• Published 30th Oct 2018
  • 1,185 Views, 582 Comments

Ponyville Noire: Kriegspiel—Black, White, and Scarlet - PonyJosiah13

War has come to Ponyville. As a criminal mastermind, a cruel pirate, and a mare with mysterious motives fight for control, Daring Do and Phillip Finder are put to the test with new cases and new foes.

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Case Seven, Chapter One: Familiar Grounds

Consciousness returned to Daring Do, pulling her back into the waking world. The first thing she felt was the sunlight streaming through the window, warming her face. Then she felt the soft mattress she laid upon, the thick quilts and sheets that snugly covered her body.

Then she felt his strong arms wrapped around her chest, felt his slow breath stroking the back of her head and heard his soft snores in her ear, and a smile crossed her face. She opened one eye and looked over her shoulder.

Phillip Finder lay behind her, still fast asleep, mouth hanging open. Strands of his graying mane hung over his face, blowing back and forth as he breathed. He wore a long-sleeved light blue shirt. Sensing her movement, he gave a quiet groan and opened his eyes.

“Hi,” Daring said.

“G’day,” Phillip smiled and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek.

Daring turned to look out the window of the bedroom. The ground outside was covered in a white blanket, glimmering like a field of jewels beneath what sunlight could filter through the clouds. The branches of the cherry tree in the backyard were bent beneath the weight of the snow.

“Damn, how long is this snow gonna last? It's almost the Moon of Robins,” she commented.

Phillip yawned and lay back down. “Never knew what the point of snow was,” he muttered. “It’s cold and wet and gets everywhere.”

“Maybe we could just stay in bed,” Daring suggested, rolling over to face Phillip.

Phillip sighed. “Got bills to pay,” he muttered.

“Hey, we haven’t had a big case for an entire moon. Pretty sure one’s not coming for a while. We can wait a bit,” Daring said, a smirk crossing her face. Phillip suddenly let out a startled whinny, his eyes widening.

“Your friend wants to stay in for a bit, too,” Daring purred.

“My friend never agrees with me,” Phillip replied, one hoof instinctively wrapping around Daring's waist.

“Maybe we can convince you,” Daring grinned, climbing up on top of him and kissing him passionately. Phillip moaned quietly as he kissed her back, squeezing her tight to his body and stroking a hoof through her mane…

And then the phone rang downstairs. Both ponies paused, then groaned in disappointment. Daring grudgingly climbed off of Phillip and allowed him to climb out of bed and head downstairs. Reaching the telephone on the fourth ring, Phillip snatched it up to his ear. “Finder and Do,” he grunted.

Get your butts over to the art museum,” a familiar voice said over the receiver.

Phillip rolled his eyes. “A please wouldn’t go amiss, Red.”

Much as I hate to interrupt you two fucking like rabbits, we need you down here,” Red Herring said. “A curator from the museum vanished last night. That important enough for you?

Phillip rubbed his face. “Yeah, yeah, we’ll be there.” He hung up and turned.

Daring was already headed into the kitchen. “Case?”

“Yup,” Phillip nodded. “At the art gallery.”

Daring’s eyes widened briefly. “Really?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I was just thinking…” Daring said. “Our first case was from there, too.”

Phillip nodded. “We need to get moving.”

Daring huffed out a breath. “So, breakfast on the trolley?”

“Looks like,” Phillip said, grasping his vest from the coat rack in the hallway. He quickly checked the contents, ensuring that everything was in place. Satisfied, he swung the vest up over his shoulders and zipped it up, placing his trilby onto his head. He then took Daring’s vest and pith helmet from the rack and tossed them to Daring. She caught and donned them, then added her neck warmer.

Phillip turned towards the door, but Daring stopped him with a pointed cough. “Forgetting something?”

Phillip turned and saw Daring sliding on a shoulder holster, tightening the straps with her mouth. His eyes went to the .38 Filly Detective Special sticking out of the holster.

“I hate wearing that,” he grumbled.

“You think I don’t?” Daring scowled. “We both agreed to get one. We both agreed it’d be a good idea. We both know that it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around. Put the fucking thing on.”

Phillip sighed and turned back to the coat rack. He lifted his own holster off the rack and placed it over his head, tightening the straps. He and Daring had chosen the snub-nosed revolvers because of their lightweight construction and small size, but the holster felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Sighing, he tightened the straps to secure it to his body.

“Right, let’s go,” he said, opening the door to expose them both to the soft chill of winter.

“Hope Sugarcube Corner still has those banana muffins,” Daring said, flying through the door after Phillip and locking it behind them.

The trolley rang its bell as it trundled up the street, the plow attached to the front pushing aside what snow had not been cleared from the tracks. It rounded the corner and the Gallery of Art came into view. Once again, Daring’s impression of the massive red-brown edifice of slate was that it more closely resembled some royal mausoleum or a small fortress rather than a museum. The three stories of barred windows and the massive columns atop the steps leading up to the front were imposing, as were the glaring faces carved into the rooftops. As if to add to the threatening posture, a cluster of cruisers and plainclothes vehicles were parked in front of the museum steps, lights still spinning.

There was one glaring difference from her memory, however: the golden letters above the doorway now read “Ponyville Gallery of Art,” with the freshly polished “Ponyville” having replaced the “August.” The Gallery belonged to the city now, acquired when the assets of the late and unlamented Charles August Silvertongue were auctioned off. She smiled to herself, remembering the look of complete hopelessness on Chuck’s face the last time she’d seen him, a little over a moon ago.

Phillip reached up and pulled the cord to signal the trolley to stop. With a squealing of brakes, the cart came to a halt in front of the museum. Finishing the last of her muffin, Daring stood and followed Phillip off of the trolley. They stepped onto the sidewalk and began to maneuver their way through the usual crowd of sightseers hoping to catch a glimpse of the proceedings inside. Daring scanned the cars parked in front of the museum and smiled softly at the sight of a familiar golden brown Hayson Commander.

A small collection of reporters hovering amongst the crowd like buzzards turned at their approach and instantly, the two ponies were surrounded, reporters shouting questions and shoving microphones into their faces as camera flashbulbs snapped like rapid fire lightning strikes.

“Detective Finder, Detective Do!” one stallion shouted, walking alongside them. “Do the police—”

“No comment,” Phillip and Daring said in unison, pushing past the line of cars and beginning their ascent up the steps.

The glass doors at the top of the steps were blocked off by a yellow strip of “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” tape. A single officer, a light yellow unicorn with a cerulean mane, green eyes, and the cutie mark of an old-fashioned pistol, stood post, sipping from a cup of still-steaming coffee and stamping her hooves to stave off the cold.

“Officer Wheellock,” Phillip nodded to her.

“Detectives,” Wheellock said, lifting up the tape to allow them entry. They pushed through the glass doors and entered.

The lobby had changed little since their last visit; the portraits on the white walls were still the same, as was the granite floor to ceiling water feature, and the same strawberry blonde mare was standing behind the counter, though she was wringing her hooves and staring around as though searching for her absent patrons, clearly having no idea what to do. She started as Daring and Phillip entered.

“Oh! Uh...welcome to the Ponyville Gallery of Art!” she chirped, putting on a false smile. She blinked. “Hey...didn’t you come in a few moons ago?”

“Maybe,” Daring shrugged, giving the receptionist a smirk. “Depends on whether or not there was something involving a stink bomb that day.”

The mare’s brow furrowed in confusion for a bit, then comprehension dawned on her face. “Oh! In that case, I’ve never seen you before.”

“Exactly,” Daring winked.

“Where’s the scene?” Phillip asked.

“They’re in the first-floor office,” the receptionist said, pointing down the hallway.

“Thanks,” Phillip nodded and led the way down the hallway.

Phillip and Daring entered the main lobby of the museum, a grand round room with a vaulted ceiling that their hoofsteps echoed off of, the only sound in the room. Sunlight streamed down through the skylight over their heads to illuminate the centerpiece of the Gallery: the Three Princesses, seven-foot marble statues of Faust, Celestia, and Luna, smiling down upon them as they walked past.

“Think that food court still has that onion burger?” Daring asked as they circled around the statue.

“I hope not,” Phillip muttered. “I could smell it on your breath for three days afterward.”

They walked down a hallway with prehistoric artwork of berry dyes on papyrus decorating the walls and approached a doorway with a tall brown griffon officer standing guard in front of it. Sergeant MacWillard looked up at their approach.

“Good morning,” he greeted them politely, nodding as he opened the door for them. “Detectives Evidence and Herring are waiting for you inside.”

“Thank you, sergeant,” Phillip nodded, entering with Daring.

“Feels a bit weird being welcomed to a scene like this,” Daring muttered as they entered the office area. Phillip let out a quiet grunt of agreement.

A short walk down a carpeted hallway led them to a large open room with work tables and easels cluttered with paintbrushes, spatulas, lamps, and a multitude of other tools. A grouping of cubicles stood off to one side.

Two ponies were standing in the center of the room, conversing quietly. Detective Sergeant Trace Evidence looked up as they approached, adjusting his trenchcoat.

“Nice of you to show up,” he commented.

“Far be it from me to turn down a consultant fee,” Phillip replied.

“Yes, and far be it from us to fawn at the hooves of the great Phillip Finder and Daring Do,” Detective Red Herring added in a tone drier than the San Palomino desert, rolling his eyes.

“Fuck you too,” Daring scoffed at him.

“You sure Phil would be okay with that?” Red grinned.

“If we could focus,” Phillip interrupted. “Who’s the missing pony?” he asked Trace, ignoring Daring sticking her tongue out at him.

“A curator named Deco Line,” Trace said, gesturing with his head. He led them over to a cubicle near the back of the room. “He’s been a curator and restorer at this museum for the past five years. No shady history that we can find; has a fiancee who lives in the Dockside District, we’re following up on him.”

The walls of Deco Line’s cubicle were decorated with photographs of paintings, most of them depicting bizarre scenes; one image showed a stallion in a suit and bowler hat with a green apple floating in front of their face, another showed a city street with dozens of small suited ponies falling from the sky like rain, and a third had a tall mare with her back to the viewer standing in front of a mirror, though her reflection showed her back as well. A large book sat on the worktable: a glance at the title revealed it to be Treachery of Images: The Life of Artiste Fou. A framed photograph on the table showed a light gold pegasus stallion with long purple hair and the cutie mark of a paintbrush and a red zigzagged line of paint standing on the snow-covered Ponyville Boardwalk, next to an aquamarine unicorn stallion with reddish hair and glasses and the cutie mark of an easel and a pencil. The pegasus had a golden ring around the primary feather of his left wing, while the unicorn had a similar ring on his horn.

“Deco’s the pegasus,” Trace explained as Phillip picked up the photograph and examined it. “The fiance's name is Rough Sketch.”

“Last known location?” Phillip asked, setting the picture down.

“He was seen leaving the museum just after nine last night,” Trace continued. “We’re still working on figuring out where he went, but we do know that he never made it home. None of his coworkers or friends noticed anything unusual.”

Phillip panned his gaze around the cubicle a couple more times in silence, then he turned to Trace. “Okay, so what’s the dinky-di here?”

Trace and Red both stared at him in puzzlement.

“Ponies vanish every other week. You don’t call me in for all of them,” Phillip elaborated. “There’s something else here.”

Trace and Red both looked at each other, then Red sighed. “Of course you’d figure it out,” he grumbled. “It has to do with what he was working on. Come with us.”

Red and Trace led Phillip and Daring out of the offices and up a set of stairs to the third floor of the Gallery. They walked up to an archway that led into a roped-off gallery. A sign next to the arch read in bold letters, “Coming Soon: The Contemplative Works of Artiste Fou!”

Stepping beneath the velvet rope, the group entered a wide gallery with a polished wooden floor and cream-colored walls. Surreal paintings like those that had lined Deco’s cubicle were hung upon the walls and sitting on the floors, their paint freshly touched up and glossy, all of them placed in new frames. Daring paused in front of one painting leaning against a wall, tilting her head in confusion. The painting was of a small one-masted sailboat on a white background with the words “Ceci n'est pas une bateau” written beneath it.

“Deco was working on this new exhibit,” Trace explained. “Works by some Prench artist from a hundred years ago or so. Supposed to be insane.”

Daring looked back at the sign in front of the gallery and read a smaller note at the bottom: “This exhibit made possible by a generous donation.”

“What kind of pony would collect paintings made by a mushroom user?” she asked.

“I would,” a mare said, stepping into view. The petite light pink unicorn with long red and black hair and the cutie mark of a letter and quill adjusted her dress and smiled at the group, her chocolate brown eyes twinkling.

“Madame, messieurs,” Scarlet Letter nodded.

A fire ignited in Daring Do’s stomach and her eyes narrowed, focusing on the mare. She stomped forward, her wings almost flaring open in a primal display of aggression. “The fuck are you doing here?” she snarled.

Scarlet Letter stepped back, her eyes widening in surprise, just a hint of fear behind her irides. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked.

The fire in Daring’s stomach blazed even hotter. “Oh, I know you,” she sneered. “We met a few moons ago. When you pulled me into your car and threatened my friends to my face. Still got that jade fox necklace that you bought with innocent ponies’ blood?”

Scarlet Letter took two steps back. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she protested, looking around as though for an escape route.

“Maybe I should—”

“Daring, enough,” Phillip said, placing a hoof on her shoulder. She glared at him, but he firmly pushed her back. Daring retreated, still glaring daggers at Scarlet.

“Merci,” Scarlet nodded to Phillip, ignoring Daring. “To answer her question, I am here to ensure that my collection is still intact and in good hooves. I was called down here when I heard that Monsieur Line was missing. He had written to me recently stating that there was something wrong with one of these paintings, which he was restoring for the exhibit.”

“What exactly was wrong with it?” Trace asked.

Scarlet traced a hoof along the frame of the painting of the boat. “He did not say,” she replied. “Only that he wished to discuss the particulars face to face. Monsieur Line was devoted to this project; it is why I asked him to authenticate and restore the paintings for this exhibit.”

“So how did you get your hooves on these paintings, anyway?” Red asked. Judging by his expression as he studied the painting of the pony with the floating apple in front of their face, the unspoken question was, And how the hell are they so expensive?

“I bought them from auction, one by one,” Scarlet explained. “I have always loved the art of Monsieur Fou, and I thought it would be a generous act for the city if I allowed others to enjoy his works. Not to mention the charity money that will be raised by the grand opening of the exhibit next week.” She smiled and batted her eyelashes. “This city does deserve a helping hoof.”

The false modesty like poisoned honey in Scarlet’s voice made Daring’s stomach turn, bile flooding her mouth. A snarl rose in her throat and she had to fight down the urge to tackle Scarlet to the ground and start strangling her. As if sensing the increased heat of the flames within her, Phillip moved closer to Daring, preemptively cutting off any attack.

“Do you still have that letter from Line?” Trace asked.

“Non, désolé,” Scarlet shrugged. “I threw it away.”

Trace frowned. “All right, if we’re done here, you can leave. But don’t skip town.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Scarlet purred. She sauntered in between Red and Trace, flicking her tail from side to side enticingly. “You’ll know where to find me, of course,” she smiled over her shoulder at them, batting her eyelashes. With a final wave, she exited the gallery.

As soon as her hoofsteps had faded away, Daring turned on Trace and Red. “She’s up to something,” she growled.

“And your proof of that is?” Red commented.

“You know what she is!” Daring snapped. “You know that she’s just another gang boss! I told you about what she said to me—”

“Daring,” Phillip cut her off, placing a hoof on her shoulder. She glared at him, but fell silent, recognizing the futility of her anger.

“I’m not saying we don’t believe you,” Trace told her. “But you don’t have any proof. It boils down to your word against hers. On the one hoof, you’ve got her. Yeah, some of her past is a bit shady, but most of it checks out. She’s a published author, rich and popular, already donating to a lot of charities in the city. And on the other hoof, you might be a hero, but…” His voice trailed away and his eyes, seemingly unwillingly, went to Daring’s right hoof.

Understanding struck Daring at the same moment the curse mark on her hoof began to burn; pain flooded up Daring’s foreleg, rushing up to her heart, and she had to grit her teeth to fight back a gasp of agony. The brand burned hot, forever reminding her: Thief. Killer. Criminal.

Phillip immediately was beside her side, grasping her branded hoof. “You okay?” he asked.

“Get off,” Daring grunted, shoving him back and glaring at Trace.

“Sorry, I...I didn’t mean it that way,” Trace said, his tone and expression awkward. “I just meant…”

“I know what you meant,” Daring growled, breathing deeply and burying the pain in her gut. She stood up straighter and took a breath, settling herself. “It’s fine, I know it wasn’t an insult.”

“We need to focus on the missing pony here,” Red said. “Look, we’ll see if we can find out anything else here. You two head down to Deco’s place; try to figure out where he disappeared.”

“Will do,” Phillip nodded. “C’mon, Daring.”

Daring followed Phillip out of the gallery. As she exited through the archway, she glanced back at the painting of the boat, frowning at the perplexing message beneath.

If it’s not a boat, then what is it?

Author's Note:

The more artistically-inclined among you might recognise that the paintings in this chapter is based off of the work of Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte.

Scarlet seems to be up to something, but what? More will be revealed in time.

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