The rain drummed gently on my hat as I walked down the street, the waterproof spell on it keeping everything dry while my overcoat did the same for the rest of my body. I needed knowledge, and I knew just where to get it. Copper Button was the dirtiest cop in the city. The catch being that he had dirt on everyone else. Information flowed in and out of him like muck through the sewers. Working with him was like walking around a brightly lit room where everyone had a gun. Ironically enough, despite his contempt for appropriate procedure, the high strung arrangement did more to prevent crime in the city than an army of legal ponies.
I could see the shop at the next bend, surrounded by yellow tape. Five ponies were carefully documenting the scene, picking up all the pieces and filing them away on the off chance they became useful. I spotted the colt I was looking for. As usual, he was doing some long range supervising, carefully monitoring a good looking pegasus mare who was taking pictures of the corpse from every conceivable angle. No doubt watching her carefully to ensure a lack of mistakes, and absolutely nothing else.
“Copper, I need a word with you,” my voice sounded over the gentle hum of the rain on the concrete.
He glanced over his shoulder at me, a wicked smile breaking out across his face, “Ah, Keen Eye, haven't seen you in a while, eh?” he said through a mouthful of cheap cigar, not lit mind you, he just chewed them down to cold nubs. I was immediately thankful for the rain that dampened the stench of his breath.
I stopped at the yellow line, which he promptly drew up for me to pass under, “I can't have an old friend like you stand out in the rain, can I?” He chuckled hoarsely.
I simply stared at him while I stepped under the tape and into the shop, my nose assaulted by the smell of blood and cigar infused breath.
Copper shifted the cigar around in his mouth, “What brings you out here today, eh? Office too cramped for ya?”
“I need information, Copper,” I pronounced the capital letter. He didn't like being called ‘copper’, and I needed him in a good mood.
He tucked his hoof up under his chin thoughtfully, “I dunno Keen, that might imply that I just hand it out to everyone,” Because that is exactly what he did mind you, but he wanted to trade. That's how he knew everything, he traded in words and information while the police department sent him a check every other week.
I raised an eyebrow at him while my ear twitched. He didn't notice, either because he was thick or because he was looking past me at the mare photographer that had finished and was heading out of the scene. In retrospect, these were basically the same thing.
The other three ponies in the room headed out, the last one mumbled something about how the site was clear. Point was that they were done here and were leaving for the warm, dry forensics lab.
“Care to explain what ya want to know, or am I gonna have'ta guess at this?” the cigar shifted around wildly as he said this, revealing his excitement.
“I'm looking for somepony,” I had decided to only reveal one of the names to him, the less info he got from me the better I would feel.
“Business or pleasure?” I could practically hear his mind taking notes as I spoke.
“What's the name?” His eyes gleamed in anticipation, hanging on every word that passed my lips, the cigar in his moth twitching rapidly with each gnaw on the end.
“Pinky Pie.” Random name, one I didn't have information on, which I'll admit was a double edged sword. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
His eyes lit up with recognition the moment the name passed my lips. So he knew who she was, which meant she was in the city, or at least had been for some period of time.
“Ohohohoho,” his manic guffaw made my ear twitch again, “You're lookin' for Pie?” In the city, definitely in the city, and by the looks of his face, dangerous.
“Well don't stop, keep goin'!” he almost yelled he was so enthralled by what I had to say. I started to suppress a smirk, this is what Rarity must fell like all the time. Fortunately that thought suppressed the smirk for me, I did not need or want to think about her right now.
“Your turn, Copper.”
He frowned, his furious chewing, which had become audible, slowed to a more reasonable pace and he huffed out a breath of rancid air, “Well, she's in the the city, that's for sure, but, uh,” he leaned in close to me the smell of cigar emanating from his pores and into my unfortunate nostrils. My first reaction was to recoil, but I ignored it, maintaining my impassive expression. After a moment he spoke again, “She's the kind that finds you, not the other way around, if you catch my drift.”
“Dangerous?” I asked. I already new the answer, but the more he talked, the more I would know. His eyes glinted evilly as he drew back from me.
“That's one way to put it, for sure.” His chewing began to speed up again, “so who're ya doin' this for?”
“Business,” he knew I wouldn't answer the question. I did not answer that question even if I was finding the beast bread price for a client. It was not a question one of my profession answered, at least, not truthfully.
His chewing had entered into its prior audible crescendo, “Of course, of course...” His mind began to twist into a new shape, he would want something else this time and I was running out of bartering chips. However, I had his curiosity, and that was quite a bit of leverage on my end. He wanted to know more about what I was up to, and he needed a question I would answer, “how much?” His chewing maintained itself at a high speed.
I stared at him, my eyes boring into him, not that there was much of a point at this juncture. I knew him inside and out and he knew it. Unfortunately, he knew me better that I would have liked, but that was the the price to pay with Copper. “A large sum.” I held my voice steady, and his chewing gently slowed to a more favorable pace.
“That’s all you gonna tell me Keen?” I despised him using my first name. Every time he used it it smelled like his breath for a week. He sighed, “Well that ain’t much but I supposed it gonna have ta do. She’s very, very dangerous, little goes on that she doesn't know about.” He said as his eyes stopped glowing with curiosity. He gave me a solemn stare that was a new look on his face to me.
“That just means she knows you.” I pointed out. Everypony in the city who mattered knew him, and as such everypony could know what was going on because he knew everything that went on, because everyone told him what was going on so he would tell them what was going on. It wasn't complicated so long as you didn't think too hard about it.
“Yeah, but I don't know 'er.” Oh. Well that was...disquieting.
There was a moment of silence in the room, the only sounds were that of his rhythmic chewing and the rain drumming against the window. My nostrils kicked in again, sensing that they were important once more and informed me that the place still smelled horrible. I left the room, leaving the bile educing smell of blood and cigar behind. I ducked under the tape and started back to my apartment, Clover would have locked up at this point, so there was no reason to go there, and besides, I had my notebook with me.
Fifteen minutes had passed since I left the murder scene and Copper Buttons behind, and I stepped under the outcropping of cloth that adorned the entrance to the apartment building. I opened the door and started up the stairs without so much as a nod to the colt at the front desk. I quickly climbed to the fifth floor, unlocking the door to my apartment.
The apartment had four rooms: a largely unused kitchenette, a bathroom, a sitting room in much the same position as the kitchenette that was bare except for a few largely empty bookshelves that were built into the wall, and a bedroom with a bed in it. It was the place I slept, not the place I lived. I tore off the soaking overcoat that had kept me dry on my rounds in the city and levitated it onto a hook in the wall to dry and sat down at the desk, pulling out my notebook, replaying the exchange with Copper in my mind.
After a minute or two, I had compiled what Copper had told me into a mentally presentable format. Pinky Pie was in the city. She was powerful. By my best judgement, she would know I was looking for her within two days, tops, and in all likely hood, she would want to find me. I could work my way back to her from there. I leaned back in my chair, feeling pleased with myself. After all, somepony else would soon be looking for me and once they found me, I would know where they were. From them I could learn where Pinky was, and then I would get the credit for it. Placing my notebook and hat on the table, I took off my harness and flung myself into the bed, letting the night pass as it will.
I flipped through a recently bought copy of Magical Equestrian that floated in front of my face on my way into the office, scanning the pages for familiar names. Twilight Sparkle was the prized student of princess Celestia, and as such would be involved in some magical projects, no pony with those kinds of connections could avoid it. I kept flipping through the pages and my momentum took me past a face I hadn't seen in years. I flipped back to it and read the article.
This reporter was given an exclusive interview with Smoke N' Mirrors, one of the major players in the recent 'communications stone' project:
Rep: “Many of us have heard about the project, but very few press reports have been forthcoming, is there any particular reason for this?”
SM: “Ah yes, I must apologize for that slight mishap, I can assure you that we had no intention whatsoever of attempting to misinform the public as to the goings on of the project, however until recently the pony in charge of public communications was, shall we say, inept at their task. But I can assure you that I have no intention of repeating these mistakes.”
So that was how you spelled his name. The interview went on for the rest of the page, but I had what I wanted and continued absentmindedly flipping through the magazine. It was good to know that Smoke still had that silver tongue in his head. When I had last seen him, I had been mildly concerned that he wouldn’t next time I saw him.
I suppose some explanation is necessary, Smoke n' Mirrors picked me up after I got out of the clicker, and put me on the straight and narrow. Or at least a wide, curvy path that included the straight and narrow at some point. The reason was simple, he was a traveling entertainer who needed some muscle, and at that point in my life I looked like I could eat a pony twice my size. We had traveled together, benefiting from, and at times, enjoying each other's company. About twelve years back, I had mellowed out and decided to set up shop here in Fillydelphia. He had decided to continue traveling, and had apparently ended up at Canterlot on some advance magical project. Impressive for a pony who went to school for about three weeks in his entire life.
In my haze of nostalgia, I realized that I had flipped through the rest of the magazine without actually reading any of the words and was now staring at the back of it as if it contained something that wasn’t an advertisement for the latest generation of quills. Swearing softly, I flipped back to the article that included the interview with my old employer/friend/acquaintance thing. In the process of looking over the article, I came across another name that was familiar, but for an entirely different reason.
Twilight Sparkle, Celestia's personal student, is the head of the project. Unfortunately she was unable to be interviewed. If nothing else, this shows the seriousness with which this project is taken by the royalty...
So Twilight Sparkle was in Canterlot, and by the looks of it, I knew her through one layer of Smoke. I made a mental note to set up some travel time, then scolded myself for the pun. It was like thinking about him allowed him to influence my thoughts.
Fortunately, while I was paying no attention to where I was going, my hooves had taken matters onto themselves and carried me to my office door, which I now realized was sitting in front of me. I opened the unlocked door. Because of Clover’s impeccable schedule, I wasn't even sure I had a key to my own office anymore.
I folded up the magazine as I walked into my office, or rather Clover's office, which separated my office from the hallway. I grunted a greeting to my secretary in accordance with years of precedent.
“Good morning Mr. Eye,” She smiled at me with a sickening sweetness that made me narrow my eyes at her immediately.
“What did you do?” My accusation hurled through the air without the slightest moment of hesitation.
She put on a look of mock hurt, “Me? Your one trusted and loyal secretary? How could you suggest such a thing?”
Oh she had done something. My eyes stayed narrowed. My only regret is that I can't raise an eyebrow and squint at the same time.
“Ms. Rarity called this morning. The moment I sat down even, she is very punctual.” She smile at me again in an attempt to be disarming.
Oh Luna no...
“She wanted to apologize for yesterday, she had forgotten something.” Lucky Clover still had her Cheshire smile glued to her face as she spoke.
Please, Celestia help me...
“She says that she seems to have forgotten to give you her down payment, and would be more than glad to give it to you, and” she kept barreling onward to stave off my inevitable outburst, “she would like you to come over for dinner tomorrow night since you were so polite during the meeting so as to not ask about it.”
My teeth clenched together in an unfathomable rage.
I stomped into my office, grating my teeth together furiously. That scheming witch. As if it wasn't bad enough that she had bent me over backwards when we had first met and manged to befriend my secretary in a matter of two conversations, she had the gall, the unprecedented malice, the utter and complete nerve to call me and offer me my money! And, as if to put a cherry on the whole deal, offered me dinner! Dinner! I bet she called it supper too. I stopped my endless pacing and looked at my office door. I didn't know where, or for that matter when, she wanted to meet me, but there was no way I was going back out there.
Of course that could only last for so long, and the end of the day Rarity was paying my bills for the time being which meant that she had the upper hoof in the matter. Eventually I would have to ask Clover where and when the dinner was, but that didn’t mean that I had to ask her now, while she was still basking in the white heat of my impotent rage.
I rolled a cigarette, the normally unconscious action now requiring my full attention and started to smoke. The ritual calmed my nerves somewhat as I took the first drag off the tube. For the time being I could get back to work. First I would have to find something to do. Going down the list of things to do, I determined that I needed to make some calls first, and second I would need to go more thoroughly through the magaziene. Which meant I would have to ask Clover.
Taking a deep breath of smoke filled air, I pressed the button for the intercom, “Clover? I need you to make a few calls to Canterlot...”
I flipped furiously through my floating notebook by a light emanating from my horn as I walked down the street. I had made progress in leaps and bounds this morning. A whole page in my notebook had been filled with what information that I had gotten on Twilight Sparkle from the magazine. I had gotten nothing since then, plans for my departure from Fillydelphia were already in place, I would be leaving a few days for Canterlot. I had also managed to avoid the topic of rarity’s dinner with Clover for the remainder of the morning. After the break from the magazine, I had found precisely bugger all on anything else and I was out of leads. So I wasn’t exactly in a good mood.
I had aimlessly been wandering the streets of the city for some time now, a very bad habit that I had yet to break. The problem being that I only thought properly when I was walking, it kept the rest of me busy while I did my work.
After an unspecified amount of time, I flipped my notebook shut and tucked it underneath my harness, stopping to take an assessment of where I was. My ear twitched in annoyance as I realized my apartment was a good mile and a half away from where I was. As I walked, I noted that city held its perpetual buzz of life, muted only slightly by the night, something that never ceased to amaze me. Don't these ponies ever need to sleep?
My ears swiveled as I heard the sound of hoofbeats behind me. Somepony was following me. I wasn't paranoid, I just knew the sound of hoofbeats following you. My mind began to shuffle through way to shake my new tail, and I started to lead them in a completely different direction form my apartment or office. I couldn't let them have that little bit of information, at least not this easily.
Much sooner than I would have liked, a second pair of hoofbeats began to follow me. Now their were two ponies following me. I scratched a confrontation off my list of options. I could take one at this distance, after all the pistol on my side was not for show and sadly, at least for them, I knew how to use it.
Soon, I found myself heading towards the cemetery, a very bad or a very good place to try and lose somepony. Depends on the ponies involved, and fortunately for me I was in the latter category. The unlit field offered excellent cover to those who knew it well enough, and it was too easy to lose track of somepony in the darkness. Not to mention that some ponies feared the dead for some reason, but in my experience it's the living you have to watch. I would be there in five minutes, as long as the two ponies behind me were willing to wait that long, I would be fine.
Unfortunately, patience was not the primary virtue of the ponies following me. I heard the hoofbeats quicken and I shot off like a bullet. Over the sound of my own breathing, I could heat the rapid hoofbeats of the ponies behind me, slowly gaining ground on me. I couldn't outrun them in a straight shot, I need some obstacles. I dove into the first ally I saw, using my magic to overturn trashcans behind me. I exploded out of the ally and made a slight right, crossing the deserted street. What I wouldn't do for some carriages right now.
The impromptu race jumps that I had left behind me had done little to slow down my pursuers. I would have sworn if I could do anything but gasp for air at that point, and once again I demanded to know why I thought smoking was a good idea. The exertion of running and magic were taking their toll, I need to lose these two now. I dove into a narrow ally, almost crashing headfirst into the metal gate that sat just a few yards in. Wonderful. A nice, safe, friendly, gated community, and I didn't have the key, so the first three adjectives didn’t do me much good.
My mind caught up to me and I spun around, my pistol already halfway out of its holster by the time I had finished my 180. as soon as my eyes formed a straight image after the turn, I saw one of my pursuers barreling down on me in the confined space. Time slowed to a crawl and I struggled to get my pistol out of its holster. I got the gun out just as the other pony collided with me, making me fire the gun harmlessly into the ground, and slamming me into the gate, knocking what little wind was left in me out.
The combination of the noise and collision had stunned the pursuing earth pony and he stood there in a daze for a moment. Before I eve was able to breath again, I managed to drag myself past him and move as fast as I could toward the place I had just come in. As I got out, I manged to get a single breath, which was apperently set on fire, into my lungs and started to run again. Unfortunately, the other pursuer had been waiting to ambush me and hit me with the second hardest buck I had ever been on the receiving end of. The hardest had put me through a wall. It's hard to compete with that.
The buck ripped what little air I had managed to suck into my lungs right back out before I even had the chance to appreciate it. It also sent me sprawling an unspecified number of feet away from the pony who had kicked me. I could feel darkness closing in around my mind. My magic imploded as I instinctively attempted to grab my MIA pistol from its holster. Even before the aura around my horn finished imploding, I blacked out with a squeak.
There was a loud splash, and for a moment nothing. Then the cold hit me. Somepony had dumped a bucket of the coldest water I had ever felt directly on my head. My eyes shot open and I jumped, or rather attempted to. I was instantly restrained by the ropes that bound my hooves behind the chair I was sitting in, which made a little lurch.
Gulping down air like a fish,I looked in front of me and saw a mass of swirling colors and blurry shapes. Before I could see much else, a second wave of pain and aches hit my body, along with mild shock, causing me to slump back into my chair with a groan. My eyes slid shut once more.
“Good morning Mister!” A cheerful voice sounded from the other side of my eyelids. The already loud voice was amplified in my ears, causing a pulse of pain in my head, “Would you like a drink of water?” The same cheerful voice asked.
At this a second bucket of ice cold water was dumped on my head, causing my eyes to shoot open again. After a second round of pain and shock that was very quickly moving up in ranks, I determined to keep my eyes open, if only to keep the buckets of water away. After a moment of waiting, the swirling colors realigned into a coherent picture. What I saw next was the stuff of nightmares.
In front of me there was a table, metal, lit by a single lamp hanging from the ceiling. The bulb was, of course, bare. The scene was so utterly cliche that if I wasn't tied to a chair and gulping down air like I had forgotten to breathe, I might have laughed. Of course all of this was before I saw who sat opposite me. There was a pink pony sitting across from me. Her mane seemed to have a life of its own as it sat hopelessly tangled and knotted on top of her head. The mare's coat was of a lighter pink, contrasting her bright blue eyes. And the smile, oh by the stars and moon, the smile. I will never forget that smile. That bright, cheerful, manic smile that presented such a stark contrast to the rest of the room. She seemed unreal. And not in a good way.
Unknown to me, a part of my mind whose attention was not glued to the pink pony opposite me presented a diagnostic report of my position. My hat was gone. My harness was gone, and as a result so were my notebook and gun. I was beaten. There were no memories of how I got here. One eye was swollen shut, doubtlessly black, and the rest of my body ached. And I was wet. Cold wet. I slumped back into the uncomfortable chair I was tied to and continued to breath heavily. After a long moment, I took an assessment of the room, noting that my harness and hat were on the table in front of me and my notebook was laying open in front of the pink pony. The small spark of outrage that I felt at this was enough to get my mind started again. But I didn't speak. Oh Celestia, the though of speaking never crossed my mind. She was still terrifying.
“You are looking for me.” She stated it. She did not ask, in the sudo cryptic way of many other powerful ponies I had met, something that she already knew. She said it. Part of me liked her for that, but it was far outvoted by the parts that were terrified, so I stayed silent.
She coked her head in the most innocent way imaginable, her mane bounced crazily at the slight movement. My eyes were still glued to her face looking for something, anything that revealed her intentions.
“Who sent you, Mr. Eye?”
My eyes, which had slowly been drawn to the mane, which had continued to bounce around with every slight movement on the pink pony's part, shot back to her face. She knew my name. I don't know why that scared me. It shouldn't have. I should have expected it at this point, after all she had tracked me down and looked through my notebook, so she must know who I was, where I slept, where I worked...
The implications of the last though hit me like a train. I almost panicked, almost. After all I am a hard-boiled detective, I've been in and out of jail, and let me tell you that pony jail is in no way shape or form as gentle as the world outside it. I had fought and shot my out of more nasty situations than I could count. I didn't panic. I swear I did not panic.
My eyes tried to shrink into the back of my head at the mare's happy stare as I panicked.
“It's funny really,” she said flipping through the notebook, “you have something on almost all of us...” My eyes, desperate for something to look at that was not her face trailed up to her mane. If at any point I thought I could not be more scared, when I saw her mane slowly start to deflate and straighten fear gripped my chest.
I lied, I clearly hadn’t panicked before, and I only know this because you can;t panic while you are panicked. I did not panic until I saw that. I did not know what it could mean, but I knew it was not good.
In less time than it took to blink, the pink pony was in front of me and standing on the table, her mane had straightened out completely and she almost seemed...darker, like somepony had turned off some of the color in her coat. Naturally this was ridicules, at least the coat part. It must have been a trick of the light.
“Why are you looking for my friends?” She hissed into my face. My jaw trembled as I looked into her blue eyes. Her deep, terrifying blue eyes.
All that escaped my throat was a strangled cross between a sob and a groan. I could feel the blood rushing from my head in an attempt to get as far away from the pony as possible.
Her eyes narrowed at me as the incoherent sound escaped my throat. She leaned back from me and sat on the table, eyes boring into me. It was mostly an intimidation tactic, I knew, and it worked. A lot works on a pony when they are tied to a chair.
“I was hired to.” My mouth spoke almost of its own accord. Apparently the part of my brain that refused to divulge information was still functional. A miracle considering that my ability to speak had only recently returned.
She rolled her eyes at m, “I could figure that out,” she jabbed a hoof into me chest causing me to flinch in pain. Some of my ribs were probably broken, glorious, “but I want to know who hired you,” she pushed a cupcake towards me. I don't know where it came form, it just seemed to materialized out of the air, “there's a cupcake in it for you if you do.”
Under literally any other circumstances I would have laughed. Under the current circumstances, I looked at the cupcake, then looked at her, then repeated the process two more times because I was slow, and the responded. “What?”
“The cupcake, you can have it if you tell me who hired you.” I continued to stare at her, I could not believe what I was hearing.
She bared her teeth at me, “I made it myself.” Oh no. Celestia help me. She had made it personal. My eyes were drawn to it in a desperate attempt to escape the blue eyed gaze that was bearing down on me like an ursa major.
After a moment of terrifying silence, she picked up the cupcake and took a thoughtful bite out of it. Some of the color returned to her after the first bite, and it seemed that she was letting down her prior crazed smile. The final effect was odd to say the least, but not nearly as creepy as the extremes.
“Although I do have another question, she said pulling up my notebook and looking through it again, “you seem to be missing somepony.” the last phase was said through a mouthful of cupcake that somehow she did not propel from her mouth, “why is that?”
“Because I wasn't hied to look for her.” Apparently my moth had decided to take matters into itself and was moving on its own. I took note of its betrayal, and of the fact that it revealed as little as possible. I still had it.
She cocked her head to the side as she continued to eat the cupcake, “Why not?” Her color had fully returned, but her mane was still straight as an arrow.
“Because my client already knew where she was.” I scolded myself. That was a statement, not a question. I knew why, and now she knew that I knew why, it was only a matter of time before she figured out what was going on. At this point, it occurred to me that I had refereed to Rarity as 'her,' then later as my client. I had said too much.
Her eyebrow raised dangerously high as she finished off the cupcake. I could hear the gears turning in her head, before her hair made a sound like a balloon popping in reverse and returned to its prior state of insanity. “Ohhhhhhhhhh....”
Her manic grin returned as she hopped up and down on the table next to where I sat, “I get it now, Rarity wants to throw a party!” at this revelation she stood on her hind legs and spread her arms wide, becoming imbalanced in the process. She fell backwards onto the table, all the while laughing gleefully, “and here I through you were trying to hurt us!” She was on her hooves in a blur, her face pressing into mine as she talked at an ever increasing rate, I wasn't able to catch much after that. Although she still kept her head pressed up against mine.
After what felt like hours of being on the receiving end of her torrent of words, my head was pounding in pain. I could no longer think at all. Then there was silence where my mind started up again. She looked at me intently, “I've got to get you all patched up Mr. Eye!” there was a slight pause as she thought for a moment, then gasped, afterwords smiling gleefully “and I know just the pony to do it!”
After her gasp, she pressed up against me a little harder, causing the chair to fall over backwards. For the second time in two days I had the same stomach churning feeling as I fell over backwards, landing on my front legs, which were still stuck behind the chair. I yelled in pain as the metal collided with my sore and numb limbs.
She giggle at me from on top of the table, “Oopsie,” she looked up into a part of the room I could not see, “Hey boys, we're taking Mr. Eye for another ride!”
“Where too boss?” the gruff voice of what I could only assume to be one of the pair that had ambushed me was a stark contrast to the bubbly voice of the pink pony.
“We're going to Fluttershy's!” She hopped down from the table as a big earth pony stood up the chair I was tied to and shoved a bag over my eyes. I felt another cloth covered in a sweet smelling oil shoved over the end of my shout. My mind began to enter a warm haze, much nicer than unconsciousness, which I was in no condition to fight. “Oh by the way,” the voice of the pony spoke into me ear as I fell asleep, “I'm Pinky Pie!”
Far too much Pink
My brain began to put itself back together. I could slowly feel myself waking up from whatever drug-induced coma I had been in. As the feeling returned to my body, I realized my hooves were no longer tied together. Unfortunately, they also hurt. Badly. I then became aware that the feeling of nonspecific pain had spread throughout my entire body. I groaned.
I opened my eyes and found that my left was still dark. My heart jumped into my throat. Was it gone? I knew it felt bad, but I had just assumed it was swollen. I moved my newly mobile hoof to the spot to see if I could feel anything. About an inch before I should have hit my own face, the hoof collided with something cold. An icepack was over my eye. It was still there. My muscles relaxed and my hoof fell back onto my chest. It felt strange, and I realized that while I could feel its weight, I couldn’t feel the texture. I was bandaged. Thoroughly. Professionally, too; whoever put me back together knew what they were doing.
I looked at what I hoped to be a ceiling through my good eye. It seemed lighting was a low priority here, and it took a moment for my sight to adjust. It was, in fact, a ceiling. I had never really paid much attention to ceilings before; I had looked up quite a bit, but that was mostly searching for traps and other hidden things. The ceiling itself didn’t get a second thought. This one seemed to be clean, although I wasn’t entirely certain how I would know if it wasn’t.
Moving on from the ceiling I endeavored to see what I could without moving. I didn't quite feel up to that challenge just yet. There was a window somewhere above me, and the light from a passing carriage or tram occasionally spilled into the room, providing temporary illumination.
I realized that I was on a couch. What tipped me off was the piece of wood I could feel under my head through the padding. It dug uncomfortably into the back of my neck, adding another ache to the ever-growing list. Sitting up became a slightly higher priority, but I still wanted to get a look at my surroundings first before I tried anything dramatic. I turned my head away from the wall and towards the rest of the room. There was a second couch perpendicular to my own, up against the back wall. My head was pointed towards the corner where they met. Opposite me was a counter top that clearly thought of itself as a 'welcome desk.' There was probably a table with old magazines somewhere in here too.
I shifted back to my original position. Since the room itself didn’t have anything else to offer me, I made an attempt to sit up. I pushed up with my elbows, immediately triggering a new round of aches and pains, mostly in my right shoulder. I tried to fight it, willing myself to sit the rest of the way up, but it was no use. The pain won. Collapsing back onto the couch, my head slammed into the wooden arm. I swore loudly.
I heard the clatter of various things falling to the floor in another room. Turning toward the sound, I spotted a door next to the counter. I could just barely make out a quiet murmuring from the other side. I tried to bore a hole through the door with my good eye, without much luck. A few seconds later, the door slowly opened a crack. A pony's head leaned out from behind it. At first all I saw was pink. My eye widened and my ears fells back. My heart was halfway to my stomach by the time I saw the yellow coat and the eyes. They were blueish eyes, but not the same shade as before.
“Oh, you're awake.” Her voice was quiet; I could barely hear her, even in the silence of the room. She smiled sheepishly at me and I swear I heard the squeak of a chew toy. “I was wondering if you were going to wake up tonight.” Hopefully ‘tonight’ meant that I hadn’t lost a day.
“How long have I been out?” I asked, rolling with the first question that came to mind. I barely recognized my own voice; it sounded like I was speaking through swamp muck. The analogy wouldn't be too far off from the reality. I wanted to clear my throat, but I knew it wouldn’t be worth the pain.
The yellow mare had come out from behind the door. As it turned out, she was a pegasus. Her pink mane covered up one of her eyes, which were an odd blue-green sort of color. I didn’t know what to call it, although I was sure Clover would.
“Its only been a few hours since Pinkie dropped you off.” The pegasus shook her head. “She really needs to learn some subtlety.” I was glad that we could agree on something, and I expressed this sentiment with a grunt.
When she got close enough, she began checking over my bandages. I hoped she would say something more, but she stayed maddeningly quiet. Up to this point, I had thought I liked silence. It was then that I discovered that I like to be alone in silence. Having other ponies around made the whole experience uncomfortable.
“So you're Fluttershy?” I could hear my own voice starting to break through the muck.
Apparently satisfied with the bandages, she took a step back and looked me in the eye, “Did Pinkie Pie tell you where she was taking you? That's a bit odd for her.” A roundabout answer, but at least it was an answer. Her voice sounded like it was made of honey, and the quiet way she spoke made it even harder not to savor it. The stark contrast between her soft tone and my current grumble was all too apparent.
She was dressed like a doctor, but she did not walk like a doctor. She walked like a model, making it look natural. Rarity's beauty had been harnessed and restructured to suit her needs. It was weaponized. Fluttershy was simply graceful by nature. I couldn't help but think that there was some jealousy there; everything that Rarity forced on herself was here on its own. Still, there’s a certain power to control; Fluttershy would never be able to control her beauty the way Rarity had.
But it wasn't her beauty that did me in. It was the look in her eye. It wasn't forceful, although it could be. It drilled into me, gently prying cooperation from me. The fact that its color didn't fall within the spectrum of nine colors that I used only enhanced the effect. Nopony could lie if they were looking into those eyes. That was a dangerous thing to be set in a single pony's skull.
Of course, I didn't think that until I had a chance to look at something that was not her eyes. “Not exactly.” I shifted my position slightly in a desperate bid to get more comfortable. It failed. “It’s more like she happened to mention it right before putting me under.” My voice had returned once more, and with it came my usual cynical inflection, undaunted by those eyes.
“Well, it is nice to know that she is making a few more friends. For a while, I thought she had forgotten what it was like...” Her voice trailed off, as if remembering an especially pleasant memory. More importantly, her eyes glazed over, breaking the spell. The last few moments came crashing back to me. And then I realized what she had said.
“Friend!?” For a moment I forgot that I was lying on a couch in a place I did not know with severe injuries, and in that moment I managed to yell and sit straight up. But then I remembered, and my head collapsed into the thinly padded wood arm of the couch a second time. Every inch of my body screamed in pain, and I broke out into a coughing fit, suppressing the next round of swears that rose dutifully to the occasion. Fluttershy pressed me down almost instantly, gently saying something while I struggled to see straight out of my one good eye.
After a few agonizing seconds, I managed to regain my breath. My vision was dragging its hooves and had still not returned properly.
“You should not have sat up so fast.” Her voice had changed. The softness was gone. She had not raised her voice at all. It did not matter. It was an unstoppable force, plowing its way through the air and into my ear. My sight began to function properly once more, just in time to see her face.
The look wasn’t angry. It was something else, something even more terrifying. The word 'anger' couldn’t even begin to do it justice. I went rigid, as if a cockatrice had just turned me to stone. Her eyes bore down on me. I could not disobey. I simply stared back in abject terror.
“You need to rest, or else you will not get better.” The stare was gone as quickly as it came. Color had fled the world in its presence, but I didn’t even notice until it returned as if nothing had happened at all. Fortunately, I knew from years of experience that color was a liar.
“Yes, ma’am,” Did I really just say that? I had never said that in my life. Ever. Or 'yes sir' for that matter. Usually, I found a healthy disrespect for authority to be a valuable asset in my line of work. My ear twitched at me in annoyance, demanding retribution for my sudden burst of cooperation. Carried by the momentum of my own indignation, I formulated another question.
“Where am I?” I practically demanded the information, as if I somehow had a right to it.
She smiled gently at me once more, punching through my layers of defensive cynicism in a direct attack on any and all negative emotions I may have felt. “You are in the waiting room of the free vet service that the Equestrian zoo runs.” She continued on sweetly, as if she was giving a tour of the place. “As you know, I am Fluttershy, and I’m as close to being in charge of the zoo as anypony.”
“So you live here?” I had meant to say something a little more cutting, or at least the slightest bit clever, but my wits seemed to have fled me. It was as if she projected some field that caused all malice to stop in its tracks and slink home, muttering something about biscuits.
“Well, I am visiting here for the night. I suppose Pinkie knew I was here and decided to drop you off.” There was that name again. I suppressed a shutter. Which reminded me.
“Is this how she treats all of her friends?” I attempted to keep my sarcastic edge by directing the comment at the ceiling, to no avail. I couldn't even keep the quotation marks around 'friends'.
She giggled, causing my ear to twitch again for a completely different reason. “No she doesn't.”
Turning my eye back from the ceiling, I fished out another question. “What makes you so sure that I'm her friend?” I noted with some pride that this would almost be a suitably hard-boiled thing to say if I could have mustered the right tone of voice. Unfortunately, the yellow pegasus had completely disarmed my ability to snark. At this point, it wasn’t even worth trying.
“Well first of all, she left you with me.” Fluttershy had retreated to the other couch, producing a pillow and blanket from some corner of the room I could not see from my position. “Second, she left you a card.”
I snorted. “So now I have another business card to lose.” At least I could contact her if I wanted. I wasn’t sure what situation could possibly arise where I would want to, short of going insane or developing a death wish, but the option was there.
“Not exactly.” Fluttershy produced a card from the same place she had gotten the pillow and blanket. “She gives one of these to all of her friends, and, well,” she hesitated sheepishly, “I found one when I was looking at your hat...I hope you don't mind.” She was genuinely apologetic for looking through the things of a pony that was literally dumped on her doorstep? By Luna. Clover had just lost the title of nicest mare I had ever met.
Realizing that she was actually looking for a response, I waved my good hoof dismissively. That was the least of my problems tonight. For the time being, I was willing to forgive such a minor transgression.
“Oh, that's good.” She pulled another pillow out from the edge of my vision. “Could you sit up?”
I raised my eyebrow and stared at her. It occurred to me that it was far less impressive with only one eye, but I was already in and there was no turning back now.
Fluttershy rolled her eyes and pushed my head up with a hoof, sliding the pillow into place. “You act as if you have never slept with a pillow, honestly.” She almost sounded annoyed, if she even knew how to have that emotion. That said, this pillow was far more substantial than the thing I had back at the apartment. I could feel my head sinking into it and, more importantly, I could no longer feel the wooden armrest digging into my skull.
She yawned. It was so adorable it hurt. I mentally scolded myself; at this rate, the years I spent caking on layers of cynicism were going to be undone in a single conversation. “I'm going to sleep. See you in the morning, Mr. Eye.” After a moment, the only sound in the room was her gentle breathing. I blinked. She knew my name. I shuffled through the things that were on me when I was captured by Pinkie's goons. None of them had my name on it. Presumably, Pinkie had told her my name when she had dropped off to be put back together, but it was still unnerving. As if that stare of hers really had burrowed into my mind and dragged out some secrets. The thought sent a chill down my spine. The more I found out about who I was really looking for, the less I liked it.
The events of the night caught up with me. Apparently Pinkie drove fast because in my experience, information doesn't move that slowly. I realized how tired I was and let myself relax into the couch.
Light, muted by the shades, came in through the window. For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I was, but it didn’t take long for the last night to come crashing back to me. Opening my good eye, I looked around the room once more and found that little had changed. The only real difference was my hat my harness sitting on the welcome counter, a small note folded neatly on top of them. I sat up, groaning from the effort. Rolling off the couch, I noticed that Fluttershy was gone from the other couch, as if she had never been there. I also noticed the blanket that had been placed over me at some point.
Leaving the pillow and blanket where they lie, I levitated my harness over and gingerly stepped in. The movements slowly squeezed the soreness out of my body. My horn continued glowing as I levitated the pistol up to my view, expertly piecing it apart to make sure everything was in order. It wasn't a revolver. I had seen a lot of ponies in my profession who liked revolvers too much, treating them as if they were somehow more effective. A bullet was a bullet. The caliber didn't matter so long as it hit something soft.
Once the harness was on over top of the bandages, I levitated the rest of my things over. I placed the hat on my head and unfolded the letter.
Dear Mr. Eye,
Pinkie Pie didn't have much of a chance to talk me as she dropped you off. However, as for as she is concerned, you are worthy of trust, and I find that she is a far better judge of character than I am. At the end of this letter is a list of cities in the order that I intend to visit them. As you can probably guess, I will be staying at the central offices of each city's Zoo. Honestly, I wish that we could just decide on a central location for all of these things so that we could actually have a decent meeting for once, but until then, I am stuck city hopping and couch surfing. But you probably don't want to listen to me complain about the bureaucracy, or rather the lack of bureaucracy, in the Zoo system.
Wish you well,
P.S. I left enough for a ride on the city's trolley system on the counter. You are not allowed to walk unnecessarily for the rest of the day, and I would postpone any hikes you have planned soon as well.
Feel free to remove the bandages tonight before you go to sleep, but replace any that have an open wound beneath them. Your eye is fine; the swelling should have gone down by now.
There may be some minor fractures in your ribs, but nothing that won't heal on its own so long as you keep off of it.
Beneath the text, there was a list of five cities. It seemed Fluttershy was a busy pony. The paper itself was embroidered with butterflies and hearts. I tore off the list of cities and levitated my lighter down to burn the rest. Pinkie's paranoia had become my own. I took off my hat to hide the letter way inside of it and saw a playing card, sitting menacingly in the inner rim. Tucking the list into place, I pulled out the card and looked over it. It was an ace. An ace of cupcakes. I took a moment to study it. The picture on the card matched the cupcake the earth pony had attempted to bribe me with to a T. Or in this case, sprinkle.
I simply stared at the card for a long time, taking a drag of the cigarette I had rolled without even thinking. Pinkie Pie (I shuddered at the mere thought of her name) had left it as a sign of her trust. If nothing else, that meant she wasn’t out to get me. Probably. For now. I flicked the lid of my lighter open and shut, a slight chill still running down my spine.
If I kept the card, I would be branded as an ally of Pinkie Pie. This had...effects on how I conducted myself, but I could hide it. The trick was to know when to take it out. I slid the lighter back into place and hid the card back in the brim of my hat. I had a feeling that it was going to be useful sooner rather than later.
I scooped up the bits on the counter with my hoof, or at least attempted to. In reality I just stumbled into the counter. I had no balance and my depth perception was shot. Wonderful. While I was leaning against the counter brooding, I remembered that my eye was supposed to be better by now. Taking hold of the bandage with my magic, I carefully uncoiled it, a spent ice pack falling out about halfway through the process. I blinked rapidly while my eye readjusted to seeing again. For a few seconds I had an odd sensation as my eyes saw desynchronized images, then the recently cleared eye finished adjusting and I was able to see properly once more.
Oh sweet depth perception, how I missed you.
Taking profound joy in the effort, or rather the lack thereof, I scooped the bits up with my hooves and walked toward the door. I had no intention of taking public transportation, but the short walk from the counter and out the door had already begun to drain my stamina. I stepped out the door, a wisp of smoke trailing out behind me, and looked up and down the street. It was mid-afternoon, after lunch, and only a handful of ponies were out. I spotted a nearby trolley stop. No. Instead, I hailed down a taxi, which pulled up next to the curb.
“Good evening, sir.” The pony pulling the cart looked at me, then said “…and thank you for not smoking.” His cheerful voice grated on my nerves.
I took a casual drag of my cigarette. “34th and Hoofington.” I spotted an ash tray filled with sand next to me.
“Yes sir, of course sir.” I heard his voice crack as the conflicting instincts of customer service and company policy collided in his mind. “Once again, thank you for not smoking.” He began to trot off to our destination at a brisk pace, trying very hard to not look at me. To his credit, he was resoundingly successful in that regard.
Under most circumstances, I did not look at another pony's cutie mark. In my line of work, they were less useful than most assumed, and usually only served as a distraction. More often than not, the things were either so vague as to be meaningless or simple red herrings. Besides, they could be hidden either by clothes or by magic. I took another drag of my cigarette, carefully ignoring the ash tray next to me.
The driver was an earth pony with a yellow coat and a pure black mane that was cropped to a respectably short length. Curiosity drove me to look at his cutie mark, which was, of course, a yellow and black taxi wagon. Absolutely wonderful. Sometimes I thought the things were a joke from our creator.
Eventually, we came to my office. After supplementing the bits that Fluttershy had given me with some of my own, I stepped out of the cab and handed the stack to the driver pony. “Keep the change.” I had gone out of my way to keep the cigarette burning until I stepped out.
The driver pony's eyes swiveled from the pile to me to my cigarette. “Thank you, sir. I hope you choose us in the future.” The cracks had spread from his voice to his smile and his eye twitched as he turned away from me and hurried off.
I snickered and snuffed out my stub on the way into the office building. The attendant didn't care what we did in our offices, but he could stop being polite if necessary in the lobby.
“Good afternoon, sir.” The attendant pony greeted me without a second glance. Ah yes, the sound of professional apathy. I was back home.
Giving him my usual greeting, which is to say none at all, I headed for the elevator and pressed the button. Then I waited. To think I had forgotten why I never took the elevator.
After thirty agonizing seconds of standing around like a foal, the doors slid open and I quickly stepped in. I pressed the button for the fourth floor, and when doors slid shut the music started. I am not a pony of the arts. I deal in facts, information, and knowledge. Art was often described to me as truth. Truth was not something I dealt in. All that said, these sounds were horrible. Not horrible in the screeching, cacophonic sense; if they were, somepony could identify the problem. They were simply dull and plodding and listless, as if the music was written just to suck the life out of you.
Just as quickly as they began, the sounds stopped and the doors opened with a painfully cheerful ding. I stepped out and made my way down the hall to my office, opening the door with my magic.
“You're later than usual, Mr. Eye.” Clover's voice was like honey mixed with venom. She was goading me on, not that I could blame her. My impeccable ability to walk in exactly fifteen minutes after she did, regardless of when she arrived, was like a splinter that dug into her at every opportunity.
I paused for a moment in front of the open doorway. This would be fun. Her smile was burning through the wall, her obvious glee at my tardiness apparent. At least now I knew what to get her for her birthday.
Walking into her office, I caught a glimpse of her trademark Cheshire smile before she saw my condition and it fell into a horrified gape. If it wasn't for the fact that she was an earth pony, I would have sworn she teleported over to me. Her previous look of shock had replaced itself with a concerned frown. She stood near me and my legs finally began to give out, causing me to lean into her. “What in Celestia's name did you do to yourself, Keen?” It was one of the few times I had heard her refer to me by my first name. The last time I heard it was when I had forgotten to sign her paycheck. At that time, it was not filled with concern. On an unrelated note, I had never missed another signing. Of anything.
“Well, for one thing, I found two of them,” I grinned, egging her on.
She gave me a look. I knew any and all attempts to pull her strings would fall flat, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me from trying. “Where were they? A vegetable grinder?” She had pulled out a bottle of brandy and glass and was holding them in her mouth, which somehow failed to debilitate her speech at all. How earth ponies do it I'll never know.
Her smile returned as she lead me into my office, “Or maybe a fight ring, I would love to see you try that.” Her grin became wicked. For somepony apparently concerned for my well-being, she seemed very happy about seeing me get hurt.
She sat me down in my chair with firm and unyielding force. “Well, at least whoever put you back together knew what they were doing,” she said as she looked me over, sounding impressed. She had poured a tall glass of the brandy and was now forcing it down my throat. I could feel it burning as it fell into my stomach.
She capped the bottle and turned a questioning eye towards me. “So who’d you find, exactly?”
“Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.” I could feel the brandy beginning to affect me at an alarming rate. There was a time that I could hold my liquor, but that time was long past. I had stopped haphazardly pumping alcohol into my liver while it could still perform basic duties on its own. Instead, I opted to pass the time by slowly filling my lungs with tar. I was planning on going for my arteries next, platelets seemed to be the next big thing.
Clover pulled my notebook out if its place on my harness and flipped it open to the first page, “Oh, one of the two you were looking for.” Clover was allowed to touch my notebooks, provided she did so prudently and wrote nothing in them. At least, that was how I saw it; I don't know how she defined those boundaries and I never asked.
She closed the notebook and placed it on my desk, “Anyway, a Mr. Smoke N' Mirrors called.” She pronounced every capital letter. Impressive. Not even I could manage that. “He said you knew who he was and that he was looking forward to your visit to Canterlot, among other things.” She rolled her eyes to the ceiling at the last part. I dimly looked up to see what she was looking at. She sighed. “And now you're gone. You probably haven't eaten anything today, so I’ll go grab some food for you.”
She may have said something after that, but I missed it. The brandy had taken hold of me and I fell into a drug-induced sleep for the second time in the last twelve hours.
When I woke up, the first thing I saw was a bottle of water and two aspirin. I took the aspirin and drank the bottle. Clover was of the firm belief that any ailment could be solved by sufficient quantities of aspirin, water, and food. I did not question her methods, as they had a nasty habit of being highly effective. Once I had downed everything, I raised myself back up off of the desk.
The next thing I saw was a peanut butter and tomato sandwich, generous on the tomato. I recognized it as the handiwork of the shopkeeper next door. Suddenly acutely aware that I was starving, I began to eat the sandwich using my hooves. After I had inhaled the first half, I slowed down and ate the second at a far more reasonable pace, taking a moment to look around the room. It was still my office, thankfully; I was finally getting back in the habit of waking up where I fell asleep. Using my magic, I pulled out a pencil and flipped open my notebook. Getting a clean page for Fluttershy, I jotted what I knew of her down and at the bottom wrote the first letter of each of the cities that she was visiting in the order that she had written them.
Next up was a page for Pinkie Pie, who got a similar treatment, in addition to a note reminding me to figure out just what organization used a cupcake as their insignia. Hopefully that would give me more information on the crazed mare.
Finally, I flipped to a clean page and created one for Rarity. I needed more information on my employer if I was going to keep working on this case. If nothing else, the last night had shown me that blindly stumbling about looking for her friends would be little more than suicide.
I slipped the notebook back into its place as I finished the last of my sandwich. I went to levitate the necessary materials for a cigarette from my hat, but the magic failed to grab anything. I brought a hoof up to my head and found it bare. My hat was gone. I narrowed my eyes.
Getting off my chair, I noticed that the bandages had been replaced. They were not quite as well done as Fluttershy's, but were still far better than what I could do on my own. I slowly opened the door to my office, sending a searing look at Clover. The worst part was, she knew she could get away with these kinds of things at this point.
The green mare was leaning back in her chair with my hat on her head and her hooves propped up on the desk. The pose matched my own to a T, minus one cigarette. She did not allow smoking in her office.
“Oh, Mr. Eye, you're up.” She smiled at me from under the brim. “How was your nap?” The saccharine malice in her voice floated through the air like a particularly bitter brand of incense.
I just glared at her. There was more than one reason they called me 'Keen Eye;' when the situation called for it, I could glare with the best of them. Pony names are funny like that.
Clover felt the brunt of my stare. To her credit, she held up fairly well, gracefully putting the hat on her desk and returning to a sitting position in a single fluid motion. Her smile was slightly wilted as I returned my gaze to normal and retrieved my hat from the desk.
“What time is it?” I asked, placing the hat back on my head where it belonged.
“You’ve got about forty five minutes until you’re supposed to meet Rarity.” The opportunity to see me squirm returned her smile to its former glory.
Her anticipation was not unrewarded. I froze where I was, my body going stiff, “Where?”
“A penthouse at...” her voice trailed off as she wrote the address on a piece of paper and slid it across the desk to me. For all her talents, she could not talk and write at the same time. As I took it she leaned across the desk. My eyes shot upwards to find hers mere inches away from me.
“Keen...” She sounded concerned. Genuinely, as if she had a reason to be. I looked down at the desk and saw that she held Pinkie Pie’s card beneath her hoof. “Please be careful.” I looked her in the eyes again.
I won't say I understood initially. All I knew was that finding this card in my hat scared her. “More than usual?” In times of stress, I went to what I knew, and right now what I knew was what I did not know.
She slumped back into her chair. “You don't know what this is...” It was hard to tell who she was talking to as she left the card on the desk. She looked tired, more tired than I had been, and that was saying something.
I continued to look at her quizzically. “And you do?” I levitated the card up to eye level, taking another good look at it.
She just laughed, a hollow laugh I had heard far too many times, “You aren't the only pony to pull themselves out of the slums, Keen.” She turned her eyes back on me. “It's been a long time since I’ve seen that card…”
I was riding the elevator up to Rarity's penthouse. What Clover had told me was still bouncing around my head. Apparently, the Ace of Cupcakes was the insignia of a ring of gambling houses that ran across all of Equestria. The organization had their hooves in virtually all gambling that took place in the kingdom. The card branded a pony as one of their operatives, and mine specifically designated me as the personal eyes and ears of a boss. In other words, I was Pinkie Pie’s personal spy, and if I was not mistaken, so was Fluttershy. This was a fact that had migrated into my notebook.
I didn't ask how she knew that. Asking too many questions wasn't how I got her as my secretary.
It hardly made sense. Fluttershy didn't seem the spy type, although if they were a good spy that is exactly the sort of aura a pony would emit. I wasn't a spy for Pinkie; at least if I was, I didn't know about it. That concerned me.
The elevator dinged, signaling that I had arrived at the top of the building and breaking me out of my revere. Why these sorts of ponies insisted on living on top of giant buildings was beyond me. I was willing to bet bits that she would be stroking a cat when I walked in, too. Maybe she’d even have a lava flow somewhere. At this point I wouldn't have put it past her.
The room the elevator emptied into was adorned with what was probably the greatest display of restraint that the white unicorn had ever shown. There were only four jewels, one at the top of each corner, and the whitewashed walls were decorated with a selection of portraits of posh ponies. Their gazes held a universal sternness that various artists had captured with varying levels of success. Directly across from me was a large oak door. Old oak. I couldn't help but wonder just how many handles that the wood had outlasted.
A polite cough came from a desk made from the same oak as the door. I didn't even need to look at the mare. She was a secretary, straight backed, and probably wore glasses. If nothing else, she would probably wear them simply for the effect. I took another look at the door. The wood radiated silence; no pony that I knew of could hear a sound through that kind of door. Whatever pony made this door knew exactly what they were doing. I looked for a way to open it, but there didn’t seem to be a bolt control on this side.
“Can I help you?” The secretary’s voice came from the desk. For a moment, I considered looking at her, but decided against it. She would have to earn whatever exorbitant salary she got.
“No.” I continued to occupy myself by looking the door up and down. The hinges were on this side, meaning that it swung outwards. They looked like gold, and it wasn't paint, but I was willing to bet that they were much tougher than they let on. Still, it was strange; this door was clearly designed to keep things on one side of it, and you don't put hinges on the side you want things not to go through. Hinges can be disassembled relatively easily if the lock proves too much of a challenge.
“If you have no business here, I will call security and they will take you elsewhere.” The secretary was proving to be a rather antagonistic mare, but I had to admire the way she kept any and all emotion out of her voice.
I thought for a moment. I could practically feel the sneer forming on her face. She probably knew who I was and why I was here, but the fact of the matter was that she found me distasteful. If called upon to describe me she would use words like 'obstinate,' 'disheveled,' and 'unkempt.' On one hoof, if I did nothing, she would call security and have me thrown out. On the other, I really didn't want to respond to her just yet, nor did I want her to have a reason to believe that I was supposed to be here besides my own certainty of that fact.
“I don't think that will not be necessary.” Perfect. I returned to my examination of the door.
Even though I couldn’t see her, I knew the sneer had been replaced by a scowl, at least on the inside; it wouldn't surprise me to see that her face hadn’t moved a muscle since I walked in. “I cannot assist you if you do not tell me your business- assuming, of course, you have any business here at all.” Her voice had stressed slightly. I found that rather disappointing; Clover would have tangled me up for at least half an hour before letting me through.
I carefully constructed the next statement without the use of contractions or acknowledgment of her existence. “As I said, I am in no need assistance.” I examined the lock. It was a fine lock. However, it was not a great lock. It would take a skilled pony about thirty seconds to get through. I could not personally pick locks; my levitation simply wasn’t precise enough for that sort of work. However, I knew a good locksmith who could talk endlessly about his craft (and often did). The bolts were probably on the inside and could hold the doors by themselves.
“Then how do you plan on opening the door?” I had broken her. She needed more contact with ponies like me; she could hardly stand up to a stone sitting in her office. Her mind probably worked too fast.
I backed away from the door, taking it another good look at it. As much as I hated to admit defeat, I did not have a way past it. Most doors I came into contact with were unlocked or kicked down (and sometimes both), but that didn’t seem to apply here.
The answer came to me in a flash. I raised one hoof and firmly knocked on the door. Standing back, I calmly waited for an answer. I was far from calm, of course, but I looked the part and that was what mattered.
A few moments of stillness came and went. The silence in the room was quickly becoming oppressive. The mare at the oak desk was starting to become skeptical of my methods. However, the fact that I could feel her stare meant that she was still looking at me. That was good. I wanted that.
The silence thickened and I could feel each second slipping by at an agonizing pace until the door swung open, revealing my employer. She had incredible sense of timing.
“Keen Eye! So glad you could join us.” Her voice was filled with exuberance, but at this point I knew any emotion that came from the unicorn was carefully chosen. Rarity glided over to me where I stood, still a few feet back from the door.
“Please, please, come in, make yourself comfortable.” She looked me up and down, her eyes brushing over the bandages that still covered a good chunk of my body as if nothing were there. “I just want to check on the cooks and see how the meal is coming. I have an old friend over, I hope you don't mind, it's just that you rescheduled so quickly and I didn't have time to redo my calendar, especially since I heard you’re going to Canterlot soon.” Her words were endless, reminding me only too well of another mare I had met with a similar condition. My ear twitched. Clover had told her about my upcoming trip. I knew that Rarity had won over my secretary, but the degree of the infection was far worse than I had imagined.
Using her rapid-fire speech as cover, she ushered me into her penthouse. As we went through the door, it was covered in a purple glow and shut behind us. I heard the bolt thunk into place with an ominous finality. The room she brought me to was well-furnished, but it shared the waiting room’s whitewashed walls. Gemstones were placed at regular intervals along them.
I became aware that Rarity was still talking and returned my attention to her, just in case she said something useful. “Now, I know that you will want to discuss business before the night is out, but I would ask you to refrain from that particular line of questioning until after my friend has left.” She smiled at me reassuringly, but I didn’t fall for it. My defenses had grown back since my meeting with Fluttershy. I noticed that she wasn't wearing a dress this time around, which struck me as odd; she didn’t seem to be much for casualty.
“But enough about that. I want you to introduce you to my old friend.” Her voice quivered with anticipation, and for the first time I suspected that she was not as in control of her emotions as I had first suspected.
She lead me from the labyrinth of hallways to a sitting room, where I found myself face-to-face with the stuff of nightmares once again. “Keen Eye, I want you to meet Pinkie Pie.”
The pink mare waved her hoof crazily at me, “KEEN!” There was a flash of pink. She was in front of me, uncomfortably close, her eyes boring into mine again. “Omigosh, you're Rarity's other guest, I mean, I figured out you were working for her when I talked to you last time, but I didn't think that you would be coming over for dinner especially since last night-“ for a brief moment, she paused to suck in a huge breath of air- “are you alright after that, I'm sorry that I tied you up and everything, but I heard that you were looking for my friends, and I got worried, because I'm not gonna let anypony hurt my friends, and I dropped you off with Fluttershy, but I didn't have a chance to talk to her because we were being chased at the time, I hope she was able to help you get better, but it’s pretty obvious you are better since you're here, but you do look pretty beaten up, have you found out anything else about the girls? The only one of my friends I could keep track of since Twi went on that big project was Fluttershy, and I know you found me and Fluttershy, well I really more of found you and Fluttershy had you dumped on her hoofstep, and she wouldn't send a hurt pony away, she's too nice for that-”
“Give him a chance to breathe, darling!” Rarity laughed. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing at Pinkie Pie or at me, but it was clear that she was back in control. “Well, since you two are already acquainted, I'll go see how supper is coming.” She slid out of the room, leaving me alone with the pink mare.
After my mind had a chance to process the wall of noise that had just been spat out at me, I noticed that Pinkie Pie had moved even closer to me. I tried to move back and put some distance between us, but I was already up against the wall.
I looked straight into her ice blue eyes. “What in Celestia's name are you?” It was as much honest question as it was an attempt to regain ground.
The pink pony stared at me for a moment with a confused look on her face before narrowing her eyes at me suspiciously. She stared me down for a moment until her eyes suddenly shot wide open. “Is this a guessing game?”
“Yes.” It was for me, anyway.
She jumped back, her hooves clapping together happily (I hoped). “I love guessing games!” Before I had a chance to react, she had grabbed me and forced me into one of the sitting room chairs. I cringed in pain, the injuries under my bandages protesting the rough treatment. Pinkie Pie had already taken a seat in the chair opposite me.
As the pain subsided, I began to notice the perfectly stuffed chair that was supporting me. It was comfortable, at least; I would have expected some sort of overstuffed decoration to be used as a chair, but it was apparent that this one was meant to be sat on and then later gotten out of. Not for the first time, I was impressed with my employer. For all her style, she had not forgotten that things were meant to be used.
“So am I a mare?” The pink pony looked at me expectantly, a grin drawn out across her face. Not the manic thing that haunted my mind, but an actual smile. Somehow, that didn’t make it less creepy.
For a moment, my mind spun its wheels fruitlessly trying to make sense of the situation. She was actually playing a guessing game. And I was the judge. What dignity I had left rejected this idea and demanded that I change the topic of conversation immediately. Without responding to her question, I pulled out the card that had appeared in my hat. “Why do I have this?” Pushing the memories of the interrogation to the back of my mind, I locked her in my own gaze.
“Because I gave it to you, silly.” She leaned back in her chair, the massive cloud of pink hair snapping to attention and coiling behind her like some kind of cotton candy snake. “Why else would you have it?” Her tone of voice had lost its crazed edge; now, it was more reminiscent of Rarity's. It occurred to me that I no longer needed to push Rarity to the back of my mind while talking to another pony, meaning that she had far less control over me. Before I could continue that line of thought, though, I noticed that an alligator had curled up in Pinkie's lap. Its vacant, purple eyes seemed to be staring at me, or maybe just off into space somewhere. I couldn’t tell.
The alligator startled me, and it took a few moments for my mind to catch up with the conversation. I didn’t like her response, so I dug deeper, hoping to find some sort of hint as to what she was planning. “Why did you give it to me?”
“It's not nice to answer a question with another question.” It seemed she had dropped the guessing game for another one, and this time it was a game I liked.
“Well, I learned from the best.” I allowed a small smirk to creep across my face.
Pinkie's expression didn’t change, but she began to gently stroke the alligator like a cat. She was getting into character. “How do you know what it is?” The question was no surprise. I had seen it coming a mile away.
“Why did you give it to me?” I asked again, still smirking. Sometimes a broken record can win a fight. If she wanted information from me, she was going to have to work for it. The playing field was different now that I knew what she was capable of.
The pink mare didn’t move a muscle, and yet somehow the smile on her face darkened all on its own. I had seen this before, but I was no more ready for it now than I was the first time. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that her hair was straight and her toothy grin had morphed into a small, dangerous smile. “That is my little secret, Mr. Eye,” She effortlessly picked up the fully grown alligator on her lap and talked to it as if it were a filly.
Actually, I take that back. Fillies get treated with more dignity.
“He'll figure it out, won't he, Gummy? Yes he will! Mr. Eye is a clever pony.” Her attention was devoted entirely to the alligator in her hooves.
If I was going to make any sort of progress, I needed to say something that would get her attention. “I know what the card means, Pinkie.” My lips didn’t want to let the name pass through them, but I forced it out anyway. If I started now, I might be able to say it easily in a year or so.
She stopped snuggling her alligator enough to look at me once more. “Oh, you do, do you?” I would never have thought that sentence could be so terrifying. Before I could dwell further on it, I noted that the alligator had begun to gnaw aimlessly on Pinkie's mane.
“What makes you think I’m going to spy for you?” I glared at the pink mare in an effort to drive home just how much I knew. I hoped to the high sisters that I wasn't supposed to know this yet.
Pinkie's smile faltered and was soon replaced by a look of curiosity. I was in. She cocked her head at me, dragging her pet's head up a few inches in the process. “How do you know that, I wonder?”
Rarity burst through the door with a show of splendor. She managed to make the white walls of the room look dull with how brilliantly her coat shown. I suppressed the urge to scoff. I knew an illusion when I saw one.
Pinkie's hair inflated immediately with the same strange squeaking sound that I had heard the night before. “Oh, Rarity, you look absolutely radiant!” All traces of our conversation disappeared; it was as if we had spent the last few minutes talking about hoofball. I had instinctively slipped the card back into the inside of my hat the moment the door opened.
“How nice of you to say, Pinkie!” Rarity glowed under the praise of her friend. “I wasn't too sure when I heard about the use of magic to enhance one's appearance, but I’ve found that just a touch here and there can be just the thing to brighten up a pony’s looks.” She turned to me, probably to ask what I thought of it, but her gaze was instead drawn to the floor. “Oh, Gummy seems to have taken a liking to you.”
I was about to ask what she meant when I realized the alligator's mouth was already halfway to my head. I barely managed to let out a strangled scream before the creature’s massive jaws shut over my muzzle.