Spike, Pony Investigator
The Mystery of the Magical Music
Mares. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. Admittedly, it’s really hard to find somewhere without ‘em. They’re everywhere! And every time, every time, I think I can just settle down quietly another mare walks into my life.
Hey. The name’s Spike. If you’re from Ponyville, you probably know me as the assistant to the librarian. In fact, most ponies from Canterlot knew me as that as well. However, those that work on the fringes of the law know me all too well. That line send shivers down your spine? It should; I’m pretty awesome.
I was in the library. I like the library. It’s quiet and nopony bothers you much. At least, that’s how it is in Ponyville. In Canterlot the word had gotten around and ponies always knew how to find me. Things were quieter here, aside from the crises that seem to pop up every other twenty-two minutes. Thankfully, Twilight and her friends usually dealt with those, leaving me to my own devices.
It was that portion of fall where all the pegasus ponies have it cloudy and windy every day and they tended to bring up words like gloomy and grey. Those days where it’s cold but you know it’s going to get much, much colder. It seemed to rain all day and all night, this time of year. It was relatively dry today but you could tell. it probably wouldn’t last.
There was a knocking on the library's door. I was, of course, at the top of a precariously balanced ladder with my hands full of books. I heard Twilight call, “Can you get the door, Spike?” I frowned in concentration and stepped down a rung. As I went to move my other foot the ladder started to twist and wobble. I managed to keep my balance for a few seconds before everything toppled down.
The impact with the ground would’ve been bad enough, but I soon found myself under a pile of large heavy books that had fallen on me from the same height. I stiffly emerged, muttering curses to hear Twilight call out again, “Never mind, Spike! I got it.” I bit down a growl of annoyance and started picking up the books again.
I wasn’t left to my task for very long, however. The purple librarian came looking for me, a slightly confused look on her face. “Spike, there’s... uh... someone from Canterlot here to see you?” she said, indicating the pony hiding underneath a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. I sighed silently upon her mention of Canterlot. No matter how far you tried to run, your old life always seems to find you.
The pony asked Twilight to leave. She complied with a bewildered shrug. I picked up the books, mostly to show the mystery mare that I wasn’t just some servant to be called up on a whim. When they were stacked in a semi-stable tower I turned to the mare, noting the (vaguely familiar) midnight blue of her fur. The sleepy beast of recollection stirred but didn’t awaken. With a barely hidden sigh I asked, “How can I help you?”
“My sister once told me that if I was ever in trouble I should find you,” she said, dodging the question like a bad magician dodges rotten produce. Her response still gave me enough of an idea of why she was here, if her being from Canterlot wasn’t enough.
“I’m sorry to tell you this after you’ve come all this way, but I don’t really do that sort of thing anymore. I’ve retired from the private eye business.”
The mystery mare nodded gravely. “I was afraid this might be the case. My sister told me I should mention her name and remind you that you owe her a few favors.”
I laughed, probably a bit louder than was polite. “I doubt it. There’s not many ponies I owe favors to. Plenty owe me but I’m good about paying my debts.”
“Her name’s Sunny.”
The laugh instantly died in my throat, dragging all traces of amusement with it like drowning swimmer. The mental dots connected and formed a picture that I didn’t like, like a love letter from your sweetheart with somepony else’s name at the top. I felt preemptively tired. Draconian intuition is very rarely wrong. I slowly opened a drawer on the desk I had set the books and pulled out a pack of Marelboro suckers. Twilight’d be upset; she was trying to get me to quit. I unwrapped the sugary treat and took a long drag on it.
Very few knew that Celestia was only the princess’s last name. Even when her sister had returned, everyone still called her Celestia. But her first name was Sunny, a quite fitting name, just like...
“Princess Luna, I presume?” I presumed.
She gave a stiff nod. Her hat and sunglasses glowed with a black light as she levitated them off. Her mane billowed around her pretty face like... well like a curtain of night. Yeah, I know that’s an obvious metaphor but it fits. And she was quite pretty. We’re not talking Rarity-level beauty here, but she was still a looker, even though she had her face set in an emotionless mask.
“What can I do for you, your highness?” I asked, not bothering to bow in the presence of one of Equestria’s rulers.
“I won’t mince words with you, dragon. Celestia has gone missing.”
I bit back the urge to laugh in disbelief. Either she had the ultimate poker face or she was telling the truth. Ponies always have subtle signs that give away the fact that they are lying. Or at least, subtle to other ponies. They might was well dance the cancan under a neon sign that screams “I’M LYING!” for as much as I can see. Perhaps it’s my predatory dragon instincts. Since she wasn’t in any poker tournaments I had to assume she was telling the truth. “How long ago?”
“About two days ago. She was on her way to Ponyville but she never arrived.”
I raised an eyebrow, or rather I opened one eye a little wider and closed the other a bit, which is as close as those of us without eyebrows can get. “Pardon my disbelief,” I began, “but everything seems to be working just fine. The sun’s still come up these last two days and we didn’t hear anything about the princess visiting.”
“The moon still rose in my absence,” she pointed out. “I have been raising the sun. And w- I believe she meant it to be a surprise visit. Something about her student ‘freaking out’ as she put it, whenever she plans to come.”
I had to agree, that made sense. Something about Celestia made Twilight’s grip on sanity loosen considerably. I was still trying to get ahold of all the corner pieces so that I had some structure to build this puzzle. I asked, “Why do you need me to find her? Don’t you have guards, and armies, and the resources of a nation at your beckon call?”
“Yes but... we are still not widely trusted,” she sighed. “If word got out that Celestia had vanished w- I would immediately be locked up. After all, who has the most to gain from her disappearance?
I nodded sagely, taking another lick of the sucker. Everything she was saying added up. But I still wasn’t going to say yes. That chapter of my life was closed. “Listen, princess,” I began. “I’d love to help, I really would. But I’m retired. Try Spyglass or Searchlight in Canterlot. They’re a little inexperienced but they’re enthusiastic. Or go see Pony Joe. Tell ‘em I sent you and he’ll help you find somepony.”
For just a second, her mask slipped and her face contorted in sadness. A film of tears shimmered on her eyes and she bit her lip. For just a moment she was no longer the goddess of the moon, one of the rulers of Equestria. She was just a mare whose sister was missing and needed help. Then she remembered herself and regained her composure. “Very well,” she said stiffly, an almost unnoticeable tremor in her voice. “Thank you for your time. I shall see myself out.”
As she headed for the door, I swore silently. She just had to make a sad face, she just had to be a pretty mare, she just had to be desperate. If she hadn’t been any of those things I could’ve just let her leave, let it be somepony else’s problem, I wouldn’t have thought anything about it. There wouldn’t be any long, sleepless nights, any untidy fights, anypony trying to beat the stuffing out of me. I could’ve just gone back to cleaning the library. But as soon as her expression slipped I had about as much willpower as your average jellyfish.
Mares are going to be the death of me.
I reluctantly made a decision, one that every brain cell, every fiber of my being screamed against. “Luna, wait!” I cried as she magically opened the door. “I’ll take the case,” I sighed.
Her face lit up like a firework on a moonless night. “Oh, Spike! Most joyous occasion!” she exclaimed, losing a bit of her regal composure (as well as her modern speech patterns) again as she leaped back across the room and threw her front hooves around me. Now, I’ve been put into bear hugs by bouncers so big they can stand at the top of a hill and cause an eclipse. Princess Luna’s backbreaking embrace made those feel like being tickled with a feather. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, Spike,” I heard her say over the sound of my cracking, protesting vertebra. Then she seemed to remember herself. She released me (at which point I tried to gasp for breath in the most dignified way possible) and said in her more usual clipped, formal tones, “Erm... We mean, thou hast our eternal gratitude.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I half coughed, half muttered, still annoyed at myself for agreeing. After realigning my spine, my clawed hand once again disappeared into a drawer and emerged holding a notepad and pencil. I quickly scribbled down all the information she had already told me then asked, “Alright, how are you covering for Celestia’s absence?”
“I’ve told the castle that she is ill, nothing serious but she is not to be disturbed,” she said.
“Good, good. Somepony might get suspicious though. Do you know any doctors you can trust? Yes? Send them to ‘check’ on Celestia at least once a day. That should keep ponies from questioning your story. Now, is there anything else you know?”
There was a brief pause of concentration (the kind I was all too familiar with) of somepony dredging their memory for minor details. At last she said, “Yes, there is one more thing. Celestia took two guards with her. They were flying to Ponyville, on the edge of the Everfree Forest. They said that they heard some strange music and the next thing they knew they were lying on the ground, slightly bruised.”
I wrote that down. “I may want to talk to them later on, but that’s a good enough lead for now.” I started to lead her to the door. “Now, you’d best get back to Canterlot before anypony notices. If I think of anything else or find any new information I’ll send you a letter. If you remember anything or need to tell me anything, send me a letter. I’m guessing you know the spell.”
She thanked me again then flew off, doing a few relieved loop-de-loops. I closed the door slowly and then found my way to the kitchen. I was sure Twilight would want to ask me some questions about the stranger. It’d be easier to lie to her once I got a few doughnuts in me.
But the purple unicorn seemed to anticipate something along these lines as she was waiting for me. “What was that about, Spike?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant about it even though she had asked before I was fully through the doorway.
“It’s private, Twilight,” I said sternly, utilizing my rarely-used Serious Voice. She looked disappointed but she dared not challenge the authority of the Serious Voice. I pressed on, “And I’m going to need a few days off to deal with it.”
And here she really frowned. “Now, Spike, you know you don’t just get ‘days off’ from your chores.”
“Please, Twilight, this is important.”
“Oh, yes, I’m sure the fate of Equestria rests on your shoulders,” she said with a roll of her eyes, sarcasm collecting into a lovely puddle as it dripped off her words.
If only she knew. In truth, I could’ve told her everything then and there. Her magic probably would’ve come in handy. But even though she’s a smart gal when it comes to books and magic, she wouldn’t pass any of the tests of the street. Me? I’ve earned a doctorate from the university of the streets (in addition to a bachelor's degree from the lying-in-the-gutter community college). Twilight has spent her whole life inside. No, it wouldn’t have been right for me to drag her into this. “C’mon, Twi. The library’s already in tip-top shape and nopony’s gonna come out for a book in this weather. I just need a few days.”
She took a few moments’ deliberations before sighing, “Okay, Spike. But,” she added sharply, cutting off my mental celebrations, “you have to ask Owloysius to do your chores for you.”
“Thanks, Twilight,” I tried not to sigh, trying to hide my irritation. Me and the nocturnal assistant never really saw eye to eye. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to him for saving me from that dragon but... it was just a huge blow to my ego. As in, that pillow with wings beat someone I couldn’t? We were on speaking terms but he always seemed to be annoying me just for the fun of it. He... well, just read on and see.
I unfortunately was unable to reach the box of doughnuts in the pantry with Twilight’s stern gaze on me. Another bad habit of mine she was trying to break. As though I hadn’t seen her hit the sweets hard enough to make her forget that she can’t dance. I’d have to go for the glazed rings after talking to the bird (I’d need them even more after that).
I ascended the staircase to our living quarters. Peewee fluttered down and chirped a greeting. He settled on my shoulder and I absent-mindedly patted his head. Owloysius was (un)fortunately there, sleeping on his post. I took another moment to compose myself and then shook him a bit, saying, “Hey! Owloysius! Wake up! I’ve gotta talk to you.”
His eyelids smoothly slid open in that creepy way only he can do. “Who?” he asked.
I gritted my teeth. And so it starts. “You! Why else would I be waking you up? Look, I need you to do me a favor.”
“Me, Spike! For Celestia’s sake, pay attention! Look, I need to take a couple of days to help somepony out and I won’t be able to do my chores around here. I was wondering if you could cover for me.”
“Gah!” I rubbed a hand on my forehead and let out a sigh laden with smoke, as tends to happen when I get annoyed, in an effort to calm down. “Look, bird, if you don’t want to, just say so.”
“Who?” he asked. I threw both arms skyward in exasperation, almost dislodging Peewee, who gave an indignant squawk. Sometimes I felt like all that stupid owl could say was “who”. Then my common sense would kick in and remind me that that’d just be silly. He was clearly just trying to get a rise out of me. I started for the stairs but he ruffled himself, making me turn. His eyes seemed to be smiling and he gave me a cheerful wink. I interpreted this as a yes.
I growled in the back of my throat and gritted my teeth again but just decided to drop it. That feathery irritant wasn’t worth the effort today.
I returned to the main library, which had a distinct lack of a certain purple unicorn. Twilight was still in the kitchen, which would allow me to grab my personal artifacts.
I rolled the ladder over and climbed to the top, finding myself face to face with a neglected, old shelf. These were massive books, generally my size or bigger. The type of books you can tell, just from looking at ‘em, that upon opening them, you would find the musty, dusty smell of old paper and several columns of extremely large words in the smallest possible script. Nopony, not even Twilight, ever read these manuscripts. They were acquiring a lovely coating of dust. I pulled out two that the observant eye might notice were sticking out a bit more than their peers. Displaying remarkable strength in my arm, I balanced the heavy tomes on one hand and reached into the recently vacated space to pull out a tattered book.
After carefully replacing the thick sources of knowledge and climbing back down the ladder, I examined the worn book with a faint smile of nostalgia. The Adventures of Sherlock Hooves. When I was much younger it had been my favorite bedtime story. Tales of Sherlock Hooves, the greatest of detectives, solving mysteries, as told by his friend, Dr. Trotson. And of course, Twilight being Twilight, we would traverse huge chunks of at once, with only a little prompting on my part. These had been the stories that first made me dream of being a detective, they had directly lead to my career as a P.I.
Of course, real life was nothing like its fictional counterpart. Despite how inspiring this book had been for me, it did little to prepare me for the long cold nights, the unpleasant sights, and sheer amount of ponies who wish to harm you that comes with the sleuthing territory. That wasn’t to say there weren’t rewards. The bits were nice but seeing ponies reunited, helping them at their most desperate, had always given me a warmth in my gut that made my inner furnace feel like a giant ice cube.
Naturally, my equine guardian had no idea of my escapades. The Canterlot library had a full staff; it was easy for me to sneak off for my own business. And then Twilight had been sent to Ponyville with me in tow and I retired without much reluctance.
The book in front of me had definitely seen better days. The cover was worn, frayed, ripped and, due to an accident years ago where it had been dropped during a storm, the words were unreadable. But it was sentimental for me so, rather than throwing it out, I had cut out a section in the middle and used it to store my most prized possessions.
I flipped it open. Everything was wrapped in a tan cloth. I pulled this out and allowed its contents to spill out on the floor, revealing the cloth to be a trenchcoat. I put it on and grabbed a rather squashed object of the same color. With a bit of fixing and un-squishing it became a fedora matching the coat. I put this on as well. Why? Because how else is a seasoned detective like me supposed to dress?
Aside from one other object, the rest was just sentimental junk. But this one had some use. I held it up tenderly, like an old friend. I instinctively began lining up sights and my clawed finger wrapped itself around the trigger. This squirt gun, a CARA. millimeter, had seen me through more firefights than a retired firefighter could shake an extinguisher at. At the twitch of a finger it would shoot a blob caramel with the accuracy of a cobra. Nopony wanted to get up when every movement further glued their fur into a sticky, unpleasant mess.
After replacing the book, I went about and collected the essentials: multiple packs of suckers (without Twilight’s deterring presence I’d easily go through a pack a day), extra pencils and paper, a hip-flask full of mini-doughnuts, some walking-around bits, a roll of duct tape, a sealed container full of pepper, and a handful of paperclips (trust me on those last three, they’ll come in handy later). These were stashed in my coat’s many pockets.
As I dug through the library to find these objects, I took the opportunity to think through the case. It didn’t take long. For starters, Princess Celestia was missing, presumably kidnapped. The goddess of the sun doesn’t simply get lost in the woods or waylaid by some misfortune. I knew her, more than most. She’s shrewd. You’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to pull the wool over her eyes. This means that my job is all the more difficult. I’ll have to deal with somepony who can outmaneuver the princess. Great.
Then there was the only other piece of evidence I knew of. The guards had heard some strange music and blacked out. I’m not exactly what you’d call a musical expert (I can hold my own on the piano, but that’s about it) but I knew several ponies who were. Scattered between here and Canterlot were at least seven ponies who came to mind. I would definitely be paying visits to as many of them as possible.
I wrote myself a note to ask Princess Luna to send the guards my way and to tell me where specifically they had woken up. I wrote down the musicians I’d need to contact as well. It wasn’t much to go on, but it’d still take me awhile to do it.
My thoughts then turned to the next phase in the operations. Skilled as I am, I’m only one dragon. Experience and quite a few ponies with blunt objects have taught me that one dragon tends to wake up beaten senseless, lying in the gutter. I needed a partner. A certain pegasus came to mind, somepony I’d worked with in the past. But she wouldn’t like being dragged out of retirement any more than I did. And it was between her and one of Ponyville’s regular citizens, who wouldn’t last twelve minutes on this case.
Hands in my pockets, shoulders hunched against the chill autumn breeze, I set out into Ponyville.
Several minutes later, I reached my destination. It wasn’t a huge place, but it had a second floor and a yard, which was far more than you would get in Canterlot. There were a few toys scattered amongst the grass, signs of the child that lived here. With a wry smile I knocked on the door.
From inside a voice bellowed, “MOM! DOOR!”
A different voice replied with equal volume, “CAN YOU GET IT? I’M A LITTLE BUSY AT THE MOMENT!”
Then came the sound of what was probably a toy being set down mid-play and the clip-clop of tiny hooves. The door was opened by a light purple unicorn filly.
“Hey, Dinky,” I said casually. “Your mom around?”
She nodded. “Just a sec,” she said, turning around. I flinched as she yelled loud enough to make a jet taking off sound like a spring breeze, “MOM! THERE’S A DRAGON HERE FOR YOU!”
“LET HIM IN, MUFFIN! I’LL BE DOWN IN A SECOND!”
Dinky Doo didn’t even turn back around to say “come in” or anything. She just walked into another room. I stepped inside and closed the door, interpreting the yelled instructions to her daughter to be an invitation in. Out of habit I took a quick sweep of my surroundings. This seemed like the midpoint of the house, the central nexus where you can get to everywhere else. To my left and right were rooms and in front of me was a hall leading to what I guessed was the kitchen. A stairway ran parallel to the hall.
From said stairway I heard the sound of hooves, followed by the appearance of a familiar grey mare. She was looking a little ruffled at the moment, having abruptly stopped whatever she was doing. She had adopted a dopey smile, which she dropped as her mismatched eyes flashed with recognition.
“Hey, Spike! Long time no see,” she said, sticking out a hoof.
“Yeah, it’s been awhile, huh, Bright Eyes?” I replied, shaking the proffered limb.
She gave a wry smile. “You’re always gonna call me that, aren’t you?”
I nodded sagely. “Yep, ‘fraid so.” Bright Eyes didn’t go by Bright Eyes anymore. Official documents in the town hall listed her as Ditzy Doo. Most likely these documents were faked, done by some old forger friends, or hay, maybe she actually got a name change. Unofficially, she generally went by the nickname Derpy Hooves. But I had known her as Bright Eyes too long to call her anything else.
Bright Eyes and I had worked together back in Canterlot with some regularity. But when she had found out she was expecting she had immediately packed up and left the big city, hardly stopping to say goodbye. From what I gathered she didn’t have a very happy foalhood and she wanted to make sure her own foals didn’t as well. I also speculate that her mother had pretty much been a witch, with a heavy emphasis on the “b”. After all, it takes a sick sense of humor to name a child with such a severe lazy eye “Bright Eyes”. But this was all guesswork on my part; the old turf we used to work had come with a lot of no questions attached.
Bright Eyes had multiple talents that made her valuable in the private eye business. For starters she had a wicked right hook. I knew this from experience. On one of the few occasions where we’d had employers with conflicting interests she’d walloped me pretty good. I came to buried in a pile of bricks. They had been arranged into a wall before I’d hit them. It was a mystery where this outrageous strength came from, since she looked no bigger than your average mare. Still, nopony questioned how the grey mailmare was able to lift the heaviest of deliveries on her own.
Her second helpful feature was her intelligence. She could connect the dots faster than most anypony I’ve met. She can worm answers out of ponies without even asking the questions. A big part of this is an act she puts on. Her lazy eye makes her automatically look stupid. She acts foolish and ditsy and because of this, ponies think she’s harmless. I tried something like that once, but no matter how stupid I acted or how much stuff I knocked over, nopony seemed to notice any change. I guess I’m just bad at playing something so patently the opposite of my true nature.
One yellow eye flicked to the room Dinky had wandered off to (the other eye moved as well, just not the same direction). “Let’s go upstairs and we can talk about the reason for your visit. Unless you were just coming to get the library a mailbox,” she teased, heading up the stairs.
I bristled a bit at the quip. I had never liked the mail system. Some deep inner part of my psyche must be really proud of my ability to send and receive letters instantly hated the competition, which was odd because the rest of me hated it. You know that extreme nausea and horrible gagging feeling that comes with vomit? Imagine that, but with fire. I guess someone trying to make a duty unnecessary makes us cling to it, regardless of how much we originally liked it. Back when the post offices had been starting I had been vehemently outspoken against them, insisting they’d never catch on. So vehemently in fact, that I’d made a wager with a certain pegasus that had gone uncollected due to a sudden relocation. She’d probably forgot about it though.
“It’ll never last,” I proclaimed. “Just a fad, it’ll pass soon enough.”
“Funny thing, I believe you said something to that effect a couple years back.” She paused on the top step. “Now that I think about it...” She turned and held out a hoof expectantly. “Where’s my twenty bits?”
“Oh, banish it. I was hoping you’d forgotten,” I grumbled, rummaging about in a pocket to grab the coins.
She lead me into a small office (so small I suspected it was intended to be a closet) which contained a desk cluttered with paper, presumably work taken home from the post office. With a slight jump and a few flaps of her wings she cleared the desk and turned to face me on the other side. Deciding to start with small talk rather than asking her to temporarily give up her lifestyle I inquired, “How goes the life of a mom?”
Her face easily settled into a smile. “You remember how tired and sore we were after that smuggling case with those twins, Shipping and Handling?” I winced, but nodded. “Imagine feeling like that for years.”
I gave an appreciative whistle.
“Y’know, at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.”
I half smiled and nodded. “Dinky’s a cute kid.”
“Yeah, Sparkler was at that age too. If Dinky’s anything like her sister, I am not looking forward to when she turns into a teenager.”
I laughed and lapsed into silence. That spring of conversation dried up pretty quick.
“Now that pleasantries out of the way, what’s the deal?” she asked.
I proceeded to summarize the princess’s visit. I don’t need to repeat it, you guys already know. As I waxed the tale I had to resist the urge to start on a sucker. I’ve had a enough interactions with fillies (mostly an energetic trio of crusaders) to know two things. First, they show up at exactly the worst moment and secondly they will do so regardless of any barricades. Bright Eyes was trying to “set good examples” for her foals, which I’m pretty sure translates out to “do everything you tell them not to during school hours or so late at night that it’s tomorrow” for us non-parents.
“... and that’s the situation,” I concluded.
She heaved out a huge sigh. “And you want me to help you.” It wasn’t a question. I still nodded just the same. She turned away (an impressive feat in the small space) as she said, “I dunno, Spike. When I left Canterlot I was done. I wanted to make sure my daughter would live somewhere safe. More than that. I wanted to make sure that I’d always be there for her. And I’ve been doing that for years. And you want me to just up and return to that type of life?”
Banish it. She had a much better argument than my own “I don’t wanna!” but I pressed on, nonetheless. “Well... it’s not just for me. It is a matter of national security, after all.” She didn’t say anything, which I guessed was an invitation to continue, to give her some well-prepared speech about acts of righteousness for the sake of doing good, of this being a civic duty to help repay the debt to our country, and how we both secretly longed to return to our old lives. Only problem was, I didn’t have a speech. (Plus, only one of them might, might, have had a grain of truth to them. The first two were complete loads.) So I fell back on the most reliable method of persuasion.
“Look,” I stated flatly, “there’s a dozen muffins and a thirty percent cut in it for you.”
She whirled around instantly (almost grazing her nose on a wall), a gleam in her eyes. If my weakness was a pretty face, Bright Eyes’ weakness was muffins. She loved those bald cupcakes. But you can’t get ahold of ‘em too well ‘round here. Sugarcube Corner generally goes in for more sugary treats.
“Make it two baker’s dozen and fifty percent,” she said, trying to appear nonchalant and failing horribly.
“Two dozen and thirty-five percent. By the time I buy the muffins it’ll be even.”
“Alright lowest I’ll go, two dozen and forty percent. Oh, and you get Twilight to give Dinky magic lessons.” In response to my raised eyebrow she stated, “Ordinarily I can teach her anything she needs help with on her own but in this case...” She tapped her forehead to indicate her lack of a horn. “And Sparkler’s not the best at it either. Those’re my conditions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.”
I pretended to deliberate over it. She’s been away longer than I thought. Used to, she would’ve been walking away with sixty percent or more. “Alright,” I conceded. “Though, I can’t promise Twilight’ll agree. But I’ll try.” That was another lie on my part, Twilight would try to teach anyone anything. But that was a lesson you learn early on in the PI game; you always tried to exaggerate the difficulty of anything you do. “So we have a deal?”
She took one last moment to consider then stuck out her hoof. “Alright, I’ll help you out. Just for old time’s sake.”
I grabbed the proffered limb and gave it a firm shake with a wry smile. Unless “old time’s sake” was code for “you’re paying me” she was much more sarcastic than I remembered. Or maybe it was ironic. I never can get those alliterative terms straight. “So, you need to get time off from the-” I gritted my teeth, “-post office?”
A quick nod. “And I’ll need to see if Sparkler can watch Dinky.”
“Right. Well, howzabout you go take care of anything you need to. I’ve got some inquiries I can start on in the meantime. What say we meet in front of Town Hall at sundown?”
“Sounds good,” she said, extending a hoof. “Hopefully in that time I’ll have realized what I just agreed to and worked through the ensuing rage in a way that does not involve wringing your neck.”
I shook her hoof with a hearty laugh. “There’s the Bright Eyes I know and love. Glad to see parenthood hasn’t removed your desire for wanton violence.” She rolled her eyes (and for those who haven’t seen Bright Eyes roll her eyes, lemme tell ya, it’s quite a sight) and suppressed a laugh.
And that was that. After a bit more dialogue that would just feel like padding to you guys, I departed. The winds had picked up in my time spent at Bright Eyes’. Between my coat and inner furnace, I was warm enough but the gusts still jabbed at my scales like an like a tiny, invisible army bearing spears.
Presumably because of the stinging wind, the streets were pretty empty. These early weeks of fall were always like this. The sudden drop in temperature drove everpony who didn’t have to be out and about inside. Even pegasi, who are pretty unfazed by the cold, were shut away indoors. This was to my advantage, as it would mean that the ponies I needed to find would hopefully be at home.
The aforementioned ponies were all musicians. As “strange music” was one of my two leads (and the other one involved asking around the Everfree Forest, which I was reluctant to do without Bright Eyes) I decided to question those who made music. There could be some ancient magical spell in song form that did... something. I dunno, which is why I needed to ask around. I decided to start with Ponyville’s resident DJ, Vinyl Scratch.
Those familiar with the small size of Ponyville might question whether it was big enough to warrant a residential disc jockey. And, ordinarily, their confusion would be justified. However, whenever you have a demand, supply always turns up. In this case, the demand was named Pinkie Pie. She threw enough parties to make an army of musical ponies drop dead from exhaustion. The pink hurricane of energy was a competent enough DJ herself, but that kept her from doing much of the actual partying. Hence, Vinyl Scratch.
As I approached her home I tried to recall my past interactions with her. It didn’t take long. Aside from occasional greeting in passing, I had really only talked with her when I was helping Rarity with that fashion show. She had been a bit odd, but given that her boss was mainly Pinkie Pie, that was excusable. I wasn’t quite sure how she’d respond to me turning up and asking her a bunch of questions. But then again, since my questions were all music-centered I could always feign an interest in taking up the disc jockey profession.
Sparing only a quick pause to straighten my coat I knocked on her door. And waited. And waited. And knocked again. And waited some more. Most likely she simply wasn’t home and I should come back later. It then occurred to me that being in possession of records and headphones, she could be inside, tuning the world out. I tried the door. It was unlocked. After a split second deliberation with my manners, I opened the door and stepped inside, hollering, “Hey, Vinyl! Vinyl Scratch! You home?”
A wave of silence answered me. I was in the act of closing the door when I felt a subtle sense of dread, like someone not only walking over, but littering, dancing, and emptying their bladder on my grave. Something was wrong here. I stepped back inside and closed the door, senses heightened.
It only took me a second to realize that I could still feel the chill breeze even though the door was closed. Vinyl's home was set up similar to a smaller version of Bright Eyes', a room to the left, a hallway leading to a kitchen to the front and stairs to the right. The breeze was coming from the hall, so I headed down that way, eyes peeled for anything that seemed out of sorts.
Now, having never even owned very many objects in my life, let alone a house, I am not privy to the thought processes of a homeowner. But the open, shattered window above the sink definitely didn't seem usual. I think one would cover the hole and lock it... unless one were unable to do so. The fact that this window was large enough for your average pony to squeeze through (okay, maybe it would require some shoving, but it was doable with only a little discomfort) also threw up a few red flags.
A quick search of the lower floor revealed nothing else amiss (or at least nothing someone who didn't live there would notice). I halfheartedly hoped that perhaps this had just been a simple robbery. It would make things much simpler than the scenario forming in my mind. Some would call it pessimism, leaping to this particular conclusion. I call it experience. With the reluctance of a cat swimming across the ocean, I climbed upstairs.
The third thing I noticed about the room was the huge speakers dominating one wall. The woofers alone were bigger than me. They completely concealed the wall from view, like a monolith dedicated to music. I couldn't imagine the amount of noise complaints these earned Vinyl.
The second thing I noticed was the size of the room. It was the same size as the downstairs area but without any walls, so it felt like a small storage area. There was more than sufficient room for the bed and turntable shoved against one wall and the stacks of records, rising like stalagmites.
The first thing I noticed were the signs of struggle. The sheets on the bed were thrown askew, like somepony had been roughly dragged off while sleeping. Several stacks of records between the bed and stairs had been knocked over. There were black shards, indicating that a record or two had been shattered, either as an act of defense or as a means to subdue a struggling captive. A patch of singed carpet indicated some sort of magical blast. Maybe if it were fresher I could've gleaned a little bit more info from it, but it was at least a day or two old. Everything pointed to somepony breaking in in the dead of night and spiriting Vinyl away, without even the courtesy to clean things up as they left - the sign of either an extremely incompetent criminal or a criminal so confident in themselves that they need not worry about evidence.
"Man, I hate being right," I muttered to myself as I dug around for my notepad.
"So you just walked in and found the house trashed?" asked the young blue mare. I nodded in agreement.
Ponyville is not known for its crime. This is mainly due to its small size. When you know everyone in town it makes stealing much more awkward. However, to not have some sort of police force boarders on suicidal stupidity.
And I have to admit, it was interesting to compare Ponyville to Canterlot in terms of police efforts. In the capital, there would be at least half a dozen officers swarming the scene of the crime, taking photos, scouring for evidence.
At the moment, I was being interviewed by half the Ponyville police force. And I don't mean that multiple ponies took statements from me, or that I was barraged by questions from a crowd of cops. No, what I meant was that there were two of them, and one was taking a statement from me.
"‘ight," she garbled around the pencil she was using to write down my responses. She spat it out and critically consulted the notepad. "And what was your reason for visiting Ms. Scratch?" Miranda Rights continued on with her checklist of questions. She was just barely out of school and still very wet behind the ears as a cop. She was following the book, word for word. This was probably her first inquiry.
"I've been considering taking up DJ-ing as a hobby. I was going to see if she gave me any pointers," I lied. That seemed a safe enough excuse.
She nodded as her father and the other half of the police force walked down the stairs. She turned to him and tore off a salute . "Statement from the witness recorded. Permission to search the scene of the crime for evidence, captain?"
I noticed the corners of his mouth twitch in amusement. "Go ahead," he said and she tried and failed to eagerly run up the stairs and maintain her stiff pose and salute at the same time.
I couldn't help but laugh at her enthusiasm as I pulled out a pack of suckers. I offered him one. "To have such energy, eh?" I commented.
The grizzled, grey stallion grinned and gratefully took the proffered sucker. Watcher had been a royal guard for a time before stepping down to just be a cop. His eyes spoke of experience, of having seen things nopony should have to see, easily separating him from the naive ponies around here.
In truth I didn't know much more about Watcher than that. If I hadn't been trying to retire I probably would've done some background checks on him. Now I wish I had. Not knowing how well connected he was and how much he knew was disconcerting to say the least.
"You say you came in and found the place already ransacked?" he clarified.
"Opened the door and yelled her name a couple of times and realized it was windy inside," I nodded.
He thoughtfully sucked on the lollipop. "And you immediately wrote me after you found the broken window?"
"After I discovered the mess upstairs."
"And you wanted some DJ lessons?"
"So what's with the CARA. millimeter? You think you might need some help persuadin’ her?"
My hand automatically flew to the coat's inner pocket where I kept my gun. I frowned at myself. I really have been in retirement too long if I was reacting on instincts. "Hey, I'm a suave young dragon. I never know when the mares are just going to throw themselves at me," I said, trying the humor route.
He wasn't amused. "Now, Spike, why don't we level with each other here, eh? I keep in contact with the boys back in Canterlot, as I'm sure you do." He stared me in the eye. "Much as you've tried to stay off the radar, there aren't many dragons around. Overall, I hear you're a good kid." I bristled a bit here at being called a kid, but he continued, "But, I also know about your time spent in the Pastia. Even if that was an undercover job, you had to do plenty of lawbreaking to do it. And I don't know what that's done to your mind." He took a step closer, getting right in my face. "Let me tell you something. Ponyville ain't like Canterlot. Crimes don't go unsolved around here. If I find out you had anything to do with Vinyl's disappearance, if you know anything you're not telling me, I'm going to come down on you like a ton of bricks. You’ve already got one strike for that whole incident on your birthday.” I coughed, embarrassed. “It’s only because of your closeness to the princess and the Elements of Harmony that you aren’t behind bars for that one. You give me the slightest excuse to lock you up, I’m gonna take it. I make myself clear?"
"Crystal," I said, meeting his stern gaze.
"Good. Now is there anything you want to tell me?"
"Nope." Technically that wasn’t lying. I didn’t want to tell him anything.
"Alright," he grunted. "You're free to go."
I ducked under the police tape over the door and calmly walked away, heading for town square before I pulled out my notepad. For all his big talk, Watcher didn't scare me. He had the experience and the cynicism, but he was old. It's awfully hard to intimidate someone who was wondering how you haven't thrown out your hip yet. Besides, I've had almost every criminal in Canterlot gunning for me at one point or another. One grizzled old cop and his inexperienced daughter wasn't even enough to give me a pause for worry. Still, I would try to stay out of his mane. Harassing him could only make this case harder. And I couldn’t really blame him for being cautious after my actions on my birthday. I’m usually pretty good about keeping my draconian instincts under lock and key, but giving me a bunch of stuff is a bit like coating the inside of a firework factory with lighter fluid and then tossing in a lit match.
So. Vinyl Scratch. She'd been dragged from her home between two days and a week ago. Much more than that and her absence would've been noticed. Around the same time Celestia vanished. I would've assumed it was a coincidence, except that I wasn't an idiot. Maybe somewhere with more crime, that would be a reasonable assumption, but as I've said before, Ponyville is only a speck on the map.
So, the two events were connected, presumably carried out by the same group. This meant that I was onto something with the music. Only problem was, I didn't know what I was onto. I now knew that the music was a definite lead, which is about as useful as a compass without a needle.
But, hey, on the bright side, that was one less pony to question. I crossed her name off of my list. I looked up and tried to get a glimpse of the sun's location through the thick cover of clouds. I failed horribly, but I guesstimated that I had an hour or two before the sun went down (provided Luna was reliably sticking to Celestia's schedule). I figured I'd go visit the next pony on my list.
Another pony who was slightly odd, the minty green, unicorn known as Lyra specialized in- what else?- a lyre. Despite having magic, she did most things with her hooves, even things that most earth ponies use their mouth for. The few times I'd conversed with her she'd been a little obsessed with my fingers. Don't get me wrong, most ponies take a reasonable level of interest in my draconian nature, but Lyra took an unusual delight in just having me wiggle my clawed fingers. But, like I said, she's a musician.
That train of thought reached its destination as I reached mine, Lyra and Bon-Bon's house. Not quite sure of the relationship between those two. There was talk (as there was bound to be in such a small community) but I pass no judgement. Given my time spent on the streets of Canterlot, as well as the books on reproduction in both the libraries I've worked at, I know about this stuff. However, I didn’t put much stock in the rumors floating around a town this small. If you believed half of them: I’m Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy is a tree, Pinkie Pie is a murderous sociopath, Rarity is made of marshmallow, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders consists of a chicken, a dictionary, and Applebloom. To be fair, that one about Pinkie might be true. I’ve seen her when she sobers up. Scary stuff, that.
Anyways, the two ponies lived in a squat cottage, only one floor. It seemed a bit bigger than most but the lack of a second story balanced it out. If I remembered correctly Bon Bon was out of town, some candymaker's meeting or something. But Lyra should be home.
I stepped up to the door to knock then paused as something occurred to me. I quickly walked around the cottage and- yep. Have I mentioned that I hate always being right? One of the back windows was broken and ajar.
I went back 'round to the front door and gave the knob a twist. It opened, just as I'd expected.
Inside, I was able to see that Lyra had managed to put up much more of a fight than Vinyl. Just in this room (under the debris it looked like a kitchen) there were magical burns on the walls, floor and ceiling, as well as the smashed remains of a table, that looked like somepony had been thrown onto and it had collapsed under the weight.
I took a few steps (careful of where I put my feet) before I heard a faint whistling sound, like something moving through the air really fast. Do you know that voice in your head that always points out the obvious with an air of indifference? Well, I managed to turn my head and get a flash of fast-moving black, prompting that voice to comment, Oh, hey. A cast iron frying pan. I bet that's going to hu- Before being cut off as the heavy piece of metal connected with my head.
Author’s Notes Ramblings:
Special thanks to Nick for helping edit and pointing out all my obvious mistakes, and to The Paragon for letting me use his Ghost Writer for the cover image.
If you wanna see the (far inferior) deviantART and FIMFiction versions, click here and here respectively.
I claim no ownership over My Little Pony or any characters or settings therein. Those belong to Hasbro.
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 Okay, it was actually a cloaked robe, but a hat and sunglasses fit the whole style much better. Some ponies just don’t want to follow the simple narrative conventions of life.
 Okay, fine! She threw back her hood. Clearly she didn't know the proper procedure for hiring a private eye.
 I know, I know! Sorry! Princess Luna just lends herself to all these nocturnal descriptions. I can’t help it. It’s like trying to describe water without mentioning that it’s wet.
 And I’m definitely not just saying that to omit several pages filled with her demanding “Tell me!” and me replying “No!”
 I have to say, I have no idea how ponies manage to keep phoenixes as pets. If I weren’t fireproof and covered in thick scales, I would be having some serious troubles. Don’t get me wrong, I love the little fella, he’s got a way of looking at the world and saying “Yeah, wanna make somethin’ of it?” It’s just a little tricky keeping a firebird in a tree.
 Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson on greed. Weeks of backbreaking work rebuilding Ponyville have made sure of that.
 It has come to my attention that some of you aren’t familiar with usual Equestria swearing, which really goes to show that you need to get out more. “Banish it” is a stronger form of “darn it.” So, “darn it to heck” would become “banish it to hay” or “banish it to the moon" depending on the effect you were going for.
 That was not one of my most elegant cases. Let’s just say that when we finished that one I was covered in caramel, hot fudge, and several other types of ammunition, had one arm turned to stone, a broken tail, and there was a stick of butter shoved... well, let’s just say that it wasn’t much fun getting it out and once it was out it had some severe hygiene issues.
 Once again, the closest I can get to one. Y’know it wouldn’t hurt you guys to make a few assumptions every now and again.
 What? You want a description? I was trying to keep the story moving along but, fine, whatever. As opposed to the usual rustic, old-timey feel of the rest of the buildings in Ponyville, Vinyl’s house was sleek and modern, all flat sides and sharp edges, with a silvery, almost chrome, paint job. All the windows were made up to look like records, a nice touch in my opinion, but it probably lowered the resale value.
 Part of being both a dragon and assistant to an extremely magical unicorn meant that I had a rudimentary knowledge of magic as well as the innate ability to sense it. The closest I can describe it, is magical residue that looks like a very thin, greenish-purple mist that I don't even notice unless I'm looking for it. It’s a bit like the visual equivalent of the smell of rotten eggs. It seems to stick around awhile, it rubs off onto stuff very easily, and anything it has touched will be at the forefront of your attention once you notice it.
 Oh, man, the Pastia. Not a fun little group. From smuggling to kidnapping, to extortion, to attempts to overthrow several governments, the Pastia had done it all. First started by the Pizza family, their criminal skills had propelled them to the top of the underworld. Of course, they were history now. A certain daring dragon had infiltrated the group, and through a long series of turning members against each other and turning in others, had single-handedly brought the gang to its knees. After an extremely dangerous shootout I managed to bring in the nefarious Saucefather, Al Capony, which just left a few scattered members here and there. Unfortunately, to do this had required me to do rather... unpleasant things. The end justifies the means and all that but I still wake up from nightmares in the armpit of a bad night.
 And only that because a cartographer happened to stumble across it.
 Honestly, I think that insanity and musical talent must go hand in hand. And there seem to be about as many flavors of this lack of proper brain function as there are types of music. I've seen OCD, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, extreme mood swings, and several varieties on the theme of violent urges. But they make pretty music, so that's okay.
 Because, lemme tell ya; that paragraph of info on Lyra? Waaaaaaaaaaaay more interesting than a description of me walking. Amazing as I am, not everything I do makes for a gripping read.
 Not like Twilight knew this. Oh boy, was I ever going to have fun when she decided to give me The Talk. You'd think Twilight'd remember dragon development. Remind me to tell you about that later. There’s already three other footnotes on this page.