by TheAndyMac

Integration: Final Report




"So, what would you say was the first thing that made you suspicious?"

"Well, if'n I had tae guess, it'd be that they didnae recognise the accent."

Fair Trade shrugged across the table at the mare, who simply looked back, expressionless, eyes never leaving him. Somehow, though, she didn't seem like she was staring, simply broadcasting an impression of complete and utter attention.

She was an odd sort; horribly distinctive for an EDSO Special Investigator, with a bright green coat, bold blue mane, and a horn that looked fit to skewer a griffon. And that didn't even count her size, even towering over the hardly-insubstantial Trade.

And yet she seemed somehow...nondescript. Trade had the uncomfortable impression that he might never notice her in a crowd again. And she seemed so cool and distant, so utterly in control, that he was sure the only time her impassive mask might slip would be when she wanted it to. That any show of emotion would only serve her own purpose. Indeed, the mild absurdity of Trade's words didn't even register on her face, much to his gratitude.

"The wee ane, Breeze, he asked me whaur I was from, which got me thinkin' somethin' wasnae richt. But I just let it go, tried not tae think tae much of it."

She nodded, digesting the information without even hinting what value it might have.

"What made you decide to change your mind?" she said.

He glowered. He didn't want to. He hated that he was even doing it. But he couldn't help himself. His face twisted every time her thought of his Melody...entangled with that stallion!

Even so, he had to push through it if he wanted to get to the bottom of it all. Or at least, to help this mare get to the bottom. From her impossibly stoic demeanour he was already starting to figure out how likely he really was to finding out exactly what had happened that night. But if there was something big going on, as the presence of the EDSO implied, and he could help the Princess and her agents take care of it, then that was good enough for him.

"My wife... Something happened tae her."

The mare nodded again, motioning him onward.

"What sort of 'something'?"

And there was the glower again. And the grimace. His was was an ugly mask as he tried to keep the emotions under control.

"She was alane, wi' the young ane. In the night. She likes stargazin', ye ken? Aye was a dreamer..." He blinked and shook himself. "Anyways, I dinnae ken what he did, but... Me an' the ither went lookin' fer them. An' by the time we got tae them..."

He shook himself again, breathing deep.

"She was all over him. Muzzle tae muzzle. My Melody... She widdnae dae summit like that. Never. It was thon colt, must've done it."

For the first time since he'd met her, the mare's mask-like visage cracked, and a brief twang of sympathy sparked behind her eyes, coloured by obvious concern.

"Where is she now?"

"Stayin'... Stayin' at hame, wi' her ma."

"Things aren't good between you two?"

"No. I had tae dae things, tae bring her back... We've not been the same since."

Her head tilted down, and she closed her eyes, drawing a deep breath through her nose.

"You said there was something else you wanted to show me?" she said after a moment.

He paused, like a stallion trying ot remember something from long ago. Then he started, nodding and turning to the saddlebags sitting beside his chair. "Aye. This was what made me figure I ought tae speak tae somepony."

By now, his hoof was rooting around inside the bag, trying to hook the strap of a smaller pouch. "I didnae think much of them at first, but I got tae thinkin', an' that got me tae worryin'..."

"Worrying about what?" A flash of impatience made a second crack in the mask.

Trade opened the pouch, and dumped the contents onto the table. "These."

A number of oddly shaped, oddly made and oddly coloured coins rattled and clanked onto the table as they settled in a heap. Some of them bore strange markings, unfamiliar stamps and writing in unreadable scripts. The mare's eyes flashed at the sight, and she slowly extended a hoof to slide one of them back to her.

"...where did you get these?"

Trade's own eyes narrowed.

"The aulder yin selt them tae me. Why? What are they?"

She sat back in satisfaction, a disquieting smile spreading across her muzzle. It was a hunter's smile, the grin of a predator closing in on her prey after the long stalk. It was not the sort of smile that had any place on a pony's face.

"These are old coins from the South. Far, far to the south, over the McIntosh Hills and beyond the Badlands. Coins that very few ponies will ever see in their lives. Coins that are unlikely to just show up in the hooves of a pair like you described."

She took a deep breath, and the smile was gone. Hidden away under the mask of professionalism.

"Tell me, Fair Trade, where were these two going again?"