• 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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Learning

Wherever her quarry had hidden itself, Daring Do vowed she would find it.

There had been a few close brushes, but it continued to elude her among the city rooftops. Now, though, she had finally caught it unaware in an alley, its back to her. Slowly, she crept forward, until she was practically on top of it.

"Gotcha!" She pounced, hooves quickly ensnaring the creature. A sharp cry of surprise echoed as it struggled to take flight, trying to turn and face its assailant. In response, she clung tighter, not letting it escape again.

"Let go!" Blossomforth demanded.

Honey released Blossomforth as if the floral mare was on fire, staring at her. "Sorry, mistook you for the—wait, what are you doing here?" she asked. "I told you to go find Twilight."

Twilight cleared her throat, and the curator glanced in her direction. Spike waved to her from atop the unicorn's back.

"Oh." The tawny pegasus glanced over the group, her gaze lingering on the larger creatures accompanying them. "So... these are them, huh?"

"Yep," Twilight confirmed. "Honey Do, meet Flora and Carpeaux. Excuse the cloaks, they're a little self-conscious. They're looking for Flora's foal. Their friends should be nearby..."

Honey held out a hoof in greeting. Flora shook it uncertainly, and nodded.

"Foal, huh? If that's what hit me, he must be a pretty strong kid," Honey remarked. "I've been chasing him for an hour now. Well, I'm sure he's still around here somewhere..."

As she finished speaking, a shadow arced overhead. Blossomforth was the first to act, winging to the sky to pursue the kirin. "I've got him! Wait here!" she called back.

He weaved left and right, keeping close to the roofs as he slipped around and between chimneys and spires. Blossomforth wasn't deterred by this, her focus narrowing as she bent her body in ways she was sure she'd regret later to maneuver past the obstacles.

As he passed a roof access door, she heard the clop of hooves on stone and hesitated. Slowly, she lifted herself up to the top of the access and crept over to the opposite edge. Below her, she could see him peering around the corner, waiting.

This was her moment to take the initiative. She sprung forward and twisted in midair, landing in front of him and blocking off his escape.

When the massive kirin turned to face her, she suddenly found herself questioning that decision.

He was larger than the others of his kind, standing nearly as tall as Celestia herself. Like the rest, his body was covered in silvery scales, and his hooves were cloven. His whiplike tail ended in a tuft of golden hair, and his mane was like a lion's.

The face was the most striking part. His face was that of an adult dragon, angular and fierce, and currently set in an expression of great irritation. He bore a horn with a shape similar to a bolt of lightning, and, as she had already seen, a pair of massive batlike wings. The combination put her in mind of something awful, but she tried to ignore that.

"Oh... I'm sorry, are you..." she began, not sure how to address this creature.

"I'm actually very much in a hurry," he informed her, in a voice that sparked with impatience. "So if you're looking to study me, you'll have to ask another time." He spread his wings to take flight.

"Wait, please," the pegasus insisted. "You're looking for a foal, aren't you? I saw him nearby. My friends and I want to help you."

"You...?" He shook his head. "I haven't the slightest idea who you are or how you know me. How am I expected to believe I can trust such a sudden offer?"

Blossomforth backed off slightly. She had, in fact, no idea what she was doing. Here she was standing face-to-face with a creature she wouldn't have believed could exist two days before, and she was offering to solve his problem. Of course it was strange. They were completely alien to one another.

But were they? The weathermare had to consider that for a moment. He had a family, and he cared about them. She was delaying him from something precious, and it angered him. After all, even though she knew nothing about kirin, the basics, the very most certain facts of nature must remain true, mustn't they?

She decided to believe in that.

"Because," she explained gently, "you've got something important at stake. And you would be willing to take any risk for your people... wouldn't you?"

The kirin's eyes softened slightly. "That is... worth considering. I would have preferred time to test this new world, to see where we fit in, but after all, for Cubi's sake... if the price is trust, then so be it. Show me." He lifted off, and the pegasus followed suit.

~#~#~#~

As Blossomforth returned, the assembled ponies looked to her expectantly.

"Er... I caught up to him." She gestured behind her as the large kirin stepped out of the shadows. "I don't think this is exactly the right one, though."

"Dauphin Aurelius!" a voice above them called. Constantine and Pomona alit in front of Blossomforth. All together, the kirin present bowed.

Daring looked around at them and scratched her head. "So I guess he's, what, their leader or something?"

"For the time being," Aurelius answered. "But you propose to help us. How?"

"Well," Spike started, "it's simple. First we..." He trailed off, his expression slowly taking on a note of confusion. "...actually, yeah, how do we do that? We know the kid's around here, but that doesn't mean we have any idea how to get him back."

In response, his caretaker smirked. "Oh, come on, Spike. I always have an idea. In fact..." Her horn lit up. "Aurelius, may I cast a identification spell on you and your friends? It's harmless, but I need your permission for my spells to have an effect on a draconic creature."

The oversized kirin eyed her curiously. "Very well, but how will that help?" he asked.

"It's complicated, but," Twilight explained, "basically, I need to analyze the composition of the magic in your bodies and determine what epimagic markers are used to attune to certain internal aura leylines inside your bodies. Pegasi and unicorns both possess magic, but with differing forms and functions, and I suspect the same for kirin. I'll use the leyline patterns from your bodies to develop a quick baseline kirin pattern, and we can use that to isolate your young one from any other lifeform we would find on a standard kiidar sweep spell!" She grinned. "It's ingenious, I tell you!"

Pomona leaned close to Spike. "Does she get like this often?"

"Er... only when she's trying to solve something difficult," Spike replied, looking slightly nonplussed himself. "Which, come to think of it, happens way more often than you'd expect... a few days ago she was trying to figure out how to enchant the library's bookshelves to sort themselves."

Trixie scoffed. "This is a ridiculous idea. You're just going to do a scan? Then what, grab him and drag him back? Where's the style? Where's the emotion?"

Blossomforth shook her head. "Trixie... I understand theatrics are your thing, but we can't really worry about that right now. Twilight's spell can pull it off, so that's what we're going with."

Octavia hummed. "Yes, but... she does have a point..." she offered. "Doesn't one have to think like a foal to find a foal?"

"No, Blossomforth is right. We need to be practical about this." Twilight lowered her head in concentration. "So! Here we go!" she declared, magic intensifying.

There was a surge of light and color as the brilliant magenta magic arced from her to the kirin. It enveloped them, slowly taking on a variety of colors before returning to the unicorn.

"Yes... oh, that's unusual..." She hummed as the glimmering strands flowed into her. "I might need some notes on this for later. High proportions of N-absorbing and T-catalyzing magic... what could that mean? An incredibly efficient conduction field, but almost no emitters..."

Her assistant had procured a quill and paper from somewhere while nobody was looking and was hastily writing down everything she said. Trixie shot him a questioning glance, then took her hat back and checked inside it.

"Flight appears to be accomplished by exercising endomagical evocation, rather than a purely physical process," Twilight continued, her look of fascination deepening. "Putting it all together, I should be... just about... ready!" The spell wound down, and the last few wisps of magic were pulled quickly to her. Her eyes closed in deep concentration, and soon the aura of spellwork began to emanate anew from her horn. "Calculating the arcanopressure differential... identifying key leyline nodes... obtaining individual magistructures... externally relaying internal monologue... reticulating splines..."

"Is this it?" Blossomforth asked, tilting her head.

"Yes!" Twilight exclaimed, the light of her horn suddenly shining brightly as she set off down the street at a rapid clip. She took a right out of the alley, hurtling forward with singleminded determination. She charged ahead to an intersection, then turned left, away from the theater district and toward a shopping center.

The spell clearly showed her there wasn't far to go. The kirin would be in a building just ahead.

A tiny bell chimed as she entered the store. The zebra clerk stashed his newspaper to pay attention to the customer, then blinked several times. "Oh, fondest greetings, Miss Sparkle," he said in a mildly surprised tone. "To what do I owe the honor?"

Twilight looked around, getting her bearings. The spell had led her to Stripe of Culture, a popular store that sold goods imported from the zebra homeland. "I'm... looking for somepony," she answered.

Ignoring tapestries, pottery, and musical instruments, she trotted toward the back of the store. There, her signal had zeroed in on a figure, highlighting it with a slight aura. She closed in to examine it, but stopped short and twisted to the right as she saw something move, ready to give chase, her telekinesis already starting up.

Her determined expression faltered when she realized the motion had just been an employee restocking a shelf. With a sheepish chuckle, she turned her attention back to the object that had led her here. It was a small, simple metal sculpture of a zebra, in a proud pose. She picked it up and turned it over in her magic several times before coming to the conclusion that this could not possibly be the kirin she was looking for. She glanced around once more. Aside from herself and the two employees, the store was empty.

Feeling a little foolish, and a little guilty about startling the employees and then leaving without buying anything, Twilight returned to the desk and set the sculpture down. "What can you tell me about this?" she asked.

The clerk looked down at the object, then flashed her a smile. "This is a guardian statue," he told her. "It watches over you and imbues you with bravery and wisdom. It's also made of starmetal. Very rare. Five hundred bits, and it could be yours."

Sweating slightly, Twilight coughed into a hoof. "I don't suppose I could open a line of credit here, could I?"

The zebra recorded the transaction, then nodded to her. "It's all yours," he informed her. "Have a good night."

When Twilight stepped out of the store with her new purchase on her back, she found Daring waiting, giving her a questioning look. "Twi, are you taking a break from looking for a lost kid to go shopping?" the pegasus asked.

"I must have gotten something wrong with the spell," the mage pouted, stamping a hoof. "I have to try again." She closed her eyes and began her thaumaturgy again. "Perhaps if, instead of querying 'enchantment', I try looking for 'scales'," she mused.

"What'd I miss?" Blossomforth asked as she arrived, panting from the workout she was receiving tonight.

"Good timing! Hold this!" Twilight demanded, thrusting the statue toward the weathermare and setting off again.

"Huh? What?" Blossomforth took the item and stared in confusion. "What is this for? Twilight?" she called after the unicorn.

The magic pony hurried on, pursuing a new target indicated by her radar spell. As she arrived, she ground to a halt, looking up at the sign this time.

"Pound For Pound's Scale Emporium?"

~#~#~#~

"By the way," Constantine began, "we've only had time for the most cursory introductions thus far... you are Octavia Philharmonica Melody von Clef, the great musician, are you not?"

"I am," Octavia confirmed, hesitantly. "Why?"

"Your friend told us about you," the kirin elaborated. "Some of the things he said made us curious."

"Is it true you defeated a giant bear?" Pomona added.

The group had realized by now that with Twilight as worked up as she was, behaving impulsively and moving with a speed none of them would have thought possible, there was no way they could possibly keep up with her. With nothing else to do, they had returned, resignedly, to the alley to wait until the scholar had either found the foal or sent up some kind of distress signal, alternately discussing each other and their next move.

Before Octavia could answer Pomona's question, the sound of hooves drew their attention. Peeking out onto the street, the musician saw her lavender friend approaching from the left, looking weary and annoyed, dragging a bulging bag filled with miscellaneous items.

"What happened?" Spike asked as Twilight stepped into the alley. "And... didn't you start off going in the other direction?"

"Wrong parameters... still need adjusting... one more try... one more try...!" she insisted, waving a hoof. Octavia lightly tapped her, and she wobbled dangerously.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Blossomforth ventured.

"Trixie told you so."

"Shh. But I think I've got something. Flora, can I take a look at your mane?"

Flora seemed surprised by the request, but nodded. "Alright... what do you need to see?"

The pegasus fluttered closer, examining the giant pink petals closely. "Your mane is made up of rose petals... I could go home and get a bunch of them. I'll scatter them all over the place, and they'll remind Cubi of his mother and draw him out! At the very least, it should make him easier to spot. That would be good, right?"

"It's... worth a try," the kirin agreed.

Octavia coughed lightly. "Well, it's alright in theory, though it relies on quite a lot of factors we don't know. Are you sure about this?"

"Trixie is telling you, it's not exciting enough!" The showmare nearly shouted. "Make the petals turn into doves! Make them shine in rainbow colors and whistle disco music! Do something with them!"

Blossomforth sighed and rubbed her temple. "No, let's not make this too complicated. I'm sticking with what I've got."

She was thankful that it wasn't very far from the alley to her home. Her wings were still sore from repeatedly pushing her limits tonight. She landed and rushed inside, setting Twilight's statue down beside the door. In a blur of motion she entered the kitchen and retrieved several large bags of rose petals from the pantry, as well as some of the decorative roses that were scattered throughout the house. Moments later, she was outside, taking to the sky with some difficulty, burdened as she was by her new payload.

As she approached the alley, Blossomforth tore the bag open, letting the petals drift free. Her wingbeats spread them about, causing them to snow down over a wide area. Here and there, she dropped an entire rose bloom. Soon she had thoroughly covered an entire city block with fragrant pink.

Finally, the pale mare alit before her friends once more on her newly-made rose carpet. There was a bit of appreciative applause, and she indulged a small bow. "If nothing else, this should at least make him easier to spot," she said hopefully.

"I'll go take a look from above," Daring offered, sweeping into the air.

"We, as well," Aurelius agreed, signaling the other winged kirin to take flight with him.

Blossomforth started to take off once more, but found Auntie Orange at her side, patting her shoulder. "You've done quite enough," the earth pony assured her. "Rest your wings for now."

Twilight spoke up now, recovering slightly. "We should figure out what's next. What do we do if Cubi has left the area?"

"Well... I kinda used up a whole month's worth of rose petals, so I won't be able to do this again," the weathermare admitted. "We'll have to try your signal spell instead."

The lavender mare's eye twitched at that. "Right... anypony else?"

Trixie raised a hoof. "Now that the bad ideas are out of the way, it's Trixie's turn. If we're going to try to get his attention, we'll have to think a little bigger. You've seen the shows, you know nopony draws a crowd like Trixie." She smirked and gave a deep stage bow. "Trixie could whip up some fireworks, or some funny trumpets... or a flock of birds with their voices magnified, perhaps."

The mother kirin pondered that. "Well, he is a curious sort. He might investigate if he heard such a thing..."

"Or it might scare him away," Sherbet pointed out. "I think we should save that for a last resort."

The showmare shrugged. "Let the record show that Trixie tried."

"Speak the name sweetly enough, and the ear will hear it. Perhaps if I sing for him, he might come," Octavia offered.

"That's better," Blossomforth agreed. "Alright, we'll do that next. For now..." She spread her wings again. "I'm gonna go see how it's going up there." Kicking into the air, she drifted over the block, keeping an eye out for the foal.

"Hey," Daring called out from a few roofs away, "we're not seeing him." She tapped a hoof to her forehead, then started toward the alley again. "I guess we were just too slow to—"

The breath was knocked out of her as a dark blur collided with her once again and pushed her out of sight.

In a flurry of feathers, Blossomforth was in pursuit. The fleeing form curved sharply, a gesture she struggled to mimic with her wings feeling like they were about to fall off. Then, without warning, it released Daring, who managed to right herself in midair just in time for the other pegasus to collide with her. They fell and landed on a rooftop below with a pair of soft thuds.

"What was that?" the weathermare asked, rubbing her head.

"The kid, I guess," her friend answered. "He's been doing that all night. Every time I'm not looking, he tackles me."

She straightened up at that. "Wait, really? He just... grabs you, and then lets you go?"

The adventurer groaned and tried to loosen up her muscles that ached from the fall. She slowly nodded as she turned to look for the kirin. "Yeah, usually while I'm trying to do something important. It's like he thinks it's funny, like it's—"

"A game?" Blossomforth finished.

Honey's head whipped around to face the other pegasus, realization dawning on her face. "He's been trying to play with me this whole time," she gasped.

"He just wants to have fun with you, and that means—"

"—if I just let him play—"

"—he'll come straight to you!" Blossomforth beamed. "This is perfect! Keep an eye out, I'm going to go tell everypony about this and figure out the rest of the plan..."

~#~#~#~

A few minutes later, the pallid pegasus perched on a ledge just below the top floor of the store offices. She peeked around the corner of the building, and spotted a pair of wings belonging to one of her new acquaintances just visible over the line of a higher rooftop. On the street below, the earthbound ponies discussed the plan, until Trixie's snoring interrupted them. Twilight shook Trixie awake, and they all moved off to get into position.

Glancing up, she locked eyes with Honey Do, who hovered across the street. The two nodded to each other, signaling they were ready. Honey set off, taking a straight line over the spot where they'd last seen Cubi at an urgent speed. Blossomforth watched anxiously, waiting for the moment to act.

It didn't take long before the shadow moved, lifting from the skyline on a direct collision course with the curator. The white mare winged to action, arcing high enough to be visible from the street at all times as she moved to intercept the two. The rest of the plan would only take a few seconds, at most.

A single firework shot into the air, letting off a bright light and a crackling sound.

The foal latched onto Honey. A second later, Blossomforth grabbed both of them.

Twilight's magic pushed gently against them, countering their momentum.

Pomona joined the mass of wings, holding them all together with strong hooves.

Octavia's voice rang up from below, directed at somebody the pegasus couldn't see. "To your left! Almost there!"

Constantine crashed into them now.

Another magical field had joined Twilight's, holding the group together.

And now the largest weight was added as Aurelius collected them all.

They were descending now, the confused ball of kirin and ponies not able to properly generate lift.

"Forward... no, that is too far, back a little..." Carpeaux called out.

They slowly gained downward momentum. Soon, they collectively stopped trying to fight gravity. All the plan required they do now was fall.

As they accelerated toward the street, it occurred to Blossomforth to wonder if perhaps they had overlooked some aspect of this plan. She wasn't exactly a mathematical genius, and had consistently proven herself to be decidedly less capable with physics than chemistry. She wasn't even sure what the margin of error on something like this was. How much could she afford to have underestimated the distance to the street?

Well, she decided, it was a little late to concern herself with that. At this point, there really wasn't anything left to do about it but take the plunge. She shut her eyes, one hoof holding tight to her friend, the other to the smaller, scaly form that wriggled in surprise at the sudden aerial group hug. The world around her rolled over twice. Free-fall felt so strange. As much as her job required a lot of flying, she had never considered being in the air to be particularly gratifying, and she had certainly never considered that she might find herself there without the use of her wings. This moment would have to be something to remember for later reference, if she survived it.

A pressure beneath them pushed back, informing them of their success. The draconic and incidentally equine mass plummeted into the pile of petals prepared beforehoof. A mountain of loose plant matter cushioned their fall, slowing them until the entire group gently flattened itself out at ground level. Another body jumped in after them, reaching straight for the foal. Blossomforth pushed him toward the waiting hooves, then pulled herself free of the floral mound.

"Cubi!" Flora cried out, hugging the foal to her. "We've been looking everywhere! Where have you been?" Tears gathered on her cheek as she nuzzled the young batwing's round, lime green face.

"Mama?" he responded, hugging back. "I was just having fun, and I got a little lost, I didn't mean to scare you..."

Blossomforth raised an eyebrow. "About that... are kirin usually that... playful?" she asked.

Flora shook her head. "No, but I'm afraid losing track of time and place while out playing is not something entirely new for Cubi." She smiled at the pegasus. "I'm very grateful for your help, and all your friends."

"Dun mention it," Honey replied, crawling out of the pile with a dazed expression on her face. "We just hadda help... oog, think I got the worst of that one." She climbed to her hooves unsteadily. "Well anyway less get you guys home, you got some catching up to do."

~#~#~#~

"In our time, we heard many rumors that our kind were born of the union of ponies and dragons. This is not the case. We were born of stone." Aurelius trotted to the window in his room in the Times Building, peering out at the night sky as he spoke. "We were carved by pony artisans, to stand guard over treasures of every kind. Some of us were intended to be fearsome, others to evoke some aspect of nature. It was later on that we were given life, by a form of lunar magic. By day, it fades, and we are statues once more, but at night, we live as any other creature does."

"Then," Twilight ventured, "Princess Luna was the one who created you?'

"No," the Dauphin replied. "Though I was crafted after the same symbol your Princesses embody, we are more ancient than that. And yet I suspect you have figured out that we have a connection to her all the same."

A hush fell over the ponies as they considered the implications of this idea. It was a little uncomfortable to think about this, knowing it might be the answer to a question long forgotten.

Blossomforth cleared her throat. "Then, if that's the case, while Princess Luna was sealed away..."

"We slumbered." The kirin stared at the slowly setting moon for a moment. "Her dark magic, tainted with rage, blocked off the power that normally gives us life. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that we awoke, in a strange new world filled with sprawling cities of stone and metal."

"And I thought Spike liked to oversleep," the purple unicorn commented. Spike looked like he might protest, but reconsidered at the last moment and hugged Twilight, chuckling.

"That must have been difficult," Sherbet sighed sympathetically. "If you need any help adjusting to the world around you, we would be more than willing."

"Yes," interjected Trixie, "come find Trixie and learn all you need to know about the city! Although you may perhaps have the advantage when it comes to the 'nightlife', in the end..."

The door swung open and a breezy voice blew in. "I'm certain we'll be taking you up on that soon." The ponies turned as the speaker entered, a silvery batwing with a mane not unlike sheep's wool, which gave him the appearance of a walking cloud. "I'm Zephyrus, the father of the little one you found. I came to express my gratitude."

"Of course." Octavia bowed. "We did as we must. After all, 'the little things are infinitely the most important', are they not?"

Spike practically swooned at that, and Twilight had to brace him with a hoof to prevent him from falling over.

"Whatever your reason, we are in your debt," Zephyrus said, returning the bow. "I count myself lucky to have met you before dawn."

Twilight turned back to Aurelius. "It was really fascinating learning about the kirin. I hope we can talk more soon. Now, sir, if you don't mind, we should be going. It's nearly morning, and I know Spike is going to regret going without sleep..."

The kirin smiled. "Go and rest," he told her. "I believe we have all earned it."

~#~#~#~

Dear Princess Celestia,

I recently met some new friends. At first, everypony thought they were monsters, and I was scared of what they might do, but when we talked to them, I found out that they were all alone in the city, and they really needed a helping hoof.

The experience taught me that being able to put yourself in somepony else's hooves is important. I also learned that when somepony is forgotten but not gone, simply reaching out to them can make a world of difference. You should always make the effort, and always consider how you would feel in the same situation,

Twilight paused in her writing for a moment to glance at the sleeping dragon. She pulled his blanket up around his shoulders and nuzzled his cheek gently.

because in the end, everypony needs somepony. And you should never forget that nopony likes to be taken for granite.

Your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle

She read over the brief letter a few times before rolling it up and setting it aside. "You can add something when you wake up, if you want," she mused, stretching her hooves out with a yawn. She glanced at her bed for a moment, then, shaking her head, opted instead to lie down next to Spike, a hoof draped lightly over him.

She didn't notice the goat staring at her through the window.

Author's Note:

The Stripe of Culture clerk is named Biashara.
The kirin are all named after sculptures in New York City museums.