• Published 18th Apr 2014
  • 2,827 Views, 216 Comments

Dust and Harmony - KitsuneRisu



The notorious outlaw Raven Lune is back! In a bid to defend her fair city, Mayor Celeste sends her best deputy to the burg of Ponyton to find the hidden pieces of a weapon that can stop her - a gun called Harmony.

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Follow You Down

It was bad enough that someone was messing around with a rather sensitive part of her face, but now she had someone else in her face, and all that meant was that the throbbing pain in her face doubled in intensity.

It was all about the face today.

“I… look,” Sheriff Constance S. Twilight muttered. “I told you to come back in a few days and...”

“Oh, it’s been a few days already!” Dr. Angelique Binnes replied.

One. It’s been one day. Weren’t even one full day! You came yesterday!”

Angel smiled, almost as if that were response enough.

Moonshine Dash brought a small metal piece up to Twilight’s head, who stared furiously at it.

“And anyway, I looked through this so-called official letter,” Twilight continued. And there ain’t no authority th–”

“No, no! See? The Doctor’s signature is right there at the bottom! ” Angel tapped the elegantly-letterheaded parchment. “I have his blessing.”

“No. What I mean is that the doctor doesn’t carry any authority with us and…”

“Hey!” Furious Spike Ling cried out, snatching the paper off the counter. “Can I try reading it now? I learned myself real good over this here week. Now’s a good time, right?”

“Hold still!” Dash growled, yanking Twilight’s head back toward her. “If I fit this wrong, it’s gonna be all funny. And you ain’t want a funny horn, now, do ya?”

The blacksmith was deep in concentration, lining up a filament that stuck out from the bottom of the metal cap that had to, had to, be set just right with the core. It was no time for patience to be lost.

“N-no,” Twilight responded, tilting her head slightly, taken back by Dash’s uncharacteristic gruffness. “I don’t want…”

Moonshine picked up a tiny hammer.

“Uh… you okay up there?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, she seems to be doing just fine! I’m glad to see you were able to follow the diagram!” Angel cut in.

“Oh… thank ya!” Dash smiled slightly at the sudden compliment. “The instructions were real easy t’ follow, and…”

“Hey, what’s this bit here?” Spike asked, thrusting the paper into Twilight’s face.

“‘Perpetuity’... it means ‘forever’,” Twilight said wearily.

“So she’s gonna be staying with us forever?” Spike asked, pointing to Angel.

“No! She ain’t! She’s just stayin’ with us fo–”

“So, I can stay?” Angel grinned.

No!

“Sure you can!” Spike interrupted.

“I ain’t got no problems wit’ that,” Dash chimed in.

“Now wait just one cow-licking minu–”

“What’s this word, Twilight?”

“I assure you that I will put myself to good use. For example, I am very well versed in blood fountains and the Marmoset Screaming Plague.”

“Twilight, hold still!”

“Um, does this mean we have to pay her, or does this mean she’s paying us?”

“Which isn’t really a problem for ponies, since it actually only affects marmosets and causes them to scream uncontrollably. However, I am proficient in making them stop.”

Dash picked up a saw.

“Alright, enough!” Twilight screamed. “Shut up fer a minute!”

Everyone in the room froze.

Spike slowly lowered the letter back to the counter.

Dash lowered her saw.

Angel stared on in wide-eyed bemusement, her lips spread open slightly in a childish smile.

Twilight returned her pistols to her holsters.

“Alright,” she rumbled. “That’s enough. Everyone shut up! I had enough of this, I had enough of this stupid town, and I have had enough for a while. I’ll deal with it later. I’m taking the dust-sworn day off. Okay? Dash, you come with me, and get this stupid cap fixed to my head somewhere quiet. Spike? You go do whatever the hell and stay the hell out of trouble. And you…”

Angel grinned.

“... I’m leaving.” Twilight snapped, thrusting herself to the door. “Dash! Get your damn tools and follow me!”

“W-where are we going?” Dash hurriedly swept her random bits of metal into her saddlebag.

“I said!” Twilight yelled, stopping at the door to wait for Dash. “Somewhere quiet! I just want one quiet afternoon! Is that too much to ask?”

“I dunno, boss. And pegasi might fly one day,” Dash commented offhandedly as she threw her bag over her back.

Twilight gave Dash a glare that would have killed lesser folk and decided to stop waiting.

The winds settled in the room as Dash left shortly after.

“So…” Angel said, scuffing her front hoof along the dirty blacksmith floor.

“Guess it’s just us today, then.” Spike grinned.

“Just us, huh?”

“Yeah.” Spike nodded, moving to the table and setting the letter down.

“So… what do you guys do, exactly?” Angel’s right ear flicked back.

“You wanna serve as an attached medical personnel,” Spike tapped the letter, “but you don’t know what we do? Also, we’re the law. Shouldn’t ya already know?”

“Well, I mean, in general, sure. But like… I mean, daily. All the small things that we don’t hear about in the tavern. You know, the basic stuff.”

“That stuff’s real boring, honestly. A lot of paperwork that I have no more excuse not to do… patrolling…”

“Any chance I’ll get to see someone’s ear get sh–”

Orrrr…” Spike mumbled, holding a claw to his chin.

“Or?” Angel perked up.

Spike ran over to a small set of drawers in the corner, pulling them open and rummaging through. “So, you heard it yourself, right? Twilight said she was takin’ the day off?”

“That’s what she said.”

“And we can assume that means she doesn't want to be bothered?” Spike spoke into the shelving.

“That would be a proper assumption,” Angel agreed.

“But we still have a job to do, right?” Spike clutched something to his chest, his voice wavering a bit with excitement.

“Well, it’s your job. I shouldn’t be the one to say what you should or shouldn’t do within the scope of your job.”

“Then!” Spike turned around.

In his grasp was a small poster of a pony with a rather well-to-do look and a haughty air. The name, written in big, sprawling letters beneath, identified her as one Rarity Burke.

“Just us, today.” Spike grinned. “Oh, and welcome aboard.”


Dust and Harmony

Chapter Six :: Follow You Down


The pony, scarf tied around her head, thin-framed spectacles resting on the tip of her nose, turned at the sound of her door being opened and peered over the broom in her hooves; the bell above rang out cheerfully throughout the darkened shop floor.

Spike stepped in, followed closely by his new aide, all the while being gauged in silence by the mare with the broom.

She stepped back.

“G-get out!” she stammered, pointing the handle of the broom at the entrance behind Spike and Angel. “Out of here! Now!”

“Whoa! Hold on there, Miss Burke!” Spike held his arms up.

“How do you know my name?” she shrieked back. “We’re closed! Get out! Didn’t you see the sign? Don’t you know how to read?”

“Well, I do now,” Spike muttered.

Rarity blinked at the response.

“Get out!” she yelled again suddenly, swinging the broom towards them as an escalation of her intent.

“Now, Miss Burke, if you’d let me explain…”

“Explain nothin’! Leave me be, please!” Rarity pleaded.

There, indeed, was a ‘closed’ sign, but upon trying the door, they had found it to be open anyway. The rest of the shop reflected the sentiment – things didn’t seem to be ready yet, despite it being in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week.

Angel squinted her eyes through the darkness of the shop. She could make out a fancy, glass-set ceiling lamp swinging pointlessly from the ceiling, but otherwise, there was a surprising lack of decor for a clothing shop.

She blocked out the futile back-and-forth between Spike and the nice shop lady, trailing her gaze over to a life-sized mannequin lying on the floor that was flocked in a sun hat and a frilly dress. It was stuck with needles of all sizes and shapes, pins sticking out, ready to be used at any time. It was the only thing currently dressed up in the shop.

“Say,” Angel muttered. “Do you think it’d hurt if you did that to a real pony?”

Spike stopped whatever it was he was going to say and turned to his companion.

“Is… is that you, Doctor Binnes?” Rarity squeaked, fiddling with the glasses on her face with a small jolt of magic.

“Yes, it is Doctor Binnes,” Angel responded. “I mean, she is I. So therefore I am… her.”

“Oh! Oh!” Rarity ran over, flustered, keeping her broom pointed toward Spike. “Thank you for coming, but… I’m afraid we’re closed right now. Are you with this… gentleman?”

“Ah, yes. I am. He’s the new sheriff’s assistant, Mister Spike. He’s just here to ask a few questions, that’s all.”

“Thank ya for that.” Spike nodded.

“O-oh? Questions? Sheriff?” Rarity stumbled over the words, slowly lowering the broom back to where it belonged. “Oh, I see. W-well. You should have said sooner!”

“And thank you for that.” Spike rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ve been trying to say; we come on the authority of Mayor Celeste. It’s regardin’ the piece of Harmony.”

“O-oh.” Rarity murmured.

“Yeah. So…”

“Well, I must ask for your official letter, then.”

“Oh, boy. Do I have a real good story for ya about that…”

“Should I take it that there is no… no letter?”

“You heard about the fire at the sheriff’s office the other day?”

Rarity nodded.

“Yeah.”

“Well. Then. Perhaps an official statement, and a proof of your station…”

“I… well… I’m not the sheriff, herself. Just Sheriff Twilight’s assistant.” Spike shrugged. “But I carry the authority of th–”

“Oh no. No, no, no. That just won’t do. That simply won’t do. We can’t… can’t do things out of order, you know. We… we have to make sure everything is done right. I’m afraid you’ll have to come back, Mister Spiky.”

“Just ‘Spike’. And we’re kinda pressed for time, Miss Burke…”

“N-no. I’m sorry. Please ask the sheriff to come back herself. If she has no letter, either, then it would be hard for me to release the piece. Please understand. I have been given a great responsibility, and…”

The room’s attention was captured when a door on the other side, set deep in the polished wooden panels, opened, and a small, fluffy head poked out. It was merely a silhouette in the darkness, but its outline was faintly reminiscent of a gumball clad in fairy sugar.

“Sis?” the head asked. “A-are you okay? I heard noises and…”

Get back in there!” Rarity yelled suddenly, swinging around and re-brandishing her broom. “Quickly!”

The face jerked back, remained still, and tilted downwards to the floor before retreating back behind the door with not another uttered noise.

Rarity, sighing, turned back and rubbed at the space just above the frame of her glasses before giving her final demand. “Listen. I can’t help you. I won’t help you. Please leave and come back with the necessary items. I’m sorry, Doctor, but I’m sure you understand the need to do things as they were meant to.”

“Hmm,” Angel hummed.

“Please,” Rarity asked again.

Angel’s response was to skip forward, stumbling over herself as she attempted to be cuter than she was, and ended up a few inches away from Rarity’s face. She gave her a good, long look.

“Um… so… How are you doing?” Angel asked.

Spike stood and watched.

“U-um… I’m fine?” Rarity shook her head slightly.

“Ah… Is your store closed right now?” Angel asked.

“Y-yes it is! Now, leave!”

“Is everything okay with you?”

“Yes! I’m fine! But I have no need to talk about…”

“Do you have the piece of Harmony?”

“I do! But I’m not going to give it to you! Now, will you please go?” Rarity grit her teeth.

“Alright, we’ll leave,” Angel said. “One last question. Please.”

Rarity sighed. “Fine. As long as you go straight after!”

“What’s eighteen minus four, minus three?”

“W-what?”

“What’s eighteen minus four, minus three?” Angel asked again.

“W-what… uh…” Rarity muttered, “eleven?”

“Alright.” Angel pulled back, giving Rarity a cheerful smile. “Thank you. We’ll be on our way.”

The sun was just as blazing as it had been when they had entered. It was only then when Spike realised there were thick, heavy curtains drawn across the store’s windows.

They shuffled down the street, Angel whispering a few odd words to herself under her breath.

Spike couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow as they trotted away from the clothier's, cutting through the crowd expected of the market district.

“So… do you know that you’re a bit weird?” Spike asked.

“Oh. Yes.” Angel’s head bobbed. “A bit. Just a bit.”

“I guess we’ll come back tomorrow with Twilight, huh.”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“Well, I.. don’t really know Miss Burke that well,” Angel admitted. “But would I be right to say that there was something quite odd about our encounter?”

“Yeah. Well. It was kinda odd, I guess. I mean, some things kinda struck me as a bit funny-like, but she didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout it. I mean, Dash says she’s all sorts of weird. I don’t think Dash likes her too much. Maybe it’s on account of her strange inclinations or whut.” Spike shrugged.

“I think she’s hiding something.” Angel said. “If… I might be allowed to give my opinion.”

“Really, now? And you can give yer opinion jus’ fine, Miss Binnes.”

“Please. Just call me Angel. And yes. I guess I just wanted to ask her a couple of questions at the end back there. Hope I didn’t overstep my boundaries”

“You were askin’ her all kinds’a questions.”

“Yes. Yes. Of course. But… ah... what I was asking for was for her to tell the truth.”

“The truth, now.”

“Yes. I was just curious, really.”

Angel stopped walking, and brought a hoof up to her temple, tapping upon it as she furrowed her brow, before she continued speaking. “Mister Spike, I would like to ask you for your candid reply.”

“Candid?”

“Please tell me what you honestly think. You do suspect something’s going on, right?”

Spike shrugged again. “I suppose you could say I did. But it’s in the sheriff’s code that we can’t get involved in nothin’ unless they ask us directly. So there ain’t no reason for me t’ push it.”

“I see. You’re archetypal of a non-confrontationalist.”

“Pardon?”

“Ah, pardon me.” Angel giggled. “But… what if I were to tell you that she did sort of ask, but just in an indirect way?”

“Yeah? Do tell.”

“Yes. But before I go on, I have to ask you if you think you’d be inclined to help her if you knew for sure that she was, in fact, in trouble, but she simply doesn’t want to ask for help.”

“And why wouldn’t she ask for help?”

“I don’t know yet. There could be many reasons. But if we can put the entire story together, perhaps we can find out in the end.”

“Angel, what are you proposin’?” Spike leaned to one side, shifting his weight.

“Very well. Let me begin by explaining what I saw, and the questions I asked. Simply put, there is a New Science that states that it is possible to tell if someone is lying or not from observing patterns in body function.”

“Well… ain’t that just about gut feelings? I mean, I can sorta tell when Dash is ly- I mean, when peoples is lyin’.”

“Yes. That’s actually it. But the New Science seeks to explain why. The theory is that people who can already ‘sense’ lies, as it were, simply are reading body movements and listening to voices and they know… you know, based on small changes, if someone is lying or not.” Angel’s hoof waved through the air as she elaborated. “It is simply the New Science that makes it more organized, and identifiable, and easier to read, as it were.”

“Uh… o...kay, I guess? I think I only understood maybe a half’a that, but…”

“I can turn your gut feelings into a reference guide.”

“Huh. Okay.”

“So basically, when I asked the math question at the end, that was to force Miss Burke to think. To use a part of her brain that would relieve distractions from anything else. A certain part of the brain lies. Other parts do math. Other parts imagine things. Other parts sense taste and balance.”

“That’s more ‘New Science’ stuff?”

“Yes, yes!” Angel clapped. “So exciting! So, by making one part of the brain work, we can establish what she looks like when she is definitely not lying. And by comparing that look to other looks, we can tell when she is.”

“And you can tell what she was lyin’ about?”

“Yes. And I can tell you with some certainty that she was lying when she said that she was fine, lying when she said that everything was okay, but she was telling the truth that her store was closed and that she had the piece of Harmony. She was certainly and truthfully not going to give it to us, however, and she really, really wanted us to leave. Also, she’s quite good at math.”

“Huh. You sure about this?”

“Well… in the end, it is still a… gut feeling. But one that I can use on people that I haven’t met before. I asked twice to be sure, and interspersed it amongst other questions. But I am quite sure that she is not fine.”

“So, do you reckon something happened?” Spike asked.

“I do not know, Mister Assistant. Perhaps it is now your turn to fill in the blanks.”

Spike looked up, drawing in a deep breath. “Alright. Fine. Fine. Well, for one, it’s midday and her shop is closed, but not locked. But all them lights were off and the curtains were drawn, so clearly she wanted us folks to think her shop was closed. But she was clearly workin’.”

“Right.”

“She was sweepin’ when we got in, right? At this time of day and not in the mornin’ means that she either couldn’t sweep in the mornin’, or a mess was made just before.”

“Uh huh.”

“And normally, a shop like this… they don’t take down stuff on display. But there was hardly anythin’ set out. And that one doll thingie you found with the pins stuck in…”

“It was pretty!”

“It weren’t on purpose, Angel.”

“Oh.” Angel’s expression dropped. “That’s a shame. I rather liked it.”

“That ain’t no way to sell somethin’. Means someone else did it. She got angry when her sister came out, too. Was mistrustin’ of me.”

“So something surely happened. But what?”

“Robbery,” Spike declared.

“You think so?”

“Yeah. Look at it this way. Rarity weren’t injured. Neither was her sister, or she wouldn’t be holin’ her up like that. You’re a doctor and she knew it. She wouldn’t have skipped on askin’ you for help if either of them was hurt.”

“Right!”

“But we do know that her sister was threatened in some way. That would explain her fear of her leavin’ the room back there and her distrust of me.”

“Unless she’s just like that.”

“Yeah. Could be. But that sister seemed a mite young, didn’t she?”

“Sounded young, yes!”

“Now, I reckon, chickabiddies of that age, they ain’t takin’ t’ duckin’ away without a fight, right? And yet, that little one tottered off without a whisper.” Spike scratched his chin. “Thinkin’ that t’ mean that however ya paint it, the little kid knew she weren’t supposed t’ be out there. And if it ain’t ‘cause this Rarity character was punishin’ her, then it was ‘cause she was protectin’ her.”

“Yes. I did notice a touch of fear when Miss Burke was yelling at her sister, almost as if she were both angry and scared of something at the same time.”

“So why would ya threaten someone and not hurt them? Because you want somethin’ else, right?”

“So they were robbed.”

“Right. Guns or spurs. But there was at least two of ‘em. Maybe more. Probably more.”

“How can you tell?”

“The doll thingie with the needles.”

“I rather liked it. Are you sure it wasn’t int–”

No.” Spike frowned. “Someone had the free time t’ do it. Which means someone was threatenin’ the sister, someone was grabbin’ the loot, and someone had buck all to do but stick needles into a doll for funstuffs. So probably three. Maybe two. But probably three.”

“That’s amazing, Mister Assistant! A fine piece of deductive reasoning!”

“Yeah. Nah.” Spike brushed it away. “So that’s my side.”

“Then, without a doubt, she was asking for help.” Angel nodded.

“Without words?”

“With her eyes,” Angel said, pointing to her own. “When I asked her if she was okay, she kept looking towards the rear left-hoof side of the room. But when I asked if she still had the piece of Harmony, her eyes went somewhere else. Now that I know something was stolen, I can understand those movements. Because it wasn’t, in fact, the piece of Harmony. When people think about things that are near them, they try to look for it to remind themselves that it’s there.”

“And this means…”

“Her eyes were telling me… ‘I’m not okay. There’s something missing’.”

“Maybe.” Spike sighed.

Angel nodded.

They both stood there for a while, the wind sweeping heat down the road.

“So, what do you intend to do?” Angel asked.

“I just think maybe Sheriff Twi’d be better for it.”

“Why? When we’ve already come this far on our own?” Angel asked, tilting her head.

Spike sighed again. “Meddlin’ ain’t… good.”

“But we’re not meddling, are we? We know what’s going on. The picture is quite clear. Wouldn’t following up on it be the responsible thing?”

“I would, but…”

“But?”

“Ain’t good.”

“What isn’t good?” Angel asked.

Spike looked down again, inspecting every stone in the dirt with a strange concentration.

“Spike? I know it’s not my place to say, but I think sometimes it’s important to just do things that you know is right. If you know you’re not wrong, then whatever you do can’t be bad. Sometimes you have to make a patient scream in order to pull out the shards of glass stuck in his face.”

“That sort of thinkin’ didn’t work out for me so good in the past,” Spike muttered.

“Then… I’ll do it.” Angel stamped down, smiling to herself.

“Huh?” Spike raised his head slightly.

Angel looked straight on, a silken glow surrounding her as the sun haloed her form.

“This is all very fascinating! Imagine, I could be shot!” Angel ruffled her feathers.

“You know, that ain’t really a good thing, right?”

“Oh, it’ll be fine, I’m sure. Just teach me how to use a gun, and I’ll be fine!”

“I don’t think pegasi can use ‘em. Why do you wanna do this so badly, anyway?”

“Well, honestly, the reason I would like to be attached to Sheriff Twilight and you is for experience. I’m interested in the field application of the New Sciences, and I believe observing you at work will give me insights to certain concepts! Perhaps even a breakthrough of some kind!” Angel nodded gleefully. “Besides, being in precarious situations just means more chances to stick my hooves into other people’s bodies.”

“Pleasant.” Spike looked to the sky.

“I’m just surprised you aren’t as curious about this as I am, honestly.”

“Listen, Angel,” Spike frowned. “Curiosity ain’t the reason why we do things. If I’m gonna do it, it’s cause I want to help. And meddlin’ on the side of the law ain’t always the best thing.”

“So… why don’t you help as yourself, then?” Angel smiled.

“Myself?”

“Yeah. Not as Spike the sheriff’s assistant, but as Spike the Dragon.”

“Huh. Well, I mean… still…”

“That way, I get what I want, you get what you want…”

“And what is it that I want, Miss Angel?”

“To help.”

“Really.”

“Yes. I can tell.”

“Using your New Science stuff?”

“No. Some things are just obvious.”

Spike narrowed his eyes.

Angel kept on smiling back.

“I guess… urgh! Fine!” Spike ruffled his spines with his hands. “Fine! Whatever! This is a bad idea. But okay. You follow my instructions all the way, got it? You don’t go and do stupid things that’ll get you hurted, and before you even ask, we ain’t gonna go back to talk to Rarity about this.”

“Oh! Yay!” Angel squealed. “Yay! We’re going to get shot at! Yay! But… shouldn’t we talk to Miss Burke?”

“No.” Spike glared, at the ground, his brow furrowed with the thoughts of things far away. “That’s what Twilight would do. But we’re doing this off the books. My father once told me that in any crime, the victim is the one who knows least of all ‘bout what’s goin’ on. So if we gonna do it, we gonna do it my way. The House Ling way.”

Angel nodded, listening intently.

“Besides, I really don’t think she’d be real happy to see us again, and I don’t think she’d be very accomodatin’, yeah?” Spike said.

“I don’t think so either.”

“Then it’s settled. We’ll do our best, and that’s all we can do.”

“Alright! So, where do we start?”

“The boring part,” Spike answered, pointing down the street to the row of shops across from Rarity’s.

“Talking.”

They met again in the middle of the street, an hour after they had split up, just as prescribed, each clutching a notebook tightly in their relative grasps.

“How’d it go?” Spike asked.

“Well, I’m not entirely sure, really. I managed to get a lot of information, but I don’t know how good it is.”

“Alright. Don’t you worry about that. Firstly, accordin’ to what I found out, Rarity’s was robbed real early this mornin’, and there was three ponies drop by with masks and ponchos. It was dark, and nobody got a good description. Same for your side?”

“Yes,” Angel replied. “That sounds about right. No one I asked had a clear picture of the culprits, but they did say they saw three figures speeding away down the road.”

“Story’s the same, then. People heard a noise; probably them breakin’ down the door, which explains why Rarity’s shop ain’t locked. Probably her door’s busted. They looked out the window, saw some fancy doin’s, and a while later, three ponies in shadow go streakin’ off.”

“Yes, that’s what I was told as well.”

“Okay. That’s good. And you managed to get some names, too?”

“I did exactly as you instructed.”

“Alright,” Spike said, waving his notes around. “Here’s what I got, myself. Pardon th’ bad writin’. I’m new t’ that.”

“Probably not worse than mine is.” Angel giggled.

“So what we got is a list of all them people who these other shopkeepers seen comin’ by in the last couple days.”

“Might I ask why these names are necessary?”

“Well, iffn’ you wanna steal somethin’, you wanna make sure that the place you’re robbin’ has the thing you’re looking for, right?”

“Oh, I see! Yes! It’s like when you do an invasive procedure to find out what’s inside the colon before you cut them open!”

“What?”

“Um…”

“Anyway…” Spike gave Angel a funny look. “It’s likely that Rarity’s was scouted afore the robbery. So we’re lookin’ for the scouts.”

“But there’s quite a lot of names. Are we intending to visit every single one of them?”

“‘Course not. That’d eat a day and a half. What we do is cross names off.”

Angel nodded.

“Now, I reckon you know the kind folk of this town better’n I do. So let’s do this. You got your list? Put it here.” Spike motioned to a rain barrel.

Both sets of names were placed down; hasted scribblings upon loose sheets of paper that Spike always had about his person.

“Right. So,” Spike said, pacing the ground. “Witnesses say that they seen three figures runnin’ away. But Rarity’s is a dress shop, right?”

“Hats, really.”

“Hats and dresses.”

“Yes!”

“I reckon the haul must’ve been pretty big, right? From the looks of the shop, they stole a whole bunch of stuff, since there weren’t much left on the floor ‘cept for just the one dress.”

“Right.”

“But when I asked, no one saw no one runnin’ away carryin’ a big sack of nothin’, and no one saw no one runnin’ away with a bunch of hats or dresses in tow.”

“Oh… I’m sorry,” Angel said. “I didn’t ask that of the shopkeepers on my side.”

“Yeah, don’t worry ‘bout that.” Spike waved it away. “It just came to me while I was askin’ just now. I figured that it was a kinda weird robbery when I was thinkin’ of it. I mean, who goes in and steals a whole buncha dresses? If it was cloth they wanted, they would’ve robbed a tailor. If it was the hats and dresses themselves, it’d be way too difficult to use, because then you’d suddenly have a whole bunch’a ladies walkin’ around with the same clothes on.”

“So… what was the purpose of the robbery?”

“It was somethin’ else. What else do you know about the dresses?”

“Other than that they’re rather nice, nothing much.” Angel shrugged. “Hm…”

“Yeah?”

“Wait. You know, coincidentally, there was one lady I was questioning who was actually wearing a Rarity dress and hat. She was going on about how terrible it was because she really did like the clothing so much, and also how lovely the patterns were, and how–”

“Uh…”

“Yes. Sorry! I think they’re just rather pretty. They’re very lacey, the hats have wide brims, and they all have matching clasps.”

Spike snapped his fingers. “Wait. Clasps?”

“Yes! Around the collar, and along the brim, there are some inlaid jewels set into frames and sewn in.”

“That’s it. The jewels. That’s the true goal. They were lookin’ t’ get some gems, right? But robbin’ a bank or a jeweler’s is pretty tough. Reckon it’s a lot easier to get them from a seamstress.”

“Oooooh. Yes.” Angel nodded, eyes wide.

“So they… they come in,” Spike said, dancing his hands across the air as the image formed in his mind, “threaten them, cut the gems out of th’ dresses and hats… and then they make away with what they could. No need for big bags.”

“So we’re looking for people who would have need for jewels?”

“Yes. And also them who’s either rich enough or has enough clout t’ be able to gather a gang t’ do this. So, tell me. Who on this list jumps out at ya?”

“Well now…” Angel said, running her eyes down the lists.

It only took a moment. Most of the time was spent trying to interpret Spike’s illegible scratchings.

“There are three names that stick out. All these three have the money and resources to do something like this, but it doesn’t seem likely that they would.”

“Motives are one thing, Miss Angel. Don’t ever underestimate th’ power of greed.”

“Well, that aside, then… We have one Mister Timothy Turnwell. He’s a watchmaker. Quite well to do, and has a few different shops. I’m sure he’d be able to scrape together a bunch of hires to pull off the robbery. He also requires jewels for his watches, both in the mechanisms and for inlays. I’d say he’s suspect.”

“Right. And next?”

“Next is… well. The town’s only other Dragon of any repute.”

Spike raised an eyebrow.

“A fellow by the name of Stephan Magnet.”

“What, now?”

“Stephan Magnet. I’m sure it’s not his real name.”

Spike glared into the distance.

“Um… he’s another seamster. Makes clothing and the like. Uses a lot of silk. His clients are slightly wealthier than the average. I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t just move to Cantermore.”

“It’s… a bit more difficult in Cantermore for a dragon to get any sort of repute, Miss Angel.”

“O-oh. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine.”

“In any case, it wouldn’t be too far off for one clothier to steal from another, if they needed resources, right?”

“It’s possible.”

“And finally, the last name is just a possibility, because I couldn’t think of a reason why they’d need to steal gems, but they’re just rich and powerful enough that I couldn’t see a reason not to put it on the list just in case. And also, he was seen going to the store just a few days ago.”

“Who is this?”

“If the stories are right about an incident last week, you’re already rather familiar with him.”

“Wait…”

“I’m sure you know the name ‘Big Mac,’ don’t you?”

“Huh.” Spike frowned.

The clockmaker’s shop was also his house, as was common of many buildings in Ponyton. A few choice items were displayed in the windows behind nothing more than a simple pane of glass; it was the shop’s proximity to the business district that warded off thieves and the like.

It was also a fact that most characters of ill-repute didn’t know how to read the time and had less use for a fancy timepiece, and more often than not it wasn’t worth the time to steal his wares, since the ones who could afford them would much rather buy them through the proper channels.

The unicorn shopkeeper stepped out from the back just as Spike and Angel entered the front, a slightly creaky door serving as an entrance bell.

He adjusted the spectacles on his face as he gave his two customers his warmest smile.

“Yes, yes, please. Do… do come in! Yes.” He chanted with an odd, breathy manner. “Yes, are you interested in, perhaps, a fine pocketwatch, yes? Or… perhaps, ah, you would like something with a strap? They’re, ah, quite in fashion nowadays, yes.”

Spike took the opportunity to take a quick look around the shop. It was as was expected – display cabinets here and there, clocks of all sorts adorning the walls to really hammer it in, and a workspace behind the counter along the back.

“Hi, Timmy,” Angel waved, smiling as well.

“Oh, ah, it’s you – Miss Angel. Did you need to, ah, tune your watch?”

“Oh, no! That’s fine, Mister Turn,” she replied, holding up a hoof. “I didn’t bring it with me. We’re on other business today. This is Mister Spike.”

She motioned.

“He works for the new sheriff, and he would like to ask you a few questions if that’s all fine?”

It didn’t take a second for Timothy to turn from his natural grey to white.

“Oh, ah,” he stuttered. “Ah, perhaps, I, I, ah…”

“Sir,” Spike said, walking up to the counter, “ain’t no need to be worried none. I just got a few simple questions for ya.”

“Ah… what is this… this in regards to, Sir?”

“We’re lookin’ into a little robbery, is all.” Spike nodded. “Mind tellin’ me a little ‘bout what you do here, Mister Turnwell?”

“Ah, I…” The pony adjusted the collar and tie around his neck. “I am… ah, of course, ah, a watchmaker, and I make… ah… watches…”

“So we have established that a watchmaker makes watches. Would you care to tell us a little bit more?”

“Well, I, ah,” the watchmaker cleared his throat. “I make the best watches. Custom made, to fit, to detail. I… I pride, ah, pride myself on that.”

“Mister Turnwell is the town’s watchsmith,” Angel cut in. “He specialises in dress watches, but that’s not to say that his work isn’t impeccable. Each of his pieces is constructed by himself or one of his three assistants, and he puts them all together right here. He does take requests.”

Angel winked.

The watchsmith gave a guilty-looking smile in return.

“Right. Thanks.” Spike frowned. “So where’s all your assistants?”

“They’re… all out today. We managed to complete the parts for a rather extravagant request last… ah, last night, and I gave them the day off,” Timothy explained.

“An extravagant request, you say?”

“Y-yes.”

“What’s so extravagant about it?” Spike asked, walking slowly to a display case to his left, taking a glance inside.

There were three pieces within, each as distinct as the sun was from the moon, although all showed fine work with horn-drawn inlays and golden clasps that matched the overall ‘theme’ of each individual item.

The dragon, to Angel’s curiosity, leaned over the cabinet and closed his eyes, almost as if in a slight meditation.

Spike pulled away.

Timothy continued. “W-well, the, ah, client asked for something with more… sparkle to it.”

“Sparkle.” Spike sauntered back to the main counter.

“Yes, sir. She wanted a watch embedded with gemstones of all sorts. To create a, ah, rainbow of colour.”

“Can I see this piece?” Spike asked nicely.

“Ah, well. I’m in the middle of assemb–”

“Can I see this piece?” Spike asked again.

“Y-yes sir. One moment, p-please.” Timothy turned even whiter still, and abruptly made for the back room.

Spike turned, tilted his mouth to the side and shrugged.

Angel chuckled softly.

Spike turned back as the sounds of shuffling came through, and a small wooden tray with a black velvet bottom was lowered gently to the countertop. Upon it were gears, springs, sprockets and other such parts, all of which looked rather delicate, almost as if a sneeze would cause them all to scatter to the winds.

“P-please, I’ll have to ask you to be very gentle…”

“Oh, don’t worry. I ain’t gonna touch it. I just wanna have a look.” Spike clambered up and peered over the top of the counter, which was just about at the height of his eyes.

The face of the watch had twelve holes where the numbers should have gone, and along the bottom of the tray were twelve small, round gems that crossed the shades of the spectrum.

“Mmm,” Spike hummed. “And could you tell me, Mister Timothy, why’s about you were at Rarity’s a few days afore?”

“R-rarity’s? Oh, yes… well, it was rather difficult to… to get an assortment of gems at such short notice. I, ah, I had to resort to asking Miss Rarity if she had any to spare. To sell me!” He quickly added.

“And she said?”

“Un… unfortunately she wasn’t able to provide any. She had what I needed, but she didn’t have any to spare.”

“So where’d these come from, then?” Spike asked, pointing down at the tray.

“Ah… Miss Rarity did tell me where she, ah, gets her gems from. I had to pay more, because they wouldn’t be sold individually, but in the end I got what I wanted.”

“So you have a couple extra, then?”

“Y-yes. Would you like to see them?”

“No. That’s alright. Yer offer already tells me you have them, an’ whether you bought ‘em or stole ‘em, it’d be the same.”

“O-oh. I…”

“But I tell you what. Maybe you can tell me about this fella who you bought them jewels from.”

“Ah… well…” Timothy Turnwell scratched the side of his head. “That… ah…”

“Problem?”

“He’s no longer in town, I’m afraid. He left this morning. He was one of those pass-throughs, only here for a few days and then gone. Rarity told me she gets all her stock from him, and he gets it himself by trading with the other towns further north. So…”

“So there ain’t no way to verify if your story is true,” Spike summarized.

“I… I’m sorry, Sir. But I’m telling the truth! I really am! I didn’t even know that Rarity’s was robbed!”

“You sure about that?”

“Y-yes!” The watchmaker sighed, rubbing at his nose. “A-am I in trouble?”

“Not right now, Mister Turnwell,” Spike said. “We’ll take our leave now. Thank you for bein’ so accommodatin’.”

“Not a problem, sir!” Timothy yelled. “Please! Ah, if you… need me again, I will be right here! Anything I can do to help!”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

~

As soon as they left the store, Spike started talking as they continued walking. “Okay, let’s get movin’ on while we still got daylight. Also, what d’ya reckon?”

“About?”

“That thing you do with people. Was he lyin’?” Spike jerked a thumb back toward the watchmaker’s shop.

“Oh, I… don’t think he was. But sometimes it’s difficult to tell.”

“Ain’t this supposed to be some kind of steamworks science thing?” Spike raised an eyebrow as they wound through the crowd. “Able to do anything and perform miracles with nothin’ more ‘an a puff of smoke?”

“That’s slightly inaccurate,” Angel explained. “The New Science isn’t infallible. A machine will always work a specific way unless it’s broken. But the rules of the New Science have to be… flexible. Certain techniques work better on certain people over others.”

“So… why’s it better than steamworks, then?”

“I never said it was,” Angel giggled. “It’s just more interesting. And, well, hopefully the research will bring us to a point where it’s just as good as steamworks is. Right now, we’re in the early days of the new world, and research is very important. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few skulls, after all.”

“I’m… not sure that’s quite how it goes.”

“But my best hunch is that he was telling the truth, and that he was very, very nervous. What do you think, Mister Assistant?”

“Tell you what. I’m gonna let my thoughts be my thoughts for now. Beggin’ ya t’ be a bit patient, but I need to get all the pieces in first. I ain’t ready yet to call this hunch. I just wanted t’ see if your New Science could tell me something new.”

“Then, I apologize. I, too, at this point, only have weak guesses,” Angel’s ears fell flat against her head. “Mister Timothy is a rather skittish fellow. There was no way for me to tell what he was nervous about. Rarity, at least, had a more grounded baseline.”

“That’s fair. Just let me know when you think you can put that New Science of yours to good use, alright?” Spike nodded. “Let’s move on, then.”

“Oh, I definitely will! Please, allow me to help. And if you wouldn’t mind, Mister Assistant, could I perhaps ask you something about your methodology?”

“Yeah?” Spike quirked an eyebrow.

“Earlier when you were looking at the display case…”

“Ah. Yeah. Well.”

“Hmm?” Angel’s ear flicked.

“I was just enjoyin’ the smell.” Spike gave a wry smile.

“The smell?”

“Listen, why don’t we leave it at that,” Spike tilted his hat down over his eyes, “and move on? That had nothin’ rightly t’ do with the investigation.”

“Well… alright,” Angel said, biting her bottom lip. “Then, our next stop is just a few roads away.”

“What in the flaming blue mountains is this?” Spike grunted, staring at the curiously disgusting building in front of him.

It was a spire, like a tower of coarse bricks, but wrapped up in a giant swathe of red, tassled cloth, as if the building were involved in an unfortunate accident with an oriental hammock.

It sat at the edge of the services street, and it stuck out like a cactus in a garden of posies. Surrounded by buildings of a more regular nature, it went out of its way to make sure everyone knew that it was different.

“How did I not see this?” Spike asked.

“I don’t know. It’s always been here. It’s rather unique, isn’t it?”

“This ain’t unique,” Spike grumbled, his eyes narrowing. “Not by a long shot.”

“Hm?” Angel’s ears flicked back. “You seem perturbed.”

“Now,” Spike folded his arms across his little chest. “You said that this here was a Dragon.”

“Well… yes!”

“This ain’t Draganese.” Spike shook his head.

“No? Well, I was sure…”

“Listen. Lemme clear somethin’ up real quick for ya, okay?”

“Please do.” Angel nodded.

“Whatcha know ‘bout Tian?”

“I know it’s a continent to the far East.” Angel stated. “I know that’s where Dragons come from.”

“Right. So, Tian’s full name is Wánmēi Tiānguó,” Spike spat out effortlessly. “At least, in my language. It means ‘The Perfect Kingdom of the Sky’. The word that you silly colourful folk over here use, the only bit you can pronounce, really, by itself just means ‘heaven’.”

“Right,” Angel affirmed, rubbing her chin with a hoof.

“So, lemme just ask what’cha know. How many races live on Tian?”

“The Dragons and the Gryphons, right?” Angel nodded.

“Okay. So. I know word don’t spread ‘round too good out here, and we don’t tend t’ talk ‘bout ourselves much, so consider me not upset that you don’t know this, but the correct answer is three.” Spike held up three fingers to elaborate. “Tian is split into three kingdoms, divided by mountains, yeah? There’s the Northern bits, the Western bits and the Eastern bits. The Gryphons come from the North in a high-up area called Gryphea. Us Dragons is from the West, and we call our lands Dragan.”

Angel nodded.

“Now, that last bit over there on the East, and the one who owns this horrible buildin’ here,” Spike pointed, “they’re called the Ryu. We all may seem the same to you pony folk, but I assure you we’re very, very different. Their land is called Ryunokuni, and we’ve been fightin’ since forever for ownership of the Heavenly Throne.”

“You’re at war?” Angel’s ears ticked.

“Naw. Not really. It’s just sort of a thing. See, the mountain right in the middle of Tian is what they call the Heavenly Throne. Now, in reality, it’s sorta just a rock. But it’s right in the middle, so whoever owns that rock is s’posed t’ be the boss of the whole continent. It’s kinda just a title though. The owner has no true power ‘cept fer bein’ able t’ rub it in, and it’s been like that since forever. Maybe long ago it was about war, but now it ain’t nothin’ more than pride and politics.”

“How do you capture it, then?”

“You have t’ stand on the rock from sunrise t’ sunset without bein’ knocked off. If there’s more’n one by the end of it, then everyone has a little scuff t’ see who’s strongest. This happens once a year.”

“Who’s the current owner, then?” Angel asked.

Spike let his mouth hang open for a while, his finger still held up as if to elaborate. It was a moment before he finally answered. “I don’t know. But I know what it was when I left all them years back. It was Gryphea.”

He clamped his jaw shut immediately after, perhaps a bit too strongly, letting his arms drop to his side while he stared furiously into the distance, burning holes into the horizon.

“Oh, I… I’m sorry,” Angel said, lowering her head, although she couldn’t remove that ever-present child-like smile of bemusement from her face. “I didn’t realise it was a touchy subject.”

“Naw. Ain’t… ain’t really that,” Spike continued to look away. “Just thinkin’ of home.”

“All the same, I do apologize for causing discomfort.”

“Anyway,” Spike snapped back, his gaze refocusing into that hardened frown once more, “the point is, this place is a Ryu place inside an’ out. It’d be best not t’ mix us up.”

“Well, I’ll definitely remember that,” Angel said, brushing her hoof gently against the ground. “Although, Stephan Magnet does introduce himself as a dr–”

A voice cut through the air like a machete through twice-roasted pork.

“Oh! Oh! I thought I hear some voice from outside!” came a high, lilty voice carrying a rather spectacularly put-on accent. “Ah, glorious customer! Welcome to Magnet Dragon Gifts and Souvenir! Come in please! Please to come in!”

The figure, ducking in order to be able to get through his own doorway, pulled himself to full height soon after. A long black mustache adorned his horse-like face, and a tall red silk shirt covered the top length of his already-lengthy body. Just like Spike, he had arms, legs, digits, and an upright posture, but he looked as if he had been stretched out lengthwise.

Spike stared.

“O-oh!” Stephan Magnet said, catching his gaze. “Brother Dragon! It so great to see my own people here! Please, you want to buy gift from homeland?”

“What the hell are ya doin’?” Spike asked.

“I… I have gift from homeland!”

“No, seriously. What the hell are ya doin’?” Spike asked again.

Angel stood idly by, taking in the splendour of what was unfolding.

“Oh, fine,” Stephan said, dropping his arms. “Whatever. Look, come in, will ya? This ain’t gonna be good for my im– Oh! Good friend! Please to come in, please! We having tea, and exercise ball! You buy, yes?”

Spike swivelled around to catch a pair of ponies moving swiftly away as they passed by the shop.

“Ugh,” Spike muttered. “Fine. Angel, let’s go in. But I’m doin’ so under duress.”

“No duress! We no sell duress!” Stephan nodded happily, squinting his eyes, sweeping a clothed hand to usher his glorious customers into his shop.

As soon as they swept in, Stephan followed, gliding through the door like a ribbon twirling freely through the air. He moved like a serpent, twisting against gravity in ways that made him look as if he could fly.

The door shut, and with a resounding click, it was locked.

“For pete’s sake,” Stephan spat out, tromping past shelves of random things to the back of the shop.

The store was unlike any other store in the area. It was packed, narrow, cramped, and had shelves and nothing but shelves. Upon them were stacked a plethora of useless items and tchotchkes, although once in a while one might find something that had actual function behind the rubbish, like a bowl with an extra lip.

Hand-written signs showed everything’s price, and plenty more signs reminded the user that once anything was broken in any way, it was considered sold.

“Of all the people you’d expect to find in a town like this, I ain’t ever think I’d run into a Dragon!” Stephan kept on moaning. “So, what, have you come to call me out? Y’ want me to buy your silence? Is that it? Fine! Fifty pearls and not a single splinter less!”

“What the heck am I gonna do with pearls? This is Equestria, you idiot!” Spike yelled over the porcelain statues of dog poop on the corner of a shelf.

“To send back to your family in Dragan?” Stephan pulled open a drawer on a small rectangular table at the back that sported an abacus and plenty of graph paper. “Fine! You roughshod badger! Eighty pearls!

“I don’t want damn Dragan money! I just want some damn answers!”

Stephan stopped, hand placed on the money drawer.

“How… much are answers?” he asked.

“Nothing! Damnit!” Spike threw his arms into the air. “How about the payment is that you tell me the truth, huh?”

“Oh, if it’s free, then…” Stephan slid the drawer shut.

“Okay.” Spike took in a deep breath, holding his hand out in front of him as if to contain his various emotional states. “Listen. Firstly. What the hell?”

“What the hell what?”

“All this, you broken toad! Why are you pretending to be a Dragon? In the worst possible way?”

“Because they like it!”

Who likes it?”

“The nanairojin! They find it strange and exotic and all that, and…”

“Why didn’t ya use your own race then, you rubber chopstick?”

“Well…” Stephan said, looking straight on. “I respect my race.”

“You parentless–” Spike lunged.

Stephan drew back, eyes wide, his head nearly touching the wall behind him.

Angel stepped forward, her massive grin breaking the mood. “Hey! Hey! Hey now, Mister Assistant. Let’s… just keep asking questions, perhaps?”

“Y-yeah,” Spike muttered, dusting himself off. “Right. I apologize, Mister Stephan.”

“No. That’s quite alright. Nothing broken, so nothing to pay for.” The Ryu cleared his throat.

“So, seriously. This here’s all an act?” Spike looked around, from the paper lanterns that hung from the ceiling to the wall scrolls with ink-brushed pandas upon them. At least, Spike thought they were pandas. They could have been whales.

“It sells things.” Stephen shrugged. “I tried doing it the honourable way. But it don’t work here. Moved out here to Ponyton a few years back t’ get away from the Dragon population. Guy’s gotta make a livin’.”

“Then what’s with the name?”

“Well, my real name’s Shinji Meguro, but no one here could pronounce it all good, so I just changed it to Stephan Magnet.”

“Magnet, though?” Spike furrowed his brow.

“Yeah, because I attract people to my shop, you know?” The Ryu clutched at the air in front of him and dragged an invisible person into his chest.

“Y’know, I’m beginnin’ t’ wonder if this is what Twilight feels like all the time,” Spike grumbled.

“Who?” Stephan asked.

“Shut up. Right. Listen. I ain’t come here t’ powwow. I’m the sheriff’s deputy, see?”

“Oh! That’s right! I heard of you! The little Dragon-squidlet deputy!”

“Wait, you heard’a me, but you were surprised when…”

Stephan shrugged, his face still as blank as ever.

Listen, you damn beansprout,” Spike ground out. “We’re here investigatin’ a robbery, alright? Witnesses says they seen you around Rarity’s yesterday. Care t’ tell me why?”

“Oh, Rarity was robbed?” The Ryu’s face dropped, for the first time expressing something other than shock or blatant oblivion. “That poor girl!”

“Yeah, it’s a cryin’ shame. Now, you wanna tell me why you were there?”

“Oh, it isn’t any secret. I was asking about some gems, if she had any to spare. I needed some to make a new thing.”

“A ‘thing’?”

“Yes, look!” Stephan coiled over the table, stepping lightly, sweeping to an aisle to the side and pulling something off the corner.

He dropped it into Spike’s open hand.

It was a clear bauble made of glass; tiny coloured gems of colour held within its shell. It was flat on one side, and blown smooth on the other, like an egg with a weird bit.

“The heck is this?”

“I call it a paperweight,” Stephan explained.

“And… what do I do with it?” Spike hefted it a few times, feeling its girth.

“Well, sometimes the winds can sweep through and make papers fly, yes? So all you do is use this to make sure they stick to your table!”

“Oh, right,” Spike said dryly. “I have one of these too. It’s called a coffee mug.”

“Yes, but it’s so pretty, isn’t it? With the jewels? And I have them in many colours, so you can pick your preference! And they don’t leave rings on the paper!”

“Um…” Angel perked up. “How… how much are they?”

Stephan clapped his hands. “Oh! Ooooh! Just for you, my lady–”

“And did you get these jewels from Rarity?” Spike interrupted.

“No. No, I didn’t, silly dumb stupid cricket. She told me that she had none to spare, but she did tell me where I could find as many as my hearts desire!”

Angel tilted her head to the side.

“Yeah. They got two,” Spike explained. “One up high. One down below. They’re too wind-ish, them Ryu. Need the extra heart to keep the blood goin’.”

“Oh, you know about Ryu bodies?” Stephan asked, genuinely astonished.

“Means I know where t’ shoot.” Spike said gruffly.

“Ah. Well! Good. Good.” Stephan nodded, tapping his fingertips together. “So, could I please put the paperweight b–”

“So what’d Rarity tell ya?” Spike continued, tossing the little glass orb into the sky and catching it deftly, much to the chagrin of the Ryu shopkeeper.

The Ryu kept his eyes on the trinket as it bounced in the air. “Ah… she had a source. A traveller. He was about to leave, so I bought all I could from him. Nearly everything! I believe he just left th–”

“This mornin’,” Spike finished. “Yeah.”

“Oh, you know?”

“Heard about it. So yer sayin’ all these jewels was from this merchant?” Spike shook the egg, which softly tinkled.

“Y-yes. Please be careful, sir. Once broken…” Stephan pointed to the nearest sign.

“Do you work alone here?”

“No. I have accountants. Three ponies, in fact. Lovely, tolerable fellows, for being nanairojin.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. They around today?”

“No. Unfortunately not. I gave them the day off because they worked all night to make these for me.” Stephan motioned to the paperweights.

“Your accountants can blow glass?”

Stephan shrugged again, as if it were only natural that they did. “They’re quite talented.”

“Fine,” Spike replied. “Fine. Then, I got one last question for ya.”

“Yes?”

“How much?” Spike waved the sparkly red glass ball around.

~

“Pretty!” Angel said, holding it up to the sky with her wing. The small pieces within created a cavalcade of glittery points of scarlet light as the sun shone through. “Thank you! You are a kind and lovely assistant.”

“Yeah. Better believe it. Anyway. Didn’t do it for ya. Did it to make sure he drops his guard if we ever need to come back.”

“But you gave it to me anyway.”

“So? I ain’t got no use for it.”

“Means you’re still a little bit kind.” Angel stuffed the paperweight away in her side bag as they walked away from the gift shop. “It makes me wonder if you didn’t just get it for me anyway but found an excuse to pretend you didn’t.”

“Uh… right. Anyway. Get anything?”

“No… I’m afraid not.” Angel said, her energy dropping a few notches. “I can’t read Dra– Ryu, after all.”

“Right.” Spike raised an eyebrow. “Listen, you can tell the difference, right?”

“Well, to be completely honest… both of you really looked the same to me. I won’t lie.” Angel bit her lower lip and gave Spike a cheeky grin.

“What? We look nothing alike! He’s all long and stupid and smells like fish!”

“Well, I don’t mean to be insulting, of course. I haven’t really spent that much time around Tianians as much. It’s a bit harder for us.”

“What about Gryphons, though? You can tell Gryphons from us at least, right?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never met one before. They do tend to stay around the coast cities, right?”

“Well, but you’ve seen pictures…”

“Sure. I think it’d be markedly easier to tell them apart, however. They’re just a bit more distinct. But between the Dragons and the Ryu, I’m afraid…”

“Man, whatever!” Spike looked up in disgust. “I’m gonna learn you one day, you be sure of that.”

“And I’m looking forward to it. I’d love to know how you differ. Do you also have two hearts?”

“One! One heart!”

“And I learn something new every day.” Angel nodded blissfully.

Spike stopped.

Angel stopped as well.

“You’re real odd, you know that?” Spike asked.

“Do you know what’s really odd, though?” Angel asked.

“What’s that?”

“Aren’t those two stories remarkably similar?”

“Hm?”

“Between Mister Ryu and Mister Watchmaker, that is.”

“Yeah, they were.”

“And this doesn’t upset you?”

“Ain’t no reason t’ be upset.” Spike scratched a head-fin. “Lie’s best closest to th’ truth. Means that if we assume one of them two’s lyin’, we can tell what the truth probably is. That’s t’ say that there’s definitely some travellin’ merchant, and that fella done left this mornin’.”

“Well… then, doesn’t that make you upset?”

“Why for?”

“Because that means that all we have are two stories, no proof, and no way to tell the difference between the truth and the lies.”

“Well, my father always said – the truth has a way of makin’ itself apparent. All boats start as specks on th’ horizon.”

“Ah, I see! Us in the medical profession have a similar saying: ‘You can’t tell the liver from the spleen if everything’s covered in blood’.” Angel’s ear shook in excitement.

“Uh…”

“It means don’t get blood on everything.”

“That certainly ain’t somethin’ my father needed to teach me.”

“I see. Your father, then…”

“He’s a pretty smart guy, yeah.” Spike threw out an answer quite deliberately, not waiting for Angel to finish. “So now we have a bigger problem, though.”

“Yes. Big Mac.”

“Right. We helped him out with a certain… case. We gotta be a bit more subtle about this, I think.”

“Subtle is good.”

“Yeah. Tread lightly. Try not t’ be so direct ‘bout it. Treat him with respect and it should all go jus’ fine.” Spike pumped his fist in the air.

“So, uh… how’s the leg?” Spike asked, very aware that the room was slowly filling with a peculiar tension.

The heavy-set stallion’s mustache twitched.

“Son,” Big Mac drawled, cutting in. “Are you a man?”

“So we have t–” Spike shuddered to a stop. “Uh… yes?”

“Real men tell things straight,” Mac continued, slowly. “Real men ain’t afraid of spitting out what they need to say. You didn’t come to see me to ask me about my leg – which is fine, if you must know. It stopped hurting the day after I was shot. I merely went to get it sewn up so that I’d stop staining my bedsheets.”

“Also the bullet could have caused lead poisoning,” Angel added.

“Yes. It could. So would you like to get to the point?” Big Mac asked again.

“Well, y’see,” Spike started. “It ain’t that we wanna cause problems or nothin’, given how we know each other…”

Big Mac started growling, a soft, low tone emanating from the general vicinity of his face.

Angel cut in, speaking through her grin. “We’re here because of a robbery that occurred at Rarity’s today, and witnesses say that you were found near the scene a few days prior to the incident.”

“I see. So I’m a suspect, then?” Mac asked.

“Yes,” Angel replied, instantly.

“Hey, now…” Spike muttered, holding up a finger in protest.

“Good,” Mac said, turning to face Spike. “See? She’s more of a man than you are.”

He turned back, like a solid oak rotating in place.

“Angel!” He declared. “You may take some corn back with you from my store – to eat, or do as you desire, I do not care what – for being a man!”

“Aw, thank you, Big Mac,” Angel giggled.

“Hey, wait now,” Spike said. “That ain’t polite, an’...”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Angel interrupted, politely. “Big Mac and I go a long way back. I know how he likes it. Feel free to speak your mind. He’d find it rude otherwise.”

“Yes. Speak your mind, son,” Mac agreed, plainly, his mustache bristling ferociously as he nodded. “I’d find it rude otherwise.”

“Ah, well. That’s… all it is, Mister Big Mac,” Spike said. “You were seen around Rarity’s. You might have something to do with the robbery.”

“Yes,” Big Mac said, leaving the safety of his desk and making his way around the front. “I was there three days ago.”

He came to stop at the window that looked over his emporium floor, whereupon he nudged the blinds aside to stare out upon the busy floor.

“Why were you there, Mister Big Mac?” Spike tilted his head.

“Jewels.” Big Mac replied. “I needed jewels. Don’t matter what size or colour or shape. Just needed jewels.”

“And did you get them from Miss Rarity?” Spike asked.

“No. She told me to get them from her supplier.” Big Mac turned around suddenly, stepping back to his desk and flinging a drawer open. “I had them picked up. Managed to get what I needed. Here’s a receipt. You may not have it; I need it for my records. But you may look at it as much as you require until I need you to leave my office.”

He slapped a large scroll onto the table, pushing it forward for Spike to see.

Spike peered at it, reading it slowly with his new skillset.

A minute passed as he took his time, and finally, he raised his head from the table. “Looks to be in order, Mister Big Mac. This supplier left this mornin’, didn’t he?”

“That’s what I hear. That’s why I made to buy all that I could. Either way, the gems arrived today.”

“And what do you use ‘em for?” Spike asked. “This here’s a grocery and commodities place, innit? Don’t see ya t’ be the kind t’ be sellin’ gems.”

“Sell? Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha,” Big Mac laughed without laughing. “Ha. No, son. We don’t sell pansy-ass space-wasters like that. Next you’ll be tellin’ me to sell other pointless things like flowers or medicine.”

“That’s right!” Angel chimed in.

“Then…” Spike muttered.

“Listen, son. I’m very busy. I have a lot of things to do, and while I appreciate you and Sheriff Twilight’s assistance in helping me avenge my daughter, I still have a business to run. I will help when I can, but unless you need me personally, I’d like to pass you over to someone who could do a lot more than I.”

Without waiting for a response, Big Mac quickly strode to a set of cords by the door. Each of them were long, thin, and clad in velvet, and reached from the ground through holes in the ceiling. Grabbing the third one from the right between his teeth, he gave it a few quick pulls before throwing the door to his office open.

“Thank you for coming, gentlemen,” Big Mac said. “Please kindly wait outside. My assistant, Wynona, will be with you shortly. She handles all my purchases for my baking warehouse. She’ll show you what we use the gems for.”

Spike was ushered through the entryway.

“And don’t forget the corn,” Big Mac added, as the door slammed shut.

~

“And thiiiiiis is our warehouse!” Wynona said, as they stepped onto the mezzanine of the large baked-good production facilities. Hooves and claws bounced off metal as the rather excitable assistant led them around to the other side of the impressively large building.

She had a coat of dull brown and a mane of white, and Spike couldn’t help but compare her to a rather overactive puppy. She even spoke with a raspy voice and a quickness that made it feel that she didn’t know exactly when to stop speaking.

“Feast your eyes!” She said, excitedly, pointing towards a conveyor belt on the lower floor. “Them’s our new line of snacky cakes! We call ‘em Vanilla Ploppies! They’re soft and moist and delicious! Like a dream in your mouth! Eat a Vanilla Ploppy today!”

Spike leaned between the railings of the mezzanine, peering at the hubbub. At least fifty workers were present in this building alone, by Spike’s count, and all of them were busy doing various kinds of industry. Everything was remarkably white – the steam machines mixed with the flour in the air and layered everything with a soggy soft doughy grime. A dozen machines worked their magic, chuffing huge amounts of smoke as they baked and filled and stuffed and sprinkled, and at the end of slow-moving conveyor belts, workers packed assorted goods into boxes for sale.

“Wow,” Spike said. “That’s makin’ me hungry, that is.”

“Oh, would you like a free sample?” Wynona asked politely. “You two are Very Important People! Big Mac said to make sure you’re treated as good as he treats us, which means free treats whenever you like!”

“He gives you free treats, huh?” Spike asked, retreating from the edge of the catwalk. He was almost tempted to dive off just to get at the smell.

“Oh yes. Big Mac’s the best. He’s the absolute bestest of all! A loving boss. I’d do anything for him, because he’d do anything for us. So, free treats?”

Angel bounced forward. “Yes ple–”

“Maybe later,” Spike said, his stomach protesting.

“Aww,” Angel murmured, her ears pulling back flat against her head.

“We’re on a job. We can’t accept anything now. Maybe later, ‘kay?”

“Alright!” Angel agreed.

“Alright!” Wynona agreed as well. “Ain’t not a single worry and a half! But please, let me show you. This is what y’all here for, right? Those, right over there.”

Wynona pointed to the far corner, near where the production line began. There were four smallish machines, each sporting a hoof-sized metal tumbler placed diagonally on their edges. The tumblers were attached to rods, and rotated slowly on a contraption of more belts and wheels. From that distance, Spike could make out what looked like a golden powder churning within.

“See them? They’re our hullin’ steamworks. Patented, too. The secret to our beautiful cake’s density and thickness is because we use a secret. You know, an ancient Dragan secret.” She winked at Spike.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“We use a mix of rice flour an’ proper wheat flour, y’ see. That gives our cakes a beautiful rise and a great texture!”

“I’m sure,” Spike muttered. “Ancient Dragan secret bein’ the most widely-distributed crop over both continents.”

“Exactly! So no one would think of it!” Wynona chortled. “And that’s why Big Mac cakes, and our newest line of Vanilla Ploppies will be–”

“Right, so,” Spike cut her off. “The gems?”

“Well, we’ve found that the best way to husk and polish rice is to use gemstones. See, regular rocks leave a funny taste, and they also wear down. No one wants to get a big mouthful of stone dust! But gems, gems are real hard and last forever and ever and ever! And they also don’t absorb moisture, and they don’t smell nothin’, so they’re perfect for churning up our rice. That’s what those machines are for.”

“So you’re tellin’ me that inside those machines is a big bunch’a gems?”

“That’s right!” Wynona barked.

“Huh. And what gems did Big Mac buy?”

“Oh, I can tell ya that easily. I was the one who did it all for him. He’s a busy, busy man, don’tchaknow!”

“Yeah. I heard.”

“We just bought all assorted gems. The smaller they are, the better, so we got us mini-sized ‘uns. Sorta maybe about the size of spots or specks.”

“Wanna be a little bit more exact there?”

“Ah… maybe a quarter of a pea?”

“Right,” Spike nodded. “That sounds about right, then. And when did you buy these?”

“We got all we could from the supplier as soon as we could, of course. Maybe two days ago?”

“Right. Well,” Spike said, sniffing in deeply again, the various scents wafting through the air. Even Wynona herself smelt of something fresh and fruity. “That explains it, then! I didn’t reckon you guys were into the jewelry business.”

“Oh no, not at all, sir. Big Mac says that Jewelry Is The Bane Of All Manlihood.”

“Right then. Thank you very much. And if’n we have further questions…”

“I’ll be right here! Just come back! Even if it’s just for a Vanilla Ploppy!”

Angel couldn’t help but notice that Spike walked with a bit more briskness to his step as they left the warehouse and made their way back down the street to converse in a more private place.

She let him ponder, his hand placed squarely on his chin, her ears wobbling as she also gave the situation some due diligence.

The Dragon came to a stop a while down the road, a quieter place at the end of the shopping district where fewer trails were blazed. He took a deep breath through his nose, a sharp tooth poking out from behind his grin.

Angel, on the other hand, dipped her head, the first time her smile wasn’t showing clearly.

“So, it’s a bust, then?”

“Hmm?” Spike turned.

“We’ve chased all possibilities and uncovered nothing. I suppose this has all been a waste of time. I do apologize, Spike.” Angel said softly.

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“I couldn’t get anything from Big Mac either. He’s… well. He’s a friend, and that interferes in my ability to read sometimes… and… I mean…”

“Tell you what.” Spike leaned on one foot. “We’re pretty close to the answer.”

“Wait, we are? How?”

“Just the regular way. We’re about to find out who stole the gems.”

“That’s not… but…”

“Hmmph,” Spike hummed, tilting his head to the side and folding his arms across his chest again, taking up that stance of his. “Tell me then, what did’ja see in all of this?”

“What I saw? Well…” Angel thought. “Well, each suspect gave a story, and… they were all the same story. So clearly none of them showed any differences to the norm, although we don’t even know what the norm is, in this case… oh, we haven’t established a baseline, and…”

“Naw, naw. That’s way too direct, Angel.” Spike chuckled. “I s’pose that’d work for other things, but… it ain’t about each story bein’ on its own. It’s about how each story works with each other.”

“Well… what have I missed?”

“Alright. Alright,” Spike nodded, scratching his chin. “Lemme tell ya. Now, remember what each of ‘em said. More importantly, remember the times they said, and what they said they bought. And once you stack ‘em all up against each other, you’ll see where it don’t quite fit.”

“Okay…” Angel said softly again. “We’ll try. But I’m not too sure about it.”

“Hey, get a little confidence. What happened to the normal Miss Binnes? Always cheerful and bouncy and all that?”

“Well… to be honest, that’s… well. I usually have a good grip on things, if I might be frank. This puzzle is stumping me, Mister Assistant, and I’m not quite keen to that.”

“Don’t worry. Lemme show ya how it’s done. So, tell me. The first guy. Timmy Timewhatever.”

“Timothy Turnwell.”

“Yeah. How many gems did he buy?”

“Ah… not that many. He didn’t need much.”

“And when was he seen at the store?”

“A few days ago.”

“That’s right.” Spike held a finger up. “So that means he was there early. Could’ve bought the gems early too, right? And he was busy makin’ the watch, so he would’ve been busy all through yesterday and last night. This mornin, the gem guy left. So that’s the last point.”

“Right.”

“Now, we look at Mister Stupid. Mister Stupid bought a ton of gems. You saw how many paperweights he had, and each of ‘em stuffed with quite a number. He also said he bought as much as he could, and he was seen at Rarity’s only yesterday, right?”

“Right.”

“So that means he could only have bought it yesterday, probably after that Turnwell guy did.”

“Right. And Big Mac…”

“He also bought a lot of gems. Also said as much as he could. But he said that he bought it a few days ago.”

“Yes.” Angel’s eyes snaked sideways to recall. “Yes, that’s right.”

“So you see the problem?”

“I’m afraid…”

“Listen. If Big Mac bought as much as he could a few days ago, then where did Mister Stupid get all of his gems from?”

An ear twitched.

“O-oh! That’s right! That’s… that’s right!” Angel started hopping around in excitement, tail bobbing. “Y-you’re a genius, Mister Assistant! That’s so smart! Your brain is so smart!”

“Uh… alright there. Calm down.” Spike frowned.

“No, but… that means… that means Mr. Stu– Stephen is the liar, and he was the thief!”

“Well… maybe.” Spike said.

“Maybe?” Angel stopped her dance, cricking her neck forward. “But…”

“There’s one final piece to the puzzle. Somethin’ that’ll tell me definite-like who the real culprit is.”

“And what’s that?”

“Do you still have the paperweight?”

“Of course,” Angel said, pulling it out of her satchel and winging it over.

Spike grabbed it, tossed it in the air once, catching it deftly. With a stronger swing, he suddenly whipped it towards a tree, where with a crack and a tinkle, the egg split open, spilling a glittering ruby yolk onto the sand.

No!” Angel cried suddenly, holding her wings outstretched towards it. “Bertrand!”

“Uh… What?” Spike asked as he approached the wreckage.

“N-nothing,” Angel stammered, joining him. “Sorry. I was just reminded of a pet I used to have.”

Spike decided that the best course of action was to ignore the statement, instead bending over the shattered remains of the trinket, whereupon he started to nod.

Angel stared as well, the tiny stones mixing with the browns of the dust. “What do you see?”

“Ain’t what I see,” Spike said, smiling. “But I can tell you what I know.”

“You know who did it?”

“I know who did it.”

Spike straightened up and looked back down the road.

“Luckily, we won’t have t’ go far.”

“Are you accusin’ me of theft?” Big Mac asked as, once again, they stood in his office.

This time, however, he stood with his chest puffed out, the buttons on his vest nearly popping out with his show of indignation.

Spike, Angel, Big Mac and his dutiful assistant Wynona stood there, all called for this sudden revelation, upon which the truth lay.

“I’ll keep it straight,” Spike said. “We’re not accusing you of theft, Mister Big Mac.”

“That’s right!” Wynona jumped in. “Big Mac ain’t a thief! You best watch yourself! You might be Very Important People, but I won’t have ya talkin’ to the boss like that!”

Angel stood quietly in the back, watching in silence, her head bowed low.

“Oh, let me be clear. The gems are stolen. But Big Mac ain’t the one who stole them.” Spike said, hand placed casually on his gun holster. “Ain’t that right, Wynona?”

“W-what?” Wynona blurted out. “Wh–”

Big Mac himself raised an eyebrow.

“You see, the times didn’t fit. We had three people we know who bought gems from the travelling sales-pony. However, one claims to have bought a lot of gems from him after you did. Now, let me check again. You bought them gems a couple days back, and you bought as many as you could, right?”

“Y-yes. That’s right!” Wynona said.

“So tell me exactly how another customer could’ve bought as much as he could at a time after you did?”

“Then he’s lying, of course!” Wynona nodded vigorously. “Of course! It has to be. Why are you coming here and accusing us good folk of thef–”

“Be quiet,” Big Mac said, and it was enough to shut down the clamour, reducing the red-faced Wynona to a steaming hot ball. “Spike, continue.”

“It’s simple. Did you know that Dragons can smell metal?”

“W-what’s that got to do with anything?” Wynona asked, albeit a little softer this time.

“Well, gold has a very particular scent. It’s… really nice. Delicious. When faced with it full on, sometimes I get a little lost in it, to be honest. But even when it’s not, I can still smell where it’s been, ‘specially if there’s been quite a big amount.”

“See, in the first suspect’s shop, a watch maker, there was the smell of gold everywhere. Makes sense, seein’ that he works with the stuff. Second fella, he was usin’ the gems in some fancy baubles. He was makin’ trinkets out of it.”

“Stephan Magnet?” Big Mac rumbled.

“Yeah.”

“I hate that guy,” Mac said.

“Right.” Spike agreed. “But, them gems he was usin’ had not a single scent of gold on ‘em. I checked myself. Means he probably bought ‘em from a gems tradesman legit. And here’s the funny thing, Mister Big Mac. Your assistant there, she smells mighty weird of gold right about now.”

Big Mac turned. “Is this true?”

“I- I…” Wynona backed away, moving to an emptier part of the room. “I was handlin’ some goods…”

“Well, but you told me yourself that you weren’t in the business of sellin’ jewelry.” Spike pointed out.

“We most certainly are not! I’ll have none of that in my store!” Big Mac rumbled.

“Why would the jewels even smell like gold in the first place?” Wynona asked. “There’s no reason for it! There’s no connection!”

“Well, here’s the interesting thing,” Spike responded. “The jewels that were stolen? They were ripped out from dresses. At least some of ‘em were. That means that the clasps that they was in had to either be torn off or melted off. Somethin’ mighty easy to do with your facilities, I’m sure.”

“Listen, I… I don’t know how this smell got on me! Are you gonna take his word for it?” Wynona yelled, pointing at Spike. “Sir! I’ve been workin’ for you for years! You know I wouldn’t backstab ya! I’m loyal!”

“Yeah, exactly,” Spike flicked his head up. “That’s the problem. Way I figure, this is what went down. And I tell you what, Miss Wynona, you tell me if this sound familiar. One day, Big Mac goes down to Rarity’s and looks for jewels. But Rarity tells him that she can’t give away none, because she was makin’ them into jewelry for her dresses.

“Then Big Mac come back and tells ya, he tells ya to go find the source and go buy them jewels. Now, unfortunately, I don’t know what you did, but you went a tad too late, and some other Ryu’d already bought most of the stock. You bought what you could, but it weren’t enough. So you take the time to plan a robbery to fill in the missing pieces. That’s when you held up Rarity last night so that you can have them gems in this mornin’. Sound about right?”

Wynona had been steadily growing more and more shaken up as the story unfolded, her chipper nature wearing down. She now appeared as an old mare, unsteady with her words and on her legs. “A-all of this is conjecture… surely, there is no proof…”

“Well, sure. I ain’t got no proof. But nothin’ really ever starts with it. Maybe I’m wrong. But maybe I’m right.” Spike shrugged nonchalantly. “But see, even so, the truth always lies at the end of the road. You just gotta go down that road first. So, let me tell you what’s at the end of this road. Let’s say I’m right. If I’m right, that means there’s one thing that’d be all kinds of suspicious in this scenario.”

“And what… what’s that?” Wynona said weakly.

“It’s real unfortunate-like that Big Mac here’s such a rigid businessman, huh. That so-called receipt that Big Mac has… I’m willin’ t’ bet that if you went through the time, you’d be able to match that writin’ to someone in the shop, if it ain’t your own, even. If I’m right, there weren’t no way for the merchant to have written it, so it means someone else had ta.”

“Wynona. I want you to gather all the staff and have them come up here to my office in five minutes,” Big Mac said, glaring at her. His facial hair was nearly all standing up on end.

Wynona stood there, unmoving.

“What are you waiting for?” Big Mac rumbled again. “I asked you–”

“N-no. That won’t be necessary. The writing’s mine,” Wynona admitted, voice small and meek. “I did it. I stole the gems.”

Spike folded his arms and leaned back slightly, looking down and letting the brim of his hat cover his eyes. He had nothing left to say.

“There were three of us,” Wynona sighed. “I hired two wolves from the bar. They were just there to show a bit of force. Draw attention away from me. They didn’t know who I was either or why I needed the gems. I tried my best to cut all links with the emporium.”

“You wanna tell me why you did this?” Big Mac asked.

“I… I couldn’t get what you wanted. But… I couldn’t let you down!” Wynona lifted her head. “Sir! You’ve always been looking out for us! How could I have disappointed you with such a simple request due to my own negligence?”

“You’ve disappointed me more now,” Big Mac stated. “I run a business based on honesty! My dear wife would get a migraine hearin’ this story. How am I s’posed to explain this to her? You done caused a right fuss, young girl.”

Wynona burned red hot as she dipped her head again. “I’ll clear out my things, sir, and be gone by the end of the day.”

“What?” Big Mac said. “Are you stupid, woman? You get your damn ass back to work right this instant. We will discuss this later. Don’t think you can run away from this so easily!”

“I… yes, sir,” Wynona muttered, inhaling a steeling breath, a mild look of confusion crossing her expression.

“Now get out of here. And don’t you dare turn tail on me.”

Without a further peep, she left the room.

The stallion turned slowly from the door to Spike.

“I’m sorry you had to see that. That was embarrassing. I had to raise my voice.” Big Mac said, clearing his throat.

“I… honestly couldn’t tell,” Spike said. “Anyway, mystery solved, huh?”

“Indeed. Thank you for solving it. I pride myself on running a clean business.”

“You ain’t gonna fire her?” Spike asked candidly.

“Naw. What good would that do? She made a stupid mistake for stupid reasons because she’s stupid. If I fired her, she’d go on to make even more stupid mistakes somewhere else. At least here I can keep her under my eye and make her out to be a proper lady, just like my dear wife.”

“Well. That’s a pretty… interestin’ way t’ think about it.”

“Believe me, I’ll make her pay back for it. For starters, she can help Rarity fix all them dresses she messed up. And I’ll have her return all the stolen gems, too. Now, let’s talk about your reward.” Big Mac went straight to the point.

“Ah, about that. Instead of a reward, could you do me a favour instead?”

“Depends.”

“Please allow me t’ bring the gems back myself. There’s somethin’ I need to do all personal-like.”

“That is a very curious request. But I will grant it. I’ll have Wynona pack up all the gems for you. Please tell Rarity that I will be giving her all the ones bought legally as recompense for this foolishness.”

“Well, that’s mighty kind of you. But what about your cake things?”

“That can wait until the next time the gem salesman passes through. I am in no rush to push out cakes. I also have to take responsibility for my company’s crimes.”

“As you say. And one last question.”

“What?”

“When Wynona brought the gems to you, did it come in some kind of box or somethin’?”

“Yes, actually, they did. It was a wooden box. Finely crafted.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Yes. Did you want that too?”

“I do, sir. Thankin’ ya kindly.” Spike nodded.

Spike merely took a peek into the box, before he made his way calmly back to Rarity’s; the container now stuffed to the brim with the recovered bounty and then some.

Angel had asked about it, but was given a simple ‘you’ll see’ and a wave of the hand in response to her inquiry.

Rarity’s door hadn’t been fixed, and after a few polite knocks upon it, Spike found he had little choice but to force his way, finding the shop just as dark and empty as it was before.

The mannequin had been restored to its rightful place, and had its ruined dress stripped off; there was nothing proper yet to display.

“Miss Rarity?” Spike called out once, twice, three times.

The door at the far end creaked open, and the white mare slowly, skittishly, emerged.

“We’re closed!” Rarity called out, remaining in the shadows. “Please leave!”

“Miss Rarity? It’s me again. Spike, the deputy.”

“Oh, what is it now?” Rarity fussed, stepping forward. “What could you possibly–”

She cut herself short as she finally saw Spike’s outstretched arms, a box laying within his upturned palms.

“Oh!” She cried out, rushing forward suddenly, wrenching it from his hands with a puff of magic.

In a fantastic display, she flipped the box open, throwing gems left and right in a fountain of twinkles. At the very end, at the bottom, lay a small piece of cloth, ratty, tattered and covered with stitches. It looked as much like a piece of scrap as any other random tail-end of cloth would, but it brought a sigh to Rarity’s lips and a sudden change to her demeanour, as she dropped to the floor and sat there in a heap.

“Belle!” She cried out. “Belle! Come out here, please!”

The door creaked open once more, and that silhouette from earlier emerged once again.

“Sis?” the shadow asked.

“Isabelle, please. Come look. They brought it back!” Rarity cried, voice warbling on the edge of tears.

“But sis, is it safe?” Isabelle asked, staying tight.

“Yes. These… these are good people. Good, good people.” Rarity smiled upwards at Spike, who smiled back. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Spike tilted his hat at her as the sister came running up. She grabbed the swatch of cloth and held it, she too smiling joyously at the reunion.

Rarity watched her younger sister clutch the cloth close to her heart, whom now, as Spike could see as she left the shadows, could not have been more than eight or nine. “It’s a promise cloth.”

“Hm?” Spike muttered.

“Isabelle here had a friend once, who had to leave for the city. They were both budding tailors,” Rarity explained. “They decided to stitch something and exchange them as a sign that they would once again meet. Of course, they weren’t rather good back then, and this was all he could do. But still… it means a lot to my sister.”

Rarity got up slowly as Isabelle calmed down.

“I don’t know how you knew about it, or even how you managed to get it back, but… thank you, Spiky,” Rarity whispered.

“It’s just Sp…” Spike stopped himself. “It’s my pleasure, Miss Burke.”

“Thank you, Mister Dragon!” Isabelle chimed in too.

“Oh… oh, yes,” Rarity rushed to the counter. “You were here for the piece of Harmony. Please. I am very sorry for how I treated you earlier. Please allow me to–”

“Nah,” Spike said, stopping Rarity in her tracks. “We had an agreement, right? We’d come back with the proper documents. It’s important to do things correct-like.”

“Then… then why did you do this?” Rarity looked at the box.

“Like I said. It’s important to do things correct-like, ain’t that right, Angel?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Angel said softly.

“Well, a-are you sure?” Rarity stuttered. “I mean…”

“Perfectly sure. We’ll be back tomorrow with Sheriff Twilight. And as for this whole thing,” Spike gestured to the gems. “Turns out it was all one big weird misunderstandin’. Big Mac sends his apologies and some extra gems as a means t’ say sorry. The one behind it will also be here sometime later to issue her personal apologies. And don’t worry. You can trust her not t’ cause any more mischief.”

“I-I see. Well then…”

“And we’ll be on our way, ma’am. Take care of yourself. We’ll see you soon.” Spike bowed, retreated, and left as quickly as they had entered.

~

“Job well done,” Spike said, holding his hands clasped behind his head. “So, what’s eatin’ ya?”

“Hmm?” Angel murmured, distractedly.

“Ever since Mac’s you’ve been actin’ all dour. Like a lemon left out in the sun. Wanna tell me what’s goin’ on?”

“Ah, well,” Angel said. Although she was still smiling, it felt like a smile painted on the surface. It was clear that she had neither the energy nor the gumption to keep it up genuinely. “It’s nothing, really.”

“Well, if you wanna stay with this group, then you’re gonna have t’ come clean, Angel.”

“What? Why?” She asked, taken aback.

“Well, let’s just put it this way. If a patient of yours refused t’ say what was hurtin’, you wouldn’t be able to take care of him, now would ya?”

Angel looked away.

“Seein’ how you’re part of our responsibility, that means we gotta take care of you as well. So y’gotta tell me what’s wrong.”

“Ah… as logical as ever.” Angel sighed with resignation. “I will admit that… I am perturbed.”

“And what about,” Spike asked, “is purturbin’ yer little head?”

“Well, as I mentioned, I joined in part to examine how I might be able to apply the New Sciences to use in a practical situation.” Angel explained, frustratedly. “And… it seems that it was of no use at all.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, do you think I was of any help throughout this entire ordeal? You figured everything out. Quite smartly, I should say, but I can’t… well… I wish I could have done more.”

“For science or for yourself?” Spike asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Simple question, Angel. From the start you said that you wanted to join because of research and all that horseradish. Now, I’m askin’ ya for the plain and simple truth. Is it really because of that? Or maybe did you wanna show somethin’ to me? Maybe why you tried to convince me so hard t’ investigate?”

Angel remained quiet for a while as she looked Spike up and down. His small stature and unassuming figure told not even a small piece of his story.

“Nothing escapes you, does it?” Angel asked, bursting out in a bit of laughter. “Alright. I give. Yes. I find the Sheriff… amusing. It is true that I do want to study the New Sciences more, but I… was hoping to be able to impress you today.”

“Impress me?”

“Yes. I was hoping that you’d be able to help put a good word in with the Sheriff…”

“Right, right,” Spike bobbed his head. “And now you think that I’m gonna say you didn’t do much and Twilight won’t accept you, yeah. I get it. Why’d you like Twilight so much anyway?”

“I don’t know,” Angel shrugged. “She has a certain… energy about her. I think I’ll have fun following her. I think I’ll see a lot of interesting things.”

“Oh, I can guarantee that,” Spike muttered. “Yeah. Anyway. Listen. Today wasn’t some kinda test or nothin’. I honestly ain’t got no problems with ya. I’ll put in a good word.”

“But… I still feel that I should earn it, in a way.”

“Jeez, lady. You sure are difficult, ain’t ya?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be. It’s just… I do want to be useful.”

“Alright. Fine. I’ll throw you a bone. Okay? Wanna know how I knew about that box?” Spike jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

“I was curious.”

“It was because of what you said.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. Way back when you were doing your little thing with Rarity. You mentioned that she kept lookin’ at one part of her room twice, as if she were lookin’ for somethin’ or missin’ something, yeah?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, if it were the gems she were missin’, her eyes would go all over the place, seein’ how the gems was everywhere, right? But she was lookin’ only at one place over and over, and that’s because, as you said, she was missing somethin’, but it was somethin’ else. I just figured it had to be a container that was stolen t’ take all the gems in or somethin’. I didn’t know that it was that weird cloth thing until I saw it, but it seemed likely.”

“Huh,” Angel blurped out.

“Listen. I reckon what we both do… is kinda the same. Just that I run by the seat of my pants and you do it the doctor way. Ain’t no right way t’ do it. But what’s necessary is the ability t’ use it good. And that takes a lot of practice. So the truth is… if you want your New Science to work, then you’re gonna have t’ keep practicin’ at it and learnin’ and the best way to do that is to join up with Twi and do whatever you can.”

“You… really think so, huh?” Angel asked.

“Yeah, I do. And don’t be annoyed that I did all this. I… I’ve had experience, yeah? And I don’t know the first thing ‘bout doctorin’, so if Twilight gets her horn shot off again, believe that it’d be you we’ll be runnin to.”

“That… that would be nice.” Angel smiled. It was soft, but this time, it was real. “You’ve done this before, huh?”

“Guess you could say that. Family business.” Spike shrugged. “Anyhoo, what say we get back home before Twilight does and starts askin’ stupid questions, huh?”

“Sure. And thank you, Mister Assistant.”

“Yeah, whatever. Just do me a favour, would ya?”

“Sure!”

“Don’t mention to Twilight all of… anything. If she asks, just say we just tried t’ pick up the piece and Rarity needed the proper papers and all that.”

“Really? But why?”

“Well, I ain’t the one in charge here,” Spike said with finality. “And I don’t like to meddle.”

ONE DAY LATER

Twilight dropped the pressure chamber onto the table, where it rolled along until Dash put a hoof forward to stop it.

“Oh, it’s the last piece!” Dash exclaimed. “You got it?”

“Yeah,” Twilight nodded, frowning, the light glinting off the metal of her horn. “It went smooth. Real smooth.”

She shot a glare at Spike and Angel, who scratched his head sheepishly behind.

“Are we in trouble?” Angel whispered.

“Maybe,” Spike whispered back.

“Some genius forgot t’ tell the damn shopkeeper to clam up. Therefore, some genius’ story ain’t matchin’, and some Sheriff would like to know exactly what the hell happened.”

“Right,” Dash said. “Um… this sounds like it ain’t got nothin’ to do with me, so…”

“You.” Twilight pointed at Dash. “You fix this gun. Y’hear?”

“Sure, Twi.”

“And you two.” Twilight spun around and glowered. “I knew there was somethin’ funny goin’ on. You think I wouldn’t notice that Rarity’s shop was robbed when I dropped by? D’ya think I wouldn’t notice the corn that Big Mac sent around this mornin’ with the note ‘thank you for the assistance in keeping my shop honest’?”

“Well… about that…” Spike held up a finger.

“Shut up! Shut it! And you!” Twilight shoved her horn into Angel’s cheek.

Angel swallowed.

“Thanks for the new horn. It’s workin’ great. Now, if you wanna see how much I can do with it, keep tryin’ me, you hear?”

“Y-yes, ma’am,” Angel whimpered.

“You ain’t goin’ anywhere until I get this all sorted out. And I know you was involved. So how about all three of us go out and have a little chat?”

Their voices disappeared amongst shuffling and protests, and by the time Dash had pulled back up from behind the counter, they had already left, leaving the blacksmith alone once more.

Dash exhaled.

It had been a long few weeks. It had been an incredible adventure from start to end. Had it been that long already? It was hard to imagine.

But finally, here, the pieces of the gun lay out in front of her, like a puzzle.

It was nostalgic. It felt like something she had done before.

And she had, really. After all, it was a puzzle she herself built, but now…

Now she knew how it worked, and now she could assemble it with confidence and pride.

She ran her feathers over the cool metal like a child stroking a puppy. She let the memories return.

It all started with this.

It would end with this as well.

Everything full circle.

“Alright!” Dash cried to herself, and trotted to her forge to fetch her tools. She felt good.

No; she felt great. For the first time in a long time, she thought, things were finally looking up. Things were finally moving on, and she felt a sense of purpose, pride and belonging. Of course, there was going to probably be a horrible bloody battle come soon, but strangely, that didn’t matter as much to her any longer.

What mattered was that she wasn’t running away.

Her wing reached out to touch her hammer.

Her heart jumped.

The sound came, ferocious and loud, like the fall of a heavy object upon a plank of wood.

Dash spun around immediately, and her eyes, dizzy and unfocused, saw the door recoiling open from the force at which it had been pulled shut.

“Oh no,” she whispered, turning her head towards the empty counter.

Oh shit.”

Dash leapt, scrambling, tearing off her leather apron and stumbling to the door, kicking it open with as much force as she could muster.

The evening sun shot into her eyes, and she squinted through the red swirling dust as she attempted to spot anything that was out of order.

Left and right, she looked, she peered, finally pulling her goggles down over her eyes.

And in the murk of darkness, a figure ran, slowly, up the street away from the center of the town, away from the business, headed for the desert.

“Hey!” she yelled, kicking up a storm as she flew after, “Stop!”

The figure, small as it was, cloaked in a black sheath of cloth, turned back, and Dash caught a glimpse of something shiny over the figure’s face.

And it kept running.

All noise drowned out as Dash pushed forward, only the constant thump thump of blood in her ears providing a rhythm by which she could run.

Hooves pounded the dirt as the figure wound past buildings and shocked onlookers, finally reaching the end of the street. Beyond it was the desert, a vast wasteland of rock and heat and swirling emptiness.

But Dash was close behind. She pulled out her wings and beat them, gaining a few centimeters with every leap forward.

The figure turned back again, and now Dash could see that the figure also sported a set of shiny, metal goggles itself.

The figure too, extended its wings, as they shot out from under its cloak like two scythes cutting the air.

It too, started to beat ahead, gaining distance, and with one furious push, the figure slammed its wings down hard, kicking up a tornado of salty reds and leaves, and lifted up into the air until all four hooves left the ground.

Dash skidded to a stop, mouth agape at the sight in front of her. Above that swirl of dirt, the pony hovered, raising upward even more as those wings kept on beating. It turned one last final time to give Dash its last regards, and with a twist of the body and another thrust of its wings, it zoomed away, flying into the desert, leaving Ponyton behind.

The blacksmith felt her heart harden in her chest, and she wasn’t sure if it was about what just happened or what she had just seen.

Harmony was stolen.

And for the first time, Dash wasn’t running away from the problem.

The problem was soaring away from her.

That day, a pegasus flew.

CHAPTER SIX : END

Author's Note:

~

Anywhere you go

Any place but those I know by heart

~


With assistance from Crack Javelin.
Edited by Meridian Prime, Dinoguy1000 & HerpyDerpy
And thanks to you, for reading.

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