• 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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2. In Which Daring Do Is Still 4 Credits Short Of Graduation

Apple-Morepone was, if nothing else, a place of contradictions. Tamed gardens and orchards lay alongside the sprawling chaos of the Everfree. Life was sleepy and peaceful, with panics so regular you could set your pocketwatch by them. It was an unimportant rural outpost and the inexplicably frequent target of Princess Celestia's holiday celebrations. It was an earth pony town with earth pony traditions, full of thousands of drifters of all tribes and races who found themselves settling into the languid gravity well of central Equestria.

If one were to dissect Equestria, Apple-Morepone wouldn't be its heart. Like every living creature, its heart was slightly off-center, in this case clinging to the ribs of the Canter Mountains. Apple-Morepone was right squat in the middle of the beast, and generally a great deal less dignified than its heart. More like an esophagus.

The City Watch headquarters was the squat, ugly starfish at the far end of that.

Built shortly after the city's founding by erstwhile architect Bloody Stupid Apple, it was to normal buildings what Dobby was to ponies. It had what could be charitably described as an entrance, walls, and possibly even a roof if one squinted and looked at it from the right angle. Connoisseurs of buildings generally praised its stairs to nowhere, on account of being raised to always find at least one nice thing to say.

It sat—as it had since its construction—at the edge of the Everfree, directly in the path of virtually every monster rampage the city faced. The town's oldest betting pool was for the date of its destruction, and you could tell how long a pony had lived in Apple-Morepone by which stage of gambling they had progressed to: Betting On "This Week" (denial); Betting On "This Year" (bargaining); Leading The Monster Toward The Building (anger); Realizing Why The Pool Was So Big (depression); Betting On "Never" (acceptance).

Carrot lowered the directions that The Partician had given her, double-checked the address, stared at the building some more, and finally let out a breath.

"Here goes nothing," she said.

Carrot pushed open the building's front door, only to hear a dull thunk as it swung into a second closed door a yard behind it. She blinked, stared at the second door, glanced around at the alleged architecture, then shrugged and stepped halfway into the cramped antechamber. She pushed at the second door, which didn't open it but did flex it just enough to let the first door swing fully open. Carrot pulled the inner door open to reveal a room, and started to step through triumphantly—then heard the doors grind against each other as they both tried to swing closed and hit each other halfway.

She set her jaw, finagled the two doors apart, wedged herself into the antechamber and braced a leg against the outer door. She swung the inner door shut, pushed it to flex it, stood up on hind legs so she had the room to swing the outer door shut, opened the inner door just enough to wedge through, and entered.

"Cor blimey," said a cream-colored earth pony with a puffy blue-and-pink mane, who was staring wide-eyed at her from behind a desk-shaped pile of paper just to her right. A nametag pinned to her collar read "CPL B. BONGUA". "We got a genius on our hooves, lasses. Got the door first try, she did."

A sea of heads poked out from around corners and behind desks, and Carrot got her first glimpse of the true diversity of Apple-Morepone.

The collection of beings in the building was such a motley that the word had transcended adjective status and was infringing on noun. Aside from the earth pony in front of her and a familiar rainbow-haired pegasus, the room had a sea-green unicorn, a Diamond Dog, two bug-pony things, a wossname[3], a large rock, and Dobby. Carrot politely nodded at each of the beings in turn, gave Bongua a little bow, and said, "Good afternoon, Corporal. Might I speak to your captain?"

[3] A legendary fourth tribe of ponies, considered legendary due to their tribal gift being "the ability to be seen once, and then completely forgotten about thereafter".

As one, every being in the room broke out into a grin. There was a great rustling, fumbling, and opening of drawers.

"Yo! Captain!" Dash shouted toward the back of the building. "Company!"

Carrot waited, confused, as an older zebra mare wearing flagrant gold jewelry staggered out from a back office that looked like a converted jail cell. Her eyes were bloodshot, her mohawk-style mane bent to one side as if it had been slept on, and the few potted plants brave enough to endure the premises were shrinking back from her aura of alcohol.

The zebra swept a dagger-like glare around the room, then assessed the new arrival and sighed. "Yes, I am the commandant," she slurred. "Who're you?" She paused, traced a hoof in the air while muttering to herself, and added, "Something something want."

Even more lost, Carrot fell back on the shiny "CAPT Z. RHYMES" nametag glued crookedly to the zebra's chest fur. "Ah," Carrot hazarded, "Captain Rhymes?"

"Yes!" the room shouted as one. "She does!"

From a dozen desks simultaneously, thrown bits rained toward a half-full jar in the corner. "Captain's Retirement Fund," its label read. "1 bit per racist joke."

"Thank you for your contributions," Rhymes muttered through gritted teeth. "You'll die first in the revolution."

"I. Ah." Carrot stepped forward into the captain's antiseptic radius, stuck out a hoof, and put on a cautious smile. "My name is Carrot Top-perchers-dottir, and The Partician said to tell you she was asking pretty please to give me a job?"

"Of course," Captain Rhymes said acidly, then sighed. "I, um, something, beware…" Her eyes crossed for a moment as she thought, lips slowly moving.

Carrot politely waited, feeling her blood alcohol content rise by osmosis. A few suppressed snickers, however, spurred her to clear her throat. "Beware what, Capt—"

"Sssh. Almost got it."

Carrot waited some more.

Finally, Rhymes nodded, drawing herself up to an approximation of dignity. "When that one plots, I should beware. But right now I'm too drunk to care. Not only drunk but also tired. Your desk's there, go away, you're hired."

Captain Rhymes stomped back to her jail-office and slammed the bars shut.

"Dibs on the hazing run," Dash said into the sudden silence.

Bongua slammed a hoof on her desk. "Bloody hell!"

Carrot lowered her still-outstretched limb. "I must admit I was expecting a slightly more rigorous interview."

Bongua trotted over. "Carrot me lass, you'll learn right quick not to expect any-bloody-thing out of this place but a paycheque." She shouldered Carrot with a lopsided grin. "An' while Dash called dibs on your first kip, I'll be swoggled if it ain't me right to do introductions."

Carrot stuck out her hoof again, and this time, got a warm shake in response. "I'd be honored, Corporal Bongua."

"Bonnie, an' I'll thank ye." Bongua raised her voice and shot the sea-green unicorn a glare. "Or 'Bon Bon' if yer trying to get into me pants."

The unicorn rolled her eyes. "I've told you a thousand times, I'm not interested in freaks."

"Sure an' tosh, Corporal Heartstrings."

Heartstrings stiffened. "Excuse you," she said icily.

Carrot glanced uncertainly back and forth between the two. "Ah," she hazarded, "Corporal, I certainly don't mean to be rude in my ignorance, but isn't that exactly what it says on your badge?"

Heartstrings' muzzle flushed. "Yes, well, I'm getting my name legally changed so ponies will take me more seriously." She stepped up to Carrot and shook her hoof. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Humans-Are-Real-One-Lives-In-The-Everfree-Ask-Me-For-Pictures."

"Ye can't keep going on about that, Heartstrings," Bongua said. "Ye know Canterlot's rejected that bloody petition six times now."

"All part of the conspiracy," Heartstrings hissed.

Carrot grimaced. "Perhaps so, Corporal, but the name is illegal under 'Hyphenation, excessive,' CC 46,447, Sec. 3 p. 2."

The unicorn pouted. "Well, I'm not answering to Heartstrings, and that's final."

"Heart Heart, then," Bongua said with a smirk.

Carrot eyed her dubiously, then turned to Dash, who had wandered over after putting on her "CPL M. DASH" badge and her dented helmet. "Corporal Dash," Carrot said, "given that the corporal's desired name is illegal and she dislikes her original one, perhaps it's time to fall back on nicknames. What do her other coworkers call her?"

Dash raised an eyebrow. "When they're not calling her a liar? Uh…"

"Corporal Lyra," Carrot said with some relief, grabbing the unicorn's hoof and shaking it. "Pleased to meet you."

Lyra scowled at Dash as Bongua erupted into giggles. "I hate you so much, Miriam," she muttered.

Dash stared at her for a moment, mind once again passing through its slow drip cycle, before glancing at Carrot. "Hey, if she gets an awesome nickname like Lyra, can I be Rainbow?"

"Certainly, Corporal Rainbow."

"Don't you start with—" Lyra snapped, then paused mid-thought. "What do you mean, Lyra is awesome?"

"Isn't it the name of a constellation?" Dash said. "And not one of the lame ones like Cancer."

—It's The Name Of A Star, Actually, the rock rumbled from its chair behind a nearby desk.

Carrot jumped. Only a little.

"Huh," Lyra said. "Okay. A stellar name. I dig it."

—Pleased To Meet You, Miss Carrot, the rock grated. Welcome To The Watch.

Carrot tentatively reached out a hoof to touch the rock, hoping she wasn't poking it in the unmentionables. "It's a pleasure, Corporal Tom. Though, if I might ask…are you entirely well? I've heard rocks before, and you sound like death warmed over."

—Just A Spot Of The Metamorphic Flu. It's Why I'm On Desk Duty Today.

"So that's Tom then," Bongua said, leading Carrot through the office. "And this is Scrappy who's a good boy yes you are, an' it's so brill when he wags his tail like that. And this is Scrapp…" Bongua glanced back and forth between the two Diamond Dogs, the first one of which was wearing a guilty expression. "Bloody stockpots, Reginald."

The first diamond dog burst into a haze of cool green fire, and when the fire cleared away, it left behind one of the bug ponies.

"I was hungry," Reginald mumbled.

"Go be me at Lyra then, mate."

"I heard that!"

Carrot hoof-bumped the bug-pony and the Diamond Dog as she walked past. "Corporal Reginald, Corporal-Accountant Scrappy, a pleasure to meet you both."

"Yo, Carrot," Dash said, falling in alongside them. "What's with you calling everyone 'Corporal' all the time?"

"Because you're supposed to use the titles of ponies who outrank you, Corporal," Carrot said. "I just got hired, which makes me a constable."

"Pfft, are you kidding?" Dash said. "They don't want us to feel unappreciated. Everypony's a corporal here, including you."


"I'm not," the second bugpony muttered.

"Yes an' well, Sally, you was demoted," Bongua said. "An' what lesson did we learn from that?"

Sally hung her head. "Not to shapeshift into a bottle of scrump around the Captain, no matter how starving I am."

Dash shuddered. "Now that was a sight I'll never unsee."

"That's most all everyone, it is," Bongua said. "An' the bugger who just nicked all our name badges is Dobby."

"I were keepin' em warm for you," Dobby mumbled. "Nuffin worse'n a cold badge."

"We've met," Carrot said as Dobby returned her badge, then did a double-take. "Dobby? How did you get this?"

"It were on the ground."

"No, I meant, I got hired literally a minute ago. You stole something that doesn't actually exist."

"Ain't stealin then."

Carrot opened her mouth, then paused. "…That's actually a good point."

Dobby shrugged.

"But I'll need my law book back."

"Ain't yours." Dobby pointed to the "Property of Apple-Morepone Library" bookplate on the spine.

Carrot thought. "Also a good point. So I suppose if you're willing to assume responsibility for the 687-bit fine, then how did you even fit it into my pocket, it barely wedges into my saddlebags."

Dobby shrugged again and wandered off.

"I think he fancies you," Bongua said, elbowing Carrot. "He didn't nick nothin' as he scarpered."

"First, ew." Carrot shuddered. "Second, how in the Princess' name did the Watch ever hire an individual so passionately dedicated to the art of larceny?"

Bongua shrugged. "He poshed up all proper for the interview."

"What, did some respectability, air-quote, 'fall off the back of a wagon'?"

Dash's eyebrows raised. "How'd you know?"

Carrot rubbed a hoof to her suddenly aching temple. "I get the feeling he will be the source of quite a great deal of paperwork."

"Depends how often you look in his direction." Dash rubbed her hooves together and grinned. "But speaking of paperwork! Time for your haz—uhh, your first patrol."

In a neighborhood on the wrong side of Apple-Morepone's tracks [4], Corporal Dash plodded along after a smiling, strutting Corporal Carrot.

[4] The side with mean streets. Which is to say, disturbingly average.

"Sheesh, Carrot," Dash grumbled. "You sure know how to take all the fun out of hazing."

"I'm not sure what you mean," Carrot said. "We've found plenty of evidence of crime, just like you wanted."

"Yes, and somehow I'm the one writing it all down." Dash's eyes suddenly widened. "No, don't—"

But Carrot was already smiling and waving at some mares with flower cutie marks lounging on a street corner. "Greetings, ladies! Any crimes to report this fine afternoon?"

Dash whimpered.

The mares looked at each other. "Come to think of it," one said, "I paid Mister Cut-Me-Own-Throat Apple to deliver me some apples on Friday, but he never brought me anything."

Carrot nodded gravely. "I promise you the Watch will look into this miscarriage of justice. Let's get their statements down, Rainbow."

"No," Dash said, flinging her notebook to the ground. "This is stupid."

Carrot frowned, picked the notebook up, and hoofed it back at her. "It's our sacred charge as members of the Guard, Miss Dash, and if you're not going to take pride in demonstrating proper incident documentation to new recruits—which I've already established that CC 8,244 requires—then at least take some pride in yourself."

Dash sighed. "Look. Nopony can say I don't earn an honest paycheck, okay? But this one is stupid because Cut-Me-Own-Throat died on Friday morning."

"What?" Carrot blinked rapidly. "That timing sounds awfully suspicious. Was there any evidence of foul play?"

"He cut his own throat shaving."

"Oh." Carrot winced.

"Yeah. Mac's taken over the apple stall and AJ's been at Coffins and Cake [5] all weekend. So can we please move on and—" Dash made a strangled noise in the back of her throat and flung herself in Carrot's path. "Not that way!"

[5] "Putting the fun in funeral!"

"But there's a group of ne'er-do-wells and rapscallions there on Ruffians' Corner, and Miss Hooves said that she saw some shady ponies matching their description when her muffin was stolen off her kitchen windowsill this morning."

"Exactly my point!"

Carrot tilted her head. "They're potential lawbreakers. I thought you said you earned an honest paycheck."

Dash opened and closed her mouth. "…Can you please explain what you think our job is?"

"Well, admittedly all my prior experience with law enforcement is from the Old Country, but according to CC 8,241, local City Watches, while fiduciarily independent, are organized under the strictures and regulations of the Equestrian Royal Guard, and are granted all the rights and privileges thereto—"

"Little. Words."

"We arrest criminals."

Dash stared.

"We. Um. Put bad ponies in jail place?"

"C'mon, I know what you meant. What I don't know is how you got that impression. Is your law book, like, a hundred years old?"

Carrot rubbed the back of her head. "A hundred and eighty-six, if we're counting. Why?"

Dash facehooved. "Carrot. For generations now Equestria's been protected by Princess-sanctioned plucky bands of heroes roaming the land to learn friendship lessons. The entire point of the City Watch is to watch crimes. Then we take notes on what we see, so that when a hero comes to town they can use the power of their friendship to confront the villains and foil their plots."

Carrot blinked.

"I mean, yeah, I guess we're technically Royal Guard since they do give us Guard uniforms, but we don't get any of the training. We're literally forbidden to approach criminals—let alone make arrests."

Carrot wilted a little bit. "That's…oh. Well." She put on a shaky smile. "It's important to follow rules, right? We wouldn't want to deprive heroes of valuable friendship lessons."

"That's the other thing," Dash said bitterly. "Sunset Shimmer disappeared a few years back, Cadance got pulled from the program when she grew wings, and Shining Armor got stuck in Canterlot when he was promoted. So there aren't any plucky roaming heroes, and there haven't been for years." She kicked a pebble at a nearby building. "Celestia keeps promising she's got one in the works or something, but the smart betting-pool money says that's at least two years out."

"What?!" Carrot's smile vanished. "Then who keeps greater Equestria crime-free?"

Dash shrugged.

"That can't be right. That can't—where's the rules? What, specifically, says we can't make arrests?"

Dash rummaged through her saddlebags. "I, uh, think I've got a pamphlet…where'd it go…whoah!" she said as Carrot snatched the rumpled ball of paper out of her hooves, eyes flicking desperately through the text.

Carrot's face slowly fell.

An uncomfortable flutter passed through Dash's heart. Her junior partner looked like a kicked puppy.

Dash sighed and put a hoof out to Carrot's shoulder. "Listen, kid. I know what you're feeling, okay? All my life I dreamed of a job where I could make a difference. Like making clouds, except those weather jerks keep sending back my resumes unread no matter how many colors of crayon I use." She lowered her head and turned away. "Then the Watch said they'd give me an interview, and I thought, hey, fighting crime sounds pretty awesome. What filly doesn't dream of growing up, putting on a snazzy uniform, and flying through the air punching dragons or something? Then my first day on the job was exactly like yours." She smiled ruefully at the ground. "But look at how well I turned out. A cynical, jaded, washed-up failure—but a failure with a fat, comfortable paycheck from a job I can't lose, short of a monster destroying HQ. That's kind of like a dream job, right? It's gotta be somepony's dream job. Heck, I know some ponies who would give their left pinfeather for that sort of security. So cheer up, okay? Make the best of things. All you've gotta do is give up on the idea that you matter, and then you'll find clever ways to dodge paperwork like the rest of us."

Silence was the only response.


Dash turned back around. Carrot wasn't there.

In the distance, at Ruffian's Corner, a golden square-jawed pony was surrounded by burly forms.

"DAMMIT, Carrot!" Dash yelled, squaring off her dented helmet and zipping into action. In a flash, she'd covered the intervening distance, and was preparing to bull-rush one of the ne'er-do-wells out of the way so she could grab her partner and bolt. Only to hear…raucous laughter?

"My word!" Carrot said, gasping for breath. "What happened to the chicken?"

"Eeeh, ya know," said one of the ne'er-do-wells, a chunky brown pegasus with a weightlifting Mark. "There's a stonking great BUCK-AWK!, and Bob's yer uncle, an' next thing ya know it's the Great Poultry Stampede of 997."

"Ohohohoh!" Carrot said, wiping a tear from her eye. "Oh, Corporal Rainbow, come join us. These lads were just telling me about how their friends failed their henchmare exams. Hilarious stuff, I'll tell you what."

Dash stared. "What."

A dark brown rapscallion with five-o'-clock shadow and a skull-key Mark raised his eyebrow at Dash, then turned to Carrot. "I theenk your friend has eet backward."

"It's alright, Mister Caballeron," Carrot said. "She's a little tired—she's been writing reports all afternoon. Speaking of, we should take your accounts."

Caballeron turned to Dash. "We deed not steal that muffin, Mees Rainbow. Thees petty crime, eet is beneath us." He stomped the ground. "But I have many evil deeds to confess! I am getting a degree in reprehension! I want to be a villain someday, and I must prepare my CV! So we weel help you soil our names."

"YEEEEAAAHHH!" the pile of muscle alongside him roared.

"Oh, shut up, Bulk," the chunky ne'er-do-well said. "You ain't never committed no crimes. You're a disgrace to ruffians everywhere."

Bulk hung his head. "Yeeeeaaaaaaah," he said sadly.

What followed was the most laborious hour of crime reports that Corporal Dash had ever taken. Three full notebooks later, she rubbed her eyes. "C'mon, Carrot," she pleaded. "Our shift's almost over and we've done, like, a month's worth of work at once."

Carrot—who had long since returned to her chipper, bright-eyed self—nodded and shook Caballeron's hoof. "True. We ought to be getting back to headquarters. Thank you for your cooperation."

Caballeron let out a long breath, his ears drooping. "Do you theenk eet will be enough? Eet ees so discouraging, investing so many beets een higher education and being blamed for muffin theft. Ees there really any demand for an evil archaeologist?"

"Mister Caballeron," Carrot said solemnly, "never give up on your dreams. Our destinies were given to us for a reason. I know it's hard to keep the faith sometimes, but I just know that your heroine is out there somewhere, and someday she'll find you and defeat you."

Caballeron lunged in to hug her, tears brimming in his eyes. "Thank you, Mees Carrot. Thank you for believing een me."

The watchmares walked away—Dash in numb silence, Carrot smiling and waving over her shoulder.

"Well," Dash finally said, "that was the most demoralizing experience I've ever had on the force."

"On the contrary, Miss Rainbow," Carrot said cheerfully, "we're doing the Princess' own work. That's exactly the sort of villain we're here to document. Without us, he'd be committing crimes nopony ever noticed. Imagine putting so much effort into his Cutie Mark and not even being a footnote in the criminal histories."

"Yeah," Dash said bitterly. "Or imagine being me, dreaming of making a difference someday, and finding out that the rest of my life is writing down the little details of cuttlefish-insurance pyramid schemes."

Carrot chewed her lip.

"Miss Rainbow," she said softly, "never give up on your dreams. I'm here to earn money so I can buy a farm, and I can't say that I expected crime documentation to be my route to that, but while I'm here I'm going to do the best darn job at it that I can. Likewise, think of this as just a stepping-stone for you. We'll get you that weather position."

Dash vaguely waved a hoof. "That's not it. I want the weather job, but I don't want want the job, y'know? I want to prove to myself I can be good enough for them to hire me. But my dream is making a difference, and if I can't do that here, how's that ever going to change?"

"We just did make a difference," Carrot said hesitantly.

"Yeah, well, not a cool one." Dash leapt ahead of Carrot, whirling around to face her. "What ever happened to keeping Equestria free of crime? Weren't you the one that said we're technically guards and where's the rule about not making arrests? Don't tell me you like this!"

Carrot squirmed. "Miss Rainbow, we have to follow the rules, as uncomfortable as they are."

Dash scoffed. "You walked up to a criminal, in direct violation of the thingumie that says we're supposed to leave that to the heroes!"

"Well, you did say that there were no active heroes," Carrot said. "That's an obvious chain-of-command disruption as defined in CC 12,730. And CC 4,144 clearly delineates additional responsibilities given to the Royal Guard when unable to establish a full chain of command. While Watch constables are explicitly restricted from Guard privileges except as delineated in pamphlet page 3 paragraph 8, we're not constables, we're corporals, and per CC 56,298, us being officers allows us to invoke 4,144 and waive at our discretion all unit restrictions not specified to be unwaivable, such as the prohibition against approaching criminals."

Dash's jaw dropped.

"That, right there?" she said slowly. "Why aren't you doing that to find a loophole that lets us arrest ponies?"

"Hunh," Carrot said, and put her hoof to her chin in thought.

Dash did an antsy hooftip dance.

"I just can't get us to arrests," Carrot said after an interminable period of thinking. "There's a whole subsection of CC 56,292 specifically granting those powers, which the Watch charter never invokes. But." Her lips curled into a smile. "The entire Guard is, and I quote, 'authorized to use all friendly means, up to and including gently phrased requests, to keep the peace and protect the Equestrian populace'."

Dash's dance slowed. Her expression tried to contort in three different ways at once.

"C'mon, Carrot," she whined. "You're busting my wings here."

"Your dream isn't arrests, Miss Rainbow. It's making a difference."

"How are we going to stop crime with gently phrased requests?"

"You'll never know," Carrot said brightly, "until you try."

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