"You're welcome," Silver Spoon said as she permitted Swiftlight to pass. He opened the door in town hall and found Mayor Diamond Tiara inside. She was engrossed in what looked like speech notes. Her office was cluttered with campaign materials and other paperwork. He approached her slowly, but she didn't acknowledge him.
"Madam Mayor," he spoke as calmly as possible through his fears.
She looked up, and then gave him her full attention, "Captain Swiftlight. I take it you have a message from the general?"
"No, ma'am," he began. "But the matter is of the highest importance."
"What do you mean?" she asked. Without waiting for his reply, she continued, "What could you possibly have that is of higher importance that what's going on here right now?" She suddenly seemed rather frantic.
"I have information that-"
"Do you realize what I'm dealing with?" she cut him off. “I should be making Ponyville a better place, not campaigning again. This entire town has risen up against me." Swiftlight had never seen her so ill-composed. "I'd have never thought it would come to this, but they might be throwing me out tonight, me. They might actually do it. I'm about to go into a debate with the one mare in the city the nopony questions her honesty. Do you realize what kind of advantage that gives her?”
Swiftlight was already frustrated. "Ma'am, I get that you're stressed, but we don't have time for this. We're all-"
"That's where you're wrong, captain. I don't have time for this! I am very busy trying to save my position, so whatever you have to say can wait until later!" she spoke aggressively and stood from her desk.
Frustration was nearing a breaking point, “Ma’am-“
"Well, I hope you lose tonight!" Swiftlight's anger flash-boiled, "I'm not sure how a toad like you ever got elected in the first place!"
He stormed out of her office, slamming the door as he went. He could hear her shouting after him as he walked down the hallway. He didn't care. There were more important things to figure out presently. He stomped loudly through the corridor and left the town hall. A lungful of fresh air outside was helpful, but clearing his mind was troublesome after that unpleasant confrontation. As he stamped around in the fading light of day, he caught sight of the setting sun and Java Chip's words came to him from long ago. 'You're fine, just relax. Rushing around like that is bound to get you hurt sooner or later. Now take a deep breath, calm yourself, and let's keep moving. We'll be fine.'
They had been climbing a mountain and making good time when she’d spoken those words to him. Swiftlight was sure that they'd be able to break the speed record for reaching the summit, but then he'd made an unsure step and slipped, sliding down a slope. As they were tied together, she was pulled down after him. Neither of them were seriously injured, but they lost too much time to be able to beat the record. It was sound advice that he had never forgotten.
'So, what do I do now?' he thought to himself. 'Think, think,' but answers were slow in coming. 'What is my objective? Warn Prince Shining Armor. How can you do that? Get a message to him.' Swiftlight perked up a little as his mind worked through this. 'Or get a message to someone he can trust.' Swiftlight knew just the pony to receive such a message, but how to get it to him? Shining Armor's aide would be trustworthy, and he would certainly pass along any message of such importance. 'But how to get it to him undetected? I can't just send a letter; I'd get caught. What about the sit-rep dispatches?' Swiftlight grinned and began walking toward the castle. He now had a plan. He was going to include a covert message inside the normal report that gets sent up to Cloudsdale every week. Once those reports were assembled, nopony looked at them until they were in Cloudsdale. It was his best chance to get a message to Shining Armor that would be read quickly.
As he walked away, everypony in Ponyville was heading toward the town hall to gather in the square. From what he had heard, the debate was supposed to begin at sundown. That seemed a strange tradition to Swiftlight, especially considering that everypony was allowed to ask a question. This thing could take all night.
"Hey Swiftlight," Java Chip called through the crowd.
He stopped and waited for her to get to him.
"You're not coming to the debate?" she asked.
He shrugged trying to not let her distract him from his purpose, "No, I've got things to do."
"At night?" she inquired, tilting her head.
"Nothing serious; I just need to go over some paperwork. We filed it earlier, but I just have a feeling that they weren't done correctly." This would make a good excuse if anypony else asked why he wanted to see the report. It was not uncommon for Swiftlight to go over these before they were dispatched to Cloudsdale.
"Okay, well come find me if you change your mind,” she said cheerfully.
"Affirmative; I'm sure I'll need coffee in the morning," he replied.
She grinned at him before walking off, following the amassing crowd. Swiftlight pushed his way through. By the time he got near the castle, there was nearly nopony around. As it came into view, a voice called from a nearby building.
"Captain Swiftlight," it said to him in a hushed tone.
Swiftlight stopped, turning to face the one addressing him. It was the captain from Brax's battalion that had been at the secret meeting before. Swiftlight approached warily.
"What is it?"
"I saw you in that meeting, and I know you feel like I do," the captain began.
"I don't know what you're talking about. If you'll excuse me, I have work to do," Swiftlight said dismissively as he turned to walk away.
In a hushed tone the captain frantically said, "I don't want there to be a coup!"
Swiftlight stopped dead in his tracks as his heart began pounding. That was a foolish thing to admit to somepony that is involved in a conspiracy. He wasn't sure how to respond, and all options quickly ran through his mind.
Turning suddenly back to the captain, Swiftlight quietly said, "Are you insane or just stupid? Don't ever say anything like that, not to anypony."
"I saw your face when they were talking about it. I know you don't want this any more than I do," the captain said.
"You're serious about stopping it?" Swiftlight asked. At this point, he decided that the captain was likely sincere, and a complete idiot.
The captain nodded with a defiant fire in his eyes.
Swiftlight said, "Meet me at the Ponyville school two hours before dawn. Do you know where it is?"
"On the hill on the southwest side of town," the captain replied. "I'll be there."
"Do not speak of this to anypony," Swiftlight cautioned him.
The captain walked silently away, leaving Swiftlight standing there a moment. The last light of the setting sun could just be seen beaming over the treetops to the west. Swiftlight turned and walked into the castle. His pulse was quickened from that exchange, and from what he knew he had to do. This captain had just provided him with a perfect distraction to ensure that he'd be able to get to the dispatches and add his covert message undetected. Of course, this was only an opportunity. This was still a dangerous game to be playing, and Swiftlight was well aware of it. His heart was still beating rapidly inside his chest as he entered the castle.
A quick heartbeat was the tell-tale sign of the nervous excitement that Scootaloo felt as Applejack and Diamond Tiara came out on the stage to address all of Ponyville. The judge was going to moderate, and he was making the opening address. The open square around town-hall was jammed full of stallions and mares, colts and fillies from all over town; nearly everypony had come. Outdoor illumination had been set up to spotlight the candidates and also for the thick congregation to be able to see as well. Up the center, an aisle had been roped off that went up to the platform they all faced. The air was crisp in the early evening.
"Hey guys," Java Chip said quietly as she pushed through the crowd to get to Scootaloo and the others.
"Howdy," Apple Bloom greeted her.
"Have you met Cloud Blazer?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"No, I hadn't. Hi, I'm Java Chip."
Cloud Blazer turned in his wheelchair to see her, "Nice to meet you. I'm Cloud Blazer."
"I know," Java Chip replied cheerfully. "Your friends have told me all about you."
Scootaloo shushed the others as applause broke out. The introductions were over, and it was time for the opening statements. Applejack stepped forward, as it was custom for the challenger to speak first.
"Howdy y'all!" she said heartily, only a hint of nervousness seeping through. "I must say, I'm plumb amazed at the faith you've all shown in me to let me come here today. So, first of all, I wanted to thank y'all for giving me the chance to come here and speak." She paused briefly before continuing, "I'm not terribly fond of politics, but sometimes things just ain't being done well, and they need fixing. I've lived here in Ponyville all my life. Most of you knew my Granny Smith; she was just a little filly here when the town was founded, and we Apples have been here working the land ever since. I only mention that 'cause I want what's best for all of us. That begins with personal rights and fair laws. The way I see it, and I'm not the only one, there've been some things of late that just don't add up. Did y'all know there's a tax that only affects one business in town? Now, I don't claim to know the full truth of the matter, but I do know that Java Chip catered the Mayor's birthday, charged her full price, and within two months this new small business tax hit, and Java's is the only business in all Ponyville that has to pay it. Now that seems a might strange to me, and I think some investigating needs to be done. In case anypony here hasn't heard, the mayor sent her aide to tell me that by some new authority she had been given, she was effectively seizing Sweet Apple Acres and telling me what I can and can't plant. More than that, they were gonna give away the food that was produced, so I would have got nothing. Never mind that there is land of plenty all around Ponyville that's fit for farming, and that she did eventually offer to pay me something for the use of the land; it just ain't right to tell somepony what they're gonna grow on their own land. That’s the way I see it.”
The moderator motioned at Applejack, and she stepped back. Diamond Tiara had made some notes, but she set her pencil on the lectern and stepped out from behind it to address everypony.
"Good evening," Diamond Tiara greeted the crowd. "I would not argue against anything my esteemed challenger has said so far... in the best of times. However, as we all know, these are far from good times we are living in. The war has threatened to destroy us all, especially in the last few weeks. All of the recent measures that have been taken to help Ponyville and Equestria have been completely necessary as part of our comprehensive survival strategy. Who wouldn't support personal rights?" She paused a moment; Scootaloo thought she seemed incredibly polished as she spoke without notes. "At this very moment, the greater concern is that we survive. What would our rights matter if we all starve to death? Sweet Apple Acres was chosen as the beginning of the new farming initiative. It is already prepared to be planted, making it the best possible place to begin, and that gives us the best chance to not only support ourselves here in Ponyville, but we'll be able to export to the rest of Equestria. It is true that we had initially thought to give away the produce, but the wisdom of selling it was quickly accepted. In time, that will mean lower taxes for all of us. When the war is over, and we stand victorious, all personal liberties will be restored, and I should add that nothing has been done without the approval of your city council.” Diamond Tiara began pacing to one side as she spoke, "I'm asking you to join me right now. Let us band together, and each of us give of our strength, of our abilities, of our talents, of our very lives to see that victory comes soon. If you join with me, I will make certain that everypony receives what they need to live to see that day."
The moderator was motioning again, and Diamond Tiara bowed her head slightly and returned to her lectern. The sound of her hooves clopping on the stage echoed through the early evening, the sun having set only moments before. Sporadic applause erupted throughout the crowd. Scootaloo was sure it must have been started by Silver Spoon, but she couldn't find her in the masses. The moderator banged his gavel, restoring the calm and quiet.
Standing, the moderator spoke, "Everypony that would ask a question, please form a line up the middle aisle."
The stillness of the crowd became a great deal of movement, like waves on the ocean with bobbing and rippling as ponies made their way to line up. It was going take some time for Scootaloo to get to ask her own question.