“So, Twi, are you going to share the plan yet?” Spike asked as they made it back to the town center. “‘Cause your number one assistant is kinda, you know, curious. You haven’t said a word since the orchard.”
“I don’t know yet for sure, Spike, but I think I can answer why her M.O. has changed. For now, I need to find out where she’s operating. I just hope there’s enough data—” She stopped in her tracks as they approached the town hall. “Actually, I think that may not be a problem.”
“Yeeg!” Spike cringed in surprise at the line of ponies snaking out the town hall doors.
It was as if Applejack was setting up her cider pre-orders in the police station, but the ponies in line looked anything but happy. Most were either sad or seriously distressed.
Twilight snorted. “Looks like she’s making good on her threat. Hopefully, this will be her undoing. Come on, Spike, time to see the mayor.”
They made their way through the line and into the office, seeing that the ponies were indeed lining up to go into the small police station inside the town hall. Twilight had to contort her body a bit to get inside, and up front, the entire Ponyville Police force was busy taking reports.
“Twilight! Oh, thank Celestia, it’s you!” Mayor Mare made her way up to Twilight, her mane looking a little more legitimately grey these days, and the bags under her eyes were a bit more quick to form. “It’s a crime wave! Can you help us organize report-taking? We need all the help we can get! It just won’t stop!”
“Oh, it’ll stop alright. Spike? Go get Rainbow. Then you two start taking reports along with the officers. Make sure you record exactly where they happened, along with any sightings.”
“You got it!” Spike saluted and ran back out the door.
Twilight headed to the old meeting room where she used to plan Winter Wrap-Up. “Mayor? I’m going to need a map of Ponyville, two hundred push pins, a cup of Bon Bon’s coffee, and an extra-powerful set of null-all shackles. I know who’s behind the thefts. All I need now is to figure out where she’s hiding.”
“Right away, Twilight. Er, Your Highness is it, now? Should I be bowing? I—”
Twilight held up a hoof. “‘Lady Sparkle’ will do if you must, but Twilight still works. And no bowing. That’s for the Royal Guard. Also—” she stepped up a put a hoof on Mayor Mare’s shoulder and forced a smile despite how angry she was right now “—don’t worry. I’ll put a stop to this.”
“And that’s report one-seventy through one-eighty-seven.” Spike plopped his papers on the table and rubbed his hand. “How many more of these do we have to take, Twilight? My hand’s getting cramped.”
Twilight sipped from her coffee and picked up one of the reports. “I’m about done. The data’s coming together. Just a few more pins and I’ll have ninety-five percent clarity. She’s as good as caught—she just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Hey, Twilight?” Apple Bloom poked her head into the room. “Are ya in here?”
“Come on in, Apple Bloo—” Twilight stopped when she realized the implication of her friend being here. “Don’t tell me. She got you too.”
She stepped the rest of the way in and sighed. “Plucked my tool belt right off me, an’ I didn’t even notice. That was my cute-ceañera present from Applejack and Big Macintosh. It ain’t much, but it’s special!”
Twilight’s lip curled. “They all are. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s figured out what’s special to hundreds of ponies here and is making off with their most prized possessions like it’s nothing. But, I think I’ve got her nailed.” Twilight lifted a few more reports with her magic and put pins in her map where the thefts happened. “Take a look at this.”
Apple Bloom and Spike walked up to her and the map.
“Yer mappin’ the thefts? Tryin’ ta figure out where she’s workin’ out of?”
Twilight nodded. “Take a close look. What do you see?”
Spike snapped his fingers. “I get you. The majority of the thefts are in the town square, so she must be hiding somewhere there!”
Twilight shook her head. “Points for trying, Spike, but that’s not it. Take another look. What else do you see?”
Apple Bloom lifted up her hard hat and scratched her head. “There’s two big circles of pins. One here in the square, and another in the northeast end of town. If she’s not operating in the square, she’s up there in the corner?”
“That’s what I think, Apple Bloom.” Twilight took another sip of coffee, finishing off the cup. “A thief will operate where they are most familiar with. Normally, this means where they live and where they work, if they have a day job. Most of the time, this wouldn’t work against the Phantasm, because she changes towns after one or two big heists. But now, she’s attacking Ponyville, and hard. We’ve never had this much data on her.”
Spike yawned. “But look at the map! There’s nothing there! The center of that other circle is open field!”
“No, it’s not.” Apple Bloom tapped at the map. “This is probably just old. That’s where they just built the Ponyville Orphanage. It’s supposed to house all the orphans from the towns around Canterlot. There's already a couple dozen that’s moved in.”
Twilight’s eyes lit up. “That’s right! They’d barely broken ground when I left.”
“And it’s already done? Sure went up fast.” Spike folded his arms. “So, what’s the connection? I mean, why the orphanage?”
“We don’t have any evidence to speculate on it, yet.” Twilight rolled her neck, popping some joints. “It might be that they just have a convenient storage spot for her. Spike, go get Rainbow then round up the police officers. We have a raid to conduct.”
The sun was starting to set, but Twilight couldn’t feel it anymore from the new cloud cover rolling in from the Everfree. It was thick enough to give everything a grey-blue tint, but brought some fresh, crisp air to the town as she gazed at the new orphanage.
“Are all the foals out?” Twilight asked the policepony next to her. “If there’s a showdown, I don’t want to risk them getting hurt.”
He nodded. “All of them are accounted for. They’re at the schoolhouse on the other side of town.”
“Good. Hey, Dash!” she shouted up the the sky. “You see anything up there?”
“Nada!” Rainbow shouted back. “If she’s here, she’s hiding!”
“Drat. Keep watch! We’ll need you to catch her if she makes a break for it!” Twilight turned to her senechal. “Spike! Do you have the plans for the building?”
“Right here!” He saluted and handed a rolled-up schematic over.
Twilight unfurled it in her magic and looked at them. “Apple Bloom, any insight to offer?”
She shook her head. “Nah, sorry, we didn’t get to build this one. We put in a bid, but we got beat, and we don’t normally make something this big, so they said no.”
“Hmm…” Twilight stared at the blueprint, thinking over all the entrances and exits. “If she weren’t a pegasus, this would be a lot easier. As it is, she could fly out a window and become invisible like she did before. Not even Rainbow could catch her like that.”
The policepony spoke up. “All the windows and doors are closed right now. We don’t know if she’s in there, but if she is, she’ll have to open one to get out. Also, we haven’t had any new ponies get in line lately, so she might well be in there.”
Twilight rolled up the blueprint and rested her head on her hoof. “The question is, can we catch her in time if she opens one? If she’s in there. Unless… Unless I can stop her from every angle. Watch the building, guys. I’m going to seal it up.” She levitated the blueprint back to Spike and marched up to the building, hearing it creak in the wind that was kicking up before charging her horn.
Going to need a lot of power for this. It’s even bigger than the tree. She took a deep breath in and let the magic flow, her horn getting brighter and brighter. It feels a bit easier to use this much magic these days. I guess the training helped. Or maybe after raising the moon, this doesn’t seem quite so hard.
Sparks shot out from her horn as some of the magic leaked. Or maybe I need to keep focus. Come on, Twilight. You’ve done this before. Just like Shining taught you. She let loose a small, high-pressure beam of magic into the ground, starting a large magic circle. As it rounded the building, Twilight began walking to keep a clear line of sight. Moments later, there was a basic magic circle around the building.
Now for the hard part. Focus. She pulled at the rest of the magic in her horn, weaving the spell taught to her and giving the circle a slight spin. Each time it moved enough, she added a new set of runes to it, and it sped up. Keep the timing… The circle moved faster and faster, like a locomotive slowly getting started and building up to a barreling speed as new sections were added on top of old ones.
At some point, brother, I’m going to have to practice these with you again. Okay, the last section is in. Time for the final step! She pulled more magic into her horn and cast the easier part of the spell, feeding it directly into the circle, which began to spin on another axis, arcing over the orphanage again and again until it burst and formed a perfect shimmering sphere around the building just like Canterlot’s shield, albeit much smaller.
“Ha!” Spike shouted. “Let’s see her get out of that!”
“Let’s not get cocky yet, Spike.” Twilight waved a hoof to disperse some of the smoke from her horn. “Right now, we don’t even know if she’s in there, and to be frank, if she can escape shackles, this may only slow her down. I just hope it slows her enough.”
"What do we do if she gets away? Or if she isn't there?" Spike asked.
"Simple. Comb the place for clues and evidence to track her down. Well, okay, it's simple to say, but hard to do. She's probably really good at covering her tracks. I just need to be better, with magic and science!" Twilight smirked to herself. If Pinkie was here, she'd insist on me wearing her Fetlock Holmes hat.
“Um, so how do we get in?” Apple Bloom asked. “Ya kinda locked us out here, Twilight.”
Twilight shook her head. “Not if you know the proper access spell. Everypony, get close to me.”
The group, including the policeponies, all huddled in around her. Next up, access spell. Trickier, but I can take my time on this one, and I don’t need a circle. Here we go… Some more energy went into her horn, and she cast the spell over the next couple of minutes. A crack went through the air, and it enveloped the whole group.
Twilight smirked. “Okay, let’s go catch a thief! Come on, everypony!”
They all ran up to and directly through the shield, phasing through it as though it wasn’t even there.
“You two, cover the rear exits!” One of the police ponies shouted. “We’ll breach in front! Move!”
Twilight grabbed the front door and turned the handle, opening it and charging in, looking both ways for an ambush. Nothing… There were stairs leading to the second floor in front of her, along with a door to a small office. The police ponies with her all fanned out in different directions, checking each room.
“Clear!” one shouted.
“Don’t be so sure!” Twilight shouted back. “Her coat has enchantments! She could be invisible! Keep the doors closed when you’re done!”
“Hmm… If I were a thief, where would I hide stuff?” Apple Bloom pondered aloud while rolling out the blueprints.
Twilight lurched forward a bit. “Apple Bloom? What are you doing here?”
She blinked. “What? Y’all cast the spell on me. I thought ya wanted me here!”
“Erg…” Twilight thought a moment before giving up. “Well, that was… sloppy of me, risking a civilian. Still, you’re here, got any ideas?”
“Yup!” Apple Bloom chuckled. “If I were a filly here, I’d notice a large pile of stuff growin’. I think the thief has to be usin’ places the foals aren’t supposed to be in. Like, the attic or the basement.”
“Good idea! You three!” Twilight thrust a hoof at some of the policeponies. “You all hit the attic! Spike?”
“Yo!” Spike waved from the next door office.
“On me. We’re going to the basement. Apple Bloom, the entrance was back behind this staircase, right?” Twilight got up, deploying her armor.
Apple Bloom rolled the blueprints back up. “Yup! Careful, though. Looks like ya won’t be able to see half the basement when yer goin’ down there. Supposed to be a wall on yer right side.”
“Perfect for an ambush,” Twilight noted as her armor finished covering her. “Although, she’ll run first if she can, I think. Her file didn’t list any violent crimes, besides a few guards getting their heads knocked about. I don’t think she likes to hurt ponies if she doesn’t have to.”
Spike ran up to the door and put his ear up to it then swung around to its side. “I don’t hear anything, but my hearing isn’t as good as yours, Twi.”
“I doubt she’d be making noise. Let’s do this!” Twilight strode up to the door then spun around and kicked it, knocking it clean off its hinges. She sprinted down the stairs after it. Let’s see her ambush this!
The moment she could see a clear spot on the ground to her left, she lit her horn and teleported off to the side, turning mid-stream to look over to the right even as Spike headed in and checked to his left.
Twilight saw nothing of note save a few washing machines. Spike, however, had his eyes wide in surprise.
Damn! She charged her horn and teleported again, spinning back around next to her assistant to get out of the danger.
“Wait, there’s nopony there. It’s…” Twilight blinked a few times. In the middle of the rather dim basement, and around a support beam made of a few wood planks, was a huge pile of random objects including an old yoke that could only have belonged to a very specific red stallion at Sweet Apple Acres. The goods were all just piled there on the raw concrete floor.
“Well, we found the stuff at least.” Spike scratched his head. “See anything with those special eyes of yours, Twilight?”
Twilight pulled magic into her horn, switching to her magic sight, then carefully studied the room while walking around the pile. The unfurnished basement had little to it. She saw a few dangling flickering lights, a large sink, and the washing machines. There was also a water heater and a furnace for a radiator system, but no other ponies. “Nothing. If she’s here, I can’t see her. Looks like she gave us the slip before we even got in. We should have the police come confiscate the stolen goods and get a log going so we can get ponies their things back.”
“Heh. Look at this.” Spike reached into the pile and pulled something gold and shiny out. “Looks like Lyra had her lyre stolen again.”
Apple Bloom ducked into the room then rushed in and grabbed something else in the pile, putting it on. “My tool belt! Thank Celestia! I thought I’d never see it again!”
“Unless we catch this thief for good, you might lose it again like Lyra.” Spike held his head with a claw and tapped his cheek. “I don’t get it, why go after all this stuff? Some of it is valuable, but it’s still way below her usual pay grade.”
Apple Bloom gasped and then swallowed. “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh?” Twilight and Spike both asked at the same time before Twilight continued, “What do you mean, ‘uh-oh?’”
Apple Bloom pointed at the beam surrounded by the stuff. “Take a look. Up near the top. There’s a big crack in the support there.”
Twilight went back to her usual sight and lit her horn to see better as the wind began to whistle outside. In her violet light, she could see a large crack running up through the side of one of the planks. “Ouch. You're right, Apple Bloom. That definitely doesn’t look like it belongs there.”
“An’ it gets worse! That support is way too small to be made of wood! You can’t use that ta prop up a building this size! It doesn’t even look like the right kind of timber!”
Twilight’s eyes went wide. She wanted to get my attention… The stolen items are around the support beam… Twilight grabbed Apple Bloom by the shoulders. “Can you find anything else wrong? Is the building unsound?”
“Oh, it’s definitely unsound just from this!” Apple Bloom looked around, speaking up over the thunder. “But I can see other problems, too. Look at th’ nails. There aren’t enough of them on some important joints. Some of the planks t’ain’t spaced right. There’s already a crack in the foundation bigger’n the Appleloosa canyon. This whole thing could jus’ tumble over if’n we ain’t careful!”
“That’s it! That’s what Phantasm wanted! Spike! Get everypony out of the building! Now! We’re leaving before it crushes us!”
“Er, Twi, we need ta walk out. Runnin’ now ain't a good idea.” Apple Bloom started to carefully and slowly make her way for the stairs. “No sense panicking.”
Spike ran up in between them. “No sense walking when we have an instant exit! Twi? Spark us out!”
Twilight nodded and grabbed them both with her forelegs then charged up her horn. “Good idea. Hang on to your stomachs!”
A burst of light and a small crackle later and they were outside. A second after that and a painful sensation in Twilight’s rear told her that she had overshot by roughly a meter and had them exit in midair.
“Ow! Good aim, Twi. Jeez!” Spike stood up and rubbed his hindquarters.
“Sorry, Spike, but if I can’t see where I’m going, I have to take a guess.” She arched her back and cracked it, trying to get the soreness out before standing up. “Going to need to be loud for this one.”
Twilight put up a small barrier in front of her then took in a deep breath. Hope I read the technique scroll right. “Hey! Everypony! The building is unsound! Do not panic, move slowly, and evacuate the building! I repeat, evacuate the building calmly! Cease the operation and evacuate!”
Spike rubbed his eyes. “Gee, Twi, think they heard you?”
Apple Bloom was covering her ears, too. “What?!”
Twilight swallowed, trying to get her throat moist again. “Ack. Sorry, guys, but this is important.”
Sure enough, the police ponies all started filing out of the orphanage, assembling in the front lawn.
Twilight walked up to them. “Everypony accounted for? We need a headcount!”
One of the policeponies nodded. “We’re all here, ma’am. I take it you found something?”
“Yeah. Yeah I did. Stand back, everypony.” Twilight lit up her horn and sent a cancel spell into the shield, melting it away. Wind immediately ripped through the crowd, blowing Twilight's mane in her face and knocking a pony or two off balance.
“Twilight! What are you doing!?” Rainbow zoomed for a landing next to her. “We’ll never catch the Phantasm now!”
“Rainbow.” Twilight turned to her, giving her a look of confidence. “Trust me. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Rainbow lifted up a hoof in protest then dropped it, nodding.
Twilight smiled. Thank you, Rainbow. She took a deep breath and marched towards the building. A storm was brewing in the sky, and the orphanage was creaking and groaning under the strain. Time to settle this. She probably wasn’t in the building, but I know she’s watching.
“Hey!” Twilight yelled out to the orphanage. “I know you’re out there, somewhere!” She paused, looked around while some lightning arced overhead.
Twilight swallowed. “It was never about the things! It wasn’t about the stealing! It’s not what you’re after! You just wanted my attention, didn’t you?”
Thunder rumbled, vibrating the windows of the building before her.
“That’s what this was all about! Why you started stealing when I got here! Why you targeted items dear to my friends! You knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist going after you! So you gave me all I needed to track you down! Well, here I am!”
“Look!” Spike yelled out.
Twilight aimed her eyes up to the roof. There, a silhouette at first against the lightning, but all too soon, a pony’s form was visible. Phantasm, looking down at her.
Twilight took another deep breath. “You wanted me to see the damage to the building! To get everypony out before the orphanage collapsed! I found it! Everypony’s safe!”
The Phantasm reached into her bag and pulled out a brown, dusty old stetson.
“That’s…” Twilight furrowed her brow. “I figured it all out! You can give that back now! It doesn't mean anything to you!”
“Not yet!” Phantasm yelled back. “You’re not done yet!”
“What do you mean, ‘not done’?” Twilight stomped a hoof, ignoring the rain starting to fall. “I did what you wanted. Now give my friend back her hat! It’s important to her!”
“What I want is more important!” The pegasus stuffed the hat back in a bag. “I am not one to spout about justice, Grand Mage Sparkle! I’m an outlaw! Nopony would even think to listen to me, so my warnings went unheeded! But this time I simply cannot sit idle! Do your job, and I’ll return this! Until then, it’s mine!”
A blast of light and smoke erupted from the roof, and by the time Twilight lifted up her hoof to shield her eyes, she knew the Phantasm was already gone.
“Hey, get back here!”
“Rainbow! Don’t bother!” Twilight yelled, not even needing to look to know they’d never catch the thief in time. “We have other issues to worry about.”
Rainbow flew back down and hovered in front of her. “Other issues? Like what? She’s getting away!”
Twilight shook her head. “Don’t worry about that right now. I need you to work with the other pegasi in town to try and break that storm up. Then, use your pegasus magic and the town’s best hoverers to try to clear the stolen articles from the building, along with any of the orphan’s things.”
“Dash!” Twilight shouted. “Dash, that’s an order.”
Rainbow opened her mouth to protest, but Twilight shut her down with a glare. She then sighed and flew off.
Twilight turned to her seneschal. “Spike! Get a message to Luna. Update her. Have her inform Cadence that there’s going to be a lot of orphans in Ponyville that will need housing. Talk to Mayor Mare and coordinate getting everypony their things back, but also tell her we’ll need volunteers from the town to loan us tents, camping supplies, donations, and anything else we can use to set up temporary housing for the orphans.”
He stood up straight and saluted. “You can count on me!”
“But stay here for just a moment. I might have another message to send.” She turned to her other old friend. “Apple Bloom?”
Her old friend smiled, giving her another salute. “Watcha need, Twi?
”Do you remember which company it was that got the contract to build this heap?”
She nodded. “Yeah, a Canterlot place. ‘The Neighton Group.’ They out-bid us. I can see why, now.”
“Yeah. They did it by committing fraud.” Twilight grumbled. “Apple Bloom, you know the local building codes enough to be an inspector. If I push the paperwork to get you licensed through, would you be willing to do a formal inspection of this place? I’ll teleport us out if it starts to fall. I want as much documentation as possible.”
She reached into her tool belt and pulled out a pad of paper. “Can do!”
Twilight turned back towards the orphanage and smiled as she saw the storm breaking up. “Fantastic. Spike? Send one more message to Luna. I need to know the address of The Neighton Group, along with the name of the bank they use, their suppliers, and anything else I can get. Then, get our chariot back here. We have a different kind of crook to bust.”
"At the start of this, if you had told me it would take two weeks and seven different police departments to bust a crooked contractor I'd say you were being ridiculous." Twilight peeked around the corner of the alley, eyeing the two-story target building. "And yet, here we are."
"Honestly, this is the smoothest operation of its type that I've ever been involved with." A Sergeant of the Canterlot Police said.
“That just makes it even worse." Twilight took in a breath and sighed. "But we're still getting it done. Everypony ready?” She scanned the assembled group, taking a headcount. "Wait, we're one short."
"That would be Officer Links, ma'am." The Sergeant took off his hat and rubbed his mane. "His doctor said he was in the hospital. Broken leg. Said he 'fell down some stairs.'"
Twilight raised an eyebrow. "But he's a pegasus. They don't-- Ah. Well, that just confirms the mafia connection of the companies we've been after. Somepony remind me to lean on Canterlot Internal Affairs to follow up on that.
"Anyway, that's not going to be enough to slow this down. This guy's company damn near killed a bunch of foals in Ponyville, not to mention the other buildings that did collapse. I'm taking him in today, period. Sergeant, are all stations ready?"
The stern unicorn stallion nodded. “We’re green on all vectors, ma’am. Nopony’s leaving this building without getting tossed in shackles first.”
Twilight pushed magic into the gem in her torc, deploying her armor. “Okay, everypony, this is it. Remember, this is an office, and I’m not expecting too much resistance, so hold your fire unless fired on first. But we still have to be careful. This all reeks of mob connections. The Sergeant and I will take point. Everypony in there gets detained. We’ll work out who has to be formally charged afterwards. Ready? On three…”
Twilight turned to the building across the street, steeling herself. “Three!”
She and the polieceponies all rushed out from the alleys and into the street bathed in the sunset. A half-dozen armored unicorns and earth ponies filed to each door, while two dozen more pegasi took to the sky, ready for anypony that might try to fly for it.
One police unicorn ahead of them got to the door first and attached a small device to the doorknob by a chain. It beeped twice then flashed, bouncing off the door and then slamming into it with the force of an earth pony. All of the impact powered into the door’s weak point, knocking it clear open for them while Twilight and the Sergeant strode in.
Ahead was a small hall followed by a reception desk with a blonde-maned secretary behind it.
“Excuse me, what’s going on?” She stood up and yelled, slamming her forehooves on the desktop. “What is—? Hey, you can’t just waltz in here! You need a warrant!”
Twilight and the Sergeant ignored her, save for a motion telling the others to put her in shackles, and made a beeline towards the doorway behind her.
“I said, you need a warrant!” She reached down under the desk and pulled something out.
Twilight froze in place, her eyes darting over and locking onto the object. It was stick-like, with a gem near the middle and a trigger underneath. Cored cannon. Scatter class. She kicked to her side, closing the distance between them and moving off to the receptionist’s left, past the barrel of the scatter cannon. Thrusting her left hoof up and out, she knocked the barrel to point it into the ceiling.
The shot went off, sending a shower of energy and sparks into the tile, blasting it to dust.
Twilight flared her horn, fighting back against the cannon’s weak security spell. The ward buckled under the strength of her magic instantly, letting her push down on the barrel with her hoof still underneath it, “opening” the weapon for reload.
Twilight’s eye flicked over to the other mare, watching her lunge forward for a punch. With a small smile, the Grand Mage kicked backwards, taking the weapon with her just outside the attack’s reach.
The receptionist caught herself just in time, landing on the hoof she had punched with.
A crack went through the air as Twilight swung the butt of the cannon like a golf club, breaking it over the other mare’s head and sending her flying back into her desk.
“No. I don’t.” Twilight popped the crystal out, letting it hit the ground before stomping on it, damaging it beyond repair.
“Irons, now! Don’t let her up!”
The officers leapt at her, slapping on chains while Twilight and the Sergeant continued through the door and into the hall, picking up the pace as she ran in. There was another hallway with several offices to her right and an elevator and a sign to the left. She ran up and put herself on the side of the door to the elevator, hitting the button while the policeponies started breaking down the doors of each of the offices. Small cries of protest could be heard from each of them, just before light impacts and the clacking of irons and magic inhibitors.
The elevator dinged and the doors opened, and the policeponies swung around from its sides to check the insides.
“Elevator is clear,” the Sergeant barked to the officers. “Let’s move to the stairs.”
Twilight took point again with the lead policepony as he broke down the door to the stairs and they marched up, breaking down the top door too.
The door led to a large office space with numerous cubicles, and ponies all standing up in stunned shock. Twilight paid them little heed, as the officers behind her all filed in and started yelling for them to put their forehooves on their heads.
One of the workers dove out the window, spreading his wings just in time to be tackled.
One more target, Twilight thought. There in front of her was a walled-off corner office with a frosted glass door. “Ready, Sergeant?”
He turned around and looked at his officers, who were leading the captured ponies out of the room. “Looks like we’re clear, Lady Sparkle.”
Twilight put herself up to the wall of the office. “Good. Recon says the boss should be in… Wait…” She put her ear to the wall, hearing a soft, muffled click. “Everypony down! Now!”
Bolts of sound and magic light tore through the wall, their steady stream shredding anything in their path. Bits of glass, paper, and desk went flying into the air as every pony in the room dove for cover behind the flimsy cubicles. Small fires started as electrical appliances were hit, showering the room in sparks.
Twilight ground her teeth, catching a small glimpse of the pony firing a military-grade cored cannon repeater into the room. A burning sensation crept into her horn as her own energy was summoned forth, forming a barrier in between her ponies and the pony very soon to be in an astronomical amount of pain.
Each little bolt put another chip in her shield, but it wasn’t enough. For every crack and impact, her horn put twice as much power back in, growing it and pushing forward.
“Everypony okay back there?” Twilight yelled, keeping her sight trained on her barrier.
“Hit in the leg!” The Sergeant yelled back. “Not as bad as it looks. I’ll live. Just stop those guns!”
“Right!” Twilight focused in on her vision and switched over to her magic sight. Two large points of light danced and pulsed over the wellspring of the pony on the other side. Twin barrels. Back-mounted. Looks like a dogfighting model. How to get past…?”
Another wellspring dipped into her vision from above.
The sound of glass shattering heralded the ending of the guns and was followed by the sound of a bone breaking, likely a skull against something hard.
“He’s out. All clear!” Rainbow’s voice called from inside the room.
Twilight pulled at the shield with her horn, bringing it down and waiting a moment before standing up. “All clear everywhere else?”
“Clear, ma’am. Ugh.” The Sergeant grunted, putting his weight on his other leg. “Looks like I’m the lucky one today.”
“Don’t strain yourself. Officers? On me.” She moved up to the side of the door then grabbed ahold of it and tore it clean of its hinges. On the other side was an unconscious pony, a shattered window, and Rainbow Dash in her armor.
“Take a look at this, Twi.” She pointed at the guns mounted on the back of the pegasus. “Military hardware. ‘Bolts don’t really use it, ‘cause we have awesome lightning on our own and we need maximum speed and maneuverability, but they’ve been rolling this out to a lot of regular soldiers lately. Guess this pony has some connections.”
Twilight craned her neck over to examine the guns. They were long enough that they extended in front of the snout of the pegasus stallion on the floor and fitted onto his back with a stomach strap for stabilization. Two large, charged yellow crystals were fitted on the backside of each. In between, on a plate on his back where a saddle would be, was a logo.
“Cloudsdale Armories. Definitely not meant for civilians. Get these off of him and into evidence. Sergeant, signal the medics to get up here to tend to him and you, but don’t let him wake up until we have him in the dungeon. He has a lot to answer for.”
“Laying there like that, he kinda looks pretty pathetic. You sure this is the same guy?”
Twilight pulled out the dossier once again, matching his face to the photo. “Yeah, this is him. Apple Bloom, are you ready?”
“Eeyup!” She pulled the chair out from under the table, sliding it against the brown stone floor and then sat down. “Ready whenever you are.”
Twilight sat down next to her. “Rainbow, prop him up on the chair, wake him up, then leave the room.”
Rainbow blinked. “Wait, you want me to leave?”
“I can handle this guy. He’s in chains, after all. Besides…” She sat back in the chair, narrowing her eyes at the stallion and resting her forehooves against each other. “I want him to see that I don’t have a ‘guard’ to protect me, then look me in the eyes. I want him to feel like he's dealing with one of the Sisters.”
“Kinda like how the throne room gives you goosebumps?” Apple Bloom shivered.
“Exactly.” A little smirk escaped Twilight’s restraint. “I’ve taken some of Luna’s lessons to heart, I guess.”
Rainbow shrugged. “Your call.” She lifted him up, jangling the shackles on his fetlocks. Catching his head after it dropped to the side, she laid it down as gently as possible on the stainless steel table.
“Rainbow?” Apple Bloom asked.
Rainbow adjusted his head about three inches. “Wait for it.”
“Wake up!” Two cyan hooves came crashing down onto the steel table, jolting the stallion awake, off the chair, and sending a bunch of his feathers into the air.
“Was that really necessary?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.
The stallion’s limbs flailed about, straining against the irons. “What are you—? Who do you ponies think you are? Your badges are going to—”
Rainbow reached down, lifted him back up, then slammed his head down on the table. “Shut up! You’re lucky she wanted me to show restraint! After what—”
“Rainbow. Orders.” Twilight said, not even blinking.
Rainbow huffed, flaring her wings. “Yes, Lady Sparkle,” she said with a salute before walking out the door and closing it behind her.
Foible Plinth pulled against the chains. “You… You bitch. I’ll have your badge for this. My lawsuits will hit you so hard that—”
“Mr. Plinth, my name is Twilight Sparkle, Grand Mage of Equestria. This is an official investigation by the Crown of Equestria and the Eternal Sisters. You have no legal standing to sue. Your guilt in this matter has already been established. Your punishment has not.”
“What?” He sprang to his feet and tried to thrust a hoof in her face, but fell and had to put one hoof on the table to keep from mashing his face on the metal. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with! I’ll be out in a week!”
Without moving a single muscle, Twilight lit her horn and lifted him up off his chair while forcing his leg down.
“What… How are you…”
“I think you’ll find that your ability to resist my telekinesis has been entirely eliminated by the shackles on your hind legs. Right now, you are nothing more than another inanimate object bending to my will. I don’t like to brag, Mr. Plinth, but I once juggled an ursa minor. If you attack me or my friend, I’ll turn your bones into calcified gelatin. With my mind. Am I understood?” She put a twist into the field, pushing his hoof in a direction it was not meant to go.
“Argh! You… You…” His muscles spasmed against the field, searching out for relief against the pressure.
Twilight dropped him onto the chair like a throw pillow. “I’m glad we understand each other.” She turned her head to the mare to her right. “Apple Bloom? The documents.”
Apple Bloom tipped her hardhat forward then reached into her bag and dumped a tome-sized pile of papers onto the table. “Right here.”
Twilight smiled and took the stack from her, arranging the papers in her magic. “Excellent. Now then, Mr. Plinth. Your company was responsible for constructing the new orphanage in Ponyville, correct?”
The stallion blew some of his red mane out of his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Twilight chuckled. “Oh, tsk tsk tsk. Lying to the Grand Mage about an investigation. There’s another charge. Here’s the paperwork for the order and the work completion certificates. They have your signature.” She dropped the papers on the desk right in front of his face. “Ring a bell now?”
“So what?” He asked, struggling a little in the irons. “We make a lot of buildings!”
“Yeah, but this one here had more problems than a sixth-grade math class.” Apple Bloom picked up one of the pages. “Frankly, I’m amazed y’all got it ta stand up at all.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to torture me!” He struggled and strained more against the shackles. “File a complaint, and we’ll fix it!”
Twilight snorted. “Like hell you will. After seeing what you did there, I looked up the other buildings you’ve done for the Crown. Then, I ordered an independent inspector to each one. Wouldn’t you know, every single one has major deficiencies. Schools, orphanages, homeless shelters… The list goes on.”
“An’ they were all signed off by the same inspection company!” Apple Bloom chuckled. “So we went an’ looked it up! Turns out, it’s owned by another company! Which is owned by another, which is owned by another... So many shells, it's like one of those Stalliongrad nesting dolls. But when we got to the end, we found out something interesting. Care ta take a guess as ta which company owns the inspection outfit?”
“Look, look.” Visible sweat started to bead off his brow. “I’m sorry, really! I didn’t know. I’m sure I can find a way to make this all better!”
“Don’t patronize me, Mr. Plinth.” Twilight sneered. “You’ve put a lot of ponies at risk. Some of your structures have already collapsed, killing some innocents. And you absolutely knew about all of this.”
His face turned from apologetic to combative instantly. “Ha! Like you can prove any of that!”
“Oh, but I can!” Twilight smiled. “I’ve already gone through your bank records and supply orders and compared them against the invoices you gave the Crown. It didn’t take long to spot the discrepancies. Your materials and labor is way under what it should be. Honestly, it’s so far under even wholesale that you’re making out like a bandit! Except, you’re not stealing from your suppliers—you’re just buying sub-standard junk and passing it off as sound, all with your name signed at the bottom.”
“P-purchase orders!?” The sweat was even more profuse now. “T-there’s no way you got that!”
Twilight tapped her torc with the tip of her hoof. “Funnily enough, when you show up with Royal Guard backing you up, companies are more likely to hoof over the real records because they don’t have bribes in place like they do with some of the police in other cities. And, say what you will about Canterlot, but unlike some other places, their local police force is almost beyond reproach.
“Of course, a few of your suppliers still tried to give us fake documents to make us happy, but then, we didn’t really ask them for it so much as we barged in and searched their records directly. Their company officers were quite forthcoming when they realized how much trouble they could be in for lying to me. Not to mention all the officials you bribed to keep ‘unfortunate accidents’ from coming back to you.”
“And boy howdy, are you in fer it!” Apple Bloom pulled out her pad and started reading. “I mean, ya gotta be a real special kinda stupid ta rack up this many charges! I only really know ‘bout the buildin’ ones, but ya got several dozen counts of Class-A felony fraud goin’ here.”
His blue coat went nearly white.
“Oh, it’s much worse than that, Apple Bloom.” Twilight pulled out another sheet of paper and gently set it down in front of him. “This is a list of foals at the Ponyville Orphanage. The way I see it, you have willful foal endangerment charges stemming from every single one of them. Then, I can go through all the other orphanages and schools you built below specifications and add charges for them too. Every single foal that’s ever so much as stepped hoof inside. Then there’s the negligent equicide charges for the ones that died, and I’m sure there are other things I can think up.”
Apple Bloom leaned back in her chair. “Hey Twilight, if’n this guy had to serve all these sentences back to back, how long would he be in jail? If he lived that long, I mean.”
Twilight shook her head and shrugged. “I haven’t even finished tabulating it all, because we’re still waiting on some of the records. Honestly though, AB, I’m pretty sure not even Princess Celestia has been alive that long.”
The irons were clacking he was shaking so bad. “Okay, okay! I get it! Can’t I cut a deal? Please?”
Apple Bloom scratched her chin. “Ain’t prisons supposed to be, like, super-dangerous fer ponies that get tossed in the clink fer harmin’ foals?”
“Apple Bloom, I’m amazed at you!” Twilight held a hoof to her chest in mock surprise. “Celestia and the Duchies take as much care as they can to ensure that prison facilities protect all of a pony’s rights! Cadence herself has extensively campaigned to make prisons safer for inmates!”
“But they still totally get the stuffin’ beat out of ‘em, right?”
“Oh, of course!” Twilight smirked. “There’s only so much you can do when the entire prison population is out to get you. It’s also rather amazing what they can fashion weapons out of…”
“Okay, okay!” The stallion’s tears were soaking the papers on the table. “I confess! We did it! Just don’t let me in with those monsters!”
Twilight’s smile grew ever wider. “An RGIS officer will be by shortly to interrogate you again. When they get here, you’ll write a full confession, outlining everything. Do that, and I’ll ask the Royal Court’s prosecutor to provide some protection for you, if they don’t decide to add you to the statue garden instead. Got it?”
He cringed and frowned, but slowly nodded.
Twilight stood up, collecting their documents. “Very good. Apple Bloom? We’re done here.”
“Shoot, Twi!” Apple Bloom chuckled, getting out of chair. “You aren’t going to call out to th’ ponies outside and say, ‘take him away, officers?’”
Twilight blinked. “Um… He’s already in the dungeon. I don’t need to.”
“I know. I just always wanted ta hear somepony say it!”