Under A Luminous Sky
Jake The Army Guy
Chapter Six: The Cover Up
So, that’s the basics of it. I know that Division Six is super secret, but I hope you can get me at least a little information about this Agent Bentgrass. Now I know you, Shiny. Don’t worry too much about me. I can take care of myself. Kiss Dusk Shine for me, tell him Auntie Twi misses him.
All my love,
Twilight rolled the scroll up and placed her wax seal on it. Spike was already asleep when she had come home, so she had put it off until the morning. She woke up earlier than normal, preparing for when Bentgrass came calling.
The letter finished, she floated the now empty bowl of oat cereal to the sink and washed it out. Such a simple breakfast was normal for her when Spike slept in. She didn’t mind today, it gave her time to reflect on yesterday. The more she thought about the strange detective, the less she worried. His speech last night about his methodology hadn’t completely put her at ease, but as she walked out of the kitchen towards the stairs, the thought of working with him wasn’t nearly as worrying as it had been.
The only real worry that remained was Bentgrass himself. For all his curiosity about her, he had let few details out about himself. Hopefully, Shining would be able to give her some kind of insight on the strange pony.
Pushing out the dark thoughts, Twilight walked up the stairs to the bedroom. “Spike,” she called up. “Wake up, I need you to send a letter for me.”
She reached the top of the main stairs and walked up to the loft bedroom the two shared. Spike had outgrown his basket a few years ago, and they had decided that it was time he get a proper bed. It was slightly smaller than Twilight’s, but it perfectly fit the growing dragon. She walked over to the foot and saw large lump under the sheets and a pointy tail sticking out. She chuckled quietly. “Come on, lazy scales, up and at ‘em.”
Spike didn’t answer her, and continued to snore quietly. Frustrated, she took the purple sheet in her mouth and yanked it off, before going to the window and opening the curtain. Bright sunlight fell squarely on Spike, but he still didn’t stir. He lay perfectly still, his arms folded under his head, knees tucked into his chest.
“Spike, get up!” She gently nudged him. He still didn’t respond. She poked him with her hoof a few more times to no avail.
“Okay, Spike. Seriously, wake up.” Twilight's ears slowly folded on top of her head. Spike continued to snore lightly, the only movement the rise and fall of his scaly back.
“Spike!” She pushed him harder, her voice becoming more frantic. “Come on, Spike, get up!”
No, no, no. Please, no...
“Spike!” she shrieked, now violently shoving him with both her forehooves. “Don't do this, Spike, wake up!”
Please, It’s too soon. I’m not ready...
“Please, wake up! Come on, Spike!” Tears were beginning to form in her eyes, and she ignored the dull pain in her hooves as she pounded on his thick scales. “Spike! Spike!”
Spike suddenly shot up onto his knees, knocking Twilight to the ground. His eyes were wide as he shook his head back and forth. “Huh? Wuzza... what?” He looked around for a few more moments, before seeing Twilight on her haunches next to the bed. He groaned and slumped back onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. “Aw, Twilight! I was having such a good dream. We were at the beach eating ice cream. Rarity was wearing a swimsuit made of rubies...” He shot up, his cheeks suddenly a fierce red. “Uh, I mean...”
He stopped and looked at her again. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her lower lip was quivering. “Oh, hey, Twilight, it’s all ri—”
She cut him off by leaping onto the bed and embracing him tightly. He jerked at the sudden movement, but relaxed when her heard her sniffle. Spike wrapped his arms around her, returning the deep hug, his claw gently stroking her mane.
“It’s okay Twilight. I’m right here,” he whispered in her ear as her hot tears ran down his shoulder. “I’m still here.”
They sat still for a few minutes, Twilight’s quiet sobbing the only sound in the room. Finally, she pushed away from him, wiping her eyes. She landed a playful slap on his shoulder.
“Don’t scare me like that.”
Spike gave her a small smile. “Hey, it’s not like I did it on purpose.” He stood up, helping her to her hooves. “Now, what was so important that you woke me up from a Rarity ice cream dream?”
“I need you to send this letter to my brother.” She floated the scroll in front of him.
He rolled his eyes. “Twi, we’ve been over this...”
“Spike, please. This is important.” She shot him a pleading look.
He stared back for a moment before sighing. “Fine, fine.” He snatched the scroll from the air and walked to the open window. A deep breath, followed by a small gout of fire, and the scroll disintegrated, Twilight’s eyes following it as the smoke disappeared out the window. “There, done.” He turned back to Twilight, who was gazing softly at him.
He silenced her with a claw. “Don’t, okay? Just... don’t. I’m still here, and I’m going to be here for as long as I can, alright?”
Twilight smiled sadly at him. “Alright.”
Stretching his arms out, he let out a great yawn and walked back to the bed. Reaching down and grabbing the sheets, he began to tuck them under the mattress, speaking over his shoulder. “So, how did it go with Special Agent Whack-job yesterday?”
He paused and turned back to look at her. “What?”
“That’s very rude! You shouldn’t make fun of the way ponies look, you know that.”
“Yeah, well breaking and entering isn’t exactly polite, either.”
She rolled her eyes. “It went... well, it went. We found out some... disturbing facts.” Using her magic, she picked his pillow up from the ground and laid it on the bed. “It looks like Berry Punch was... murdered.”
His eyes went wide and he dropped the blanket in his hands. “Murdered?”
Twilight yelped at the new voice. Craning her head upwards, she saw Rainbow Dash sticking her head inside the window.
“Rainbow? What are you doing up there?”
Rainbow fluttered down from the window, the soft breeze from her wings ruffling the bed sheets, earning a quiet groan from Spike as she landed next to Twilight. “I was flying overhead when I thought I heard somepony screaming.” Twilight and Spike shared a bemused glance, Twilight blushing slightly.
Rainbow ignored this and leaned in closer. “So, Berry Punch was murdered?”
Twilight shushed her. “Dash, be quiet. We don’t want to start a panic. Somepony may hear you!”
“Uh, Twi, we’re in a tree.”
Twilight groaned and slapped her face with a hoof. “Dash, no offense, but this is kind of a bad time. What are you even doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“Nope,” Dash said. “I took the day off. Heh, one of the benefits of being the weather team manager, I get to make my own schedule. Mac’s busy balancing the farm’s books, so I decided to come by.” Her eyes brightened. “So, where is he?”
Rainbow lowered her head, looking down her muzzle at Twilight. “Discord,” she deadpanned. “Come on, Twi! The super secret government spy!”
As if on cue, a gentle knock came from downstairs. Rainbow gasped loudly, her face beaming, and rocketed downstairs. She landed roughly next to the door, unlocked it, and threw it open. Her face fell as she looked at the tall stallion before her. “Dude, what’s with the suit? You going to a funeral?”
“Trying to prevent one, actually,” Bentgrass said, easing past her into the library. “And you must be Ms. Rainbow Dash, no?”
At the mention of her name, Rainbow puffed out her chest. “The one and only!” She rubbed her chest, looking down and inspecting her hoof. “I’m not surprised you’ve heard of me.”
“Of course I have. The R.I.S. has files on all of you.”
Rainbow stiffened slightly. “Oh, y-you do?” She gulped and chuckled nervously. “Uh, you know it was my friend Soarin’ who set me up that account in the Hayman Islands. Totally wasn’t my idea!” She smiled at him, her pinion feathers twitching slightly.
Bentgrass stared at her with his usual cold gaze. “Of course it wasn’t.” He turned back towards the stairs, where Twilight was making her way down.
Twilight glared at the investigator. “Oh, now you knock!”
“Of course. It’s not business hours yet. Are you ready to go?”
Twilight rolled her eyes before looking up the stairs at Spike. “Spike, we should be gone for most of the morning. If anypony asks, we’re going to see Zecora.”
“Oh, oh!” Spike jumped down a few steps. “Ask her if she has anymore of that spicy Zebrican feldspar!”
She chuckled. “Okay, will do.”
“Why are you going to see Zecora?” Rainbow asked. “Oh, does this have to do with Berry Punch?”
Bentgrass nodded. “Yes. I’m hoping she may have seen or heard something that night which might aid our investigation.”
A determined look set on Dash’s face. “Okay, I’m coming with you.”
“Ms. Dash, while I appreciate the offer, I assure you that Ms. Sparkle and I can hand—”
“No.” Dash took a step towards Bentgrass, a fire in her eyes. “Look, Mister Bright Eyes, if there’s some psycho running around hurting ponies in my home, I’m gonna help stop him.”
Bentgrass opened his mouth, but remained silent, casting a glance to Twilight. She just shrugged.
A moment of silence passed as Bentgrass looked back and forth between the two mares. Finally, he sighed. “Very well, Ms. Dash, if you insist.” Rainbow grinned smugly at him. “But we must be off at once.”
Dash snapped a quick salute and took to the air. “Well then, what are we waiting for? Let’s go, already!” With that, she raced out the door, already halfway down the street before Bentgrass and Twilight made it out the door. Bentgrass looked at Twilight with a raised eyebrow.
Twilight smiled softly at him. “Yeah, she’s like that.”
Twilight had stopped finding the Everfree forest scary some years ago. After how many times she and her friends saved the world from certain destruction, a few shadows and weird animal sounds lost their effect. Still, as they walked silently in between the rows of trees, she couldn’t help but feel very small. This time, though, it wasn’t the thought of a wild manticore or a giant Ursa Major that sent chills across her spine; the looming threat of a deranged pony slicing up helpless mares made her stomach turn. She gulped and pressed forward, the soft beating of Rainbow’s wings above them giving her some strength. She was with friends; nothing could harm her.
Besides, this time we have a highly-trained government agent wit...
Next to her, Bentgrass was a shaking mess. A light sheen of sweat was forming on his brow, and every few seconds he would lick his lips and grimace.
“Uh, are you okay, Agent Bentgrass?”
Rainbow fluttered down beside them. “Yeah, you look like you’re about to throw a shoe or something.”
“Yes, I’m... I’m fine.” He flicked his eyes back and forth, eying the trees around them. “It’s this place. I’m not surprised you two can’t feel it,” he said, nodding towards Twilight’s horn and Dash’s wings. “This whole wood seems... wrong. The ground feels strange beneath my hooves, and the air tastes...” he licked his lips again, his upper lip curling in disgust, “sour in some way.”
“If it’s really bothering you, I could just teleport us.”
Bentgrass shook his head. “I’ve already tasted my breakfast once this morning, I’d rather not taste it again, thank you very much.”
"Huh?" Dash said. "What does that mean?"
Twilight turned to her. "Most earth ponies don't react well to teleporting. The amount of active magic involved can cause some... eh, nausea." She turned back to Bentgrass. “Well, let’s talk about something. Maybe that will take your mind off of it."
Bentgrass nodded and looked up at Rainbow. “Ms. Dash, I’m curious.”
“Well, if I’ve read your file right, you worked your entire adult life to join the Wonderbolts, only to quit after two years. Why?”
Rainbow shrugged. “It’s not that complicated, really. It stopped being fun.”
Twilight and Bentgrass both suddenly stopped, glaring up at Rainbow with raised eyebrows.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Rainbow said after a nervous chuckle, “it was awesome at first!” Her eyes glazed over, her face consumed by a wide smile. “Performing death-defying feats in front of packed stadiums! Thousands of ponies cheering my name! ‘Rain-bow Dash! Rain-bow Dash!’” she yelled, pumping her hooves in the air. She looked back down at the two with stars in her eyes. “I got to travel all over the country, fly with the best fliers in Equestria! And the money! Oh, wow. I have so much money saved up in offshore tax shel... uh, I-I mean, perfectly legal banks, of course.” She shot a toothy grin at Bentgrass.
“I see. So, what changed?”
Rainbow tapped a hoof to her chin. “It’s kind of hard to explain. It stopped being about the flying, and became all about the show. Now I’ll admit, I like showing off every now and then.” A loud huff from Twilight made her cringe slightly. “Okay, a lot. But that was always a second thing. My main passion is flying. The wind through my feathers, the adrenaline high from pulling out of a steep dive just above the treeline, that light-headed feeling you get when you pull serious G’s!" She twirled around in the air, raising up higher above them before lowering herself back to eye-level. "That’s why I love doing tricks. In the Wonderbolts, we never just flew for the sake of flying, it was all about getting ready for the next show. It stopped being fun and started turning into a job.” She shrugged. “That’s when I knew it was time to leave."
“Besides,” she said, landing gently beside them. “I accomplished all I wanted to. I set records that will probably never be broken, inspired an entire generation of new fliers! The name Rainbow Dash will be forever recorded in Equestrian history!”
“Certainly not for modesty,” Twilight said with a low grin. Rainbow stuck her tongue out at her and turned back to Bentgrass.
“Better to retire on top, you know?”
“I see,” he said, nodding slowly. “But why come back to Ponyville? Surely with all your wealth and notoriety, you could have gone anywhere in Equestria, if not the world.”
“Ponyville is my home. I may have been born in Cloudsdale, but all the best moments of my life have happened right here in this little podunk town. And you know what? I got a pretty good thing going here. A good job.” She looked away, her cyan face turning a slight shade of crimson. “A good stallion.”
Rainbow then alighted and hovered next to Twilight. “And the best friends in the world,” she said as she gently nudged Twilight, who giggled. Rainbow turned back to Bentgrass. “What more could a mare ask for?”
"Wow. That's... very mature of you, Dash," Twilight said, ducking her head to avoid a low-hanging branch.
Rainbow shrugged. "Yeah, I was as surprised as you! I mean, I'd heard of ponies reaching their life's dream only to find it wasn't what they really wanted, but I thought that would never happen to me." She chuckled lightly. "I guess I'm more mature than even I knew!" Suddenly, she jerked to a halt for a moment. "Whoa, I must be getting old."
"Rainbow, you're only twenty-six."
"I know! I'm on the downhill slope to thirty."
The group walked in silence, Bentgrass studying Rainbow for a moment before turning back to his front. “When I return to Canterlot, I shall have to update our file on you, Ms. Dash.” He turned to see her questioning gaze, showing her a small smile. “You are much more three-dimensional than it makes you out to be.”
Rainbow blinked several times. “Uh, thanks... I think.”
He looked away and sniffed the air. “I say, what is that... peculiar smell?”
Twilight sniffed and smiled. “We’re almost there, come on!”
They walked for a few more lengths, passing through a thick bush, when a large tree came into view. Gnarled roots stuck out of the ground like a sea serpent swimming through the water. Large branches reached up towards the canopy, thick vines snaking out from the center. Along the heavy branches, small vials and jars dangled from what looked like homemade rope. A large tribal mask hung above a door set into the trunk, and pale, flickering firelight danced from windows carved into the tree. Occasionally bright flashes of vivid colors would send shadows dancing on the surrounding trees.
A low-pitched, melodious humming came from inside. Twilight eagerly trotted to the heavy door and knocked.
“Don’t be shy, come in and say hi.”
Twilight pushed the door open and walked inside. The air smelled of exotic spices, causing a slight tingling in the back of her throat. The walls of the tree hut were lined with shelves full of mysterious vials and jars stopped with cork, some labeled in strange Zebranic pictograms. Several more imposing wooden masks hung from the walls, the largest of which still gave Twilight the creeps. A roaring fire lit the small home and warmed it from the chill of the mid-autumn air. Upon it was a small cast-iron caldron hanging from an A-frame, a strange viscous fluid with large lumps of... something, almost boiling over the sides. A quiet bubbling came from the red substance.
Next to the pot stood the wizened zebra. She looked at Twilight and Rainbow with a warm grin. “Twilight, Rainbow! Come in and have a rest.” Looking past the two mares, she spied Bentgrass, who was eyeing one of the large masks. “And who is your friend, who is so nicely dressed?"
Turning away from the mask, Bentgrass walked over to Zecora. “Special Agent Bentgrass, of Their Majesties’ Royal Investigative Service,” he said, giving her a slight bow. “Hivyo nzuri na hatimaye kukutana na wewe, Miss Zecora. Twilight anaongea sana sana ya wewe.”
Zecora blushed briefly and smiled back. “It is quite rare to see one so young, who is well-spoken in my native tongue.”
After watching the exchange, Twilight stepped towards Bentgrass. “You speak Zebranic?”
“Yes. I spent some time in Zebrica when I was a colt.”
“Of course you did,” Twilight mumbled, rolling her eyes before turning back to Zecora. “It’s great to see you again, Zecora.” She sniffed the air again. “What’s that smell?” she asked, walking towards the large caldron.
“It is braken-root stew, a favorite of mine. If you would like, you can give it a try.”
Twilight leaned over the pot and took a big sniff. The second the acrid smell hit her nose, she coughed loudly, her face turning a slight shade of red. The many layers of exotic spices made her eyes water. She fell back, sputtering and wiping her nose. Looking up at Zecora, she smiled sheepishly. “Smells...” she sneezed, “delicious.”
Zecora chuckled. “I understand your lack of haste. Bracken root is an acquired taste.”
“Well, Hay, I’ll take some! I’m starving!” Rainbow alighted and grabbed a large bowl from a shelf before hovering over the roiling liquid. The bowl balanced between her hooves, she dipped it in the viscous stew.
“Uh, Rainbow, you might wanna...” The words caught in Twilight’s throat as Rainbow tipped the bowl up, slurping loudly. With eyes wide, she watched Rainbow devour the entire bowl in a matter of seconds, the pegasus finally lowering the now empty bowl and issuing a loud belch.
Rainbow chuckled. “Heh, excuse me.” Without asking for permission, she once more dunked the bowl in the pot.
Aghast at both her friend’s horrible manners and appetite, Twilight stared. “Rainbow, I thought you didn’t even like Zebrican food!”
“I don’t, but this is really good!” She took another loud slurp from the bowl, a large chunk of root falling in her mouth. “Behides, ah hawent attin’ sin beakfust.”
“It’s like nine-thirty! And weren’t you sick a few days ago?”
Rainbow swallowed loudly, a happy sigh escaping her lips before she scowled at Twilight. “That was then, this is now. And now, I’m hungry.”
Twilight groaned. Somewhere in Equestria, Rarity is having a seizure.
As Rainbow made for the stew again, Twilight turned to Zecora. “So, anyway, Zecora, there’s actually a reason we stopped by.”
“Yes, I had a hunch that you did not come for lunch.”
Twilight shook her head. “No. I assume you heard about what happened to Berry Punch?”
Zecora hung her head, turning back to stir the bright red stew with a large ladle. “Yes, I heard, my dear friend. Such a sad way for a pony to meet her end.”
Twilight nodded and pointed to Bentgrass. "Agent Bentgrass is an investigator from Canterlot, and he wanted to ask you a few questions."
During all of this, Bentgrass had been ambling around the hut, examining the various artifacts strewn about. Upon hearing his name, and Twilight clearing her throat after a long silence, he turned to face the three mares. "Hm? Oh, yes, quite right. Twilight?"
Twilight glared at him before bringing a hoof to her face. If he keeps this up, I'm going to have a permanent hoof mark on my head.
"So, Zecora, the attack happened in the Everfree. We," she said, casting a hard glance at Bentgrass, "were wondering if you saw or heard anything?"
After a moment of silent pondering, the zebra shook her head. "I'm sorry, my friend, but this is a vast wood. I live too far away to know anything good."
Twilight sighed. "No, it's okay, Zecora." In her mind, Twilight groaned. How are we supposed to catch this pony if nopony saw anything? True, Zecora had been kind of a long shot; the Everfree Forest was one of the largest expanses of wilderness in Equestria. The likelihood of her knowing anything was slim. Still, the disappointment hit her like a ton of bricks. There's a killer on the loose, and we have no idea where to even look!
Zecora must have read the frustration on Twilight's face. She stepped back from the pot, gently laying down the ladle and making her way over to Twilight. "Twilight, I wish I had what you need, to catch the pony who did this deed."
Across the hut, Bentgrass's ear flicked, and he straightened his back. "I say, Ms. Zecora, I am amazed at the collection of artifacts you have amassed." He idly ran a hoof across a large wooden mask. "Any museum in Equestria would die to have some of these pieces. Tell me, what exactly is this?" he said, pointing towards the mask he'd just touched.
"What you see is a kuwakaribisha mask. Welcoming friends to your home is its task," she said, walking next to him.
"I see. And this one?" He pointed his hoof to a small statue of a very well-endowed stallion.
Zecora blushed. "A likeness of Uzazi, and as you can see, he is thought to be able to help a mare conceive."
"How scandalous," he said, earning a muffled chortle from Rainbow. Bentgrass then casually walked over to a shelf beside the door. "And... what of this?"
"Ah, a family heirloom is what you admire. A Kathoga, a ritual dagger, passed down from my sire."
As she talked, Bentgrass reached up and lightly ran his hoof across it. The knife was about three hoof-lengths long, the blade curved into a slight "S" shape before tapering off into a wicked point at the end. Small, intricate glyphs adorned the hilt of the blade, leading to a golden hasp, inlaid with several gleaming gemstones.
"I see." He turned back to Zecora. "Pray tell, what kind of ritual was it used for?"
Zecora shook her head. "I'm sorry. While the dagger is a sacred family relic of mine, the details of the ritual have been lost to time."
Bentgrass nodded, turning to the side and pacing around the hut. "You know, Ms. Zecora, the Everfree forest can be quite a dangerous place, even for one as familiar with its wildlife as you. Tell me, why do you live out here, so far from everypony else?"
"Peace and solitude are what I seek. In my personal affairs, I don't like others to peek," she said, her gaze hardening slightly.
At this, Bentgrass turned to face the mare. From Twilight's position, it looked like he was leaning in towards her, as if trying to add more power to his casual gaze. "Really? Well, that just raises even more interesting questions. Zebrica is quite far from here, the border is on the other side of Equestria." He took a few slow steps across the dirt floor of the hut towards her. "As I understand it, most of Zebrica remains undeveloped. If 'peace and solitude' were what you seek, you didn't have to travel as far as Ponyville to find it." He stopped a few steps from Zecora, his impassive look melting into that icy glare of his. "Why come so far?"
Zecora lowered her head slightly, meeting Bentgrass' cold stare with one of her own. "My reasons for leaving are my own, and I do not think I like your tone."
The quiet roiling of the stew was the only sound in the large hut. Rainbow was frozen, her twice-refilled bowl of stew hovering halfway to her mouth, staring at them ever since the heated exchange began. Across from her, Twilight starred with her mouth slightly agape. Bentgrass and Zecora continued to stare each other down. The flickering light from the large fire danced in their eyes, tiny spots of light reflecting from the gold bands around Zecora’s neck and from Bentgrass’s slitted eye.
Finally, Bentgrass stepped back, bowing his head slightly. "Ms. Zecora, I do humbly apologize. It was not my intention to offend. If I have done so, I ask for your forgiveness.”
Zecora continued to glare for a few more moments before her eyes softened. "Granted."
Flashing a wide smile at her, Bentgrass turned towards the door. "Well, ladies, I believe we have taken up enough of Zecora's time. Once more, ma'am, I apologize for my insensitive words. Should you think of anything, please don't hesitate to tell me, won't you?"
Zecora simply nodded.
"Fantastic! Twilight, Rainbow? Let's be off." With that, he walked out the door.
After a few tense moments, Rainbow took to the sky. "Heh, sorry, Zecora. Hey, wait up!" She flew out the door after the agent.
Left alone in the quiet hut, Twilight turned towards Zecora. "Zecora, I'm so sorry! If he brought up a bad topic—"
Zecora turned away from her and walked slowly back to the pot of stew. "Do not fret, my unicorn friend. Some wounds... just take time to mend."
Twilight gave her a soft smile and turned towards the door. As she reached the door, she glanced back at Zecora. The zebra was staring into the fire, her eyes somewhat glazed over. Twilight frowned and stormed out of the hut.
Rainbow and Bentgrass stood beside a nearby tree. Twilight stomped up to the agent and glared at him.
"How dare you? We came to Zecora for help, there was no need to interrogate her like that!"
"I'm an investigator, Ms. Sparkle. Asking questions is what I do."
"I'm with Twilight on this one," Rainbow said, taking to the air and hovering at eye level with him. "You didn't have to give her the third degree like that!"
Bentgrass looked between the two mares. "I did apologize, did I not?"
"That's not the point" Twilight yelled. Bentgrass lowered his head, looking at his hooves. Twilight opened her mouth to yell again when he cut her off.
“Why did she assume it was murder?” he said quietly.
Bentgrass raised his head. “In there, she said she wished she could help us find the pony that killed Berry. If she truly knows nothing about the case, why would she try to help us find a pony, and not a timberwolf?”
“I told her you were an investigator from Canterlot. She probably put two and two together.”
“Perhaps, but even beyond that, it was very clear from her words and body language that she is hiding something about her past.” He level an icy gaze towards the hut. "In the context of a murder investigation, I find that very suspicious."
"Are you trying to say she's a suspect?"
"Not at all. It is much too early in the process to throw around accusations." He turned back towards the two mares. "I'm merely saying that she has... aroused my curiosity."
“That’s still no reason to go all psycho on her!” Dash added.
“Need I remind you, Ms. Dash, that there is a killer on the loose? Saving pony’s lives is more important than saving their feelings, yes?”
“True,” Twilight said, advancing on Bentgrass. “But that doesn’t mean you have to interrogate everypony you meet! Ever hear the phrase, ‘you catch more flies with honey than garbage?’”
“I don’t care about catching flies. I care about catching murderers.”
“And how does alienating everypony in town help you do that?” Twilight sighed and glared at him again. "Look, a lot of the ponies in this town are good friends of mine. If you want me to keep helping you on this case, though I fail to see why you feel you need it, I will not have you disrespecting my friends like that anymore, got it?" She thrust a hoof into his chest.
Bentgrass stared down at her hoof. He closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. "Very well, Ms. Sparkle. In the future I will attempt to be more... gentle."
"That's right." With that, Twilight walked off, leaving the tall detective feeling just a little bit smaller.
The walk out of the Everfree was a quiet one. None of them felt the need for conversation after the strong words from Twilight. The dense trees soon gave way to the open fields that marked the borders of Ponyville proper. A gentle, sloping hill stood between them and the town. They continued to walk in silence, the dry grass crunching beneath their hooves.
In the back of her mind, Twilight was quietly praising herself. R.I.S. investigator? Foal's play.
"Hey, who's that?"
Twilight snapped out of her trance to look where Rainbow was pointing. In the distance, two ponies were approaching. One was a short, rotund earth pony with a shaggy red mane falling over his yellow coat, a v-neck shirt stretched tight over his portly frame. His thick legs turned outwards slightly as he walked, a confident swagger obvious even at a distance. A lanky mare with a black mane and purple skin walked beside him, her steps seeming much more timid. Twilight smiled when she recognized them.
"Sheriff Shackle! How are you today?"
"Wonderful, just wonderful, Twilight, my dear!" His heavy jowls jiggled when he spoke, his voice sounding very proper, an almost Canterlotian haughtiness to his words with an exaggerated sense of mirth tainting his voice. "Ms. Dash! Always a pleasure to see the local celebrity!"
"How's it hanging, Big Shack?" Rainbow said with a grin.
Shackle just chortled at this. Then he turned to face Bentgrass. "And this must be the mysterious Canterlot cop I've heard about."
Bentgrass leaned his head down and pulled his badge case from his coat pocket, flipping it open in his hoof. "R.I.S., actually. Special Agent Bentgrass."
"My mistake," Shackle said, his eyes hardening slightly at the sight of the badge. "I'm Sheriff Shackle, and this is my deputy, Hay Bale."
The meek deputy smiled awkwardly. "Hello, sir. Twilight." She turned to Rainbow. "H-Hi, Rainbow."
"Hey, Bale!" Rainbow chuckled at her own joke. Bale turned her head away and giggled, a slight blush creeping onto her face. Sheriff Shackle cleared his throat pointedly, and she snapped her head back, a forced look of business on her face.
"So, what brings you out this way, Sheriff?" Twilight asked.
Once more, a genial smile graced the sheriff's pudgy face as he turned towards Bentgrass. Even though he stood on the upward slope of the hill, he still had to crane his head up to face the tall stallion. "Well, I just came back from Doctor Well's office. It appears somepony was in there yesterday asking some odd questions about poor Berry Punch."
Bentgrass nodded slowly. "Yes, there were some... circumstances surrounding her death that concerned me."
Shackle laughed, a hearty, full laugh that made Twilight a little uneasy. "I know what you mean. An animal attack, in the Everfree Forest? How odd!"
Bentgrass held his level gaze. "Funny, Doctor Well seemed to think it wasn't an animal attack."
"Yes, well, the good doctor has been under a lot of stress recently, you see? Now... I'm sorry, what did you say your first name was?"
The sheriff pursed his lips for an instant before the disarming smile appeared again. "Very well. Agent Bentgrass," he said, trotting alongside him and putting a foreleg around him, "Ponyville is a peaceful little hamlet." As he spoke, the two stallions walked slowly towards the crest of the hill. Ponyville stretched out before them, the tall buildings intermixed with humble thatched-roof homes. In the distance, they could see ponies milling about. The crowded market on Hoofsdale Street buzzed with activity. The whole place seemed to glow in the mid-afternoon sun. A sense of pride filled the sheriff’s voice as he spoke. "Why, did you know that in its entire history, not one pony has died from anything other than accident or natural causes?"
"Yes, the good doctor mentioned this. Quite an impressive feat."
"Indeed!" Shackled beamed at the words. "In fact, when I retire in three months, I will hold the record for the longest period of uninterrupted peace in the history of Equestria! 35 straight years and not a single case of violent crime!"
Bentgrass looked down at him. "Well then, I'm very sorry that you won't be holding that record. I'd afraid the evidence is quite clear that Ms. Punch was the victim of foul play."
Shackle stepped away from him. He still smiled, but a hardness filled his eyes. "Evidence? What evidence?"
"How about the fact that her entire body was intact?" Bentgrass said, his eyebrow arched. "Very unlike a timberwolf to kill and not feed."
Shackle chuckled and waved a hoof dismissively. "Maybe the beast was rabid. Poor thing probably didn't even know what it was doing."
At this, Twilight stepped forward, confusion splayed across her features. “But Sheriff, her heart was... cut out.” A quiet gasp came from behind her. In the back of her mind, she realized that Rainbow Dash didn’t know this.
"Using two very clean and precise cuts?" Bentgrass added.
"Scavengers. Beasts of the Everfree have very sharp teeth, you know."
Bentgrass glared at the sheriff, a coldness seeping into his eyes. "Apparently much sharper than your deductive abilities."
Twilight gasped quietly. In the short time she'd known Bentgrass, he had never openly insulted anypony. She had thought that he would think it was beneath him somehow. But as she watched, Bentgrass no longer held the impassive, relaxed stature he normally had. Now, his ears were splayed against his head, his tail hanging still between his legs. His eyes were cold as ice as he glared at the sheriff.
"I'm sorry," Shackle said, his wide smile fading. "It sounded like you were insinuating that I am not performing my duties properly."
"It was not an insinuation," Bentgrass said cooly.
The portly sheriff's body stiffened, the fur on the back of his neck standing on end. He leveled his gaze at Bentgrass, his front hoof digging into the brown grass that covered the hill. "Now see here, Mister Bentgrass. I am the law in this town. I do not appreciate strange ponies coming into my town and telling me how to do my job."
"Oh, my apologies. I thought that since you were not doing your job that you needed somepony to tell you how to do it."
Sheriff Shackle stomped a hoof. "I am in charge of this investigation, and I have deemed it closed. This was an animal attack, plain and simple."
Bentgrass took a step towards him. "And the fact that innocent ponies may be in danger is of no concern to you?"\
"How dare you—"
“Sheriff,” Twilight said, slowly approaching him, “I understand your reluctance. I myself didn’t want to believe that a pony could actually... kill another.” A small shudder passed through her. “But when viewed objectively, the evidence clearly states that—”
“The evidence,” he said, “says what I say it does. Let’s not forget, I am the experienced police officer here.” He looked her up and down, sizing her up. “Who are you?”
“A doctorate-level student of one of the most powerful beings on the planet,” Twilight said, an edge of steel in her voice. “And I think you really should look into this.”
“There is nothing to look into, Miss Sparkle. The matter is closed.”
“I said the matter is closed!” he yelled, causing Twilight to step back. “And if I were you, Twilight, I would seriously reconsider running around with this... this agent,” he sneered, glaring at Bentgrass.\
All five of them turned to the new voice. A colt, maybe about in his mid-teens, was galloping towards them. He looked very out of breath, and his face was flushed red. His short legs strained to push him up the gentle slope of the hill. He staggered up to the sheriff and threw both hooves on his shoulders, bringing him face to face with the portly stallion. "Sh-Sher... Sheriff, you... you gotta..." he gasped.
Shackle took an abrupt step back, shrugging off the colt sending him falling to the ground. "For goodness sake, colt, calm down! Now, what is it?"
The red unicorn stood up on shaky hooves, taking a moment to collect himself. Finally, he spoke. "You gotta come to the hospital! Two more bodies were found near the edge of the Everfree Forest! Oh, by the Goddesses, they were so torn up th—"
"Shut up!" He turned to glare at Bentgrass before turning towards the gasping unicorn. “Go back to the hospital. Tell Doctor Well I'll be there shortly."
The colt nodded and ran off. As he left, Shackle turned back to the group.
"Another animal attack, Sheriff?" Bentgrass said coldly.
Sheriff Shackle glared at him, huffing. "Now you listen here, Agent Bentgrass. This is a local police matter. Unless you have some sort of paperwork claiming authority over it, I don't want to see you anywhere near this!” He took a step towards Bentgrass, his eyes blazing. "If I find you sticking your snout in this again, I shall personally see you escorted out of Ponyville! Do I make myself clear?"
“Good. Come on, Deputy Bale!" With a final stomp of his hoof, he turned and waddled away.
Bale turned to them. "Nice to meet you Agent Bentgrass. Twilight. R-Rainbow." After another blush, she turned and galloped after Shackle.
The three of them stood there for a few moments, watching the two ponies trot away down the hill. All was silent, even the quiet breeze had died off. Finally, Rainbow took to the air and turned to Bentgrass. "So wait, that's it? We're just going to give up?"
Bentgrass closed his eyes and lowered his head for a few moments, taking a few deep breaths. Finally, he turned to Rainbow. He held the same impassive gaze as ever, but the corner of his mouth was turned upward. "Of course not." He turned and trotted away.
Rainbow turned to Twilight. "Okay, Twi, it’s official. I like this guy!" Without another word, she flew to follow him.
As Rainbow left, Twilight stood rooted to the spot.
Two more ponies...
A slight tremor worked its way through her body, her left hoof beginning to paw at the ground. During the time she had spent wondering about Bentgrass, trying to figure him out, this mad pony had killed two more innocent ponies. She had slowed him down, demanding he explain his reasoning and methodology.
And now, more blood has been shed.
A new emotion began to course through Twilight’s veins. A hot, sickly feeling that washed over her in waves. It wasn’t something she felt often, but when she did, gods and monsters had learned to shy away.
She was angry.
Slowly, she turned back to face the forest, glaring hard at the swaying trees, a slight breeze sending a tiny cascade of dead leaves twirling to the ground. In her mind, however, she wasn’t directing her hateful gaze at the forest itself; the wilds woods of the Everfree were dangerous, but they were of no concern to her now. This time, she peered past the dark shadows, the snarling creatures, the cold, uncaring ground. She stared directly at the pony, whoever it was, that had decided it was a good idea to kill in her town.
Her hoof dug into the ground as Bentgrass’s words from the previous night replayed in her mind.
It falls to us to stop him.
“And we will,” she whispered. Turning around sharply, she galloped off towards Bentgrass and Rainbow.