• Published 30th Oct 2018
  • 1,189 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 Four: Trailhead

The steady beeping of the EKG machine provided a constant soundtrack to the scene. Deco Line lay on the hospital bed, wrapped in the white sheets, bandages snugly secured around his torso. His eyes were closed, and he breathed deeply through the nasal cannula; an IV drip in his foreleg was attached to a blood bag hanging next to him. Phillip, Daring, Trace Evidence, and a doctor all stood around the bed. Rough Sketch sat next to the bed, squeezing his fiancee’s hoof with a quiet desperation, as if he was afraid that his beloved would disappear again if he turned away or let go. The window outside was painted with snow; white dots flashed against the darkness of the cloudy night sky, illuminated momentarily by the passing headlights of cars in the street below.

“He’ll survive, but he has a long road ahead of him,” Doctor Hoof explained to the gathered ponies. “He’s hypothermic and severely dehydrated, his wings need to regrow their feathers, and he’s lost quite a bit of blood from that bullet wound. He was lucky, though: a couple more inches to the right, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“We’d like to question him,” Phillip said.

“You may, but not for too long,” Doctor Hoof nodded. “He needs to rest.” He exited the room, leaving the other ponies inside.

Phillip walked up to the bed and sat down on the side opposite Sketch. “Deco?” he asked. Deco Line weakly opened his eyes and focused on him. “My name is Phillip Finder.”

“I know,” Deco Line whispered, nodding.

“Is it all right if I ask you a few questions about what happened?” Phillip asked.

Deco Line nodded again.

“Do you remember what happened to you?” Phillip asked.

Deco Line closed his eyes and took in a deep breath through the cannula. “I was walking home when I felt something sting my foreleg,” he began, speaking slowly. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a cabin. My wings...all of my feathers had been plucked out. Another pony was there. He...he had a rifle. He told me that…” He shivered and let out a faint whimper. “He pointed at a door that was open behind him and said, ‘You can get back that way. I’ll give you an hour head start.’ And then he pointed his rifle at me and shoved me out the front door.”

“Where were you?” Phillip asked.

Deco shook even harder. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “Somewhere in a forest. I just ran and ran, but my stupid leg slowed me down. And no matter where I went, what I did, he was always behind me. Singing that song…”

“How’d you get away?” Phillip pressed.

“I…” Deco Line took a few more deep breaths before continuing. “Somehow, I managed to circle around again and found the cabin. I ran to get back inside, but just when I was opening the front door, there was this bang and I felt like I’d been punched. I looked over, and he was running after me. I slammed the door shut and shoved some furniture in front of it, then hurried over to the door he pointed at. I jumped through and slammed the door behind me. I was...for a moment, I thought I’d gotten turned around, because I was in this big forest, but there were doors standing up everywhere instead of trees, and the sky was red. I just opened the door in front of me and walked through it. I was back in the alleyway and saw you…” His shaking slowly abated as he breathed. “And that’s all I can remember.”

“Can you describe the pony?” Trace asked.

Deco Line had to take several deep breaths before answering. “He was an earth pony, I’m sure of it,” he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. “And he had this very gravelly voice. I...I don’t really remember anything else. Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Phillip nodded. His tone was still quiet and gentle, but Daring saw the subtle furrowing of his brow that indicated that he had something serious on his mind. “Just rest now. We’ll let you know if we need anything else.” He stood up and started to exit the room.

“The room!” Deco Line suddenly gasped, his eyes snapping open. He started to sit up, but Rough Sketch pushed him back down.

“Sweetie, you need to rest—” Rough started to protest.

“The room. In the cabin,” Deco panted, the beeping of the EKG monitor faster and louder. “It was...full of ponies. Dead ponies. They’d all been... stuffed. Like trophies.”

An image of a room filled with corpses, their bodies preserved as if frozen in time with open, howling mouths and glassy, unseeing eyes, flashed through Daring’s mind and she shuddered. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Trace’s face turning slightly pale.

“Just rest, Deco,” Phillip said gently, his brow furrowing even more. “We’ll find this guy. You’re safe here.”

Deco laid back down on the bed, his eyes closing and his breathing slow. Rough Sketch took Deco’s hoof in both of his own and began to rub gently. Phillip, Daring, and Trace exited the room. Officers Bumblebee and Wheellock, standing post at the doorway, nodded as they started down the hallway.

“You know who this is,” Daring said immediately.

“The Poacher,” Phillip and Trace said as one.

“Who?” Daring asked.

“The Poacher was a serial killer that was active in the Macintosh Hills for three years about a decade ago,” Phillip explained. “Real name’s Big Game. Hunter by trade.”

“Sick bastard,” Trace replied, opening his trenchcoat and extracting a couple of plastic bags from an interior pocket with his magic. Inside one was the bloody rifle bullet that had been extracted from Deco Line’s wound; inside the other were samples of soil, tree bark, and leaves that had been taken from Deco’s body. “He’d kidnap random ponies and take them up to the woods around the Macintosh Hills, and set them loose to hunt them. Got caught when police raided his home; they found... trophies of the ponies he’d killed in the attic.” He shuddered. “There were over two dozen of them.”

“He was sent to Clovenworth Island, sentenced to death,” Phillip concluded. “But he somehow escaped a holding cell during a hearing. Nopony’s seen him since.”

“You think Deco Line was just a random victim?” Daring scowled. “He gets kidnapped right after he figures out there’s something wrong with that painting? Too much of a coincidence for me to believe.”

“I’m with Daring,” Trace acceded. “What’s with that painting, anyway?”

“We can probably find out at the lab,” Phillip Finder stated as they descended the stairs into the lobby of the hospital. “We’ll—”

He halted, looking up. A tall snowy white unicorn mare in a trenchcoat was striding towards them. The eyes of nearly every pony in the lobby turned to follow the mare’s progress as she approached them.

“Chief,” Trace said, stiffening to attention.

“Detectives,” Cold Case nodded to them. Her gaze passed over Trace and Phillip with no emotion, but as soon as her sapphire irides settled on Daring, her gaze turned harsh and icy. Daring returned the glare with one of her own.

“Where do we stand, gentleponies?” Cold Case asked Phillip and Trace, ignoring Daring.

“Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here doing my chopped liver impression,” Daring grumbled, stepping back a few paces.

The two stallions filled the chief in on everything that they had found out so far. “The Poacher is behind this,” Trace told her.

Cold Case’s eyes widened in shock for a moment, then her cold mask slipped back on. “I see,” she nodded. “I want round-the-clock protection on Deco Line and Rough Sketch until we get to the bottom of this. Did you extract the bullet from his wound?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Trace said, taking the bag from his coat. “And other traces.”

“Good,” Cold nodded. “Trace, come with me back to the precinct. We’ll drop that off at the laboratory, and see if we have any other leads.” She turned to Phillip. “You two—”

“Go home, yeah, yeah,” Daring muttered.

“No,” Cold interrupted, her gaze flicking to her momentarily. “Stay here and protect Deco Line, and see if you can get anything else out of him. I’ll send you relief at midnight.”

With a final nod, Cold turned on her heels and exited. “See you later,” Trace nodded, following her.

Daring blinked. “She actually didn’t insult us. Do you think she’s sick or something?” she asked Phillip, who let out a quiet grunt of amusement.

“I’ll get some coffee,” Phillip said, striding off in search of a coffee machine.

Daring looked back up at the ceiling as if she could stare right through the solid construction into Deco Line’s room. Then she glanced down at her watch. It was 7:40 PM.

“It’s gonna be a long night,” she sighed.


Twelve hours later, Phillip and Daring walked into the laboratory, both of them yawning and wiping sleep from their eyes.

“It’s too fucking early for this,” Phillip grumbled.

“You and I are in agreement for once,” Red muttered as he and Trace entered after them, both of them clutching disposable cups of coffee.

“No food or drink in the laboratory!” Twilight shouted at them as she rushed past, carrying several plastic evidence bags in her magic. Without missing a beat, she snatched the coffee cups out of their hooves with her magic and sent them flying out of the room, setting them down outside the door. Both detectives glared at her.

“What, does she run off batteries?” Red growled.

“Oh, hey, by the way,” Trace said, rubbing his eyes. “One of the workers at the jewelry store confessed last night. The drugs are his; he’s been selling for a month now on the side.”

“Good morning, detectives,” Doctor Suunkii greeted them from his table. “Twilight Sparkle and I have been working through the night, and we have made some interesting discoveries.”

“Okay, first thing,” Trace grunted, shaking sleep from his eyes. “What is with that boat painting?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Twilight replied, brightening a bit. “Doctor Suunkii and I ran comparisons of the two painting samples, the one that Phillip and Daring collected from Deco Line’s office, and the one from the painting in the museum. The first thing we concluded is this: they are not the same!”

“What’s that mean?” Trace asked, raising an eyebrow.

“The sample of paint taken from Deco Line’s office had multiple layers,” Suunkii explained. “Clearly, these were layers from when the artist painted the original painting, followed by several restorations over the years. A chemical analysis confirmed that the deepest layers of paint were over a hundred years old, while the top layers were more recent.

“However, a sample taken from the painting that currently hangs in the gallery revealed that it has a single layer, and while it has undergone chemical alteration to make it appear older, it is no more than a year old.”

“So somepony did replace that with a fake,” Daring concluded. “Is that really what this is all about?”

“Seems a bit extreme to just hide a fraud,” Trace nodded.

“Deco Line said something about the legends,” Phillip pointed out.

“What legends?” Red asked.

“I did some research on Artiste Fou earlier, when we were examining the paint samples,” Twilight said, plucking a library book out from underneath the table. The title of the book read The Tales of the Mad Artist: Truth, Myth, and Lies of Artiste Fou.

“According to this book, it was rumored that Artiste Fou did a lot of experiments with magic,” Twilight explained, flipping the book open to a later chapter. “He was allegedly involved in cults that worshipped the Old Gods and performed rituals in dark magic. According to legends, he hid instructions to some secret rituals and spells in his paintings. Of course, the paintings have been examined dozens of times, and there has been no sign of any secret messages in any of them.”

Phillip let out a quiet grunt, filing that information away. “What about the bullet?”

“The bullet is a .45 caliber round designed for hunting rifles,” Suunkii stated. “There are no matches in the ballistic databases that we can find. We are looking into identifying the manufacturer.”

“Where are we on the sap and the dart?”

“The toxin on the dart is a fast-acting sleeping potion,” Doctor Suunkii explained, holding up a small test tube. “It is made from the berries of the Hades bush. A small amount is sufficient to put a fully grown pony in a coma-like sleep for an hour.”

“Easy to make?” Daring asked.

“Not really,” Twilight said. “Hades berries are very difficult to handle correctly, and they grow only in the Everfree forest.”

“Also, we have conclusively identified the sap as coming from several species of tree, including burning wormwood and stonebirch, both of which are native—”

“Only to the Everfree Forest,” Daring finished.

“You are correct,” Suunkii nodded. “It is possible—in fact, likely that the Poacher has his base in the Everfree itself. This is supported by the traces that were taken from Deco Line, all of which are samples of Everfree flora.”

“That’s over thirty-five square miles,” Red pointed out, scowling. “And there are timberwolves, manticores, cragadiles, and Mother knows what else in there. We gotta narrow it down somehow.”

“We’ll try,” Twilight said.

“Okay, so how did the Poacher get through that door and into the Everfree and how did Deco get back?” Daring cut in. “He mentioned a forest of doors.”

“I was thinking about that, and when I got home last night, I finally figured it out,” Twilight said. She extracted a book from a drawer beneath a table and opened it. Daring’s eyes widened when she saw the familiar worn cover and the title on the spine: Ancient Artifacts and Totems.

“Here,” Twilight said, pointing to an open page in the book, one that showed a picture of an old blue key on a rusty ring. “The Key of Shadow Walker. The key’s enchanted to open any door, and any door that it opens becomes connected to it; you’re able to travel between doors, across miles. You could open a door here in Ponyville and come out in Manehattan.”

“Explains how he got out of that cell,” Daring commented, scowling bitterly. “And I’ll bet my helmet that I know who gave him that key.”

“Silvertongue,” Phillip, Red, and Trace said as one.

“So where do we go from here?” Daring asked.

“First, we need to keep Deco Line under protection,” Phillip said. “Second, we should look for the Poacher’s hideout. Helicopter sweeps over the forest, search for any signs of habitation. Third, we need to try to track down who made the fake painting and what happened to the real one.”

“So, hunting dry leads. Great,” Red muttered.

“Hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and the Poacher will try again,” Daring smirked.

“Why’d you have to say that?” Trace groaned as he and Red recollected their coffees. “That’s almost as bad as saying the q-word.”


A stallion with a reddish-brown coat and dark green hair that included a thin layer of a beard stepped through the back door of a seafood restaurant in the Dockside District and looked around. Nopony noticed his sudden appearance, their heads tilted down against the oncoming snow and wind. Frowning, he turned up the fur-lined collar of his coat and proceeded down the street to an old, battered payphone standing on the corner. He stepped into the booth and closed the door behind him. He could barely squeeze inside; his flank, marked by the paw print and bullet, pressed against the door.

Pulling a bit out of his pocket, he inserted it into the slot and grasped the receiver, holding it up to his ear as he spun the dial. The phone rang three times, then there was a click as the other receiver was picked up.

Bosses aren’t happy,” the voice on the other end snarled.

The Poacher gritted his teeth. To have one of his prey escape him was insulting enough; to have it be some stupid artist was even worse. He could already hear the mocking comments and insults to his name echoing through the underworld.

“He was the only one who’s ever escaped from me, and he will be the last one,” he replied.

He’d better,” the voice on the other end said. “It doesn’t matter if we get him anyway: he can’t do anything to stop us now.

“I’ll get him the next time around,” the Poacher started to say. “No one escapes—”

I told you, it doesn’t matter,” the other voice snapped. “The bosses have another job for you. And this time, they want you to do the job straight up: just kill these two fucks and get it over with. They’ll pay you triple apiece for this.

Big Game’s ears pricked; the offer of two targets at six hundred thousand bits a head was more than enough to calm him. “Who are the targets?”

Phillip Finder and Daring Do.”


“They replaced it with a fake?” Deco Line asked, sitting up in bed.

“And we think it’s because you found something in the original,” Phillip explained, sitting next to the bed. “You mentioned to Rough Sketch that you’d discovered something.”

Deco Line frowned, looking down in pensive contemplation. “Is this really the time?” Rough Sketch asked from the opposite side of the bed.

“This could be important,” Phillip replied patiently. “What did you find, Deco?”

Deco Line shrugged a bit. “In hindsight, I might have been a bit hasty,” he muttered. “I’m not entirely sure what I saw, but…” He looked up. “I was restoring The Treachery of Images, the painting of the boat. I was using a traditional pegasus manner for restoring paintings, liquid rainbow in cumulus water, for repainting a section. I had been working for a long time and dozed off partway through. When I woke up, I saw that a small section that I’d repainted had...changed. There were words written on it, words in...some kind of foreign language. I went to get more liquid rainbow, but by the time I got back, the words had disappeared. I tried making them reappear again, but nothing I did worked; I was starting to think that I had imagined it. I decided to write Scarlet Letter, who had acquired the painting, and the directors of the museum. Two days after, that was when…” He shivered and hugged himself, looking away.

Phillip nodded. “Do you really think this is connected somehow?” Rough Sketch asked.

“It’s a possibility,” Phillip commented, standing. “You need to rest.”

“Are you sure the Poacher won’t come back?” Deco whispered, as though saying his name would cause him to appear.

“If he does, that’s what my friends are for,” Phillip replied, exiting the room. “Don’t worry. He won’t lay a hoof on you again.” He partly closed the door behind him and turned to face the two officers standing outside.

“We can hope, at least,” Prowl commented, sitting against the wall opposite. Her pale yellow eyes cast themselves back and forth along the hallway, checking and double-checking everything and everyone present, including the table with the vase of lilies, the nurse walking past with her head shoved into her clipboard and the janitor sweeping the floor several meters away.

“There’s only one door into that room, and no windows; as long as it’s not fully shut, Big Game can’t get through there with his key,” Phillip pointed out.

“That doesn’t mean he can’t get in here,” Prowl pointed out. “We all need to stay sharp.”

“Right, ma’am,” Flash Sentry nodded, standing next to the doorway. He licked his lips and adjusted the microphone clipped to his collar, the wire leading down to the bulky walkie-talkie clipped to his belt. “I’ll be glad when they make smaller versions of these things,” he muttered.

“I’m just glad that the Chief purchased some,” Prowl replied. “Those bricks that we used to carry were too big and expensive to be any real use. These could save lives.”

“If I don’t strangle myself with the cord…” Flash muttered to himself. He took a slow, shaky breath and licked his lips again, his hoof adjusting the holsters for his revolver and pepper spray on his belt.

“You nervous, mate?” Phillip asked.

“Kinda shaky,” Flash admitted. His hooves and wingtip were indeed trembling.

“A little fear is a good thing,” Phillip told him. “Keeps you focused, mind sharp. Just can’t let it run away with you.”

“Easier said than done,” Flash admitted. “I keep imagining if the Poacher pops out from around the corner or something.”

“There’s a way to deal with that,” Prowl said. “Make a plan. Remember your training and think through each scenario that comes into your head.” She tilted her head down the hallway. “The Poacher comes around that corner with a rifle. He shoots me and I go down. What do you do?”

Flash tensed up, looking over in the indicated direction. He licked his lips, the gears audibly turning in his head as he thought.

“I’d... I’d take cover behind that alcove there and call for backup over the emergency frequency,” he replied.

“Your radio doesn’t work,” Prowl answered.

“Um…” Flash muttered, momentarily stymied. He looked around and spotted a fire alarm on the wall next to him. “I’ll pull the fire alarm. That’ll get civilians evacuating and summon backup.”

“Good,” Prowl nodded. “And what’s the most important thing?”

“Stop the threat as fast and as safely as possible,” Flash replied.

“That’s right,” Prowl nodded. “That’s a good plan: covers the most important stuff and you can adapt it if you need to.”

Flash managed a weak smile. “Still, I just hope he doesn’t show up.”

“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst, Sentry,” Prowl told him. “It’s how we stay alive.”

“Right, ma’am.”

Phil patted Flash on the shoulder. “You’re doing fine, jackaroo.” Flash’s smile broadened a bit and he nodded.

Prowl reached up for the microphone on her shoulder. “MacWillard, lobby clear?”

Ten-four, all normal here,” MacWillard’s voice replied from four floors below, where he stood at his post.

“Daring, what’s your twenty?” Prowl asked.

I’m out on the roof,” Daring’s voice answered. “Skies are still clear. How long do I have to stay out here? It’s fucking cold.”

Prowl rolled her eyes.

“I’ll go out and see her,” Phillip shrugged. He made sure that the walkie-talkie he was wearing was secure and walked up the hallway. He proceeded to a door marked “Roof Access” and pushed through it, emerging onto the snow-covered roof. The evening sky over his head was dominated by dark clouds, but here and there, a few stars managed to peek out from behind their cover.

Shrugging his shoulders and tilting the brim of his trilby down over his face, Phillip walked through a layer of snow that reached up past his ankles and approached Daring, who was standing at the edge of the southeast corner. The end of the cigarette clenched in her teeth glowed every time she inhaled, and she stamped her hooves and flapped her wings in an attempt to keep her blood flowing.

“I’m starting to see why you hate snow,” she grumbled.

Phil took his place next to her and they started a patrol around the rooftop. Phillip extracted a set of binoculars from his vest and scanned the rooftops of the surrounding buildings: the enchanted night-vision lenses provided a view as clear as day and showed him that there was no sign of anypony watching them.

“You really think that the Poacher will try again?” Daring asked, scanning the skies with a similarly enchanted monocular.

“I’ve read his psych profile from when he was first arrested,” Phillip said. “He’s driven by a need to hunt, the thrill of the chase. Having prey get away from him will anger him no end.”

“And what if he’s been hired by somepony?” Daring continued as they skirted a snowdrift gathered up against the side of a radiator. “This has to be connected to that painting.”

Frowning, Phillip told Daring what he had learned from Deco Line.

“So somepony stole the painting to get that spell?” Daring concluded. She scowled. “Any idea what that spell does?”

“Once we find who stole the original painting, we might learn more,” Phillip stated.

Daring sighed. “I thought things would get better after Silvertongue was gone,” she admitted. “But no, it’s the same shit, different day here in Ponyville. Just new players. Scarlet, Zugzwang, and all the rest.” She paused a beat. “You remember that present from Hearth’s Warming?”

A shudder that had nothing to do with the cold ran down Phillip’s spine. The image of a dozen eyeless corpses, mouths hanging open in silent screams, flashed before his eyes.

“That should’ve told us,” Daring said as they completed their circuit. “Things are gonna get worse before they get better.”

Phillip stared sidelong at Daring for a long moment, then wrapped a foreleg around her shoulders and squeezed her to his side. “It’s the nature of the beast,” he stated. “Isn’t gonna stop us from doing the right thing.”

Daring let out a scoff, unable to fight down a smile. “You are amazingly cheesy sometimes.”

“You like me this way,” Phillip pointed out.

“Yeah, I know,” Daring admitted, gently smacking his flank with her tail and making him nicker in surprise.

Daring reached inside her shirt and pulled out a carved boomerang, the edges still as smooth and fresh as when Phillip himself had first shaped them. Grasping it lightly by the end with her left hoof, she tossed the weapon out with a snap. The boomerang spun forward through the air and arced around towards her; she caught it by clapping it between her hooves.

“You’re getting better,” Phillip commented.

“Yeah, I’ve come a long way,” Daring admitted. “You think our neighbor is still mad at me about his window?”

“Probably,” Phillip half-smiled. “If you keep practicing, eventually you’ll get your magic to fuse with the living wood. It’ll obey you like mine obeys me.”

“How will it feel when that happens?” Daring asked.

“It’s not something I can describe,” Phillip answered. “But when it happens—when it’s ready to obey you—you’ll know.”

Daring gave him a look. “If you say so, O Wise Sensei.”

Phillip shrugged. “It’s what my mother told me, and what her father told her. It’s the truth.”

Daring repocketed the boomerang and turned. “I gotta take a leak and get some coffee.”

“I’ll wait out here,” Phillip said as Daring proceeded to the door and headed back inside.


He could do it now.

The Poacher lay crouched in his hide beneath the thick, warm blanket of manticore hide, the skin having belonged to a former specimen that he himself had spent the better part of a week tracking. His rifle was held in his hooves, both barrels primed. Neither of them had any idea that he was there, had been hiding there for hours in wait for his opportunity. Why would they bother checking a part of the landscape? Who would suspect a simple snowdrift gathered next to a radiator, especially when there were many others like it on the rooftop?

Two quick squeezes of the trigger would be all that it took. The pegasus first—couldn’t risk her flying away—then the earth pony. A high-powered .45 round right to the shoulder area would be a guaranteed kill, and if they somehow escaped instant death, his knife would finish the job. Two kills, quick and easy, and he’d be twelve hundred thousand bits richer.

And yet…

And yet there’d be no hunt. No test of his skill against the mind of desperate, cornered prey. No trails, no chase through the woods. No terror in his prey’s eyes as he closed in to finish them off. And above all, no trophy.

No. No, the hunt was everything. All the gold in the world could not replace the excitement, the thrill, the ecstatic release of the chase.

The pegasus turned and headed back inside, probably for a relief. Now was his chance! Slowly, inch by inch, the Poacher lowered his rifle and reached for the blowpipe and darts inside his coat. Loading a dart into the pipe, he brought the reed to his lips.

The stallion was looking over the skies instead of at him, his attention diverted. He had no idea of the threat. Shivering in the cold, he started towards the Poacher’s hide; the hunter could see the holster with the snub-nosed .38 hanging from his side.

The Poacher took in a breath, aimed, and puffed out hard. The dart flew true and struck the pony in the foreleg. He yelped in pain and plucked the dart out, staring at it in dawning horror.

The drug was already working its magic: the pony swayed and stumbled, falling onto his side. He reached for the microphone on his shoulder, but could not grasp it properly, could not make his lungs and vocal cords form a cry for help. His gray eyes flickered, then closed.

Standing up, the Poacher walked over to the unconscious pony and grasped him by a foreleg, dragging him over to the roof access door; his victim's hat fell off his head as he was dragged. The blue key jingled on his right wrist, attached to him by a simple rubber band. He grasped the key and inserted it into the lock, twisting it open. The door opened to reveal, instead of the hospital hallway, a dark open plain with doors standing in their frames like so many haphazardly placed gravestones and a pale crimson sky with no stars, sun, or moon.

His prey moaned faintly and muttered in his narcotic-induced sleep as the Poacher shut the door behind him. Grinning, he dragged his prey over to a wooden door marked with an X in bright red paint. Already he could feel electric tingles running up and down his spine, his heart thumping happily, every inch of him starting to dance with joy.

Soon the hunt would begin.


Mere minutes later, Daring reemerged back onto the rooftop, a coffee cup balanced on each wing. “Hey, I got you one,” she called. “Triple cream and two sug—”

She paused, looking around the empty rooftop. “Phil?” she shouted. “Hey, where’d you go?”

There was no answer. Daring felt her heart rate speed up. “Phil, where—?”

Her shout froze in her throat as her heart plummeted into her stomach. The two paper cups tumbled to the floor as she finally noticed and processed three very important details:

The snowbank against the radiator was now flattened. There were drag marks in the snow leading to the door. Phillip's trilby lay abandoned on the ground.

And there was an inch-long black dart laying on the ground in front of her.

Author's Note:

Dramatic cut to black! What will our heroes do now? Tune in next week, same pony-time, same pony-channel!

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