There was a smoky haze over the city today--it was the middle of summer and Celestia’s sun had given no quarter this year. Boiled, broiled, steamed, and fried... There had been no end of words to describe how the city of Manehattan felt.
It had been a bad year for the Violent Crimes unit. The heat always sparked desperation in Lowtown. In a way, I was glad I had ‘retired.’
But as I stood there, heaving to catch my breath and swearing at the painful stitch stabbing me in the side--while the cutpurse colt I had been chasing continued on his merry way, stopping in time to throw an obscene gesture my way--I desperately missed the bi-weekly training regimen and check up the police force required of every employee.
“Damn... Damn it!” I swore between gasps. “How... How...” I sucked in a huge breath and let it out slow. “Five months out of the force and I’m already this out of shape?!”
Walk it off, you got to walk it off. He’s getting away, I thought, looking up to see the colt almost completely out of my sight. OK, run it off!
Ignoring my burning legs and struggling lungs as best I could, I took off again after the perp. Though my body was out of practice, my mind wasn’t--the thrill of the chase and the capture helped me overcome the physical pains.
My name is Grey Tiercel and I’m an ex-detective, currently unemployed.
It had been such a dull five months. Five months. Five months after I had quit the police force. Five months with no job and very little beyond myself to call my own.
Though the higher ups had provided me with a small retirement fund--their incredibly witty idea of a joke at my quitting--it hadn’t been enough in this city. Not when a hole in the wall’s weekly rent cost twice the average weekly salary. Being an employee of the city for so long, I hadn’t realized just how bad it was.
Thankfully my friend, Wild Gambit, had allowed me to stay at her place. Which was more posh than I’d known in my entire life. I still wasn’t fully comfortable there, though--but I supposed that, while I was uncertain if I approved of how she got her bits, I definitely disapproved of the means of the mares and stallions she won them from. At least gambling was legal in this city.
Who was I to talk? Technically, chasing this thief as I was wasn’t legal. Not in this city. The cops didn’t like civvies stepping up to protect the law--that was their job.
Or at least that’s what they claim, I thought with a grimace. Oh how I had learned the truth of the matter. The cops weren’t much better off than the criminals on the street. Things had gotten so bad since the mysterious disaster that had befallen Ponyville--and they continued to get worse. So now, to protect the city which I so loved and the law that supported it, I had to break that law.
But still, I was restless. I wanted to get out of that Uptown high rise and back in the game where I belonged. As I dodged the debris and hopped the fences scattered throughout the crisscrossing alleys of Downtown, I felt more alive and more filled with purpose than I had in all those months. And it was just one more month before I could get my detective’s license. Just one more month.
Besides, I felt that Wik--my nickname for Gambit--was both getting the wrong impression of my staying and annoyed at my presence. She couldn’t seduce any of the usual old stallions and their deep pockets out of the trust fund accounts with me around. She had taken to trying to seduce me, instead. Or at least that’s how I saw it.
She’d always been a big flirt with me and I knew she had crushed on me when she was just a young filly. But there couldn’t be anything for the two of us together beyond our friendship. I’d never doubted that and never pursued anything more.
The filly can bloody kiss though, I’ll give her that. My mind wandered to a few nights ago, after we had had a few drinks. I regretted it now, but at the time... Well, I was still young. And a stallion had needs. Who could really blame me? And I hadn’t let it go too far--wasn’t that what mattered?
Missing a discarded bottle as I ran, my left hoof caught it, causing me to slip and nearly crash into a wall. Thankfully not all of my police training had faded and I took a leap, smashing my hooves into the wall and propelling myself in a different direction--towards the colt I was chasing. And who was still gaining ground.
Focus, you damned fool! I berated himself before picking up the pace again.
We were quickly approaching the tightly packed Shifts, a section of Downtown that was notorious as a petty criminal’s safe haven. The streets were narrow and the alleyways narrower, filled with twists and turns between tiny and aging apartments that often housed twice as many ponies as could be called safe or even sane. It had been given the moniker of the Shifts to the long held belief that everypony in it was constantly shifting from building to building, from one crime to another.
Cops didn’t enter the Shifts alone or even paired, or at all if they could help it. That was tantamount to suicide.
Good thing I’m not a cop anymore...
But still, I had my doubts. Willing my legs to work faster, I knew I was in trouble when I saw the passing brick change from faded red to an unnatural black-brown--the signs of the pollution and filth that clung to every nook and cranny of the Shifts.
The trouble grew worse when I rounded a corner and all I saw were more corners. No colt.
“Shit,” I growled.
I looked left and right a half dozen times before shooting to the right, in hopes the law of averages might hold. After another couple turns, I caught the colt nearing the top of a tall fence. Half of police work was instinct and I thankfully had that in spades.
Whispering a quick blessing to Celestia--which was half a prayer I could make the climb in front of me--I leapt up and grabbed onto the fence. Right hooves, left hooves, right hooves, left hooves, I kept going up and up and up.
This fence must be four stories high! What the hay!
When I’d neared halfway, I saw the colt leap from the top of the fence to a broken veranda yet another story higher. I cried out as I saw the kid almost not make it--the colt wavered on the edge, back hooves slipping on the crumbling concrete, knocking debris to the ground and dust in the air. Finally he kicked off, into the dilapidated building.
Swearing again, I double-timed it up and looked over to the veranda. It couldn’t have been more than a few feet across, but with nearly twenty feet to the ground it might as well have been a mile.
But as I clung there, grappling with my own sense of self-preservation, the colt was getting away. Well, why shouldn’t I just go for it? Either I was cut out for this job or not.
As carefully as I could, I arranged myself in such a position as to get maximum push from the fence. That being said, it wasn’t going to be much. I looked towards the gro--immediately regretting doing so. Closing my eyes, I started taking deeper and deeper breaths.
Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it do it do it-do-it-do-it-DO-IT!
So I did it.
In my haste to get as much thrust forward as possible, I quickly realized I’d forgotten to aim for the broken section of railing. Try as I might, I couldn’t fight physics and so I slammed into the veranda’s edge. Throwing over both hooves, I might’ve held on had the slam not knocked the breath from me.
I held for just a split second, stretched far longer by my adrenaline and a sort of super awareness of things just before the end, before my hooves slipped and I fell.
I began to scream as I fell when my right arm caught the fire escape a story below. It nearly jolted my arm from the socket, but I held on for dear life despite the throbbing pain. When I tried to swing my other over it, the rusty iron tore loose from the wall and I swung down and outwards. I cursed loudly as the rivets kept breaking one by one, curving and slowing my fall ever so slightly as I approached the ground at still an alarmingly lethal speed.
Finally, a collection of supports held and the metal groaned as it twisted, arcing me through the air until the centrifugal force was too much for my injured arm and I flew up and away--still about two stories up.
As ridiculous as it was, I was very aware of my last few thoughts as I headed towards instant death or almost certainly lethal injury--I can’t believe I’m dying for a damn purse. That’ll look great on the gravestone.
It was an incredibly pleasant surprise when I found myself landing on something relatively soft; it certainly wasn’t pavement. Opening my eyes slowly, I found myself three feet deep in a dumpster. The stench was terrible and I had no idea what could possibly be soaking into my fur.
Oh this is going to be fantastic to explain to the door guard. I’ll need a half dozen showers, at least.
As I pulled myself out of the dumpster, using my magic to clean my fur as best I could, I became aware of a noise that sounded like laughter.
Looking over, I saw that it was indeed laughter and the source was a half dozen or so foals of various ages. They were all dirty, some a little beaten up--I was uniquely familiar with them. Orphans; street urchins to be more specific.
One, an older pegasus colt with a bandaged wing, called out, “Talkin’ ‘bout slick, Pops. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a unicorn try ta fly before.” That set the group off again. “Unicorn in da Shifts bad enough, but you tryin’ ta pull off some mad sick tricks gonna leave you flatter than a skid.”
This time an earth filly--she was younger than the colt, but older than most of the group--spoke up, “Ya pretty graceful for a ‘Tiff. And the colours suit ya well. That wrinkly nose not doin’ much for ya, though, ‘Tiff. Face ain’t got much pull anyways, that needle o’ yours stickin’ out all over the place.” Another chorus of laughter.
I’d walked over to them, still trying to clean some of the grime from my coat. Some of the youngest had stopped laughing and looked a little fearful. What must I look like to them: a massive unicorn who was being made fun of? Oh yes, I could imagine what they felt, what they thought.
After all, I’d been an urchin once, myself.
“Fly better ‘an you could, Clip,” I drawled out, the old slang coming easy to my tongue. I turned my eye to the earth pony--despite her age, she still hadn’t gotten her cutie mark. “An’ what’s this? Might could use a saw for my needle, but no stitch goin’ ta fill you out, Wipe.”
All the old words, the insults--I hadn’t forgotten any. ‘Tiff for a ‘stiff lipped’ high class unicorn and their ‘needles’, or horns; clip for a pegasus who couldn’t fly and wipe for an older blank flank. These kids hinged on their own wordplay, it was all the power they had in a world that mostly didn’t care. But I cared, the memories would never leave me be if I didn’t.
All the kids just stared at me, dumbfounded. Most adults couldn’t talk urchin--to say nothing about a unicorn. One of the youngest--an adorable pale green earth filly--came forward and held out a hoof. I gave her a warm smile, bumped my hoof against hers and then tapped her on her right side. It meant, very simply, friend.
They all visibly relaxed, replacing it with wonder at this unprecedented sight. I looked over to the colt and filly I’d traded insults with and held out a hoof.
“Some things go deeper than the muck, right?” I asked.
They both looked at one another, grinned, nodded, and bumped my hoof before hitting it on the right. Together they said, “The streets is hard, the streetwalker harder.”
“That colt I was chasing. Anyone seen him before?” I asked carefully.
“Aw shoot, Slick,” said the oldest colt. “You show us you’re cool but then ask us to break rule number one?”
Reaching into my side bag, I brought out a small sack. I gave it a shake, and a metallic clink could be heard. That caught all the foals’ attentions.
“Only ‘cause rule zero is stronger--I know how it works. But I also know what you go through. Believe me, I’m not out to hurt the foal, just to get what he stole back. I could use your help. Interested?”
“Wait just a tick,” replied the colt.
He gathered the kids around him and they began to talk, quickly and quietly. I’d seen it before. When I had worked as a beat cop I had taken to talking to the orphans. There were so many around, all over, just watching. And never being watched, not really. It was almost a sure bet they had seen something pertaining to almost any crime. You just had to know how to talk to them.
At first, to my shame, I’d just paid them off. Bits spoke loudly, even to kids, when you were homeless and often struggling to eat. But that quickly proved to not be enough. So I’d taken up volunteering at orphanages and steering what urchins I could convince to them. Some orphanages weren’t much better than the streets, but it was still a better chance than without.
Ultimately, though I did a lot of good work for several foals, there were just too many. Any real help would have to come from higher up. The real problem was the city itself--so the city itself would need a change. I didn’t know if I was capable of something like that, but as Celestia as my witness, I was going to try.
Until then, I’d still been giving out bits and food to the kids when I could. And yes, I paid them for services rendered. But I always tried to make it something more than just an immoral mercenary service.
I’d been telling the urchins I came across that if they kept themselves out of major trouble, they could count on being paid again. To survive, most urchins had to do some basic pickpocketing or minor theft--I let some of that slide. What I asked was for them to stay away from the gangs and the Mob--to not be lulled to committing violent crimes for them.
Of course, I was just one well-off unicorn by their standards--not many had listened so far. But slowly, especially after I’d been blacklisted by the cops, more and more urchins had taken me up on my offer.
The best part was that urchins all stuck together and kept each other on the up and up with city news. Increasingly, I’d come across foals who had already heard about me.
So it came as little surprise when the little meeting broke up and came my way. It was the earth filly who spoke up first, “Who are you, mister?”
Mister? I thought. Well, that’s promising. I think.
“Name’s Grey Tiercel. I’m a detective.” Which wasn’t entirely untrue at this point.
I saw the light of recognition in her eyes as she turned to the pegasus colt and nodded. He nodded in return and said, “OK, yeah. Word says you’re level. That you know what it’s like and you’re fair. So OK, we’ll help you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that a lot,” I said, handing him the bag of bits. Before I let go, I caught his eye and said, “I’ll trust this with you.”
The colt was surprised at first, but grinned and nodded as I released the bag of bits. He gave it to the filly and said, “Keep that safe, we’ll eat for weeks on it if we’re careful.” She nodded, turned away, and went out of sight.
The colt told me, “He’s a weaver for the Swifthooves.” A weaver was the term for a young, earth pony colt or filly who weaved through thick crowds and picked what they could without being noticed. Obviously, the colt I was chasing was either new or sloppy.
“The Swifthooves? They must be new,” I said, rubbing my chin in thought.
The colt nodded. “Yeah, they popped in a couple months ago.”
“Naw, they won’t last. You bein’ here proof enough.” That earned a chorus of laughs from the other urchins. It was a cutthroat existence so one gave little pity for the stupid or sloppy. Anything more could get you dragged down with them.
“Yeah, I’m not surprised. So, where’s the stick?”
The colt gestured further down the alley. “Just keep goin’ on this way ‘til you hit the next fence. Follow that to the left, it’ll hit a wall an’ you’ll see a door right next to it. That’s it.”
I nodded and started off, but he grabbed my coat. I looked back at him. “Something else you wanna share?”
He bit his bottom lip. “They may be messy and not real smart, but they’re not stupid--that stick of theirs ain’t in a bad spot. They’ll see you coming and you won’t like the party they’ll throw.”
I slowly nodded before asking, “And what about you guys? Think they’d take that?”
A round of nods and agreements passed through the crowd. The leader colt spoke up again, “We heard you use urks sometimes. We wanna help.”
I wasn’t real fond of the idea, but knew the Swifthooves would probably give me little choice. While it was likely I’d be able to defend myself, one of them could get hurt or even killed, and I didn’t want or need that at the moment.
So we huddled and discussed a simple plan--gangs in this area almost always welcomed urchins seeking to join. So the group offered to act like they were going to join, but the colt (who told me his name was Bookbinder) would make a challenge. It was a common way to go about things; nopony responsible for the well being of others would just give them up to an unworthy leader, no matter how desperate they might be.
No gang missed a show like that, so all the members would exit the stick--their hideout--to watch. Then it’d be a simple mess for me to clean up. Or so I told myself. It almost never stayed that simple.
As we started off to the Swifthooves’ stick, one of the younger urchins--a too-thin but still cute pegasus filly named Powdered Sugar--asked me, “Mister...what’s...” She struggle with the next word. “Tiresail mean?”
I chuckled and corrected her, “It’s ‘teer-cel’. A Tiercel is a male hawk.”
She giggled and grinned from ear to ear--it was so sweet, it nearly hurt to watch. “No wonder you can fly!”
This time I joined in with the group as they laughed. It just went to show you, even these kids could still laugh.
The buildings all around this area were around seven stories up, too tall for me to watch the show from above. Or so it originally seemed. I had been working on a little device lately and figured now was as good a time to test it in the field. I prayed to Celestia it wouldn’t choose this time to fail, since all the tests at home had gone off without a hitch. Except for one rotten tomato I had ended up wearing; that had been an unpleasant experience. Not near as unpleasant as the rocks from the earliest tests, but still unpleasant.
So I found myself standing on top of a dilapidated building, seven stories up, watching a group of foals who didn’t even have their cutie marks yet walk up to the stick of an established gang. A new and inexperienced one, yes, but anytime street ponies gathered together like that, you’d be safe to expect the worst.
Bookbinder knocked on the door he talked about and took a step back. I couldn’t hear what was said from so high up, but Bookbinder spoke a few words to the doorguard, then waited. After about five minutes, he took several steps back as the Swifthooves exited their stick.
We were in luck: they seemed to be comprised of only seven members. One was your usual brute, all muscle and no brain; there were a couple of pegasi fillies that seemed to be twins; a pair of unassuming colts, obviously weavers and including my target; lastly came a shock--the leader was a unicorn, made all the more clear by his complete lack of mane. My face twisted in disgust as I saw him leading an earth pony filly--obviously abused and held captive--with a magical chain.
Oh this bastard was going to get it for sure.
Some conversation went on as Bookbinder issued his offer and challenge. The unicorn laughed, clearly showing little interest in the offer. But Bookbinder kept on until I saw the unicorn nod. The gang leader waved a hoof and the brutish earth pony stepped forward.
That was cheating and looked down upon, using another pony when one was challenged, but Bookbinder had little choice in the matter. He readied himself to fight--I wasn’t sure if he did it simply because he knew I was around or if he was just that brave. Either way, I was impressed.
Then, the little colt gave what was obviously the signal, though he’d changed it up on me, “The Hawk takes flight!” The Swifthooves looked around, clearly confused. I drew in a deep breath and said, “Magic, don’t fail me now.”
Then I jumped right off the top of a seven story building.
Most ponies would think that’s fairly suicidal--and generally speaking, it is. But I had a few tricks up my sleeve. Or rather, on my horn. I called it a shield ring, since it was a horn ring that allowed me to quickly focus my magic into a powerful shield. This device created a stronger, more stable, longer lasting shield than I would be able to without it.
Originally I was just going to use it to safely land on the concrete--it would be unpleasant, but easily survivable. However, seeing the ponies that made up the gang I decided something a little riskier. That big, burly stallion would be trouble unless I knocked him out fast; I judged him to be tough enough to survive the force of my landing and aimed myself accordingly.
With a simple mental push I activated my magic and ran it through the ring. Immediately, I could see a faint blue glimmer of light form in front of me--I hadn’t yet figured out how to make the shield enclose me, so mono-directional would have to do. Turning it downwards, I let out a cry as I landed right on top of the bruiser.
There was a sickening thud and the sound of cracking bones as I bounced and landed safely not two feet away, having expended most of the energy of the fall from the landing.
Baldy cried out, “What the hay? Get him!” But it was far too late. With their main muscle gone, the two weavers and pegasi knew they were no match for the urchins. The urchins may have been smaller, but numbers counted for a lot.
The pegasi flew off and I let them go, turning my attention to the weaver I had been chasing earlier. His eyes lit up in recognition and he started as if to run but tripped--his hooves tangled up in another spell I had cast as soon as I landed. I called it my Shackle spell: it was a ‘chain’ made up of potential energy. Whenever anything wrapped in it tried to move, the energy transformed to kinetic, forcing itself closed. Very handy but it only lasted a few minutes. Thankfully, Bookbinder and his pals dogpiled on the terrified colt, ensuring he was going nowhere.
The other weaver had covered his eyes and dropped to the ground, frantically calling out, “I surrender, I surrender! Just don’t hurt me!” His whole body was shaking and I could tell--Baldy abused more than his forced fillyfriend.
I was suitably pissed at this point as I looked over at Baldy and gave him a dark smile. He glared daggers at me and pulled hard on the chain, bringing the filly between him and me.
His voice was shaky but attempting confidence. “Stop right there, or I’ll tighten this and you can watch her die!”
I cursed, but backed off. “There’s no need for that. Look, your stupid little operation here is over. Just give up. Even if I went away, your gang’s gone, you’re all alone, and you know what happens to ponies on the street who are all alone.”
His eyes darted right and left and found no exit. He cursed and pulled the poor filly closer. I could tell he knew exactly what I meant and was trying to find anyway to come out on top.
Another burst of magic brought up a very rusted but just as deadly knife to the filly’s throat. She had yet to respond to any of this; her eyes were blank and unfocused, her body moving at the slightest tug of the chain around her neck.
Baldy was going down, no question about it, I told myself. I just needed a plan!
“Darken your horn! You and the little wastrels get against the fence and let me go. Or I’ll kill her, right here!” His voice was cracking and I began to suspect he was probably high on something. It was too dangerous not to, so I let go of my magic and gestured to the urchins to do as he said.
When we were all touching the fence, he carefully sidled his way down the alley past us, the knife still against the filly’s throat. His eyes never left me, so I judged it too risky to move. What I needed was a distraction of some sort.
Somepony must’ve been listening, for at that moment the cutpurse I’d been chasing tried to get up, only to fall due to the Shackle spell.
Baldy turned his attentions for one moment, but that’s all I needed. Rushing forward, I shot off a burst of magic right at the chain leading from Baldy’s horn to the filly’s neck. With a loud bang, it snapped and vanished. The filly fell to the ground, unmoving, but Baldy roared and charged at me, knife first.
It was exactly what I didn’t want, but I had no time for hesitation--the state Baldy was in, if I didn’t stop him he could hurt anypony in his sights. So I lowered my horn and watched as he charged right onto it. A sharp pain pierced my shoulder as his bulk hit the top of my head and pushed me back. I held my ground as he let out his last few swears and, with a final series of twitches, died.
I stood for a moment, grimacing at the turn of events. It wasn’t the first time I’d been forced to kill another pony--and I wasn’t naive enough to think it would be the last--but I still hated it.
Pushing the corpse of Baldy off of my horn, I called out, “We all OK?”
Bookbinder’s voice called back, almost devoid of fear, “Y-yeah! We’re all A-OK, Hawk!”
Satisfied, I moved over to the fallen filly. Gently, I pulled her up and whispered a few soothing words to her. She didn’t respond. Her eyes were still blank, devoid of life. At least she’s unharmed and free now... Celestia, help her heal.
Carefully setting her back down, I went over to the entire point of this operation--the cutpurse colt. His eyes were wide with fear as he saw me approach. I must admit, I probably put on quite a sight: I was pissed off, with a knife sticking in my shoulder, and my horn was still covered in blood.
Deciding not to waste a good opportunity, I knelt down to him and said, very calmly and very quietly, “Here’s how this is going to work. You’re going to go into that stick and get the purse I saw you take. Then you’re going to take yourself to the nearest MPD and turn yourself in. At worst, you’ll get a year in juvenile detention. When you get out, you’re going to turn over a new leaf. And I’ll never even hear of you stealing again, got it?”
The colt’s response came out a jumbled mess.
I barked, “Got it?!”
He nodded and whispered, “Yes, sir!”
“Good. Consider this your one warning, your one close call.” I willed the spell away, though it only had a few seconds left in it at best. “Now, on with it!”
He scrambled to his hooves and ran as fast as he could into the stick and back out. I simply stood there, watching him go.
Bookbinder and the others approached me, something like awe on their faces. He asked, “You just let him go? Like that?”
I let out a sigh and began to remove the knife. The wound itself wasn’t so bad, but considering the state of the knife a hospital visit probably wasn’t a bad idea. I hated hospitals.
“That poor colt is so scared right now he’d do near anything I asked. At least this way... Once he gets out of juvie, he’ll be placed in a foster home. He has a chance now. And considering Baldy here--” I kicked at the leader’s corpse-- “I think he’ll be better off. This bastard was the worst of the worst. Not a leader but a bully.”
I went back over to the filly and picked her up with my magic, setting her on my back as carefully as I could.
The earth pony filly from earlier spoke up this time--her name was Fizz. “Whaddya gonna do wit’ her?”
“I’ll take her to the hospital and then make sure she gets put in a nice home... She’s been through a lot.”
“I can’t believe you...” Bookbinder began, choking up some. “I can’t believe you did that! You coulda been killed!”
I nodded. “I could have. But it was necessary. What scum like that does to other ponies is...ghastly. Somepony’s got to stop it. That’s what I do.”
Thanking them, I figured it was long past time for me to get out of the Shifts. My body was bruised and exhausted and the wound on my shoulder needed to be taken care of. Wik was going to either chew me out or find my afternoon hilarious. Either way, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.
So I cleaned up my horn and wiped down my wound as best I could. But as I was walking away, Fizz called out, “Hawk, hey Hawk!”
I turned and replied, “Yeah?”
All the urchins were standing there and just looking at me. They raised a hoof in a gesture I remembered meant the recipient had just done something ‘way cool’.
Bookbinder said, “I won’t let anypony turn out like that, not in my circles. I promise, Hawk. And you if you ever need us...for anything, anytime--we’ll spread the word: any urchin who hears the call of the Hawk--”
Fizz cut in, “When the Hawk flies, the Vine watches.”
The Vine was a name used by some of the better off urchins--it meant the network of urchins throughout the city, crossing every which way lines vines in a forest. Only those part of the Vine knew of the Vine, and when you aged out you weren’t part of it anymore.
Something must of gotten in my eyes then, ‘cause they watered up a little as I gave the kids one last nod and left.
It was funny how one little event could turn into something so much more. I started the chase after an old mare’s purse, nothing more. Not only did I get the purse back (I checked up with the MPD later to find out the colt had done exactly what I had asked of him) but I saved a filly from terrible servitude (she’s doing alright now, thank Celestia, but it’s a slow process) and gained the trust and allegiance of the city’s orphan population.
I smiled to myself, looking forward to the coming days. I had had my doubts, but moments like this? They filled me with determination that this city could be changed, could be saved.
And maybe even that I was the one to do it.