Below and Above
The rooftop of the Ponyville Police Department was not a sanitary place. For eight years, the only thing that had kept the roof worth visiting had been useless. Because of this, the janitors saw no reason to work harder on a place that nopony ever visited. The only one who did visit was now standing near the balcony of the roof, examining the city below. She was always coming up here, and it had been dubbed "The Sparkle Flat". It practically was her flat. She spent more time here than she did at home.
Twilight Sparkle sighed, her eyes shut, and let the breeze of the night flow through her mane. Her violet eyes opened, and she scanned the rooftops of Ponyville before settling them on the shattered searchlight next to her. Only, it hadn't ever really been a searchlight. She reached out to touch it, wondering again why she'd never removed it since that day, eight years ago.
Just as her hoof made contact with the cold metal, a voice called out from the entrance to the stairwell.
"Ma'am?" She looked over to see a young officer trotting over to meet her. This one was a newbie, she recalled. The Flightless Pegasus, the other officers called her. She knew that one of the main reasons the younger mare had been chosen was because of the unusual good looks the pegasus had, and the perverted minds of some of her colleagues. But Twilight saw her as a good cop, and perhaps, one day, a good detective.
The pegasus continued, tentatively. "I'm sorry to bother you, but there's a problem. We've got a missing pony. A celebrity, actually."
"Sounds like a job for the police," she replied, wondering why the young mare had really come up here. "What's the problem, kiddo?" She realized how old she sounded when she said kiddo.
"Well, like I said, a celebrity's gone missing. His name's Fancypants, and he never went home after the celebration at the Rainbow Manor.
Twilight surpressed a groan when the memory of the famous stallion groping a random maid's flank resurfaced in her ind. He's probably found himself a little extra company tonight, she thought. Though I wouldn't say she was willing to be so. She hoped she wouldn't have to deal with charges of rape once they found him. She pushed the thought away, and asked the question she'd meant to ask first.
"Why are you talking to me about this?"
The pegasus shuffled a bit. "Well, Ma'am, I've been on the force for a year or so, and I've basically stopped a half a dozen robberies of the Sugarcube Corner, all of them the same mare, flying off because she didn't have enough to pay for her muffins." She stopped looking at the ground and raised her eyes to meet the commissioner's. "But then there's you. Always up here, like it's still war-time."
Twilight hated the term for the time before Soarin's death.
The mare continued. "You always go up here, and act like we're waiting for things to get worse. Why?"
"Old habits," Twilight muttered.
"Or is it instinct?"
The lavender pony looked over the pegasus again. She was indeed prettier than most of the tryouts that signed up for training. Her tomboyish purple mane matched her nature, as did her athletic form. She had eyes that matched her mane, and they shone with an eagerness that told Twilight just what the young mare wanted. She saw the cop had no cutie mark, an anomaly that befell only the smallest group of ponies.
"What's your name, kiddo?" she asked, again feeling her age as the word kiddo passed her lips.
The commissioner trotted over towards the young cop and said, "Is there something you'd like to ask me, Officer Scootaloo?"
The pegasus looked down at the ground again. The eager light in her eyes faded for a brief moment, then returned with flaring determination. It reminded Twilight of Rainbow Dash, a little.
"It's about that night," she blurted out, looking back up at the unicorn with her new eagerness. "Eight years ago. The night Soarin' died."
"It isn't about what's right, Sparkle. It's about what's fair."
"Soarin', please, I'm begging you, let her go!"
"Yes? What about it?"
"It was the last confirmed sighting of the Batmare," Scootaloo said, speaking faster and faster now that Twilight had allowed it. "She murders those ponies, takes out two Royal Guard teams, on with your own brother at the head, breaks Soarin's neck, then escapes, never to be seen again?"
Celestia help us if it comes to that.
"I just don't believe it."
Twilight sighed. "What's your question, kid?" She didn't like the sound of that one, either.
"Don't you want to know who she was?"
Twilight glanced briefly at the shattered Bat-Signal. The question Scootaloo had just posed was one she'd mulled over herself in the months when the Batmare had first popped up in Ponyville. Eventually, though, the answer had slapped her in the face, and she realized...
"I know exactly who she was," she said, still staring at the broken searchlight. She turned back to the young mare and trotted toward her.
"She was the Batmare."
Twilight passed Scootaloo, and headed for the stairwell. When the pegasus did not follow, Twilight turned to her and said, "Come on, let's go find that missing celebrity."
And they went.
Fluttershy was irritated again. She simply wanted to deliver her Mistress's lunch, that was all, but of course, it was the one day that Rainbow Dash was not still in bed at 3:00 in the afternoon. She sighed, staring at the empty bed (which was made flawlessly, it seemed, by Rainbow herself), and left the bedroom, tray still held up by one wing.
She made her way through the lonely mansion, calling out her employer's name. By the time she'd done a full circle, the roasted daisy sandwich that was prepared for Dash was cold. After a series of contemplative What if... scenarios played through her mind, Fluttershy realized there was still one place she hadn't been.
She wouldn't have gone down below, would she?
It was worth a shot. Fluttershy turned and made her way to a room inhabited by a sole piano and an entire wall made from bookcases (most were filled with signed copies of the entire Daring Do fiction series), and stopped at the piano. She set the tray down on top of it, and played an unimportant and extremely non-musical set of keys.
The sound of a door sliding open told her it had worked. Bracing herself for what she almost hoped wasn't true, Fluttershy stepped into the elevator that had revealed itself from behind one of the bookcases, and felt the cage move down, towards the Batcave.
She stepped out half a minute later wishing that she didn't have to go down here again. It wasn't the countless number of bats that scurried around the cave that frightened her, no, she loved animals of all kinds, nocturnal included. It wasn't the dampness or darkness that always left her on edge when she entered, she'd gotten used to that eventually.
It was the meaning behind the place.
The Batcave was where Rainbow Dash made her home as the Batmare, and the Batmare was not a good thing. Not in Fluttershy's eyes, anyway. She knew that all Batmare brought Dash was injuries and sad endings. Especially with Spitfire.
Now she saw that her dear Mistress was once again in the cave, and she trotted up to her as the cyan pegasus typed away at a computer that showed the files on many different prisoners, shuffling through them faster than a playing card deck.
Rainbow Dash paid her no mind when she stepped up to the computers behind her.
"You haven't been down here in a while," she noted.
"I'm just trying to find out more about our jewel thief," Dash replied. "I traced her hoofprints, and this face came up."
She pulled up the image of a greasy-haired dark green unicorn stallion, easily 50 pounds heavier than the mare that had gone flipping out his window the night before.
"She's good," Dash continued. "Wearing somepony else's hoofprints. So, I decided to trace our little tracking device, and cross-referenced it with any recent incidents involving breaking and entering, and then this turned up."
The picture that showed up on screen this time bore the face of the mare that Fluttershy remembered entrusting with the duty of carrying Dash's dinner to her rooms. In the picture, she saw a mare who knew something she didn't, who was mocking her with her confident wink, not the shy young filly with whom she'd spoken to that night.
"Ms. Pinkamena Pie," Dash said. "A remarkably crafty jewel thief. Never caught, never convicted, but the ground beneath her hooves is shrinking." A list of newspaper headlines appeared on the screen, all of them bearing headlines that read similar: each one said something about a "cat" burglar.
"So then," said Fluttershy, "should I call the police to get a head start on finding your pearls before she pawns them?" The yellow pegasus shuddered at the thought of the pearls sitting in a dirty box somewhere in the back of an unnamed pawning business.
"No." Rainbow Dash sat back in her chair. "She likes them too much. And she wasn't after them in the first place."
"Then what was she after, if you don't mind me asking?"
"My hoofprints," Dash answered. "She used printer toner mixed with graphite. Untraceable."
"Maybe you could trade notes over coffee." Fluttershy felt herself blushing at the outlandish comment, but this time she did not apologize under her breath.
Rainbow Dash looked over at her with an astonished look in her eyes. "Now you're trying to set me up with a jewel thief?"
"I'd set you up with a tortoise if it would get you back in the world." Fluttershy was as shocked at her sudden boldness as Rainbow Dash was.
The cyan mare darkened at this. "There's nothing left for me out there."
"But that's just it," Fluttershy said, feeling more and more exasperated. "You hung up the cape and the cowl, but you won't move on! You're just sitting around waiting for everything to turn bad again. You couldn't just find somepony-"
"You know I did." Dash was looking angry now. "And you know what happened."
Fluttershy bit her lip and considered what she wanted to say. Finally, she said, "I know, and I'm sorry about Spitfire, but that's life. You have to keep going. You're killing yourself this way." She paused, wondering if she should say what she knew, but couldn't tell. Her own Dark Knight. She didn't choose you, she would say, and then what?
Instead, she shifted the subject away from Spitfire. "When you first left Ponyville, all those years ago, before Batmare, I hoped...I hoped that you wouldn't come back."
Dash looked at her quizzically.
"I had this...this fantasy," the butler said, closing her eyes so as not to meet Rainbow's. "Every year, I take my holiday, and I go to Flowerance, out in Haytaly. There's a café I always go to, near a river. I'd sit down, order a drink, and I'd scan the crowd of ponies there. And always, I'd imagine that you were somewhere there. I'd see you, and you see me. We'd smile, we wouldn't speak to each other, but I'd know, from the family that would maybe be sitting around you, that you had moved on."
She opened her eyes, and Rainbow Dash saw that they were welling up with tears.
"That was all I ever wanted for you." She paused, then added, "I still want that for you."
Then she turned, and exited the Batcave, leaving Rainbow Dash to her obsessions--with the bats.
Scootaloo stepped out of her unit car and approached the sewer entrance. Her face hardened when she laid eyes on the limp form in front of the gaping hole that led into the network of tunnels. She felt tears welling in her eyes when she saw who it was that they had found.
"I know this guy. He was at the boys home. St. Blueblood's."
Her partner shrugged. "So?"
She looked up at him, appalled that he showed so little interest or care that there was a dead colt in front of them. She realized she'd balled her hooves, and turned back to the dark gray colt lying on the ground.
"So, he had a brother. I remember teaching his brother how to ride a scooter, when they were younger. He'd always try and hit on me." She kicked a pebble nearby, and felt her tears slowly run down her cheeks. She didn't choke up, though. That was for little girls.
"This guy got a name?" Her partner appeared to have realized the situation, and set down the doughnut he'd been munching on.
"Thunderlane. His brother's called Rumble. And now, I gotta go tell him the news."
She trotted back to the car, making sure that her partner didn't see her tears.
St. Blueblood's was a large foal's home. It was split into fillies and colts halves, and as Scootaloo pulled up to the home, she remembered the times when she would sneak over to the boy's side to meet with her coltfriend. He'd show her his dark room, she'd ask for a picture from him, and the night would end with them kissing like they'd seen in the movies.
For the second time that day, Scootaloo realized she was beginning to cry without meaning to.
She made her way through the home, ignoring the stares from the young foals. Some recognized her, and waved, but when she didn't wave back, they understood that something was wrong. She took no note of them, and stepped into the matron's office without a word.
The matron had aged more than Scootaloo had expected since she'd left the children's home. His hair was now whiter than the sheets she'd slept in during her time at the home.
"I suppose we'll have to inform Rumble, then," he said after Scootaloo explained the situation.
"I wanted to tell him, if that's all right." Scootaloo hesitated to ask, but, just as one had last night with Sparkle, the question came slipping past her lips without meaning to.
"What was he doing in the sewers? Shouldn't he have been here?"
The matron sighed. "You know we don't have the resources to keep colts and fillies over the age of 16 here. We don't have the money."
Scootaloo was confused. "I thought the Rainbow Foundation donated to you?"
"Not for several months, no."
Scootaloo considered this for a moment, and made a mental note to check up on that later. Then she stood, thanked the matron, and stepped out to talk with Rumble.
When she gave him the news, the young pegasus looked as though he was close to tears.
"I'll be kicked out next month," he said. It took Scootaloo a moment to realize the colt was talking about his sixteenth birthday. The grayish pegasus muttered "Happy Birthday to me," and stared down at the ground, biting his lower lip.
"Why was he down in the sewers?" She knew he was down their for another reason. There were plenty of places to go when you were without a home, and the sewer was not a good one.
"They say there's work for people down there."
Scootaloo was surprised. "What kind of work?"
Rumble kept his stare fixed on the ground. "Nopony knows. But I guess it's more than what's waiting for you up here."
As Scootaloo got back into her patrol car later, she thought about his last words to her. The possibility of work under the city was slim. At least, the possibility of legitimate work. Her mind shifted to the thought of what kinds of work could be waiting down beneath the city.
And she didn't like what she thought up.