• Published 10th Feb 2018
  • 1,899 Views, 170 Comments

Watch! Watch! - horizon

A crime wave is gripping the sleepy town of Apple-Morepone. Then "Rainbow" Dash of the City Watch meets a batpony (adopted) named Carrot. The town will never be the same. (An homage to the City Watch of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels!)

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1. In Which Cuttlefish And Apes Are Mortal Enemies

It was a damp, grey morning in the sleepy town of Apple-Morepone, and it was an earth pony's fault.

Corporal Dash of the Apple-Morepone City Watch sprawled a little flatter in her napping cloud, staring at the hazy sky above Town Square contemplatively. It was supposed to be sunny. She'd moved her cloud to prime basking territory to take full advantage of it. And while she knew that normally she'd blame the lazy, overpaid, useless, no-good weather pegasi who kept rejecting her resume, right now she kept feeling an inexplicable stirring-up of resentment against…

"Dobby?" she said as Watch Sergeant Dobbin [1] wandered back into Town Square from the direction of the weather factory.

[1] As previously seen in.

The walking pile of dirt and stink below her—who, once in a while, purely by accident, got correctly identified as an earth pony rather than a wandering beast from the nearby Everfree Forest—sniffled and wiped his nose on his leg.

"It were sitting on the ground," Dobby said automatically.

Dash looked up at the layer of pregnant rainclouds. Then down at her friend, who she knew with a fiery certainty had ruined the sky, despite A) his lack of wings and B) his utter incompetence at everything that didn't involve being Equestria's pettiest thief.

"Dobby," Dash said slowly, "you didn't steal a job at the weather factory just now, did you?"

"Can't prove nothin'," he said, but the affronted look he gave her was "no" enough. Both of them knew better than to come in contact with actual work.

"Hm," Dash said, then back at the clouds. She tapped a hoof to her chin in thought, trying to ignore the way that tugged uncomfortably against the strap of her snazzy Watch helmet. Which, come to think of it, was Dobby's fault too.

Dash glanced down at her napping cloud. Its normally cheery-white surface was looking a little drab today. Also Dobby's fault.

She glanced in the vague direction of distant Canterlot, where a princess was probably having tea or something. Still, somehow, Dobby's fault.

An idea began to percolate its slow way through the sludgy coffee filter of Dash's brain.

"Excuse me?" a cheerful non-Dobby voice said from the ground. "You in the cloud? I'm, ah, new in Apple-Morepone, and while this map has been rather useful in orienting myself to the roads, I'm having rather some difficulty in finding the library—"

"Quiet," Dash snapped. "I've nearly figured out how Dobby ruined everything."

The voice fell silent for a blissful moment. Then intruded again with a "I'm sorry, what?", followed by a "Who's ruaaAAH SWEET MERCIFUL CELESTIA," and a loud CRUNK of hoof hitting metal.

Her deductions interrupted, Dash rolled over and looked down at the street. A square-jawed, gold-colored earth pony mare with a bundle-of-carrots mark was sitting wide-eyed on the street, breathing hard, staring at a perturbed-looking pile of Dobby. The two locked eyes for several seconds. Then Dobby slowly stood back up, picked Dash's helmet up from the ground nearby, and resettled it back on top of his head, where it sat somewhat lopsided due to its new, deep dent.

"It's not running away," the golden mare hissed at Dash out of the corner of her mouth. "I'll distract it. You get backup—"

Dash landed next to the stranger and crossed her forelegs. "Dobby, give me my helmet back."

"Thought you was done with it," Dobby grumbled as he hoofed it over. "On account of the dent."

The golden mare slowly blinked, then glanced back and forth between the two Watch members as her expression paled. "Oh. Ah," she said, ears folding down. "Oohhh." She turned to Dobby. "I'm so sorry, ma'am. Sir? Sir. My name's Carrot Top-perchers-dottir, and I promise I don't normally walk into new towns and assault stallion-like objects on the street, I, I just…"

"Psh. That was Dobby's fault too," Dash said.

Carrot shuffled her hooves. "…Okay, I wasn't going to say it, but it does kind of feel like it was."

Dobby looked briefly wounded. "Weren't never."

"C'mon, Dobby, you dobbied at her," Dash said. "Like, that would have been your fault even if everything weren't your fault right now. Speaking of which." She leveled a hoof at her partner. "Did you steal blame from the weather factory?"

Dobby's face curled up in what might, in other ponies, have been mistaken for guilt. "They was just throwin' it all around," he mumbled. "It were clear they didn't want it none."

Dash facehoofed. "You don't steal blame, Dobby. It's nothing but trouble. Go put it back."

"I'm sorry," Carrot said. "Did you say steal blame?"

"Weren't stealing," Dobby muttered as he slunk out of Town Square.

Dash watched him leave, then turned to Carrot. "Yeah. That's just Dobby. So, uh, welcome to Apple-Morepone, Equestria's oldest, apple-est, and monster-infested-est mudpit of a rural pony-burg. Pony-ville. Something like that. Anyway, enjoy your stay, and all that other stuff I'm supposed to have memorized for when visitors arrive."

"Steal. Blame."

Dash raised an eyebrow. "Uhh, so do you normally walk into new towns looking like you're trying to pass a cuttlefish-sized kidney stone?"

"I'm sorry. I'm just trying to figure out whether to ask, A, how one steals a metaphysical construct, or B, why a City Watch member is doing something blatantly illegal."

"It wasn't illegal," Dash quickly said. "If it was, I'd have to do my job."

"Celestial Code 93,714, section 11, paragraph 1."

Dash stared. Carrot stared back expectantly.

"Oh, come on. You're just making that up."

Carrot twisted around to extract an enormous tome from her saddlebags, and dropped it in front of Dash with a thump that rattled windows in Manehattan. The Complete Equestrian Legal Code, Updated 27th Edition, 812 CE.

"Wait, seriously?" Dash said. "You've got a law book. You're serious. Being Dobby is illegal?"

Carrot shoved the book open and pointed. "No, but stealing is. 'Thievery, comma, don't do it', right there, in between the regulations on 'theremin playing, comma, acceptable hours', and 'thigh measurements, comma, Royal Guard'."

"Let me see that." Dash read, sweat beading on her brow in the special way that only impending work could inspire.

As her eyes flicked down the page, though, her muzzle curled into a smirk of triumph. "Hah!"

"What?" Carrot leaned in to read over Dash's shoulder.

"Blah blah whosoever takes 'objects' not belonging to them et cetera," Dash smugged. "Objects. See, stealing things that aren't objects isn't a crime. No paperwork to fill out." She hopped back up to her napping cloud and settled back in.

"Huh." Carrot stared down at the book. "I guess we learned something today."

"Buck, no. Learning's too much like work," Dash said. Then she paused, rolled over, and stared down through narrowed eyes. "Speaking of which, why are you lugging around a book of laws?"

"It's why I'm in Apple-Morepone, actually. Do you know where the library is?"

Dash gave her a blank look.

"I suppose that was overly optimistic. Do you know someone who would know where the library is?"

"…Probably the pony in charge?"

Carrot pulled a notebook from her saddlebags and flipped through it. "Mayor Mare?"

"Pfft!" Dash's muzzle scrunched up with poorly restrained laughter.

Carrot's face fell. "Oh, dear. I was worried that my research materials would be out of date."

"Not out of date. Just 100 percent wrong."

Carrot stared up blankly. "I don't understand. Didn't she win re-election in CE 994? Has there been some cake-based scandal that didn't make the news back home?"

Dash hopped back out of her cloud, landed next to Carrot, and circled a wing around her shoulders, grinning. "Tell you what, Carrot. I could use a snack. Let me take you to the pony who really runs this town."

From a shadowy room on the top floor of Sugarcube Corner, The Partician stared down at her ponies and brooded.

Strictly speaking, Apple-Morepone wasn't her city—not in any way that mattered to ponies with pretensions. She hadn't founded it (and hadn't even been born there). She'd never won an election. She didn't drive its economy or build its orphanages. Her face wasn't on any statues, and her name wasn't even on the Adopt-A-Highway signs advertising who volunteered for litter removal.

But she wielded a far more important sort of power in Apple-Morepone than all of those things put together. When she stared into the average pony's eyes, they immediately wanted to make her happy.

And in return, she made them happy—which, when it came to the town's livelihood, was only slightly more important than oxygen. It required unthinkable levels of behind-the-scenes effort to keep ponies' morale high in the face of cider shortages, weekly monster rampages, Dobby, and the equine tendency to scream and stampede over anything as threatening as an unannounced menu change. She'd first saved the city from itself the day she arrived—amid the Great Menu Panic of February 995—and didn't even make it to the end of the month before she'd lost count of the number of times the city would have been a smoking ruin without her.

So when The Partician brooded, the situation was dire indeed.

Across the room, a nondescript earth pony named Chum cleared his throat. "You wanted to see me, milady?"

With a flash of pink, The Partician swiveled her wheely chair away from the window to face him. In the ominous shadows, he could see a hoof stroking the head of a tiny alligator.

"There is a rot in my city, Mister Chum," she said softly.

He stiffened for a moment, eyes locked on the alligator, then flashed her a shaky smile. "That's what me and the other real estate developers have been saying, milady. Unsavory elements. Which is why we've begun our campaign of gentrification—"

"You promised not to raise rents," The Partician said, and though her voice remained near a whisper, it was as though her words sucked away all other noise in the room. "You promised."

Chum's face fell for a second, but he forced the smile back on. "Yes, of course, but I had to reassess that commitment in light of the service I could do the city by attracting more capital."

The Partician stroked the alligator in silence.

A bead of sweat rolled down Chum's forehead as his eyes strayed back to the alligator. He swallowed.

The alligator slowly blinked. His knees quivered.

"P-profits w-were down t-two percent," he said faintly. "I n-nearly was late on a p-payment on my third yacht."

The shadows shifted. An equine shape with an alligator on its shoulder stalked forward toward Chum.

"Do you know what my business is, Mister Chum?" The Partician said.

His eyes remained locked onto the alligator. "I-I, uh, well, you—"

"Happiness, Mister Chum. Happiness. And when ponies don't keep their promises, business goes down a great deal more than two percent."

Chum quailed.[2] "I-I'm certain w-we can f-find some c-compromise—"

[2] The alligator alligatored.

"Do you know what happens when my business is bad, Mister Chum?" The Partician took a step forward. Chum took a step back, his hindquarters bumping against the wall. "Let us take the example, of, say, Carousel Boutique. A young filly with fiery ambition and untested talent moved in a year ago, hoping to make a name for herself in the world of fashion. Ever since then, she has been desperately clawing for sales one by one, her savings dwindling away bit by bit—and for the first time this month, she was about to turn a profit. Then she got your new rent statement. For the past week straight, she has been eating every ounce of ice cream in Apple-Morepone, and even now you can hear her cries of 'Worst possible thing' all the way from here."

The Partician paused. Loud sobbing was audible in the far distance.

Chum gulped. "Pitiable, I agree, but that's her reaction for everything from leg cramps to the Adopt-A-Highway commission losing her application, so I really don't see how that's my fault."

The Partician stepped forward again. "That? Perhaps not. But when the owner of Ice Cream And Chaise Longues heard the young filly's news that she would be abandoning her business and moving back to Whinnyapolis, he immediately hired a bankruptcy lawyer and announced a going-out-of-business sale. Then the other establishments on Shops Selling Two Things Avenue saw the sale sign, and they stampeded to Apertures and Signs, thinking that it was the beginning of a new trend. That resulted in a rush order for ink to Huggy's Cuttlefish Emporium. Somepony at Huggy's warehouse misread the invoice and shipped a 200-ton cuttlefish instead of 200 pounds of cuttle ink. Are you proud of causing the Great Cuttlefish Attack Of May 998, Mister Chum?"

Chum froze.

"Oh," he squeaked.

"How about this year's Thirty-Seventh Ice Cream Riots?"

Chum's face blanched even further.

"The Great Plague of Gryphon Mimes?"

He paused, then blinked several times, and his expression contorted. "…What plague?"

"If you don't recognize it," The Partician said, "that would be because you rolled back your rent increases."

"Yes, milady," he groveled, and bolted out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.

The Partician sighed, brushed back her mane, and plodded back to her chair, setting the tiny alligator down on her desk. Making ponies happy was so grueling

The door slammed open again, and an egregiously pink head poked through. "Hey, Fluttershy!" Pinkie Pie chirped, thrusting a tray of fresh baked goods through the doorway. "My ear was twitching in a broody-Partician kind of way, so I brought you thirdsy-breakfasts!"

—which was why she hired the best.

The Partician—aka Lady Fluttershy Veterinarian, or "F. Vet_inari_, P_ofessi_nal Partician" as the aging doorplate outside her rented attic space would have it—dropped her "game face" and gave Pinkie a shy smile. "Oh, Pinkie, you're the best," she murmured.

"Not at everything! I'm just really good at knowing what baked goods ponies like! And how to throw all the parties that you're supposed to give despite hating everything about your job and I've never understood why you don't just retire and do something you like more!" Pinkie's leg twitched. "Ooh, and when ponies are gonna arrive, like Dashie about to walk in for her daily free lunch muffins! I'm not sure what to get her new friend yet, though. She's new."

Fluttershy nodded gravely. Downstairs, the front-door bell of Sugarcube Corner dinged.

"Why don't you, um, send the new mare upstairs," she mumbled. "I'd be happy to leave it to you if all she needed was a party, but I think maybe we've got some business I should handle myself." Fluttershy lifted the alligator from her desk, rubbed her nose to his head, and set him on Pinkie's back. "By the way, you'll be happy to know that Sir Gummikins Von Bartlesby is the picture of perfect dental health. Thank you for letting me give him a check-up."

"No problem!" Pinkie said. "I'm just glad that he's okay. He seems to get a toothache every time Mister Chum visits."

"Gosh, that's quite a coincidence."

"Sure is strange." Pinkie giggled, hoofed Fluttershy an apple torte, and bounced downstairs. "Dashie! I baked you your favorite!"

Fluttershy allowed herself the luxury of a langorous bite of pastry before retreating to her desk. She picked up one of the dossiers, flipping through to refresh her memory, and then sank back into the shadows, steepling her forehooves together.

She took a deep breath and put her game face back on.

There were hoofsteps on the attic stairs, and then Carrot wandered into the room, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dim light.

"Miss Carrot Top," The Partician said. "Welcome to Apple-Morepone."

Carrot's head swiveled toward the desk. She nodded appreciatively. "Thank you, Lady Vetinari," she said. "And in return, might I compliment you on your marvelous use of ominous lighting? I know it's only listed as 'recommended' in CC 89,822 Sec. 3 p. 41, 'Shadow Governments—Accoutrements,' but attention to detail is a mark of true character."

The Partician returned the nod. "It's good to meet somepony who appreciates it. Though I must say you're being quite kind in omitting my lack of compliance with 32,911 Sec. 6 p. 2."

Confusion flitted across Carrot's muzzle. "Elm trees, comma, branch length?"

The Partician's mouth curled into an appraising smile. "My mistake. I get that one confused with 32,119 all the time."

"Oh! Yes. Eerie music, comma, foreboding." Carrot scuffed a hoof on the carpet. "I wasn't going to say anything. It's only 'Optional', and everypony has their off days."

"I must say, you've got quite an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, Miss Carrot."

"Oh, you know how it is. For an orthodox Chiropteran, there's nothing more relaxing than a quiet night of arguing about legal code."

The Partician paused, looking at Carrot's smooth wingless back, then raised one eyebrow. "You're a batpony?"

"By both adoption and conversion." Carrot smiled. "One of my fondest memories is the night of my bat mitzvah—they let me stay up past sunrise to debate whether it was legal to cook shellfish for gryphons."

The Partician made a note in the open dossier on the desk. "Mmm. Well, that certainly fills in some gaps in your background. The records show you grew up in Apple-Morepone until age eight, when your parents were tragically lost to the 1305th Apple Panic, at which point all I could find was an emigration pass to the Old Country. What brings you back to Equestria?"

Carrot's face instantly fell. "It's not a happy story, milady. Growing up, I had always hoped to make my name in the world by buying and running my own carrot farm. I saved up 700 bits from my foalhood odd jobs—enough for a down payment at a lovely place just outside the caves. But while I was going through my old possessions to decide what to bring to the farm with me, I noticed this." Guilt creased her muzzle as she pulled out her copy of the legal code and flipped to the frontispiece, revealing a library card date-stamped CE 985. "My birth parents checked it out for me from the Apple-Morepone Library the day before they died. As their sole heir, I'm legally obligated to return it to the library and pay off the fine. My savings will just barely cover it—if the late fee of a tenth-bit per day hasn't been raised, I mean."

The Partician stood up and walked over to the window, a contemplative expression on her muzzle.

"But I don't mean to burden you with my problems, milady. I'm not one to give up on dreams—I'll figure out a way to buy the farm. Really, I just wanted to get this returned and head back home. Would you mind terribly pointing me in the library's direction?"

The Partician stared out the window. "Destroyed in the cuttlefish attack last week, I'm sorry to say."

"Oh." Worry shaded into Carrot's voice. "I can't go back until I check this back in. I'm in quite a pickle."

"That makes two of us," The Partician said, sweeping a hoof toward the town outside. "Apple-Morepone is a troubled town, Miss Carrot. I dream of a day when its ponies are happy, but my efforts in that direction are frustrated by a growing epidemic of broken laws and broken promises. Fortunately, I believe I have a proposition that will help both of us achieve our dreams."

Carrot's ears perked up. "Oh?"

"While you're waiting for the library to be rebuilt," The Partician said, "how would you like a job?"

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