body, leading you to visibly shake and sigh.
  2057.  
  2058.  
  2059. >The distant lavendar pegasus stops where she stands and looks around until her light blue eyes lock with yours.
  2060. >A small smirk breaks her deadpan expression and you double up on your beaming grin.
  2061. >As you start to approach her, her posture confirms your sense that she's the one you're looking for.
  2062. >The primaries on her wings and the rectrices above her tail are all spread to 'feel' the air, and visibly shook when she saw you.
  2063. >Only aerothaumically attuned pegasi carry themselves like that when indoors, with their wings open slightly but still tucked enough to let other ponies move past them.
  2064. >Once you're within 6 paces of her, she snaps to a specialized parade rest that lets her keep her wings like that.
  2065. >"Good afternoon, Sergeant!"
  2066. >Her voice is calm yet confident, and she's vibing the same way, so it's not feigned.
  2067. >Yeah, definitely getting friendly vibes off her now that you're closer, with a hint of excitement on top of that.
  2068. >"Dowse on, Corporal, though I get the feeling it's me you were dowsing for."
  2069. >Her stance eases and she nods and stretches her wings before returning to them to dowsing position.
  2070. >"Indeed. The air currents have guided me to you, Sergeant. Cpl. Azalea Fogfeather, at your service... quite literally."
  2071. >You bounce on your hooves at the confirmation of her name.
  2072. >Word tends to spread fast amongst NCOs, so you already know your comrades' names, but not their faces.
  2073. >Clairvoyant Guards might be a small club, but only small when compared to the Royal Guard as a whole.
  2074. >There are enough of us spread out throughout Equestria and plenty kept isolated at leyline stations for none to have met all the rest.
  2075. >In fact, it was better that way to help prevent confirmation bias, but you're still excited whenever you meet a fellow prophet.
  2076. >"Welcome to my CT Squad, Corporal! I hope you can keep up with me."
  2077. >"I am looking forward to the prognostications we'll make for our platoon together, Sgt. Quartz."
  2078.  
  2079.  
  2080. "You can call me Beezy or Sarge if you want."
  2081. >She nods a bit harder this time, causing her long light pink mane to sway in front of her face.
  2082. >"Very well, Sarge Beezy. Shall we seek out Specialist Augurhorn now?"
  2083. >Oh Gaia, you have to suppress a laugh from her using both.
  2084. >"Is something the matter, Sarge Beezy? Are you sensing something I'm not?"
  2085. "Ahahahaha, 'Sarge Beezy'! Didn't expect you to use both at the same time, Azzy. May I call you Azzy?"
  2086. >"Whatever you prefer to make our CT Squad more efficient, Sarge."
  2087. >You wrestle with your laughter to get to subside, as there's now something new nagging at you.
  2088. >It's obvious from the quick rustle of your new subordinate's wings that she's also feeling the vibe.
  2089. "Oooh, something big is going to happen soon! Pretty sure that's the same vibe that brought me here."
  2090. >"Indeed, Sarge. It wasn't just the air around you that led me to this place, but the oncoming front of an event that will concern our CT Squad. Should we locate our 35PSY or wait for her to be drawn to it as well?"
  2091. "Odds are, she's already here, but she isn't dowsing for us like we were for each other. Her vibes are much fainter and I haven't picked up on them yet."
  2092. >You jump again in excitement.
  2093. "Let's find her before it happens, so we don't have to meet during it. It's still a little while off, given the vibe frequency."
  2094. >She calmly nods again, but it looks like her faint smile has gotten a little brighter.
  2095. "I think there's enough space in the hallway to do full spread queromancy, as long as we keep it brief. Afternoon shift change has already happened, so there won't be much more hoof traffic through this hall."
  2096. >"Very well, Sarge. I'll begin on your command."
  2097. "That's what I like to hear!"
  2098. >You hook your foreleg, curl your hoof, and swing it across your chest in an affirming motion.
  2099. "And Four! Three! Two! One!"
  2100.  
  2101.  
  2102. >With each number you shout, you stomp one of your hooves onto the ground, spreading them out underneath you and firmly rooting yourself to the floor.
  2103. >You might be several levels off the actual ground, but Mother Earth's vibes can still travel up buildings.
  2104. >As you're doing that, Azalea fully stretches out her wings and tail and fans out the feathers on all three.
  2105. >On the last number, you both close your eyes and starting divining the vibes.
  2106. >There might not be many ponies in the hallways, but the offices are definitely buzzing with activity.
  2107. >Concentration and consternation.
  2108. >Frustration and fatigue.
  2109. >Meticulous analysis.
  2110. >Yeah, the rainbow of emotional vibes you'd expect out of a typical day in an Intel building.
  2111. >You'll need to weed through them to find one that's wandering and wondering.
  2112. >Unfortunately, another big quake from the oncoming event disrupts your divination and tightens your stomach.
  2113. >Now that you're tuning out your other senses, it's strong enough that you could start prophesizing from it.
  2114. >It's like a camera flash in your eyes, leaving you with annoying afterimages, but in the form of nerve pinches and tingles at specific points in your body.
  2115. >Normally you'd take to time to search your memory for what events those specific body parts correspond to, but right now you're doing queromancy, so it'll have to wait.
  2116. >Finally, you sense some of the vibes you want, ones from a psychic!
  2117. >Maybe another floor or two up.
  2118. >No wait, you're already just one floor away from the top, where the road crossing bridge is.
  2119. >Ooooh, another heavy quake!
  2120. >Your body actually shakes to this one, so the event's probably going to occur up there on or near it.
  2121. >Those quiet vibes are being masked by the upcoming event, so it's hard to pinpoint the pony making them.
  2122. >Eh, it's enough to go on.
  2123. >You open your eyes and Azalea opens hers at almost the same time.
  2124. >You both look up at the ceiling, and your excitement grows.
  2125.  
  2126.  
  2127. "Aww yiss, we're already in sync! The psychic's even beaten us to where we're all destined to be."
  2128. >"Indeed. Hopefully that is Specialist Augurhorn a floor above us."
  2129. "Probably, so let's go meet them and find out!"
  2130. >You bounce on your hooves again and accelerate up to a canter, bounding past her to take point up the nearest stairwell.
  2131. >You can feel Azalea following closely behind you without having to look back, and you can even sense her excitement growing.
  2132. >Looks like she can keep up with you, though you both have to stop for a moment.
  2133. >The precognitive tremors are starting to increase in frequency, and you look back to see Azzy's wings and tail shivering right along with your body.
  2134. >Yeah, whatever it is, it's going to happen soon.
  2135. >You both resume your journey, cantering up to the top and bursting through the door.
  2136. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see an orange unicorn has already turned to face the door and look right at you.
  2137. >You sigh as you get that high from another fulfilled prophecy, but the big one still hasn't happened yet.
  2138. >Her yellow eyes close for a moment in a flinch, and that brings a naughty grin to your face.
  2139. "At ease, Specialist!"
  2140. >She opens her eyes and immediately assumes parade rest.
  2141. >"G-good afternoon, Sergeant!"
  2142. >She has a soft voice, but still manages to muster the volume for a proper greeting.
  2143. >You quickly close the gap and stare her down with your cheeky smirk.
  2144. "Specialist Czarina Augurhorn, correct?"
  2145. >"Y-yes, Sergeant."
  2146. >She doesn't break eye contact with you, but she does physically lean away a few centimeters.
  2147. >Now that you're next to her, you confirm that her vibes do match up with the ones your were sensing, and you're able to get more info from them now.
  2148. >Her anxiety and uncertainty are painfully obvious, but there's more to it, almost like a deep-seated fear.
  2149. >Maybe she's just really shy about meeting new ponies, so it's time for some reassurance!
  2150.  
  2151.  
  2152. "Haha, dowse on, Specialist Augurhorn, and welcome to my CT Squad."
  2153. >She relaxes and takes a few steps back, looking past you to where you'd emerged.
  2154. >You look back and see Azalea slowly and carefully closing the stairwell door behind her.
  2155. >She stops with it ajar, right as you feel the next tremor take you.
  2156. >You see her wings shivering and then look back to the Specialist.
  2157. >Her head rattles as she takes a ragged breath, and a few dim sparks appear around her horn.
  2158. "Oooh, looks like we're all where we need to be and it won't be long now! Are you excited, Specialist?"
  2159. >"Ummm... Not really..."
  2160. >Okay, now that deflates you a little.
  2161. >You focus intensely on her vibes, trying to glean any positive feelings from it, but you can't find any.
  2162. >You get up on your hind hooves and stretch both your forelegs towards her in exasperation.
  2163. >"Oh, come on, Specialist. Is this the first time you've been this close to an event you've divined?"
  2164. >She looks down at the floor and shuffles her hooves.
  2165. >"Ummm... this is the first time I've been outside my SDC, Sergeant."
  2166. >You get back down on all fours and nicker in frustration.
  2167. >She's practically mumbling her words, so you decide to adhere to the civilian stereotype for your new rank.
  2168. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU, SPECIALIST!"
  2169. >Yeah, you'd probably make a pretty good drill instructor.
  2170. >She immediately looks back up at you and reassumes her parade rest.
  2171. >"This is the first time I've been outside my Sensory Deprivation Chamber, Sergeant!"
  2172. >Now that's better, and everything about her vibes and demeanor makes sense now.
  2173. "So this is your first field assignment! Don't worry, newbie, I'll show you the ropes, and Corporal Fogfeather over there will help."
  2174. >You gesture back at her, now that she's completed closing the door.
  2175. >She moves out from behind you and nods her head in agreement.
  2176. >"Indeed. I am more than willing to assist any Clairvoyant fresh out of the Isolation Phase of their service."
  2177.  
  2178.  
  2179. >You nod towards Azalea and smile assuringly at the Specialist.
  2180. "There, see! Don't worry, you'll love it. I can't tell you how glad I was to finally get out of that stuffy Leyline Shaft and start my field work. Now rela--"
  2181. >Oh Gaia, they're getting stronger!
  2182. >That tremor is strong enough to make all three of you cringe in place.
  2183. "Any moment now! As I was saying, Specialist, relax. If you tense up, you impair your precognition, though maybe it's different for unicorns. By the way, your name, Czarina; that starts with a C and a Z, right?"
  2184. >She shuffles her hooves again, but doesn't stare as far into the ground as last time.
  2185. >"Yes, Sergeant."
  2186. >Your excitement is infectious, as you finally start to pick up the tiniest tinge of it from Czarina.
  2187. "This is perfect! She's Azzy, I'm Beezy, and you can be Ceezy! Do you mind if I call you Ceezy?"
  2188. >She lifts her head a little bit higher.
  2189. >"Others have called me that before, so I guess it's okay. I don't mind."
  2190. >You rear up on your hind legs, curl your front hooves and pump your forelegs towards your chest.
  2191. "YUSS! Thank you!"
  2192. >You get back down and bounce on all fours a few times, and then another tremor hits you.
  2193. >As you shake, one side of your body gets it stronger than the other, and you find yourself leaning towards the end of the building with the road bridge.
  2194. >Both your subordinates are now looking in that direction as well.
  2195. >There are a few more will-o-wisps dancing around Ceezy's horn, and Azzy's wing feathers look like wind chimes at this point.
  2196. >As you direct your empathic attention towards the bridge, you involuntarily begin walking down the hallway toward it.
  2197. >The rest of your squad follows suit without an order or any word from you.
  2198. >That's the beauty of a well matched CT Squad: We work as one because we're all able to sense the same forthcoming events to the same degree.
  2199.  
  2200.  
  2201. >As you begin to pick up on the vibes in-between the event tremors, the scene's picture becomes clearer without having to see anything.
  2202. >There are a lot of ponies on that bridge, including one that doesn't quite feel like a pony.
  2203. >Oooh, focusing on that one brings about another strong tremor, so they must be the centerpiece of what's about to happen.
  2204. >You take a moment to regain your composure from that, feeling out the other vibes while you get back up to walking speed.
  2205. >About half a dozen others, give or take, and they're all a mix of interesting, albeit concerning, emotions.
  2206. >Apprehension, confusion, a dash of fear here and there, stoic battle-readiness, and even a bit of excitement.
  2207. >That gets your own excitement going, and you quicken your pace.
  2208. >Luckily, Azzy seems to be following suit, though Ceezy might be falling behind.
  2209. >You look back and confirm that she is indeed starting to straggle a bit, and you flash her a stern look.
  2210. >You open your mouth to give a command, but close it again when you see her horn start to glow, which tilts her head forward, stretches her neck, and causes her to quicken her pace.
  2211. >Heh, gotta love that 'horn dragging' that occurs in psychics, at least in this case.
  2212. >Probably why she beat the both of you up here despite her obvious reluctance.
  2213. >Yeah, psychothaumically attuned unicorns tend to go where they need to be, even if they don't want to be there.
  2214. >That can be double-edged sword from a tactical perspective until they learn to control it in the field.
  2215. >This really is her first time outside a SDC, where all she'd have to worry about is gently bumping into one of its walls.
  2216. >Still, similar phenomena occur in highly attuned clairvoyants in the other two tribes too.
  2217. >Eh, you won't worry about now.
  2218. >You want your team where you're being drawn towards, and this is when the labyrinthian nature of these buildings frustrated you the most.
  2219.  
  2220.  
  2221. >Gaia, it's so annoying when you end up having to walk further away from what's drawing you close in order to get closer to it!
  2222. >A turn here, a turn there, down another hall.
  2223. >At least you didn't have to go down to the previous level and up to this one again, which you sometimes have to do in some parts of Canterlot.
  2224. >Booyah, you finally made it to the security receptionist's desk!
  2225. >And right there you see a sweaty guard frantically gesticulating and yelling security codes at the poor mare behind it.
  2226. >All the while, she's shaking her head and calmly nodding in between taking notes.
  2227. >What a great contrast between a seasoned POG and a new shoe!
  2228. >It brings a wry grin to your face before the biggest tremor yet takes you and the rest of your squad.
  2229. >Woah, you're actually having trouble standing now on your shaky legs.
  2230. >Meanwhile, Azzy is actually flapping her wings as much as she physically can in this tight place.
  2231. >Poor Ceezy is now sitting on her haunches and rubbing both her temples.
  2232. >You shake off the quake enough to hear the receptionist guard audibly sigh in the background.
  2233. >She picks up one of the comm lines at her desk, relaying a message with some of those security codes.
  2234. >You hear enough to know some dumbass was caught peeping at the building, and is in the middle of being apprehended.
  2235. >Still, that isn't the big event, though it does evoke another tremor from you and your team.
  2236. >Gonna have to sit down for this one!
  2237. >It takes a few moments for it to pass, so you know the event is coming soon.
  2238. >Just as these shakes subside, you notice two guards, looking none too happy, round the corner your CT Squad just did.
  2239. >Yeah, you can even feel the shockwaves of seethe eminating from them.
  2240. >Heh, probably got called away from standby, which for the garrison guards is mainly hanging out in the nearest rec room.
  2241.  
  2242.  
  2243. >Of course, the moment they take notice of the sorry state you and the other two clairvoyants are in, they stop dead in their tracks.
  2244. >Their vibes of anger cease and you feel a wave of fear pulse from them, and your two partners take notice too.
  2245. >Some of the color drains from their faces as they immediately assume parade rest and salute.
  2246. >"G-good afternoon, Sergeant."
  2247. >You stand back up and salute them back, but you can't help but chuckle and give them a wide-eyed wicked smile.
  2248. "Haha, carry on, and don't be scared. These are tremors of excitement. Whatever's about to happen, you guys are in for a treat!"
  2249. >Yeah, that doesn't seem to reassure them, but you've gotta hoof it to them for at least trying to remain stoic.
  2250. >They're still fear vibing, and an audible gulp manages to escape from the other guard's throat.
  2251. >"If you say so, ma'am."
  2252. >They walk past your team and cautiously open the door, letting in some of the bright summer sunlight and outside air.
  2253. >This gets Azzy to perk up, as she flaps her wings a few times and inhales sharply through her nose to get a whiff of the vibes from the ponies outside.
  2254. >She stops her sniffing and flapping as soon as the door closes behind them, but hopefully she's gotten what she needs from that brief sample.
  2255. >You look over to see how Ceezy is doing, but you hear a shout from outside.
  2256. >"THE LOT OF YOU CAN SOD OFF NOW! THIS IS OFFICIAL ROYAL GUARD BUSINESS. NOTHING MORE TO SEE HERE!"
  2257. >ROOOOAAAARRRR!!
  2258. >Oh Gaia, the spasm jolts through your spine like a lightning bolt!
  2259. >You fall onto your ass and just sieze up for a few moments, letting the feeling take you.
  2260. >When you open your eyes, you see Azalea's wings hanging limply at her sides as her takes a few calming breaths.
  2261. >Czarina, on the other hoof, is hyperventilating.
  2262. >Definitely the first time she's been this close to an event she's augured.
  2263. >You'll have to drill some sense into that mare if she often loses it like this.
  2264. >But for now... IT'S HAPPENING!
Royal Guard OC Greentext Sphinx

Elsewhile in the Royal Guard : Chapter 1

by ChaosMageX

Elsewhile in the Royal Guard : Chapter 1

by ChaosMageX