Disclaimer: This story follows Mr. Doyle's work fairly closely for the first two parts. This is a stylistic choice and lasts no further than the opening.
A Study In Rainbows
In the year 1878 I took my title of Best Young Flier in Equestria from the University of Cloudsdale and proceeded to Beaumount to go through the course prescribed for Celestia's Royal Guard. Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Neighthumberland Fusiliers as assistant Thunderstriker. The regiment was stationed in Zebrica at the time, and before I could join it, the second Moon War had broken out. On landing in Gallopoli I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes and was already deep in the enemy's country. I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Cantar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.
The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Storm Squadron, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Damarescus. There I was struck on the wing by a Zebra pie, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Zebras had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Gilda, my orderly, who threw me across her own back and succeeded in bringing me safely to the Equestrian lines.
Worn with pain, and weak from the prolonged hardships which I had undergone, I was removed, with a great train of wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Saddleworth. Here I rallied, and had already improved so far as to be able to fly about the wards, and even to bask a little upon the veranda when I was struck down by enteric fever, that curse of our Zebrican possessions. For months my life was despaired of, and when at last I came to myself and became convalescent, I was so weak and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day should be lost in sending me back to Equestira. I was dispatched accordingly, in the troopship Repeated Evacuation, and landed a month later on the Manehattan jetty, with my health irretrievably ruined, but with permission from a paternal government to spend the next nine months in attempting to improve it.
I had neither kith nor kin in Equestria, and was therefore as free as air -- or as free as an income of eleven bits will permit a Pegasus to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to Ponyville, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. I stayed for some times in the clouds, going through the motions of building a home there as we had been taught in Flight School, but I always had a propensity for living outside my means. Before too long I was deeply in debt to an earth pony named Applejack and found myself having to either seek gainful employment or change my habits.
On the very day that I had come to this conclusion, I was standing at the Soft Serve Soda Bar, when some pony tapped me on the shoulder, and turning round I recognized Gilda, who I had not seen since I had been discharged by the air force. I joined her at the bar for a round of drinks.
"Whatever have you been doing with yourself, Rainbow Dash?" Gilda asked, "You're as thin as a rake!"
I gave her a short sketch of my adventures, only slightly exaggerated. Gilda was many things but above all she was unforgiving of laziness, so I concealed mine.
"Poor devil!" she exclaimed after listening to my misfortunes, "Beholden to an Earth Pony, no less! If you want to rough her up a bit, just give me the word."
"No, Gilda, I don't want the attention that would bring. I simply need to find some more affordable lodgings and a job."
"That's a strange thing. You are the second pony today to express such to me."
"And who was the first?"
"A young filly working at the dress studio on the hill. She was looking for somepony to go halves with her over some nice rooms she'd found which were too much for her purse."
"By Celestia, what a stroke of fortune!" I cried, "I am the very mare for her!"
Gilda looked over the top of her bottle at me. "Dash, I'm not sure how to say this, but this pony was more than a bit of a dweeb."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean she's never run a race in her life, has some eccentric ideas about fashion, and is a unicorn besides."
"Wow. She does sound like a dweeb. Nevertheless, I cannot allow this chance to pass me by."
"Well, do not blame me if you do not get on with her. Her name is Rarity, by the way."
"Rarity. Well, if nothing else, if she proves as insufferable as you imply, it will be easy to ditch her."
We got up and flew up to the dress shop on the hill. It was one of the new type, an assembly line production where works of art had the finesse scraped away for ease of mass production. Gone were the days of lone artesians, or so Equestria Daily claimed.
We walked inside to watch the white Unicorn hard at work. She was the only one in the room, a vast chamber with unattended sewing machines in lines, like a sweatshop. Unlike the glassy eyed assembly line workers I had been expecting, she was vibrant and animated. She sang softly to herself as she worked, dancing from machine to machine, surrounded by swirls of fabric and glittering sequins. I found myself staring, entranced by the grace and sophistication, until Gilda brought me back to reality with a slap on the back of the head.
"Eyes forwards, Dash. This is Rarity. Rarity, I would like to introduce you to my old friend, Rainbow Dash."
"Ah. Charmed," Rarity said, smiling and shaking my hand with a firmness I would not have given her credit for. Her hoof was perfectly manicured and I felt shame and awkwardness at my own filthy hooves. "You have been in Zebrica, I perceive?"
"How on Earth did you know that?" I asked in astonishment.
"Never mind," said she, giggling to herself and gesturing to her mannequin, "The question is now about the necklace. Do you see the significance of the emeralds?"
"It looks kind of froo froo," I said guardedly.
"Ha! You do not understand. Dressmakers these days have reduced their use of emeralds in craftsmanship due to limited supply, an unfortunate side effect of the establishment of mass production. In order to meet demand, they have taken to the production of coloured glass, which to the untrained eye can be mistaken for genuine emeralds. This type of counterfeit emeralds has been flooding the market and swindling hundreds of ponies out of their savings. But I have developed an easy and practical test to tell the true from the false."
"And what test is this, pray tell?"
"Simply take a metal coin and run it along the jewel. If it leaves a scratch, it is glass. If it is unharmed, it is genuine."
"Good heavens! You experimented with such a thing? What if your theory had been wrong and you had ruined actual emeralds?" I cried.
"It was a sacrifice I was willing to make to advance the cause of justice and, besides, my intuition informed me this was the right path," when Rarity said the word 'Intuition' she turned slightly to show off her flank and her three-diamond cutie mark.
"Well, then, you are to be congratulated," I said.
"I simply have a passing interest in the evolution of crime. A hobby, nothing more."
"If you've finished dweebing it up about your dresses, Rarity, we are here on business," Gilda cut in, "Rainbow Dash needs accommodation and you were whining -" Rarity's eyes narrowed, and Gilda swiftly corrected herself, "- complaining about not finding anyone to go halves with you for the lodgings. I thought I could bring you two together."
Rarity seemed delighted at the idea of sharing her rooms. "I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street," she said, "Which would suit us to a T! You don't mind the smell of perfume, do you?"
"Uh, as long as it's not too girly," I said awkwardly.
"That's good enough. I generally have dressmaking gear about, and occasionally need a model. Would that annoy you?"
"By no means,"
"Let me see, what are my other shortcomings? I have a slight flair for the dramatic and a propensity to lock myself in my room while wearing a dark cape. You simply must not think me sulky when I do this, just leave me alone and I'll soon be right. What about you? I find it's simply a good idea to know the worst of the other before one commits to such a partnership."
I laughed, but felt intensely awkward at having to vocalise my own failings. "I listen to rock music almost exclusively, I get up at ungodly hours to go flying, and get cranky when my naps are interrupted. I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principle ones at present."
"Do you exclude musical montages from your presence?" Rarity asked anxiously.
"It depends on the player," I answered, "A well done musical montage is a treat for the gods, a poor one -"
"Oh, no fear," Rarity laughed, "Daniel Ingram is my composer,"
"Ah, then my concerns are dispelled." I breathed a sigh of relief.
"I think we may consider the thing settled - that is, if the rooms are agreeable to you."
"When shall we see them?"
"Call for me here tomorrow noon, and we'll go together and inspect everything."
"Very well. Noon exactly," I said, shaking her hoof."
As we left, I turned and asked Gilda, "By the way, how the hay did she know I came from Zebrica? Have you been talking behind my back?"
"That's just her way," she said, smirking, "A great many ponies are curious as to how she finds things out."
"Oh, a mystery is it? I hate mysteries," I grumbled.
"Then you had best study her," Gilda teased, "But be careful not to gaze too deep into the well of sissiness lest you become a sissy yourself."
"Good bye," I told her, and flew away, but as I flew back to my cloud home I found myself considerably intrigued by my new acquaintance.
A Study In Rainbows
We met next day as Rarity had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which she had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Rarity followed me with an endless series of bags. She had enlisted the help of several earth ponies to help her carry all of her equipment across, and I found myself hiding when I noticed that one of them was the brother of Applejack, the loan shark, and a huge stallion besides. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and laying out our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began to settle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings.
Rarity was a less difficult companion than I had originally envisioned. Other than a constant humming as she worked at her dresses, she was mostly quiet in her ways, and other than a habit of obsessive cleanliness her habits were regular. My own natural tendencies lend themselves to slovenliness, but as long as I kept my mess out of her sight she seemed content to allow it.
Nothing could exceed Rarity's energy when inspiration struck her, and fabric seemed to flow through her sewing machine like water, but when she was short of ideas she became morose and whiny. Now and again, despair would strike her and she would tear apart her designs, and slump on the couch in such a stupor I might have suspected the use of narcotics had not the cleanliness of her life dispelled the possibility.
As the weeks went by, my interest in her and my curiosity as to her aims in life began to deepen. Her very appearance was stunning, turning heads all down the street to stare at her brilliant purple mane and silver-white coat. Her eyes were stunningly blue and, paired with her eyelashes, capable of great expression. Her perfect grooming, maintained no matter how deep her despair, had me constantly self conscious to my ruffled rainbow coloured hair and filthy hooves. Oftentimes I entertained the idea of asking her assistance in making myself presentable, but my pride - and the memory of Gilda's parting words - forbade it.
The reader may imagine what they will of me when I confess just how much this unicorn stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavoured to extract the true mind and motivation behind this fascinating creature. Before pronouncing judgement, one must remember how boring Ponyville was. No races, no weather worth fighting, nopony capable of challenging me physically (short of that Applejack character and her goons, but the less I saw of them the better).
The things she found to occupy her time I also found strange. She hardly studied magic at all; in fact, I found her neglect of it to be far outside all my previous experience with Unicorn battle mages in the army. The few times I saw her experimenting with magic was to perfect some minor cantrip, such as a spell to locate gold or to solidify mud. These tasks, however, were not curios of laziness - she genuinely put as much effort into mastering these trivialities as other Unicorns spend learning the art of Teleportation or Levitation.
Her ignorance was frequently astounding. Of literature, modern music, politics, celebrity and philosophy she knew nothing. I once absently quoted the Red Stallion's famous line about reasons to win and she inquired in the naivest possible way who I might be referring to. My surprise reached its zenith when I accidentally found she was ignorant to even the role of Celestia in raising the Sun! As far as she was aware, this happened via automated means! The thought is still so astounding I can scarcely imagine how this lack of education occurred.
And then, in the most vexing way imaginable, she said, "You appear to be astonished," with that small, cheeky smile, "And now that I do know it, I shall have to do my best to forget it."
"To forget it!" I cried.
"You see, I consider a pony's brain to be like a pony's body, that might be dressed with various skills and fragments of knowledge. A truly stunning dress is one that is elegant, simple and designed perfectly for its function. Ponies who acquire knowledge they will not use are guilty of over dressing and risk arriving at a show covered with so much unwieldy fabric that they can scarcely move. I have my work; anything unrelated to that work is wasted design space."
"But the sun! The moon!" I protested.
"What the hay does it matter to me?" Rarity interrupted impatiently, "You say a pony raises the sun every morning. If it was raised by an enormous scarab beetle rolling it across the sky it would not make a jolt of difference to me or my work."
I was on the verge of asking her just what such work might be, but her haughty return to her sewing informed me that she was no longer in the mood for conversation, so I held my tongue. An idea later came to me as I flew casually through the Ponyville skies; I could, perhaps, deduce her area of competence by making a list of her talents and determining the logical application for a pony of such skills. Taking a pencil in my mouth, I admit to having a bit too much fun assembling the following list:
Rarity, her limits
1. Knowledge of historical literature: Nil
2. Philosophy: Nil
3. Astronomy: Nil
4. Politics: Feeble
5. Botany: Mixed. Can't tell an oak from an elm but has curious knowledge about plants with practical application
6. Geology: Has a deep and abiding terror of mud, but is oddly able to articulate exactly what type of mud she is currently scrubbing from her hooves and whining complaining about exactly how difficult it is to remove.
7. Fashion: Profound.
8. Medicine: A talented dabbler. Has excellent skill in the few procedures and remedies she has chosen to investigate, and has no talent for curing anything as simple as a cough.
9. Sensational Literature: Immense. I have a deepening suspicion she exists on a diet of sequins and trashy romance and crime fiction novels.
10. Sings excellently when the mood strikes her.
11. Knows predominately spells for locating, sculpting and identifying. Probably couldn't run a race if her life depended on it.
12. Has a good, practical knowledge of Equestrian law.
13. Total dweeb.
When I had got this far in my list, I scrunched it up and threw it off the side of my cloud in frustration. "I cannot think of anything that requires such a random jumble of skills. I may as well give up the attempt at once."
I see that I have alluded to Rarity's skills with music, and these were remarkable, if baffling. She knew a selection of ancient, classical tunes which she occasionally conjured with magic, and seemed capable of coming up with detailed song and dance numbers on the slightest prompting, and yet when I mentioned such household names as the Eurobeat Pony or DJ. Scratch, she gave me a look of blank incomprehension. Her refusal to even listen to their music at many points frustrated me immensely.
During the first week or so, we had no callers, which I found unusual. Surely a pony as glamorous and sophisticated as Rarity was not as friendless as I, an unwashed pegasus from Zebrica? Presently, I began to discover she had many callers. There was a shy, yellow pegasus who wore a leather coat and was introduced to me as Fluttershy, there were occasional visits from Applejack's little sister, Applebloom, and an increasingly colourful assortment of ponies, including a light green unicorn, a grey pegasus and others. Whenever any of these ponies would make an appearance, Rarity would beg the use of the sitting room and I would retire to the clouds and work on re-learning my signature moves.
She always apologised for this inconvenience, "I use this room as my place of business, and these ponies are my clients." She would say, and once again I would be presented with a chance to ask her point blank about the nature of this business, but Gilda's disapproving eyes and mouthed 'dweeb' always came to mind and I would depart without complaint.
It was on the 4th of March, as I have good reason to remember, that I arose somewhat earlier than usual and found Rarity eating her breakfast. The landlady, one Mrs. Cake, had grown so accustomed to my habit of napping that my coffee had not even been prepared yet. With unreasonable petulance I rang the bell and gave the curt intimation that I was ready. I then picked up a magazine from the table and began to page through it. Books were not my style normally, especially ones as eggheaded and nerdy as this, but I was short of other things to focus upon.
It's somewhat ambitious title was "Art of the Dress", and it attempted to show how much an observant pony might learn from the way a pony presented his or herself. It's most outrageous claim was that even ponies who went unclothed could be communicating as much detail about themselves as ones who had dressed specifically for the event. Deceit, according to the author, was impossible when everypony wore their feelings quite literally on their sleeves.
"What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, casting it aside, "I have never read anything so dweebish in all my life!"
"What is it?" Asked Rarity.
"This article, of course," I said, pointing it out. "It's so impractical it irritates me. Some egghead in an armchair thinks that she can figure anything out by looking at it. I should like to see her actually cram herself into a third class carriage with the rest of us and try to name the feelings of every pony there with her. I bet a thousand bits she wouldn't be able."
"You would lose your money," Rarity remarked haughtily, "As for the article, I wrote it."
"Yes, I have a turn for both observation and deduction. The theories expressed there, which you find so chimerical, are really extremely practical. So practical I depend upon them for my living."
"And how?" I asked involuntarily.
"Well, I have a trade. My own idea, actually, and I believe I am still singularly unique amongst all detectives for it," she sipped her tea with a smile, "City detectives are trained in academies by the thousands. Private detectives are a bit a dozen. But I, Rarity, am a Consulting Detective. When these mass-manufactured charlatans require assistance with a case they come to me, and I put them back on the right path. Fluttershy, for example, is a well known detective. She recently got herself into a muddle about a forgery case, which was why I asked her here."
"What was the problem, then?"
"Simply put that she could not raise her voice enough for the key witness to understand her questions."
"And these other ponies?"
"Mostly private inquiry agencies. I do their work, they listen to my comments, and I pocket a fee."
"And little Applebloom?"
"Ah, to peer too deeply into the politics of the Apple family is to gaze into the face of madness."
"I see. But you mean to say that you can unravel cases that stump these famous characters without even leaving this room?"
"Quite so. I have something of an intuition when it comes to crime. Every now and then something comes up which is more interesting, and I have to investigate myself, but I find that the vast majority of crimes are so easy and banal as to barely require the exercise of my intellect. The rules of deduction, which you so scorned Miss Dash, are second nature to me."
Perhaps something of my scorn showed on my face, because Rarity suddenly seemed very focused. "You remember on our first meeting you expressed surprise at me noting you had come from Zebrica."
"Gilda probably blabbed behind my back."
"Nothing of the sort! The reasoning ran so quickly that I barely noticed it; the train of thought went something like this: "Here is an athletic young pegasus, yet she walks rather than flies, and her wing is stiff against her flank. From this, we can deduce the wound to your right wing. From your association with the griffon I can determine you were part of an elite unit, and from her subtle deference to you I can determine that you outranked her. Probably Best Young Flier material, then. So what has a pegasus of such skill out of commission and looking for work in Ponyville? The obvious answer was injuries sustained in the line of duty."
"This is quite incredible," I said, "But it does not relate to Zebrica in any way that I can see."
"I noticed the scorch marks around your back hooves from kicking too many lightning clouds. Only Zebrica has weather stormy enough to be regularly weaponized by the Equestrian armed service. Simple deduction."
"When you put it so, it seems obvious."
"Such things are obvious when one thinks in the correct manner."
"You remind me of Edgar Allen Pony's Derpin."
"Bah!" Rarity looked offended, "Derpin was a hack and a fraud. Her habit of breaking into her friends' thoughts after fifteen minutes contemplation was showy and superficial. She had some analytical genius, to be sure, but she was by no means such a phenomenon as Pony cared to imagine. And she was walleyed half the time."
"Have you read Gazelle's works?" I asked eagerly, "Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?"
"Lecoq was a miserable bungler." Rarity said, waving a hoof in a dramatic dismissal, "Only one thing to recommend her, and that was her energy. That book made me positively ill. I could have cracked the case in twenty four hours, and she took six months. And oh, her dress sense! I don't often judge a book by its cover but she was simply an abomination!"
I felt rather indignant. I had thought that Lecoq's style was cool and had a great respect for the Pegasus Detective Derpin. I stalked over to the window grumpily, muttering something along the lines of, "She thinks she's so smart, huh?" under my breath.
"There are simply no crimes and no criminals these days," Rarity said suddenly, dramatically. "What is the use of having brains in our profession? Nopony has put the same amount of effort into the study of natural talent and crime as I, and what is the result? There is no crime to detect, and if there is, it's some bungling villainy so transparent even one of the mass manufactured detectives at Coltland Yard can see through it.
"I could be famous any time I wanted, miss Dash," Rarity said, suddenly sounding deeply saddened. "I could walk out there, any time, and into a legend. But what would be the point? I do not want to get there by thwarting some schoolyard prank. I need a genuine test. A genuine challenge worthy of these skills I have spent so much time accumulating."
I was still annoyed at her style of conversation, so I thought it best to change the topic.
"I wonder what that fellow is looking for?" I said, gesturing at a black stallion stalking down the street with an envelope in his mouth.
"You mean the railpony-come-mercenary?" Rarity said, with barely a second glance at him.
"Oh, as if," I said disbelievingly, "You have no way of proving that."
The thought had scarcely cleared my mind before the stallion suddenly knocked on our own door. I answered quickly, and he stepped inside without waiting.
"For Miss Rarity," the Pegasus said in a deep, foreboding voice.
"Thank you, on the table will be fine," she said absently.
"Wait!" I said, intercepting him as he turned to leave. My wing ached from the sudden movement but I shook it off. "May I ask your trade, sir?"
"Bodyguard to Miss Applejack, ma'am," he said curtly.
"And before then?"
"I worked on the Railroad. Was injured fighting buffalo. Is there something you need, lady?"
"No," I said, a faint sulk to my voice and closed the door in the stallion's face.
I hated losing.
A Study In Rainbows
Chapter Three: The Murdered Moustache Mystery
I confess that I was freshly startled by this fresh proof of the practical nature of my companion's theories. My respect for her prowess increased enormously. However, I could not put the thought from my mind that this was some prearranged episode designed to dazzle me, though what earthly object she could have for taking me in was past my comprehension. Perhaps she just enjoyed fooling fillies?
That was... unfortunately phrased.
"How in the world did you deduce that?" I asked.
"Deduce what?" Said Rarity, petulantly.
"Why, that he was a retired railworker!"
"I have no time for trifles," she answered brusquely, and then with a smile, "Oh, excuse my rudeness Rainbow Dash. It was uncalled for. So you were actually unable to see that the stallion had a background in rail?"
"It was easier to know it than to explain how I knew it. Well, for starters, his cutie mark was of a boulder on a hill, correct?"
"This does not indicate a talent for kicking boulders downhill; it is actually a reference to Sisyphus and his eternal struggle to push a boulder up a hill. This informs us that the pony has a talent for hopeless tasks that require great strength. Next, I glanced at his feet. His horseshoes were both a much heavier kind of iron than is appropriate for farming, and irregularly worn. He has obviously been running over metal surfaces, which makes the railroad the obvious choice."
"And how did that translate to his position as a mercenary?"
"He had bruises along his side, no doubt from ramming buffalo attacking his train, but these were old and faded. Most of his current injuries were around his forehoves and face. From this we can deduce that he has left the rail business and taken to fighting other ponies. His attitude was guarded and subordinate, making him a poor choice for a boxer, making hired muscle the most likely option."
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed.
"Commonplace," Rarity said with a sigh, though I thought I saw a smile in amongst her over-acting. She opened the letter, "Rainbow Dash, I must apologise to you. I just said that there were no criminals, and it appears I am wrong! Look at this!" She threw me the note, which I glanced over.
"'Stephen Magnet'?" I said, raising one eyebrow.
"Read it out loud for me, will you?" She asked.
I cleared my throat and began.
MY DEAR FRIEND RARITY,
I'm sorry for shouting, but Angel said that I should use capitals for my opening. I didn't mean it. Um - I paused in my recital, "She actually wrote 'um'." - Mr. Stephen Magnet, fashion magnate of the river dragons, has been the victim of a terrible attack. He has locked himself inside his mansion and we can't convince him to open up or explain what's wrong. I've tried pleading, beseeching, asking politely and even begging and I'm still not getting anything. Could you please come and help?
Yours faithfully, FLUTTERSHY (sorry)
"Fluttershy is one of the smartest of the Coltland Yard detectives," Rarity said, opening her wardrobe and looking through her vast array of hats, "And a River Dragon, particularly one as stylish as Stephen Magnet, is an unusual victim for any crime."
"Shall I order you a chariot?" I asked, looking out the window.
"Oh, I don't know if I'll go. The day is too overcast for my summer hat, and I don't want to over expose my autumn collection."
"What? But you've been whining -" Rarity's eyes narrowed "- Complaining about not having a proper case all morning! This is your chance!"
"My dear Dash, what then would be the point? Even if I was to unravel the case Fluttershy would get all the credit. Although I am... loath to admit it," Rarity's voice dropped slightly, perhaps in anger, "She is far more photogenic than I. And this is the price I pay for being a Consulting Detective."
"That's impossible! You are far better looking than Fluttershy!" I exclaimed, and then realized what I had said and swiftly closed my treacherous mouth.
Rarity allowed herself a smirk, "Well now. If I am able to extract a compliment from Rainbow Dash then perhaps this case has potential after all. Come!" She said, picking out a red and gray hat from her collection and galloping for the stairs, an energetic mood overcoming her apathetic one.
"Wait, you want me to come with you?" I said, hurrying after her.
"Of course!" She said, "I may extract more flattery from you yet, and flattery is best when it's grudging."
Minutes later we were in a carriage rolling over to the palace of the River Dragon, Stephen Magnet. Rarity spent the entire trip nattering about the history of the Moustache in fashion and explaining that Magnet was one of Equestria's leading innovators in the field. Apparently Moustache science was important within Equestria, to the point of having a dedicated school of magic to mastering facial hair.
"I can't say I understand the appeal," I said at the end of the lecture.
"Ah. You're saying moustaches are too manly for you?" Rarity said with a cheeky grin.
As I protested and sputtered, Rarity leaned out the front of the carriage and asked that we be let out. It was a grand and colourful mansion built by the side of the river. A high brass fence surrounded the courtyard, and statues of dragons of various ages and sizes stood throughout the garden. The one thing they all had in common were their luxurious moustaches which, yes, were made out of real hair and grafted on to the statues! Needless to say I found the entire effect enormously unsettling.
There was a police cordon around the house, and Fluttershy was standing in front of the door, quietly pleading into the mail slot. As we approached, she turned, relief writ large on her face.
"Oh, Rarity, I'm so glad you came!" Fluttershy said, "I can't even get the victim to let us into the house, and I think I can hear him crying in there!"
"I see," Rarity said, tossing her mane, "But before we deal with such things, I realize I have not formally introduced the two of you. Rainbow Miriam Dash, this is Detective Fluttershy, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash."
"Charmed," I said, bowing slightly. Fluttershy blushed and stepped backwards, mumbling. I found the entire appearance singularly adorable, truth be told, and became as curious in her story as I was in Rarity's.
"Now, could you explain the problem in more detail to me?" Rarity was asking.
"Well," Fluttershy began, "The neighbours called to complain that there were the sounds of crying coming from this house at about 6am in the morning. A local bobby tried the door at seven and, finding it locked - along with reports that Mr. Magnet had missed his early speech at the Draconic Moustache Convention - called me in."
"And you spent the next hour trying to convince him to open the door before calling me?"
"Yes, that's right," Fluttershy confirmed.
"Well, the challenge still remains. We still don't have any way of opening this d -"
There was a shocking crash as I kicked the door open. The splintered wood creaked as it swung slowly open.
The two detectives stared at me. I folded my hooves unapologetically.
"Good thing I brought you along, Rainbow Dash!" Rarity said, recovering her composure. "Please, follow behind me."
Rarity walked agonizingly slowly, studying the rug underneath our feet with painstaking detail. Fluttershy and I followed a little way behind her and, in the interim, I decided to ask the yellow pegasus a few questions.
"If you don't mind me asking, miss, but what inspired you to join the police force?"
"Well, I originally applied for a police dog trainer, but they kept promoting me." Fluttershy said, looking extremely uncomfortable with the topic, "I think it's something to do with Photo Finish."
"You'll forgive me, I've been in Zebrica. Photo Finish?"
"She's a famous photographer who's taken a shine to me, and..."
We were both cut off by Rarity staggering back from a cabinet she had been examining, exclaiming, "Dust! Dust! Keep it away from me!" I sighed, and gave one solid flap of my wings, which dismissed the cloud.
Rarity immediately straightened, as if nothing was wrong. "Well, that puts everything in context. Come on!" She said, starting to walk at a much faster pace towards the source of the wailing.
We stopped outside a large set of double doors. Rarity peeked around the corner. "Oh dear," she said, "We may have a problem."
"Problem?" Fluttershy said, sounding like she was getting ready to panic.
"Nothing that Rarity can't handle," Rarity said, "Detective, you stay here, Rainbow Dash, with me."
She pushed open the door and even I, who had seen horrors in Zebrica, shuddered to see the terrible sight laid out before us.
A huge river dragon, with vibrant purple scales, was laid out in a bubble-filled bathtub. I say without exaggeration that this creature was large enough to eat a pony in a single bite and, yet, it was wailing and crying like a small filly. His moustache, though... his moustache was a ragged, frazzled, and utterly chaotic mess of orange and blue. It went in every direction and no direction; it stood on end and sagged. It was hideous, to say the least.
"Go away!" the Dragon shrieked, "Go away! Don't look at meeeeee!"
Rarity glanced at me, winked, and then started walking towards the wailing Mr. Magnet.
"I say, good sir, what a marvellous new style! Such attitude! Such pizazz!" She exclaimed, sounding for all the world like she was delighted by the appearance.
"Wh - what?" Said the River Dragon, turning his head to look at the tiny Detective.
"Oh, the style is absolutely perfect! I was originally worried when Horns, Thorns and Unicorns Magazine said that rough-and-tumble was 'in' this season, but now I see how short sighted I was..."
"What?" Magnet said, raising his head, "It - it's in? You're not just saying that?"
"Of course not. Look at my friend here," Rarity said, gesturing at me, "Isn't she beautiful?"
"My word!" said Magnet, bending over to look at my, admittedly, slightly roughly cut mane. "She looks like she's never had a haircut in her life!"
While I understood the reason for the deception, I couldn't help but scowl at this treatment.
"Oh, and that scowl! She looks like a genuine soldier!" Magnet said, clasping his hands together. I scowled slightly more.
"Yes. She was to be my magnum opus, but you seem to have outdone me in every way," Rarity said modestly, "I thought I had an original style going with the rainbow, but your blend of blue and gold - genius! So tastefully underdone!"
"Now that you mention it..." Magnet said, gazing into the multi-story mirror.
"See! Once again, the world of fashion will bow to Stephen Magnet!" Rarity said dramatically, "I just need to ask a few questions for all your fans out there."
"Oh, certainly," Magnet straightened himself up a bit. "Ask away."
"What happened yesterday?"
"Nothing unusual. I woke up, spent most of the day at home preparing my moustache for the speech I was to give today, had my dinner delivered and went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I found myself like this." Mr. Magnet looked abashed, "In retrospect, I should have checked the fashion magazine before overreacting."
"Hm. What did your dinner consist of?"
"Baked goods. Cupcakes, muffins. A little gray pony delivered them."
"Baked bads, more like," Rarity whispered to me, then turned back to Magnet, "Did you have any leftovers?"
"No, I'm sorry. I ordered them from Pinkie Pie's bakery, though."
"I see. And what type of pony delivered them."
"Oh, I can never remember the differences between pony types," Magnet said, waving one hand, "It was gray, and blonde, I think."
"Interesting. Well, thank you for your co-operation. I must go and consult with my colleagues." Rarity said, and walked outside to where Fluttershy was waiting for us.
"I can't say I appreciate being used as an example of ill grooming, Rarity," I said once we were clear from the dragon's presence.
"Oh Rainbow Dash, you make ill grooming look so good!" Rarity laughed, "And anyway, that kind of show is a temporary fix, but it'll take the fashion world six or seven months to figure out. We now have breathing room."
"We shouldn't need that long." Fluttershy said quietly, "I think I've figured it out."
"Do share, Fluttershy,"
"I think that this is a cruel prank. See, a gray and blonde pegasus came in the other day. I think that would be Miss Derpy, the delivery pegasus. She came in to deliver Mr. Magnet's dinner, and then rather than leaving afterwards she hid and pranked his moustache while he was asleep."
"That does indeed seem likely," Rarity said generously, "What do you have to support this evidence?"
"Well, I found this word written on the wall outside Mr. Magnet's room," Fluttershy said, gesturing at a point on the wall, where in vivid pink letters was written the word
"Obviously Derpy's already damaged mind cottoned on to Pinkie Pie's ideas about pranks and pushed her over the edge. A simple case of insanity." Said Fluttershy.
"My good Fluttershy, you've cracked the case! There was clearly no need for my presence here." Rarity said, with what I identified as that same dramatic voice as she'd used when addressing Magnet earlier. "Go bring the fiend in for questioning, Dash and I will take one quick look around and depart."
Fluttershy had a mixture of emotions cross her face, both good and bad - I suspected that she was worried by the prospect she might be promoted again - but I followed Rarity as she lead me down the corridor.
"I'm surprised you haven't said anything, Rainbow Dash. I am sure you have personal experience with this type of poison,"
"You say this was poison?" I said, snapping my head around.
"Of course. The blue spots you should be familiar with."
I gasped, and cursed my foolishness. "Poison Joke! The moustache has been ruined by a dose of Poison Joke!" The Zebras used to coat their arrows in the vile stuff, and there was no cure known to Equestrian medicine. More than one good soldier had been discharged after a brush with the terrible Poison Joke.
"Precisely. This makes it unlikely in the extreme that our courier, Derpy Hooves, was the poisoner. Particularly since I do not believe she even delivered here."
"How can you say that, without even knowing her, or hearing her alibi?"
"Because to take a job as a mailpony one gets used to mud, and dirt, and dust. It is the nature of the job. And yet, the culprit here had a perfect opportunity to do her work in the entry hall - you can see from the prints in the carpet - but she paused and went by the kitchen instead."
"The kitchen? Why?"
"Because the entry hall was dusty, and Magnet was kicking it up by accident as he passed. The culprit paused here," Rarity gestured, "Presumably excused herself and took a roundabout route to the kitchen to avoid getting her mane dirty. She was also average height, about three foot tall, chipped hoof, not particularly physically well built, and could not fly."
"How do you know she could not fly?" I said, mind boggling at all this information.
"You proved it yourself, my dear Dash. One flap of a Pegasus' wings could clear the dust that so worried her, and yet she did not think to do so." Rarity said.
"So, you suspect the baker, then? Pinkie Pie? That would seem to fit clearer with the word PARTY," I suggested, voicing my own suspicion. "And she is known for her pranks."
"Ah yes, the obvious answer. Too obvious by half, I suspect. Firstly the tracks - not one bounce the entire way. Secondly, the fear of dust. Pinkie is something of a slob. Thirdly, I sincerely doubt that anypony who is this serious about partying would write the word that small, tucked in the corner."
"There is that."
"So this is a frame job. Whoever did this has a grudge against miss Pinkie Pie. And, sans other clues to go on, I believe we must investigate Pinkie Pie's bakery to see who might possibly wish her such ill. To the bakery!"
"Shouldn't we inform Fluttershy?" I asked as we walked together through the overcast Ponyville streets, "She will be going down entirely the wrong track with Derpy."
"Whoever had a mind to set up this scheme is no doubt watching the law enforcement exceedingly closely to be sure that their scheme has worked. At the first sign of the police showing true suspicion - and they will show it in their blundering way - she will go to ground and the trail will become cold."
"I see. It still feels wrong to deceive her," I said, but didn't look Rarity in the eye as I said it. I understood her point but it still grated.
"Trust me, Rainbow Dash, I know exactly how Fluttershy's investigation will progress and she is in no danger of humiliating herself. Fluttershy's suspicions will fall on Pinkie eventually, when she is through questioning Derpy. By then we should have a clearer idea of what's going on."
I am lead to believe that the process of questioning Derpy about her whereabouts the previous evening was one of the most frustrating and confusing moments in Fluttershy's life.
"But what concerns me here is motive," Rarity was saying, "There is something I am missing there. Why go after a powerful fashion guru such as Magnet? If the intent is to provoke outrage towards Pinkamina, there are surely more easy targets than a River Dragon."
"Perhaps she had a grudge against both?"
"Perhaps. We need to gather more data," Rarity said, stopping outside Sugar Cube Corner, "And by we, I mean you."
"Well, first off my face is known amongst these parts - who could not know it? - and secondly, Pinkie Pie has not yet met you and I am unsure if I want to be in the room when she finds this out. Go on in, have a conversation, you're a smart girl, Dash, you'll figure it out." Rarity gave me an encouraging clap on the shoulder, and I winced as it made my wing ache. Without another word, she turned on heel and walked back towards Baker Street, leaving me outside the glorified gingerbread cottage.
I took a breath to calm a trepidation I did not yet know the source of and walked into the bakery.
It was astounding, really, how much sugar was in the air of the place. It made my teeth positively ache just being in the room. There was only one other customer, a hunched old gray mare in a coat who was using a walker to slowly navigate the store.
"Excuse me?" I asked tentatively, and then my face was full of pink.
"The cab driver? Are you kidding me? That's just silly! You know what would have made the story better? If the detective was the killer! I think I read a story like that one time! It was called Batmare! No, wait, that wasn't it," the incoherent mess of pink moved back a bit and it's voice slowed down a touch as confusion overtook it. "Flight Club? But he wasn't a detective! Ooh! This is hard!"
"Good... afternoon?" I said to the dementedly pink earth pony who had sprung up in front of me.
"Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie!" She said. “Said” did not capture half the sheer bubbly enthusiasm the creature put into every syllable, but for the sake of my narrative it shall have to do.
"Rainbow Dash," I said. While I was normally polite enough to offer a hoof to shake, I was almost afraid if I did so I'd never see that leg again.
"Oh! Are you new, Rainbow Dash!? I used to know everypony in Ponyville, and then Ponyville started getting so big and I can't keep track and even when my life is one ongoing party there's still more party than I can fill all by my Pinkie-ownsome..."
I was beginning to suspect that this creature was the one behind this whole event if only because she seemed insane enough for it. Or perhaps I was hoping she was because if she was in gaol I wouldn't have to listen to this purposeless rambling.
"Miss Pie," I said, attempting to reassert control over the situation, "Did you deliver cupcakes to Mr. Magnet the other day?"
"Stephen? Oh yeah, he gets his order weekly!" Pinkie said, bouncing.
"And you deliver yourself?"
"Oh no, I can't be in nine places at once, silly," Pinkie Pie said, and I was struck by how specific that phrasing was, "Some I mail, some the other ponies here deliver!"
"I see. And the ones you mail...?"
"I just put up a sign and an orange and Derpy comes and gets them!"
"You don't see her do this herself?"
"It's best not to bother her when she's working," Pinkie said, face becoming utterly serious for a moment.
The execution of the crime was becoming obvious to me at this point, so I decided to switch tack. "Do you have any enemies, Pinkie Pie?" I asked.
"What? Enemies? Are you coco in the loco?" Pinkie said, disregarding the unwritten rules of personal space to stare directly in my eyes for evidence of my insanity. Fortunately the sound of a door slamming behind us gave me the chance I needed to back up a few steps. I silently thanked the old mare for picking that moment to leave.
"I'm sorry I asked. I don't think there's much else to say," I said, backing towards the door.
“Okie-dokie-locie! I’ll have you a party as soon as I can, Rainbow Dash, and that’s a Pinkie Promise!”
She started going through some ritual swear that seemed to involve promises of defenestration and self mutilation, so I hurried out the door. I actually felt fairly good about how that had gone, all told – I had discovered what was no doubt the means the criminal had used to sneak the poison into Magnet’s home. She had simply picked up a crate intended for Derpy, taken it to Magnet’s house and claimed she was the mailpony. Rarity would surely be impressed by my findings.
Just as I had that thought, Rarity came around a corner surrounded by a cloud of levitating muffins.
“Rarity?” I asked in surprise, and immediately found the muffins thrust into my hooves.
“While you were being so good as to distract Miss Pie, I went and gathered a selection of muffins from the mail dock, where the prankster no doubt acquired them,” Rarity said as she swept past. I began to follow her, tottering under the weight of the muffins. “I left money, of course, but the principle aim is to test these muffins to see if they are also poisoned. Did you discover anything while you were in there, Rainbow Dash?”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. “No,” I muttered.
“Oh well, you’ll get them next time,” she said, and although I could see she was trying to be nice I found the gesture quite condescending.
“Would you excuse me, please? I’d like to go for a walk to clear my head.”
“Of course. I believe I’ve got a solid idea of the case in my mind by this point and it won’t take too much longer to crack,” Rarity said breezily, taking the muffins back from me.
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, and walked down the road.
In retrospect, I do not know what had gotten into me in that moment. This was Rarity’s area of specialisation; she had trained her entire life to be a Detective, and I had barely stumbled across the concept yesterday. If, say, Rarity entered the Best Young Fliers competition and showed me up my grievances might be legitimate, but that seemed to be what I was hoping to do to her.
Now that I think about it, though, that wasn’t quite the case at all. I wasn’t hoping to show Rarity up; I was hoping to impress her. To demonstrate that I could at least be of use, at least be a helpful assistant, rather than a puppet sent on distraction missions to ask questions she already knew the answers to. The idea that was cutting at me wasn’t envy, it was insecurity.
These brooding thoughts distracted me as I walked, and soon I had lost myself in the simple momentum of putting one hoof in front of the other. Hours passed and the sun began to set, and I found myself walking the dark streets near Sweet Apple Acres. So caught up in both my own angst over my failure to help unravel this mystery which so captivated Rarity, and my clumsy attempts to come up with some flash of revelation that would solve the case, I did not notice the silhouettes in the shadows before me until it was too late.
I could have recognized those shapes anywhere: Applejack, and her brother, Big MacIntosh. I stopped, picked off my coin pouch, and cast it to the ground before their hooves. “There’s your money, Applejack. Just like I said,” I said, backing up a bit, “I don’t want any trouble.”
“That’s too bad, sugarcube,” Applejack said, stepping forwards into the light, ignoring the coins, “Because trouble found you,”
I lunged into the air to flee these landlocked Earth Ponies, but I was instantly caught by a lasso that wrapped around my legs, pulled in a direction that made all my horizontal momentum vertical, and slammed into the mud. All the breath exploded from my body, my eyes rolled randomly and my brain was scrambled.
I will not bore the reader with detailed description of the experience; suffice to say I was too dazed to make out shapes or, indeed, more than slightly distorted words. What I did hear was a third voice, without any of that Apple family twang to it, shout “Enough!”
The orange mare standing over me paused.
The word “Enough,” was repeated but this time lower, with more menace, and I could hear the ponies grudgingly step back. I raised my head to see my savior but could not make out more than a jagged, blurred outline. When I heard the voice continue, “She has to be conscious for this next part,” I became considerably less optimistic about the nature of my rescuer.
A voice, low and raspy, whispered into my ear, “You’re new in town, so we’re going to be friendly about this. Give up playing detective. Go live a safe, quiet life and we won’t have any problems.”
The voice moved away.
I briefly saw Applejack standing over me, saying “An’ you can keep yer stinkin’ money!” and she shoved the coin purse into my mouth, like an apple in a pig. I almost choked on it and caught a last glimpse of her retreating tail as they left me there in the street.
Now, here I must confess to the reader a vice of mine I didn’t have the mind to confess to Rarity on our first meeting. I never give up. After that experience, the last thing I had in mind was a “Safe, quiet life”. I wanted my life to be one big problem that they and all their kind would be drawn into. Perhaps a rash decision, particularly under the circumstances, but I have never been noted for my rational forethought.
I eventually untangled myself from the rope, got to my feet, set my jaw, and started walking back to my accommodations at Baker Street. I was driven by a quiet resolve, and a kind of fury that they had thought that I would bow to their demands. I walked for thirty minutes as cool and composed as any pony past or future. However, the moment I opened the door to my lodgings, my legs decided that this was close enough and I collapsed to the ground.
The motion was made doubly ungraceful for the fact it happened directly in front of Rarity, who was at her workbench with the muffins. She let out a shocked gasp and dragged me over to the bathtub, where she began pouring hot water and applying gentle care to my bruises. Floating brushes expertly began to extract the mud that had coated me from my fall. Some part of me knew that this was the exact kind of girlish spa treatment I had sworn to avoid, but I did not find it within me to resist.
Instead, I decided to focus the mind by making conversation, on what I hoped would be a light topic. “That picture,” I said, indicating a picture of Rarity alongside a purple unicorn. “Who is she?”
“Oh, old friend of mine. Twilight Sparkle,” Rarity said, focusing on my mane, “Knew her a few years back. Unfortunately... well.”
“Well?” I pressed slightly, for the first time hearing Rarity unsure about something.
“Well, I made her a dress. Her exact designs and specifications. And oh, stars and sequins, it was hideous. The ugliest thing I’d ever made. But she loved it, loved everything about it, and I never had the heart to object. She was such a good friend, too, but I haven’t spoken to her in a year or so. Something about her studies.”
“I hardly believe you are capable of making anything ugly,”
“Well, the vast majority of my work is absolutely stunning,” she said, picking up a hairdryer. I suddenly realized that I had recently, silently, accepted the offer to become a piece of her ‘work’. A mild panic struck me.
“Tell me you haven’t done anything – well, anything –“
“Don’t worry, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said with a grin, “I believe this is going to be the best piece I’ve ever done.”
“You’ve just been waiting for a chance, haven’t you?” I accused, slightly wildly, “One moment of weakness and, BLAM! Makeover!”
“You make it sound like it’s going to be painful!” said Rarity in mock horror, producing a variety of sharp bladed instruments from her bag.
I must, again, point out that under normal circumstances have resisted this kind of girlish treatment more than I did. You must keep in mind the trials of my day before you judge me harshly.
But relent I did and, it was with greatest fear that I turned my gaze to look into the mirror Rarity presented me at the end of the piece.
“I look the same,” I said in surprise. The mud was gone, a few feathers straightened, my hooves less worn and chipped, but otherwise the same.
“My dear Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said, laughing in delight to see my expression, “What would I change?”
I was rendered speechless by that.
“I find you a most interesting case, Rainbow Dash. A Study in Rainbows, as it were. Virtually every fashion and style has gone through my mind in turn – and be sure, if you continue to be such an agreeable assistant you will see some of them – but none of them remotely compare to the basic material. I feel like any dress I would inflict on you would be to promote my fashion career rather than your character.”
“Surely not!” I protested, unwilling in the extreme to accept such obviously fanciful flattery.
“Hmph! I would argue this in circles if I had time but I believe Detective Fluttershy is on her way here and we shall be interrupted shortly.”
“Fluttershy?” I said, and immediately remembered the case of the day which had slipped from my weary mind. “Oh, of course. How do you know?”
“Elementary, Rainbow Dash. The standard chemical test she would have performed on the moustache takes six hours to confirm as Poison Joke, and immediately after receiving that conclusion from her lab she will rush down here to inform me that this, paired with Derpy’s alibi, puts the lantern of suspicion on Pinkie Pie.”
“You know this case before it has even happened!”
“Why yes. And I am nursing a theory about the true culprit’s identity. It was a puzzler at first, but I believe this will all be dispensed with by noon tomorrow. A pity, for a moment there I thought there would be a mystery to it –“ Rarity was saying.
Right on cue, there was a very gentle knock on the door.
“Come in, Detective!” Rarity called.
There was another knock, slightly firmer. I glanced at Rarity and then opened the door.
A small white bunny in a police uniform hopped in and offered a scroll to Rarity.
“Officer Angel? What happened to Fluttershy?” Angel thrust the note at her again. Rarity picked it up, glanced it over, and her eyes widened in shock. Wordlessly, she passed it to me.
I cleared my throat and read it out loud.
MY DEAR FRIEND RARITY
I’m very sorry about the shouting, but something important has happened. The lab proved that Stephen Magnet’s moustache was destroyed by a dose of Poison Joke. Derpy’s alibi is rocktight; she was attending a crowd scene all last night and has dozens of witnesses. We’re currently looking at the baker as the potential poisoner –
I stopped reading. “Why, Rarity, it all is happening exactly as you said!”
She gestured for me to continue
- But another situation has come up that requires urgent attention. Sapphire Shores, the Pony of Pop, has been the victim of a similar attack. While reports are yet unconfirmed, I believe she has also been exposed to the Poison Joke. I fear the two are related. I would ask your help. If that’s okay with you, I don’t want to be a bother.
Yours faithfully, FLUTTERSHY
“Hm, she did not write sorry that last time,” I said looking at the final capitalisation. “Perhaps she is becoming more confident?”
“Ah, of course,” I said, “She wrote her apology on the envelope, and apologised for forgetting.”
“But Dash! You see what is happening here!” Rarity said, pressing her face close against mine. She looked panicked, “Somepony is attacking fashion ponies, one by one! And they are moving far faster than I expected! Something must have tipped them off!”
“Well –“ I was slightly nervous to explain my run in with the Apple family, but Rarity didn’t even give me the chance.
“After Shores, they are no doubt going to make an attempt on Hoity Toity – and if they are moving this fast, chances are they will make it at his appearance the Equestrian Art Exhibition tomorrow!” Rarity said, pacing so rapidly I could scarcely keep track of her, “And after Hoity Toity the only remaining member of the Fab Four is Photo Finish! And if we don’t stop them in time...”
“Rarity!” I shouted, breaking her out of her trance. “There’s a time for analysis, and there’s a time for speed,” I unfurled my wings, “And we’ve got plenty of speed.”
Rarity stared for a moment, then smiled. “I knew I kept you around for a reason, Rainbow Dash.”
I am not commonly so churlish as to race down the streets of Ponyville as if it were a battlefield over Zebrica, but in this instance I felt quite justified in my haste. Rarity had instructed me to “Reach the scene of the crime and prevent the police from bungling it before I get there”. While it sounded simple, Rarity’s frequent insulations to the sheer defectiveness of Equestria’s police force gave the task a great urgency.
I screeched to a halt in front of a glorious theatre, open-aired with a long, gem-encrusted catwalk. There were ponies milling around outside, blocked off by a police cordon. Some were giggling, others were looking worried. I approached one of the gate guards and, after a halting start, was allowed in to the scene of the crime.
Detective Fluttershy was sitting with the victim, who was curled up on her bed, sobbing softly. Sapphire Shores was a fine looking mare, it had to be said, but she was in no means her best state. Fluttershy turned to look at me as I entered the room, and shrugged slightly.
There was the sound of laughter from nowhere.
I stopped, looking around, old battle reflexes tensing my body. The laughter got louder, more pointed. “Who’s there?” I shouted, and there was another great roar of amusement.
“It’s the Poison Joke,” Fluttershy said in a quiet voice, and a number of small giggles accompanied it. “It has changed Sapphire Shores’ background music to a laugh track.”
There was a great roar of laughter at this. I winced with sympathy.
“Perhaps we should take this elsewhere?” I said to Fluttershy, and there was a burst of laughter and what I believe were wolf whistles. Fluttershy blushed slightly at the implication and I did my best not to do the same. We left the raucous room, closed the door, and finally had the chance to hear ourselves think.
“Fluttershy, Rarity has asked you to keep all of your ponies outside before she gets here,” I said, “And also not to let anypony leave without Rarity checking them.”
“Oh, but the crowd that was in here has already been let out.” Fluttershy said, and then lowered her voice a little in shame, “It happened before I got here,”
“The entire crowd!” I exclaimed. “At least tell me the rooms haven’t been disturbed!”
“Well, we had to look to find where Miss Shores had hidden herself...”
“Please, then, send your men outside and keep everypony you can for questioning,” I said, already fearing Rarity’s reaction.
My fears were immediately justified by a dramatic screech from the stage, “Oh, you insufferable bunglers!” Both Fluttershy and myself hurried outside to see Rarity gingerly lifting a bouquet of blue flowers with her magic.
“Rarity!” I cried, but she threw the deadly poison blue flowers to the ground in a fit of pique.
“Just as I feared! – The horsassin threw a bouquet of flowers from the audience, Sapphire picked them up to smell them and was poisoned, and then in the muddle the louts at the gate just let our culprit walk right on out!”
“Oh. We should probably stop testing all the muffins then,” Fluttershy mumbled.
Rarity spun with dramatic rage. She flowed into these moods so often that one would think one would not lose the ability to tell when she was genuinely angry – that thought would be wrong. When Rarity was actually mad there was never any doubt. “So close! She was so close I could almost touch her! So close I can still... smell... Oh!” Rarity hopped down off the stage and started walking through the stands, horn glowing brightly. She seemed half following it, half being pulled along by it.
“Rarity, whatever is the matter?” Fluttershy asked, and I felt inclined to parrot her question.
“A gem! Somepony lost a gem!” Rarity was saying excitedly as she galloped to try and keep up with her horn as it led her through a convoluted search pattern of the stands.
“Rarity, there’s been a crime –“ I tried to remind her, but she would have none of it. Despairing, I turned back to Fluttershy.
“While Rarity is rummaging for spare change, do you mind if I picked up where we left off last time?” I suggested.
“Oh, certainly. What were we talking about?”
“Oh.” That was not a happy ‘oh’.
“I apologise if I raised a poor topic –“
“No. I just... I just sometimes think she’s more interested in following my career than me.” Fluttershy said, spilling out with a very quiet anger that I had not been expecting, “She keeps saying I will bring Justice to Equestria, but all I’ve ever wanted was to train dogs –“ she caught herself, and put on what I perceived to be a practiced smile, “I’m sorry, what must you think of me telling such things to a stranger?”
“If it is any comfort, I would rather count you as a friend than a stranger,” I said, offering a hoof to shake.
“Foooound iiiiit!” Rarity’s sing-song voice interrupted the moment as she lifted a bright pink gem into the air. It was star shaped, an exceptional cut.
“What have you got there, Rarity?” I asked, hopping down into the stands to join her.
“The piece of evidence that will clear this case for us!” Rarity said with pride. “The culprit dropped this gem, I am sure of it!”
“Sure? But any of the ponies in this hall could have dropped that gem!”
“That is a vanishingly unlikely possibility, Rainbow Dash, as you would know if you had read the guest list,” Rarity said smugly.
“Rarity?” Fluttershy said quietly, “I’ve read the guest list and I don’t understand either.”
Rarity paused for effect. Of course she’d known that neither of us would understand her logic, setting up her reveal perfectly. “There are only a small group of ponies on the guest list who can afford genuine gemstones. There are an even smaller group who own gemstones anything like this little marvel. An even smaller subsection would be carrying blue flowers this evening. And there are none, none, who would be wearing anything with pink star gems in autumn – I mean, assuming the laws of public decency still apply.”
“I believe I must take your word for that one,” I conceded.
“So, if nopony attending this show would be wearing a pink star gem, that leaves only our mysterious assailant who I’d imagine would have sneaked in. And sneaking is difficult to do in a dress, making it likely that this was the only gem she brought with her. And if she brought a large, shiny and gaudy gemstone on a covert pranking mission, it obviously means a lot to her personally. No doubt she planned this attack poorly, due to the haste in which it followed the previous one, and dropped it in her panic. And if it is that much of a sentimental piece to her she will go to great lengths to re-acquire it!”
“Marvellous! If you are right, she’ll come right to us!” I exclaimed in excitement.
“Not if she smells a trap. Fluttershy, I need you to continue to investigate as though you know nothing of this,” Rarity said, “If my guess is correct, you will find the word “PARTY” scrawled somewhere inside this building too. Search until you find it and then send ponies to watch Pinkie Pie. I need you to promise to keep this a secret, otherwise all will be lost. Please! Please-please-please-please-pleaaase!” Rarity said, gripping Fluttershy by the shoulders as she begged.
“O-okay. If it’s that important to the case, then I promise,” Fluttershy said, nodding quietly. Rarity breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“Very well, girls! I’ve got to go put an ad in Equestria Daily, and then Rainbow Dash and I shall spring the trap. We’ll have this trickster yet!”
The following day, Rarity and I were sitting together in the lounge room. Rarity was as chatty as ever, telling me of the difference between a backstitch and a croissant – Or something along those lines, I confess I was not paying attention – and I was pacing nervously, constantly glancing out the window. By this point I had become accustomed to Rarity’s way of blathering on; it was, as she put it, “A way to keep my mind alert and agile”, and her voice was melodic enough for me to not consider asking her to stop.
A little after noon, when Rarity had finally convinced me to sit and eat something, there was a loud knock at the door. I hurried to open it and was met with the sight of an old gray mare in a cloak, leaning heavily on a metal walker. I realised after a moment I’d seen her in Pinkie Pie’s bakery the other day.
“Good afternoon, madame,” I said, trying to keep the tension out of my voice.
She looked at me with a curious expression, and then said, “Excuse me, but I saw an ad in the paper stating that you had found the gemstone in my daughter’s wedding ring.”
“Oh, indeed. Come in, come in,” I said, leading her across to Rarity. Rarity smiled.
“You’ll forgive me if I ask some questions to check your story.” She said, “I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong gem by mistake. Dash, if you could write these down?”
“Certainly,” I said, producing a quill and ink.
“I do not mind, this should be a simple matter to straighten out,” said she.
“Very well. Your name and address?”
“Cloud Kicker, 13 Duncan Street, Houndsditch. A weary way from here.”
“Cloud Kicker? That’s a pegasus name,” I asked, looking up.
“My mother’s side,” said the old mare. I nodded.
“And could you describe the nature of the gem you lost?” Rarity continued.
“Well, I did not lose it for one. It was, from the description in the paper, the very gemstone my daughter purchased and had set in her wedding ring. That would be a pink gem, cut in the shape of a starburst, with a faint warmth to the touch.”
“And your daughter’s name?”
“Lyra, Cloud Lyra.”
“Ah. I found this gem in the gutter outside the theatre last night; was your daughter attending the show?”
“I don’t know all her comings and goings, but I do know that if she has lost her gem I should return it.”
“Indeed. Then, is this your gemstone?” Rarity said, producing it and setting it upon the table.
I watched this exchange closely, holding my breath, looking for any sign, or twitch, or flinch.
The old mare turned the gemstone over in her hooves, then set it down and said “There can be no doubt that it is.”
“Well, then, I would not wish to deprive your daughter of her wedding ring,” Rarity said, “I am prepared to call the matter closed. Please, take the gem,”
“Thank you,” said she, picked it up, and walked out the door without another word. Rarity and I stood in silence as we heard her footsteps go down the stairs, and the slam of the door as she left.
“This is it!” Rarity cried in delight, “Either she is telling the truth, in which case her daughter is our assailant, or she is lying and is in cahoots with her! Quickly, Rainbow Dash, follow her at a distance and see where she goes! Either way, she will lead us right to the criminal!”
I did not need to be told twice. I peeked out the window just in time to see the old mare hail a carriage, tell the driver, “To 13 Duncan Street, Houndsditch, please!” She got inside and drew the curtains, and I jumped out of the window and began to follow.
I maintained a medium-altitude glide; slow and precise enough to remain perpetually out of view of any of the cab’s windows, fast enough to keep the cab continuously within my sights. I had been trained for such stealthy flight in the air force, and I can say with utmost confidence that I never let the cab out of my sight for a heartbeat.
And yet, when the driver pulled up outside thirteen Duncan Street and opened the door, there was nopony inside. The driver began to give the finest assorted collection of oaths that I had ever listened to, and I, perched on a nearby rooftop looking at the empty carriage knew that, somehow, I had been fooled.
It was with great reluctance that I returned to Rarity to report that somehow the old mare had escaped from a sealed cab underneath my very nose.
“Troubling, but I do not believe this is a total loss,” said she.
“Not a total loss!” I cried, “I held the culprit in my hooves and let her get away!”
“But the process has given us one last, very important piece of data, Rainbow Dash. One piece of data which could break this entire case wide open. But before we can rely on such data, we must rely on intuition. Intuition tells me that the criminal will strike again at Hoity Toity’s art exhibition this evening, and if my luck holds I will be able to catch her in the act.”
“I hope you are right, Rarity.” I said, but Rarity was smiling.
“And, as an added bonus, there is simply no way for you to get into an art exhibition without a brand new dress!” Rarity said, rubbing her hooves together.
“You know, the detective stories I read as a filly seemed to involve a lot less dressing up for some reason,” I said, though in truth I was already resigned to the prospect.
“Like I said. Derpin and Lecoq were amateurs compared to me,” said Rarity.
At this point in my narrative, the reader is surely forming an uncharitable opinion of me. Here we have, you surely say, a brash young Pegasus who has served alongside Griffons and Hippogryphs, who has caused thunderstorms over Zebrica, who has broken the sound barrier in her early days - who is, surely, the epitome of coolness. And yet, you proceed with your observations, here she is indulging in the most girlish and dweebish behaviour imaginable alongside a girlish dweeb by the name of Rarity. Surely there is a contradiction, you observe, and begin to doubt if my 'cool' credentials were ever genuine.
To a degree, I must concede the point, but I remind the reader to keep in mind the circumstances. I had spent many weeks with Rarity by this point with only the most minor concessions to her ways, which I assure you is no easy feat. Secondly, the old injury to my wing kept me from entertaining my regular hobbies. Thirdly, the sheer adrenaline of the chase and the drive to apprehend this vile trickster made a concession to fashion more palatable than I would have been. Finally, I defy anypony who would judge me for caving in to Rarity without having been on the receiving end of her manipulations.
So, when I resume the narrative on the note of Rarity squeezing me into an extremely girly dress, I beg the reader not to think less of me.
"And now just a little bit of eyeliner to finish the effect," Rarity was saying.
Actually, I have decided it is for the best if I skip my narrative ahead just a little.
"There! What do you think?" Rarity said, turning the mirror around to face me.
For a moment, I thought she had showed me one of her posters or a particularly large piece of design art. It was many long moments before I realized the gleaming pegasus in that mirror was me. My mane had been straightened - at the cost of the lives of many brave combs - and tied back into a magnificent ponytail, and yet my fringe remained as rough and wild as if I had just been flying through a storm. I was wearing a necklace with amethyst grapes and a toga design of sky blue and rainbow fabric, fluffed with clouds near the edges. It was lighter than air, so light that it didn't seem to weigh me down or impair my movement or my wings, so light that I suspected more than a little magic in its construction.
I am not a pony who knows anything about fashion, this I confess freely. And yet, I thought that in that dress, in that moment, I looked good.
"Do you like it?" Rarity pressed, breaking me out of my reverie.
"I am... amazed," I confessed, "The last thing I looked remotely presentable in was my uniform."
"Oh! You absolutely must show me at some point!" Rarity said, looking delighted. As she spoke her own dress began to assemble itself around her with a glowing magical display. It would have been an impressive transformation sequence if she hadn't spent the entire time talking about military uniforms and the dressmakers who had both designed them and designed dresses based off military designs.
"Indeed, Rarity," I said, "But we must hurry; the show starts soon!"
"Oh, of course!" said she, looking as if she was about to gallop for the door but remembering her dress and exiting in a stately walk. We hailed a carriage and were transported swiftly towards the Guggenhorse Museum. As usual, Rarity continued to ramble, but my thoughts were elsewhere.
"And you're sure the criminal will make her appearance here?" I interrupted a, no doubt fascinating, lecture about Sky Pirate influences on pre-modern designs.
"Oh, why yes. She has been spooked, and twice, and if there's one common thread in pony nature it's that when a pony is spooked they make poor decisions." Rarity said, "She will be here tonight. I will know her when I see her."
"How can you be so confident?" I said, "I mean, I have nothing but respect for your skills, but how do you know for sure?"
Rarity gave a small smile, but she said nothing.
We arrived, and began to walk towards the gate of the museum. Ponies lining the red carpet turned their heads to stare at Rarity. I didn't presume to think that any of them would be looking at me; I was clearly a simple soldier, no matter what I was dressed in. The doorpony didn't dare ask the name of Rarity and unhooked the line to let her in. We strode into the huge circular chamber. Immediately, my eyes went to Hoity Toity, who was sitting on the top floor, gazing down on the dancing ponies below him, eyes unreadable behind his reflective violet glasses.
There was music in the air, lively and classical, and ponies were dancing, talking, or admiring the paintings. There were a lot of ponies, but the room was huge, giving plenty of space to move about. I scanned each of the four floors in turn, looking for anypony who looked suspicious.
Rarity stepped forwards, flicked her mane, and her horn started to glow. "After me, my dear Rainbow Dash," said she with a smile, and I knew then that she had the scent of the criminal's gemstone.
Making our way through the party was like navigating the lines of a terrible thunderstorm, and only Rarity knew how to fly. Just as we neared the stairs she raised a hoof to stop me and whispered, "No, there is Consul and he is an insufferable boor; we shall be drawn into an endless conversation if we pass by him. We must go around,"
And so we turned and made a circuitous route to the second staircase. Rarity was still following the direction of her horn, but constantly adjust it to avoid those who would draw her into conversation. Just as we reached the top of the first set of stairs Rarity raised a hoof to her lips and pointed across to the other side of the hall.
The old mare in the cloak was standing there. Looking right at us. Then she began to move at a hurried pace up the stairs.
I spread my wings to lunge after her, but Rarity bit my tail and pulled me back. "No, Dash!" she said, "The security pegasai will stop you, and it'll take too long to explain to them! This way!"
Grudgingly, I started to follow Rarity. She was going slowly, far too slowly for my sanity, but I reminded myself of what it was like to be a young filly following a teacher's lead on how to navigate a hurricane, for that was the most apt metaphor for the situation. I smiled as Rarity gave a friendly greeting to a pair of unicorns as she passed them, I nodded politely as we got held up by a talkative old gentlecolt until Rarity was able to extract us by flowing into another conversation. Every time I worried about wasting time I glanced across the hall and saw the old mare trapped in a conversation with some dullard, and my spirits were lifted. We were overtaking her!
This dance of conversations, excuses and departures continued until we reached the top floor, and walked sedately towards Hoity Toity, who was surrounded by security. Evidently he was wise enough to take extra protection after the attacks on his peers. This was my first good look at Hoity Toity, even though I had known of him before I had met Rarity.
They said that he was found at the bottom of the ocean in a fridge, and the first thing he did upon being released was criticise the fisherman's hat. They said that once every ten years he ate a single mouthful of grass to calibrate his criticism appropriately. They called him the Incorruptible, the Classiest, the Stig - all anypony knew for certain was that he went by the name "Hoity Toity".
"Mr. Hoity Toity," Rarity said, and I heard she was slightly out of breath - she was intimidated by this stallion, I realised.
And so was I. There was no telling what was going on behind that mirrored gaze.
In the panic of the moment, I blurted out my warning before he had a chance to address us. "Mr. Toity, I believe somepony is going to attack you tonight."
"I see. Most ponies settle for attacking my senses," Hoity Toity said, glancing down at the ballroom, "I suppose it was a matter of time before they progressed to attacking my person -"
At that moment, the old mare burst up the final set of stairs. I cried, "That's her!" And lunged, throwing my wings open and flying for a high speed tackle. There was an impact as I hit her, and we tumbled head-over-hooves into the wall.
And I heard a terrible ripping sound.
I outright stopped breathing. In that moment, I didn't care about the criminal. I just cared about discovering where I had damaged Rarity's beautiful dress. This, as it turns out, was a terrible mistake.
I was lifted into the air and cast aside. I managed to grab a mouthful of the old mare's cloak as I went, and there was another long rip as I tore it off with me. All throughout the hall there was a gasp.
The criminal, the poisoner, the evildoer - I knew her face. I had seen it in Rarity's picture.
She shook off the disguise and the illusion that had cloaked her purple fur and revealed her true face; a brilliant purple unicorn, horn crackling with magic, and dressed in - in -
I apologise, even today I find myself struggling to write down details of Twilight's dress. I am not, as I have stated to the point of parody, a fashion pony but this was...
It looked like she was dressed in a tablecloth. The fabric was so thin and limp it rippled and creased as she moved. It was emblazoned with stars, suns, moons and planets in a garish over-designed pattern. She was wearing a headdress with four antennae-like stars upon it. And for some reason, the purple and black of the dress was matched with teal bows on her chest and tail. There was no co-ordination, none whatsoever.
And she wore a golden tiara - the one nice thing in her outfit - with a bright pink star gemstone set atop it.
And what made it worse, infinitely worse, was the knowledge that Rarity had designed this monster.
After getting over their initial shock, Hoity Toity's security attacked Twilight. And I had seen unicorns in the throes of magic before, but I had never seen anything like this. She jinxed every single one with an original and creative hex, turning one into a pot plant, giving another an outlandishly sized head, and summoning a swarm of small winged fly-like creatures to carry the third out the window. This hardly seemed to slow her down, and she smiled menacingly as she produced a bouquet of blue flowers from behind her. Her eyes were glowing with incandescent white light.
For my part, I was pinned under a pile of glowing purple magical rocks, unable to struggle free, and I could only watch the Unicorn's rampage.
Hoity Toity didn't so much twitch an eye muscle. "My only regret," he said, looking his end in the eyes, "is that I am to be done in by one dressed so utterly hideously."
"YOU!" Twilight shouted, rage lifting her into the air on wings of violet magic, raising the flowers as if she was about to strike him with them. Hoity Toity gazed on impassively.
"STOP!" Shouted Rarity, jumping between the two.
The glowing purple Unicorn stopped in mid blow. Confusion crossed her features. "Stop?"
"You can't do this!" Rarity shouted.
"Did you HEAR what he said?" Twilight said, voice raising and thunder rolling behind her, "He called your dress ugly! They ALL called your dress ugly!"
"AND THEY WERE RIGHT!" Rarity shouted back.
That stopped the purple unicorn in her tracks.
"I'm just standing up for you -" she started, but Rarity, burning with anger, stepped up to her. She seemed so small against the crackling purple mage, but she didn't let so much as a flicker of fear cross her face.
"They all told the truth. They all gave their opinions honestly. And I needed that! Without ponies to tell me when I'm on the wrong track, how will I learn to do better?"
"But you worked so hard!" Twilight cried.
"No matter how hard I work, I can't force anypony to like something they don't like," Rarity said, "And I can't go around attacking them just because they don't like what I like."
Twilight fell into a stunned silence, and Rarity continued.
"It's good you wanted to stand up for me, Twilight, but only if you're protecting me from liars or haters. If somepony has an opinion that's different from yours, you have to understand and accept that and take it on board, and not just assume that they're wrong. And different opinions and genuine criticism help us do better next time. The worst thing you can EVER do to an artist is to tell them they're doing fine when they're screwing up."
The light went out behind Twilight's eyes, and she slowly fell to the floor. Her magic began to undo itself - the pot plant returned to a pony, the inflated head shrunk down with the sound of air being let out of a balloon, and the swarm of insects returned the kidnapped pony and left with a "Sorry for wasting your time, sir." The rocks pinning me also dissipated into thin air.
Twilight was beginning to tear up. "I'm so sorry, Rarity -"
"Don't tell me you're sorry," Rarity said, "Give me your honest opinion."
Twilight stopped in place. She shuffled a little, and eventually said, slowly, "Teal and purple?"
Rarity threw back her head and laughed, loud and melodic, no trace of that anger on her face, "I don't know what I was thinking!"
After a moment, Twilight began laughing as well. I joined in, and shortly thereafter Hoity Toity let out a low chuckle. On his cue, everypony started laughing - an honest, genuine, friendly laughter.
The next day, I was drinking my coffee, and Rarity was working on repairing my dress. I had apologised profusely but she hardly seemed bothered by the damage - indeed, claiming to enjoy the challenge of fixing it.
"Rarity, you must explain your approach to this case to me," I said, as I took a drink.
"Oh, I would be delighted. After we catch the real criminal, of course," said she, as cool as one pleased.
I spit out my drink.
Rarity levitated over a cloth and began to soak up the spilled coffee as I stared in shock.
"But Rarity, we solved the case! Twilight Sparkle was the poisoner; we caught her in the act!"
"Dash, I know Twilight," Rarity said, staring through her orange glasses at the tear she was looking at, "She is certainly smart enough to come up with a plot to poison the four greatest fashion ponies in Equestria, but even at her angriest she would never, ever try to frame Pinkie Pie for it. And if she did, which is impossible, certainly not in such a clumsy way."
"What are you saying?" I said, mouth agape.
"I am saying that Twilight Sparkle has no way of accessing the rare and exotic Zebrican plant, "Poison Joke". I am saying that Twilight Sparkle has no motive for framing Pinkie Pie. I am saying that Twilight Sparkle would not employ the Apple family to attack you in the street." Rarity said, turning to face me.
"You knew about that?" I said, having previously hoped to keep the details of that particular failure from Rarity's ears.
"Rope burns on the legs, and yet you still had your money afterwards? It was apparent. There was something else at work there."
"A third voice did speak to me, when I was down," I admitted, "warned me away from the Detective business."
"And that voice is, no doubt, the one behind all of this. That figure is the one who set this whole chain of events in motion. And I have no doubt that we shall confront this mastermind at Sweet Apple Acres," Rarity said, putting away her sewing tools, "And I must again thank you, Rainbow Dash. Were it not for your run in with Applejack this entire layer would have passed me by as naught more than an inexplicable mystery. Thanks to you, I am now certain of where this criminal resides."
"Rarity! You compliment my failures far too much!" I protested
"Imagine what it must be like to please me then," Rarity said with that easy smile as though there was naught in the world the matter. "Now, I shall fetch you another cup of coffee and we shall head across presently."
I had to pause to marvel at Rarity's courage; she was prepared to walk into Sweet Apple Acres and the heart of this mysterious schemer's power, and her only concern was picking which hat she wished to wear. Rarity decided we should walk, even though I was having reservations about the stormy clouds overhead. While I personally had no fear of wet weather, I was concerned for the state of Rarity's hat, and I only just now realize the sissiness of that sentiment.
We opened the farmyard gate and made our way towards the bright red barn unmolested. Rarity was quiet, something I found slightly unsettling after having become accustomed to her constant light banter. I felt the mood chill as we reached the barn and heard only silence from inside.
"Ah, it seems we are expected," Rarity said, indicating a note stuck to the farmhouse's front door. I took it and, as was becoming my habit with Rarity's mail, read it aloud.
You crossed my path on the fourth of January, on the twenty-third you incommoded me; by the middle of February I was seriously inconvenienced by you; at the end of March I was absolutely hampered in my plans; and now, at the close of April, I find myself placed in such a position through your continual persecution that I am in positive danger of losing my liberty. The situation is becoming an impossible one.
I am quite sure that a pony of your intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this affair. It is necessary that you should withdraw. You have worked things in such a fashion that we have only one resource left. It has been an intellectual treat to me to see the way in which you have grappled with this affair, and I say, unaffectedly, that it would be a grief to me to be forced to take any extreme measure.
This is not danger. It is inevitable destruction.
"This is he!" Exclaimed Rarity, "Long have I seen his hoof at work as I plied my trade. He whispers lies into the ears of ponies, he manipulates siblings and orchestrates betrayals. Had he his way he would turn everypony against every other, and end friendship between any except himself. A dangerous colt, and cunning."
"Ah, see there is a post script," I said, turning the letter over," "If you wish to pursue this matter to its most inevitable conclusion, meet me at Reichenbach Falls." Why, that is in the Everfree Forest!"
"My good friend Rainbow Dash, I must go after him. To allow this miscreant the pride of scaring me away I can not endure, even if it means walking into his trap."
"I feel the same. There is little I would prefer than to settle my argument with Applejack," I agreed.
Together we walked through the vast and empty apple orchards and into the looming darkness of the Everfree. It towered above us, primal and raw, as though it would consume all fashion, all civilisation, all life. And yet, Rarity went in, like a seraph carrying a lantern into the darkness. I followed. How could I not?
The walk was long, the woods misty and cold. The weather was untended, somehow managing itself with neither the blessing of Celestia nor the labours of the Pegasus Ponies. A miniature Zebrica within the heart of Equestria. Creatures dwelled in the undergrowth that set our manes on edge, but we stayed on the trail and were fortunate in the peace we encountered.
Finally, we emerged onto the hill above Reichenbach Falls. The rocks were cold, wet and muddy. A river of thick, black tar flowed from some terrible crevasse deep in the mountains. It flowed right to the edge where it poured off in a long, sticky flow, dripping like treacle, filling an enormous lake of the vile black stuff. Here and there along the riverside were twisted, dead trees. And there, standing right by the side, looking into the distance was a figure in a dark cloak and hat.
Cautiously, we approached. The wind this high was cutting, and though I was used to it, Rarity had to lower her head to make progress. The walk towards that isolated, cloaked figure seemed eternal, but neither of us were willing to dignify him by calling out to him.
"Are you familiar with the liquid in this river?" said he, gazing off into the distance, as we made our way cautiously closer.
"It is a type of tar that is singular in its stickiness. It never, ever washes out. It never, ever comes off," the cloaked figure went on. "The last pony who fell into the stream had to be shaved bald."
He turned around dramatically, and we got our first true look at this mastermind, this manipulator, this evildoer, this blackguard!
He was a purple baby dragon, in a top hat and cape, with a luxurious black moustache that looked like it was held together with the very oily black tar that flowed in the river. He let out a cackling laugh and a gout of green fire from his mouth.
It ignited prepared lines of black tar we had not seen, and encircled us each with a ring of fire. I spread my wings and began to fly but, too late again, realised that was the motion the concealed Applejack had been waiting for. A lasso caught me around the midsection and dragged me to the ground.
"Got her, Spike" Applejack was telling the dragon as I shook stars from my eyes. "Should I dump her in the river?"
"No!" said the dragon, Spike, said, "That is not nearly complicated enough! Dangle her from that tree and slowly lower her in!"
"Dangle her - what?" Applejack said, "That seems mighty complex for no good reason."
"Just do it! There's a way to do these things!" The dragon said, and the orange earth pony shrugged. In short order I was dragged into place, hooked over a tree branch, and Applejack began slowly lowering me head-first towards the bubbling black tar.
Meanwhile, Spike had turned his attention towards the trapped Rarity.
"It has been such an elegant dance, my sweet," he was saying, twirling his moustache, "I, the most dangerous criminal, and you, the foremost champion of law. It has been almost intimate, how well we have come to know each other's minds. Every crime, every scheme was set up with the intent of testing your abilities, and I was not disappointed. Each trial you overcame, and proved yourself all the more worthy to be my girlfriend."
Rarity scoffed, "Your girlfriend! The nerve!"
Spike growled, stepping closer to the ring of fire. "I am the Napolecorn of Crime! I am Spike the Terrible! I am the mastermind behind every crime worth noting of the past two years, and I have made your career! Without me, where would you be? Sitting at home in Baker Street, unravelling petty mysteries about glowing dogs? No, Rarity, you NEED me. I am the Luna to your Celestia; the Trixie to your Twilight; the Spiky Masher Plate to your Aristotle. Without me... you are nothing."
Rarity did the worst possible thing she could have done to him.
"You! You are a blunderer and a fraud! You pour lies and poison into ponies' ears and they do all the thinking for how to commit the crime, and then you come in afterwards with some petty, small minded and transparent attempt at misdirection. Only you would be pathetic enough to try to frame Pinkie Pie. Only you would be pathetic enough to try it three times. And only you would be pathetic enough to attack my friend on the street out of jealousy and reveal your entire scheme in the process. And you should be jealous, because Rainbow Dash is more a man than you, with your fake, oiled moustache could ever hope to be!"
"Well, we shall see how amazing your beloved Rainbow Dash is after she's dipped in oil and shaved bald!" Roared Spike in fury, "Applejack! Drop her!"
I braced myself for the end.
The tension went out of the rope.
I remember reflecting that it wouldn't be that bad. I'd have to stay inside for a few months. Maybe I could learn to sew.
My face hit cold, hard stone.
I had never in all my life been so glad to have my face hit cold, hard stone. And my face has hit stone more often than I care to admit.
"Uh, no," said Applejack, "I signed up for this 'cause you said these two were spies for the Lemon family, not to help you with your creepy crush." She pushed her hat back, looked down at me, and offered me one hoof. "No hard feelings?"
I grinned and took it, and Applejack pulled me to my feet.
"You can't do this!" Spike was saying as Applejack and I started towards him.
"Aw, if it were up to me, I'd let you go," Applejack said, raising her forehooves, "But Bess and Punchy here, they get awful mad when they get lied to, and they been drinkin' all morning!"
I swooped up and cleared away the flames surrounding Rarity with a few solid beats of my wings.
She started advancing on Spike, who was backing up to the very edge of the Falls.
"Stay back! Stay back!" He shouted. He produced a scroll from his cape and held it over the edge. "Stop! This is the cure to the Poison Joke - any closer, and I'll drop it!"
Rarity lowered her head and jumped.
She hit Spike, teeth fastening around the scroll, and they both tumbled over the side.
"NO!" I shouted and lunged over the edge, spreading my wings and catching Rarity in my hooves half way down.
Spike caught Rarity's tail in his teeth, but his hat blew off and fell into the black, bubbling soup below.
Rarity was looking up at me with infinite courage in her huge, blue eyes. "Rainbow Dash, take the cure and drop me."
"No!" I said, struggling to keep aloft. In the old days, I could have carried four ponies and broken the sound barrier all in the same movement, but here, now, with my aching wing that had never healed properly it was all I could do to stay aloft. We were losing altitude fast.
"Dash, listen." Rarity was saying both quietly and firmly, using her magic to slip the scroll into the brim of her hat, and then place it on my head. "Magnet and Shores, they won't survive the Joke. My coat will grow back."
"No!" I shouted again, and yelped as Rarity bit my hoof in an attempt to dislodge my grip.
"Dash! You have to let go, or we'll both go down!" Rarity was saying, her voice more panicked now.
"NEVER!" I shouted, but it was futile. We were inches above the muck now. Below, Spike's feet were almost touching the black filth. Rarity bit my hoof again in another fruitless attempt to get me to drop her.
But then a thought came to me.
She looked up at me, her teeth still biting at my leg.
"You think short tails are in this season?" I said.
It was with a wicked smile that Rarity conjured a pair of scissors with her magic and snipped her long, beautiful, purple tail, dropping the heavy baby dragon into the thick black muck.
With that weight gone, I soared.
It was no Sonic Rainboom. It was no Loom of Doom, no Buccaneer Blaze, no Comet's Keelhaul. It was, in fact, an awkward, ungainly flutter. My old instructors would have hung their heads in shame, my old unit who was used to seeing me do the impossible would have been disappointed to their cores.
But it was not that the moves were graceful, or fast, or precise. It was the fact that I could do them at all. That I could make myself fly with only half a wing. The best kind of impossible.
We made it to the bank of the tar lake. I clipped a tree as I passed and my wings gave out, and we both fell into a huge mud puddle in a tangle of limbs, feathers and hat.
"Mud!" Shrieked Rarity, pulling herself free almost immediately. She stopped in mid movement, and then turned her head to look at the huge tar lake, where a faint black silhouette was struggling to swim to the shore.
"You know," she said, "Now that I think about it, mud isn't so bad."
I laughed as I got to my feet. My wing was cramped and aching, but I was too elated to think straight.
"You know," Rarity said with a little smile, "When I first met you, I made the guess that you were the Best Young Flier in Equestria?"
"Yes," I said, catching my breath, "You told me as much."
"I was right," said Rarity.
We made our way back home, not bothering to wipe the mud off. We laughed the entire way. Each time we tried to return to normal conversation, one look at the mud-coated other would dissolve us into laughter. Laughter so relieved and joyful that tears ran down our faces. The looks passing ponies gave us, mud-soaked yet well-dressed maniacs, made us laugh even harder.
We entered our room at Baker Street together, still laughing, but stopped to see a worried looking Detective Fluttershy sitting at our table.
"Fluttershy!" Said Rarity, "Whatever is the matter?"
"It's... it's Photo Finish. She's been attacked with the Poison Joke." Fluttershy said.
"What!?" Rarity exclaimed, "Impossible! We have Twilight under lock and key! How did she -"
"It wasn't Twilight," I said quietly.
Both turned to look at me.
"It kind of fits her modus operandi..." Fluttershy started, but I cut her off.
"But not her motive," I said, walking towards Fluttershy.
"I-I don't know what the problem is, surely there's not that much of a difference between two poisonings and three," Fluttershy was saying worriedly.
"It matters," I said, coming eye to eye with the little yellow and pink Detective.
"I-I-I-I-" she stammered.
And burst into tears.
"I JUST WANTED TO TRAIN DOGS!" She wailed.
I wrapped my hooves around her and patted her on the back as she bawled.
"There there. It's all right," I said comfortingly. "We found a cure. We can make this right. You’re not a bad pony, you just made a bad decision."
"Y-you did?" She said, looking up at me with huge, watery eyes. "I'm... just not sure I want to be right! I don't want things to go back to normal! Please!" She was outright begging at this point.
"Fluttershy," Rarity said from behind me, "What exact effect did the Poison Joke have on Photo Finish?"
"Oh," she sniffed, "Every picture she takes has a pancake photoshopped onto everypony's head."
Despite myself I let out a chuckle.
So did Rarity.
So did Fluttershy.
And in an instant, we were all laughing again.
"Don't worry, Fluttershy. We'll help you," said Rarity, and I nodded in agreement.
"If only to make sure it's pancake time whenever you want a break from policing." I said.
And so ends my narrative.
Rarity, of course, refused all of my suggestions to have it published. She claimed, as was her way, that it was "A poor show of her talents", against "Unworthy or misguided criminals", and "Better consigned to the dustbin of history". I was unable to sway her, and yet, here I am, submitting my poor account to the public of Equestria Daily.
This is not a decision I made lightly. My friend was quite clear about her wishes to remain incognito, and that she was quite sure that a superior case would eventually come along that would finally meet her expectations. But I believe she is wrong. I believe that no case, anywhere, will ever truly challenge the incredible intellect of Rarity the Unicorn. I believe that the casual, low level detritus cast about by her wit is still so above that of the average pony that it deserves fame and admiration. And I believe that sometimes a friend cannot see how amazingly talented they are, and that there is a point where modesty becomes insecurity.
I know my lamentably slow and tedious style does not do justice to the instant wit and flashes of insight that are my companion's norm, and I know that my heavy hoofed prose will often drag the reader out of the story to marvel at my poor turns of phrase or mangling of language. All I can hope is that I have somehow managed to communicate some of the sublime finesse with which my best friend, Rarity, handles every part of her life.
If anypony ever needs a mystery solved, you can always find us at 221B Baker Street.
- RAINBOW MIRIAM DASH
The Hound of Ponyville p1: A Hound From a Nightmare
"So listen, my masters, and listen well,
For I have a tale of horrors to tell,
Of heroes and demons and blood and death
And the vilest monster e're to draw breath..."
"A long time ago, as ponies measure things, when the Sun and Moon were young, there lived a stallion unlike any other. Born of two powerful and ancient lines that ruled even in those days when Equestria was an eternal twilight, before day or night were dreamed of. He was the most handsome being in all the world. His eyes were so blue the sky was made grey, his coat whiter than the heart of a star and his mane made true gold seem as fool's. Of breeding there were none truer, of wealth there were none greater, in the ways of hearts he was supreme...
"And of pride, none had more. He was perfection incarnate, and this he knew.
"It was this stallion who caught the eye, and then the heart of Princess Luna, the Navigator of the Moon, the Silver Voice, the Abacus of the Heavens. Luna was young in those days, wild and untameable, a spirit of the forest and all that existed beyond the boundaries of civilisation. She was an artist, too, and a singer, and a dancer. In her youngest days she would gallop across the heavens and sing to the ancient stars, dancing with them and arranging them into great patterns across the sky. If she had one regret, it was that the world below slept through her song and paid no heed to her dance. Celestia's daily, stately, orderly walk was watched by millions while few cared to pay attention to Luna's eternal chorus.
"But this she could endure. For in those days, Luna loved the stars, and the stars loved her, and she needed no attention but theirs. She had endured it for many years past, and could endure it for many years hence...
"Or, she could, but that her gaze fell upon the stallion, and her heart doomed them both.
"He lived in what is now known as Ponyville Manor, a great and beautiful house on the border of the Everfree, in the swampy moors around Froggy Bottom Bog. He had no fear of the wilderness for no creature, great or small, would dare mar his perfection. It was said that even mud would harden to stone before him lest it stain his hooves. He was a creature of culture, of cleanliness, of order, of grace and sophistication. And so, when a breathless Princess Luna, mane tangled with brambles and leaves, hooves scorched from where they touched star-flame, strong and fit and wild, approached the stallion and asked him to dance, he waved her off as though she was but another commoner.
"For you see, the stallion's pride allowed him to consider only one being as his potential equal and mate: Princess Celestia herself, the Daystar, Sol Invictus and Luna's older sister. Luna had long had cause to envy her sister, but this was the ultimate blow: the one thing in all Creation that Luna desired, the one thing she had ever asked for, was already owned by Celestia. Jealousy, rage, resentment, disappointment - hell hath no fury like a mare scorned.
"But though Luna was a wild creature, she had friends who had wisdom and experience with civilisation that she lacked. She went to these and told them her troubles, and, as friends do, they supported her. They cleaned her hooves and tended to her wounds. They brushed her mane and braided her tail. They dressed her in silver and starlight. By the time they were through with her, Luna's friends had made her radiant.
"Here stood a mare of silver and indigo, a glowing and flowing beauty who wore the night like a ballgown. To look upon her was to know the Moon was her nature and the Stars were her birthright, to look upon her was to see the heavens in all their glory. To look upon her was to know that she was a Princess, and that she was in love.
"And so, again, she presented herself to the stallion of her dreams. This time she walked with him all through the night. She ate a formal dinner with perfect manners, the results of many hours of hard practice. She joked and laughed, but in the subtle understated way of the wealthy. They crossed the moors together and she told him of the stars and showed him a constellation she had arranged especially for him.
"Too soon! Too early! Too quickly the sun rose over the horizon, or so it seemed to Luna, and cut that perfect night short! And she saw immediately as it did so how it reflected in the stallion's eyes, how he smiled at the rising sun like he never had at her rising moon, and how he walked away from her without a second thought to meet it!
"First, Luna did not believe. And then, she wept - she wept so deeply that the stars, cast out by the daytime sun, heard her and wept with her. She wept all through the day and all through the night, for it was her first love and it had been utterly, thoughtlessly crushed and cast aside.
"And then, when her tears were all spent and sympathy from the stars was no longer enough, she grew angry.
"She tore her silver dress in two and cloaked herself in a form of darkness and fury. Her mane was that of the sky itself, awash with the stars, who alone cared for her, and her coat became the absolute black of the space between those stars. And when she felt the call in the morning, her sister's voice from so far away, asking her to lower the moon, she said, "No."
"This was not an easy thing to do.
"It was in Luna's nature to lower the moon when it was time for the sun to rise. It beat in the back of her head. Lower the moon. Lower the moon. Her sister's voice, calling across the world. Lower the moon. She wanted to obey. Lower the moon. She knew what would happen to the world if she didn't.
"And yet, she refused. "No," she said again, louder.
"Lower the moon. "No!" she shouted.
"Lower the moon. "NEVER!" screamed the Princess, casting all her rage, hurt and defiance into that one word.
"The moon stayed in the sky, silver and resplendent with the stars.
"The sun did not rise.
"And Luna sought her vengeance.
"Luna's friends had been searching all night for her. As they crossed the moors they encountered a terrified farmer pony, hiding under her hat and shaking with pure fear. They demanded of her if she had seen Princess Luna, and gradually received this halting reply,
""I saw the Princess as a Nightmare, standing high and tall over the moors, chasing a desperate white stallion. They were running faster than I could keep track of, but they were both followed by a beast that caught my eyes and froze my mind."
""What beast is this?"
""A Hound. A Hound risen from Tartarus itself, a hound so vast and terrible with eyes aflame and full of rage. A Hound so terrifying and blasphemous, snapping at their heels, that Celestia forbid it should ever snap at my heels."
"Luna's friends were daunted by this grim news and hurried in their pursuit of Luna. They crossed over hills and moors and crossed without fear into the Everfree itself. Along their path they encountered and fought monsters the likes of which they had not imagined, of which the world had not heard of. Hydras, Ursas, Manticores - abominations spawned from the rage of Princess Luna. Hate, sorrow and vengeance made manifest. And yet, all these beasts seemed afraid. They were fleeing, fleeing from whatever it was deepest in the forest's heart.
"They steeled themselves and continued, coming at last to a mist-filled vale. The rocks were torn and shattered, and the earth was scarred with the marks of enormous claws. And there, just ahead, in the scar-shaped pit that went down to the lowest depths of the Everfree, Princess Luna stood over the stallion who had spurned her.
"It took the assembled a moment to recognise him, so warped and twisted was he. Luna had done the unthinkable and cursed away his beauty. Where once had been a beauty that could charm the birds from the trees and poison from serpents now existed an abomination, a half-breed, a mule. It was a sight so horrible it would cause lesser ponies to faint, but it was by far not the worst thing here.
"What was the worst thing was the Hound that stood by Nightmare Moon's side. Twelve feet tall, made of stars and fire, with a mark of rage upon it's brow. It was Hate, it was Vengeance, it was the death of a Princess and the birth of a Goddess. As it howled, Nightmare Moon laughed, and the ponies broke and fled.
"The survivors lived troubled and broken lives afterwards, forever haunted by the memory of the Hound. And though Celestia later defeated Luna, she never found the Hound. The Hound has been the bane of the stallion's family line ever since. It has haunted them for over a thousand years, and the House of Ponyville has ever become a byword for misfortune, tragedy, and ill-omened death.
"And that is the legend of the Hound of Ponyville," finished the Great and Powerful Trixie.
I stared in rapture. The Unicorn could spin a tale, of that there was no doubt. My eyes were wide and focused, by breath shallow, and my heart was beating with the fear of that encroaching, inevitable Hound...
"Interesting. To a collector of fairy tales," Rarity said with absolute boredom in her voice. "And I doubt you came all this way to regale me with children's stories."
I suddenly caught myself. If Rarity wasn't impressed by Trixie's story, I resolved myself not to be either. If I have implied that this is an easy thing to do, I have misled you. It was all I could do to think of something other than burning fangs by that point.
"Hmph. The Great and Powerful Trixie expected more from the so-called powers of deduction of Rarity the Unicorn," Trixie said, tossing her head arrogantly, "Trixie obviously gave you too much credit."
"There are no deductions I can draw from a story about demon dogs other than that somepony has a very active imagination," Rarity said laconically.
"Very well, if it is facts you desire, then facts you shall have," Trixie said dramatically, "Fluttershy Red, Heir to the Ponyville Manor, has vanished."
It is at this point I must pause and provide some context for my narrative.
A little over two months ago, I submitted my account of the Study in Rainbows to the newspaper Equestria Daily, detailing the adventures of Rarity the Unicorn in her masterful handling of the Poison Joke Affair. As my postscript may have indicated, I did not inform Rarity about this until she saw it published. Her reaction was one of nervous laughter and false confidence, and her words to me were "My dear Rainbow Dash, I fear you have just wasted the time of a great many ponies!"
I remained adamant in my praise and refused to allow her to talk down her talents. And to my enormous relief, the article received a hugely positive reaction. Rarity tried to pretend she was unconcerned with the whole thing, but she spent many days afterwards walking with a spring in her step and a song on her lips. For giving her this happiness, I thank every one of you.
Business, naturally, saw a boost, with more letters than our wall-eyed postmare could easily handle. We made something of a game of these - I would read the letters out loud, Rarity would make a snap judgement of the crime, which I would pen and send away. On rare occasion a case would ignite her interest enough for us to make a trip out to the site in question, but she would invariably locate the solution within the hour. I have tried several times to pen these accounts but the fact remains there is not much substance to them. Rarity's genius is such that these are hardly challenges and hardly notable.
Fluttershy, her association with Photo Finish mercifully ended, discovered that her father, the famous Red Stallion, had passed away and left her heir to the Ponyville Hall country manor. She gladly took the chance to retire to the countryside and she and I maintained some correspondence over this separation - though less than I would have liked. At this point in my story I was especially regretting having put off finishing my most recent letter to her.
When Fluttershy made her announcement to leave, the uncomfortably hyperactive baker, Pinkie Pie, decided she was to pack up shop and accompany Fluttershy into the country. As she explained to me (completely unsolicited while I attempted to purchase a packet of biscuits), she had family in the country and was looking forwards to visiting them and keeping Fluttershy company both. She seemed to imply it would be a short trip, but she did not return in the weeks that followed. At the time, I ashamedly was glad for the peace and quiet and thought no more of it.
Twilight Sparkle had emerged from the Poison Joke affair relatively unscathed due to her association with the Princess and the discovery of a genuine cure. The last I saw of her she was hard at work doing community service in an attempt to atone for her crimes. I wish her luck in the attempt.
Applejack of Sweet Apple Acres remained mostly the same. I avoided borrowing money from her and she avoided listening to the advice of maniacal purple dragons. Something of a gentlemare’s pact, you could say. On the topic of Spike, he had not been seen since the battle at Reichenbach falls and honestly, I was glad of the absence. Ten minutes spent in the presence of that particular blackguard had been enough to satisfy me for a lifetime.
Of myself there is little worth noting, so I will try and be brief. It was discovered that the slow recovery of my wings was due in part to trace elements of Poison Joke in my blood from my time in Zebrica and, cure discovered, I regained some of my former health. I won the Running of the Leaves, became champion Stormsurfer twice, won the Cloudsdale Award for Best Civilian Flier and the totally awesome Medal of the Solar Phoenix. You know, nothing major.
I apologise for inflicting upon my readers the tedious details of what I and my associates have been doing over these past two months. I know for certain nopony came here to read Rainbow Dash’s report on what she did over the summer break. I will now return to my story proper and not begrudge any reader who made the decision to skip over my earlier rambling paragraphs.
"Fluttershy, vanished?" I said, jumping out of my chair and into the air. My habit of constant flight had reasserted itself with the recovery of my wings. "Where, when?!"
"And with something as important as this, why did you open with that mystifying tale about hellhounds?" Rarity said, also looking concerned. It was an odd sensation, but I got the feeling she was guarded about this because a foal could see there was only one connection between the two stories - and it was not a good one.
"The Great and Powerful Trixie never does anything without a reason," Trixie said haughtily, "and Trixie told you that story so Trixie could tell you this one.
"Firstly, about my own motives: The Great and Powerful Trixie has long had an interest in Ponyville Hall. It is a site of enormous magic and history, and of historical importance to Trixie's illustrious family. This was why Trixie graciously accepted the position of Court Arcanist when the Lady Fluttershy Red was wise enough to make the offer. Trixie, of course, has the safety of Lady Fluttershy as her foremost priority but she also has an obligation to ensure Ponyville Hall is maintained and run. This is a doubly difficult thing given the place’s evil reputation, which the disappearance of Fluttershy will not help.
"Now, about the events surrounding Fluttershy's disappearance,
"Ever since Trixie entered Fluttershy's service five months ago, Trixie noticed that Fluttershy was something of a blubbering coward. With alarming regularity, Trixie's rest was interrupted to deal with some imagined horror or other. The Great and Powerful Trixie has never been a mother, but after her time spent dealing with Fluttershy's fears she finds herself turned entirely off the idea.
"But two weeks ago, Trixie noticed a distinct rise in the frequency, intensity and specificity of Fluttershy's panic attacks. Multiple times, Fluttershy complained of hearing howling of a dog and seeing a huge beast lurking around the boundaries of the house. She could not articulate why this apparition scared her, which Trixie found unusual, as Fluttershy has no fear of any other type of animal. Either way, Trixie did her duty as a Unicorn must, and cast a great magical working to bar all dogs from the grounds around Ponyville Hall. Some of the farmers complained, but that was not Trixie's concern as much as getting a decent night's sleep was.
"The day after Trixie put up her great abjuration, Fluttershy went for an unannounced evening walk. This was unusual for Fluttershy, but no doubt she was given confidence by the Greatness and Powerfulness of Trixie's magic. Trixie did not discover that Fluttershy was gone until nearly midnight when Fluttershy failed to request Trixie's presence in ensuring there were no monsters in the closet or sinister looking lamps or what-have-you.
"Trixie, upon noticing the absence, gathered the help of Sedimentary Elbert Pie, the manor's coltservant, who carried a lantern while Trixie followed Fluttershy's trail. It lead across the fields to the fence that separates the family property from the moors proper. There, Trixie surmised that Fluttershy had lingered for at least half an hour -"
"Pardon me," said Rarity, "But how did you discern that?"
"Fluttershy had taken with her a bag of animal feed, no doubt to pass out to whatever disease-carrying rodents she encountered along the way. Trixie had seen her with such a thing before and estimates that it takes somewhere between half an hour and the amount of time it takes for Trixie to get so bored she stops counting to distribute in it's entirety. Trixie located the empty bag near the gate."
"Was this a cheap, disposable bag?"
"No, a quality one, which Fluttershy seemed quite attached to."
“The trail continued down a tree-lined avenue that lead towards the main street out of the property. From the way the tracks were spaced, Trixie believes that for this period, Fluttershy was tiptoeing. And then, halfway down the avenue, the tracks vanished all together."
"Uh, maybe because she started flying?" I commented.
"Perhaps," Trixie said. "But her disappearance was not what troubled me. What troubled me were the tracks following in her wake."
"And those tracks, lady Trixie?" Rarity pressed.
Trixie looked at Rarity, and gave a smug smile.
"Why, Miss Rarity. They were the tracks of an enormous hound!"
The Hound of Ponyville p2: The Handsome Prince
"A hound?" I repeated like a dullard. It was all I could do to think of anything other than Fluttershy being hunted by that burning monster -
"A hound," Trixie said, raising her head.
"So your ward failed?" Rarity said, but even what was intended as a jab betrayed her concern.
"My wards were perfect," Trixie said haughtily, "I even tested them, and there was no damage."
"Lady Trixie, this is indeed a fascinating series of events and a mystery I find my mind compelled by, but I find myself wondering why you brought it to us," Rarity said, leaning forward in her chair.
"Because the Great and Powerful Trixie is a busy pony, and because the majority of her time will be spent protecting the person of the new Lord of Ponyville Hall. She has no time to go on wild goose chases around the countryside. The Great and Powerful Trixie does not know what happened to Fluttershy, nor does she know who or what was responsible. And so, Trixie would commission the two of you to investigate this on her behalf. If it does turn out to be a monster, simply stand aside and allow Trixie to deal with it."
"Hmm..." Rarity frowned deeply, then her eyes flicked up. "New lord of Ponyville Hall? So soon after Fluttershy's disappearance?"
"As Trixie has already made clear, Trixie's livelihood - not to mention the livelihoods of the farmers and towns in the Hall's area - require that somepony sits at the Manor. Trixie has already contacted the next in line and is here in Ponyville to escort him back to the Manor."
"And this colt?"
"You might know him as Prince Blueblood of Canterlot," Trixie said.
I have known Rarity for some time now, and my admiration of her cool and collected manner has been well documented. And as such, I was intensely taken aback by the fact that she was rendered speechless by this. She gaped and stuttered, something I had not known her to ever do. When she did manage to speak it was in a high pitched squeak, as if she was withholding a squeal. "Prince Blueblood?"
"The same." Trixie said. "He will arrive at the docks in one hour, and Trixie will be there to meet him and escort him to the Manor."
"The Prince Blueblood?" Rarity responded in an even giddier tone. Trixie rolled her eyes.
"Did Trixie say one hour? Trixie meant five minutes, and had best leave immediately to greet him. If you accept the case, you know where to find us." Without another word, the blue unicorn walked proudly from our room, leaving me with Rarity.
I took a long look at her face which was gradually metamorphosing into the biggest grin I'd ever seen on a pony.
"I shall hazard a guess that you feel like taking this case," I commented dryly.
"Prince Blueblood!" She said, eyes lighting up like stars, "The most gallant handsome stallion in all Equestria! I'm going to have a chance to meet Prince Blueblood!" She gasped, "And I don't have a thing to wear!"
I walked over to her wardrobe and opened it to reveal racks of hundreds of dresses.
"No! None of these shall do at all!" Rarity cried, tearing down one of them in a fit of pique, "I must make something new, something perfect for the occasion - oh, but what if that hound attacks the Prince while I'm working?" She began to pace back and forth, mane fritzing slightly as she began to fret.
"Don't worry, Rarity. I shall go with the Prince and keep him safe while you make preparations," I volunteered. My options were to go out to the country or sit uselessly in the corner while Rarity made dresses, and the decision to me seemed obvious. This was also a chance to see just how much of Rarity’s theories I had learned – and, if I was lucky, a chance at a case I could solve by myself.
“Oh, would you? Thank you! Thank you so much!” Rarity cried, giving me a quick embrace, “Quickly, Rainbow Dash! Go and meet the Prince, I shall follow no more than three days behind.”
“Very well. Is there anything you require me to do, or thoughts you have on the case?” I asked.
“Firstly, stay close to Trixie. She is powerful and intelligent, if sometimes dementedly misinformed as to basic rules of deduction,” Rarity said, thinking out loud, “Secondly, talk to as many ponies as you can. I can’t form an assessment of the case without knowing who the suspects are. Thirdly, and above all keep yourself safe.”
“Don’t worry about me,” I said confidently, “But what did you mean when you said Trixie was misinformed?”
“Why, think about it, Rainbow. Fluttershy goes for an unannounced evening walk down to a gate at the edge of the property, facing the Everfree Forest. And then she waits there, all through sundown and well into darkness. And then she abruptly starts tiptoeing home? No, no, Trixie misread the trail. She was running, Rainbow Dash. Running from something she saw coming over the moor. Running for her life. Running until the beast leapt the fence, grabbed her, and carried her away.”
“Sweet Princess... how do you know she didn’t fly away?”
“We both know Fluttershy. If she’s scared, that scared, her wings clamp to her sides like irons. No, if she’s gone, then the beast caught her.”
There was a long silence where we both considered the gravity of the situation.
“I should get moving,” I said at last.
“Yes. Rainbow Dash, you must be my eyes. Write to me, everything you notice, no matter how trivial. I shall form an assessment of the case from here and catch up to you as soon as I can.”
I nodded, took my hat and left the comfortable room at 221B Baker Street. The air outside was cold and tasted of ash and smoke, and the wind tugged at my feathers. And yet, to me the world was still hot and slightly dizzying. I could still see that image of the demon hound in my head and was still troubled by the thought of it bounding across those silent, dark moors, hunting Fluttershy, catching her, carrying her away...
Carried by such dark thoughts, I allowed the crowd to buffet me towards the docks. Picking Trixie out of a crowd was not difficult – I simply looked for the hat – and as I approached her I saw the stallion come down the gangplank.
Rarity was correct – he was a visually stunning creature. He had a regal bearing, flawless grooming and perfect poise. I usually felt inadequate and inferior about my appearance when around Rarity, but this was another level entirely. I could feel every spot of matted fur on my body, I was acutely aware of the chip on my right forehoof, of the line a drop of sweat was making as it rolled down my forehead. I brushed my mane awkwardly with one hoof, but it rebelled and tangled even more, so I simply gave up.
Trixie bowed as the Prince entered our presence, and I did the same. He nodded slightly, which I took as leave to stand again. I stood at attention, feeling undressed without my uniform. For some reason, just being in his presence reminded me of my days in the Air Force, and the feeling of meeting a Lord General.
“My Prince,” Trixie began, “The Great and Powerful Trixie has prepared your carriage,”
“Thank you, Trixie. And you are...?” He said in a soft, velvet voice turning his gaze on me.
“Thunderstriker First Class, Lt. Rainbow Miriam Dash, honourably discharged, sir!” I said, snapping out a salute. The whole motion was kind of awkward and stiff, my body doing what it knew while my mind blindly groped for a way to make a good first impression.
“Charmed,” he said, taking my saluting hoof with his own and kissing it. Trixie later commented that she had been preparing to summon a nurse because she mistook the expression of shock I wore for the beginnings of a stroke, “I am Prince Lacross Blueblood,”
“I... at your service sir!” I fired wildly.
“One does find the military simply fascinating.”
“One would love to hear the tale of your career,”
“One invites you to sit in one’s carriage,”
“Yes sir!” Those were words I could reliably say, so I was going to keep saying them even though they seemed to be rapidly drawing me into a world I had no idea how to handle.
The Prince walked over to the carriage and stepped inside. Trixie gave me a flat, sideways glance as I remained rooted to the spot, still saluting.
“Guess he likes you,” she said, a mischievous smile working it’s way onto her face.
“What’s –“ I lowered my hoof through sheer force of will, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“They say,” Trixie said, wiggling her eyebrows, “That dating the Prince is a fast track to a promotion, lieutenant.”
“Where did – I’m not! No way! I’m not even in the army any more!” I began to sputter, and the purple-cloaked unicorn raised her hoof in apology.
“Trixie apologises, Trixie should have seen you already have your eye on somepony.” Trixie said, looking as though she was trying very hard not to laugh. “Don’t keep the Prince waiting.”
I flushed, but hurried into the carriage and sat opposite the Prince, who was reclining on a red velvet cushion. He smiled, and I swear to Celestia that his teeth actually shined. “So tell us, lieutenant,” he said in a voice so charming I felt like he was about to undress me. Given that I was only wearing a hat at the time this sentiment felt a touch silly. I kept one of my hooves on the hat nonetheless, holding it as if it was the one defence my modesty had. “What campaigns were you a part of?”
“My first and only campaign was in the Second Moon War, a five year tour of duty cut short to four after I was wounded in battle.” I said, trying to be as to the point as possible.
“Ah, the Moon War. A most fascinating campaign, and one has studied it in great... detail.” I would like to note that this is not time, poor memory, or authorial design which influences my account of the Prince’s dialogue – he actually did speak like a character from one of Rarity’s romance novels. Which I certainly have never read.
“Yes sir,” I responded, glancing to Trixie for help. She just winked, treacherous wretch that she was.
“One hears that there were Griffons in these battles.”
“Yes sir. One served under my command as an orderly, her name was Gilda, sir.” I said. My spooked mind seized upon the topic as a potential way to talk about something other than myself.
“And you are a commander of Griffons too, Lady Rainbow? One is impressed. And intrigued. You must be as resourceful as you are beautiful,” said the Prince, turning the conversation back on me with absolutely no effort. I flushed even more.
The entire four hour carriage ride to the country was like that. The Prince politely but firmly pressed me for details about myself, and would turn even my worst stories into compliments I did not know how to respond to. Trixie would just smile like a twisted foal watching a cat play with a mouse. At first I thought I was overreacting, that Trixie was just playing with my mind and there was no way a Prince would pay me any heed beyond simple politeness. That thought gradually gave way to the intimidating truth – he was courting me, scruffy Rainbow Dash with her unwashed hair and muddy hooves. And he was doing so according to some system or set of rules I simply could not comprehend. I suspected the Prince had something of a taste for military pegasi, and took great pleasure in toying with them.
This was made all the more twisted by the fact that it was my mission to keep him safe for Rarity, so she would have a chance to win him herself. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to explain any of this to her. I certainly had no intention of accepting his advances, but I was so out of my depth I was worried I might say something I did not mean by accident.
It was with the most enormous relief that we arrived at Ponyville Hall. It was a beautiful building, standing atop a hill and overlooking distant Ponyville, several other smaller villages, and the great Everfree Forest. Around the base of the hill, separated from the property by a stone fence, were the moors – grey and misty, with deep green vegetation and deep pools of water. Here and there were red lights, glimmering and fading through the mist. The mist wrapped around the trees at the base of the property, rising up, giving Ponyville Hall an ominous and mystical feel.
“What do you think of the moors, Lady Rainbow?” Trixie said, speaking for the first time the entire trip.
“They’re... ominous. But kind of cool,” I said haltingly, having come to constantly second guess every word of mine in the attempt to avoid giving Blueblood an opening for another compliment.
“And lethal,” Trixie said, “If a pony even steps into that bog, they’ll be dragged down to the bottom and never seen again.”
“Then why build a Manor here?” I asked
“Because of the presence of the Pie family. They are some of the greatest rock farmers in the world, and Sedimentary Elbert Pie has spent many of his years building paths through the swamp, dragging rocks out into the moor and piling them up until they’re safe to walk on. He marks the paths he’s made with those red lanterns. Don’t go walking on the moor while you’re here, and if you must, don’t stray from the lantern path.”
“I’ll try and remember,” I said, “though I intend to fly where possible.”
“Of course,” Trixie said, opening the door to the carriage and stepping out. She held the door open for the Prince who strode out without so much as a thank-you, which Trixie didn’t seem to mind. I hurried out in his wake.
Standing there to greet us were three figures, none of whom I recognised. One was an old, bearded stallion, gray and hatted, with the cutie mark of a pickaxe. Standing next to him was an old mare with wireframe glasses. And there, by their side...
I blinked. I had to be mistaken. There was no way...
“Rainbow Dash, Prince Blueblood, the Great and Powerful Trixie would like to introduce you to the Pie Family.”
The straight haired, pink pony looked at me with empty blue eyes. “Hello, Rainbow Miriam Dash,” said Pinkamina Diane Pie. “Long time, no see.”
The Hound of Ponyville p3: Lanterns In The Mist
“Oh hey, Pinkie Pie,” I said awkwardly. There was something about the way Pinkie snarled when she spoke that set my feathers on edge, like she wasn’t so much greeting me as accusing me.
“Pinkamina! Do you know this - filly?” snapped Mrs. Pie, and I could have sworn she was going to end that sentence with ‘harlot’ and changed it at the last minute. I bristled slightly and was about to respond in kind when Pinkie cut me off.
“No. She just used to be one of my customers and nothing else,” Pinkie said, turning her nose up in the air.
“... While the Great and Powerful Trixie no doubt cares deeply about this emotional reunion, the Great and Powerful Trixie has had a long trip and would like to get it over with,” Trixie piped up, and Mr. Pie nodded.
“Of course,” he said in a tired, gravelly voice as he turned and walked inside. “Follow me,”
Trixie and I exchanged glances, but Blueblood strode inside without a care, so we cautiously followed him. Pinkie walked ahead of us, which blocked even attempt at conversation.
“An’ this here is the main hall,” said Mr. Pie, leading us through a great hall with a sweeping double staircase, lined with portraits of past lords of Ponyville Hall. It chilled my blood when I saw Fluttershy’s picture hanging from the second story wall – it was only half completed. Fluttershy’s sad eyes looked out from under a red hat which was the only colour on the painting. It turned into sketchy pencil lines below the shoulder and faded away entirely a little later.
In the picture, Fluttershy looked like she was crying.
“Who does the paintings?” Trixie asked, following my gaze.
“I do. Hobby of mine,” said Mr. Pie. “An’ my father before me. Kinda cut off before I could finish that last one. This is the dining hall. We have some guests here already, I’m afraid.”
“Guests?” I said, remembering Rarity’s instructions to talk to as many ponies as possible, “Would you introduce us?”
“I reckon I’ll let Pinkamina do that, they are her friends,” said Mr. Pie. Pinkie stalked ahead of him and opened the door.
The dining hall was empty, and I looked around twitchily. And then a high-pitched voice came from nowhere, “Nice to meet you, everypony.”
And then a low, mumbling voice added “Well. Nice to meet most of you.”
At this point, I was able to locate the source of the voices. The seats were occupied after all, but it wasn’t by ponies. There was a bucket of turnips, a bag of flour, a pile of rocks and a lump of lint all talking to me at the same time. No doubt you are concerned for my sanity, and in that moment I was too. But I noticed that Pinkie had somehow got past us and had slipped under the table, and was moving the garbage and making the voices. It was the creepiest puppet show I’d ever seen.
“So, Sir Lintsalot, I appreciated the letter you wrote me the other day,” said Pinkie, shaking the bag of flour.
“Of course. It’s only natural for friends to write to each other,” said Pinkie as the lint heap.
“Oh yes. I even wrote a letter to Pinkamina the other day. Do you know that was the first letter she got since she moved here? From anypony?” said the pile of rocks.
“Why! That’s downright DESPICABLE!” cried the bag of flour.
“Guys...” said Pinkie, putting on a slightly nervous smile as she took a seat at the table, “We have company, and this probably isn’t making a good first impression... maybe you should introduce yourselves?”
“I am Rocky,” said Pinkie, eyes unfocusing and leaning over the table to shake the rock heap.
“Sir Lintsalot,” said Pinkie, wobbling the lint.
“Madame le’Flour,” said Pinkie, shaking the flour bag.
“Mr. Turnip,” said Pinkie, rattling the bucket of turnips.
“ENOUGH!” Shouted Prince Blueblood, “Mr. Pie, this is ridiculous! If your daughter insists upon being insane, discipline her!”
“Pinkamina Diane Pie! Go to your room!” Snapped Mr. Pie without hesitation.
Pinkie Pie stopped dead, eyes widening and jaw dropping like somepony had just kicked Gummy in front of her. She lowered her head and started to walk slowly from the room. There were tears in her eyes and she was glaring at the floor, muttering under her breath.
“Cute kid,” said Mr. Pie, smiling after her.
Blueblood swept Mr. Turnip off the chair with one hoof and sat in his place. “Dinner,” he said haughtily.
“Right away, sir,” said Mrs. Pie, disappearing into the kitchen.
I exchanged another look with Trixie. She looked as weirded out by this as I was. “I think we’re gonna go for a walk,” I said.
“Careful about the moors,” said Mr. Pie, tipping his hat.
“Okay, that’s new,” said Trixie, letting out a sharp breath once we were clear of the house.
“What, the absolute insanity?” I said, glancing over my shoulder at the intimidating form of Ponyville Manor.
“Yeah. The Great and Powerful Trixie knew Pinkie Pie as a hyperactive baker.”
“When did you last see her?”
“Hmm... not for a little over a week. Trixie had not seen her for a day or two before Fluttershy disappeared, and did not see her afterwards.” Trixie said, thinking.
“Maybe Fluttershy’s disappearance hit her hard?” I suggested.
“All the more cause to recover Fluttershy as soon as possible,” Trixie agreed, “Trixie feels confident that every sane pony the world over will recognise that The Great and Powerful Trixie cannot be replaced by a bag of flour, but in the event of total disconnect from reality it is possible that ponies will stop respecting Trixie’s greatness.”
“On the topic of greatness, I still want to check this supposed ward you set up, and then take a look at this avenue and this gate.”
“Of course. This way,” Trixie said, leading me down the hill, towards a field with hundreds of glimmering red lights.
“These are the family kennels,” said Trixie, stopping near a gate and gesturing at a large shed a little way off the property, “There are two dogs in there, well trained creatures but we had to move them when Trixie put the ward up. Here is why.” Trixie’s entire hat glowed as she worked a spell, and the latch on the gate undid itself. Trixie cleared her throat and boomed in her orator’s voice, “The GREAT and POWERFUL Trixie orders you to COME!”
Two dogs – big dogs, a Francponyan breed all orange and black and teeth – bolted from the kennels like shots from a gun and raced towards us, barking wildly. I reflexively jumped in the air and readied myself to have to kick them. They jumped the fence at the same time and, impossibly, froze in the air, all momentum gone. The dogs continued to bark and slobber, legs kicking uselessly in the air. Trixie walked over to them, smiled with a kindness I did not expect of her, and patted one on the head. It licked her hoof enthusiastically.
“I didn’t take you for a dog pony,” I said in surprise as she produced treats with a puff of magic and gave one to each of the dogs.
“Showdogs. Trixie’s family bred them. They’re excellently trained and smarter than most ponies Trixie knows,” Trixie said, gently pushing the dogs in the centre of the chest and they drifted back over to the fence and dropped to the ground. They stood there, slobbering enthusiastically. “Home!” Trixie cried, and both dogs turned and ran back to their shed.
“Well, I suppose I can’t doubt the effectiveness of your wards,” I said.
“No, you cannot,” Trixie sniffed. “Though Trixie has never tested that particular spell against ancient demon dogs, hence why Trixie believes that is still a possibility.”
“Well then, shall we investigate this gate?”
I followed Trixie over to the gate to the moors where Fluttershy had lingered. It was a simple wooden barrier. I paced back and forth along it, looking out over the mist covered moor, and at the lines of red lanterns that lead through it.
I was thinking hard, asking myself what Fluttershy had waited here, in this spot for? Had she been waiting for somepony? Who? Why? The sun was setting behind us and the looming line of the Everfree Forest became a towering blackness, rising to block out the stars.
“Trixie, does anypony live in the forest?”
“A zebra, or so Trixie has heard, but she doesn’t come this way often. There are two neighbouring houses; to the north, the estate of Lady Octavia, to the south the hamlet of Bridle Shores.”
“And does anypony of note live in Bridle Shores?”
“Well, the Pie family has a house there where they officially live, though Sed regularly stays with the house, as do the others when the master requires them. There may be a few farmers or other rubes but nopony whom Trixie feels is worth noting.”
“I see. Shall we investigate the avenue?”
Trixie lead me up the avenue where Fluttershy had disappeared. It was a dense and overgrown corridor of trees, with the branches above making it seem like a tunnel or cave. The rains had all but destroyed the tracks, but here and there Trixie pointed out gouges in the trees from what looked like enormous claws. Eventually she stopped, halfway down. “This is where she vanished.”
I gazed at the spot, trying to recreate what had happened here. One part was easy enough – the visual of Fluttershy running down this endless avenue, with no way out to either side, no way up or down, just a pure contest of speed against that demon hound – my imagination had become quite active in visualising exactly how that particular moment had played itself out.
“Lookin’ for somepony, ladies?” said Sedimentary Elbert Pie, stepping out from the trees. I jumped in the air, and even Trixie looked like she was about to hex him.
“Sorry. Sorry. Was just makin’ sure you hadn’t got lost,” said Mr. Pie, sounding tired and coming out onto the road proper. “Can’t be too careful.”
“Right... Mr. Pie, have you ever seen a hound around these parts?” I asked.
“What, the Hound of Ponyville? Lady, in my time I’ve had five Lords and Ladies, and the Hound has got every pony of them. Same it was with my father, and his father before him.”
“Have you ever seen it?”
“Oh, aye. Sometimes when I’m walking the moors I see it in the distance. Huge beast, line of stars on its head, glows blue and black and is covered in constellations. Like an Ursa, but bigger and scarier.”
“Hmph,” Trixie said, “defeating an Ursa is foal’s play for a unicorn like Trixie.”
“No doubt, lady,” Mr. Pie said, lighting a lantern he’d brought with him, casting deep red shadows all about us, “But it’s got a lot of unicorns in its time too. Now, I’m going to be moving some lanterns tonight, so stay clear of the moor, y’hear?”
“Why are you doing this during the night?” I asked. From what I’d heard of the moor, that sounded extremely dangerous.
“It’s safer at night, because the only thing you can see is the lanterns. No temptation to go off course,” said Mr. Pie. “There’s a philosophy to live by, eh? If all you can see is the goal you can’t go off course.”
“Right. See you around, Mr. Pie,” I said, and the old stallion picked up his lantern and continued his slow walk down towards the gate.
Trixie and I continued to the manor in silence, not having much to say to each other after that ominous exchange. We returned to the dinner table – now blessedly lacking any sign of Pinkie’s ‘friends’ – and took our seats. Moments later, Mrs. Pie laid out some surprisingly well prepared food before us.
“Mrs Pie,” I said, still determined to learn as much as I could about this situation, “Apart from the disappearance of Fluttershy, has anything unusual happened around these parts?”
“Oh, well a criminal escaped from Bridle Shores a week or so back.”
“Why was Trixie not informed!?” Trixie cried, slamming her levitating glass into the table. “This is important!”
“Oh, I tried to tell you, but by the time I’d heard the news you’d already left for Ponyville,” Mrs. Pie said sedately. Trixie ground her teeth.
“And this criminal – he escaped before Fluttershy disappeared, didn’t he?”
“By a matter of hours.”
Trixie stood up and stomped away from the table. When Rarity entered fits of pique like this, most of the time I could tell she was hamming it up intentionally, but with Trixie it seemed she genuinely was angry at the news. “Here I am, entertaining theories about demon dogs to explain what was clearly a criminal taking a hostage!” Trixie cried. “What a waste of time... Rainbow Dash, at very least, you and Rarity have more experience tracking down ponies, correct?”
“Sadly, yes,” I said. For a moment, I inwardly celebrated, thinking that there was no demon hound and that this was a straight up knock down kidnapping, with a culprit whom I could kick in the face.
But some part of that explanation rung hollow. As much as I would have liked to believe that there was nothing more supernatural here than perhaps a rogue unicorn, I feared that there was by no means enough information to make that conclusion. That nothing that happened here, in Ponyville Hall, would be resolved that simply.
“Very well, Trixie will spend some time updating her protections around the Prince to defend him against malicious ponies, and you, Rainbow Dash, track him down and bring him to justice.”
“Right,” I said, but I did not truly believe it.
That night, I could hardly sleep. From downstairs I could hear Pinkie’s muffled voice as she spoke to her inanimate objects, apologising to them on the Prince’s behalf, and from the raised voices... er, voice... I could discern that they weren’t buying it. Out the window, I could see the moor, with the lines of red lanterns glimmering, and the slow, steady movement of Mr. Pie’s lantern along the lines of red light. I was troubled by the thoughts of the Prince, for I had no way to determine how serious he was – I liked to think he was simply looking for an easy conquest, but feared that he might harbour more serious plans for me. Neither option seemed particularly appealing, especially with the memory of Rarity’s wide, trusting smile when I agreed to look after him.
And then there was that half completed picture of Fluttershy hanging from the wall above the main hall, doomed to forever be an incomplete skeleton. The promise of a picture, never to be finished.
What had she been crying about when Mr. Pie had drawn her?
Who was this criminal who had escaped from Bridle Shores?
What had happened to Pinkie Pie?
It was my task to discover the answer to these questions, to stay here until the mystery was solved and the case was closed, but every bone in my body, every fibre of my being was screaming at me to leave.
Leave. There’s something wrong here. Something you want nothing to do with. Leave.
In the distance, I heard a howling, as if from a great hound.
Hound of Ponyville p4: The Butterfly’s Decision
I was awoken at an ungodly hour of the morning by Trixie, who knocked heavily on my door and told me to get downstairs as soon as possible. Fearing that an attempt had been made on the Prince, I hurried down without hesitation, bypassing my usual morning rituals in the process. I was especially panicked because I had not slept well, tormented by dreams of star-wolves chasing me down that avenue, and was fearing the worst. In the entrance hall I just managed to catch up with Prince Blueblood, Trixie and Pinkie Pie who were walking out the front door.
Trixie looked how I felt – dishevelled, sleepy and angry. Her silver mane was frizzled at the edges and there were lines around her eyes. It was some small comfort to know I wasn’t the only pony here who didn’t get along well with mornings. Pinkie was burdened under huge quantities of boxes, instruments and bags, struggling to keep up and glaring furiously straight ahead. The Prince was as calm, perfect and suave as ever, strolling casually down the avenue, without even the suggestion of morning bleariness. For that crime, I hated him.
I imagine we were quite a sight, walking down the avenue that morning. The Prince, as fresh and clear as a spring breeze, without so much as a hair out of place, followed by three glaring and exhausted mares. The sun was just a suggestion of white on the crest of the Everfree Forest. The lines of lanterns continued to burn, pale and wan in that early dawn light.
“Trixie,” I eventually managed to say, “What’s happening?”
“The Prince,” said Trixie, with a hint of a snarl in her own voice, “has decided to go butterfly hunting and has requested our presence.”
“Butterflies?” I said. My brain, which was very much in a switched-off state in that moment, and refused to process that piece of information. “Why butterflies? Why now?”
“Apparently,” Trixie said, “there is a rare type that comes out in early mornings,”
“One has a passing fancy in entomology,” said the Prince serenely, “and the moors around Froggy Bottom and the Everfree exist quite isolated from modern Equestrian weather magic. One is eager to rediscover species that may have been lost.”
“Butterflies.” I repeated. At first I thought this was a sick joke, but I remembered the old army story of a unicorn general who had invaded an entire country because he believed there was a rare type of tree serpent there. From what I read in the paper, the campaign was ongoing, but at least the serpent had been recovered.
“Oh yes, butterflies. They are a topic of fascination for me. Truly beautiful, in their way. They are brightly coloured and proud, and yet so delicate...” he turned to look at me directly. My mind stumbled, I lost control of my legs and I tripped and fell on my face in an act of supreme clumsiness.
A hoof was offered to help me to my feet, and I took it. I looked up into the wide, bright eyes of... Trixie? I blinked, looking away – the Prince had just continued to walk, leaving me where I’d fallen, and Trixie was the pony who had taken the time to help me up. I coughed awkwardly and said, “Thanks,” and Trixie looked away and muttered “Don’t mention it”.
The caped unicorn started off after the Prince again, and I paused to reflect on the exchange. In that moment, I felt I had misjudged Trixie. Until then I had held a private belief that she was, as Applejack might put it, all hat and no cattle. Even though I had just fallen on my face, and even though the sun still hadn’t cleared the horizon, I still felt oddly happy about the exchange.
There were lines in the swamp made of piles of rocks. Evidently, Mr. Pie gathered rocks from his rock farm and carried them all the way out to the bog, where he dropped them to the bottom until they piled up and formed solid, stable surfaces across the swamp. There were places where the rock paths merged with islands in the swamp, and these islands were considerably less treacherous to navigate. The rock paths were slippery from moisture and mildew, and picking our way across them was time consuming. Lanterns lined the paths to either side, glimmering red in the early morning sunlight.
It was mid morning by the time we reached a small, green hill arising from the centre of the swamp, where Blueblood indicated Pinkie should unpack the gear she was carrying.
I’d avoided speaking directly to Pinkie before now, out of nervousness it must be said, and she hadn’t said a word the entire trip. She went about setting up the site with some aggressiveness, throwing down a picnic blanket and cushion for Prince Blueblood and preparing a large array of butterfly nets and jars. Blueblood took a seat, and Pinkie wordlessly served him his lunch. Trixie and I awkwardly sat opposite the Prince.
“You may begin collecting the butterflies now,” Blueblood said to Pinkie Pie. Pinkie grabbed a net in her teeth and made to leave. The butterflies were distributed all across the moor, above solid land and above murderous patches of swamp. Chasing them seemed, to me, an almost suicidal proposition for an earth pony, so I stopped Pinkie as she was about to run after them.
“Wait, let me do this,” I said.
“No,” Pinkie snapped.
I pressed the point. “Pinkie! I can fly and you can’t, it’s safer if I do this!”
Pinkie’s eyes unfocused and her gaze fell upon a nearby pile of rocks. She slid over behind it and shook it, putting on a low voice. “Hey, back off!” said the rock pile.
“Pinkie.” I said warningly. I wasn’t about to let this go. To back my point up, I grabbed one end of the net in my teeth and began to pull, trying to get it away from her.
“I – said – NO!” Pinkie said through clenched teeth, grabbing the other end of the net and digging her hooves into the ground. I beat my wings hard, struggling against her.
Bands of magical force grabbed both of us, and pulled us apart.
“Stop this, you foals!” Trixie said, stepping between us, “You’re inches away from falling into the swamp and the Great and Powerful Trixie does not relish the idea of having to explain how two ponies got themselves drowned on her watch!”
I reluctantly backed off. Pinkie glared at both of us.
“Listen, Rainbow, Trixie is going to head to Bridle Shores to investigate this escaped criminal. You stay here and keep the Prince safe, and help Pinkie where you can.” Trixie said, “Use some of that deductive reasoning Trixie is paying you for.”
“Alright,” I said, not relishing the nature of the task.
As Trixie made her way into the fog, I picked up a net and started hunting butterflies in the opposite direction that Pinkie Pie had went. I was more focused on the moor itself, though, and looking for any clues I could discover. It was the work of hours, but any pause meant having to go sit with Blueblood and suffer more compliments.
The first thing I found in my search was a set of hoofprints on the trail between Ponyville Hall and Bridle Shores. They were old and almost faded entirely, but Rarity had shown me what to look for. A close examination revealed two sets of four, the feet in close proximity and the indentations unusually deep. It was but a guess, but I imagined a pony had been jumping along this path, in Pinkie Pie’s fashion when she was less... depressed. The tracks were old; I liked to guess at a week but to be honest that had no grounding in any knowledge of mine.
The second thing I found was a tree with several deep claw marks in the same fashion as the ones in the avenue where Fluttershy had disappeared. This unsettled me greatly and I hurried by without pause.
And the last thing I found was a butterfly – but made of teal cloth, marked with a single star in its centre. The find baffled me, as I pulled it out of the edge of the swamp. It seemed a well made thing, and strangest of all, oddly familiar. I kept it with me to show to Rarity later.
By this point I was exhausted and hungry and had come to the decision that I was prepared to endure some flirtation in exchange for a proper meal. I returned to Blueblood, who was examining the jars full of butterflies that Pinkie Pie had collected for him.
“Where’s Pinkie Pie?” I asked as I took my seat.
“I sent her home,” said the Prince, “that we may be alone,”
I was suddenly very edgy. “My Prince...?” I started, but before I knew what was happening I was swept off my hooves, and the Prince kissed me full on the lips. It was a sweeping, passionate, romantic kiss like none I had ever experienced before. My head spun.
“Don’t you see, Lady Rainbow?” he whispered in a low, seductive voice as he held me in his hooves, “The Fates intended it so. By all the stars in the sky, by the passage of the Sun and Moon, this was meant to be.”
I am not easily scared - my flights of fancy about the Hound aside – but this scared me. It is difficult to articulate why; by almost any standard, being kissed romantically by the handsomest stallion in Equestria would seem a good way to spend an afternoon. But what scared me was how easy it was. Blueblood hadn’t even asked, hadn’t even waited for an indication of interest on my part. He was so confident I’d crumble before him that he didn’t even feel the need to try. Perhaps it was the thought of losing without a fight, the feeling of entrapment by the perfect web of charm with no way out. I don’t know. The end result was that I struggled free, shouting something about having left my washing machine turned on, and fled over the moor as fast as my wings would carry me.
I did not pay much attention to my direction, destination or surroundings. When I spied a small wooden hut in the moor, I dropped to the ground and ran inside without pausing to think. I knocked the door open and got two steps inside, slowing to take a deep breath of relief, when I tumbled down a deep pit, covered by a rug just inside the doorway. I hit the bottom of the pit in a tangle of wings, legs and carpet.
“What kind of sick mind,” I wondered aloud, “has a pit trap inside his own house?”
“My dear Rainbow Dash,” came an abhorrently familiar voice from above, “So good of you to... DROP IN! BWUAAHAHAHAHHAHAA!”
Of course, I thought.
Of course it was him.
“Hello, Spike,” I said.
Now, while my instinct, no doubt shared by my readers, was to fly up there and kick the dragon in his mustachioed face, the pit was too narrow for me to really spread my wings. For the time being I was trapped listening to the villain’s monologue.
“You thought you saw the last of me, didn’t you? And you almost had. I had to shed every single one of my scales after you dropped me off the Reichenbach and it took them months to grow back.” Spike snarled, looking over the side. He’d acquired a new hat, cape and moustache, I saw, though I snarkily noted that they were significantly lower quality than his originals.
“You’re the criminal who escaped from Bridle Shores, aren’t you?” I taunted back, “That’s sad, Spike – caught by local police.”
“Those Bridle Shores ponies were foals!” Spike snarled. “But even foals get lucky on occasion.”
“What, out of curiosity, was the master crime they busted you on?”
“... seven hour bubble bath.”
I burst out into laughter. “The Napolecorn of Crime, locked up for using too much hot water? Better call out the royal guard to hunt him down!”
“I caught you didn’t I?”
“You built a pit trap in your living room. Who does that?”
I bit my lip to keep back further giggles.
“What I was trying to tell you was that I do not wish you ill, Rainbow Dash. Vengeance is an unprofitable waste of time. Instead, I have a proposition for you.”
“What could you possibly offer me?” I said, rolling my eyes in my enclosed space.
“Silence! We have a common interest, Rainbow Dash, and that common interest is under threat. Rarity is in love with Prince Blueblood, the same Prince Blueblood we both know to be an arrogant fool, a churl and a womaniser!” Spike snapped, “He does not deserve her!”
I went quiet for a moment, and Spike smirked and continued.
“Yes, I had a feeling that would get your attention. I’ve seen the Prince, seen his dalliances – I even saw him kiss you not ten minutes past,” Spike said, tapping a set of binoculars that hung from his neck. “But you are a smart pony, Rainbow Dash. You knew better than to become a notch on his bedpost. Rarity, however...”
I imagined the Prince and Rarity together, her too giddy to notice his flaws, him too arrogant to tell the difference between her and any of the other mares he chased. The idea of Rarity having her heart broken – and I knew, I could tell, that the Prince was a heartbreaker – spun around in my head. And it made me angry. Angry enough to make one of the stupidest decisions of my life.
“You have a deal,” I said.
“Excellent. My sources tell me Rarity will arrive at noon tomorrow. We have until then to plan our attack.”
I cleared my throat.
“But first, I have to go and find a rope.” Spike said.
“You built a pit trap in your living room and didn’t think to stock rope?” I said in disbelief.
“Frankly, I didn’t think anypony would be dumb enough to fall into it.”
The Hound of Ponyville p5: Worst Day Ever
We planned well into the night. Our objective was to humiliate Prince Blueblood in front of Rarity and drive her away from him, but some of our schemes and ideas passed well into the range of cartoonishly absurd. Eventually, we settled on three core ideas that, in sequence, would achieve our ends perfectly. We practiced, rehearsed and plotted contingencies. It was oddly fun - Spike may have been a villain of the first order, but he understood the ways of pranks better than anypony I had previously encountered. Some of his ideas however, like tearing up a toy mouse and blaming it on the Prince, were just stupid. Mine were much better.
The next morning we were hiding in the bushes outside the main gate, taking turns to look through Spike's binoculars. We spied Rarity's carriage coming from some way off, and I observed the Prince, Pinkamina and Mrs. Pie to emerge to meet then. I could spot neither Trixie nor Mr. Pie anywhere. Just as well - Trixie was the biggest threat to this joint operation, and having her out of the picture made things a lot easier.
"Lady Dash," Spike said, twirling his greasy black moustache, "You may begin phase one."
I took the container of prepared sneezing powder, flew into the sky and snagged a convenient cloud, and flew it low over the entrance hall of Ponyville Manor. From this cover, I had an excellent vantage point from which to view the proceedings. The Prince was looking bored, Pinkie was looking furious, and Rarity, just coming out of the carriage, was looking absolutely radiant...
I pray my readers will forgive me a brief lapse into fangirlism, but Rarity simply stole my breath away in that moment. She wore a red and crystal dress which seemed to be the ultimate manifestation of her craft. It was elegant while being complex; eye-catching while being understated; an expression of individuality and spirit while concealing and enchanting. My breath stopped, and for a moment I forgot my mission.
And then she smiled - smiled at Blueblood - and I remembered. My task here was to save her from him. And so, I upended my bag of sneezing powder over the Prince and took cover behind the cloud. No doubt his churlish nature would show through in the event of a sneezing fit, or so the plan went. And no doubt Rarity would be enraged if he sneezed on her dress.
"Hello," said Rarity with a coy smile, "I don't believe we have been introduced."
"Indeed," said the Prince, raising one eyebrow in a charming and flirtatious way, "I am Prince Blueblood, and it is simply - aah! AAH!" The Prince sneezed suddenly and dramatically. I grinned and winked at Spike.
"Oh! Poor dear!" Rarity said, and grabbed the cloak off her back and offered it to the Prince. He grabbed it with both hooves and sneezed spectacularly into it. When he looked up, his expression was vaguely sheepish.
"Quickly, we must get you some fresh air!" Rarity said, urging the Prince away from the door and starting to walk very close by his side.
Spike and I stared at each other in shock. The plan had succeeded perfectly and yet failed spectacularly. In retrospect we should have adjusted for Rarity's natural generosity of spirit. All was not lost, though; this just meant that we had to be doubly successful with our next attempt.
We crept around the house and found a spot in the bushes along the path where Rarity and Blueblood were walking. Prince Blueblood paused by a rose bush to take a sniff of a beautiful, red rose in full bloom.
"Oh, what an enchanting rose!" said Rarity. Spike brushed the rose bush forwards so the thorns caught on the Prince's shirt collar.
"You mean... this rose?" the Prince said, standing up with the rose in his mouth. The wind caught his hair and the light caught his teeth. It was a truly spectacular motion - that was some weapons grade seduction, right there.
And there was a loud ripping sound as he tore his collar clean off on the rose bush.
Spike and I grinned and exchanged a brohoof.
The Prince dropped the rose, gasping in horror. Rarity's eyes widened, and she stepped forwards, horn glowing. She levitated the rose and the remains of the collar, and focused. With a rapid series of delicate movements she somehow stitched the two together around the Prince's neck, using the rose's stem as a thread to hold the collar together.
"... thank you," said the Prince in surprise.
"It goes with your eyes," Rarity said, batting her eyelashes.
Spike and I exchanged another grim look. How were we succeeding so completely and yet failing so utterly? We had one trick left up our sleeves, though. We set about infiltrating Ponyville Hall's upper levels in preparation for our next and final prank. There was heavy lifting involved, and I would like it recorded Spike was no help at all with it.
I glanced out of the second story window. Rarity and the Prince were standing still in front of the closed door into Ponyville Hall. I could tell immediately what was happening - the two were waiting for the other to open the door. Which meant they'd be there for a while. Perfect.
I stepped back into the room and gave the grand piano we'd aimed out the window a severe kick. There was a gasp and the sound of splintering wood and discordant music as it landed on Prince Blueblood's head - a direct hit. Spike and I both wore expressions of victory, briefly celebrating before we heard Rarity's voice from below crying, "Oh, you poor dear! Let's get you inside!"
Spike and I stopped celebrating immediately.
"How was that supposed to drive them apart!?" I shouted at Spike.
"I don't know, it was your idea!" Spike retorted.
"No, I just asked if we could find a piano. You were the one who suggested dropping it on his head!"
"Why would you ask for a piano if you weren't thinking of dropping it on his head!?"
"I don't know!"
At that exact moment, Trixie burst into the room we were talking in. She strode in proudly, brandishing a piece of paper in her magical grip, "Rainbow Dash! The Great and Powerful Trixie has discovered the true identity of the escaped criminal on the moor!"
"I know," I said, looking out the window with the binoculars. "It's Spike."
"Exactly! It's Scootal -" Trixie stopped in mid sentence, looking from me to Spike, and her expression fell from triumph to embarrassment to anger. She scrunched up the paper she was carrying and threw it into the corner. "Alright then. Spike. Where's the Hound?"
"Hound?" Spike said, and Trixie picked him up by the tail with her magic and shook him vigorously. His hat, his small change, and a locket with a picture of Rarity clattered to the floor.
I hesitated for a moment while I figured out what Trixie was talking about, and then realized that in my desire to deal with Blueblood I'd completely forgotten to ask Spike about the Hound. I facehoofed briefly at my own idiocy, but decided to play along as to not embarrass myself in front of Trixie by confessing my collaboration with him. "Yeah! The Hound!"
"Why do you want to know about the Hound? That thing is scary!" Spike said. Trixie shook him again. "Okay, okay! I'll tell you! Just put me down!"
Trixie cast him into a corner, and the two of us loomed over him.
"When I got away from Bridle Shores, I was looking for somewhere to sleep, and I found this cave, right?" Spike babbled, spilling his guts so readily I felt embarrassed for him, "On the border of the moor? Seemed pretty legit, so I was going to go in - and then this huge monster comes out!"
"What did it look like?"
"Big. Purple and black. Covered in stars, bunch of stars on its head. Ginormous teeth!" Spike said. Trixie and I exchanged glances.
"Did you see any ponies?" I pressed.
"Oh, yeah. She was in a cage or something. I wasn't really paying attention."
Fluttershy was alive - and she was being kept by the Hound! Without waiting for further confirmation, I jumped out the open window and started to fly. I heard Trixie shout, "Rainbow, wait!" from behind me but I wasn't going to slow down and deal with this rationally. I swept over the moors, searching for the cave Spike had described.
I swiftly found it. It was a dark and ominous construction, large enough for an Ursa Minor to enter, with all too familiar claw marks all around the entrance. There was a strangely oceanic smell to the place, the tang of sea salt and trace amounts of white sand around the entrance. I pressed on into the cave without hesitation, calling Fluttershy's name.
And I found her.
The interior of the cave was not what I had been expecting. It was oddly... homey. Everything was designed for something much larger than a pony but seemed otherwise normal. There were outsized armchairs, a fireplace, a kitchen counter, and other amenities that one would expect in a modern house. Here and there were piles of brightly coloured spherical shapes - seeming to me like skull piles in the flickering darkness - and there, was what looked to be a sound stage with various instruments piled up. There were lines of portraits on the walls, though I couldn't make out the figures in the gloom.
And hanging from the ceiling, low to the ground, were a number of bird cages. Two of them were occupied - and one of those was Fluttershy! The other held a pegasus I did not know, and was trussed with rope besides.
And in front of her, sitting before an easel, was Mr. Pie. He had before him the painting that had been on the wall of Ponyville Hall, and was delicately colouring it in. Fluttershy was slumped in her cage. She had that defeated, sad, weeping look in her eyes that Mr. Pie had captured in his painting.
"Ah, Lady Rainbow Dash. So glad you could join us," said Sedimentary Elbert Pie, putting his brush down and turning to face me.
"Mr. Pie! You're the one behind this?" I cried, and he nodded in an uninterested, sedate way.
"Now, easy there, Lady. You're obviously thinkin' that this isn't what it is."
"You kidnapped Fluttershy! What else could it possibly be?" I cried.
"This ain't nothing but a family thing," said Mr. Pie calmly.
"Fluttershy isn't your family!"
"Yep. But Pinkamina is," and for a moment, I saw real anger in Mr. Pie's eyes. He spat contemptuously on the ground. "An' this here hussy came along and starts distracting our Pinkamina. I done seen what they got up to. Distracting each other! So I decided to, well, remove the sun so to speak. You know that if all you can see is the goal you can't go wrong? I'm just helpin' my daughter focus on what's important."
"What could be so important that's worth kidnapping somepony for!"
He was dead serious as he said it.
"Rocks? Really?" I said, mouth dry upon the realisation I was in the presence of legitimate crazy.
"Rocks ain't gonna grow themselves."
"Right. This is the part where I kick you into unconsciousness." I said, resolving myself and starting forwards.
"Now, now, Lady Dash. Harry here might have somethin' to say about that."
And something huge loomed out of the darkness. The Hound of Ponyville. My jaw dropped.
It wasn't a hound.
It was a bear.
A big, brown, furry, grizzly bear.
And it was wearing a dress. A dress I knew all too well.
It was purple. It was black. It had constellations on it. It had a line of four stars on a headband. And it had teal bows and highlights. I remembered the teal and starred butterfly I'd picked out of the swamp. This was Twilight's dress, the horrible one that Rarity had made. The one she'd thrown away.
Somepony must have gone dumpster diving.
I was so stunned by the sight that my dodge was off, and I was grabbed and stuffed into the cage next to Fluttershy. The cage door was slammed shut.
"An' now I've got draw another picture." said Mr. Pie, sounding wearied by the prospect. "Not to mention if our friend here told anypony else where to find your house, Harry. C'mon, let's go to Ponyville Manor an' sort this all out."
The bear nodded, and the two of them walked towards the entrance of the cave. As they went, the bear picked up one of the instruments from the sound stage. It was a sea shell, a huge sea shell. The bear blew into it, and played the sound of a great hellhound howling. He brushed one of the sphere piles and picked up a big beach volleyball, tucking it under his arm as the two of them left.
They slammed and locked the heavy wooden door behind them, and I heard the sound of a bolt being thrown.
My eyes adjusted soon to the gloom.
"Um. Thanks for the rescue, Rainbow Dash," said Fluttershy.
This was the worst day ever.
The Hound of Ponyville p6: A Duel In Darkness
My first impulse, as my readers no doubt guessed, was to try and kick my way out of the cage. Unfortunately this was far more difficult than I expected - the footing was awkward, and the cage swung from its chain whenever I shifted my weight. When I kicked at the bars, I just made myself swing backwards and forwards, filling the air with the creaking sound of chains and making absolutely no progress towards freeing myself. I soon realised the motion was hopeless unless I found a way to brace myself and stop the cage from moving, though frustration lead me to continue kicking regardless.
Anger gradually gave way to a deep sense of defeat and despair. Not only had I flown off on my own without pausing to tell anypony or wait for help, I'd put Rarity into grave danger. It had been an impulsive and rash decision, born of a mixture of panic about Fluttershy, fear at my association with Spike being discovered and a desire to prove myself superior to Blueblood and worthy in my role of detective. I began to slump in my cage, and even the squeaking of the chain began to die away as the cage settled back to equilibrium.
It was at this point that I heard a sound like a mouse sighing, and turned towards my companion in darkness.
"What was that, Fluttershy?" I asked.
"I was asking if you were okay." Fluttershy said. I was struck by the sentiment - Fluttershy had been in here for over a week and her first action was to ask if I was all right. If there was anypony who didn't deserve this treatment, it was her.
"Does it look like I'm okay?" I said, meeting kindness with despair and anger, "I have placed everypony in grave danger and been captured and locked in a cage! I had one, simple task and I failed."
"It's not your fault," Fluttershy's voice, soft and concerned, as if the worst thing to happen to her was finding out that I was upset. "It's my fault."
"Fluttershy, don't be ridiculous. You were kidnapped. That's not your fault." I said.
" I got caught. I couldn't escape. I distracted Pinkie Pie. I didn't stay in Ponyville where it was safe. Of course it's my fault."
She sounded like her heart was breaking, like the only place she could find to put all the blame and sorrow that had built up during the days she'd spent in captivity was on her own back. She was the one least able to deal with guilt like that, and she was also the one least able to give it to anypony else. She would prefer to accept Mr. Pie's insane beliefs as true if that meant she didn't have to hate him.
And I wasn't about to let that slide, not when I had a much more valid target for the blame. "No, Fluttershy, it's my fault for running all the way out here without thinking."
"I should have called out and warned you," Fluttershy went on stubbornly.
"I should have figured out Mr. Pie was behind it from the start." I countered with what may, in retrospect, have been a little stubbornness of my own.
"I should have gotten word out somehow," Fluttershy said.
"I should have finished that letter I was writing to you."
A silence fell between us. In the absolute darkness, when the words stopped it was like I was alone. Like there was a gulf between Fluttershy and myself of more than just distance and darkness. It was like speaking was putting part of yourself at risk, putting your words out into the void and having to hope they'd be answered. Having to hope they'd be the right words.
I shifted in my cage. The bars were laid unevenly and I had to stand in an awkwardly splayed stance to remain vertical. If I moved then one of my hooves would drop through the space between the bars. If I tried to sit down then I had to place all my weight on one narrow, cold metal surface. It was supremely uncomfortable and the distraction of trying to find a position I was content with drew my thoughts away from Fluttershy. Sometime throughout the process of trying to find a comfortable position I muttered aloud, "I should have brought a pillow,"
There was a sound like a cough from Fluttershy. It went on for a little bit; the beginnings of laughter. “I should have packed a lockpick,”
Despite myself, despite my predicament, I started to smile too. "I should have learned to chew through metal bars."
"I should have taken that contortionist class." Fluttershy said
"I should have heat ray vision,"
"I should have been born an alicorn."
By this point, we were starting to giggle. It was quite ridiculous under the circumstances, but the laughter was addictive. For the first time in days I was genuinely laughing. For the first time since I'd arrived at Ponyville Hall, I was weirdly glad that I'd come.
"So, what brings you to Ponyville Hall?" Fluttershy asked, voice warm and jokingly formal.
"Trixie came south, told us about your disappearance and hired us to investigate. She also acquired the new Lord of the Hall, one Prince Blueblood, to manage the estate in your absence." I summarised.
"I don't think I've met him,"
"Then consider yourself fortunate. I have never had as much cause to hate a stallion so," I said, impulsively and with feeling.
"He's flirtatious and grabby, with the soul of a churl. A well dressed idiot. And, worst of all, he has caught the eye and perhaps, now, the heart of Rarity - despite my best efforts to prevent it."
"Did you talk to her? What did she say?"
"Actually..." I trailed off, then awkwardly confessed, "I didn't so much talk to her as I teamed up with the most wanted criminal in Equestria to pull off a series of pranks to drive them apart." I said that last bit very fast.
Fluttershy laughed, and took a moment to realise that it wasn't a joke.
"You did what?"
"I may have teamed up with Spike."
"Spike? You teamed up with Spike?" Fluttershy said, "Poison Joke Spike?"
"I may not have been thinking particularly straight at the time." I said weakly.
"What about this Prince is so bad you'd go to such lengths to stop him?"
"Because Rarity can beat Spike," I said with conviction, "She can beat the Hound. She can beat Mr. Pie. She can solve this case, rescue us and lock Mr. Pie up in ten seconds flat. But I don't know if she can defeat a broken heart and broken dreams,"
"You must care about her deeply."
"And what does he have anyway?" I snapped, suddenly putting voice to a sentiment that had long lurked in the back of my head, "Money? Power? Fame? Looks?" I paused, "Well, yes. I suppose he has all those things. But he wouldn't treat her right."
There was silence. A long, awkward silence as I realised that I had said far more than I intended to, and that Fluttershy didn't know what to say. The warmth drained from the air gradually and the void between us seemed insurmountable.
"How's Pinkie Pie?" Fluttershy's voice, soft and low.
"Descended into creepy town, talking to rocks and lint, and the lint talks back. What's going on with her, Fluttershy?"
"When we arrived together, Mr. Pie takes Pinkie Pie to her room and introduces us to her "friends" - a collection of inanimate objects. And I've never seen Pinkie Pie upset before, but when her father asked why she didn't want to play with Sir Lintsalot anymore her legs were trembling. Nothing scared her half as much as the idea of those things. I tried to look after her. We became... close. And that seemed to make Mr. Pie angry, and while I was Lady of the Hall I couldn't tell him what to do in his own house. When it became clear that Pinkie wasn't going to last long in this place, I sent her a letter to meet me by the gate to the moors where I'd talk to her and suggest going back to Ponyville..."
"And Mr. Pie found the letter and sent the bear to capture you. Of course. And Pinkie thinks you stood her up."
"Or that I was only calling her to say goodbye."
"No wonder she changed," I murmured.
I heard a soft sniffing sound. A faint, ungraceful sniff. The sound of tears.
And I knew that I had to do something. No matter what, no matter how futile the effort might be, I had to get out of this cage and set things to right. I set my feet and threw my weight forwards, and then backwards. The chain squeaked as I gradually built up momentum, arcing backwards and forwards, flapping my wings for additional speed. But no matter how much momentum I built up, I couldn't smash myself against a wall and potentially break the cage open. Swinging myself horizontally, all the way up to the rooftop, killed all my momentum just before contact.
And then, on the swing back down, my cage clipped something and I went spinning off in another direction. There was a squeak from Fluttershy - I'd accidentally hit her cage while swinging my own around like a fool.
But I noticed, running my hoof along in the gloom in front of me, that one of the bars had bent very slightly.
"Fluttershy." I called. There was no response.
I got very worried very quickly. "Fluttershy! Are you all right?"
There was a huge smashing sound as a cage smashed right into mine. I spun away, dizzyingly quickly, though the impact didn't do more than rattle my teeth.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Fluttershy's voice called back. "I thought that maybe if we could bend the bars a little more..."
"Sorry," I said with a new smile, flaring my wings to arrest my momentum and bring myself back into a controlled swing, "Isn't good enough."
And we duelled.
In utter darkness, we duelled. Using weapons we had no real control over, we duelled, trying our best to gather momentum and swing at each other with maximum force. We had limited control over our cages, the only thing we had to aim by was the squeaking of chains, the beating of wings, the occasional crash of metal and our gradually rising laughter. Many times there were great rushes of air as we missed each other by inches. Stopping, talking and co-ordinating didn't occur to us. This was a battle, like a combination of swings, shopping trolleys and bumper cars. And I, for one, intended to win it.
I came to the peak of one swing and hurtled down to where I thought Fluttershy would be. There was a huge crash as our cages finally hit each other, dead on, at maximum velocity. We were both thrown against the front bars as the twisted metal finally gave away and the cage doors burst open. As our cages spun away in opposite directions we were thrown out and landed heavily on the ground. A little bruised, but otherwise exhilarated. And above all, we were free.
I flew over to the door without hesitation and kicked it open. Light flooded the cage. Blinking, Fluttershy and I stepped out into the light. In the distance, we heard the baying of Trixie’s hounds. We did not need to talk, we didn't even need to look at each other. Fluttershy and I immediately began flying at top speed towards Ponyville Manor.
And the sound of a great hellhound howling hung in the air before us, rising over the splintering of wood and the roaring of a great bear.
The Hound of Ponyville p7: A Duel In Daylight
We flew across the moors. As we reached the boundary of Ponyville Hall, I saw Trixie’s dogs, hanging in mid-air above the wall, caught by the ward. They were barking and kicking their legs uselessly in the air, trying to reach the Manor, where the sounds of roaring and splintering wood was coming from.
We flew on, through the upstairs window of Ponyville hall, hitting the floor in a full gallop and rushing through to the great hall. The huge double doors were closed and barricaded – Trixie was standing in the centre of the hall, collecting tables, paintings, chairs and anything else she could gather with her magic and stacking it in front of the doors. Even so, in the hard wood there were rents where claws had done great damage. I could see Rarity – still in that marvellous crimson dress - and Blueblood standing on the stairs, Blueblood looking confident and unbothered, but subtly edging back behind Rarity. Of Spike, I saw no sign.
I rushed over to Rarity, who saw me, and then Fluttershy, with shock and then a curious sense of disappointment crossing her features. “Are you all right?” I asked at once, glancing between her and Blueblood.
“Rainbow...” Rarity said slowly, “what possessed you to ally yourself with Spike?”
“I – what? How did you know that?” I gaped in dumb shock.
“I found the villain’s binoculars. And I noted that one of them had a covering of black grease around one of the rims. And you, Rainbow Dash, have a completely blackened eye.”
I raised my hoof to my face. Sure enough, some black grease came off. “Spike,” I snarled with anger – of course he hadn’t been able to resist pranking me, even when we were supposedly allied.
“If you don’t mind,” Trixie’s voice called, slightly shrill as a claw splintered through the barricade, “I could use some help here!”
Knowing the situation had to be serious of Trixie had forgotten her usual mode of speech, I flew forwards into a guarding position above the door, moments before it crashed open and the huge bear, dressed in that awful purple gown, stomped into the hall. I hadn’t had a chance to look at it closely before, and doing so now was not an encouraging experience. It was three times as tall as a Pony when it was on all fours, and when it reared up it reached almost to the Hall’s ceiling. It’s fur was thick, brown, matted and poorly groomed. The hideous dress it wore was, however, in excellent repair, without the smallest scuff or loose thread.
I bucked it as hard as I could on the top of the head, and Trixie conjured a lightning bolt to strike it. Both attacks were utterly ineffective, and I had to dodge wildly to avoid being swatted by a flailing claw.
“Trixie!” I called, “Make a cloud!”
Trixie nodded and conjured a huge, dark stormcloud, which I spun around at maximum speed and then kicked directly into the bear’s face. It exploded in a burst of electricity and the bear roared and actually stepped back, and for a moment I thought we had gained the upper hand. As was the way in these situations, though, immediately after thinking that I was caught by the bear’s backhand and knocked into a pillar.
While waiting for my ears to stop ringing, I saw the bear advance on Trixie who was backing away hurriedly and fearfully. I got unsteadily to my feet when I heard a voice – Fluttershy’s voice! – call something out. “Trixie, your dogs!”
Trixie suddenly smiled, and there was an almost imperceptible rush of air as she dispelled her own ward. The bear stopped as it heard the barking of dogs getting louder and turned around just in time to see the two orange and black dogs start to circle him. Trixie, grinning like a circus ringleader, tossed her hat directly at the bear. The bear raised one paw as if to block it, but one of the dogs jumped and caught it half way. The other dog jumped onto the bear’s back and there was a ripping sound as it tore purple fabric.
There was a roar of absolute fury from the bear and it swung itself into a stone wall in an attempt to crush the dog, which jumped off at the last second. It surged forwards, and the dogs scattered, and Trixie screamed and bolted moments before she was crushed by an enormous claw. The bear chased after her and swept her up in its claws. I lunged in to save her but, in a movement that was unfairly fast for a monster that size, I was grabbed as well. It’s grip was absolutely crushing, tighter than any pony would be able to escape from. The air was forced from my lungs as it squeezed.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Growled the bear, speaking for the first time. It’s eyes were utterly enraged and in that moment I was convinced I was going to die. “That was an original design from the greatest mind in fashion, and you have ruined it!”
“I know, and Rainbow’s behaviour is quite shocking,” said Rarity, coming down the steps, gown trailing in her wake. The bear’s grip slackened a little, and Trixie and I took deep gasps for breath.
The bear looked at her, and blinked. His eyes were wide and contemplative “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, in that deep, gravelly voice, “may I ask who your designer is?”
“Oh, this old thing?” Rarity said, turning to show off the full, graceful design of her perfect dress. “You like it?”
“Like it? I love it!” Snarled the bear. I was not familiar with conversations with bears, but he managed to make a compliment sound like a death threat. “Only three ponies in Equestria have that kind of talent.”
“May I enquire as to who they are?”
“Why, Hoity Toity, Mr. Walker and Rarity, of course,” snapped Harry the Bear.
“I see you have one of Miss Rarity’s works already,” Rarity commented, as calmly as if she was at a formal dinner reception.
“So it is Rarity’s design! Oh! That is so inconvenient!” The bear cried, throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation and scrambling the minds of Trixie and myself in the process.
“Inconvenient? Inconvenient how?” Rarity said, surprised.
“Why, because if I crush you I shall damage the dress, likely beyond repair. And that would be a tragedy.”
“A crime against fabulosity, you could say.”
“Yes! Exactly!” Cried the bear, throwing up his arms again and making my eyes cross themselves.
“Well, we simply cannot have that,” Rarity said, nodding firmly. “And so, I shall give you the dress now so you can go about your crushing with a clean conscience.”
“You’d do that?” Harry’s eyes seemed to light up like stars.
“Of course,” said Rarity, horn glowing and undoing her dress. She removed it and set it down a safe distance away.
“You are, without a doubt, the most generous pony I’ve ever met,” said Harry, raising the paw that was holding me up in preparation to swat Rarity. I tried biting his finger but just got a mouthful of fur for my trouble. Rarity looked up at certain demise without fear. “May I ask who I have had the honour of crushing?”
“You can call me Miss Rarity.”
“THE Miss Rarity?”
“I would be quite disappointed if there was another.” Rarity said calmly.
“What are you doing in a place like this?” Harry said, leaning down, eyes wide.
“Looking for inspiration. And I think I’ve found it,” Rarity said, eyes gleaming, “Would you happen to know any bears who would be content to model for me?”
“Why, I would be delighted to!” Harry cried.
“Oh, but I see you have an existing commitment,” Rarity said, gesturing to Trixie and myself. I wanted to hiss at her ‘don’t remind him!’ but was too tightly gripped to get the words out.
“Bah!” said Harry, dropping Trixie and I to the ground where we both gasped for air, “I’m only here to pay off the loan I took out to buy this dress from Mr. Pie. And your offer is, frankly, better.”
“You flatter me,” Rarity said demurely. “Would you go and get ready? I need to get my materials,”
“Of course!” And the great bear turned and left the manor without another word, leaving only ruin in his wake.
“Rarity...” I gasped, getting to my feet.
“There is no time,” she said, suddenly serious, “Mr. Pie took Pinkie out into the swamp, and we need to find her before the bear comes back. Trixie, you stay with the Prince. Rainbow, Fluttershy, we have to move.
“Okay,” wheezed Trixie. Rarity galloped for the door and Fluttershy and I followed her as fast as we could.
We reached the gate to the moors, where the fog had set in proper. There was no way to tell where Pinkie had gotten to from here, and the lanterns glowed red and bright. I opened my mouth to ask where we had to go now, but Rarity’s horn was already glowing.
“I can feel Mr. Pie’s pickax, it has some quartz stuck to it... this way!” She said, starting over the rock path.
We moved as fast as we could, but the path was treacherous and slippery. Rarity’s horn almost pulled her along but more than once she had to skid to a halt and fight against it before it pulled her off the path and into the swamp. She lead the way as we hurried blindly through the mist, following the gleam of lantern-light and the white-purple glow of her horn.
In the mist, I heard voices. Pinkie’s voice, and Mr. Pie’s – as well as the voices of Pinkie’s ‘friends’. Ahead, coming out of the fog, we could see a large table, set for eight, with Pinkie sitting at one end, Mr. Pie sitting at the other, and a variety of inanimate objects occupying the remaining seats. Sir Lintsalot, Madame le’Flour, Mr. Turnip and Rocky – as well as Mr. Pie’s pickax, sitting by Mr. Pie’s right hand. There was one other figure I couldn’t make out from where I was, and it didn’t seem to be saying anything.
Fluttershy cried, “Pinkie!” and rushed forwards, and Rarity and I followed. I found myself pulled to a sudden halt – my feet were stuck in the mud! The path had, imperceptibly, vanished in front of us and we were all suddenly caught in quicksand! Of course – Mr. Pie had moved the lanterns, and we’d blundered right into his trap.
Pinkie Pie looked up. “Fluttershy?” she said.
Mr. Pie smiled calmly. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“But she’s right there!” Pinkie said, eyes fixing entirely on Fluttershy, widening big and blue.
Mr. Pie leaned across the table, grabbed Mr. Turnip, and said, “Pinkie, your mind’s playing tricks on you.”
He slid across to Rocky. “And even if she was there, didn’t she leave you without even a goodbye?”
“Well... yeah. I suppose she did.” Pinkie said, a hint of steel creeping into her voice.
“Pinkie! It’s me! I’m sorry!” Fluttershy called out, struggling against the quicksand but making no progress. In fact, her struggling was making her sink faster than either Rarity or myself.
“You know,” said Mr. Pie, leaning across to shake Sir Lintasalot, “you should eat up your porridge. Keep up your strength.”
“Long day of rock farming ahead of us,” said Mr. Pie, shaking Rocky.
“Yeah, I suppose,” Pinkie said, settling into her seat and taking a slow bite of her porridge. “I must be seeing things.”
“That’s my girl,” said Mr. Pie, eyes unfocusing as he picked up his pickax and swung it around. With every other voice, he appeared completely sane and in control, but when he lifted that pickax I saw true madness.
“Yes. You’re doing good,” said Mr. Pie, rattling Mr. Turnip’s can.
“We’re proud of you, Pinkie,” said Mr. Pie, lifting up Sir Lintsalot.
“Don’t ever leave us again,” said Mr. Pie, shaking Rocky.
“And what about you, Madame le’Flour? What do you think?” said Mr. Pie as himself
“Pinkie!” Cried Fluttershy, up to her neck.
“I think...” Pinkie said, slowly leaning over to the bag of flour. She put on Madame le’Flour’s voice “What if Fluttershy didn’t mean it?”
“What?” Said Mr. Pie as the lint.
“What?” Said Mr. Pie as the rocks.
“Beg pardon?” Said Mr. Pie as the turnips.
“Madame le’Flour...” Said Mr. Pie warningly, holding his pickax.
“I’m just saying that Fluttershy was a good friend, and if she is drowning in the swamp we should at least check...”
“Check? Check?” Mr. Pie said, voice raising, “CHECK? You’re being DISTRACTED, Pinkie! Eyes on the PATH! If you look away, look to either side, even for a SECOND you’ll be in the swamp!”
“Maybe she has a point?” Pinkie said as herself, weakly.
“A POINT? A POINT?” Mr. Pie said, snatching up his pickax and jumping onto the table. “I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT HAPPENS TO PONIES WHO DISTRACT. MY. DAUGHTERS!!!”
And he brought the pickax around in a huge, double-hoofed swing. It smashed into the bag of flour with terrible force, sending up a great puff of white. Mr. Pie swung, and swung, and swung again, each swing smashing into the bag of flour and sending up a cloud of white dust. He smashed it and smashed it in a frenzy, teeth gritted, eyes maddened, and then finally slowed and stopped, breathing heavily, covered head to toe in flour.
Madame le’Flour’s destroyed corpse dropped slowly and dramatically to the ground.
There was a moment of absolute silence.
“You... killed her,” said Mr. Turnip.
“She was our friend,” said Rocky.
“You monster!” Cried Sir Lintsalot.
Pinkie Pie stood up on the table as well, looking her father in the eye, holding a glare of absolute fury. Her father swung the pickax guardingly between them, warding her off. “Pinkie! I did it for you. I don’t want you to get hurt. I’ve got to remove the distractions. You know what happens when there are distractions,” said Mr Pie.
Pinkie didn’t move or blink, she didn’t reach out and touch and shake the remaining objects, but they began to talk anyway. In a different voice – a voice I gradually recognised, and when I did, my blood froze.
“He’s just saying that,” said Spike, as Rocky.
“He took Fluttershy away,” said Spike, as Mr. Turnip.
“You need to stop him. You need to hurt him. For Madame le’Flour. For Fluttershy,” said Spike as Sir Lintsalot.
Pinkie took a slow step forwards.
“Pinkie!” Cried Fluttershy, who was almost entirely under the quicksand.
“No! NO! STAY BACK!” Screamed Mr. Pie shrilly, swinging his pickax as he backed up.
“Pinkie!” Fluttershy called, barely keeping her mouth and nose above the quicksand.
Pinkie Pie took a step forwards.
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS!!” screamed Mr. Pie, swinging his pickax again. It passed inches from Pinkie’s face but she didn’t even blink.
“Do it,” hissed Spike, standing on Pinkie’s back, whispering directly into her ear. “Do it. For Fluttershy.”
“I’m just trying to help you!” Mr. Pie almost sobbed, swinging another brutally powerful blow from his pickax inches away from Pinkie. “I’m just trying to keep you on the path!”
“Pinkie,” Fluttershy gasped as the last of her nose disappeared under the quicksand.
Pinkie Pie took a step forwards.
Mr. Pie was balanced right on the edge of the table.
“No! Mr. Pie! You have to stop Mr. Pie!” hissed Spike, voice full of venom.
“No. Not dad,” she said, reaching out and taking the pickax from Mr. Pie’s trembling hooves, like taking a toy from a child. “It’s you, Baron Pickax. It’s always been you.”
“No!” hissed Spike.
“Yes,” said Pinkie calmly, and bucked Spike off her back casually. She stepped down off the table and started walking towards the swamp, “Dad was so afraid. So afraid. And he needed you to protect him. Like I needed my friends to protect me. But I... I remember now. Somepony once told me, right before I moved to Ponyville. That’s not the way to deal with fears at all.”
“It is! You deal with fears by defeating anyone who scares you!” Spike said, chasing after her, “There’s only room for one at the top!”
“No,” said Pinkie with a smile.
“There’s room for two.”
She slammed the pickax into the dirt of the shore, hard. And, smiling, she started wading into the quicksand. She held the pickax with one hoof and lowered her head into the quicksand.
And she came back out with Fluttershy in her hooves. Fluttershy was muddy, soaked, gasping for air and spitting up sand. Pinkie Pie slowly helped her out to the bank and the yellow Pegasus almost collapsed. Pinkie helped wipe the mud out of Fluttershy’s eyes, and she looked up at the poofy haired pink pony. And there was a moment as they were there, in each other’s arms, meeting each other’s gaze, and the world seemed like it was full of colour again for the first time in a long time.
“So sorry to inter-uupt,” Rarity said in a sing-song voice as the last of her neck vanished under the quicksand.
“So, Rarity, once again you find yourself in my power,” Spike was saying, standing on the rocks over her and twirling his moustache, “I show mercy in victory, however, and am prepared to help you out in exchange for... well, what are you doing on Friday?”
“My hair.” Said Rarity flatly.
By this point, Pinkie Pie had made it over to where Spike and Rarity were, and Fluttershy was hovering above me and pulling me out. Spike grinned when he saw Pinkie Pie looming over him. “Oh, hey Pinkie Pie. No hard feelings, right?”
“Nope!” Pinkie said brightly, offering one hoof.
Spike took it, and was promptly electrocuted by the buzzer Pinkie wore. He collapsed in a blackened pile of smoke. Pinkie giggled, and leaned over the side to help Rarity up out of the mud.
“Just as well I gave my dress away,” said Rarity. “Cleaning that off it would have been unendurable.”
Pinkie laughed, and I did too. For a moment, all seemed right with the world.
“So what do we do about him?” said Fluttershy, looking over at Mr. Pie, who was shaking helplessly by the edge of the swamp. Pinkie smiled and walked over to him, helping him up and urging him along.
“We take care of him, silly. And we teach him how to laugh.”
We made our slow path back to Ponyville Hall. Fluttershy was helping along Mr. Pie with the kindness of a saint, and Pinkie was carrying the unconscious Spike. Rarity complained the entire way about the mud, extracting it piecemeal from her coat with her magic. By the time we arrived back at the front gate, she was almost clean, which – given who was waiting there for us – may have been a grave strategic blunder.
Because as soon as he saw Rarity, Prince Blueblood swept her off her hooves in a motion dramatic, romantic – and practised. He ignored everypony else, everything else, and said to the swooning Rarity, “You have saved my life, and my hall.”
“Oh,” breathed Rarity directly into that dazzling smile.
“Don’t you see, Lady Rarity? The Fates intended it so. By all the stars in the sky, by the passage of the Sun and Moon, this was meant to be.”
Oh no he didn’t.
I stepped forwards and slapped him right across his smug face as hard as I could.
He dropped Rarity like a sack of potatoes, looked at me in shock, and then suddenly slapped me right back. I stepped back in shock – he hadn’t pulled that at all, and my cheek stung.
“Knave!” cried Prince Blueblood, “What is the meaning of this!?”
“Keep your hooves off her, you two-faced slime!” I shouted, flaring my wings aggressively.
“You would come between true love?” the Prince said, stepping forwards. He was much bigger than me, but I didn’t even blink in stepping up to him.
“You incomparable toad, you used the exact same line on me!”
“Jealousy,” said the Prince smugly, “Jealousy because Rarity and I share something you will never possess.”
I raised my hoof to punch him in the face, but the Prince snorted contemptuously. “If you insist on this arrogant idiocy, then at very least we shall settle this as a proper matter of honour. I accept your challenge of a duel, and I choose swords at sundown.”
“Why not right now?” I challenged, “Are you scared?”
The Prince glared. “Immediately, then! Trixie! One’s swords!”
Everypony else backed off as Trixie brought out a pair of swords in a large red box. I grabbed one in my mouth and floated up into the air. My blood was boiling, I was seeing red, and I wasn’t thinking straight. I just wanted to wipe that smug smile off his face.
And then I saw Prince Blueblood levitate up his sword with his magic and spin it in a dramatic figure-of-eight movement, going through an enormously complex preparation kata. I was holding my sword in my mouth and, if you’ve never had the privilege of doing so, this was a fairly ineffectual position. I could only perform one move: the clumsy horizontal slash. And I was going up against a unicorn who was evidently extremely skilled in fencing.
“First blood?” he asked calmly.
I suddenly realised that I was absolutely doomed and that I was absolutely going to lose.
I lunged forwards anyway.
Blueblood caught my predictable attack elegantly and twisted the sword around to flip me upside down and throw me back. I lunged right back to my feet and was on the assault again, lunging in with my one horizontal strike – and repulsed just as easily. He stood perfectly still, sword dancing around him like a dervish. It didn’t take long to realise the Prince was playing with me. Of all the weapons in the world, swords were simply not meant to be wielded by those without either magic or opposable thumbs.
I tried using my superior speed, spinning around and attacking from angles or behind. The Prince didn’t even move or turn around, sword spinning around behind him to deflect my attacks and knock me away. Again and again, I hurtled myself at an immovable object, and again and again I was defeated and repulsed with childish ease.
After dragging it out long enough to demonstrate his utter superiority, Prince Blueblood performed a dazzling attack against every side of me at once, a baffling array of strikes ending with the jabbing the hilt of his sword into my throat and causing me to gag and drop my own blade. He caught it in his own telekinesis and crossed it along with his other blade at my throat. A single drop of blood ran down my cheek and I knew that I’d lost. The Prince snorted, threw the blades aside, and turned around.
“My lady Rarity,” said he, smiling and filled with pride, “One has brought you victory and defended your honour.”
I lowered my eyes in defeat.
“And tell me, my Prince...” Rarity said, in that slow voice that meant she was thinking of something, “What has this victory cost you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know what it cost Rainbow, because I know Rainbow. She hates losing, more than anything, and she just accepted an invitation to a fight she was absolutely certain to lose. That cost her a lot. You, on the other hoof, started a fight you were sure to win. That didn’t cost you anything.”
“But one proved one is the greater. And one shall prove one is greater than anypony in the entire world, for one is.”
“You may be greater... but she was prepared to give more than you were.”
“One doesn’t see what that has to do with anything!” The Prince said, “Anyway, one is prepared to prove himself. Ask! Set what challenge you want! Slay a dragon, storm a tower – one shall do it!”
Rarity reached down, gathered some mud, and smeared it on her face.
“Kiss me,” she said.
“That’s disgusting!” The Prince said, backing off.
“Afraid of a little mud?” she said with a smile. She turned to face me.
I kissed her.
I understand that it is vulgar to kiss and tell, so I shall avoid going in to much more detail. Suffice to say that for once in my life I did not regret my impulsive decision.
“Well then,” said Rarity, with a little less than her characteristic composure, “I believe that is decided.”
“Decided?” said Blueblood furiously, snatching the sword up off the ground, “You would turn down a Prince? You would make an enemy of the most powerful stallion in Equestria? For a pegasus? One is still Lord of Ponyville Manor, and one won’t forget this!”
“Why, you!” I said, starting forwards, but the sword was immediately at my throat.
“And what,” he said with a wicked smirk, “do you think you can do about it, little soldier?”
“... I said, that isn’t actually entirely correct.” Came a voice from off to the side.
“Trixie, shut that pony up, I’m busy,” snapped Blueblood. He was answered with a thunderclap, and he yelped and backpedalled rapidly from the lightning bolt that had struck the earth just in front of him.
“The GREAT and POWERFUL Trixie will have SILENCE while the Lady of Ponyville Manor speaks!” Shouted Trixie, and the skies above her rumbled. She gestured dramatically at Fluttershy, who cowered back a bit at suddenly being the centre of attention.
“Oh. Oh dear. Uh, what I was trying to say is that I’m actually kind of still the Lady of Ponyville Manor still.” She pawed at the ground a little.
“Pah! No matter,” Blueblood said, “Even without this place one can still see to it you fillyfoolers get what’s coming to you!”
“What?” Fluttershy said, looking up sharply.
“One said,” said Prince Blueblood, tossing his mane proudly, “That one is still a Prince, and will see to it that none of you ever work in this country again! Say goodbye to your careers, ladies! One would say it has been fun, but if it was we wouldn’t be having this talk,” And he turned on his heel to walk away.
And came eye-to-eye with Fluttershy.
“How dare you.” She said. And there was something in that look that made Blueblood stop dead.
“I am the Lady of Ponyville Manor, and you are threatening my friends on my land. And I can put up with being kidnapped, locked in a cage and hunted by a giant scary bear - but you do not, I repeat not, HURT. MY. FRIENDS!”
And he fled. Prince Blueblood, the most proud and handsome and powerful unicorn in all the land, fled from that little yellow pegasus so fast he almost tripped over his own tail.
“So listen, my masters,” said Trixie aloud, “and listen well,
“For I have a tale of wonders to tell.
“Of heroines and jerkwads and love and grace
“And the strangest monster to trouble this place.”
I feel compelled to apologise to my readers, whom I lured into this story with promises of a brilliant detective and a display of the science of deduction and the art of the dress, and instead provided with a tale of a bunglingly mishandled case and atypical romance. I am very sorry.
Harry the cross-dressing bear received a magnificent gown, as well as a tuxedo, designed and fitted especially for him from Rarity. When delivering it, I noticed to my eternal shame that the Pegasus who had been chained up in the cave with Fluttershy and myself was still there. We had quite forgotten about her in our rush to save Rarity, and the gag she wore had prevented her from raising her voice. I released her from her captivity but she seemed remarkably unbothered by the entire ordeal, claiming that she was used to it. I can’t imagine what kind of lifestyle would involve getting used to being tied up and stuffed in cages and felt it would be impolite to ask. I am lead to believe she has since taken to writing a series starring Fluttershy and myself. I haven’t read it, but when I asked Fluttershy about it she went a brighter shade of pink than Pinkie Pie.
Pinkie Pie, on that topic, made a full recovery, and Mr. Pie was given the psychological help he so dearly needed. Pinkie and Fluttershy opted, ultimately, to stay in Ponyville Hall together. I make it a point to visit often, for they have begun to bring real colour and life to that previously dismal place. The Great and Powerful Trixie, after umming and ah’ing for a theatrically long time, ultimately decided to stay as well. I wish the three of them happiness together.
And as for Rarity and myself, well. Suffice to say that you will be able to always find us, together, at number 221B Baker Street, ready to solve any crime great or small.
- RAINBOW MIRIAM DASH