June 9th, 11:30PM
Twilight and Phoenix entered the forest a short distance from Fluttershy’s cottage. As they walked along the path, the trees closed in and it became so dark Phoenix could barely see his hands in front of his face.
“Welcome to the Everfree Forest, Mr. Wright,” Twilight announced, the violet unicorn just a barely-seen shadow on the path in front of him.
“Kind of spooky,” Phoenix said nervously, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice and jumping at every unfamiliar sound.
“There are many deadly creatures in the Everfree Forest. Everypony tends to avoid entering here because of that,” Twilight noted matter-of-factly, sending fresh chills down the human lawyer’s spine.
“D-deadly… creatures?” he repeated, stammering at his own words. At that moment he felt something brush by him. “AHH!!! Something just touched my hand!!!” he panicked.
Twilight giggled at him, amused by his apparent fear of the dark. “That was just my tail. Don’t worry Phoenix, we’re not that deep. Most of the menacing things live MUCH further in,” she assured the human lawyer, trying to make him feel more comfortable.
“Uhh… oh… okay…” he said, thinking that with his manly and muscular figure, he was supposed to be the bravest and should be the one ‘protecting’ the smaller female pony, not the other way around! Come on! Don't be such a chicken, Phoenix! he ordered himself, trying to regain his courage and manhood.
Just then, the trees parted to reveal a small break in the woods, the moon giving just enough light to recognize it. “Look, there’s a clearing… this must be it,” Phoenix said, still nervous.
Twilight stopped and went silent for a moment, causing Phoenix to bump into her from behind, his hand brushing her hip and tail again before he backed off in surprise. “Hard to believe somepony died here,” she said, moving fractionally away and doing her best to ignore the contact, grateful Phoenix couldn’t see her blushing in the dark.
“Aren't there any Crime Scene Investigators (CSI)?” he asked Twilight, attempting to keep his voice casual and stay as close behind the violet unicorn as he could without actually touching her, the human lawyer trying hard to convince himself it was for her protection and not his.
“They’re probably all finished up,” she answered, getting a bit uncomfortable at his proximity.
Phoenix shrugged. “Bonus for me, I guess… let’s get down to work then,” he said, trying to sound easygoing, stepping up next to her. But before he could begin to investigate, his ‘common sense’ belatedly kicked in again. “But there’s one little problem… it’s WAY too dark here; I can hardly see anything and I don't have a flashlight,” he admitted.
“Let me take care of that…” Twilight offered, taking the excuse to move away from him. Not waiting for an acknowledgment, she trotted forward into the clearing and made her horn glow with a bright white light, illuminating the entire area.
Phoenix was very surprised, astonishment overriding his fear. It’s that horn again… it’s lighting up like a lantern! That must be really handy! he thought, wondering if he could have a horn like that… nah. “Good work, Twilight!” he praised, very grateful to be out of the dark.
He couldn’t see the violet unicorn blush anew in the light of her horn. “Alright! Let’s find some clues!” she shot up, excited to begin her first investigation.
She seems really eager to start this! Phoenix thought, a bit amazed at her activeness as he followed her into the clearing, her enthusiasm reminding him strongly of Maya at that moment.
“Hey look at this…” She trotted over to where an outline of a pony was visible on the ground. “Why is there tape all over the grass?” she asked the human lawyer, looking down at the oddly-shaped outline.
Phoenix knelt down beside it, knowing only too well why. “If it’s anything like in my world… this is probably where they found Ace Swift’s body.”
Twilight’s eyes widened and she felt her stomach lurch, the glow from her horn wavering for a moment. “Ugh… I think I’m going to be sick,” She turned away, her hoof going to her muzzle as if she was about to puke.
And all that eagerness seemed to go away in one fell swoop, Phoenix thought to himself with a quickly suppressed grin, grateful to be the ‘manly’ one again.
“Wait… the victim was Ace Swift?” Twilight asked him, doing her best to choke back the bile that was still trying to rise in her throat.
He nodded. “That’s what Rainbow Dash told me.”
“Ace Swift… hmm…” Twilight mused, eyes narrowed like she was trying to remember something, slowly forcing her nausea back to bay.
“It’s strange though… there’s no blood at all,” Phoenix noted, examining the ground around the outline. “Uh… ponies can bleed, right?” he asked uncertainly.
“Of COURSE they can!” she shot back in irritation.
Phoenix winced at her tone, belatedly sensing what a stupid question it was. “It’s just really strange that there’s a murder here but not a single drop of blood in sight,” he said, pointing out his first contradiction of the crime scene.
Twilight blinked, realizing the human lawyer was right. Then her violet eyes noticed something strange about the ground. “The grass is odd too… it’s all black…” she added, poking at it with her hoof, feeling it crumble instantly to powder beneath her blunt appendage.
Phoenix quickly turned his attention to what Twilight was referring to, experimentally patting the ground with his fingers, feeling the soot beneath them. “You’re right! It’s all charred and burned like… there was a small fire around the body.” Sensing its significance, Phoenix wiped his hand with a handkerchief before taking out his digital camera, snapping a picture of the charred area with the tape outline in it.
“’Steel Samurai’? That sure is an interesting-looking camera, Phoenix,” she said curiously, reading the label on the side.
“It’s not mine; it belongs to a friend,” Phoenix smiled, thinking he was going to have an incredible story to tell Maya when he finally returned home. That made him curious what Twilight would think of his world, wondering what he might share with her about it. Hey! Maybe I should tell Twilight about ‘The Steel Samurai’! Amazing how a kids show got so popular outside its targeted demographic…
“Hey, look there. That thing on the ground next to where the body was,” Twilight pointed to a small charred object, almost invisible against the burnt grass.
Phoenix picked it up and turned it over in his hand—a small and severely damaged L-shaped piece of metal. “It’s a… what the heck IS this thing?” Phoenix asked, showing it to Twilight.
The violet unicorn looked it over herself in the light of her horn before finally shaking her head. “I don’t have any idea.”
“Whatever it was, it’s totally burnt to a crisp,” Phoenix said, rubbing the rough surface and finding it flaking off beneath his thumb.
“Just like the grass…” Twilight noted.
Phoenix nodded in agreement. “This may be important evidence,” he pronounced, putting the odd object into a sealed plastic bag and adding it to his inventory. “Let’s look at the landscape over there.” He pointed across the clearing to where something seemed off to his eyes.
“Sure thing!” Twilight agreed, the unicorn and her lit horn following him to a small area at the left side the crime scene.
“What’s this…?” Phoenix asked, pointing down.
Twilight saw it too. “There’s an imprint of something in the dirt, something long…” she noted, her expression intent.
“That isn't what I find odd,” he shook his head.
“What do you mean?”
“Look next to it—someone obviously disturbed the dirt there,” he motioned to a scuffed-up area of ground.
Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Now that you mention it… this doesn’t look natural at all. It looks like somepony was kicking dirt all around in this area,” she agreed.
Phoenix pulled out his camera again to take a picture of the disturbed area. “See anything else suspicious?” he asked, looking around again.
Twilight directed his attention to the opposite end of the clearing. “Look at that tree way over there at the other end of the crime scene.”
Following her gaze, Phoenix saw it too—a freshly fallen tree. “It’s knocked down,” he observed.
“But look at the trunk! It suffers from the same burning as the grass and that object,” she pointed out.
“Can ponies breathe fire, or something?” Phoenix asked, jokingly.
“No, Phoenix. Dragons do that, not ponies…” she replied in perfect seriousness.
“Heh! Maybe a dragon really DID do all this,” he said, chuckling.
Twilight looked a bit unsure, as if she was considering the idea but finally shook her head. “That isn’t possible. Spike is the only dragon in Ponyville, and he was with me all night,” she said.
At that moment, it finally clicked in the human lawyer’s head that she wasn’t joking. “Spike… that’s your assistant you told me about…” he remembered, his eyes widening in fear. “Wait, he’s a DRAGON?! There really ARE dragons here?!”
“Why, yes…” she assured him, seemingly unconcerned.
Phoenix felt his legs going weak. “You said you wanted to introduce me to him…” he remembered, trembling a bit. “I-it’s quite alright, y-you don’t need to, he’s p-probably a really nice guy!” he stammered, trebling over his own words.
The ends of Twilight’s mouth crooked upward as she recognized his fear, guessing he thought her assistant was an enormous adult dragon instead of a mere hatchling. “Don't be so shy, Spike LOVES company!” she teased, struggling not to laugh as she watched him quake anew.
Phoenix gulped down his air, nearly choking over it. I really hope that doesn’t have a double meaning! he thought to himself, still shaking over the thought of a monstrous dragon living in Twilight's house!
Still giggling under her breath, Twilight turned her attention back to the clearing and the investigation at hoof. “Oh, Phoenix!” she called. “Look on that branch there, on that tree behind that fallen one.” He turned to see her pointing up with a hoof.
Squinting for a moment, he saw the strange dangling object too, a little indistinct in the light of her horn. “There’s something stuck on it. I’ll climb up and get it,” he offered, grateful for a new distraction and the chance to be useful.
Twilight stopped him. “No need, Mr. Wright,” she announced, using her magic to grab and lower the odd object, pushing it towards Phoenix.
Or you could just float it down… he thought to himself, still amazed at her ability as the object was guided into his hands, the violet aura dissipating as he took hold of it. “It’s a brown… feather…” Phoenix was a bit disappointed as he held it by the stem. “Well that was pointless, probably from a bird.”
Twilight walked up for a closer look herself. “No, it can’t be. No bird in Ponyville is this big.”
Phoenix studied it further, realizing she was right… the feather was quite large, almost as long as his forearm. “I know, maybe it’s the victim’s. He was a pegasus right? Maybe it’s from his wings?” he suggested.
His hopes were dashed as Twilight broke yet another of his theories. “Nope, this feather doesn’t belong to any pony either. Too big.”
Phoenix grunted a bit, trying to hide his disappointment. “Then we should keep it,” he decided, putting the feather in a fresh evidence bag. When it was sealed, he finally asked the question that had been bothering him all evening. “How do you DO that, Twilight?”
The unicorn gave him an odd look. “Do what, Phoenix?”
“I’ve seen you levitating things with that horn of yours. Not to mention you’re lighting this whole area with it this very moment,” he said, pointing to the long glowing protrusion on her forehead, his extended finger an inch from its tip.
Startled, Twilight jerked back from his finger. “It’s magic!” she exclaimed, blushing anew and forcibly reminding herself the human lawyer likely had no idea of a unicorn horn’s sensitivity… or the significance of touching it. It glowed brighter for a moment at the near-contact, its light taking on a slightly pinkish hue. “Levitation and illumination are two of the basic spells a unicorn can learn. W-why do you ask? Is there no magic in your world?” she asked in surprise, trying to keep the embarrassment out of her voice and force her horn glow back to normal.
Phoenix wasn’t sure what the color or intensity change meant, but noticed her unease and quickly pulled his hand back, making a mental note to be careful around her horn in the future. “Well…by magic, you mean like… popping rabbits out a hat and such… well yeah… there is… but basically there isn't…” he said, then remembered something else. “Actually, you might say there is…”
Twilight instantly perked up, her discomfort forgotten at the opportunity to be taught something new. “Please, do tell! You see, magic is sort of my bread and butter. I want to learn everything there is to know about it!” she implored the human lawyer, looking up at him like an eager student.
Though endeared by her enthusiasm, Phoenix hoped she wouldn’t consider him crazy for his next words. “Well, I have been able to speak to the dead via spirit channeling. That could be considered magic, I guess…” he offered tentatively.
“’Spirit Channeling’?” she repeated, intrigued.
“It’s when the spirit of someone who’s departed possesses the body of the living,” Phoenix explained. “I have used it to keep in touch with someone very dear to me,” he added, wondering what his late boss and mentor Mia Fey would think of this world and the case he had taken. I should get Maya to channel her just to ask!
“Oh, I get it…” she said, her mind visibly turning. Abruptly, an idea popped into her head. “Hey! Phoenix, can’t you do it right now? We can get Ace Swift in your body and ask who killed him!” she suggested, the violet unicorn eager to see a demonstration of the ability.
Though pleasantly surprised by her easy acceptance of the idea that one could talk to the dead, Phoenix was forced to disappoint her. “Heh, sorry, I forgot to mention that you have to be a high level spirit medium in order to perform the channeling technique,” he explained apologetically. “My friend is the one who normally does it.”
“I see…” replied a clearly disheartened Twilight, the violet unicorn disappointed at not getting to see an example of his ’magic’. “Thanks for the information though, I’ll definitely look into it more,” she said, at least happy to have something new to research.
His curiosity satisfied, Phoenix went back to the investigation. “Hmm… No decisive evidence yet, we still don’t know how this guy died… or clues of his killer.” Phoenix looked at the violet unicorn, a question suddenly occurring to him. “Hey Twilight, do YOU know anything about him?”
She searched her memories and nodded. “I know a bit of information about him.”
“Alright, every bit counts. As long as it helps us to solve this crime,” he said, taking out his notepad again.
Organizing her thoughts, Twilight sat down and began to speak. “Well… Ace was an athlete who got extremely popular around Equestria by winning every single event he’s ever competed in,” she said to Phoenix, watching curiously as he began to write, mildly fascinated by the precise motions of his hand.
Phoenix goggled, dropping his pen. “He won EVERY single event he’s ever competed in?!” he repeated, eyes wide with amazement.
“Yeah, he was that good…” she confirmed, then looked down at the ground, thinking of something else she’d heard about the late pegasus. “But with this streak of success he gained a few skeptics thinking that all his victories were a result of cheating and other dubious methods.”
Phoenix raised a brow as he picked the pen back up. “I’d probably think the same thing if I saw someone winning at everything they do,” he noted, giving a quick cough as he suddenly remembered that the same could be said about a certain other someone as well.
Twilight gave him an odd look, but continued. “He was supposed to be competing in the Equestrian 500 and was the racer expected most likely to win.”
Phoenix nodded, scribbling another note as Twilight surreptitiously watched his hands move, increasingly amazed at their utility, realizing his fingers were easily the equal of a unicorn horn for grasping or manipulating objects. “Rainbow Dash told me about that too. Unfortunately, it sets up a motive for her…” he said, not noticing where Twilight's attention was.
“What do you mean?” she asked, forcing her gaze away from hands, her horn momentarily glowing a brighter pink again as she had a sudden, quickly quashed image of his fingers wrapped around it… Wha...? where did THAT come from? she blinked, mildly disgusted with herself and glad the human lawyer didn't know what the hue meant. This is HARDLY the time, Twilight... she admonished herself sharply, resolving to lay off the romance novels Rarity had been lending her.
“Rainbow Dash said that she was planning on flying in that race as well and she seemed really… well… determined on winning it,” Phoenix remembered, wondering why her horn glow had changed color again.
Twilight grinned at that. “Yes, I remember her going around Ponyville bantering how she was going to be the one to take the gold,” she recalled, almost wistfully.
The dead serious look he gave her caused her smile to disappear. “If she were to rub out the guy most likely to win, she would have more of a chance of winning the whole thing herself,” the human lawyer declared, clicking his pen shut and putting his notepad back away.
Twilight was appalled. “But she wouldn't DO that!” the violet unicorn protested with a stomp of her hoof, eyes narrowed and jaw set in anger that he would even suggest such a thing, horn glow intensifying again and taking on an orange tinge.
Phoenix held up his hands placatingly, recognizing for the first time that the color of her horn’s glow changed with her mood, and the brightness with the intensity of her emotions. Orange means anger. So what did the pink glow mean, then…? “Yes, yes, I know… but we’re going to have to prove otherwise to those who probably suspect that in court tomorrow,” he clarified.
With that, Twilight deflated, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof, horn glow returning to normal. “Sorry, I guess you’re right,” she apologized, regretting her outburst, not understanding why she was suddenly feeling so flustered around the human lawyer.
He gave her a reassuring smile, making her cheeks flush again. “I can’t say that I’m satisfied with the evidence we gathered, but this looks like all we are going to find here…” Phoenix zipped his evidence bag closed, hoping it would be enough.
“The ponies investigating the crime scene must have taken all the important stuff,” she guessed, echoing the human lawyer’s thoughts.
“I'm sure that we will see it presented in tomorrow’s trial in one form or another. In any case, we should get some rest,” he suggested, feeling tired from the summoning ordeal and walking around the entire town for the past two hours… to say nothing of the fact it was now past midnight.
“What?! No studying or anything?” Twilight frowned.
He waved off her concerns. “Don't worry; I do it all the time. If I just keep my eyes set on the truth, everything will be fine,” he promised her, stowing his camera and evidence bags.
The violet unicorn still seemed dubious, sitting back down. “I hope you really ARE the best Defense Attorney, Mr. Wright…” she said, sounding unconvinced.
In response, Phoenix offered her a friendly hand up. Surprised, she accepted it, letting him pull her back to her hooves, Twilight marveling anew at how dexterous his digits were while Phoenix was surprised at the soft fur and slightly yielding forehoof he felt beneath his fingers. “We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow,” he noted, resisting the urge to give the violet unicorn an affectionate scratch behind the ears, reminding himself that she wasn’t an animal despite outward appearances and he had no idea how she’d take such a gesture.
She nodded, her purple eyes lingering on his hands for a second. “You can sleep at my house. I have an extra bed for you,” she offered. Eagerly accepting, the exhausted human lawyer thanked her for her hospitality and let her lead him back out of the woods.
Trying not to crowd her again—easier since she was keeping her horn illuminated for the walk out, keeping both the darkness and his fears at bay—he walked behind her, lost in thought for most of the trip back. I still feel like I shouldn't be taking this case. Like I’m an outsider meddling in something that doesn't concern me at all… but at the same time I can’t turn my back on someone who’s being accused of a crime they didn't commit. That just goes against everything I stand for! the human lawyer reminded himself, having already decided on defending the falsely accused pony.
His gaze fell on Twilight for a moment, his eyes drawn to her exotic equine form, lingering on the odd but somehow apt starburst symbols on her hips. This whole thing is still really weird, talking ponies and all. But I promised I would defend Rainbow Dash and that’s what I’m going to do, he vowed as they exited the forest, passing back by Fluttershy’s cottage. To his mild disappointment, the bashful but beautiful pegasus pony was nowhere to be seen.
I need to bring my A-game tomorrow. Even with little evidence, I will find the truth and get Rainbow Dash acquitted of this murder, he resolved, wondering what would happen next…
They would both find out… the next day in court!