Scootaloo stretched her wings and looked into the shadowy nook. Archer yawned and trotted to the corner of the street where, despite the late hour, Donut Joe’s shop was still open – the only beacon in the middle of Canterlot night. She came back soon after, with a paper bag in her mouth.
“Really, Archer?” Scootaloo muttered. “Donuts?”
Archer hung the bag on the harness next to her crossbow and said, “We’re guards, Scoots. We eat donuts. We walk through the town at night, looking for trouble. Everyone hates us. Simple as that.”
“Maybe,” Scootaloo replied, reaching for a donut. “Also, what trouble do you want to find here? We’re in the city centre. Worse thing that can happen is a rich kid throwing up on a pavement.”
“Bored?” Archer asked. “We can go to bat ponies if you are willing to become a beverage...”
Scootaloo sighed. “Remember what the boss told us?”
Archer stood in attention. “Bat ponies don’t drink blood and are our friends.” She sighed. “I know that! You see, if the nobles wanted to cooperate with us like some bat ponies do–”
“Speaking of them,” Scootaloo interrupted her, looking at the top of one of the towers of Princess Celestia’s castle. “Seems that we won’t have to go to them...”
Archer followed her cousin’s gaze and saw a dark silhouette hanging upside-down from the tower. “Do you think she sees us?”
“Please,” Scootaloo muttered. “I flew with her once. She dived and swept a rat from the street, while I couldn’t even see the street.”
“A rat?” Archer stopped chewing a donut and looked at it unsurely. “Why did she need a rat?”
“How do you think?” Scootaloo asked. “Go to that cave where bat ponies live. You can buy a grilled rat on a stick on every corner of the street. Well, Schwalbe prefers them raw, but she’s Schwalbe.”
Archer looked at the half of her donut, sighed, and put it back in the bag. “Seems that she heard you calling her name.” She pointed at the tower.
The black silhouette let go of the edge of the roof and spread her wings, gliding above the houses. She took a sharp turn above the street and lowered flight, approaching them.
Schwalbe landed on the pavement and trotted to Scootaloo and Archer. She was much older than them, but she was still in the top form. She waved her wing at them, showing a large scar on it – a souvenir from a changelings’ nest she’d raided somewhere in Germaney. There were a few grey hairs in her dark blue mane and she’d apparently acquired a new scar on her superciliary ridge, running around her eye and down on her cheek.
“Hello,” Schwalbe said with a distinctive, thick accent. She’d only recently learned to speak Equine and she wasn’t much of a talker. “Looking for trouble?”
“I just said that,” Archer replied. “Did you hear us from there too? I can’t feel safe... Do you also hear when Button and I–”
Schwalbe only smirked, showing her fangs, which was enough for Archer to stop talking. Her smile, however, quickly disappeared. “We have a problem,” she said.
“A problem?” Scootaloo asked. “I always thought you deal with most of your problems alone...”
“Yeah,” Schwalbe muttered, suddenly avoiding Scootaloo’s gaze. “Catching the perp and giving ‘em to the guards. But now it’s different.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It was somepony from the outside...”
“From the outside?” Archer asked. “You mean... Not a bat pony?”
“Yes,” Schwalbe replied. “Dead bat pony. Told the rest not to touch. A bat didn’t do that, I’m sure.”
“How?” Scootaloo asked, even though she knew that Schwalbe wouldn’t reply. She thought for a moment. “I’ve seen Cloud Kicker in the town recently. You know, the one who wanted to burn Dusk Dancer’s house back in Ponyville. Maybe–”
Schwalbe waved her hoof dismissively. “Fifteen years ago. Too dumb. Not a killer.”
“It’s our task to determine that,” Archer said officially. “Lead the way, Schwalbe. Let’s see what’s going on...”
“I’m never gonna get used to that…” Archer muttered, standing in at the corner of the street – or rather a long, dimly-lit tunnel with numerous smaller caves and side corridors on its both sides, comprising a part of Canterlot tourists or even the capital’s dwellers often weren’t aware of. Several bat ponies were standing around the place where the moon could be seen through the hole in the ceiling of the cave, not letting the others come closer. Schwalbe flew to them and said a few words. They looked at Scootaloo and Archer and gestured them towards themselves.
“Chill out, Archer.” Scootaloo tried to remain calm, but her voice also trembled when she saw a small lump, covered with a blanket, lying on the floor of the cave. The blanket was soaked in blood that was also covering the stones in a stale, jelly-like mass smelling of copper.
“Never gonna get used to that…” Archer repeated, shuddering and automatically reaching to her crossbow. “Who is the victim?” she asked Schwalbe.
“A kid,” Schwalbe replied, looking at the blanket. “Don’t know her.” She approached the body and pulled the blanket aside.
Scootaloo prepared herself mentally, but despite that, she couldn’t help but wince when she saw the body. The filly’s head was resting on one of her wings, as if she wanted to shield it before her death. The wing itself was bent in an unnatural way. Her mane, originally light green, was covered in stale blood. Scootaloo shuddered, seeing that the filly’s other wing was mutilated – it looked as if someone used a knife to make a few long cuts in it and then branded a spiral-like symbol on the only undamaged part of its skin.
“She… She was dropped from there,” Archer said in an emotionless tone, staring at the opening in the ceiling. “S-someone cut her wings and threw her here…”
Scootaloo, feeling the taste of bile in her mouth, looked at the body once more. The filly was maybe six or seven years old and she had no cutie mark. “We need to get more guards,” she said. “Whoever it was… They left a lot of traces. You didn’t move anything, did you?”
“No guards,” Schwalbe said quickly, pointing at the crowd where bat ponies were whispering to each other. “They don’t like you here…”
“Oh, come on!” Archer snapped, approaching Schwalbe and looking into her eyes. “She was murdered, for fuck’s sake! Someone foalnapped her, cut her wings with a knife so she couldn’t fly and threw her into your cave! It’s not the time to be a bunch of distrustful imbeciles!”
The crowd went silent. Schwalbe, who at first backpedalled, now was piercing Archer with her gaze. Scootaloo looked around and saw that some of the bat ponies barred their fangs looking at her and Archer. She looked at the opening above her and realised that, in case of danger, she could try to fly away. Her cousin, however, couldn’t.
“She’s right,” one of the bat ponies said, stepping into the circle of light. Even though Scootaloo hadn’t seen her in fifteen years, she recognised her immediately. Dusk Dancer stood next to them, spreading her wings and barring her fangs. “We have nothing to hide,” she said. “We need to find the killer and to do that, we need to trust the guards.”
Several stallions in the back started to whisper to each other again. Some old mare nodded and smiled at Dusk Dancer. The conversations lasted for some time, but when Schwalbe joined Scootaloo and Archer, they slowly died down. “Fly to the station,” she said to Scootaloo. “You…” She turned to Archer. “Don’t do that anymore…”
When Scootaloo came back with a couple of other guards, including their former teacher, Charge, she found Archer sitting on a bench with Schwalbe, hiding her face in her hooves. She sat next to them, watching as their companions surrounded the body, taking photos and gathering samples of blood, dust, and everything they found important. She noticed Boysenberry, a guard-in-training, walking carefully around the body in order to not step into a puddle of blood. Scootaloo couldn’t help but smile, remembering her own beginnings as a guard.
Finally, the small body was packed into a bag and levitated on a stretcher.
“Look at this…” one of the guards, called Riot Shield said, picking something from the ground. Scootaloo and Archer trotted to him to see a blood-stained, yellow feather. “It was lying under the body.”
“It’ll be easier than I thought,” Scootaloo said, watching as Riot Shield put the feather in a string bag.
Schwalbe approached them. “I know that,” she said, pointing at the feather. “Lives nearby. Wanders here during the day. Chased him once.”
“When everypony can see him?” Riot Shield asked. “Doesn’t seem like someone who–“
Scootaloo cleared her throat. Riot Shield looked at Schwalbe as if he saw her for the first time and realised his mistake. “Of course…” he muttered. “Why did you chase him?”
“Following kids. Didn’t like it,” Schwalbe replied and smirked, stretching her scar. “Keep an eye on him…”
“Okay,” Charge said, approaching them. “Can you show us the way?”
Schwalbe looked into the commander’s eyes, but he didn’t even flinch. “Sure,” she replied.
“Riot, Scootaloo, and Boysenberry – you’ll go with me,” Charge ordered. “The rest will go back to the station.”
Archer looked at the commander unsurely, but he didn’t say anything, so she joined the unicorns levitating the stretcher and technicians carrying samples. When they sat in the cart and rode away, Charge turned to Scootaloo. “May I ask you something?”
“Of course, sir,” Scootaloo replied, looking at Boysenberry, who was staring at Schwalbe in awe.
“Is your cousin okay?”
For a moment, Scootaloo didn’t know what to say. “What do you mean?”
“She seemed to be rather shaken by the sight of the body,” Charge replied.
“The victim was six and she was tortured,” Scootaloo said. “It’d be a problem if she wasn’t shaken, sir.”
“Definitely, but it’s not the first time I noticed something strange about her behaviour. She changed much since that incident in Dodge Junction.“
“I guess her psychologist knows more about that,” Scootaloo replied. “But yes, she changed. She’s… more careful, I think.”
Charge nodded. “Is she too careful? If she had to shoot to save somepony’s life again, would she do that?”
“You should ask her that, sir,” Scootaloo replied dryly. They walked out of the cave and Schwalbe guided them to a row of small, battered houses.
“I’m sorry,” Charge said. “I was recently thinking about transferring her… I don’t think she can patrol the streets anymore.”
“A desk job would only make it worse,” Scootaloo said. “She can’t sit in one place for too long. When she’s doing something, she… dunno, she seems more alive.”
“Alive?” Charge shrugged. “Still, I think that maybe she should become a shooting instructor... Somewhere where a moment of hesitation doesn’t kill her.”
Scootaloo nodded. A few months before, she had to get her cousin out of serious trouble, when she’d let a young, drunk, and aggressive pegasus get close enough to her to disarm her. Scootaloo managed to tackle him at the last moment, causing him to miss, and later spent a few days in a hospital after he hit her with the now-useless crossbow. Luckily, Archer woke up just in time to hit the assailant with her hoof and bring him to the ER, along with her concussed cousin.
“Maybe that’d be better for her,” Scootaloo said reluctantly.
“Talk with her about it,” Charge said. “She’s kinda, umm... impulsive so we have to give her time.”
Scootaloo lowered her head, sighing. She knew well what Archer’s “impulsiveness” meant.
“Here,” Schwalbe said, pointing at the last house in the row. The light was still on and they could hear that somepony was walking inside. Scootaloo and Schwalbe took off, in case the pegasus wanted to fly away. Charge, Riot Shield, and Boysenberry approached the door and the commander knocked.
The yellow, scruffy-looking pegasus opened the door almost immediately. When he saw the guards, he only nodded. “Good evening... Or morning,” he muttered with Manehattan accent, reminding Scootaloo of Babs Seed. “Can we talk here or do I have to go with ya?”
“We’d prefer the latter,” Charge replied, watching as the pegasus joined them and sat in the carriage. Schwalbe narrowed her eyes, watching him carefully. She flew behind them till they got to the city centre. Then she turned back and flew away without saying a single word.
“Who is she?” the pegasus asked. “Some undercover agent?”
“A concerned citizen,” Scootaloo replied.
“Yeah,” the pegasus muttered. “Knew she wasn’t one of ya. Ya look sexy. She doesn’t.”
Scootaloo looked at him coldly. “Say one more fucking word...”
“Scootaloo!” Charge hissed.
“Yes,” Scootaloo said in emotionless tone, trying not to think about the bat filly lying in the puddle of her blood. “I’m sorry.”
The carriage stopped in front of the station. The guards escorted the suspect to one of the interrogation rooms. Scootaloo caught a glimpse of Archer in one of the corridors, but they didn’t have time to talk. She, Riot Shield, and Boysenberry sat in a room with the two-way mirror, watching Charge talking with their prisoner.
“What is your name?” Charge asked, sitting at the opposite side of the table and staring into the suspect’s eyes.
“Ya should know,” the yellow pegasus replied. “Some important idiot somewhere thought that ‘Biscuit’ would be a good name for me...”
“What is he talking about?” Boysenberry asked.
Scootaloo shrugged. “No idea. I guess he should blame his parents for calling him that...”
Charge looked at Biscuit unsurely. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m a protected witness,” Biscuit replied. “The guards from Manehattan caught quite a few drug dealers because of me. Including guys who wanted to take over the town after the Big Guy’s bitch cut off his–” He paused seeing the look Charge was giving him.
Behind the mirror, Riot Shield nodded. “I remember that guy,” he said. “His real name is Cracker. About ten years ago, a daughter of some important asshole from Manehattan was murdered. He was seen throwing the body into the bay. They had no proof that he killed her, but he confessed and they jailed him.”
“And what happened?” Scootaloo asked.
Riot Shield chuckled. “You’d never believe. After your friend Babs Seed kicked the bucket–”
“Shut up...” Scootaloo hissed, looking at the door. Last thing she wanted was Archer walking in and hearing the mention of Babs.
“Let me finish.” Riot Shield rolled his eyes. “After Babs’ death he regained memory and told the cops that it was her who killed that filly. Nopony really gave a fuck, but he also started telling stories about mafia in Manehattan. He told them enough to jail a few motherfuckers...”
“So, he’s dead now,” Scootaloo muttered, looking back at the two-way mirror. “If he goes back to prison, they won’t welcome him warmly...”
In the interrogation room, Charge said, “A feather was found in the crime scene. Soon we will know if it’s yours. You expected us. Save us time and admit that you killed her.”
“I didn’t,” Biscuit said. “I... I found her and ran away... I didn’t even touch anything, but when I saw you, I thought that you’ve probably found something...”
“Yeah, right...” Charge muttered. “We have a witness who says that you like watching little fillies...”
“That crazy mare? Please,” Biscuit replied. “I didn’t kill that girl. All the bats were asleep. I was walking down the street and she just fell from the sky, a few steps from me. I thought it was some freaky accident...”
“Then why didn’t you call us?” Charge asked. “Or even some bat ponies for that matter... A kid splashed on the pavement and you ran away?”
“I panicked,” Biscuit replied. “I immediately thought that ya’d think it was my fault...”
“Well...” Charge smirked grimly. “That’s exactly what we’re thinking now. You’ll spend some time in the cell and we’ll see what to do with you...”
“I’ve seen somepony,” Biscuit said in a raspy voice, as if his throat suddenly went dry. “I... I looked up to check if that kid didn’t have any parents nearby or something.”
“And who was it?” Charge asked, narrowing his eyes.
“Some pegasus mare,” Biscuit replied. “I saw only a glimpse of her before she flew away...”
“Yeah, right,” Charge muttered. “A glimpse. We’ll check on that. Till then, you’ll be in the cell.” With these words, he left the room.
A moment later, Charge opened the door. “It’s him,” he muttered to the rest of the guards.
“I don’t know,” Scootaloo said. “That mare he mentioned... Maybe it was Cloud Kicker after all? She’s in Canterlot and she–”
Riot Shield shook his head. “Simplest solutions, Scootaloo...” he muttered. “He may not have killed that filly ten years ago, but he threw her into the bay. Sounds familiar, huh?”
Scootaloo nodded. “Indeed...” She looked at the clock. “I think I’ll go and talk with Archer now...” She left the room and trotted through the station, to Archer’s desk. The building was mostly empty; the guards who were on duty were mostly patrolling the town.
Archer wasn’t at her desk. When Scootaloo approached it, she saw only an opened case file. A black and white photo of some burned meadow was lying on the top of a stack of paper. Below it, there was a photo of Cloud Kicker.
“Should’ve listened to Schwalbe, cousin...” Scootaloo muttered to herself, rushing to the door.
It was an early morning when Archer stood in front of scratched door of a flat in an old tenement house in the eastern Canterlot. She took a photo out of her saddlebags, raised her hoof and banged at the door.
For a while, nothing was happening. Then Archer heard trotting and clinging of a latch being undone before the door was opened. A pegasus mare with a dishevelled blonde mane looked at Archer unsurely. She was, as Archer knew from the file, in her late thirties, but she looked much older; she yawned and shivered, seeing Archer’s uniform.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Cloud Kicker replied. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to talk with you about that...” Archer muttered, showing the photo to Cloud Kicker who shuddered, seeing it. She backpedalled, her mouth agape, and make a gagging noise.
“W-what is that?” she asked.
“You tell me,” Archer replied. “It’s you who like killing bat ponies...”
Cloud Kicker suddenly changed. Any trace of drowsiness suddenly disappeared. She straightened and approached Archer, glaring at her angrily. “Listen to me, punk,” she said, her voice trembling with fury. “I don’t know why you think I killed her, but I’ll make sure you’ll lose this uniform.” She pushed Archer at the opposite wall. “How old were you when I was arrested? Five?”
“Nine,” Archer replied. “What does it have to–”
“You don’t remember it then,” Cloud Kicker said coldly. “I didn’t want to kill her because she was a bat pony. I thought she killed my little sister, for fuck’s sake! The prosecutor said I was racist and the jury believed him. Then some fuck in the court made a ‘mistake’ and I spent my first night in prison with four bat mares. Habitual criminals! Do you want to know how it was?” She leaned to Archer who could see her reflection in the pegasus’ eyes. “Do I have to tell you what they did to me?” A tear ran down her face. “And now you’re coming to me with a photo of a dead kid and you’re telling me that I killed her? Do you at least have a proof?”
Archer felt that her throat was dry. “No,” she said.
“Then get the fuck out of here!” Cloud Kicker yelled. Several doors in the tenement house opened, neighbours expressing their annoyance over such noises at an early hour.
Archer nodded, backpedalling. When she got to the stairs, she turned back and quickly ran away.
Cloud Kicker only sighed and went back to her flat.
Button Mash awoke and looked around, trying to get his bearings. He groaned, seeing that there was nopony but him in his bed – Archer still didn’t come back from work. Muttering curses under his breath, Button went to the bathroom, took a shower, and trotted to the kitchen. Putting the kettle and a frying pan on the stoves, he started to wonder about his life.
It was definitely a good idea to move his shop to Canterlot. He had many more clients there than in Ponyville. He was now looking for an assistant and he felt that he finally overcame his problems. While Archer was often working all nights, she at least didn’t go on tours, like Sweetie Belle.
Button liked his life calm and boring. Picking scrambled eggs from the pan and taking a sip of his coffee, he thought that his relationship with Sweetie Belle would have fallen apart sooner or later even without her cheating on him with Rumble.
He was just eating his breakfast when he heard the door opening. Archer walked inside slowly and looked at him. Button stood up, approached her, and kissed her cheek. “How was work?” he asked.
“Fucked up,” Archer replied. Without adding anything, she trotted to the bedroom and threw herself on the bed.
Button shrugged. He looked at the clock and thought that soon he’d have to open the shop. Archer definitely wasn’t in the mood for talking; he decided to speak to her again after going back home.
He left the flat and trotted downstairs. When he opened the door, he stood face to face with Scootaloo.
She had bags under her eyes and looked like she was running or flying through half of the town. She wiped sweat from her forehead, and asked, “Is Archer home?”
“She’s sleeping,” Button replied. “What do you want from her?”
“A few things,” Scootaloo said, trotting downstairs. “I know she’s tired, but I guess she’ll make an exception for me...”