• Published 30th Oct 2018
  • 1,181 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 Eight: The Game is Afoot

The Apple Pie in Your Eye was in full swing that evening, especially with the promised entertainment of Rara and Steamed Carrot doing a series of country duets with local musical accompaniment. The eyes and ears of every patron was turned towards the stage and the four ponies: Rara at the piano, tossing her mane confidently with every bar, Steamed Carrot, her eyes tightly shut but a huge smile on her face as she stood behind the microphone, Caramel on guitar, stamping one hoof to the beat, and his wife Sassaflash playing fiddle sitting on a stool to support the additional weight of the foal she was carrying.

“It’s really good to see Carrot on stage,” Daring commented, leaning up against the bar, her stool squeaking beneath her.

“Yeah,” Phillip nodded from beside her, sipping at the glass of Kanga-Rum before him. “She’s doing real well.”

“Still can’t sing without her eyes closed, but by golly, can she sing,” Applejack agreed, washing a stein from behind the bar.

The swinging doors to the kitchen behind the bar burst open and Pinkie Pie emerged, balancing a stack of plates with her mane. “Here you go!” she chirped, sliding the plates down to Phillip and Daring. “Salmon on rice with lemon juice for Phil, and shrimp pasta with a side of steamed veggies for Daring! And for dessert…” She slid over two smaller plates, one with a thick brownie and the other with a slice of peach pie.

“Thanks, Pinkie,” Daring said, taking up a fork. She looked at the slice of pie and paused. “This one doesn’t have confetti in it, does it?”

“Nope! Pinkie Promise!” Pinkie Pie declared, going through the motions of her signature vow.

“Okay,” Daring said, shooting the slice a suspicious glance before digging into the pasta.

The phone behind the bar rang and Applejack answered it. “Apple Pie, this is Applejack,” she said. There was a moment of silence, then she said, “Yeah, they’re here.” She turned and handed the phone to Phillip. He held it up between himself and Daring so they could both hear.

It’s Red,” the voice said over the phone. “Thought you should hear before anything else. Scarlet lawyered up as soon as we brought her in: we couldn’t even get her to give us the time of day. And on top of that, her lawyer called a bunch of reporters and turned the whole thing into a media circus. We had to let her go; she gave a statement right outside the precinct saying we were trying to railroad her.”

Daring growled and gripped the bar so tightly it nearly cracked as a low fire began to simmer beneath her branded hoof. “Dammit.”

Even said that she’d be keeping that art exhibit up, even with the fake painting, which she had absolutely nothing to do with,” Red continued. He sighed.

“Nothing we can do,” Phillip said. “She’ll slip up eventually. And when she does, we’ll be there.”

We’ll be keeping an eye on her,” Red said. “Anyway, just wanted to let you know. See you later.” And with a click, he hung up.

Phillip handed the phone back to Applejack and stood up. “I need to speak to Rara,” he said, walking over to the stage. Rara hopped down and the two engaged in conversation.

Daring turned back to her meal. Grasping the glass of Manticore Rare, she glared at the dark red liquid for a moment, then knocked the entire glass back in one go. “Another,” she demanded of Applejack, slamming the glass back down on the table.

Applejack poured her another round. “What’s gotten you down in the mud?”

“It’s this fucking city, AJ,” Daring grunted, trying to ignore the pain of her cursed brand. “Just when I thought it’d get better after we got rid of Silvertongue, along comes Scarlet Fucking Letter and it all starts again. More corruption. More crime. Same fucking shit, different day.” She knocked back the second glass in a single go and sighed.

Applejack looked at her for a moment, then leaned forward. “You know, I’ve been farming all my life,” she said. “And every year, it’s a whole lotta work right after Winter Wrap Up. We gotta plant the seeds, trim the trees, make sure they’re fertilized and watered. And the weeds.” She grimaced. “Every year, the weeds come in droves. It’s a chore just keeping the fields clear so the seeds can grow. Then we gotta deal with the birds and vampire fruit bats, getting the cows and the pigs and the chickens fed and taken care of…”

“Wait, let me guess,” Daring interrupted. “I’m you, the city is the farm, and scumbags like Silvertongue and Scarlet are the weeds.”

“You ain’t a detective for nothing,” Applejack grinned. “But anyway, yeah, I get where you’re coming from. It’s frustrating, having to put up with the same problems year after year. But I’ve learned from every year about what works and what doesn’t. Every year, I get better at it. And every year, after all the hard work, I make a heaping harvest of produce that I can be right proud of.”

She leaned back a bit. “There’s always gonna be bad guys, Daring. Nopony knows that better than the citizens of Ponyville. But the work you do does matter. You want proof, just look around here.” She gestured around the tavern, pointing at several patrons who were enjoying meals and company, smiling and chatting quietly.

“Caramel over there used to have thugs coming up to his home every other week for protection money. Nopony’s bothered him for months now,” Applejack pointed. “Side Saddle couldn’t get anypony to buy his home because of all the dealers in his neighborhood; now that they’ve all gone after Monopoly got taken down, he’s moved to a place closer to where he works and large enough for his two kids. Roseluck nearly lost her home to Tinderspark, but you saved it. And Steamed Carrot...every night, she thanks the Holy Mother for what you did for her.” She smiled at Daring. “The good you do might not seem like much, but it counts every day. You and Phil, you’ve given these ponies hope, Daring. And that means a lot.”

The pain slowly washed away. Daring smiled back at Applejack and raised her glass. “Well, here’s to pulling weeds.”

“What’s that?” Phillip asked, returning.

Daring finished off her sip before answering. “Ah, nothing.”

She speared off a part of the pie and lifted it to her lips, taking a bite. For a moment, the sweet, slightly tangy taste of peaches and cream flowed over her tongue. A second later, the warm, subtle flavors were replaced by an intense burning heat, as though her tongue was on fire. Gasping in shock and pain, she grabbed the glass of whiskey and downed all of it, then snatched Phil’s glass of rum and guzzled it down as well. Only then did the burning fade away, leaving her gasping for air.

“What happened?” Phillip asked in alarm.

Pinkie leaned back in through the kitchen doors. “I promised there wasn’t any confetti in there,” she smirked. “I didn’t say anything about hot sauce.”

“You asshole,” Daring wheezed, smiling despite herself.

“Whoo! I didn’t think I put in that much!” Pinkie sniggered. “You’re all red in the face!”

“I am not,” Daring protested. “I barely even felt that.”

“Really?” Pinkie said, a sly grin creeping up her face as she pulled a plastic crate filled with fiery red bottles out from behind her. “Because I have all these bottles of hot sauce that are about to expire, and I gotta do something with them…”

Daring and Pinkie both looked at the crate of bottles, then at each other.

“Daring…” Phil said bracingly.

“Pinkie…” Applejack said, her pupils shrinking slightly.

Their warnings went unheeded: with grins of abandon, Daring and Pinkie both snatched up one of the bottles and started to chug them down like machines.

“Oh, no,” their companions groaned in unison, lowering their faces onto their hooves.

“What. Was. I. Thinking?” Daring wheezed forty minutes later, clutching her throat as the trolley car swayed beneath her.

“I ask myself that frequently,” Phillip stated, sitting next to her.

“How did that pony manage to drink all of those?” Daring gasped. “What does Pinkie even eat?”

“Some questions are best left unanswered,” Phillip commented, pulling the signal cord over his head as they approached Honeybee Bakery Street. The trolley squealed to a halt and they disembarked, heading back home. The light dusting of snow that coated the sidewalk and street seemed to glow beneath the streetlamps.

“I still can’t feel my tongue,” Daring said, sticking her tongue out.

“It’s your own fault,” Phillip stated, unlocking the door to 221.

“I’m getting no sympathy from you, am I?” Daring grumbled as they stepped inside.

“No,” Phillip stated plainly. “I—”

He was interrupted by the phone ringing. The two stared at each other for a beat, then sighed. “Deja vu,” Daring grumbled as Phillip walked over to the phone on the sitting room table next to the chessboard and lifted the receiver.

“Finder and Do,” he spoke.

Liebling,” the voice on the other end said. “Darling. How glad I am to see that you are home safely.”

He had never heard the Gerwhin-accented voice before, but he instantly knew who it was. “Zugzwang,” Phillip scowled. Daring’s ears immediately perked up and she paused to listen.

Ja, it is I,” Zugzwang’s voice said in delight. “Did you like the Hearth’s Warming gift I left you?”

The image of a dozen eyeless corpses flashed before Phillip’s and Daring’s minds, sending an involuntary shudder down their spines. “What do you want?” Phillip growled.

To speak to you, and to apologize,” Zugzwang answered, his tone absurdly light and casual. “When I learned that the Poacher had taken you, I feared I might never see you again. I do not exaggerate when I say I contemplated throwing myself into the Maresippi at the thought.

“You’re awfully concerned for a pony who hired him to kill me,” Phillip replied.

There was a long pause. “Who told you that?” Zugzwang spoke at last, his tone having suddenly changed to a low, icy breath.

“The Poacher,” Phillip answered.

There was a muted hissing noise over the phone that might have been static and might have been an equine noise. “Then I have a traitor in my midst,” Zugzwang said. “I promise you, I gave no such order for you to be harmed.

Phillip snorted derisively. “Like I’m supposed to believe a wanker like you.”

A soft, bubbling laugh sounded from the other end of the line. “Liebling, why would I ever want to kill you?” Zugzwang chuckled. “Nein, nein, I would never harm you. I need you.” His voice dropped to a sensuous whisper: “I love you.

A sudden chill ran down Phillip’s legs, and he heard his heart thumping faintly in his ears. “What are you talking about?”

It was exceedingly boring, to work for Silvertongue,” Zugzwang explained, speaking as though they were discussing this over drinks. “I had once loved my work, woke up every day excited to try new things, formulate new plans. But with him, the challenge that I craved, the thrill of being tested, of pitting my mind against a rival’s, had long ago faded away: there was nopony in Ponyville who could test me, no challenges to surmount. The chessboard was empty. Every day seemed agony, and I yearned for an escape. Scarlet Letter’s rebellion provided a suitable distraction, but then you…”

He let out a long, blissful sigh and spoke in a breathy, ecstatic tone. “You came along. You reminded me of what I had been missing: you aroused the cravings for challenge that I so longed for. You, liebling: you are my raison d’etre now, the reason why I get up in the morning. You are the rival I have waited for. You...are my love.”

The thumping of Phillip’s heartbeat grew louder, faster. “You’re insane,” he growled.

The silence that followed seemed to hit him like a sledgehammer. “I’d choose my words more carefully, liebling,” Zugzwang said, his tone one of matter-of-fact warning. “I do need you, but I do not need the ponies you surround yourself with. Not even the mare standing two feet to your left. Did you ever notice her wingtips twitch when she is worried? Ah, look, she’s doing it now.

Phillip’s heart leaped into his throat. He turned and looked out the window. Across the snowy yard with the single dropping cherry tree, there was a single square of yellow light from a neighbor’s window. A light that should not have been on, for Phillip knew that the occupants were always in bed and asleep long past this hour. A light that had a figure standing inside of it.

From a dozen yards away, stormcloud gray irides met empty black.

A moment later, the figure disappeared with a flash of golden light, then reappeared in the sitting room right behind Phillip and Daring. His horn lit up and Phillip was pushed up against the wall, an iron grip crushing his throat. He choked and sputtered, pushing futilely against the force that held him back. Daring was lifted off the ground, bands of golden lights trapping her limbs and wings and constricting her neck.

“I could kill her right now,” Zugzwang said, no emotion evident in his tone. His empty black eyes were fixed on Phillip’s, ignoring Daring’s struggling to free herself and desperate choking. “I could skin her alive and carve out her still-beating heart. And if I thought it’d bring me an advantage, I would.”

Phillip tried to speak, but the pressure on his throat made it impossible to form words; he tried to reach for the boomerang in his vest, but more golden bands wrapped around his forelegs and pinned them to the wall.

“But no,” Zugzwang shook his head. “Cruelty for its own sake is a petty indulgence, and I would gain nothing from such an action. So you may have her...for now. But should you ever think of disrespecting me again, I would think of this night.”

He paused, then a smile crossed his face, a smile that did not reach his black irides. “You have beautiful eyes, liebling,” he whispered in a sensuous coo, striding over to the trapped Phillip. “I shall dream of them often.” He leaned down and kissed the helpless earth pony on the forehead. The touch of his hot, wet lips against his skin made shudders of revulsion run down Phillip’s spine.

“Bis zum nächsten Mal, liebling,” Zugzwang whispered, still smiling. And with another flash of light, he vanished. The spells paralyzing Phillip and Daring flickered out and they both dropped to the floor, coughing and gasping.

Phillip looked up at the spot where Zugzwang had stood, the sound of the dial tone from the dropped phone mixing with the pounding of his heartbeat against his skull, then turned and looked at Daring. She met his gaze with a wide-eyed stare of her own, her wingtips fluttering with nerves.

In a basement somewhere in the northwestern suburbs of Ponyville, a dark red unicorn lay on her side atop a set of pillows on the floor, studying the blueprints laid out before her. A marker held in an orange aura floated down and marked a note next to one of the hallways: simultaneously, a dill pickle floated out of a nearby jar, dipped itself into a jar of mayonnaise, and flew over to the mare’s mouth. She chomped down on the snack, shifting slightly to adjust for the weight of her rounded belly.

A flash of golden light lit up the darkened room. The mare sat up like a bolt, snatching for the pistol that lay nearby and aiming it at the source of the light.

“Ah, Fraulein Sparks,” Zugzwang said, adjusting his tie, seeming to barely notice the gun that was aimed at him. “Is Scarlet here yet?”

Bright Sparks held the pistol on him for a moment longer, then lowered the weapon and shook her head with a quiet grunt.

“I see. I will wait for her here, then,” Zugzwang said, lowering himself into a chair nearby and lighting up a new cigarette. Bright Sparks returned to her work with the blueprints, occasionally shooting the unicorn stallion a dirty look.

Only a couple moments passed before a tall floor-to-ceiling mirror mounted on the wall next to an open crate of rifles began to shimmer and ripple, like the glass was the surface of a pond disturbed by a stone. A moment later, Scarlet Letter stepped through, shaking her mane.

“Police,” she sighed. “Inconvenient even in the best of times.” She strode over to Bright Sparks, smiling maternally at her. “How are you feeling, mon ami?” she asked.

“Fine,” Bright Sparks said, looking up. “Thank you for these pillows, ma’am, they’re a big help.”

“Of course, mon ami,” Scarlet said. “Anything to ensure that you and your child are kept safe. I hear that our former associate met a rather sudden end?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bright Sparks nodded. She paused for a moment, then added, “Ma’am? What about Finder? I could’ve taken him right then, too.”

“Not yet,” Scarlet shook her head. “Killing him now would attract too much attention.” Seeing Sparks scowl, she added, “You will have your chance soon. Right now, you need to focus on your brothers and sisters. How is the plan coming along?”

“We’re almost ready,” Sparks replied, looking back down at the blueprints. “I just need a few more things and a bit more time.”

“Whatever you need, you shall have,” Scarlet promised her. “A moment, please.” She walked back over to Zugzwang. “Where have you been?”

“Taking care of personal business,” Zugzwang said.

“I see,” Scarlet nodded. “Time for us to see what Artiste Fou was hiding.”

The two unicorns walked over to the other end of the room. Underneath a heat lamp stood an easel; atop it was a painting of a single-masted sailboat on a white background with the words “Ceci n'est pas une bateau.”

“Three years of work to acquire this, and it was almost ruined at the last moment by a mistake,” Scarlet mused as she looked to the worktable next to the easel. Atop the table sat a plastic carton of light blue-white water and vials containing rainbow liquid, each one a different color. She filled a small bucket half full with water, then mixed in each of the other rainbow liquids, an equal amount of every color. She stirred the mixture until it had turned a pale white liquid that steamed faintly, then dipped a paintbrush into the bucket. Carefully, she drew the brush back and forth across the painting.

The heat and the potion reacted with the fading, cracked paint, undoing the concealment charms and revealing the secret of Artiste Fou. The sailboat and the perplexing message faded away, replaced by notes written in a strange language and sketches of eyes and silhouettes of ponies connected by waving lines. At the center of the piece was a drawing of four interlocking circles, each with what looked like a star inside them.

The two unicorns studied the message in silence for several moments, then Scarlet turned to Zugzwang. “What do you make of it?” she asked.

“Interesting,” Zugzwang mused. “These seem to be notes for experiments in gathering and focusing magic from multiple sources simultaneously.”

“Exactly what I hoped for,” Scarlet smiled. “Can you decipher them?”

“In time, yes,” Zugzwang nodded. “I will work on the Lazarus Ritual as well.”

“Forget Lazarus for now, focus on this,” Scarlet instructed him. “This is of higher priority.”

“Of course,” Zugzwang nodded. “However, I have some other business to attend to.”

He turned to a telephone mounted on the wall and plucked the receiver from the wall, dialing in a number. The phone rang five times, then the line clicked as the other receiver was picked up.

“I gave no instructions for Phillip Finder to be harmed,” Zugzwang spoke into the phone in an icy tone.

That runt and his whore have been a thorn in our sides for way too long,” the other voice snarled back. “I saw a chance to get rid of him for good and took it. Shame it seems we both wasted our money.”

“Phillip Finder. Is. Mine,” Zugzwang hissed into the phone. “He is mine alone to deal with. I decide if he lives or dies. And it is my word that he lives!”

You think that just because you brought me Matsuma’s eyes in a gift box that I’m going to heel for you?” the other voice snapped back. “Silvertongue was the last one to command me. I make my own decisions now. And I’ve decided two things: one, I’m going to run this city. Two, Phillip Finder and Daring Do must die.

“Choose your words carefully, captain,” Zugzwang said. “You speak of treachery and war.”

If it’s war you want, then Whitestone is more than willing to oblige you,” the griffon growled, the sneer audible in her speech. “I've got the gods back on my side, I've served my penance under Silvertongue. A moon from now, I’ll be dining on your heart. And then I’m going after those two snoops.” And with a click, the line hung up.

Zugzwang stared at the receiver for a beat, then hung up the phone as well. He turned to see Scarlet Letter staring at him with wide eyes.

“Zugzwang,” Scarlet said slowly. “What was that about?”

Zugzwang raised his right foreleg and tensed his arm. A blade sprung out from beneath the sleeve of his suit, extending past his hoof to a sharpened, gleaming tip.

“Kriegspiel,” he smiled. “War chess. The game is on.”

Author's Note:

Well, well...a bit of dramatic irony for you, a title drop, and Zugzwang finally makes his move! What awaits our two heroes? Tune in again, same pony time, same pony channel!

Translation: "Bis zum nächsten Mal:" "Until next time."

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