• Published 25th Jul 2012
  • 8,297 Views, 512 Comments

Under A Luminous Sky - Jake The Army Guy



Twilight and an investigator from Canterlot must catch a killer

  • ...
25
 512
 8,297

Chapter Thirteen- Fooled By The Serpent

Under A Luminous Sky

by

Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Thirteen: Fooled By the Serpent


The three of them silently made their was back to the library. Bentgrass hadn’t said a word since they left the psychiatric ward, merely staring straight ahead. Spike walked next to Twilight. A few times he had opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Twilight kept her head down, trying to lose herself in her thoughts, but no amount of focus could drown out the whispers and rumors surrounding her.

“It must have been all the years of isolation that drove Zecora bonkers.”

“Is it true that she tried to kill Twilight?”

“I heard she ripped the sheriff’s heart out and made him eat it before he died!”

Spike sighed and spun to face the ponies leering at them. “All right, guys, that’s enough. Twilight’s had a rough night. Please leave us alone.” The amassed ponies ignored him, still muttering to each other and leering at Twilight.

Finally, Spike growled an raised his head to the sky, unleashing a small torrent of green flame. The ponies before him cried out and retreated from the searing heat. Spike looked back down at the frightened crowd, smoke bellowing from his mouth. “Get outta here!”

The ponies turned tail and ran, the memories of Spike’s fight with the monster still fresh in their minds. Spike let out a sharp breath, expelling the remaining smoke before turning back to Twilight and placing his arm over her shoulder. “Come on, Twi. Let’s go.”

Wordlessly, the trio continued. The group let out a collective sigh when they finally reached the library, all of them eager to get away from the leering eyes and whispers

Libraries weren't exactly known for their upbeat energy, and the Books and Branches was no exception. Twilight had always done her best to keep the library quiet and calm, minor laboratory explosions not withstanding. She found the quiet very reassuring; a gentle presence around her that kept the worries of the world at bay.

However, as she sat at the kitchen table, her head resting on her forelegs on the tabletop, the serenity felt oppressive. A thick cloud of dread permeated the small kitchen, dampening her already sour mood. Even the colors seemed muted and dull despite the bright late-afternoon sun that poured in from the window above the sink. The only sound was the rhythmic tapping from Bentgrass's forehoof. Seated across the table from her, the agent was as silent as he had been in the walk from the hospital. He sat there, staring intently at some random point on the far wall, a slight scowl in his face.

Twilight sighed and rubbed her eyes. Part of her wanted to be happy. They'd caught the killer; Ponyville was safe once more. However, the echoes of her friend pounding her padded hooves on thick glass ran through her mind, killing any relief she might feel. Zecora...

A quiet scraping sound brought her back to reality. A plate bearing a daisy sandwich was pushed in front if her. Looking up, she saw Spike wearing a sympathetic smile. She turned her head away and pushed the plate back to him.

Undeterred, Spike push it back. "Come on, Twi. You have to eat something."

"Not hungry." She didn't even raise her head.

"It's your fav-o-rite!" he said in a sing-song tone. Twilight didn't even flinch.

Spike sighed and picked up the sandwich, taking a small bite and chewing thoughtfully. Several more minutes of silence passed. After he finished the sandwich, Spike turned and put a claw on Twilight’s shoulder. “Hey, Twi, cheer up. I know things seem bad now, but don't worry. They’ll go back to normal eventually. They always do."

"Not this time," she muttered, shrugging off his claw.

Spike was unfazed. "Twi, think about it! Nightmare Moon; Discord; the world-ending eldritch abominations that you and the girls knock out of the sky every other Saturday! This is nothing compared to those, and life went back to normal anyway.”

“This is different!" She stood from her chair and walked to the sink, staring out the window. "This... this time a friend got hurt! Somepony I know is gone and never coming back." Her voice became very small. "I should have done something."

"No." Spike walked up and grabbed her by the shoulders, whipping her around to face him. His slitted eyes bored into hers. "You stop that right now, Twilight! There was nothing you could have done. There was no way you could have seen this coming. You hadn't even seen Zecora in almost a month!"

"Exactly!" She threw his claws off and stormed away, crossing the tile floor and stopping near the wall. “All those things you mentioned! Deranged goddesses, vengeful spirits! I can solve those problems without breaking a sweat! But the one time somepony really needs my help...” She slowly slid down the wall to the ground, the floor very cool against her haunches. “I should have been able to do something,” she said, hanging her head. “I... I failed her.”

The sound of claws clacking on the floor made her turn around. Spike stood before her, appraising her with an angry gaze, and roughly grabbed her shoulders. Twilight let out a soft grunt as he yanked her into a fierce hug. Twilight sat still at first, but eventually returned the gesture, enjoying the pleasant warmth radiating from his steel-hard scales.

The two sat there for a moment, Bentgrass's tapping hoof the only sound in the tiny kitchen. Finally, Spike pulled away and looked into Twilight’s eyes, his claws still on her shoulders. "You know, Twi, for a genius, you can be pretty stupid at times." She chuckled as Spike sat down next to her, bringing his knees to his chest and wrapping his arm around her. "You can't be everywhere, Twi. Don't let all those times you've saved the world trick you into thinking you're some kind of superhero. Sometimes bad things happen to those we love, and all you can do is accept it.”

“I know,” Twilight said, “but this isn’t a fallen apple tree or a lost opportunity at meeting the Wonderbolts. Zecora’s gone, and... and she’s not coming back.”

“You’re right. And you know what? You could do what you’re doing now and just cry about it.” Spike sighed, turning his head to look at her. “Tell me, is that what you’re going to do when I leave?”

Twilight took in a sharp breath, turning her head to face his.

“Is it? Are you going to mope around for the rest of your life?” A gentle smirk graced his lips. “Because if you do, so help me Celestia, I will find a way to bring you back to life, just so I can yell at you.”

Twilight tried to maintain her sour countenance, but couldn’t hold back the bark of laughter. “You would do something like that.”

He stuck his chin out, a sideways grin on his face. “Darn right I would!”

The two laughed. As their laughter died down, Spike turned back to Twilight. "Look, what happened to Zecora sucks." Twilight glared at him. "What? It does!" he said with a shrug. "But life goes on, you know? She's gone, but we're still here. All we can do is move on, and remember the good times."

"I know." She spoke softly, her head still hung low. "I just wish I could have been there for her, maybe spent more time with her."

"Y-Yeah." Spike was silent for a moment, gnawing on his lower lip. “H-Hey, Twi?”

“Yeah?”

“I think... tomorrow I’m gonna tell the girls—about me going away, I mean.”

A small smile spread across Twilight’s face. “You are? But I thought you didn’t want them to worry?”

“Well, I don’t,” he stammered, rubbing the back of his neck, “but I think they deserve to know, you know?” His head turned to Bentgrass, who hadn’t moved during the entire conversation. “Besides, I’d hate to leave things unfinished for them.”

When he turned his head back to Twilight, he groaned loudly at the goofy grin she wore. “Oh, shut up.”

“What? I didn’t say anything!”

“You didn’t need to! You had that, ‘aw, my widdle guy’s all gwown up’ look you get!”

She turned her head up, looking at the ceiling with a playful smirk. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She peeked her eye back down at him and the eyebrow he raised. When their eyes met, they both collapsed on each other’s shoulders in a fit of giggles.

Finally, after she wiped a tear from her eye, she looked back at him with a smile. “Thanks, Spike. What am I going to do without you?”

“Continue to be brilliant,” he said with a half-grin. “And most likely have a nervous breakdown before the year’s out.”

Twilight chuckled again. “You know, you have this uncanny ability to ruin a moment.”

He opened his mouth to reply when a loud, obnoxious knocking came from the main room. He rolled his eyes and stood up. “I’ll get it.”

Slowly, Twilight stood back up, making her way back to the table where Bentgrass sat, still tapping his hoof. She eased herself back into the chair, eyeing the silent detective. Neither the rhythm nor tempo of the tapping had changed since her conversation with Spike had begun. It was a little unnerving, the way he sat there. His head was supported by his foreleg on top of the table. His brow was furrowed, and he stared at the far wall with blank expression that made the hair on the back of Twilight’s neck stand on end. If it weren’t for the staccato tapping of his other forehoof, Twilight might have thought he was asleep.

Spike’s voice wafted in from the main room. “Sorry, we’re clo— hey!”

Twilight turned at the sound of approaching hoofsteps. Not two seconds later, Professor Parchment rounded the corner, wearing the same tacky sweater vest as before and beaming at her.

“Ah, there’s the crime-fighting couple of the hour!” He walked up to the table and stood by the middle, flanked by Twilight and Bentgrass.“I just wanted t’ congratulate the two of you! The streets of Ponyville are safe once again!”

Neither one spoke, or even looked up at him as he grinned at them. Parchment stood there for a moment before leaning next to Twilight. “So, how does it feel to be a hero once again, lass? The whole town will be singing your praises fer a while now!”

Twilight shot him a glare then turned her attention back to Bentgrass, who still hadn’t moved.

With a nervous laugh, Parchment turned to Bentgrass. “Eh, so, Benty. I suppose you should be headed back to Canterlot now, eh? Not much left to do.”

Bentgrass said nothing, merely continuing his attempt at tapping a hole in the kitchen table. After a few moments of silence, Twilight sighed and spoke. “And what about you, Professor? Shouldn’t you be getting back to Trotsburg?”

Parchment nodded. “Aye, I’m heading to the train station now. But it’s a long ride, so I figured I'd stop by and see if your library has any books that catch my fancy. I’d send them back as soon as I’m done with them.”

“Of course. Spike can help you find anything you’d like.”

“Um, actually, I was hoping you would lend me a hoof, Miss Sparkle.” He smiled at her and leaned in a bit closer. “I’m workin’ on a special project, and I’d like yer input. I think you’d be an immense help.”

Twilight sighed and rolled her eyes. Yeah, I bet I know what kind of ‘input’ you want. Still, it would be a chance to get back to her work, and possibly help take her mind off of Zecora. “Sure, why not?” She slowly stood and began to walk towards the main room. “It’s not like I have anything better to do,” she muttered.

Parchment beamed at her. “Oh, thank you so much, lass! You’ll probably be havin’ a lot of time on yer hooves, now that you’ve caught the killer.”

“Have we?”

Both Parchment and Twilight jerked to a halt, turning to face Bentgrass. He still sat at the table, staring at the same spot on the wall, but the incessant tapping had ceased.

“What was that, Bentgrass?” Twilight asked.

He turned his head to face them. “I said, ‘have we?’ Have we actually caught the killer?”

After a moment, Parchment took a step towards Bentgrass. “What’re you talking about, lad? That crazy Zebra mare is locked up right now!”

“True,” Bentgrass said, before locking eyes on Parchment, “but is she the killer?”

The words hung in the air as silence descended. Twilight eventually spoke up. “But, Bentgrass, you were the one who was sure it was her.”

“Yes, I was. Now... I’m not so sure.”

From behind them, Parchment let out a scoff. “Lad, have you gone daft? I told you about the spirit ward, and the word Mbwun!”

“Yes.”

Parchment stared at him before snorting and stamping a hoof. “She nearly killed the sheriff, and she tried to kill the two of you!”

“I am aware of this, Professor,” Bentgrass said quietly, now looking down at the ground, pawing at the white tile floor. “But still...”

Twilight stepped up next to him, her hooves shaking. “But what?”

“Well, if you’ll permit me,” he said as he slowly looked up at Twilight, the barest hints of a smile on his face, “it doesn’t feel right.”

After a moment of silence, a loud bark of laughter came from across the kitchen. Parchment took another step towards the pair. “What’s there to feel, lad? You said she was crazy, and look at her! She’s drooling on herself in the loony bin!”

“Precisely!” Bentgrass looked away from Twilight, the cold, business-like gaze once again on his face. “I believed her to be delusional, not... stark-raving mad!

“What’s the difference, lad?!”

“There is a large difference, Professor! Even patients in the grips of the deepest psychosis are able to at least form coherent words. She’s acting more like... like a cavepony!”

Twilight stepped in front of Bentgrass, ignoring the incredulous look from Parchment. “Keep going, Bentgrass.”

Bentgrass walked past them both and into the main room of the library. He paced across the wooden floor, looking down at the floor as he spoke. “Think back to Berry Punch, Twilight. Remember the autopsy photos?” Twilight nodded through a shudder. “Not a single mark on her body past what was needed for the killer to get what he wanted. It was precise, methodical, conservative even.” He stopped pacing and faced Twilight. “Do any of those words describe Ms. Zecora in her current condition?”

“Not in the least!” Twilight was smiling now. A bright ray of hope shined inside of her. It was possible...

“Furthermore,” Bentgrass said, resuming his trek around the room, “Doctor Sparkle, in your estimation, how difficult would it be to cast the kind of spell required to mutate the parasprites and poor Angel Bunny?”

Twilight’s brow furrowed, numbers and calculations flying through her head. “Well, I don’t have all the variables, but based solely on the amount of power used on the parasprites, it would take an enormous level of concentration and focus.”

Bentgrass had made his way over to her. He looked dead into her eyes. The harsh, interrogative look in his eyes remained, but a light smile played across his lips. “Again, did Zecora seem capable of any level of focus?”

Twilight met his gaze with one of her own, his determination mirrored in her eyes. “Absolutely not!”

From across the room, Parchment spoke up. “Okay, so... who did do it then?”

Bentgrass glanced at Parchment before turning away and walking towards one of the massive bookshelves along the wall. “I don’t know.” His eyes closed, though Twilight could see them dart back and forth as he thought. Finally, he let out a loud grunt and reared his forelegs up, slamming them against the shelf. Twilight tensed slightly, her inner librarian screaming at the abuse of literature.

Bentgrass stood there for several seconds, resting both his forehooves against the shelf, breathing heavily, his head hung. “The puzzle pieces are right there in front of me, but for the life of me I cannot make them fit together!” He eased himself back to the ground, his eyes still closed. “There is something we are missing here. Something important...”

“So, what do we do next?” Twilight asked.

“Wait, don’t tell me your actually believing this, lass?

Twilight whipped around and glared at him. “She’s my friend! If there’s a chance, even a chance that she’s innocent, we have to look into it.” She stared for a few more moments, then turned back to Bentgrass. “What should we do?”

Bentgrass tapped his chin a few times. “We shall go speak to Ms. Fluttershy. See if she is absolutely sure it was Zecora she saw. Most likely, she is at the Sheriff’s office, where they are keeping Angel.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay, let’s go.” With that, she trotted towards the door. “Spike, hold down the fort.” Spike snapped her a quick salute.

She had almost reached the door when Parchment darted in front of her. “Uh, what about my book?”

Twilight arched an eyebrow. I don't have time for this dirty old stallion! “I’m sorry, Professor, but this is more important. Spike can help you find whatever book you need.”

“I’d really prefer you to help me, lass,” he said with a pleading gaze.

Bentgrass walked up to Parchment, placing a hoof on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Professor, but Ms. Sparkle must come with me. I believe there is still a killer on the loose, and I require her assistance. “Young Mr. Spike can help you just as well as she could.” He nodded towards the dragon behind them.

Parchment looked at them for a moment then sighed. “I suppose you're right, lad. Well, come on, boyo,” he said, walking over to Spike. “We’ve got work to do! I’m sure you and me’ll get along just fine!”

“Oh. Yay,” Spike muttered, glaring at Twilight, who merely shrugged as she opened the door.

“Spike, help the professor any way you can. We’ll be back before too long.” With that, Twilight stepped out the door and into the late afternoon sun, Bentgrass trailing behind her.

As they walked down the street, their hooves clicking quietly on the cobblestone beneath them, Twilight looked at the road, eying the remains of the fight last night with Angel. Large gouts had been torn in the road from the beasts deformed claws, and several lamp posts were bent at odd angles from where it had charged at them. To there right, a group of workers were clearing debris from one of the demolished houses. Through the gaping hole in one, Twilight could see the trench that Spike dug when he was thrown through it. She shuddered at the memory, quickening her pace to leave the thoughts behind.

As she trotted, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of excitement run through her. It seemed that Bentgrass was finally coming around, realizing that Zecora was set up in some way. This left the sad thought of exactly what happened to the poor zebra, but Twilight shook her head and put that on hold. They could work on helping Zecora once they caught the real killer. Her steps became more solid and she set her jaw, a light smile on her face.

Just hang on, Zecora.


By the time they had reached the station, the sun was almost set on the horizon. The Ponyville Sheriff’s office stood out; amongst the thatched-roof, multi-story buildings that made up most of Ponyville, the single-story brick and mortar structure seemed soulless, cold. A large sign stood in front of the door, underneath which was a smaller sign bearing Sheriff Shackle’s name. A small firefly lantern hummed quietly above the double doors, a single window lined with steel bars in the middle of both doors. The streetlamps that lined the road bathed the building in a warm glow, offsetting its cold demeanor. Not even pausing, Bentgrass pushed the door open and walked inside, Twilight close behind him.

Inside, the building was almost as impersonal as the outside. The walls were a bland beige that faded into the white tile floor. Benches lined the walls on both sides, going from the double doors they had entered from to the single door at the end of the hallway. A large bulletin board hung on the left side wall, adorned with fliers for local businesses and advertisements for upcoming community events. On the right was a large window with a small hole cut in the middle, behind which sat a very bored looking young stallion. Twilight recognized him as the colt who had run up to them on the hill a few days ago.

Bentgrass wasted no time marching up to the window and banging on it with his hoof. The colt let out a small yelp and nearly fell out of his chair, the comic book he was reading flung high into the air. After he collected himself, the clot glared through the window at the two. “Sheriff’s not in. If this is an emergency, you can wa—”

Another slam on the window cut him off. Bentgrass pressed his shield case against the glass, glaring right back at the crimson stallion. “Bentgrass, R.I.S. I understand this is where you are keeping Angel Bunny?”

The colt studied the badge for a few moments, his eyes darting between Bentgrass and the photo ID, before answering. “Uh, who?”

Bentgrass rolled his eyes. “The giant monster that attacked last night.”

“Oh, that!” The colt nodded slowly. “Yeah, we got it chained up down in the basement.”

Twilight felt a very tiny wave of pity. It may have tried to kill her, but it was still Fluttershy’s best friend. It must be killing her to see him like that.

“Is Ms. Fluttershy down there, as well?”

“She was, but she left about an hour ago,” the colt said, moving to pick up his comic book. “Some pony came a little before that, then they both left. Something about a family emergency or something.” He leaned back in his chair, propping his hind legs on the desk before him.

“A pony?” Twilight asked. “Who?” The colt only offered a grunt as he shrugged his shoulders. Twilight growled and lit her horn.

“Hey!” The colt bolted upright as the comic was torn from his hooves. He moved to yell at her but quickly backed down when he saw her glare.

“Well, what did he look like?”

“I... I don’t know, lady! He was... he was a pony, all right!” He bent back once more to grab his book. “Look, I’ve been very busy today. The Sheriff may not survive the night, and Deputy Bale’s going to be in the hospital for the rest of the week. I’m just here as part of a high school work program, okay?”

Twilight opened her mouth to yell when Bentgrass calmly laid a hoof on her back. “Twilight, she’s not here. This... foal is not worth our time. Let’s be off.”

She met his eyes for a moment, then slumped her shoulders, nodding. She cast one more annoyed glance at the colt behind the glass before walking back to the doors.

The cool breath of autumn met them as Bentgrass shut the door behind them. He stepped out onto the cobblestone road, gazing up at the sky. Brilliant colors danced across the horizon as sunset neared its end. He sighed, turning to Twilight. “It seems the Fates are against us today, Ms. Sparkle. For once, I find myself at a loss as to what we should do next.”

“We should wait here, I think.” Twilight trotted towards the side of the building and sat roughly on a bench set along the wall. “If I know Fluttershy, she’ll be back here as soon as she can to be with Angel.”

Bentgrass followed and nodded. “Quite right. If anything, she sh—”

A shrill buzzing came from inside his coat. Twilight’s ears perked up as she looked at him, excitement building inside her despite the situation.

Bentgrass tapped his coat and the buzzing stopped. He glanced at Twilight, then sighed. “I guess there’s no more need for secrecy.” He looked over both his shoulders before turning away. “Follow me.”

They walked quickly across the street, Bentgrass constantly scanning for onlookers. After a final glance around, he turned down a small alley between two shops. The temperature seemed to drop a few degrees, the tight confines of the alley amplifying the light breeze. The alley appeared clean, an empty dumpster the only thing Twilight could see in the waning light. An unlit lantern hung from the right wall. As Bentgrass stopped next to it, Twilight looked and noted with a little disgust the pile of dead fireflies inside.

After one more glance around, Bentgrass pulled the green gem from his pocket, setting it on the ground in front of them. He tapped it three times with his hoof and it came to life, casting a green hue across the alley with red highlights coming from the runes. In a brilliant flash, a small screen, maybe three hoof-lengths across, shimmered to life before them, bearing a picture of an old pinto unicorn smiling genially at them.

“Ah, Agent Bentgrass!” The face rotated to face Twilight, and the stallion’s smile faltered slightly. “And Doctor Sparkle! Doctor, I must congratulate you on attaining the security clearance needed to view a device such as this.” Though his smile remained, his eyes glared daggers at Bentgrass as he spoke.

Bentgrass seemed unaffected. “Director, I can assure you, if anypony is deserving of trust, it is Ms. Sparkle.” He turned to Twilight and gestured at the floating image. “Twilight Sparkle, may I introduce Director Top Notch, head of Their Majesties’ Royal Investigative Service.”

Twilight smiled weakly and nodded. “Um, nice to... meet you?” Something about the way his cheerful Trottingham accent clashed with his cold eyes made her ears splay against her head despite herself.

Notch appraised her for a moment before his smile returned. “Well, I suppose I can allow it this one time. After all, she did help you catch the Ponyville killer!”

“Yes, about that, Director...”

Notch continued. “You both did a fine job of it, if I do say so myself. Doctor Sparkle, have you ever thought of working for the government? I dare say you’d be a fine addition to the agency!”

“Director, if you would please—”

“Now then, Agrostis. I want you back in Canterlot as soon as possible. There’s a spot of trouble brewing in Stalliongrad, and I think you’d be the perfect fit for it. Don’t worry about the paper work for the Ponyville job, I can—”

Director!”

The screen shook briefly. Director Notch seemed stunned, but quickly regained his composure. “Yes, Agent Bentgrass?”

“I apologize, sir,” he said with a bow of his head, “but I believe my work here is not done.”

“Oh?” Notch raised an eyebrow. “I thought that Ms., um...” he looked down, and Twilight could hear paper rustling, “Zecora, was in custody.”

“She is, but both Ms. Sparkle and myself believe there is something more at play here. We have reason to believe Zecora is being set up.”

“I see,” Notch said, his brow furrowed. “What makes you say this?”

Bentgrass’s eyes darted back and forth for a second before he spoke. “I... I have a feeling.”

“A feeling?”

Though his hoof was pawing at the dirt floor of the alley, Bentgrass nodded firmly.

Notch eyed him curiously for a moment. “Do you have any evidence?”

“Well, no, not at present, but—”

“Motive? Means? Opportunity?”

“Not strictly speaking, no...”

“Anything at all besides your gut that points to somepony other than Zecora?”

Bentgrass nodded. "Personal observation, sir." He then proceeded to explain everything they had discussed at the library. Top Notch remained silent through out, merely nodding his head occasionally

When Bentgrass finished, Notch studied them both with a pensive gaze for a few moments. Twilight's hoof tapped a steady rhythm on the ground. If he doesn't believe us, we're stuck.

Finally, Notch spoke. "Well, that is disconcerting." He rubbed his chin for a moment then nodded. "I agree with your assessment, Agent Bentgrass. This warrants further investigation."

"So, Bentgrass can stay?" Twilight asked hopefully.

Notch shook his head. "Sadly, no. The situation in Stalliongrad is getting a bit out of hoof. I need my best pony on this one, and that's you, Agrostis."

Twilight stood and opened her mouth, but Notch silenced her with a hoof. "But, as I said, this case appears far from solved. So, I shall dispatch another agent at once. Let’s see, the nearest agent is," he looked down, and Twilight once again heard the shuffling of papers, "Agent Surehoof in Baltimare. If he leaves tonight, he can be in Ponyville by the end if next week."

"Next week?” Twilight stomped her hoof against the dirt floor of the alley. “So, I’m just supposed to sit around and wait, while Zecora suffers in a padded cell?”

“I’m sorry, Doctor Sparkle, but that’s the best I can do. Division Six only has so many agents, and as I said, I need Agent Bentgrass in Stalliongrad. If you’d like, I can speak to your brother about pulling in a few Royal Guards in the interim. I do hope you understand.”

“I... I understand.” Twilight sat down on her haunches next to Bentgrass, both looking thoroughly beaten. “I don’t like it, but I get it.”

“Good,” Notch said with a sigh. “Now, Doctor Sparkle, you are more th—lcome—atter—”

The audio began to fade as the screen sputtered, bright flashes of static illumenating the dark alley. Bentgrass moved forward and tapped the gem a few times. “Director, could you say that again, please? You’re breaking up.”

“I shall se—ou retu—ntgras—”

Bentgrass let out an annoyed grunt and stepped on the gem more forcefully. The ghostly image of the Director sputtered a few more times before disappearing in a flash, the gem now dark. Bentgrass picked it up and knocked it against the brick wall behind him a few times. He held it to his face, studying it closely before sighing.

“Must be some sort of interference. Blasted new technology,” he muttered, placing the gem back in his pocket. “Not that it matters. The Director was quite clear in his instructions.” He turned to face Twilight. “It would appear... this is it, Ms. Sparkle.”

She stood up and moved in front of him, her ears splayed against her head. “You could still stay! I mean, you disobeyed Shackle when he told you to leave.”

Bentgrass let out a quiet laugh. “The sheriff is an odious wretch who wanted me to stop because I was making him look bad. Director Notch is...” His eyes got very distant, as if fond memories were playing across his mind. “Well, let’s just say that I owe him more than you could imagine. If he tells me to leave, I will obey.”

Twilight tried to find the words to fight, but nothing came out as Bentgrass began to walk out of the alley. The combination of his posture, his still tail and splayed ears, and the words he used left no doubt in her mind; there was no talking him out of this.

The pair exited the alley and walked back into the street, pausing to look up at the sky. It was fully black now, stars shining brightly and the moon a tiny sliver. They were alone in the road, other ponies having most likely retired for the night. Under the gentle hum of the streetlights, the only other sound was Twilight’s hoof gently kicking at a loose cobblestone.

“So,” she finally said, still looking at the ground beneath her, “this is where yo... where we say goodbye.”

“It seems so. But as Director Notch said, this is far from over.” He looked up at the sky, scanning the horizon. “Agent Surehoof is a fine pony. When he arrives, help him anyway you can.” He seemed to tense, his hoof pawing at the ground, before he placed it on Twilight’s shoulder. “You have excellent instincts, Twilight. Don’t forget that.”

Twilight nodded. She opened her mouth, but remained silent, opting to bit her lip rather than speak. Finally, she met his gaze again. “And, um, what about you? Would you... uh, I mean, do you think you would ever, I don’t know... come back to Ponyville?”

Bentgrass held her gaze for a long while. As they locked eyes, Twilight found herself drawn to his pale, grey eye. It sparkled with intelligence and a hint of emotion that he seemed to try and hide.

After a very comfortable silence, he gave her that same half-smile that he had first greeted her with in the library. “Stranger things have happened, Ms. Sparkle. Stranger things, indeed.”

Twilight laughed under her breath, and the two began a slow trot down the road. Every now and then, one would glance to the other, but would quickly avert their eyes as the other did the same. After a few steps, Twilight finally broke the now very awkward silence. “So, uh... do you need to stop by Ditzy’s house to pick up your things?”

He shook his head. “I tend to travel very light. What little possessions I brought with me could easily be mailed. Besides, I must get a move on if I am to make the late train to Canterlot.”

“Oh, okay. I could teleport you, if you think you might miss the train.”

Bentgrass chuckled quietly. “Once more, no, thank you. The food at the hospital wasn’t any good the first time. I doubt it would be improved upon a second tasting. Plus, I’d like to avoid the embarrassment of vomiting on myself in the middle of the train station.”

Twilight laughed. “Oh, stop being such a baby. Almost every earth pony has the same reac—”

“Yes, I know. In fact, as I understand it, a few of the new long-range teleportation companies are beginning to offer vomit bags to customers.” He turned to look at her, but she wasn’t there. He stopped and turned around to find Twilight standing very still in the middle of the road. “Twilight?”

He walked up to her, but Twilight remained still, her brow furrowed and her eyes darting back and forth. As he watched, her mouth began to open slightly, a confused look on her face.

“Twilight, what is it?” He stepped closer to her, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “Twilight, I know that look, what is it?”

“He... he coughed.” She was muttering to herself under her breath, her mind racing a thousand miles an hour. Deep in the recesses of her brain, tiny facts, unimportant by themselves, were beginning to come together. “He coughed?” Finally, she gasped and her eyes went wide. The last piece of the puzzle slammed home, the full picture now terrifyingly clear. “Oh, no.”

Bentgrass began to speak, but she threw off his hoof and took off down the road at a dead sprint, turning her head back to him. “Come on, we have to get back to the library!”

“What, why?” Even as he questioned, Bentgrass ran after her, his long legs allowing him to catch up quickly. “Twilight, what is at the library?”

As they raced down the streets of Ponyville, her answer came in a breathy voice.

“Parchment.”


Rainbow Dash stood in front of her bathroom mirror, doing the one thing she would never admit to doing: fixing her mane. Contrary to everything Rarity had ever said about her mane, the “I Don’t Care” look actually took some work to pull off. It was a fine middle ground between looking like a slob and being prissy, and Dash felt she nailed it perfectly

After a few more minutes, she sighed into the mirror hanging on the cloud wall by an enchantment she didn’t even come close to understanding. In all honesty, she didn’t really want to go out tonight. Just a few hours prior, she had seen one of her best friends in a state of total madness after trying to kill one of her other best friends. Even for a former Wonderbolt and Element of Harmony, it was a trying experience.

Still, it’d probably help to get my mind off of it for a bit. Their bi-weekly “date night” had been a ritual for months now, and it was something they both looked forward to. Just the thought of him, his mane neatly combed to the side, the smell of his bath soap only barely hiding the scent of apples and earth, made her begin to forget her troubles. Flashing a cocksure grin to her reflection, she deemed her mane good enough.

She had barely registered the flash of movement in the mirror when a white hot flash of pain reverberated through her skull. Whatever it was that hit her was heavy, and almost immediately she slumped to the ground. The soft clouds felt like concrete as her head bounced off the floor.

As a black tunnel began to devour her vision, a loud ringing echoed inside her head. The wave of nausea that had been growing suddenly dulled as the world fell out of focus. Right before the darkness claimed her, she heard a sound over the ringing: a sinister chuckle, and an oddly-accented voice.

“Evenin’ lass.”