Compared to the cool, dark tunnel beneath the museum, the outside world was almost unbearable. The sun was too bright, the air too dry and the heat absolutely insufferable. As she walked out into the courtyard, Daring had to squint to keep the sun’s intrusive rays out of her eyes, despite the fact that she had her trusty dusty pith helmet. It was almost painful looking out over the other ponies, flooding through the museum and it’s grounds in a desperate search for shade, and for the first time that day she realised just how intensely hot it was. She wanted more than anything to head back down to the tunnel and burry herself in its treasures, but quite obviously, that was not an option.
“This is where I leave you I’m afraid,” Casablanca told her with a subtle flip of her flowing mane. “I’ve got a tea to prepare for. If you need any help, I’m afraid I won’t be able to give you much. However, do feel free to give me a ring, and a time and place of meeting can be arranged. Good luck, Daring Do, and please bring it back for us,” she said, the light air of desperation back in that delicate voice of hers.
Before Daring had a chance to consent, Casablanca was gone. She had thrown herself head first into the crowded museum (ponies from all over Canterlot had been drawn there by the promise of half-off ice cream cones) and vanished as quickly as she had come. Daring would have thought it impossible to loose somepony like Casablanca Lily, with her impeccable poise and that air about her which demanded awe and respect – and yet as simple as anything, she was gone.
Daring glanced around the packed courtyard and let her eyes wander up to the clock – three o’clock, she realized as the clock’s ancient face swung open and a parade of mechanical ponies marched out. She hadn’t realized they’d been down there so long. In truth, it had only seemed like a couple of minutes. However, that being said, she had an hour at most to get what she needed done.
She weaved through the various bodies, squished together like sardines as each attempted to get their hooves on some ice cream. That wasn’t her goal – not at the moment, though she had to admit she’d kill for a cone about now. She trotted past the ice cream stand and out onto the street, her hooves clipping and clopping against the pavement satisfyingly. She loved that sound.
Unsurprisingly, the roads were all but empty. Also unsurprisingly, the restaurants and shops were not. The bakeries and book shops were almost as crowded as the museum, and the dress stores were filled with fillies jostling about to get a view of themselves in the mirrors. But Daring wasn’t looking for a book or a dress. She was looking for someone else.
“Kathiawari,” she muttered to herself, rolling the word around in her mouth and letting it slide over her tongue like a fine wine. “Kathiawari….” For some reason, the word was familiar on her lips, even though her mind thought nothing of it. The more she thought about it though, the more it ate at her. Why did she know that word?!
It had started to get to her on the way back through the tunnel. Casablanca had been talking about… something, she wasn’t entirely sure, but it had seemed rather unimportant. The moment the word ‘ball gown’ had floated into her keen ears, her brain had shut down and gone to it’s happy place. Kathiawari.
She stopped in front of a crowded old antique shop, a mess of old... rubbish stacked precariously in the window. The well preserved, ancient dress dummy suggested that it may have been a display once, but the clutter all around it – the stacks of books, the dusty tea cups and glass cases filled with retro horse shoes – hid the ‘display’ part of it so well that it looked like nothing more than a hodgepodge of silly knickknacks.
Daring pushed open the door gingerly and took a careful step forward, doing her best to avoid the minefield of priceless objects that obstructed her path. The cowbells above her head jingled as she tiptoed over an ancient porcelain doll, laying forgotten on the floor, and she scanned the piles of junk for something – or, rather, for someone. “Hello?” she called out, trying not to be too loud for fear of an antique avalanche. “Anypony home?”
From somewhere in the back corner of the room, she heard a voice exclaim, “Over here! Don’t step on the Pony Potters, they’re originals!”
She frowned at the spot she figured the voice had come from. “Easier said than done,” she called back to the other pony, trying to find him over the stacks of books and vases. “Where are you?!”
A white head popped up over the books, framed by two precariously perched ceramic statues. “Over here!” he called, waving a hoof at her and lunging for one of the ceramics as it went hurtling to the floor. He caught it between his hooves, just in time to bash his head into a towering pile of out-dated encyclopaedias. He yelped as the books came tumbling down and hurled the vase at Daring, who spread her wings and threw herself into the air, catching it just in time to see the white stallion be buried under three dozen ancient, hardcover volumes of doom.
She landed carefully on the floor, paying special attention to where her wings flapped. “Parquetry, this place is a death trap,” she told him matter-of-factly as he wormed his way out from under his precious books. “I mean, seriously! And I’ve seen my fair share of death traps! But this place! This takes the cake LAMP!” she exclaimed as he stumbled backwards into a small end table, sending a beautiful wrought iron lamp tumbling off the edge. He gasped and shot at it with his horn, engulfing it in green and floating it back to it’s ‘safe spot’ on the table. “Spring cleaning!” he announced very loudly, not minding the fact that it was the dead of summer.
“What do you mean, spring cleaning?!” Daring asked, putting the ceramic vase down as carefully as she could. “It always looks like this! In fact, I think it’s gotten worse. How do you sell anything?” she wondered, looking around at all the stuff on ‘display’. He really did have some great pieces… it was just that no one could find them.
“Well, soon it’ll look different!” he announced plainly, creeping carefully over a stack of old paintings. “By the time I’m done with it, I fully intend to see the floor!”
Daring raised her eyebrows at him incredulously – Parquetry was a very intelligent pony, but his life was defined by mess. “What brought that on?” she asked, stepping cautiously onto an ancient, hand woven rug.
He looked down at all the papers that covered the floor – copies of newspapers from twenty years ago, old Equestria Geographics and a whole host of other things she couldn’t discern. “Well, I was wondering about the floor several days ago, and I realized I couldn’t remember what it looked like. I don’t think I’ve seen it in at least ten years,” he mused, trying to push aside a couple dozen layers of paper. “I figured that meant it’s clean up time.”
“Good move,” Daring agreed with him as she realized for the very first time that she had never seen the floor of Parquetry’s Antiques and Bobbles. And she’d been coming here almost since the day it opened.
“Anywho, what can I do you for this bright and shiny magnificently torturous and torrid afternoon?” Parquetry asked, carefully shoving aside an old enamelled jewellery box in his attempt to get closer to his guest. “Looking for more maps?”
She gazed longingly at the cabinet full of ancient maps he had pushed to the back of the room. She loved maps. But she didn’t have time for them, not today. The thought was almost blasphemous, but it was true. “No, I’m looking for something else. I need some information, and I figured if anyone in Canterlot had it, it would be you.”
Parquetry nearly leapt at the ceiling in his excitement. “Information?! I love information! What do you need it on? Anything in particular, or just something random? I got in a very interesting volume about banana slugs the other day, if you want to read it! Or I could summerize! Banana Slugs are herbivores; they’re the second largest slug in the world and come in a rather unattractive yellow colour – no offense Daring Do – and can grow up to twenty five centimetres in l –”
“No slugs!” Daring exclaimed, cutting him off. “Slugs are disgusting, I don’t wanna talk about slugs. I need information about a name. Or a word maybe, I’m not sure. All I’ve got is one word,” she told him, fishing the paper out of one of her shirt pockets. She’d long since memorised the word of course, but Parquetry was an expert at… well, everything. It was very possible he could tell her more about the paper than she could ever guess.
… no. Not everything, she thought, cringing a little as she remembered last year’s trip to Ponyville for the Running of the Leaves. He’d nearly killed them all.
Parquetry looked at her for a moment, waiting for her word as fished into her pockets for something or other. Did she want him to just stand still or should he start talking? He wasn’t very good at standing still… “Tom, short for Thomas or a stand alone name. Pet name variation: Tommy. Meaning ‘twin’. Tallulah, a girl’s name of Native American Indian origin, meaning ‘leaping water’. Stems from the Choctaw word ‘oka’ meaning ‘water’. Common nicknames include: Tilly, Tally, Lulu – ”
“Parquetry what are you doing?!” Daring asked with exasperation. He was a good lad, he really was, but sometimes she just wanted to smash him over the head with one of his ceramic teddy bears.
He blinked at her. “You wanted names. Not fond of ‘T’? Shall I try ‘R’?” he asked, clearly befuddled by her obvious frustration.
“NO! Please don’t try ‘R’,” she begged him, dropping the paper at his feet. She really did have to get a shirt with fewer pockets. They were terribly convenient, yes, but it was impossible to find anything. The paper landed letter-side up, and Parquetry lifted it up into the air, holding it at eye level as it emanated green to match his glittering horn.
“Kathiawari?” he asked curiously, knitting his eyebrows at the word. He flipped the paper backwards, then turned it upside down as he examined it. “That’s it? It’s just that? There’s nothing else?” he wondered out loud.
Daring shook her head, her grey forelock flopping into her eyes. “Nope, nothing else. Just ‘Kathiawari’. It doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?” she asked, dreading a negative answer, because to be perfectly honest, she didn’t really have a plan B. She supposed she could hit the library, but she figured the Lily girls would have done that by now.
“Well, it does, sort of,” he told her, floating a spyglass over the parchment. “But it doesn’t make much sense. Where did you say you found this?” he asked, turning his attention back to her, his green eyes swimming with eager curiosity.
“I didn’t,” she told him definitively, in a voice that warned him quite clearly not to push the subject. “And I can’t. It’s a secret.”
Parquetry frowned, disappointed. He knew that voice well; the topic was closed. He’d get nothing out of her. But that didn’t stop the curiosity from dancing behind his eyes. “If you say so,” he told her, turning back to examine the crumbling piece of paper.
“I do,” Daring enforced firmly, moving closer to him so she could stare down through the spyglass as well. “What you got for me?” she asked him, trying to see what he was so interested in. It was just a piece of paper, but he was going over it as though it were one of the crown jewels. Which, for all she knew, it was. To him at least; for an antiques enthusiast, Parquetry had a very odd sense of what was valuable.
He shoved her away lightly. “Stop it! You’re in my thinking bubble,” he told her, using his magic to drag her backwards by the tail. He thought for a moment longer, and then exclaimed very enthusiastically: “GERONIMO! I’ve got it!”
“Geronimo?” Daring asked blankly. “I think you mean Eureka.”
“Keep your fancy wordplay banter to yourself, Miss Do, I have solved your piece of paper!” he told her excitedly, hovering both the paper and the spyglass towards a delicately carved vanity. “All right, here’s the skinny: don’t lean on that, it’s delicate,” he chastised her, dragging her back from the vanity. “On to the skinny! The paper you see here is over fifty years old, originating in Pone, India. Not PONE. Po-neh. Anyway, around this time, Pone was the basis for an import/export company called Rawal; it was very big, importing everything from massive exotic animals to tiny little tea bags.”
“Yeah, I know,” she told him flatly, growing a bit impatient. Of course she knew of the Rawal Trading Corporation! She’d read books and studied their trade route maps and all of that – all of which she’d gotten from him.
“Yes, miss Smarty Pants, I know you know. Just humour me, will you?” he asked desperately; he did so love sounding smart.
Daring huffed at him, but made no objection. It was easier just to let it run it’s course.
“Thank you. Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted: the Rawal Trading Company transported everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything. Many times, their ships were used as a cover to transport some more unsavoury things, like illegal animal pelts and, like it or not, slaves for the houses of the wealthy.
“Now, the word Kathiawari; I’ve only ever seen it once. In one book. In one paragraph.” Books began pulling themselves out of piles and off shelves, flying before him and restacking themselves. He looked at title after title, and there must have been a hundred books whirring above her head at any given time. She had to admit, she was rather impressed. “Aha! Here we go!” he exclaimed. With that, every suspended volume crashed to the ground, and the pages of the one now resting on the vanity seemed to flip by at an ungodly pace.
It came to rest at a page that looked no different from all the others – just massive blocks of miniscule text. She studied it for a moment, squinting so she could try and read it.
“Here,” Parquetry told her, using a green quill to guide her towards a specific paragraph. “According to this, Kathiawari was a small but deadly force that loosely affiliated itself with the Rawal Trading Corporation. According to this book, RTC existed for no other reason than to aid in the goals of the Kathiawari Goodponies, as they seem to have called themselves. The Goodponies started off with good intentions, but like many things, those intentions soon soured. They forgot their cause, got to fighting, and one founding father wound up murdering the other in his bed. From that moment on, it seems that the Kathiawari Brotherhood became something else entirely, something evil and tainted. That’s when the RTC began to dabble in the black market, and eventually became the black market. It’s also noted – now, I’m not sure how much of this is true, mind you, I’m just summarising – that great things went missing when the RTC trading ships landed. No one could ever prove anything, but Bluebell’s Wand, the Fist of Ferric and the Gorgon’s Eye were a few of what they suggest are many of the items stolen and never seen again. It seems as though when the company disbanded, the phantom thieving seemed to stop. Of course, no one noticed any of this except for – ” He shut the book and flipped it around, trying to find the author’s name, “…there’s no way I can pronounce that. Ggarfffuznicket? Either way, in my opinion he seems to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but it’s interesting all the same. According to him though, it seems that the Kathiawari never truly got what they wanted.”
“Which was?” Daring asked eagerly, her eyes wide with excitement. It was quite possible that whatever nonsense Parquetry had been reading would solve her case here and now. Or, almost solve it at least.
He frowned at the book. “I don’t know, really,” he told her, opening it back up to the page he had been reading. “It doesn’t say. It just sort of… ends. I warned you it wasn’t much, but hopefully it’s at least a little bit helpful.”
Daring let out a slightly disappointed sigh, but smiled at the white unicorn with the mane like autumn leaves. “Very helpful. Thanks Parquetry,” she told him, shoving the paper back into her shirt pocket as she began to head out. At least she had a starting point now; she had to go to India. And once there, she had to head for Pone. She could do that. She stopped abruptly as she reached the door and looked back at him.
“Are you one hundred per cent sure it’s Pone?” she asked, just to make sure. The last thing she wanted was for it to turn out meaning ‘Ponyville.’
He nodded vigorously, the russet and brown tones in his mane leaping up and down like hyperactive toddlers. “Absolutely, one hundred and seventy nine plus infinity per cent sure,” he told her with the utmost confidence.
She nodded, convinced for a moment as she pushed open the door. And then stopped as suspicion and curiosity welled up within her. “Why?” she asked carefully, looking back at him over her shoulder.
His horn glowed bright green again and the paper flew out of her pocket, holding itself just in front of the light. For the first time, she could vaguely make out a bunch of swirls and lines – some sort of pattern she assumed.
“It says so right there. In Hindi. ‘Product of Pone’,” he told her shoving it up to her eyes before sliding it back into her pocket.
“Oh,” she added bluntly. Maybe she would have gotten that if she spoke Hindi. As to why he spoke Hindi, she didn’t dare ask. “Okay thanks Parq!”
“You’re very welcome! DON’T SLAM THE DOOR!”
As the door cashed into the doorframe, the window display came crashing down. The sewing dummy smashed into a pile of books behind it, which knocked down a floorlamp, which crashed into a stack of paintings, which continued the horrifying domino effect inside the cluttered store as things came crashing down around it’s owner’s head. Daring winced, staring in painfully through the window as everything finally came to a halt. “Sorry!” she called out to Parquetry, buried neck-deep in antiques. “But hey! The window looks great!”
He glared at her, and slowly she began to slink off towards the main road. “Sorry…” she muttered again, and then took off at a canter before he had the chance to free himself of the books that drowned him.