• Published 16th Aug 2013
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What You Are in the Dark - Little Jackie Papercut



The Manehattan Six investigate mysterious pony-like creatures at night.

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Dragons

Daring Do took to the air, and Blossomforth, a breath slower, followed.

The beast's wings carried it faster than its bulk would have led its pursuers to expect. A peculiar glint of moonlight reflected off its body, making it look like something not quite real. It spared a glance back in their direction before pitching into a dive.

Blossomforth was quick to dive after it, but Daring hesitated a moment. Something instinctive told her she shouldn't follow it down, and sure enough, it quickly altered its course, using its momentum to ascend, a change the weather cadet didn't notice until just too late. It had gotten farther out of her reach, and attempting to match the maneuver would cost her speed.

But the other pegasus was closer now, having benefited from the failed ruse. "I've got you now," she called out. A sinister growl answered her, and then the target seemed to slow. The chase was over, and she couldn't help a satisfied grin. "Now unhoof that—"

A twitch of the creature's wing was all the warning she got before it spun in the air, a heavy appendage impacting her shoulder and sending her spiraling downard, out of control. Spike yelled out in surprise, trying to reach for her but held fast in the creature's grip.

The weather cadet gasped as the adventurer fell past. Blossomforth immediately went into a dive, and a few meters down, her forehooves managed to catch Daring. It was a little farther before they were stabilized in the air. Above the pegasi, the shadowy shape continued its escape.

Quickly, Honey pointed a hoof at Blossomforth. "I'll handle this thing," she growled. "Right now, you need to go back to Twilight."

Blossomforth struggled to form an objection, but before she could open her mouth Daring had streaked off again in pursuit of the target. She remained fumbling for a moment before nodding weakly and flying in the other direction.

~#~#~#~

The four took a corner sharply, nearly colliding with a taxi. The cabbie swerved, coming to a stop across the street and muttering to himself as the mares ran past.

Twilight realized that she couldn't see the creature anymore. Limited to the streets, there was no way to keep it in her line of sight. "It got away," she groaned, slowing to a halt.

A few seconds passed as her friends drew up beside her. "It got away," she repeated, her voice a little softer now. She was shaking slightly. "That thing. It has Spike, and now it's gone, just like that..."

Octavia cautiously patted her on the back. "Don't give up yet," she cooed softly. "There's still time."

"Spike," the unicorn muttered. "He's... he's gone... he's always been there, and I failed him. Celestia trusted me... she raised him after he was hatched, until she thought I was able to care for him, and then she trusted me with him. And it turns out I couldn't." Her voice was getting higher, more frantic now, as she put a hoof to either side of her head. "I can't believe I took my eyes off him! This is all my fault, I should have—"

"No, Twilight," came Blossomforth's voice as she fluttered down to the street. "It's my fault. I got Spike involved in this mess. But don't worry." She lightly hugged the unicorn with a wing. "We'll get him back. Daring is still on the trail, and I'm not giving up either."

Twilight took a few deep breaths, then nodded. "Yeah. Spike can take care of himself until help arrives, I'm sure. Thank you, Blossomforth. And you too, Octavia." Smiling, she nuzzled both ponies.

Sherbet cleared her throat to get Twilight's attention. "We'll need a plan now, won't we? We found out that the creature lives in or near the Neigh York Times Building," she explained. "We might still catch it if we go straight there."

The librarian stared for a second, comprehension slowly washing over her. Her face fixed itself in an expression of determination. "Then I guess," she said, "we're going to the Times."

There was a momentary pause. Trixie slowly turned around, the most endearing grin she had ever given anypony plastered upon her face. "Er... taxi?" she attempted.

~#~#~#~

A sharp wind whipped through Twilight's mane as the taxi sped toward the destination. Down one street, then another, she kept scanning the skies. To her left, Octavia was humming a tune she couldn't place, though it made her feel a little less uneasy. To her right, Blossomforth was flying at her top speed to keep up.

"Please be okay, Spike..." she breathed nervously.

They rounded a corner, and suddenly their destination loomed straight ahead. It was a building of middling height, with clear architectural influences of Gallopia Coltica style, particularly on the upper stories and the bright green mansard. Twilight found herself taking in every aspect of the building, trying to imagine what she would find inside.

The cab deposited Twilight and Octavia in front of the building, followed by another carrying Trixie and Sherbet. Blossomforth perched on a roof nearby, keeping a lookout. The librarian wasted no time trying the door.

"Locked," she groaned. "What now?" She stared forlornly, horn alight, at the room on the other side of the glass. Her friends backed up slightly as her magical aura grew.

Then, with a soft pop, she was inside.

The others watched as she looked around her, then spun to face them. Her eyes widened and she started talking to herself rapidly, not quite audible through the door.

Trixie leaned forward, eyes fixed on Twilight's lips. A frown of concentration crossed her face as she mimicked the motions. "Let's see... 'oh no... I'm breaking and entering'?" she reported, and immediately pressed a hoof against her forehead in an expression of frustration. "Now is not the time to do things by the book! We must rescue Trixie's hat!"

The remaining three turned to stare at her.

"...and Spike, of course," she added. They continued to stare for another moment. "What? It's not like saving Spike wasn't an assumed goal."

Sighing, Blossomforth flitted down to street level and lightly rapped on the door. The panicking unicorn snapped to attention at the noise, then seemed to get her bearings and rushed to unlock the door.

"Alright!" she said as the group stepped inside. "This... might not actually be legal, but we're where we need to be, so let's get going! We'll, er, leave a note of apology on our way out..."

~#~#~#~

The creature seemed so much closer now, Daring was certain she would overtake it in a moment. If she could just snatch Spike out of its hooves, she would have the advantage in an escape. All she needed to do was watch out for that kick that had caught her before. She focused on the goal completely, the surrounding city fading from her sight, even blocking out the sound of the wind in her ears.

"Get back here," she demanded, preparing for the strike.

When it came, it was from behind.

Something moving very fast barreled into her, trapping her in a powerful grip and dragging her off-course. She struggled against its hold, and after a few moments, managed to free herself, whirling to face her assailant.

It was gone. Whatever had hit her, it had gotten out of the way before she could find it. She turned to resume the chase—

Something moved below her. She rolled to dodge, but too late. Those hooves locked her in a bear hug as their owner curved away again. "Let... me... go!" she demanded, shoving against the beast's side with her hoof.

After a few moments, she was released, and struggled to get her bearings. This time, she paused, searching. The original target had escaped. The only way she would find it again at this point was by catching its partner. To her left, the form of the beast was moving rapidly away, and she hurried after it.

It swooped lower, and Honey hung back, watching its motion. She followed it as it wove between buildings, and was careful to maintain a line of sight. Then, quickly, she angled herself forward and dove at high speed, aiming to collide with it.

~#~#~#~

Spike wasn't sure what was going on. All he could hear were giant wingbeats, carrying him to some uncertain destination.

It occurred to him that the stones from the street probably belonged to this creature. Was that why he had been taken? "I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't know those things were yours. Are they important? I'll give them back! See?" He held up one of the flakes, and thought he heard something like a chuckle in response.

His captor was climbing now, and ahead he could make out a bright green rooftop. With a broad swooping motion, they sailed through an open window, landing in a darkened room.

The hooves holding Spike released him, and he took a step forward, then turned. "Alright, now what's the big... idea...?" He gulped, backing away slightly as he finally got a look at the thing illuminated in the light from the window.

It was huge. Spike didn't feel up to estimating its height, but it had to be at least as tall as Twilight's brother, the biggest stallion he'd ever seen. The baby dragon could make out the shape of a face, similar to a pony's face but off in a way that put him in mind of a mastiff. Its mane was wild, a shade of blue that appeared almost black in this light. Along its body, the light glistened off what he could now see were scales of a dark green color. Its legs were not very different from a pony's, except for the scales and the fact that they ended in cloven hooves. Its long tail was lizardlike, and it bore a pair of giant bat wings.

"What do you want with me?" Spike asked, trying to calm down.

The thing smiled, revealing a few more teeth than Spike was perfectly comfortable with. "Want?" it asked, in a deep rumble. "I only wanted to bring you home. You are safe now. It wasn't easy."

"Yeah, I noticed, I—" The captured dragon stiffened as he remembered. "Daring Do! You HIT her! Why did you do that?"

Now his captor looked slightly taken aback. "What? What else would I have done? I couldn't simply let the ponies capture you. And besides, she had more than enough ability to recover."

Spike groaned and covered his face with a claw. "Well, whatever. Could you at least tell me who you are?" he asked.

"Oh, I beg your pardon. Have we never met before?" The beast bowed, a gesture that brought him to Spike's eye level. "I am Constantine. I was asked to retrieve you by Aurelius. The rest will be glad to know that you've returned safely. Now, we really should go to them."

Constantine stepped forward, his wings sweeping the ground to push Spike toward a flight of stairs leading down. Taking the hint, the baby dragon began to descend, wondering who it was that waited for him in the room below.

~#~#~#~

This was not a good night for Blossomforth. She didn't want to abandon the rest and fly to the top floor on her own, but she'd had quite enough dark, empty corridors for one year, and she was really starting to think she needed a vacation somewhere warm and sunny.

"It can't be much farther," Twilight panted beside her, the illumination of her horn flickering momentarily as she paused to catch her breath.

"Er... only ten more floors?" the weathermare offered with a conciliatory smile. "This is the center for all the Times' operations, so they needed a lot of room. In fact, they've even got an on-site weather team assigned to climate control."

In the bright violet light that bathed her face, the lavender mare raised an eyebrow. "Really? You can do that?"

"It's not cheap," Auntie chipped in. "I don't think it would be practical for most businesses."

"Yeah, well, you know, newspapers have some sensitive equipment." The pale mare shrugged. "I guess they're just protecting that. It sounds like a good job, though."

Behind Twilight, Trixie chuckled. "Does it pay that well, or have you been admiring their garden?" she asked, gesturing out the window to the view of a luxurious garden far below.

"That's part of it," Blossomforth admitted with a sigh. "But my brother talks about—wait." She held out a hoof to stop Twilight. Her ear twitched. "Did anypony else hear that?"

The five strained to listen. There were creaking noises and faint hoofbeats coming from a room nearby. The weathermare kicked into the air and hovered silently over to the door. With a glance back to the rest, she slowly pushed it open.

Inside, a shadowy figure was opening and closing drawers. "Is that you, Pomona?" a male voice asked. When nopony answered, it turned its head slightly, the silhouetted profile of its face revealing a curved horn. "Zephyrus? Flora? Whoever it is, I'll be done here in a minute."

Twilight signaled for the five to huddle up.

"Who is this guy? A burglar?" Trixie whispered. "Should we make a citizen's arrest?"

"Probably not," Twilight answered, shaking her head. "I think a burglar would have actually turned around. And besides, we're not supposed to be here either."

Sherbet shrugged. "So he's night staff? We should leave him alone if that's the case."

"No," Blossomforth said quickly. "I've got a hunch he's something else. Let me try this." Clearing her throat, she entered the room. "Those don't sound like reporters," she announced in the most confident tone she could muster while confronting an unknown pony in the dark.

The figure whirled around now and spotted the white mare. "Who are you?" he demanded. "No pony is supposed to be here after dark."

"Then what are you doing here?" she countered. "Do the rules not apply to you?"

The answer came with a laugh. "Not that one. I am not a pony." His horn lit up, revealing a scaly yellow-green face with compound eyes and a pair of mandibles. In all other respects, it resembled that of a unicorn pony, but the foreign elements were undeniably present. "But I believe I asked your name."

At the sight of his face, the pegasus instinctively hovered backward slightly, taking a moment to steel herself. "Blossomforth," she replied. "I'm here looking for a friend."

"You may call me Carpeaux," he said. "This tower is my home, and I'm certain your friend is not here."

"Well, we're certain he is," Twilight interjected as she stepped forward. "One of your friends picked Spike up off the street. We know he came here."

Carpeaux frowned, staring at Twilight. "That is a grave accusation," he said. "We have no interest in the abduction of ponies."

"Actually... Spike is a dragon," the unicorn added. "But that's beside the point. We need to know where he was taken, immediately." She locked eyes with the creature, and Blossomforth mirrored the gesture beside her.

He looked between the two of them, then sighed. "If it will satisfy you, then we will ask the Dauphin."

"The... dolphin?" Octavia asked from outside the room, tilting her head.

"The Dauphin," he repeated. "It is what we call our leader. It is not terribly dissimilar to your Princesses. But you will see when we arrive. Come." Carpeaux strode past the group, to the stairwell. He paused only a moment to beckon them after him.

~#~#~#~

Constantine directed Spike into a spacious room a few floors below their point of arrival, a room, Spike noted, that was windowless and brightly lit. It was sparsely decorated, with a radio and a collection of newspapers on a desk drawing the eye. The walls were painted a soft shade of brown, and the floor was mostly bare stone with a large round rug in the center. As they entered, a similar creature arose to greet him. It had a slightly different face, more like a terrier than a mastiff, it was a little more feminine, and its scales were a muted blue, but otherwise, it was clearly the same type of being.

"Ah, brother, it is good to see you return, and... what is this?" the waiting creature asked, perplexed.

"This is the one I was sent to fetch," Constantine stated simply. "Where are the others? I must inform them of his safe return."

"No, " hissed his sister. "You must not tell anyone of this." She then looked down at Spike. "There has been a terrible mistake, little one. I am Pomona. This... brother of mine seems to have mistaken you for one of our own kind."

"What?" Constantine yelped. "Mistake? He smells like one of us, and he was out in the city streets. What more evidence could you need to know that he is the one?"

"He smells like us because he is a true dragon," Pomona retorted. "And that is mixed in with the smell of ponies. He must have lived among them for a long time indeed. And even overlooking that, the one you were supposed to retrieve has wings! Look! He doesn't even have hooves! How could you confuse him for one of us?"

Constantine faltered at this. "I... am sorry, sister," he said mournfully. "There is no excuse for my mistake."

"Uh, excuse me," Spike interrupted, "but I think I might be able to help."

Both Constantine and Pomona fell silent, turning their attention to the baby dragon.

"Remember that pony who was chasing us? Y'know, the one you hit?" The dragon tried very hard not to sound too critical as he said that.

Constantine nodded slowly.

"Well, she's my friend. Her name is Daring Do, and she's great at finding stuff. In fact, when you picked me up I was with a bunch of friends investigating something that might've been whoever it is you're looking for." He shrugged. "I'm sure if you help me find them again, they can help you find your friend."

"Agreed," Pomona said quickly. "We're going to need all the help we can get. But first, perhaps you could tell us more about these friends of yours."

"Well," the dragon began, cautiously, "I already mentioned Daring Do. There's Twilight Sparkle, she's a unicorn, and kind of a genius. She hatched me, actually, so she's," he paused to glance uncertainly at the door, "well, she's probably really worried right now. Then there's Octavia. Let me tell you about Octavia..."

~#~#~#~

"You mean to tell us your prince is in another tower?" Octavia asked, sounding only the slightest touch annoyed.

"I'm afraid so," Carpeaux answered, gesturing to the empty room he had led them to. "My apologies. I'm sure he could have explained everything. I suppose I should have expected he wouldn't be here right now, though. He has been taking a search party out each night, looking for a lost little one."

The musician blinked, caught slightly off-guard by this news. "A missing foal? Oh, could it be...?"

"Does he have wings and hang around Bridleway?" Blossomforth interrupted.

Carpeaux gasped. "By the Dauphin's ears, you've seen him?" he asked eagerly.

"Yeah, last night," the pegasus replied. "He really surprised me."

"We were looking for him when Spike was taken," Twilight added.

"This... explains a great deal, in fact," Carpeaux mused. "I believe we now have reason to hurry. Follow me, please," he instructed, darting back to the stairs.

The ponies looked among themselves, then pursued him as he rushed up two floors. He exited the stairwell and flung himself toward a door directly to the left. "Zephyrus! Flora!" he called, knocking hard. "You need to hear this!"

The door opened to reveal another scaly creature, this one a lush green with what seemed like a perfectly pony-like face except for a ring of large roselike petals around her head. "What is it, Carpeaux?" she asked in a weary-sounding voice.

"Flora, I need both of you to come with me. Quickly." He gestured to the five behind him. "These ponies claim to have seen Cubi."

Instantly, Flora was out of the room. "Is it true?" she asked, bending slightly to look Blossomforth in the eye. "Have you found my little one?"

The weathermare hesitated a moment. "We... can't say for sure where he is now," she explained slowly, wincing. "But I did see him. I can help you locate him again, I think."

"A friend of theirs was taken by mistake," Carpeaux added. "If Zephyrus has not returned..."

"Zephyrus could not have mistaken some other creature for Cubi. It must have been Constantine," she remarked. "He has never seen the little one himself."

"Alright," Twilight cut in, "then let's go meet this Constantine."

~#~#~#~

"...and that's the story of Octavia's entire career, and why she's such an amazingly talented and kind pony."

Constantine and Pomona exchanged a glance. "Er, yes," Constantine said, "I think we understand. Perhaps we should go find this Octavia now."

"Really?" Spike tilted his head. "But I haven't told you about Trixie, or Blossomforth, or Auntie Orange..."

"No need," Pomona assured him quickly. "We'll learn about them when we meet them."

At that moment, a knock resounded through the room. Pomona immediately tensed, then snatched up Spike and shoved him under the desk, turning and sitting in front of it to block off all view.

"...enter," Constantine invited hesitantly.

Quickly, somebody rushed inside. "Constantine, have you heard?" she gasped. "We've found him!"

"Found... really?" Constantine sounded dumbfounded. "Who did?"

"The ponies," the newcomer answered. Six sets of hooves followed her in.

"Before we get to that," Twilight's voice added sternly, "I think it's time you told us where Spike is."

"Twilight?" Spike gasped, trying to peer around Pomona.

"Spike?!" she responded. "Spike, I'm here!"

Pomona shifted uncomfortably at the exchange, then, stiffly, stood and stepped aside. "Is he yours, then?" she asked. "He was brought here by mistake, and was just telling us all about you."

Twilight didn't pay any attention to Pomona's words as she dashed over to the desk and pulled Spike out from under it. "Oh, Spike!" she cried out, hugging him tightly. "I'm so sorry, I should have paid more attention..."

The dragon shook his head, face pressed into Twilight's coat. "I'm okay, it's all okay," he whispered. "But... we've gotta help these guys now..."

"Yes..." She turned to look around at the creatures. "You're kirin, aren't you?"

Pomona's eyes widened. "Well... yes, but how did you know that? To much of the world we have been forgotten."

"I read about it at the local library," the unicorn replied with a tiny giggle. "But the book said the kirin were all dead. How can you even be here?"

The horned male kirin shook his head. "It is a complicated story, and Dauphin Aurelius has more understanding of it than the rest of us. He should be the one to tell you, after the little one is found."

Twilight nodded in understanding. "Alright, then. Let's go find that foal."

Author's Note:

And here we go!

Bonus points to anyone who can figure out the naming theme I used for the kirin.