Twist is BEST PONY.
ThursdayExperimental Log 8.193 alpha romeo fartsock 39 comments · 86 views
SaturdayDARING OMGGERRRD (and other frustrated noises) 20 comments · 111 views
1w, 2dThis is Relevant to your Interests pt 4 10 comments · 52 views
1w, 3dThe odd transference of life 5 comments · 56 views
3w, 1dFloating around the Aether 17 comments · 66 views
5w, 6dCharity SUPER-BOOST 0 comments · 28 views
6w, 3dOtamatone x Pony #1 - Hush Now 8 comments · 58 views
6w, 4dA small project I worked on 16 comments · 57 views
6w, 5dThese are the things I see in my head when I close my eyes 15 comments · 59 views
7w, 1dPeep what summat did for me wut stuff bloke chap eh? 5 comments · 44 views
For many years past, too many to recall, and too many to account for, the war had raged on, and had always ended in a way that made nopony satisfied.
And it wasn't about winning or losing. If you won, you were satisfied in the victory. If you lost, you were satisfied in the trials. But when the one you are fighting runs away after his foul deeds, there is no dignity. There is no grace of the battlefield. And there certainly isn't any satisfaction.
Whether it was accompanied by pitchforks and fire, or simply a whisper in the night, after the fifth came the message, and the message was always very clear.
Sometime, in the future, it said, I will be back. Here are the ones I shall be taking with me, and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it.
The tablet acted as both a warrant and a promise. And for those many years past, and for many years since, that promise had always been kept, and the warrant had always been executed.
And when a pair of eyes hiding behind a hood of cotton looked at the final message, after a long chase in which the disappearance of a certain murderer incited rage and fury, it soon became clear that now, the battle was personal.
And rage and fury gave way to confusion and fear.
But rage lingers.
And fear is a good trigger.
In a combination of the two, the tablet was cast up, high up into the air, as high as could be thrown, and the sky was cleaved in twain as a magical bolt of eldritch light struck it as hard as it could, shattering it into a dozen pieces, and scattering them onto the fields below, a single piece flying far and away into the distance.
The figure in the cloak, breathing heavily, exhausted from the hunt of the phantom fox, retired away into the night, having crushed the tablet in the way that the elusive killer should have been.
One can erase words.
Words are easily lost, and easily forgotten.
Lies can cover truths, and time is a great eraser.
And in a thousand years, words wear away and a beautiful bright meadow blooms over a vast wasteland.
Oh yes, one can erase words.
But as long as a single individual remembers the message, the message is never truly lost.
And words can be rewritten.
At the dawning of the new day.
The sun was setting fast today.
Faster so than normal, and the hazy wisps of red and orange that climbed the horizon gently faded into the darkness of the early evening, filtering everything through a glow of soft, gentle light.
A return back to civilization was called for, and with most of what they had set out to do being achieved to some degree of accomplishment, Twilight Sparkle and the little burnt pony known as Duriandal had retreated on their slow way back to the library.
They had gone through a multitude of tests and subsequent apologies, but nothing seemed to work, and that small piece of legacy was still adhered fast to the side of Duriandal, surrounded by the stains of magic gone awry.
At first, like all things that she couldn't control, it bothered her.
But between the stain on her rump and the dirt in her hair, scuffed legs and mud on her hooves, it suddenly occurred to her that, in fact, the only part of her that wasn't dirty was just that little bit on her chest, which she rubbed soil on, to Twilight's curious gaze.
And then it was all ok again.
In the end they both had a bit of a laugh about it. Well, one half of them did, at least. Duriandal satisfied herself by giving a wry sort of smile, even though she found it awkward to do so. But today was the day for trying out new things, wasn't it?
But the day was ending.
And under the blanket of a dawning night, she once again had to force herself back into the reality of the moment, and the necessary actions she knew needed to be taken.
She stared at the moon, as she stood just outside of the library, already visible despite it not being fully night-time yet. And she thought, with no great aplomb, about the very next chapters in her suddenly prominent life.
But with weighty decisions on every side of the scale, she re-entered the library, where Twilight was already waiting, with only one last discussion to be had.
"Hey, you were out there for pretty long," Twilight said, looking up from the book she had open in front of her, as she curled up in her favourite reading spot, a glass of milk and some freshly-baked cookies keeping her company. "You manage to get some thinking done?"
Duriandal bobbed her head as she walked along, joining Twilight but not getting too close for fear of snack contamination - she was still carrying a fair portion of the ground along with her, and was mindful of that regardless.
"Oh boy, what happened to you?" pointed Spike, sniggers exploding at the scene. "You look like you buried yourself under a mound of soil!"
"I was attempting to, yes," Duriandal replied.
"You... you were? I mean, your butt looks like it got struck by lightning!"
"Not lightning, per se, but a close approximation thereof, with what I imagine was a scaled, although accurate, amount of pain and discomfort."
"I... your... hair is sooooo messy! Forgot to pack your hair gel?"
"That is exactly so, I have forgotten to bring my hair styling solution along," sighed the dirty pony, "But of course, I did not foresee the need for it."
"Uh..." Spike murmured, scratching his head. That... was not how his attempts at joking usually ended up.
"Huh," observed Twilight. "Well, that's... one way to stop him."
Spike dropped to his knees, the spirit of petty insult leaving him.
"Don't mind him, Duri. Listen, did you find what you were looking for out there?" she offered a cookie, floating it in front of Duriandal's face, which she took in her mouth.
"Nof," she responded, taking a bite out of what was in her mouth and letting the rest fall to her waiting hoof. "Unfofunafely."
"Well, that's too bad. What are you going to do?"
"It is merely a problem of logic, Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight nodded to go on, closing the book that was in front of her.
"Staying here... is not an option. No, Twilight Sparkle," she saw her mouth begin to open, and decided to reaffirm her decision, "As much as I would appreciate your hospitality, this is not my place. I realise that I have been thinking of leaving Canterlot for a long time, but... it is strange."
"I... simply cannot understand it, Twilight Sparkle. To tell you the truth, your offer of me to remain in this town is... perfectly acceptable. It would accomplish most of what I seek - to be in an environment of other Earth Ponies, and to be rid of my ties to a town with... an uncomfortable history, but..."
"When I think of leaving..."
There was a slight shift in her expression. Not one that is altogether obvious, but you could sort of see it. She just looked all that much more sad to Twilight.
"You're homesick," Twilight pointed out. "Not even that, I think you have attachments to Canterlot that you're not really aware of."
"I am not homesick, Twilight Sparkle. I have no attachments. I don't feel anything for Canterlot... or Ponyville. They are just places to stay."
"You're homesick," Twilight repeated, smiling to herself.
"Twilight Sparkle, I assure you..."
"Duri, listen. You don't feel anything because you're weird like that, ok? But just because you don't feel anything doesn't mean those feelings aren't there. You just don't know how... to understand them, that's all. But in the end, the... proof... the logic, if you must, is right there, isn't it?"
"I do... not understand."
"Why are you trying so hard to figure this out? Why did you spend a good hour and so outside thinking, and then ending up nowhere? You started the conversation by telling me you can't stay here. So that means you're gonna go back, right?"
"Um," Duri took some time skipping past the first few questions, having to answer them individually to herself before getting to the last one. "Yes, I... was about to say that I would return, because..."
"I am... harsh on Spike," said Twilight.
"Boy, you got that right," Spike yelled, from the floor where he had decided to sit.
"We disagree a lot. Sometimes, we end up having arguments, even. Nopony likes an argument, and dragons even less. We fight... and shout..."
"... and yell, and ignore each other's advice. Regarding the relationship between myself and Spike, what would the logical thing to do be, given this scenario?"
"You should... sever ties. If... the relationship is causing so much trouble, it would be more sensible to discard it," said Duriandal.
"Yes. But, I don't. And Spike would never leave me either, unless... he's being really stupid that one time... but no, we still continue to share this relationship, and we really don't ever stop fighting."
"I do not see the relevance..."
"Duri, we spend time... and effort... and we sacrifice our personal well-being for the things we care about. I love Spike. He's a dear friend, and always has been, and always will be. The arguments we have are a sign of our passion to help each other improve. If I didn't care, I would leave. It would be easier. It's harder to spend time on something that we know will give us strife... because somehow we know it'll be worth it in the end."
"You... keep going back to Canterlot. You've invested a huge amount of time and effort in building a business there, in finding your place... and for what? You're right, it'd be... fifty times easier doing it anywhere else, especially compared to a place with bad history, so why do you keep going back?"
"That... that was what I could not figure out, Twilight Sparkle."
"Duri, you... need to listen to your feelings. Maybe you just don't want to listen to them because they've always been a burden in the past, or maybe they don't make any sense and you just must do the logical thing. But for me? Listening to your feelings is the logical thing. And there's always got to be a balance. I would know. I was a wreck before coming here."
"I... still feel like visiting Cloudsdale, though," muttered Duriandal.
"Duri, it's called a holiday. A want to go see some other town doesn't equate to a want to leave the one you're in permanently, you know. You get stuck in a rut, and that's... bad. You seem like the kind of pony whose entire life is a rut."
"I like to keep things in order."
"Well then how about today?"
"What about this day, Twilight Sparkle?"
"You're out of Canterlot, right? Very first time? How do you feel?"
"Exhausted, and in pain. I wish to take a shower. I wish to take many showers."
"No, I mean... do you find life here any different than life in Canterlot?"
"I... have no particular thoughts either way."
"Seems to me there's no particular attraction, then, is there?"
"That... is what I said, Twilight Sparkle."
"So go back, Duriandal. Go back to your life up there. Remember, it's not about proving anything to yourself, or to others. Just make friends, and treat them well, and just believe that you're already doing just fine."
There was a short silence, while the machines worked inside Duriandal's head. It was hard to just throw it away like that, and it wasn't going to happen soon. But the truth is, Twilight Sparkle had begun to at least implant a grain of truth inside, somewhere, and in the strange place that was Duriandal's mind, she would begin to try to understand.
And that was always the first step.
"I... I will, Twilight Sparkle," Duriandal said, genuinely. "I will."
But then a slight smile inched across her face, as much as she could, before she finally had to say it.
"But, Twilight Sparkle, your points are well received and understood, and I have benefitted greatly from our time spent together..."
"Always glad to help," Twilight gave herself a mental pat on the back.
"... but I was going to explain that... the primary reason for why I couldn't stay here is because of the stone that is magically attached to my rear."
"Oh... yes..." Twilight suddenly remembered. "That... was there, wasn't it?"
"Jeez, Twilight," Spike cut in. "You really suck at this, don't you?"
Duriandal nodded in full agreement, finishing off the cookie.
"Oooo amethyst, amethyst, lovely lovely amethyst," Rarity sang, dancing across the wide open field. "Over there, and over there and over here!"
"Sweet Celestia," said Canary.
"Oh come on, she's having fun," said Blitz, standing to one side under the shade of a tree.
Behind them was the police cart which Silver was now lounging in, along with an empty sack that once used to contain a fair number of amethyst stones of various sizes and shapes.
The sack used to be in Blitz's workshop, in an area where she tossed all her spare junk. Amethyst was spare junk to her, simply because it wasn't a very good material for building, and it wasn't something that ponies usually asked for in the sculpture trade. It was more marble and opal and mother-of-pearl for her, and sometimes when she came across little baubles and gems she would use them for trading, or for other reasons, such as this.
The scattered remains of soil around Silver's front hooves showed how busy she had just been, doing a solid favour for Blitz.
"Fair's fair, right?" smiled the cloud-headed pony. "Look how happy she is."
"I... seriously don't care," said Canary. "I... why doesn't she dig them up herself?"
"Oh, we artists don't do things like that. That's why we have to hire assistants."
"You... what? Me?"
"Sorry, Canary. Part of the job, isn't it?"
Canary just stared vacantly off into the background, a silly purple and white aristocrat prancing around and drawing X's in the ground with a stick crossing her vision.
"Ooooh, I found a piece of Jaaaaddddde," Rarity called.
"That's great, darling," called back Blitz. "Is it not great, Canary?"
"Yeah, great, haha. ha," waved Canary. "Idiot."
"Just mark them all out, Rarity dear, and we'll have my girl dig them up a bit later while we have some refreshments!"
"Oh, joy," said Canary. "Such fun."
"Oh, come on, now," Blitz lowered her voice back down again. "You're always the boss, aren't you? Isn't it about time you see how it's like to be in Berry's horseshoes?"
"I do not want to, I never wanted to, and I don't need to, so, no."
"Hey, you never know, you might be working for her one day, eh?"
"Her?" Canary gave Blitz a look. "... never."
"Aw, don't be like that, don't you think she's got something?"
Canary drew an extra large breath, letting it slip out slowly and noisily.
"Yeah, you're right. She is a bit slow, isn't she?"
"I mean, I didn't get a good look at her, but, I didn't have to, if you know what I mean," shrugged Blitz.
"Hey now," Canary frowned.
"So how much do you figure you're going to have to clean up after her once we get back?"
"Constable Berry is a fine officer and a model pony, and I don't like what you're saying here, you..." Canary poked Blitz in the chest, before noticing that little raised eyebrow thing that Blitz was doing and trailed off.
"You see what I did there?"
"... why, Blitz?"
"Because you never say the things you want to say, Canary."
"Maybe that's because I don't want to say them?!"
"Why don't you let her know what you really think about her?"
"Oh, you don't know me nearly enough to make that kind of assumption."
"So do you, then?"
"Alright, so why don't you let her know what you really think about her?"
"She doesn't need it, alright? She's fine. She's strong."
"She's not that strong. Come on. Honestly."
"Yeah, she ain't that strong."
"So why don't you want her looking up to you?"
"Wha... wait, what? How'd you just jump right to that!?"
"I got bored skirting the issue. She's dancing around enough for the both of us," Blitz cocked her head toward Rarity.
"Really, what's it... what's it to you? Why do you care so much?"
"Because, Canary, you're a nice pony."
Canary immediately turned and looked away, mouth curled in a snide fashion.
"That's it, right there, you see?" pointed Blitz. "Canary, you are nice. And I like you. And so does Berry. And this isn't my business, but I think you owe it to yourself to let somepony into your life."
"So this is, what, about me now?"
"It's always been about you, Canary, you know that."
And there it came, rushing out, the black pit inside of Canary's chest; the bottomless well of gloom and murk. And once again, a tiny voice inside, crying, crying for just somepony, anypony, to pay attention.
It formed itself into a tiny glittering speck of light, a lone star in the night sky, and pulsed with every pump of blood through Canary's veins, which grew more and more noticeable by the second.
"I don't want to talk about it, ok?"
The light was swallowed by the darkness, sinking back to its place at the bottom of the well.
"Alright, Canary, no problem."
But Canary was still uncomfortable now. She was just uncomfortable with herself. She didn't like not being completely in control of everything, and the one element she always counted on being able to handle was herself. And now she was losing it to some stupid self-doubt.
"You think she's ok?" asked Blitz.
"Who?" Canary responded, shifting her balance from left to right.
"What do you think she's doing right now?"
"I dunno," puffed Canary. "Probably taking a nap."
"Sounds like she has it better than us then."
"Give her a few more minutes," Bowler said, grunting at Night Flare.
She was... very nervous, and wasn't hiding it. Bowler had immediately gone back to work the second he stepped in, sure, at his desk, filing papers and writing reports. Night Flare could only imagine him, and was thankful that he wasn't, doing the other part of his job, which involved the examination of bodies in a very physical and upfront manner.
She drummed her hooves on the sleek, clean white floor. It was a material she didn't recognize, but it was smooth, and very plastic-like, and there were way too many drains on it. Floors shouldn't have this many drains.
Along the left and right of her were drawers. Steel, clean, unfancy. Some of them with a sort of card on the front, and some of them with nothing. There was an awful lot of space in here, and she tried to keep away from either of those walls of drawers as she could.
"Girl, would you stop that incessant movement?" Bowler growled.
Night Flare stopped, and suddenly the echoes that made it feel like there were a hundred other ponies with her disappeared back into the floors and ceilings, and she felt alone again.
"Girl, ain't you never been in a morgue before?" the grizzled old coroner looked up from his desk.
"... no! Of course not! Why would I come here?"
"I figured you for the kind of pony to have friends who die a lot."
"That is awful. How can you say something like that?"
"Get used to it, kid. Ponies die, alright? We live, we die. What's the big deal?"
"Because... it's... sad!"
"Yeah of course it's sad, but how's avoiding it gonna make it go away?"
"I just don't like to think about it, dude! It's... so... final, you know? It's the last thing... the end of the journey... I like being alive! I don't want it to end!"
"Well, too bad. Cry me a river."
"And then... and then there's this horrible... awful flank-licker going around and just... doing things to other ponies... it's not fair, dude, it's not fair!"
"No. It's not."
"How could he just... take away lives? It's so easy to just not care, but when... it happens... it's just..."
"Hey, kid, you done?"
"Yeah? Alright. Listen. Shut up for a second. This is the world we live in, alright? Things happen. Bad things. Good things too. I do what I do because I was tired of bad things happening, and I wanted to do something to bring it out. And that is all any one of us can do."
Bowler pointed to the snoozing Berry, who was fast asleep on one of those little moving metal pallets that they used to ship bodies around. She was sleeping face down in what looked like a very uncomfortable position.
"She does that. Because she wants to bring good to the world, that stupid idiot. And you. What do you do?"
"Yeah? Good enough," and with that, Bowler leant back over his papers and got straight back to work.
"W... what, that's it?" protested Night Flare.
"What, you want me to spell it out for ya?" came the response, which was directed more toward the table than to anypony in particular.
"Well, just keep doing what you're doing."
"That's... it?!" repeated Flare.
"Yeah, you were expecting more?"
"Well... I mean what about telling me that I gotta make a change in my life to help if I really want to? What about... changing my useless job in a struggle to fight against crime? Something like that?"
"The crap is all that? Why'd you need to change your job? Can't do good just as you are? Don't be stupid, girl! You're feeding ponies, ain't ya? Making them happy? Unless you suck at baking, then yeah, quit, but ain't you already doing something?"
"Well, I guess, yeah?"
"So why's you gotta go chasing after something else? In this world you can either be good or bad. You already made a choice not to do bad things. That's really the least we can ask for. Becoming a Policepony? Please. You'll die in boot camp. Stick with what you know, idiot."
"Is it really that simple...?" questioned Flare, with disbelief.
"I'm a simple guy."
"So... why'd you do this, then? Why are you a doctor of... dead... ponies?"
"You mean a coroner? Well, when I was a kid, and my uncle passed away? It was weird. That's why."
"For Celestia's sake, girl! Do you need me to spoon feed ya everything?!"
"Fine, fine. When he died, they didn't know why, ok? Seemed natural, but other things seemed off. Was way out in the country so there weren't no doctors around. Back when, there weren't no doctors around anyway. No proper police to really get things done, so everyone said, shame about it, and that was that."
"Eventually everypony else just let it go. But I was just bothered by it. Downright pissed me off, not knowing why or how. I just wanted to know how. So I do this. I tell ponies how. And if there's somepony out there like me, pissed at not knowing, I help them fill in the blanks."
"That's wonderful, Mister Bowler," came a voice from the pallet.
"What the... oh dear holy Tartarus in Winter, were you awake?!"
"Yeah, I was, a while ago, when Night Flare started screaming," smiled Berry, a bit sleepily. "I didn't know that story, Mister Bowler."
"You weren't supposed to hear that, you plank!"
"But you told it to Miss Night Flare here..."
"Well yeah but she's going to bugger off home after this, isn't she? I have to work with you!"
"Aw, it's ok, Mister Bowler. If anything I like you even more now!"
"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of," he muttered.
"So, that's all of it, is it?" asked Blitz, standing to one side and enjoying a tiny muffin. She also had a tiny cup of tea balanced on the edge of a fence post. Everything was rather tiny.
"Yes, dear, all I could find. Verrrry sorry," Rarity apologized. "Seems like a bad tip, dear, there were only... eight or ten pieces of Jade, I fear. Far more amethyst."
"Well, deal's a deal," Blitz shrugged, watching Canary plod from X to X in the fields behind them, dragging a floppy sack in tow. "Love these, by the way."
"Oh, I get them from the bakery down my street. Lovely treats. Can't really say much for the owners, though."
"Oh, I know what you mean, darling."
"So... where did you get her?"
"Yes... the assistant."
"Oh, are you looking for one?"
"Well, I might. The shop is always in such a mess, and I just have simply no time to clean up. Sweetie Belle problems, really."
"Who's Sweetie Belle?"
"Some... pony..." Rarity smiled through clenched teeth. "But I really must have help. Yours seems... spirited."
"Oh, you have to take the good with the bad, you know? There is no such thing as the perfect assistant, because our hooves would just wear away, wouldn't they?"
"Oh, oh yes! Ahahaha!" Rarity burst out laughing. "So true!"
"Ooooh boy," Blitz murmured.
"What was that?"
"You'll never guess where I found her, dear. If you can believe it."
"Oh, do tell! Do tell!"
"It was about, oh, a year ago, and she was working in one of those burlesque type clubs. Good clientele, white suit not optional, if you get me."
"Oh, yes, I get you! I love those places. Very swanky, yes?"
"Oh, very swanky indeed. It was a gorgeous place, yes? Gold pillars, wire filigrees, a long bar, and of course, a dinner show."
"That sounds extraordinary. Which... which club was this?"
"Oh, it was the hmrmnma Club?"
"The what Club?"
"That's right. And she was, oh, she headlined one of the night's shows, darling. Performing as 'The Un-caged Canary', up on stage, every night, surrounded by tap dancers and a full eight-piece swing band, and the lights, and the feather boas, oh, it was just... you had to be there, dear."
"It sounds so extravagant, do you think they'd have me?"
"Membership only, dear. So our dear Canary, right, she sang, and danced and entertained the people of Canterlot, I must say, it was quite a life, quite a life."
"She... sang?" Rarity asked, a sneaking flavour of scepticism injecting her tone.
"Oh, it was jazz, darling. She had the most amazing contralto."
"Oh, of course, now that I think about it, her voice is rather low, isn't it? Yes... yes! I think I can hear it!"
"Oh, good. Ah, yeeeesss. But then of course..." Blitz leaned closer to Rarity and dropper her voice to a lower register. "The accident."
"Oh!" squeaked Rarity.
"Yes, I know, darling."
"Dear, what happened?"
"It was the night of the thirty-fifth of Febtober."
"I know, right? Such an ominous date!"
Rarity merely nodded, her mouth open, still more attached to the drama than the details.
"It was the night of the big fire. I'm sure you must have read about it in the papers. Oh, but they didn't say one thing."
"The fire destroyed more than just the stage, I'll have you. Our dear sweet Canary, may Celestia bless her," Blitz started to tear up now. "She... was caught in the middle of the blaze."
"No!" Rarity shook her head, eyebrows furrowed with shock.
"Yes. Imagine, the concert hall all ablaze, with tongues of fire lashing out, burning the chairs, the wall sconces..."
"Not the sconces!"
"... and the fine, embroidered curtains... all of them crashing to the ground, and in the middle, Canary, the stagehands had all run off, leaving her alone right in the center of the volcano itself. And the lights started to fall, and oil spilt everywhere... why..."
"Was... she... ok?"
"Oh, it was a sight. When they had finally found her... it was too late. She... she..."
"Did she die!?" gasped Rarity.
"No she didn't die! She's right there, isn't she?!" Blitz flung a hoof toward the field.
"Oh, right, yes, of course. What happened?" Rarity corrected herself.
"Well when they found her, she... was bald."
"Yes. Yes. Her entire mane. Those long, blue flowing locks that reached her hooves, and her tail which could carry the entire audience with one sweep, all of it... gone. All down her neck, all... gone."
"That is... just... the worst thing," stammered Rarity.
"It was. Of course, she was out of the business the next day. It's a harsh life, but you must know how it is."
"Oh yes, very competitive. Why, I myself have had..."
"Yes," Blitz went on. "But I found her, in the streets, like a shiny new penny, and I took her in. Told her, you. You will work for me now. You will have a good life. You just won't be on... stage."
"And how did she take it?"
"Quite well, as you can see. She's... recovering, but... well, she's grumpy. But I understand. She can be quite the diva!"
"Well, that's just a terrible, terrible story. I just don't know what to say."
"Don't worry, she doesn't really care about it anymore, I don't... oh hey," Blitz caught herself just as Canary returned, trundling across the dirt fields.
Behind her, mounds of soil piled up in various locations, placed precariously next to holes where Canary was digging. In the end, it resulted in two bags, one filled with strange Jade shards, and the other full of amethyst for Rarity.
Canary coughed, a small poof of dust falling from her body and sprinkling itself around the area.
"Here," she said, dumping the sacks in front of the two tea-drinking ponies. "What?"
She had just caught sight of Rarity, eyes big and full of water, looking at her as if her parents had just exploded.
"I'm... so... so sorry," sobbed Rarity, unable to hold back the emotion in her intonation.
"It'll grow back, Canary. It'll grow back!" Rarity patted her on the one part of her shoulder that wasn't caked in mud.
"You feelin' better, Berry?"
"Yeah, Mister Bowler, thanks."
In truth, it was a lie. The short hour-and-a-bit long nap had done her well, and had done Night Flare a great deal in being schooled about life and death by a reluctant teacher, but otherwise, the throbbing pain in her forehead came back a few moments after waking, and the medicine that Bowler offered her was as tasty as it was effective.
But still she ploughed through, whipping out her little notebook as the three of them approached the cubbies where the bodies of this particular case were being kept.
Night Flare grimaced, keeping all her parts close to her body as she trundled down the shiny halls, following in the wake of Berry and Bowler, both of whom acted like none of this bothered them whatsoever.
It was probably true for at least one of the pair. Berry, on the other hand, had learnt to stop shaking a few months back. And if Canary were there... she'd probably ask for a sandwich.
"Right, so, this is what I was telling you about earlier," Bowler explained, turning a corner and reaching the far end of one of the branched halls. It was a fairly shallow hall, but he put all the more interesting cases down this side. No reason for a civilian to have to see the disturbing ones, he figured, and usually planned accordingly.
With a flick of his head, he pulled back the first drawer with a tendril of grey magic, which rolled out on stainless steel castors and fell with a 'thunk' into its locked open position.
On the metal slab was exactly what he had told Berry earlier; it was dust. dust and rags. In fact, it was barely dust, it was more of grain, thanks to its uneven texture, and how it clumped together in parts due to moisture. Yet, pieces of hollow bone stuck out of it in places, including one which had a sharp point to it at the end.
"Awwww what am I looking at!?" moaned Flare, squashing her eyes together.
"From the way... there's a pile of... whatever this is under that bone there," observed Berry, "It... suggests to me that it's been falling apart as it lay there."
"Yep," said Bowler. "Pretty much how it happened. Found it half-gone. When I went to touch it, it just came apart, like that. It's like it's made of sand or something."
"And this is the first body?" asked Berry, writing as she went along.
"Yeah. I'm certain of it. I put them in order here, along this row. So second body's next to it there," he motioned to the drawer just one down. "And next to that's the third body's sleeping place, once it gets in."
"Ever seen anything like this before?"
"What do you think, Sparky?"
"Right... uh... I dunno what to make of this, Mister Bowler."
"Wasn't really expecting you to. Just figured you might wanna know about it. Seems pertinent. Damned if I know why though."
Berry tilted her head, frowning at the pile of off-colour mush. It was actually very similar to a pile of sand, as Bowler had said, greyish and brownish in places, not golden like the desert. It was the horrible sand you get on terrible beaches, the kind that clump up and gets everywhere you don't want it to. It didn't even look rather graphic, there was barely any signs of it having once been a living thing, except for the odd bit sticking out.
"Wait a moment," said Berry. "Mister Bowler, she wasn't wearing anything when you put her in the... uh... thingie, right?"
"No. We remove all clothes and personal items for collection or police examination before they get placed in the drawer," he explained for the sake of Night Flare, who gave a quizzical expression at that statement.
"There's some kind of weave here, or something, Mister Bowler," Berry said, peering intently at the edge of a small clump of dirt, where there was a corner of something extremely dull-yellow jutting out.
"What, that's not possible," huffed Bowler, pushing Berry aside to look at it. "In the first place she came in without a damn thread on her, and I did the examination myself. She had nothing on or in her."
"Then what is that, Mister Bowler?"
"... yeah, that's cloth. Guess it's possible."
Berry edged back into frame, sharing duties with her grumpy partner now.
"It looks like... I don't know, straw? Something like that. Doesn't look like it was made anytime recently, either... it's really... um... wide? Spaced out?"
"Yeah... looks old. Let's see what we have here," Bowler muttered, flying a small pair of tweezers over from a small rolling table rack from across the hall.
A gentle tug and that's all it took, the whole corner collapsed upon itself just like the rest of the body, but rather than turning to dust, it frayed into tiny hair-like strands, like a cloth unravelling into individual fibres. And in fact, those individual hairs seemed to just fade away, tearing up even further as it was pulled, disappearing from any attempts to be collected.
"That... is .... hmm," muttered Bowler.
"Got something, Mister Bowler?"
"It... no, well. It's decomposition. Same as the body. But it's like... it's been preserved for years. Hundreds of years. It takes that long for cloth to turn into that, believe me, and that doesn't look like anything modern either."
"Are you certain?"
"Yeah. I've been on archaeological digs before. Sometimes they need a coroner to help with what they find, you know? This really looks like what I've seen, but much, much worse. Usually remains just turn brittle. But this is... a whole different level. I can't think of any situation where something could be preserved so perfectly for that long without wasting away."
"And then there's that cloth."
"Yeah... listen, Berry, I don't know what to make of it all."
"Me neither," said Berry.
"I... I don't either," squeaked Night Flare, trying to help.
Berry sighed. She didn't feel like she was doing much to help. In the end, she probably would have to count on Canary's fine skills of putting things together to once again shed light on the whole thing. While Berry was good for maybe observing the odd key circumstance once in a while, it was Canary who put everything together in the end. Always had been, and as it seems, always will be.
"Well, either way, thanks for showing this to me, Mister Bowler," said Berry, jotting down the last important observation in her booklet. "I think... well, we should go, shouldn't we? Is there anything else besides this?"
"Not that I know, unless you wanna see the other one."
"Nah, I think... wait. You know what," Berry caught herself. "Can't hurt to be thorough, can it?"
"Alright," shrugged Bowler. "No pearl off my horn. You. Look away."
"What... why?" argued Flare, instinctively.
"Because I don't want you puking on my back."
"Um... Miss Flare? I think this one might be... upsetting to you."
"Yeah but I already saw it, remember? It fell on me! I already know what it looks like!"
"Fine, whatever. Stupid girl," grumbled Bowler, as he pulled that drawer open as well.
"That... oh my Colt who the hay is that?!" screamed Night Flare, going hyper.
"Oh come on, you said you saw it already!"
"That isn't... that's not what I saw! That isn't the body!" Shuddered Flare, bouncing up and down like a monkey.
"She's right, Mister Bowler," confirmed Berry, looking at the corpse. "That's not her."
"Ugh!" Canary threw her legs back, smacking Silver in the flank.
"Hey, boss! Watch it, I'm flyin' here!"
"Shut up and drive, Silver!" She glared, daggers piercing Blitz's innocent, smiling face.
"I'll tell you later, ok?" bargained Blitz. She was hanging out in the cart along with Canary, as they flew through the air upward and over to Canterlot Central, the return trip from a long day of whatever it was they did. The sun had already dipped below the horizon, sending up a deep, chilling red, casting the entire land under a twilight mist.
On any other day, it would be something to look at and make awe-inspired noises about, but all it was to Canary was a reminder of their dwindling time.
"Naw, don't tell her!" yelled Silver, who had encouraged Blitz to take her wings off and hitch a ride. It wouldn't be a problem, Silver insisted. She'd love to give them both a lift. Wasn't any extra effort anyway, and so Blitz accepted.
"Shut the hay up, Silver!"
"Do we have everything?" asked Blitz.
"Yeah, I'm counting on your stupid best friend Rarity not to have screwed it up on us."
"Well, she was pretty meticulous. Besides, she said her range was... really far, and she'd got everything in a kilometer's circumference. If she didn't detect it we weren't going to find it anyway. We probably got it all, then."
"These things are behaving pretty weird," noted Canary, holding the bag up in front of her. Every so often, the bag would twitch, or jump, or move just ever so slightly. Canary had noticed it while she was collecting them, and had felt them shuffle within the sack slung over her back.
"I think they might be magical," Blitz countered.
"No, they're definitely magical. I just mean, they're acting apprehensive or something. Also, when I was pulling them up earlier? They did not like me floatin' them."
"What do you mean?"
"You know us Unicorns can float things, right?"
"Cheating, we call it."
"Yeah, these jade stone things? They fight back."
"Things can do that?"
"Yeah, alright," nodded Blitz. "So how'd you get them in the sack, then?"
"Kicked them. Old fashioned style. They liked it too. Once they all got in the sack together, they all started buzzing and hopping around like chickens."
"You seem awfully calm about this, Canary."
"I've had my share of weird magic stories, Breeze. Best thing to do when you encounter it? Just keep calm."
"Well, in theory, sure, but you seem to be putting it really well in practice."
"Panicking is for idiots and muffin-heads, Breeze."
"Sure. So what do you figure about the tablet?"
"Well, it's in pieces, obviously. It must have been broken or something. Rained down over the field. I didn't really stop to look at them, but they seem to form some kind of crude map, which is what I was told it was going to be."
"That should help, shouldn't it?"
"Hopefully. We gotta get back, hook up with Berry, and then piece this thing together."
Canary paused as she gave it some thought.
"No idea, Breeze. No idea."
"Hey! Hey! You're back!" yelled the station's greeter, the cart shuddering to a stop a few feet off the ground in front of the main entrance. Canary hopped off, the cart bouncing on top of its clouds as the weight suddenly shifted. Blitz satisfied herself by flitting off and dropping gently beside the sergeant.
"Flare? Is that you?" asked Blitz.
In the darkness of the street; the lights hadn't been turned up yet, and only the glow of the station innards behind the mystery pony illuminated a silhouette of spiky hair and frantic body-language.
"Yeah! Come on in, guys!" she retreated up into the warmth of the police precinct, dragging Blitz and Canary along with.
"Why are you so chipper?" asked Canary, instantly suspicious. "Did something happen? What happened?"
"Nothing, dude! It's all good," nodded Flare. "I'm just... helping!"
It might have been the words of the coroner, the wisdom behind the insults, or it might have been what was said to her before she returned, she didn't really know. But either way, she had a charge of positivity and energy that slowly built up while on the way back, and she was both excited and eager to actually give herself as aid.
"Wait, where's Berry?" asked Canary, with a single glance across the station floor.
"Ah... that's what I wanted to talk to you about, Sergeant!"
"Did something happen? What happened?!"
"No, no, it's all good, Sergeant, don't worry! Officer Berry went home for a while, ok? She said she really needed to get just a bit of rest, but she'll be back first thing in the morning, around five. She's had a really long day, and that cranky-pants coroner said she should go get some rest, so she decided to take his advice!"
"Bowler's advice, huh? Yeah, I suppose I could live with that. So what are you doing here?"
"Well, you said we were all in it, right? And Officer Berry told me, she said, Flare, you're going to take over now. You've got a really important job."
"Yeah! And..." she swelled with pride. "I'm standing in for her!"
Canary held a hoof to her face and breathed in deeply.
"Ok, you're an idiot. So is she. How exactly are you supposed to stand in for her?"
"With this!" Flare beamed, unfurling a wing and using it to toss a small scrappy book toward Canary, who caught it at leg's length.
"Her... notebook?" she said, letting it hover in front of her face.
"Yep! That, and also, I'm supposed to tell you everything that happened since you left."
"Well... everything that I saw, anyway. But Officer Berry said, don't worry, everything that was important, it's all down there in that book thing, and the other police who went there took photos and all that and they're on your desk. And everything else I can fill in!"
"Yeah! So... ah... shall I get started?"
"Let's just get this over with," came the sordid reply, as she dumped the sack of jade and the notebook on the table. "Just don't embellish, ok?"
"Hey, I'm all over that," assured Flare. "Not a single problem."
"Just one thing, though?"
Sometime back there, amongst the misplaced sense of duty and, well, Canary, Blitz had found it best to excuse herself silently and step outside for a bit of a breather. Truth be told, it had been a strenuous few days, and there were still a couple of things resting on her mind.
She let the cooling night air wash over her senses as she tilted her head up to the rising moon, breathing slowly and capturing the essence of the city.
It sure was different down here. She'd never spent more than a few hours in Canterlot at best, but now... and it was all because of somepony who had simply up and vanished.
As Canary was worried for her protégé, Blitz couldn't help but feel the same for the one she knew needed the most guidance at that moment.
"Where are you, Duri?" she whispered, to the sky, plodding herself down on one of the stone steps in front of the station, hoping that she'd somehow hear.
"Hey, what's eatin' ya, sister?" Came a question from an entirely different voice.
Blitz swung her head around, looking to her right. It was Silver, relieving herself from the garage, just having parked the cart.
"Oh, hey," greeted Blitz. "Thanks for the ride."
"Ain't nothin'," she replied, pulling up beside Blitz.
"So, is it 'corporal' now, or 'anything I want'?"
"Hah. Ain't nopony else around, huh? So, I don't care."
"You're from Manehattan, aren't you?"
"Yeah, what gave it away? Is it my pah-fect Cayn-ter-lawt ayk-sent?" she joked.
"Heh, yeah. Exactly."
"So, what's ya doin' out here? Ain't ya cold?"
"Not really. It gets pretty cold up there in Cloudsdale. I'm used to it. Besides, we have feathers for a reason, don't we?"
"Sure do, sister."
The silence weaned on, as Silver dumped herself across from Blitz, on the same step, leaning against the other side of the single-piece stone railings that bordered them. They both faced the other way, not really looking toward one another, but simply just being, while wrapped up in the darkness.
"So... Canary told me about you," Blitz brought up, causing the tension to snap.
"Ah yeah?" Silver chuckled hoarsely. "What'd she say?"
"Something about chalk?"
"How... true is it?"
"Depends on what she told you, ain't it?"
"Of course. Did she really assault you for hitting on her?"
"Did she... violate you or something?"
"Maybe she did, maybe she didn't, huh?"
"Really? That's your answer?"
The sound of a 'tch' came from over around where Silver was sitting.
"Yeah, Canary's told you 'bout me, huh?"
"It's wicked hard to leave the streets, y'know? Sorry 'bout it. Y'just get used'ta answerin' a certain way."
"Well, truth 'bout that whole mess is just, well, I asked her out for coffee, y'know? S'all. Ain't even mean nothin' by it. Just figured, she'd dragged me in there a million times already, might as well get to know her, eh?"
"That was early days. She's mellow now."
"She's mellow now?"
"You should'a seen her back then. Rage machine. But brilliant. Still is brilliant. Less rage. S'a good deal."
"Get to the good part, Miss Silver."
"Right, right. So I asks her out, right? And she gets insulted. Soon, everypony in the joint thinks I'm hittin' on her or somethin'. She starts throwing things at me, and... one of them chalk sticks gets stuck in my throat."
"Why did you catch it in your mouth?"
"Well I was tryin' ta explain, y'know? But they was flyin' at me like a hail of arrows. Ain't nothin' I could do."
"That's it, huh?"
"Yeah, that's it. I coughed it up, Staff Blue gets all angry and bans her from chalk forever, to set an example or somethin'."
"Did... it work?"
"Well, she ain't never choked anypony else with chalk after that, f'what it's worth."
Blitz gave a little short burst of laughter. She allowed herself that much. Being back at the station only just reminded her that their slight sojourn into Ponyville wasn't that much for pleasure, as 'fun' as it was.
It served for a distraction, but no longer was it in play, and the reality of what was going on simply grew around everything. Still, it was nice to remember you were allowed to laugh once in a while.
"So, what's your deal out here, then?" Silver asked.
Blitz leaned her head against the cool stone, tired from holding it up.
"Worried about my friend."
"Oh, the little green lady?"
"Yeah. She just up and left. None of us could stop her."
"Hey, that was some fancy stuff, y'know? Back when I was still runnin' with the gangs, skill like that... invaluable."
"Why did you switch sides, anyway?"
"Well... guess I got tired of runnin'. Not like I had a choice, but... glad to be outta it. Was a real gift from Celestia, y'know? Anyway, it's nice to be one of the good guys. And it turns out, I really love donuts."
Blitz laughed again.
"Anyway, don't you worry 'bout ya friend. Tell you what, she'll come back once she figures herself out."
"That's the problem, Miss Silver. I don't think she can figure herself out."
"Want I should go search th' skies?"
"Nah, don't worry about it. You've been very helpful already. Thanks for everything."
"Hey, like I said, ain't nothin', a'ight? 'Sides, you seem nice. And I don't mind doin' favours for the nice ones."
"Are you suggesting something again?"
"I'm suggestin' that you're nice."
"I'm going to go now, alright?" Blitz said, giving Silver a cordial smile, and standing up on all fours.
"Yeah, take it easy, sister," Silver smiled to herself.
She, the Pegasus from Cloudsdale, a rather humble and mature figure for her age, took to the station, leaving Silver behind as she rested on the step. All the ponies she had met ever since the first day... all so vibrant and colourful and different... whereas in her world, a statue only came in one colour.
But wasn't it the same?
Wasn't every pony just a huge great big block, waiting to be formed into something special- something magnificent? Or, when you get down to it, were all ponies just stone on the inside?
The sound of the beating of wings behind her left her trailing, and flurried over her deep and pointless thoughts as she walked back up to Canary and Flare.
"Ok, then, he says, hey, I want to buy my bread now, and I say, no, it's a crime scene, go home, and he's like, who are you, and I'm like, I work with the police, buddy..."
"Ok, ok, please, please can you... just cut this... stuff out. I don't need... any of this, alright? I need stuff related to the actual... you know.... case," Canary explained, much more patiently than anyone would have expected.
"Yeah but Officer Berry was on the inside, and she told me not to go in."
"So in the end you didn't really see... anything."
"No, no, not there, but Officer Berry wrote it all down or something, it's in the book."
"Right. When did you... actually start to see things, then?"
"Oh, right, uh... after that cranky-flank coroner guy came then... they did stuff, and then they came out, and we went to the uh... body... locker... place."
"The morgue," Canary said, listlessly.
"Yeah, and um... dude, that place is creepy. Right, so we go see the first victim, right? The uh... the one in the shop, but it had all turned to like dust, or something."
"Excuse me, what?" Canary raised an eyebrow.
"No, no, really. It crumbled. It was like when you empty out a vac bag, dude. It had bones and stuff sticking out, but it was all mostly dust. Cranky-face didn't know what to make of it and neither did Officer Berry. So... we were all just standing there not knowing what it was."
"Yeah, um... Cranky said it was like... when things get really old they get like that. But this one had to be super old. Like... super old," she tried to elaborate. "And Officer Berry found that there was really old cloth in the dust too? But that was weird because Cranky said she weren't wearing nothing when he put it in. I mean, way I figured, they did a mix up or something, and Cranky didn't wanna say, because he's an old silly old stallion."
"What do you mean by a mix up?"
"Well, because, right, Officer Berry suddenly thinks to check the other body? The second body, the one that uh... fell on me. So they open the drawer, but it wasn't her."
"No, it was like, well, I didn't know, but Officer Berry said it was the first body, not the second."
"So... the bodies... were switched around and then the second body turned to dust?"
"Well that's what I thought, right, and I was totally gonna call Cranky on it, but get this, it totally gets weirder."
"Officer Berry suddenly goes on about like, how there's something wrong because the first body, the one at the shop, was killed from a fall or something? And that it was missing a wing, right?"
"And the second body was also dropped and had this... big... stabby thing in the neck, right?"
"So get this. It was the Pegasus from the first thing, and they checked and it was the right cutie mark and colours and everything, but... she had both wings, annnnd, she had that stabby thing in her neck."
"Wait... wait. You're saying that... ok... we have two bodies. One of them, the first one... that Coroner Bowler, by the way, his name isn't 'Cranky', said turns to dust, and... they find things that aren't supposed to be there. And the second body... turns into the first body, but isn't... just a switch-over because the first body now has the wounds of the second body?"
"Yeah... that's what I said, isn't it?"
"Coroner Cranky-bowl said you could go over and take a look for yourself if you wanted."
"I think I might have to," muttered Canary, thoughts becoming more and more jumbled in her head.
"Anyway, after that, that's when Officer Berry said she was gonna go back to rest on doctor's orders, and she told me to relay all this information to you, and give you the book. She was pretty insistent about that book."
"This one, huh?" Canary dumped her saddlebags onto the floor next to the desk, grabbing her legband out of it and putting it back on. The flipbook slotted itself neatly into the tight swathe of cloth, in the same way that Berry kept hers. "I'd better hold onto it then."
"So what's the plan?" asked Blitz, speaking up for the first time since walking in on the duo earlier.
"Ok. first of all, Berry, you go... no." Canary shook her head, distracted by the new information. "Right. I'll drop by later, I mean. Check up on her. For now, let's put that stupid jade tablet together, and see what's going on. And I'm gonna look through this book, too, and see what I can make of it. Blitz, can you help with the tablet? And Flare..."
Flare grinned her widest possible grin.
"Uh... good... good job. Stand by, ok? When I need you I'll give you a call."
"Sure," she nodded, watching Blitz upturn the bag onto the table surface. "Whoa, what's all this?"
"A puzzle," said Blitz.
"Why are they shaking like that?"
"Don't worry about that. Let's put it together."
Canary gave it a quick skim, but there was nothing in the book that helped her outside of what Flare had summarized. This had come to Canary's surprise, since she generally assumed that Flare's entire speech was the adrenaline-fuelled ranting of a young filly with nothing better to do.
Berry's summary, was of course, much more detailed, but her writings went all over the page, and were given flavour by the odd sketch across the border or down the side. Nothing, however, which explained anything about this whole dirt deal, but still, Canary was able to get the gist of the situation in a more complete sense.
Two things stuck out to Canary.
One was a large word 'Signs' written at the top of one page, which was circled roughly a few times. Underneath it, Berry had written something about finding signs for both sides to confirm what was written in the book, which Canary had confirmed only just.
The other, much more odd thing was that on one page, Berry had written nothing but the word 'Ouros' over and over from start to end. It was punctuated, and structured, almost as if Berry were trying to write a sentence out of just that one word.
Canary had no idea what to make of that.
She really hoped that this wasn't Berry's attempt at some kind of code.
But it would have to wait until Canary could ask her, and stowing the notebook away again, she made haste to the whiteboard to once again look at the pictures of the scenes and to think about the evidence.
The blessed shall be marked. The sinners shall be marked.
We already know the mark for the sinners, so what's the mark for the blessed?
There wasn't anything else found in the first crime scene, there was just the cloud thing at the second, and... the most recent one, Berry had found nothing but the same message and the Wicked Stable sign placed in the oven...
Placed. Maybe it wasn't just signs. Maybe, just like the Wicked Stable, it was both drawn and placed. Setting up. Set ups.
Was there anything linking everything together?
Three heads in the station shot up suddenly, those belonging to Canary, Blitz, and Flare.
All three jerked, hastily and suddenly, in response to a call from Silver, who had just burst through the main entryway, the biggest smile ever plastered on her silly face.
But even if she hadn't cried out, with the words 'Hey guys, look who showed up?', and even if she wasn't there to make such a big racket, perhaps those three ponies would have looked up anyway.
For there was nothing less than that sort of feeling that you get when you know something important is happening just over there, and you instinctively look because your inner senses are tingling with any sort of feeling.
Because Duriandal, covered with dirt and mud, but still smiling through it, was standing there next to Silver, tired, panting, but triumphant in her return.
"Found her at the docks," explained Silver, as Canary, Blitz and Flare alike rushed up with wide eyes and mixed expressions. "She'd just come back from Ponyville, get that!"
"Thank... thank you," said Blitz.
"Hey," smirked Silver, flying back to her desk. "I'll leave y'to the reunion."
"Hi," said Duriandal, softly. Although she seemed happy, she knew she had quite a lot to answer for.
"What... oh my goodness, what happened to you?" asked Blitz. "You look... terrible."
"It is a long story," said Duriandal, eyeing Canary, who was looking extremely peeved. "Um... I... I am sorry for the disturbance I caused..."
"Disturbance? Disturbance nothing. How dare you just walk off like that?" Canary scolded.
"I... Sorry," Duriandal looked down.
"Don't you know how worried we were? You could have gotten hurt, or even worse. Next time let somepony know, damnit. We're all getting through this together, alright?"
Duriandal flicked her eyes back up. She was surprised, and so was Blitz, given by her raised eyebrows. At the least, they both had expected Canary to tell her off for running away and causing trouble and giving her a headache.
It didn't seem like Canary herself had any realization that she was supposed to have said that either.
"Anyway, you're back, and you're safe. That's what matters. What happened?"
"I... went to Ponyville," said Duriandal, not sure who to keep her eyes on while talking, so satisfied herself juggling between all three. "I had wanted to leave because... I felt... burdened. I know I should have spoken to you first, but... I am genuinely sorry for my behaviour. I was... running away."
"Damn idiot," spat Canary.
Blitz smiled. That was more like it.
"I... found a scroll that Twilight Sparkle had written. It was magically drawn to me. I felt that it was a sign, so I... visited her in Ponyville. She brought me to see her friend Rarity, and then we went for a walk."
"Did you say Rarity?"
"Yes, Rarity, owner of Carousel Boutique. White coat, purple mane. Seamstress. Very ugly pet cat."
Blitz and Canary's eyes met.
"Huh. And... then you blew up?"
"No. I assume you are referring to my outward condition. I believe I can truncate the details as they are not pertinent, but I was attempting to bury myself due to a foul odour."
"That... actually sounds like you need to give us the details there," Night Flare said.
"No. Go on," commanded Canary.
"Ah, and my... burnt... plot is due to... Twilight Sparkle and her... most commendable but... rather... offensive use of magic."
"Is... that... what... I think it is?" Blitz said, pointing toward the char.
"Unbelievable," muttered Canary. "Why'd you come back?"
"I had thought at great length, about... the events that had occurred since this entire ordeal had started, and... I... did not want to abandon my friends."
"Aww," said Night Flare.
"Yeah, touching," Canary narrowed her eyes. "And could you tell me why you have a piece of the jade tablet stuck to your rear end?"
"I do not know what this thing is, Police Officer Blue Canary. I had thought to find out more about it once I was back here, and seek a way to remove it."
"Remove it? It's stuck?"
"I had come across it while on my walk, out in a far field away from Ponyville, approximately due South South-West, for one point three kilometers."
"That's... that's near where we were," said Blitz.
"Yeah... Rarity, and there, and we just didn't run into each other, huh?"
"Must be fate," shrugged Blitz.
"I'm beginning to hate that word," said Canary.
"And it simply attached itself to me, magically, and has remained there for reasons that I do not know. Any attempt to remove it has met with failure, and it is not inconveniencing me..."
Duriandal's explanation was cut short with a thunk.
And all of them looked down to see the piece of tablet, now on the floor, leaving a perfect tablet-shaped hole in the ash around Duriandal's flank. It was shivering again, bouncing back and forth against invisible walls, but slowly making its way across the floor inch by staggered inch, towards the table.
A soft rattling from the table had also confirmed that the other pieces had come alive.
"Ah..." said Duriandal."It appears... that it has come off."
"Looks like it just wanted to get back to its friends, too," commented Blitz.
"Well... isn't that... sweet. Alright, Blitz, go kick it over and get back to work. How far along are you?"
"Nearly done, actually. It's not all that difficult. There's only a dozen pieces. Even Night Flare here could have done it herself."
"Hey!" said Night Flare.
"Alright, get back to it. I'm gonna go work something out, and I think a grade-A help just walked through the door."
Duriandal turned to look.
"She means you, Duri," Blitz nudged her.
"Oh. Ah, I see. Ah, what can I help you with?" asked Duriandal, following Canary back to the whiteboard at the back. Behind them, the voices of Blitz and Night Flare arguing about who should pick the bouncing magic shard up faded with the rest of the station.
"Ok. We're looking for some sort of sign, at each of the crime scenes. Here's photos of the first one, your shop, although I don't think you need to see those. Here's photos from the second one at the park, and here's photos from today's, courtesy of the coroner's office."
"What kind of sign?"
"I don't know. That's the trouble. Berry seems to think, and the book here, would also suggest that there is some kind of symbol or sign left at each scene to tie it to you guys. We're just trying to make sure at this point, but if you can see anything it'll help with the final two to come."
Duriandal peered at the book, which was open to the page where that strange diagram was drawn. Once again, it was that strange glyph of five circles joined by a larger circle, with the up-turned horseshoe in the middle, and that strange flame-like arch that stuck off the top.
"Oh and... yes, that horseshoe thing? We've found that at each crime scene. We're looking for something else."
Duriandal's eyes darted through each of the pictures, giving them only one second each, after which she stood idly by, staring at the far end of the wall.
"Um... you... awake, there?"
"Yes," said Duriandal, her head gently falling over and tilting. She spoke without moving, her eyes still focused on a point far, far away.
"What... are you doing?"
"Thinking," said Duriandal. "I have seen everything, now I may examine them."
"It is faster this way," she replied, her head swinging back around and tilting the other way.
"How does that work, actually? I'm... kind of curious."
Duriandal blinked twice, snapping out of her strange state of semi-trance. "When I see anything, or observe a scene, I can recall it in my head with extreme clarity. So, for the pictures, it is faster to sort them through in my mind than to physically sort them on the table. It is as if there is no difference in my perception for either method of viewing."
"Also when I view a scene, I can... stop it... in my head. Like stopping them in time. And then I may examine that as well, as if it were a picture."
"You know, that would be very useful around here, I tell you what."
"Thank you. Was that a compliment?"
"Uh... sort of, yes."
"Alright, so what else have you got?"
"Nothing. There does not seem to be any kind of special feature found in any of the scenes that share anything in common."
"They may not be the same. So far for the others we've found different interpretations of the same symbol. Can you do that?"
"That... that is more tricky for me, Police Officer Blue Canary. I... am not... able to interpret things... very well. For me, signs are obvious if I have a definite shape. I am sorry."
"Damnit," swore Canary. "Thought we could have something there. Something is just really out, and I don't know what."
"Yeah, out. Something's not right. You know, something sticking out."
Duriandal's eyelids suddenly quirked, throwing her eyes open far more than they were usually.
"What... did I say something?"
"I... believe I know what the symbol is."
"Ah... ah..." Duriandal's mind raced, taking everything apart and putting it back together. "It seems to... be... farfetched. Perhaps I was wrong."
"No, anything we can run on is good, Miss. What do you have?"
"When you said something sticking out, it reminded me of the Cloud Puffer that you found at the scene of the second murder."
"Yeah, that thing was... unexplainable, right? It was a deliberate drop but for what reason?"
"And you must recall that I had informed you of the wire that was placed inside of it?"
"Yeah, some kind of string, right? You said it was put there intentionally as well, because the devices don't use that sort of thing."
"Ah... could that not be the sign?"
"... a Cloud Puffer is the sign?"
"No. Ah... look," Duriandal nodded toward the book, holding up a hoof.
Slowly she traced along the outer edge of the circle, and up toward the extra thing sticking out the top.
"It is... a broken circle."
"In the stack of photos from the third crime scene, if you would kindly observe the eighth photo from the top, there is an oven in the picture, with the deceased sticking out."
"Wait... wait..." Canary quickly rifled through the photos, finding the one in question. It was, in fact, a photo of the body as after been examined by Bowler.
"The oven is of a particularly round shape. Noting the burn marks on only one side of the body, I can assume that the body had been moved after death. It had been placed in such a fashion, to emulate something escaping from a circle."
"You... you got all that from just the photos?"
"And finally, my... shop."
"But there was nothing in the shop, Duriandal. We didn't find anything out of place. You confirmed that yourself."
"No, Police Officer Blue Canary. My shop."
Canary looked back. Back to the first photo. Back to the very first day. Back to the first scene.
A round building, with a trail of blood leading out.
Something that had been done with a lot of finesse and a lot of risk, for absolutely no point whatsoever.
But now, that very blood trail had a reason.
"My Colt," said Canary, looking back at the book one last time. "This... this is it. That's what Princess Celestia was talking about. The Wicked Stable represents those judged by Ouros... which is represented by the eternity of fate by... a snake eating its own tail. So of course... of course... the chosen few... the ones judged to have escaped this fate..."
"That isn't a flame. That's the head of a snake," said Canary, pointing to the top of the diagram.
"Is... this... satisfactory?" asked Duriandal.
"Yeah... yeah... sorry. It's just a lot. Well, we know something else now, at least. Not sure how it's going to help, but... your building, the Cloud Puffer, and the oven... that's definitely you, Blitz and Flare. So... what's... mine? What's Berry's?"
"Sergeant!" called Blitz.
"What?" asked Canary, rushing over with Duriandal.
"Are you alright, Sergeant? You sound a bit shaken up there."
"Yeah... yeah just... I don't know, suddenly I just feel really uncomfortable for a reason."
"We finished it," grinned Night Flare, pointing at the tablet. Finally reunited, it formed a perfect rectangle of pale, muted green. Despite the cracks where it had broken into pieces, there was a very definite drawing razed into its surface, showing what was most unmistakably Canterlot of the present day.
"But... that's... this thing is supposed to be a thousand years old, right?"
"I don't know. You were the one saying that," shrugged Blitz.
"But... this is Canterlot. Our Canterlot."
"It is my shop," pointed Duriandal, towards a little pair of circles drawn into the map.
There were five of those, tiny circle pairs, like goggles, with obscure little pictographs inside, that Canary firmly recognized.
"Oh, I've seen these. These were on that window... in the castle... uh... nevermind. They represent where Ouros will strike. Duriandal, the one at your shop... honesty. Opposite of hypocrisy. There's the park... prejudice and tolerance."
"There's the shop row where the bakery was," pointed Flare.
"That's... generosity and avarice."
"Hey, why's there one at the castle?"
"What?" Canary jerked her eyes to the famous landmark which shouldn't have changed in even those thousand years. Clearly, it was Princess Celestia's castle, and clearly, it had a circle with a symbol in it. "Humility and hubris?"
"So the last one is trespass and advocate, right?"
The question was met with silence.
Blitz looked up to a uneasy sight.
Canary was standing there, across from her, staring at the map. Every once in a while she would blink, but a fever seemed to have come over her, and the clamminess crawling across her furrowed brow started to gather in beads of sweat that tricked coldly down the side of her head.
She was moving very slowly, as if each tiny tic might set off a bomb, and she was breathing audibly, strong, hard pulls and frantic outs.
"Canary. What's wrong?" Blitz said immediately.
"Hey!" Flare yelled, as out of nowhere, Canary darted, springing from a stand into a full-blown gallop, crashing the dark-maned pony aside and pushing everything out of the way that was standing between her and the exit.
"What the heck?" Blitz also shouted, feeling the tension in everypony's skin rise. "Hey! Where are you going?"
Her shouts fell on dead skulls, and by then Canary was long gone, having made a sharp turn out the door and flown off without even a word.
"Hey, whaddaya say t'her?" cried Silver, flying over to find out what was going on, as her eyes fell across the map. "Oh... oh manure on a cracker. This's bad. This's very bad."
"What is it?" Blitz yelled. "Somepony say something!"
"No time, sister," Silver said, suddenly extremely serious herself. "I need t'get after Canary, ok? You go in't that office there, tell Staff Beat we got an eleven-C at Berry's house. Mobilize now. I'm gonna go run point. Tell him Canary's in the wind!"
"Ele... eleven-C? What's eleven-C?" shouted Blitz after Silver, already zooming out the door.
"Officer in peril!" she shouted back, disappearing into the night.
Heh, you're stupid, Canary.
You should've called for Silver.
Now, look at you. You're all tired. You're panting, for Colt's sake. You're a fool.
It's not even a hot night out, and you're soaked to the bone.
Yeah, go on, cough. That won't help.
Tell those civilians to get out of your way. That's right.
Hey, where are you going?
Canary skidded across the cobblestones, nearly missing the turn right onto the house lane. Tall, rectangular blocks made up for the row of terrace houses here, each of them staggered up a hill and sharing the same slanted, red roof. Their faces were white, and, like soldiers, they stood at attention toward the outer rim of the third tier of Canterlot.
The forth house was Berry's. Lights were on in the windows upstairs, like all the others.
Canary rushed up to the front door, a small, humble thing, pausing only for the second needed to gasp at some fresh air. Already, her head was dizzy with bright spots of light from the sudden run, which by no means was a short distance.
"Huh... huhh..." she struggled to grab onto a word, the only thing crying was her need for oxygen in her burning legs.
But the door opened.
"Sarge...?" came the soft, innocent voice from behind it.
"Oh... th... thank Celestia... uh..." Canary forced out through her weakened breathing. "You... you're... huh.... ok...."
"Sarge..." said Silver, pushing the door open only enough for her to step out and shut the door behind her.
"No... where... where's Berry?"
"Sarge. Please. I don't wanna have to say it."
Canary just lowered her shoulders, bowing down and sucking in two more lungfuls of air.
"Get... get out of my way, Silver," she ordered.
"No can do... Sarge. I'm sorry."
"Get out of my WAY!"
"No, Sarge! Take a walk, ok? Take a walk! Please!"
"Take... take a freaking walk!?"
"Take... a walk, Sarge. Turn around and take a walk. Come on. You don't wanna do this. Not now."
"You... you ain't stopping me, Silver..."
"Sarge, I ain't gonna let you in. You know that. And I know... you gotta do what you gotta do, but so do I and I gotta stop you, Sarge."
"Yeah. So... just... take that walk. Please. I'm beggin' ya, Sarge."
The exhaustion, the scenario... it all... made Canary lose it. Every sense that she had left to control her thoughts were suddenly dismantled. She found her brain rushing through a thousand things all at once, and nothing was there for her to cling onto.
"Yeah... walk. O... okay," nodded Canary, still breathing heavily through her nose. "Yeah. Walk it off... huh? Ok, Silver. Ok."
She turned. The cold wind chilling her to a feeling that she had never once felt before, not ever in her entire life in Canterlot or beyond.
She shook her head to herself.
"No. I... no."
Canary swung around again, the simply look of agony on her face. She looked a thousand years older, and was shaking slightly where she stood.
"I'm sorry, Silver," she whispered, her horn glowing.
"I... I understand Sarge." Silver nodded, planting herself firmly in front of the door.
Canary closed her eyes as she cast her spell.
Her special spell, the one she used to stop criminals and catch murderers, now used against a dear friend and close ally.
And as Silver's wings locked and her heels clicked together, and she heard her body fall roughly to the ground with a wail of pain, she couldn't even start to feel any sort of emotion for her, as she wrenched open the door and stormed up the stairs.
And Canary wanted to say something. She really did.
She wanted to say... a lot of things.
She wanted to give Berry so many words.
She wanted to let Berry know so many thoughts.
She wanted to share with Berry so many emotions.
And even now, as she denied herself many times in the past from saying these things, she couldn't.
And a single tear rolled down.
For even as Canary cried for another pony for the first time in her long, hard life.
As Canary sank to the floor, jaw quivering and body shaking, pathetic and broken.
Her tears went unheard.
Thanks to the one who had stolen the chance away.
Thanks to the one who had erased the message.
Thanks to the one who had left Berry nothing more than a dead, unbreathing husk behind the walls of her Canterlot home.