It wasn’t everyday the Solar Guard came to Ponyville. They were Celestia’s personal bodyguard and rarely strayed from her side for any reason. The princess was no-where is sight, but here a squad stood watch outside an ordinary home on the outskirts of Ponyville. Famously stone-faced, they paced the perimeter restlessly and whirled on the slightest disturbance, sending many curious young ponies fleeing with a single angry word or impatient stomp.
The mayor had come to speak with them and left shaken and silent on the matter. Curious ponies traded theories about what was going on, and it was a snippet of one such conversation that sent Twilight Sparkle dashing off to see for herself. She didn’t have any better luck then the others at getting answers until her brother stepped outside.
“Shining Armor? Brother!”
“Twilight! What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, silly. What brings you to Ponyville? Is Princess Cadence here too?”
“No. I’m here on official business. I can’t talk about it.”
A guard stepped between them, asking Armor for orders. While she waited for them to finish, Twilight took the chance to look her brother over. He must’ve just gotten back from his honeymoon, but he looked ragged, like he’d just gone a week without sleep. Twilight blinked. She looked again. All the guards looked exhausted and nervous. She heard one of them ask to be excused and duck out of sight before Armor had finished speaking. There was the sound of a Pony being sick. Horribly, violently sick. The smell of vomit wafted out of the alleyway, and Twilight took a few steps back.
“Twilight…maybe we should talk. In private.”
Several of Armor’s subordinates took positions outside of the library, ensuring no one would intrude while they talked. This included Spike, who was unceremoniously dragged out at Armor’s insistence. Shining Armor didn’t reply when Twilight asked why it was necessary, and dropped into a seat.
“Twilight, can I have some tea…water…anything.”
The library was silent but for the sounds of Twilight bustling about the kitchen. She wanted to know what was going on, of course, but she didn’t hurry. Whatever it was, it was serious, and he needed the time to collect himself. Pouring the tea and adding a drop of honey, Twilight waited patiently as her brother took his first tentative sip, confident she’d be able to help with whatever it was.
“Twilight, you’re part of the group studying the new race that appeared, right? The…the…”
“They’re called ‘humans.’”
“I need to see any information you have on them. Names. Locations. Known associates…everything.”
“I’ve…been keeping some records, but…What exactly are you looking for?”
Even as she spoke, a book simply labelled ‘Humans’ slid out of the shelf in a crackling aura of power and floated closer.
“Twilight…there’s been a murder.”
The book fell. Twilight stood reflexively, making three steps on shaking legs before her mind re-processed what she’d heard and confirmed that it hadn’t been her imagination. She turned, slowly, a part of her still refusing to acknowledge what she’d just heard.
“A…Murder? But there hasn’t been a murder in Ponyville in…in…ever!”
“According to Ms. Scribblewing, she was passing by and heard sounds of a commotion. When she stepped past the window, and looked inside…the human ran away when she cried for help. By the time the doctors got there…it was far too late to do anything.”
“W-Who was it? Who d-d-d…”
She couldn’t say the word. Armor stepped up next to her, letting Twilight lean on him for support, felt her shudder. They stayed like that, brother and sister, until Twilight could stand up straight, and the two sat down next to each other, the book forgotten on the floor.
“A unicorn. Ironhorn.”
“I knew him, not very well, but…”
At a nod from Armor, the book floated over and opened. Twilight was silent as he flipped through the pages. Almost a year ago, a creature that called itself a human had appeared in Equestria, popping into Ponyville through some kind of magical mishap. The incident had drawn a bit of curiosity, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that many more humans began arriving, completely at random and without explanation.
The Princesses had set a group of Unicorns to find out how and why it was happening, but with no answers immediately forthcoming and no way to send them home, there was nothing to do but help them settle in.
Twilight wasn’t officially involved in the project, but that hadn’t stopped her from taking some notes of her own. She had a list of names, a few pictures and interesting tidbits learned during conversation interspersed with notes from the experiments she’d performed to understand the phenomenon. This little book was one of the largest sources of information about them, and Shining Armor desperately hoped it would help.
“Let’s see…there are about…24 humans confirmed to have appeared in Equestria so far. They’ve appeared all over the place, from Stalliongrad to Manehatten, but most of them have appeared here in Ponyville.”
“How many are in or around Ponyville right now?”
“I don’t know exactly…There’s Malachi, that’s the first human recorded to have appeared. We’ve spoken together many times. There’s a sketch of him here.”
“...He looks like a shaved diamond dog.”
“No he doesn’t…well…” Twilight tilted her head and squinted at the sketch. Her head snapped back into place when she caught Armor smirking at the sight. “Anyways, I know Applejack mentioned hiring one of a couple of humans who do odd jobs around town. There was a girl, a musician, but I think she left to study music at the Canterlot opera house. One went into the Everfree alone despite warnings and was never heard from again…I think there are some others that were encouraged to leave.”
“Umm…One was obsessed with Rarity in a kind of creepy way, and another wouldn’t leave Rainbow Dash alone – Malachi translated what he was saying about her…it was pretty horrible stuff. Saying things like that about someone you’d never met before, I can’t understand it!”
“There was one who was catching and eating Fluttershy’s animals for food.”
“And he somehow thought it would be funny to bring the bones back when he was done.”
“…Twilight…a few weeks ago, there was a report that crossed my desk…I think you know what I’m talking about?”
“We just wanted him to understand that what he was doing was wrong, so we…talked to him.”
“Talked to him.”
“And the scorched craters I passed on the road into town?”
“Would you believe…it was a party? With fireworks?”
“Just how many ponies were at this ‘party?”
“So…do you have pictures of all the humans around here?”
“Just one or two, why?”
“Between the shock of what she’d seen and because of how dark it was last night, Scribblewing wasn’t able to give us a good description of the criminal. I’m hoping seeing a picture will jog her memory. At least there aren’t many suspects. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Thank you, Twilight.”
“Brother, I wanted to ask - why are you investigating the crime? Shouldn’t there be a Sheriff or Longbraid doing this?”
“It’s been so long since something like this has happened. The sheriff’s office was folded into the Royal Guard centuries ago, and the last few Rangers were active until a little while before that. It’s been so long since a crime of this magnitude that there isn’t a pony in Equestria alive that has experience with something like this. So by regulation, the job defaults to the captain of the guard. I’ve been going over old notes, journals, casefiles, trying to get an idea on what to do, but…I’m completely out of my element here.”
“Maybe there’s something else I can do to help?”
“No, no! I know you’ve done some crazy stuff in the past, but I don’t want you getting involved in this, Twilight.”
“It can’t be more dangerous then dealing with dragons, or Nightmare Moon, or Discord, or-“
“Twilight, this is completely-“
“But you don’t know anything about humans, and I do! Some of them don’t even speak a local language, so how are you going to talk to them without a translation spell?”
“I’ll go get my bags and be right back!”
Twilight raced out of sight before Armor could form a proper retort, leaving him to sigh in resignation.
Two of the local humans had solid alibis for the time of the murder, helping out with a job that went long into the night. Another had left on a trip just before the time of the murder, and pegasi were sent out to find him.
Unless there was a human around that no one knew about, that left two.
Twilight and Shining Armor set out side-by-side, the Solar Guard keeping a tight formation around them.
Applejack’s farm would have been a welcome sight under better circumstances. For now there was still the fear that a crazed human would jump out of hiding and attack them…or that Ironhorn hadn’t been his only victim.
Twilight let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding when Applejack came into view.
“Heya, Twilight! Shining Armor! What brings you two out here?”
“Miss Applejack, I-“
“Hey, don’t be so formal! Just Applejack is fine for friends and honorary family.”
“Err…Applejack, is the human that was doing work for you around right now?”
“Nope, not now, and not ever again!”
Applejack turned her head and spat, kicking some dirt around for good measure.
“What do you mean?”
“He needed the bits, so I gave him some work. I caught him slacking off, sleeping on the job, and stealing every loose bit he could see! I ran that no-account swindler off my farm after that. I heard a few ponies he’d ‘worked’ for were missing a few things too. Did ya catch him?”
“No, we’re…working a different case right now. Do you have any idea where he might have gone to?
“Well, when he wasn’t working for me, he was staying at Malachi’s, same as most every human did when they first popped over. Might’ve gone back, I don’t think anyone else would’ve put up with him.”
They talked a little while longer, Shining Armor taking notes on the human’s appearance and habits, trying to get as much information about the missing human as he could, but it wasn’t much. He headed out and let Twilight say her farewells and try to deflect Applejack’s curiosity about what was going on in town. It was clear the Element of Honesty knew that something more was going on, but he was just glad she didn’t press the issue. The announcement he’d have to make eventually was not something he was looking forwards to.
“So, where to next?”
“Well, until we find Applejack’s missing slacker, we’ll have a talk with this Malachi person. Where does he live?”