The repetitive ‘cla-clack’ of the train’s wheels riding along the segmented rails of track filled the cabin space. A sigh escaped my lips as I laid my head upon a hoof. I’d been staring at the array of paperwork in front of me so long the letters were blurring together. Taking a moment to change the scenery, I twisted about to eye my superior. I say superior, but I was more of a companion and partner to the detective. It just felt right, considering her skills far outweighed even the princesses in finding details beneath the mediocre.
Evergreen locks of her mane fell over her closed eyes as her chest rose and fell on the nearby cot, though I had no idea how she could rest with the constant noise. She was a simple beige earth pony, a relatively-unknown detective who didn't get much business in Canterlot. It wasn't until she solved the case of the Mad Polisher that things started turning around. Her reputation took off as time and again, she solved mysteries other detectives thought impossible. Yes, she was a simple beige earth pony, but only in appearance.
We were on our way to Ponyville, a small hamlet just southwest of Canterlot. By all reports, it sounded like a wonderful place for a vacation: a small weather team to keep the skies nice unless rain was absolutely necessary and a nearby orchard open for anypony to pick their own apples, if they so desired. But we weren’t headed there for a relaxing weekend.
The Elements of Harmony were in danger.
Nopony knows what is happening, other than the bearers going ‘not sane’, to use the term Princess Celestia used. At first, officials just wrote off the owners snapping under stress, but what should have been just one, or maybe two, became three, then four. The princess had a personal stake in this matter after one Twilight Sparkle was instituted, so she sent us.
That was nine days ago. We were just getting our supplies ready when the princess came to our office in downtown Canterlot and demanded we head to Ponyville immediately, as the fourth bearer had succumbed to whatever was happening.
My superior shuffled on her bed and I realized I had been staring, or what some would account as staring. Though we were alone, I still felt heat rising on my cheeks at what others might think, even if I knew I had just zoned out. My gaze shifted away.
We had gotten a well-made, yet non-luxurious, cabin to ourselves. If red velvet walls and brass trimmings were not high-class, I’d love to see the richer side of the train. Our sleeping arrangements were two simple bunk beds with bronze edges on either side of the room, leaving the rest of the spacious cart open for a large oak planning table and dining nook. Near every corner, a wall-mounted candelabra shown wavering light upon the hardwood floor broken up in the middle with a black carpet trimmed in even more bronze.
The smell of clean sheets and burning wax filled the cabin and I opened a window into the late-night air, breathing deeply of the chill to spark my mind into staying awake. She didn’t tell me to, but I felt the need to memorize every detail in the reports the princess had sent along with us and I was growing weary. With a shake of my head, I plopped back into my seat and read each line again.
Date: May 24th, 3 R.H.
Name: Pinkie Pie
Race: Earth Pony
Birth: April 1st, 981 A.N.
Height: 1.34 meters
Weight: 84 kg
Narrative: Officers Bright Light and Point Range responded to a call of distress at Sugarcube Corner, the workplace and residency of the Cakes and the detained. One Mister Carrot Cake called the police, fearing for his children (Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake) after the detained had been acting erratically for the past two weeks.
The detained had been going into the store’s cellar before starting and after ending every shift, wherein the concerned parties could hear crazed laughter. Though they had written it off at first, the constant sound, combined with her change of manestyle, began to unnerve the couple. When the detained exited from the basement one day with what appeared to be blood on her coat, the husband immediately called the department.
Officers at the scene had a small scuffle in capturing the mare after inspecting the basement. Only minor bruises resulted. The mare is being incarcerated in the INSP. The Cakes were shaken, but otherwise unharmed.
INSP Report: Mare seems to be experiencing chronic depression, building into psychotic breaks when fed any glucose-, sucrose-, or fructose-rich foods. Neither mentality receptive to conversation, but recommend waiting until she is stable and avoid topics that might break her; no cues are known at this time.
The Institute for Not Sane Ponies. I don’t know how Ponyville’s citizens allowed such a facility to be built near their small town, nor do I know why they called it ‘not sane’ instead of just ‘insane’. The Institute was created within walking distance of the village’s hospital and yet far enough away to give the residents in the asylum a feeling of calm. The psychologists kept saying that a rural area would do the insane ponies well.
Reaching beside me, I pulled out a pocket watch from my vest and popped it open. Twelve, forty. With a sigh, I closed the watch, replaced it, and grabbed the next report.
Date: June 9nd, 3 R.H.
Birth: May 25th, 980 A.N.
Height: 1.35 meters
Weight: 79 kg
Narrative: One Ditzy Doo entered the precinct to report a disturbance on the outskirts of town. Officers Bright Light and Point Range responded. Upon arrival, a white rabbit approached the officers, tugging on Bright’s leg and leading the two to the residence of the local veterinary specialist, the detained.
The home appeared to be ransacked. Debris from animal homes littered the floor. At the sound of a scream, the officers rounded the building, finding the detained pinning a fox. The mare was assaulting the animal with a frenzied look.
Officer Point Range charged the mare. A short scuffle arose wherein the detained was wounded and the officer suffered three bite wounds.
The mare is incarcerated at the INSP. The fox and other injured animals was sent to the in-town veterinary clinic. Remaining animals released or being cared for by one Applejack.
INSP Report: Vicious tendencies induced by even the smallest offense. Recommend careful communication.
“Recommend careful communication”? That’s it? What’s going on at the INSP if they won’t give a better report than that?
I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing tears to form, and wiped the tiredness from them. The candlelight flickered across the pages as I struggled to keep awake and read the next report.
Date: June 29th, 3 R.H.
Name: Twilight Sparkle
Birth: September 15th, 979 A.N.
Colors: Lavender/Dark purple w/ Purple and Pink Stripe
Height: 1.34354725 meters (as reported on identification)
Weight: 82 kg
INSP Report: Twilight Sparkle entered the facility willingly, giving detailed accounts of what she believed to be erratic changes in behaviour. She was the first to point out a possible pattern emerging, though we wrote it off until now. Under her own orders, she wishes not to be released if she asks.
Two hours later, her assistant Spike entered the facility, only to be rushed to the hospital in mortal pain, whispering about elements and shadows.
Immediately, two orderlies detained her and fitted her with a magic-restraining ring. Her behaviour continuously changes by the minute, varying widely from calm and snide to furious. Recommend waiting until she’s in an easier mood before interrogation.
Twilight Sparkle. She not only saw what is happening, but also predicted her own insanity. We’ll have to be extremely careful around her. It would be different if she was just the princess’s personal student, but to be that intelligent means she can deflect and use anything we say against us.
My eyes burned for sleep as I set the file down and picked up the last in the pile.
Date: July 8th, 3 R.H.
Name: Rainbow Dash
Birth: January 3rd, 981 A.N.
Colors: Sky Blue/Rainbow
Height: 1.36 meters
Weight: 81 kg
Narration: Strange weather patterns appeared over Ponyville for a week, ranging from tornados to gale force hurricanes. The weather team was dispatched every time, ending the building storms before major damage would be dealt. The detained was never present, until one pegasus sighted the mare in the core of the last storm.
Officers Quick Flight and Phantom Wind were dispatched to detain the mare. They were unsuccessful. One Applejack arrived on the scene as the officers were chasing the incarcerated and helped with capture with a rope. Officer Wind fired a shot, tranquilizing the mare for transport to the INSP.
INSP Report: Patient is extremely aggressive and explosive. The confined spaces increases her wariness. Possibly claustrophobic and pistanthrophobic. Recommend short sentences with calming elements during conversation.
Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash. Earth, pegasus, unicorn, pegasus. All of them are near the same age. Every one of them devolved into insanity quickly.
My head began pounding, keeping me from thinking any further, and I held it in my hooves. After setting the last report aside, I checked my watch again. Two, fourteen. Another sigh escaped my lips.
Standing, I left the rest of the information to be pulled on an ‘as needed’ basis. Sharp needles of pain through shot through my hind legs, staggering me for a moment as I bumped into the wall. Fighting through the sleeping limbs, I trudged over to my bed, eyelids heavy. With a flop, I fell into the lower bunk opposite my superior’s and let darkness overtake me.
A piercing whistle forced itself into my dreams, jerking me awake in a start. Consequently, this caused my head to slam into the bottom of the upper bunk, eliciting a gasp of pain as I fell back into my covers and squeezed my eyes shut. As I brought a hoof to my throbbing cranium, giggling could be heard from the other set of beds.
Peeking one eye open and rubbing the soreness away, I spotted my superior sitting upon her mattress with a hoof over her mouth. Sunlight poured in from the unshuttered windows as a breeze blew in from the one I had left open. In the brighter light, I saw her mane already combed smooth. It seemed she had been awake for some time. I wanted to say something, but drowsiness and pain weren’t conducive to such an action.
“We are now arriving at Ponyville station,” the conductor called through the train’s intercom. “All passengers, please check that you have all your belongings and be ready to disembark.”
My superior stopped laughing at my expense and hopped off her bed, only to leave the cabin towards the exit to the train. No doubt, she expects me to gather and carry all the information we had been given. I didn’t mind, though, as she had hired me to do just that. With one last rub on my sore, I rolled out of bed and began gathering the materials, just as the train whistle blew once more.
The train began to slow, forcing me to lean against the change of speed to avoid stumbling as I grabbed the last report and stuffed it into my saddlebags. After throwing the flaps closed, I ducked my head under the strap connecting the two bags and lifted them. They slid down my neck and settled nicely on either side of my back. Spinning in place, my eyes surveyed the room for any items I may have missed. With a satisfied nod, I turned toward the door and left the cabin, allowing my mind to wander as I strolled past ponies gathering their own items or making their way toward the exit as well.
I was originally hired three years ago as a secretary and information handler for the detective. The interview process was unlike anything I had been through at the time. Instead of asking questions about my work history and desire for employment, she hoofed a stack of paper to me without saying a word...
My gaze shifted between the pile and the mare before me. She hadn’t said a word, not even a ‘hello’. Before I could open my mouth, her hoof tapped against the desk between us, though no emotion showed upon her face. Her green eyes bored into my own for a moment, causing me to turn away and look once more to the papers.
I had to blink rapidly. There were no spaces between the letters on the first page, leaving me with a nearly black sheet of ink. No matter how I tried to decipher what was written, my attention would keep moving to a different section.
Setting it to the side, I scanned the next page, this one with only nine dots spaced evenly on the page. No words were on the paper, nothing to tell me what I was to do. I shook my head and looked back to the mare. She only smirked, giving me no ideas.
Flipping the page on top of the last one, I saw a third one filled with symbols set a centimeter apart from each other. The fourth had numbers with letters placed beneath them. On the fifth page was nothing, until I flipped it over and found a red side. Page six had squares with more squares made from lines within it.
The last page finally gave me some clues. Six words were typed, spaced apart for responses: think, code, plan, translate, count, solve. At the bottom of the page were the words ‘shuffle set match’.
I looked up again, only to see her wave me on with her hoof with a bored expression. Sensing that I was beginning to fail her expectations, I hurriedly tried to shuffle through the previous pages. A beige hoof slapped down on my own and I glanced up to see her shake her head. Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to look through the pages again.
Panic gripped me. Sure that I would fail, but unwilling to go without trying, I picked up a pen on the desk. The last six pages ran through my mind as I tried to figure out what to do. I was certain that the words on the seventh page did not match the order I saw the papers, but every second I spent matching a word to a page, I lost some of the details.
I didn’t ask for this kind of job. I didn’t think being a secretary to a detective would result in such an interview. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know what she wanted from me. But I recalled something I grew up hearing all the time in my home: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Throwing caution, fear, and doubt away, I scrambled for the first idea I could come up with and ran with it.
Page one was translation. Piecing the bits of letters I could remember together, word after word was written down. By the time I had used up what I remembered, I had a sentence: ‘Can solving a riddle solve a crime?’ It didn’t seem to make sense to me, but I wrote down ‘yes’ without thinking about transcribing the question.
The second page had to be a thought puzzle. Did I need to connect the dots or did I need to create a shape? What was I supposed to do?! Tilting my head one way and the next did nothing to help me think and irritation set in, only for me to release it in a zig-zagged scribble beneath the word ‘think’.
Code, plan, count, solve. Which one matches the third paper? Can I count random symbols? Maybe. Plan them? Code them? Solve them? No. No, I can’t do any of those things. It has to be counting. How many of each symbol was there? I- I can’t remember! Uh... three. Just put down three!
Page four. Halfway there. Numbers with letters must be a code of some sort, but what does she want? “Tap.” If four is ‘S’, and two is ‘B’... but that doesn’t make any sense! “Tap, tap.” What was seven? “Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.” What is that tapping noise?! I glared towards the mare, seeing her knock her hoof against the desk. “Tap.” Is she trying to distract me? “Tap, tap.” Why would she... “Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.” Of course! She’s giving me the code! One, two, five? Something, ‘B’, something... One was... was... ‘T’! What was five? I can’t remember! I wrote down ‘TB’ and continued to the next page.
The fifth page was just white and red. I have two words left. Do I solve it or plan it? Can’t be plan; you can’t plan two colors. Solve what? What puzzle is white and red? If it was black, there is that old riddle about newspapers. Wasn’t black just the color of the text? Red was just the pretense of the thing, right? What is it, then? Ugh, next page.
All I have left is planning and squares. No... no, no, no! I messed up! This one was obviously counting! Where did I mess up? What do I ne-
I looked up to see the detective grinning at me with a hoof on set on a small bell, one normally used for calling for service. “Wait! I’m not done. I messed up and need more time,” I said in panic. “Please!”
With the smile still on her face, she waved me off and picked up the sheet I was working on. Her eyes scanned the page, but her expression never wavered. As she set it down, she looked back at me and worked her mouth, as if she was having trouble forming words. “Hired,” she said at length, holding onto the ‘h’ sound for a moment.
“W-what?” I was honestly confused. Did I not just fail her test?
“You may have gotten it wrong, dear Regard, but you did not give up, no matter how nervous or angry. I do not have need for someone in precision, though you do show an aptitude for it; I need someone who can recognize mistakes and thinks in an orderly fashion. I did not put those pages together correctly. The last page was necessary for any understanding. Though you failed in solving some of the puzzles, you showed a remarkable ability to find clues. Other candidates thought too linearly, while you saw things differently. That is what I need and that is why you are hired,” she explained with a smile, excitement lacing every word.
I sat there, slouched and dumbfounded, as I attempted to process her speech. A moment ago, her voice lacked life; not flat, but unconcerned. Now, her essence spilled out from her words, giving a sense of exuberance at just being alive. Unfortunately, that did nothing to help me understand what she meant. She wanted someone who thought outside of the box, and yet thought within it?
Her lips started to move, though no sound came out. Slowly, breath came out, starting a whisper that grew into the word ‘tomorrow’. I furrowed my brow, confusion and concern mixing as I watched her attempt speech again.
“Start... tomorrow,” she said, once again holding onto the start of the words and speaking lifelessly, though the smile never left her.
I smiled at the memory as I excused my way past a few more ponies and met up with my superior. She stood still, staring out the exit of the train with a smirk. It took a week for me to understand why she spoke the way she did, and it took even longer for her to finally get my name right. Though she continued to use the name of the assistant from a long passed detective.
The train applied its last round of braking with the squealing of metal sliding against metal as it inched its way to a stop. A moment later, the accordion doors opened, allowing us to disembark and step into Ponyville Station.
Just as any other train station, the platform we stood on had a roof held up by wooden beams and a ticket booth on one side. All other sides were open to air and I noted a quiet breeze rustle my mane. The air felt clean, refreshing, a stark contrast to Canterlot. Ponies of all colors milled about, either preparing to board or saying farewells. Some were sitting on benches that sat between the support pillars, while others stood aside for the ponies exiting the train.
A dark blue hoof waving about above the throng caught my attention just as my superior started toward it. I quickly followed after her, assuming the owner of the hoof to be our greeter. She pushed through the crowd without a word and I trailed behind, exchanging apologies along the way. After a minute, we broke through and came up on the pony.
He was a large stallion, though being an earth pony tends to cause that. His dark coat contrasted well with his grey mane. The standard officer’s vest covered his back and chest as the steel badge of Ponyville’s precinct was pinned on it. His countenance was one of gruff confidence, one I had seen many times during previous investigations.
“Detective Keen Eye?” he asked in a rugged voice, ignoring my presence entirely. His eyes roamed across my superior’s features as she nodded. “I’m Officer Point Range. I don’t see why the princess sent someone like you; there’s nothing wrong with this town. Those mares simply cracked from pressure. Even if that wasn’t true, you don’t look like much.”
Stepping forward, I opened my mouth to respond when a beige hoof pressed against my side. I followed the hoof to my employer. The detective studied the officer before us for a moment, her lips moving quickly yet silently. I picked up on what she wanted to say and, with a small nod, I looked back to the stallion. “You’re afraid of us.”
Point Range stepped back into an aggressive stance, his hind legs positioned for a charge. His eyes narrowed into a glare as he rounded on me. “What did you say?” he asked with a snarl.
“Point!” a feminine voice called from above. The flapping of wings drew our attention to the sky as a green pegasus was descending. She settled down next to the officer, scowling at him all the while. “What is wrong with you? You were supposed to greet them and return to the precinct.”
The dark blue stallion’s eyes switched between us and the mare beside him a few times before he huffed and turned away, strutting his way off the platform and down the dirt road into town. We watched him turn the corner and looked towards the new arrival.
“Sorry about that,” she said, her voice losing its sternness in favor of a soft, relaxed tone. “I’m Officer Quick Flight. Welcome to Ponyville, Detective Keen Eye and... assistant.” Flight smiled innocently towards me. “Sorry, the report we received about your arrival didn’t mention your name.”
“Regard,” my superior responded happily, halting my own response. I set a hoof upon my muzzle with a sigh. Once again, it looks like I’m stuck under that pseudonym. Quick Flight quirked an eyebrow as she studied us, a smirk slowly growing on her face.
“Regard? Like the-”
“Yes, yes, like the assistant of the late, great Detective Sighted Light. Keen likes to call me that,” I interjected with a shake of my head.
The smirk grew larger. “Then, what is your name?”
“Regard!” my superior cut in, again.
“Just, go along with it. Everypony else does.”
“Right. Well, Detective Keen, Regard, I’m sorry, but I have more reports to fill out. There’s a map available at the ticket booth just over there-” She tossed her head to the side towards the train station’s ticket counter. “-so I’m sure you two will be fine. Come by the precinct whenever you need us; we’ll be there all day.” With that, she nodded toward us and took off, flying through the skies in the same direction Officer Point Range was headed.
Looking back at the bored-looking attendant in the train station, I spoke to the detective at my side. “Shall we get a map?” She shook her head. “So we’re just going to wander the town? Where are we headed, anyway?” She only smiled and turned away, stepping off the station’s platform and taking a deep breath.
My superior looked up at the cloudless sky, then swept her gaze from Ponyville’s thatched roof buildings on the left to the road leading to an open plain on the right. A nod later, she headed down the dirt road, leaving the buildings behind. With a shrug, I chased after her.
Birds chirping. Trees swaying in the gentle breeze. Sweet smells of flowers filling the air. Noontime sun shining down. All of this led to a wonderful atmosphere where foals played and picnics were common. Honestly, I had no idea why my superior chose a walk in Ponyville’s open green plains, but I wasn’t complaining as I kept pace beside her.
Turning my head, I watched the wind play at her long mane. A smile continued to grace her features as she stared straight ahead. She giggled, and distracted as I was, I didn’t stop in time to avoid running into a group of fillies riding on a scooter and trailer across the well-worn path.
I tried to catch myself, but my hoof became stuck on the tow hook. Flipping and twisting over their mode of transportation, I landed on my back and brought the girls in the cart down atop me, forcing the air from my lungs. The sudden stop caused the third filly to slam into the scooter’s handlebars and fall back, adding to the pile of pony, and my pain. Moans from the girls elicited a short gasp from beside us and I craned my neck to see the owner.
A mare colored in such a light grey it could be confused for white, were it not for the clouds above her, stood before me, staring upon the pile with concerned eyes. Her curled indigo mane whipped to and fro as she surveyed the wreckage that was pony.
“Sweetie Belle!” the mare called louder than necessary. “Are you all right?” A groan came from above me and a filly of the same color as the mare squirmed. This movement started a cascade of twisting limbs and torsos. As I was on the bottom, I made sure to stay still and wait.
“I’m... okay,” she called back, straining to pull herself out. “Get off, Scootaloo! I can’t move.” I yelped in pain as her hoof struck my face and held itself there, pushing down while she struggled.
“Stop, stop, stop! Ya’ll are pullin’ mah tail!” the yellow filly right above me hollered with a southern accent as she twisted her flank, right into the off-white hoof. The change in balance caused the filly’s red tail to fill my face, followed by the one called Sweetie Belle’s muzzle slamming into mine through the hairs.
The newest sensation overwhelmed all others as stars filled my eyes. Sweetie Belle’s eyes were clenched shut in pain as the weight above me increased. Just as quickly, it left, along with a little extra.
“Right. I’m off; I’m off,” came the voice of the third filly. She circled around and grabbed the white filly’s front hooves. Upon pulling, the unicorn’s body slid across my face until her rear hooves caught the ground and she lifted herself up. Finally, the yellow filly climbed off and joined her friends. All three of them gave me a scrutinizing glare.
“What gives, mister! Why’d you run into us?” the orange pegasus yelled, her small wings buzzing. I laid there, staring back at them, as I waited for my body to stop complaining of pain. The mare switched her gaze from my supine form and and the girls a few times, before stepping between us, looking at the fillies. “You three are lucky you aren’t hurt. What were you thinking, going that fast across the road?” I sighed in relief, believing she was on my side, but then she rounded on me. “And you. Were you not watching where you were going?”
I finally had a chance to look at my superior, who only seemed to be watching on in mirth, her smile plastered on her face. With another groan, and against my body’s protests, I rolled over and stood. My eyes shifted between the fillies, their faces slightly downcast, and the irritated mare.
“Sorry, miss.” I bowed my head to her. “And I’m sorry for running into you three girls.” Another bow to the girls, and I looked back to the mare, awaiting her response.
“That’s better.” She turned to the fillies. “Well?”
“We’re sorry, mister,” the three said in unison. With a nod, the mare turned back to me.
“Now that that is taken care of, I must say I haven’t seen you two around Ponyville before.” She studied my attire. “And I would know, with one wearing such an ensemble. Where might you two be from, might I ask?”
“We are from Canterlot, miss...” I let the sentence hang as my superior trotted up beside me, her grin still present.
"Oh, how rude of me. My name is Rarity, the local seamstress, though I have worked for the Canterlot elite. Perhaps you've heard of me?" she asked, her azure eyes glowing with a mixture of hope and pride.
Realizing the attention was no longer on them, the fillies took the chance to slink away, dragging the scooter and trailer behind them quietly. I smiled inwardly, wishing I could avoid the upcoming conversation as well. I admit that I hadn’t heard of Rarity before, and I knew where our talk would lead after that. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back, hoping to keep the upcoming response from happening as long as possible.
“...Miss... Rarity? I you heard from about Fancy,” my superior said, her voice quiet.
Though my eyes were closed, I winced. She had gained enough respect in Canterlot not to be teased, but I was unsure how her speech impediment would be received in Ponyville. Slowly, I peeked out of one eye and saw the face, the face of one who is about to mock another: a raised eyebrow, head raised slightly, and an almost unnoticeable smirk.
Here it comes...
“Fancy Pants told you about me?”
“Oh, that’s fantastic news.” Though her voice was overflowing with energy, her actions showed nothing of the sort, other than a casual smile. “Oh, but where are my manners?” she said, placing a hoof to her chest. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company... oh, it seems I didn’t get your names, either. How silly of me.”
I was too shocked to reply right away. Somepony who didn’t mock my superior’s speech, even slightly? Though there were those that didn’t, the average would without thought, and some did it without meaning anything spiteful. Not only that, but she actually understood and responded in kind. The odds were not stacked in her favor.
“...Keen... Eye,” my superior said, watching me with the ever-present smile. She motioned towards me. “Regard,” she continued, though without issue. Rarity nodded towards us as our names were spoken.
The nickname pulled me from my thoughts and I shook my head to clear it. “Sorry. We came here under orders of Her Majesty, Princess Celestia, to look into the rash of insanity cases.” Keen smacked her face with a hoof after I spoke, moving her head from side to side.
“What?” I asked before looking back at Rarity. Her face had paled, somehow turning whiter than she already was as her eyes shrank to pinpricks.
“You... you two... are investigating... my friends?” My mind filled with curses at my brashness. “E-excuse me...”
The unicorn ran by us, her head lowered as she headed into town. I watched her silhouette grow smaller and smaller, before my head was knocked forward and pain throbbed from the back of my skull.
“Owww... what was that for?” I asked, peeking up to see my superior glaring at me. “Right.” I straightened up, stretching to get the soreness of the earlier wreck out of my system, before turning back to town. “Guess we should follow her, huh?”
“Later, Regard. I’ve had my fun; let us get to the INSP,” she replied as she continued down the path. With a sigh, I trudged after her.
Not five feet later, a pony jumped in front of us. He was a tan earth pony, and his scraggly brown mane looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. Eyes wide, he stared directly into Keen’s own. With a whisper, he said, “If you want to get out alive, run for your life.”
“Sir, what are you saying?” I asked.
“If you stay, it won’t be long till you’re burning on the inside!” With that, he ran off towards a copse of trees. We stared at him as he faded away into the distance. I turned to my superior and she looked back at me, worry etching its way upon her features.
The institute loomed before us, a blight upon the happy town behind us. With the sun behind it, the entire facade was set in shadow, as if daring anypony to enter willingly. It was painted a simple grey, the only splash of color being the curtains hanging in the windows, most of which were closed. A large French door marked the entryway with a bench on either side. Beside the foreboding building sat the hospital, and we could see the occasional doctor rushing between them, using a side entrance marked by a small awning above it.
Upon entering, we were greeted by doctors and nurses scuttling about, whether working frantically at a desk, or rushing through the doors next to the check-in counter or the two on either side of the lobby. Their hooves scraped against the white tiled floor as they paused to regard us, only to turn away and continue their work. No pony was sitting on the bench left of the entrance, and we could see why: a yellow guard in a simple blue vest started towards us, no doubt to usher us away from the chaos.
“The institute is closed today. I need to ask you two to leave,” he said as he reached us, his large frame making a convincing argument for complacency. Unfortunately for him, we weren’t leaving so easily.
“We’re here to investigate the bearers.” Reaching into a pocket of my vest, I removed a sheet of paper and presented it to him. “Orders from Celestia say we have full access, should we need it.”
The stallion’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as he grabbed the note with a hoof and read it. His mouth pulled into a scowl before he threw it back at me. “Wait here,” he replied simply before turning around and heading through the center door.
Most of the ponies in the lobby stopped and stared at us. Every one of their eyes had a mix of annoyance and hope, and I put faith in that we weren’t imposing too much. A cough resonated from the counter, pulling our attention towards a mare. She tapped the surface and floated a pen towards us in a pink hue of magic. Apparently, we were still expected to sign in.
We approached the desk and gave our names before she handed each of us a waiver. A simple thing, signing it would let the institute know we were aware of certain risks inherent in communicating with those of less sane repute. Just as we finished giving our signatures to the clipboards provided, the guard returned, another stallion in tow. This one wore a white lab coat with his brown mane combed back.
“Back to work, ponies! Don’t mind these two,” he said as he stepped before us, an irritated frown marking just how much we were intruding. The others complied immediately, leaving the room or scribbling on notepads as quickly as possible. “You two couldn’t have picked a worse time to show up, you know that?”
“What’s going on?” I asked as I watched the other ponies working.
“Those bearers you are investigating are being vicious. So much so, in fact, that they helped a few patients escape.” He turned back to the door he entered from, waving us to follow. “I don’t have time to go over everything right now, but suffice to say, ponies were wounded.”
We entered a long white hallway with a security station set up ten feet away. As we reached it, he waved a hoof again, this time towards the guards there. We were allowed passage without being checked before he spoke again.
“Bad enough. Look, I’m taking you to the surveillance room. You can’t talk to any of them right now, so you’ll just have to be happy with observing.”
“I guess we don’t have a choice in the matter right now. Who are you, anyway?”
He stopped and spun around, eyeing me with irritation. “I’m the head of this institute. Didn’t you read anything before coming here?” After a dismissive snort, he continued. “Doctor Ouroboros. Anyway, here we are.”
His hoof pressed against a blue box adjacent to a closed entryway for a moment before the steel door slid up into the ceiling. Within, screens lined the walls with numbers placed beneath them showing a different cell in each one. “Rooms ten through thirteen. Go ahead and leave when you’re satisfied.” Turning on his rear hooves, he trotted further down the hall.
We stepped in, scanning the room. The dim lighting within allowed the screens to show everything without a glare. Two guards were on either side, keeping an eye on every cell with practiced ease. As we looked around, we spotted the row of monitors Ouroboros mentioned and made our way over, looking at each monitor one at a time.
Pinkamina Diane Pie, room ten:
A pink mare sat on her bed with her back to the camera. Her mane hung limply across her shoulders and back. She’d be beautiful, if not for the instability. As if knowing I was there and what I was thinking, she turned towards the camera with a seductive smirk on her face, mouthing, “I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem.”
I shuddered, a spark of electricity shooting down my back as my superior raised an eyebrow towards me. A small smile grew on her face before she shook her head. She turned back to the monitor and we continued to watch.
The mare had turned fully to the camera, now. Her head tilted to one side; she seemed to be thinking of something, a twitch in her leg the only movement we could see. Then, her eyes widened and the sultry look returned.
“How naughty,” she said, shocking us when her voice came through a speaker on the console beneath the screens. I looked down to see a grey hoof moving away and followed it to its owner, one of the guards.
“Turn the dial to the screen you’re viewing to hear the patient,” he replied to my silent question. Then, he went back to watching the various other monitors. I sighed for what felt like the hundredth time that day and turned back to Pinkie’s cell.
“Can she hear us as well?” I asked as the mare giggled, the sound more menacing than it should have been.
“If you hit the button marked ‘mic’, yes, though I wouldn’t put it past that one.” I nodded stiffly at his grim statement. Deciding I had enough of watching the mare, I looked to the next screen.
Fluttershy, room eleven:
She was pounding on the door, screaming, and I didn’t want to turn the dial. It seemed my superior had the same thought, as she didn’t reach for the controls, either. The room she was in had the same design to it as the last: white padded walls reinforced to prevent cutting and a simple mattress without a bed frame.
The continuous assault on the steel door actually started to make dents. My eyes widened in surprise. How could a petite mare like her possibly have the strength to damage two-inch thick metal? Keen blinked rapidly at the sight, just as surprised as me, when a sigh came from beside us.
“That’s the third door she’s damaged since she was admitted.”
“What do you mean, ‘third door’? Surely a few dings wouldn’t warrant replacing, as impressive as it is.”
“Normally, no, but see those punches? They aren’t random.” He came over and we all watched the mare on the screen continue her assault. The hits seemed random enough, but after a few moments, I saw the same pattern repeated over and over. “When we first installed the door, she just looked at it. Now, she is hitting the weakest points, and we have no idea how she figured it out.”
“You mean she can find the weakest points of a door and hit them long enough that it actually folds in on itself?”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Only halfway through, and I already felt like running for my life. If either one of the mares we had already seen escaped...
I shook my head, erasing the morbid thoughts, and turned to the next screen.
Twilight Sparkle, room twelve:
The mare in this room seemed to be sleeping, her chest rising and falling slowly, rhythmically.
“Rooms arrange how is?”
“You all right there, miss?”
“How are the rooms arranged? Well, odd numbered rooms are on one side with evens on the other.”
I saw what my superior was getting at. Really, what is wrong with this institute? First, they give a half-flanked report on each patient, and now they put them all next to each other? Knowing they have a connection?
“I thought Ouroboros said they were being violent and helped others escape. Baring Fluttershy, the other two seem fine,” I said, turning away from the sleeping mare to watch the guard shuffle on his hooves.
“These mares aren’t normal patients. One minute they can be calm, and the next they can be difficult, even violent. What you’re seeing now is two hours after the assault.”
“None. Absolutely nothing happens between when they are cooperative and not. The doctors are baffled.”
I was sure the guard shouldn’t have said that last part. Anything that can compromise the integrity of the institute, such as telling outsiders the professionals were lost, had to be written in the rulebook as a big ‘no’.
The mare suddenly raised her head, perking her ears towards the door. Keen quickly turned the dial to her cell to listen in, but whatever Twilight was hearing didn’t come through the speaker. Then, she turned to look at the camera.
Her mane was a mess, strands sticking out at odd angles as a manic grin was plastered to her face. Pinprick pupils stared directly into the camera, though they shook with raw insanity.
“Hahaha!” Her loud laughing forced its way through the console and she didn’t stop until all the air had left her lungs. Taking a large breath she screamed at the camera. “You think you can solve this case?! Look at me! Do you believe yourself capable of succeeding where I failed? Celestia’s personal protege?! Ha!”
Acting purely on impulse, I pressed the mic’s activation button. “We will find the cause. We will.”
Pealing laughter filled the room as the mare threw my proclamation away. “If you think you’re smart enough to find the culprit, detective, then answer this riddle!
“I live in the forest, but don't make my home there.
“You can move through me, see if I care.
“When you've forgotten me, that's when I spring.
“Your life is with me; to your death I bring.”
Everypony waited as I thought it over, coming to the answer quickly. “A river,” I said in complete confidence. “It lives and flows through a forest, and doesn’t care if you step in it. But if you forget to watch what you’re doing, it can cause your death, easily.”
“Ha! I knew it. Have fun on your wild goose chase!”
I narrowed my eyes at the screen, glowering. That was the only answer that made sense, and yet she laughed it off as wrong. Turning, I saw my superior shaking her head slowly at my brash actions. With a grunt, I threw myself off the console, releasing the mic activation button in the process, and stepped back.
That has to be the right answer.
Rainbow Dash, room thirteen:
An empty room was shown on the monitor. The mattress was torn, as well as a few small rips in the walls. There was evidence of repairs having been made many times before, but there was nopony inside at the moment to do more.
“Hold on. She likes to hide away from the camera,” Brick said before pressing another button on the console.
The view panned to the left until a light blue mare with a polychrome mane could be seen. She was curled in a ball, shivering, as she stared into the center of the room. Her ears were perked for the slightest noise, which caused her to watch the camera turn towards her. The guard then turned the dial, just in time to hear Rainbow Dash yelp and run to the newly made blind spot.
“She doesn’t trust anything, so she hides from the camera. The doctors say she’s claustrophobic, too, but we’re not about to let her in the open,” the stallion explained. “Those tears you see were from her. It’s a good thing we have a nurse good at sewing, or we’d have to give her a new room every day.”
My superior nodded to me and we left the monitors, giving our full attention to the guard. “When did the room get repaired last?” I asked.
“Three hours ago. She was returned to her cell after we captured her during the riot an hour ago. She’s really fast.”
“So I’ve heard.” The riddle was still bugging me, keeping me from being completely in the conversation, though I understood when Keen prodded me. “We’ve seen what we needed, officer. We’ll see ourselves out.”
“Of course. Take care, and I hope you find out what’s happening. Divinity knows this needs to end.”
With a nod to the stallion, I pressed against the room’s exit. Not needing a security pass for exits, the door opened immediately, revealing Ouroboros standing in the doorway. He waved his hoof for us to follow him again and we headed back to the security checkpoint, through the door beyond, and into the sunlight, shaded though it was from the building.
The doctor breathed in deeply, letting it out slowly as a smile crossed his lips. “Fresh air, huh?” he said, though he didn’t bother waiting for a response as he pulled out a small box from his coat pocket and withdrew a cigarette. “Though I prefer this.” He lit it with a flash of his horn and pulled from it.
Smoking was new to Equestria, and it was extremely rare to see a pony do so. Everypony knew the dangers of such a habit, but some were drawn towards it for its supposed relaxing effect. As he exhaled, though he was kind enough to do so away from us, the breeze wrapping around the building blew some into our faces.
“Sorry. The wind,” he stated simply as we coughed. “So now you know what you’re up against. Think you can handle it?”
“I’ve solved cases others thought impossible, doctor,” Keen Eye replied with perfect clarity. I turned to see her looking back at Ouroboros, her eyes focused.
“Good luck, then.” With that, he threw his cigarette on the ground and stomped it out, turning to reenter the institute.
“Luck to you as well, Nebulus.”
A barking laugh filled the air as the doctor continued towards the doors. “Comparing me to him? I have much more experience; I don’t need luck, Sighted Light.” We watched him disappear back into the grim building, confidence exuding from his very being, before we, too, turned away.
Sorry for the wait; I’ve been extremely lazy. Just so you know, I’ve done a few tweaks to the first chapter, though none of it will be a problem. Reread it if you want.
Thanks to N64Fan for help with the riddle, also RavensDagger, Frederick the Saiyan, and N64Fan (again) for some editing/prereading work.
‘I live in the forest, but don't make my home there.
‘You can move through me, see if I care.
‘When you've forgotten me, that's when I spring.
‘Your life is with me; to your death I bring.’
The riddle continued to ring within my mind as we made our way back towards town. I admit I was operating on autopilot at this point, following my superior around without any thought, but the answer eluded me. I thought it was a river at first, though I’m starting to think such a simple answer was not what the purple mare meant.
‘To your death I bring.’ What else is in a forest that can kill and yet also intangible? The very air? Poison? Maybe...
“Answer?” Keen Eye asked, breaking me out of my trance. When I turned to face her, determination could be seen within her eyes.
“I don’t know. She laughed at me when I said river, but the only thing I can think of otherwise is poison in the air.” I shook my head, throwing the riddle out of my mind for now in favor of another mystery. “I’m more interested in why you’re so talkative. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this on a case.”
She turned to face the road again, the conviction still present. Thatched roofs grew from the ground as we began to ascend a small knoll in the road, the same one on which we encountered the crazed pony. Despite myself, my eyes slid off towards the copse of trees into which he had disappeared, expecting him to jump out and interrupt us once more.
No such thing happened, however, and Ponyville’s homes soon came into view. I could faintly make out the colored shapes of its denizens wandering the streets. As we strolled closer, their faces became distinguished, and I caught glimpses of nervousness and fear before they were hidden once more within peaceful facades. One such pony with fear-filled eyes turned in our direction before running to greet us.
“Y’all must be the ponies Rarity was talkin’ about,” she said when she arrived before us, a faint layer of sweat glistening off her orange coat. “Y’all spooked her good when ya said you were lookin’ into our friends.”
My superior and I looked at each other, until her countenance became a smirk and she nodded her head towards the mare. I sighed openly at her intention and turned back to our interruption.
“Yeah, that was me. I was going to apologize as soon as I saw her again, but—”
“T’ain’t nothing to feel sorry for. You done scared her is all, not ‘affronted’ the girl,” the mare said, sitting down and bending her front hooves in front of herself in a rough image of quotation marks. “We’ve all been a bit touchy after Pinkie... well, you know.”
“Yes, we are aware. In either case, if you do see Miss Rarity, could you give her my condolences?”
“That sounds like something you should give her yerself, don’t ya think?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes it does, ma’am.”
“Aw shucks, call me Applejack, owner of Sweet Apple Acres,” she said with her head held high in pride as her loose blonde mane fluttered in a breeze. “Ah do have a question for ya, though.” She cast her eyes on my superior, a hopeful smile gracing her lips. “Have ya figured anything out?”
Keen Eye looked to the sky, closing her eyes in thought.
“Sorry, we aren’t supposed to talk about the case to civilians, even if they are the victims’ friends,” I said before she could respond, making her turn to watch me recite The Detective’s Rulebook for Detectives. “But if there’s any information you can give us, it could speed up the process.”
Applejack turned to me, a hint of a glare in her eyes before they turned genial once more. “Ya know, them police ponies said the same thing. But like Ah told them, Ah spend most my time on the farm, and the last time Ah spoke to any of them, they were fine.”
“And before ya ask, the last time Ah saw any of them was a week before Pinkie... did what she did. Twilight thought it would be best if we avoided each other and work through things ourselves,” she explained while glancing between my superior and me.
“Odd that she would tell you that. Are you not all friends? Wouldn’t friends stick together after such an ordeal?”
The mare narrowed her eyes and stomped the ground. “Are ya callin’ me a liar? Ah’ll have you know the Apple family don’t accept lyin’ and Ah sure a sugar won’t be caught doing it, ya hear?” She jumped back to her hooves and spun around, allowing us a glimpse at her cutiemark: three red apples arranged in a triangle. “Ah’ve got a stall to run,” she called behind her as she trotted back into town, her legs pounding the ground harder than they should and stirring up dust.
I flinched in anticipation for another slap, but none came. When I turned to my superior, I saw her staring after Applejack in confusion. After a moment of quiet, she nodded and stepped into the village’s borders as well. My hooves followed after her as my mind wandered.
There was something about that mare Keen didn’t like. I don’t really believe her, either. What kind of friend tells everyone to deal with something like that separately? My gaze switched behind me at the institute resting upon another hill further away. Is what I saw of them how they acted before, or are they completely different?
Lost in thought as I was, I barely caught my superior turn away from where we were headed, or where I thought we were headed, out of the corner of my eye. As I trotted after her, I passed ponies going about their day, some of which staring after us in worry. A small part of my mind hoped we could bring their fears to rest soon.
“Where are we going? I thought the precinct was our next stop,” I asked when I reached Keen’s side. She merely glanced at me with a bemused expression and pointed towards the horizon. The sun was just beginning to reach the mountains on the horizon, casting gold and fuchsia into the atmosphere that was broken up by lingering clouds. “Ah.”
There are two places guaranteed to have information: bars and hotels. Bars, of course, are where ponies go to unwind and have a bit of fun, and the alcohol tends to loosen lips very easily. However, most detectives forget about hotels and how beneficial they are to a case. Nowhere else can you find out who’s visiting, or been kicked out of their home for said drinking, and that information holds a lot more promise than some would expect.
Then again, we weren’t at the hotel for information. Upon entering the building, which we learned was the only hotel in Ponyville from a passerby, I thought we were in the wrong town. The proprietor had thought it was a good idea to throw so much pomp into the lobby I was considering we had somehow teleported to Manehattan.
A rich marble floor of various colors created a mosaic depicting Celestia raising the sun, which set the theme of the entire room. Columns made of even more marble stood proudly as they held the balconies of the second floor, whose railings were painted as gold and white spirals. Chandeliers hung from the vaulted ceiling every twenty feet to cast a yellow hue upon the white-washed walls.
Ahead of us by nearly fifty feet was the check-in counter with a sharply-dressed stallion standing at attention. As we headed his way, the spaces beneath the loft opened up into seating areas with dark oak tables and velvet red cushions. Sitting in one of these was an azure mare with a blue mane that bordered on white who perked up from her reading to watch us pass.
“How may I assist you?” the clerk asked with as much pomposity as the room when we drew up to the counter. I had him set up a room for us overlooking the center of town, which he obliged with no comment, bit the key he set on the counter for us, and turned towards the stairs. We didn’t make it far before the mare from before intercepted us.
“Excuse Trixie, but are you the detectives sent from Canterlot?” she asked. Before I could respond, she continued. “Don’t listen to what the locals say. Trixie would never do something so… spiteful.”
My superior and I shared a look before I spoke up slowly. “I’m… sorry. Who are you?”
The mare took a step back with a curious look in her eyes. “You don’t know Trixie? The townsfolk didn’t start calling for my head the second they saw you?” Whoever this mare was, she seemed to fall back on first pony at the slightest emotion. When I shook my head, she set herself with her chest puffed out and continued. “I am Trixie, formerly The Great and Powerful Trixie, but circumstances changed that. Trixie is in town to make amends to the ponies she’s wronged in the past and—”
She stopped and stared at me with a raised eyebrow. “Why are you carrying that key in your mouth?” Unease swept through me immediately. “You’re a unicorn, aren’t you? What’s wrong with your magic?”
While asking about somepony’s magic wasn’t considered wrong, it was a bit of a faux pas, and it was rude to not answer a pony’s question as well. There was a reason, a very good reason, why I didn’t use my magic, but I didn’t want to discuss it. Just as I was looking for a way out and sweat began to build on my forehead, Keen strolled by the mare and gave her a light push before heading up the stairs.
“I… uh, gotta go. My superior, uh...” I mumbled in a slight panic, then chased after Keen. When I glanced back, the mare was glaring after us. The last thing I needed was another pony upset at us, but there was nothing I could think of at the moment. “Sorry!”
I met up with Keen at the door to our room and quickly opened it. Inside were two beds separated by a small nightstand just beyond a short hallway created by the bathroom. The room itself was decorated much like the lobby, but with less marble and more carpet the same red as the cushions in the sitting areas. An oak table sat to the side where I quickly shrugged off the saddlebags and set the key.
My superior and I had shared a few hotel rooms together on previous cases, so I made sure to take a seat by the table and wait for her to shower first. The dirt in my coat from earlier didn’t bother me enough to break the order we started a few years ago, so I took the time to set up our files as the sounds of a shower could be heard.
Reaching down, I started with the files I read on the train. Using a few pins I brought with us, I set up each victim’s file on a different section the wall opposite the beds. I pulled our spool of yarn out as well, but had no good leads of my own to start mapping, so I set it down on the table. Then, I grabbed my notebook and a quill and began writing.
I had a summary of each victim that we learned about at the asylum and the start of Rarity’s profile by the time I heard the water turn off. Turning to make sure I had the wall set up well enough for Keen, I stood and moved toward the bathroom. Without even a creak, the door opened.
Steam rolled out near the ceiling as Keen took a step out. Her evergreen mane was a tangled mess from toweling off, yet it looked good on her all the same. As she turned towards the beds, the old thought, like an inlaw, came back again. I was met with the crazy, familiar idea that, with a bit of luck, we could be an item, but I knew enough to keep it buried deep within my mind and away from my mouth. We were comfortable enough to share a room, I reminded myself. That was all.
Shaking my head to clear it, I hopped into the bathroom to take care of my own needs. Unfortunately, my superior had the organizing skills of a child, and I first had to clean the mess she left behind. On the plus side, I could use her towel as a drying pad when I climbed out later, so I wasn’t too irritated. Not that I can be after getting used to her antics these past two years.
There’s something to be said about a nice hot shower, especially when you get all the dirt out from your coat. Granted, it takes a long time, but the feeling of warm water cascading over you is meditative in a way. But I also knew Keen was waiting for me, so I shut off that valve to bliss and stepped out of the tub. After a quick dry rub with the hotel’s luxurious towels, I tidied up and exited the restroom.
When I turned the corner, I saw my superior sprawled across one of the beds haphazardly and sighed. I thought we’d recap what we learned today, or at least organize things before bed, but I guess she left that for me to do instead. Unfortunately for her, I was the one carrying half our luggage all around town and I was wiped, too. With a quick flick of my hooves, I covered her with the bedsheets, before flopping down on my own.
She can be mad at me in the morning if she wants. These beds are too perfect.