A flash of light heralded Twilight and Shining Armor’s return to Celestia’s throne room, the stallion swaying a bit on his hooves from the unfamiliar sensation of moving across the palace in an instant. Celestia looked up from the scroll held in her magic. “Twilight, have you found something?” She asked upon seeing the anger on her student’s face.
“Princess, somepony did more than…kill Clear Mind. His research notes are gone. I reconstructed some of the paper fragments, and they were taken from random books I KNOW Clear Mind would never store in his lab. Whatever he was working on, it was worth his life to steal,” Twilight hissed, her teeth grinding as she struggled to keep herself from losing what little of her cool she had left.
“That is most disturbing,” Celestia said as she stood and wrapped a wing around Twilight. Slowly the unicorn’s breathing calmed and she gave her teacher a grateful smile. “Did you find anything that could tell us who may have done this?”
“Not much,” Twilight answered. “All I was able to learn was that whoever did this, they didn’t use any magic. They started the fire in Clear Mind’s filing cabinets. If it hadn’t been for him using magically treated paper I wouldn’t have been able to recover anything.”
“So whoever did this knew where Clear Mind kept his research and was able to get in and out of the School without arousing suspicion,” Shining armor interjected.
“That could be any number of ponies,” Twilight said, faces flashing through her memory slides in a film reel. “Clear Mind was always happy to talk about most of the projects he was working on. I saw dozens of other students come in and out of his lab every day, and that’s not even counting other professors and aides.”
“I was just reviewing a list of the last ponies who reported speaking with Clear Mind,” Celestia said. “As we speak they are being interviewed and their statements compared. Twilight, since you knew Clear Mind well I would like you to review the statements and see if you can spot any inconsistencies. Shining Armor, the medical examiner should be finished with her work soon. Look over her report and bring me any finding you deem significant.”
“Yes Princess,” the two unicorns replied together, bowing and trotting out of the throne room.
Two Unicorn Royal Guards escorted Twilight to a small office near the barracks, Twilight following mechanically as her mind raced to find something she was certain she’d missed in Clear Mind’s lab.
“The statements are still being brought in, but most are already here,” the first guard said, pointing to a small stack of parchment on a table between banks of filing cabinets. “Let us know if you need anything. A guard will be outside the door.”
“Thank you Stalwart,” Twilight replied. Taking a seat on one of two padded oak chairs at the table, she levitated the first one in front of her. “Bright Light, student at the School. Third year, majoring in arcane theory…” Each sheet took Twilight only a minute to review. A few students and aides she remembered from her last year at Celestia’s School but the majority were new. “Nothing, nothing,” she mumbled to herself. None of these ponies had any clear motive to kill Clear Mind. Most were from wealthy families with promising futures. Only two were studying to become researchers; Twilight placed their sheets aside for further study.
Finally Twilight set down the last piece of parchment. Looking up she found a glass of water and a slightly state daisy sandwich within easy reach, drawing a rather loud rumble from her stomach. Slightly embarrassed she hadn’t heard whoever had set them there Twilight devoured her meal, only then remembering she’d skipped breakfast so she could catch the early train to Canterlot. “What am I missing?” She asked herself, frowning. If only Clear Mind’s journal had survived the fire, she would at least have a clue what the thief had read.
Bringing the two remaining files over to a second desk, Twilight spread the pages from both files across the oak surface. “Ancient Tome, studying pre-classical unicorn literature and early spellcrafting, and Buried Treasure, researching ancient ruins of the Zebrahara subcontinent.” Both had recently received shipments of supplies for their projects in the western research wing. Opening the door, she was greeted by the gaze of her guard. “Excuse me, could you escort me to the western research wing. I may have a lead I’d like to check out.”
“Of course Ms. Sparkle,” the stallion replied, leading Twilight again into the maze of corridors and hallways which still echoed at their hoof steps.
The pain in Twilight’s stomach grew with each empty hall they walked. The faint smell of burning wood still carried in the air, tickling the back of her throat. The mournful feeling in the air deepened as she entered the shaded corridors of the research wing, the shadows seemingly reaching out for her with chilled fingers. Scanning the nameplates of each door, she soon found the one marked for Ancient Tome. A quick scanning spell revealed no obvious traps, but Twilight still opened the door slowly and carefully, her entire body tense.
The interior of the room lit up with a pair of glow stones, bathing the room in a dim yellow light. Most of the room was taken up by oaken bookshelves and tables covered in yellowed parchment. The plain stone walls and floor chilled the air and Twilight shivered. One by one she began scanning the parchments and each book on the shelves. “Nothing from Clean Mind’s lab, but nothing surprising about that.” Finding a clue so fast would have been too easy.
The tables revealed no hidden drawers or hollow spaces to her probe spells, and the research books and parchment were all consistent with the projects Ancient Tome was conducting. She even examined the order the books were shelved in to try and figure out a clue to his personality.
“Ms. Sparkle, over here,” the guard called out. His horn illuminated a section of wall near the far corner from the door. “There is an illusion here, as well as a tripwire spell tied into it.”
Twilight focused her magical sight on the indicated section of stone. “Clever spell work, but it was done in a hurry,” she said to herself. Spicing a tendril of her own magic into the paired spells, Twilight carefully unwound the tripwire spell from the bundle of energy she quickly realized was a low level fire spell. A spark of bark blue energy heralded the collapse of the illusion spell, revealing a small square cut made into the stone. Pulling the stone out revealed a tiny pocket, and sitting inside was a stack of parchment. “This is Clear Mind’s writing!” Twilight exclaimed. “I remember him telling me about some of these projects in his letters. Thank you so much for your help…” She trailed off, realizing she had never asked her companion’s name.
“Hidden View ma’am,” the stallion replied. “I’ve served under your brother for the last six months.”
“Thank you so much Hidden View; now we just have to track down Ancient Tome,” Twilight smiled.
“We should search Buried Treasure’s room as well, to be sure he did not try to use Tome as a false lead,” Hidden View suggested.
“Of course,” Twilight nodded. “Let’s go.” As she trotted back out into the hallway she wondered how Shining Armor was doing with his part of the investigation.