• Published 29th May 2020
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Murder at the Rarity Boutique - Coyote de La Mancha

When Rarity is accused of murder, there is only one stallion who can prove her innocence. And yes, he is exactly the pony you’re thinking of. But he isn’t who you imagine him to be.

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Chapter 11: Partners in Law.

Luna stared at her sister, her sleepiness forgotten, her voice a whisper.

“He… he did what?”

“He invoked blódsihtan,” Celestia confirmed softly, refusing to meet her eyes. “I wanted to tell you as soon as you were awake, so you wouldn’t learn it from dreams.”

Luna took a step forward. “But… that means they could both…!”


For a moment, neither spoke. Behind the Sun Princess, the palace guards quietly closed the door to Luna’s chambers, granting the diarchs privacy.

“I never foresaw this,” Celestia said at last.

Luna frowned. “Of course not! Whoever thought you did?”

Celestia sighed again, but said nothing, sitting where she was. After a moment, Luna joined her.

“I am also concerned. But should the worst happen, it is not your fault,” Luna said.

“Who else?” Celestia demanded. “I sent him into this! Why, I even suggested we keep blódsihtan on the books, so long ago…!”

“Which I agreed to,” Luna pointed out, “Just as I would have agreed to your asking Blue to help. Just as he has made his own decisions, every step of the way.”

Then, frowning anew, she asked, “Wait. Do you expect him to fail?”

Celestia blinked.

Tilting her head slightly, Luna studied her sister as she waited for a response.

“I… I don’t know,” Celestia admitted. “I’m so torn right now, I don’t know what I expect. Bad enough when Rarity stood accused of murder; now, both their futures rely on Blue proving a negative! And that…”

She lapsed into silence.

Luna nodded. “I think you underestimate him, but very well. Not knowing what to expect, what is it that you fear?”

Even as she sighed again, a begrudging smile crept onto Celestia’s features. It was an obvious question, especially from Luna. But it was also a worthy one. Despite her exhaustion she stood again, pacing as she spoke.

“I fear losing two dear friends, far too soon,” she said. “More than that, I fear losing them both through my own shortcomings. And more than even that, above all, I fear passing sentence over them to a fate so terrible. I know it sounds selfish, and really it is, but… what greater betrayal is there than that?”

Luna arched an eyebrow.

Celestia winced and looked away, saying nothing.

As she rose, Luna spoke gently, saying, “I sometimes wonder if, across the centuries, you have not become accustomed to blaming yourself.”

When Celestia did not reply, she continued, “In any case, this situation has led us to a new problem. Not our primary concern at the moment, I grant you. But it is far more within our current control. So, for now, perhaps we should focus our attention upon that instead.”

Reluctantly, Celestia nodded. “Alright.”

“Very well. Lacking confirmation of his failure, let us assume Blue’s success, as seems most likely,” Luna continued. “Thus, mayhap we should review the sentence of Tartarus itself. Long has it gone uninvoked, I grant you. But if even now, innocent ponies risk its domain, it comes into play too often.”

“I agree.” Celestia nodded again, forcing herself to focus upon this new train of thought. “Reviewing this now… I think we should never have allowed Tartarus to remain as a punishment for any crime, no matter how horrific that crime might have been. We should have made it a place of last resort, used only when it’s been shown that nothing else will work. A place only for the deadliest and most powerful of enemies. Never mandated by law, but only by the rarest of circumstances.”

“Yes.” Luna considered a moment longer before adding, “Indeed, upon reflection I would say that so dire a sentence should require a unanimous royal decision, not just between you and I…”

“…but among all Equestrian princesses,” Celestia finished for her. “Agreed.”

After a few heartbeats, Celestia shook her head in disbelief. “It all seems so obvious, in retrospect,” she said. “Why didn’t we just do that in the first place?”

“All things seem obvious in retrospect. We were changing unjust laws into something more just. We knew far less then than we do now.”

“Yet, obviously we failed to take the concept far enough, regardless of our own ignorance at the time.”

“Hmm,” Luna pondered. “It is strange, now that you mention it. Almost as if we were flawed beings, somehow.”

Then, turning to her sister with a deliberate frown, she posited, “Tia, could it be that we are… not perfect?”

Celestia rolled her eyes as she flopped onto Luna’s bed. “Uuuuugh! Fine, point taken. But just the same…”

“Just the same, your concerns are valid,” Luna agreed. “And we are once again faced with our failings. Yet, I submit that all we can do is learn from our errors, even as others do across the generations, and hope that the innocent will not pay for our mistakes.”

“And yet they do.”

“Yes,” Luna acknowledged. “Sometimes, they do. They sometimes did when we were young and our first castle was not yet even built. They sometimes did during times of war, and sometimes even during peace. And still, they sometimes do even today. Such is the nature of rulership, my dearest. And for all that we did not wish to rule, in the end the choice was still ours.”

Celestia sighed, staring again into the distance. “I know.”

Lying next to Celestia for a moment, Luna embraced her with her forelegs and wings.

“Yet, it is also worth remembering the lives we aid,” Luna pointed out. “The happiness we can bring to others, the lives we can uplift, just by making a law more fair or encouraging the young. They, too, are part of what we have chosen. We are reminded of them less often, I grant thee. But they are there just the same.”

With a loving smile, she placed a gentle kiss on her sister’s cheek. Then, she rose, moving some of Celestia’s mane away from her eyes as she did.

“In any event, I must away,” she said. “The dreamers dream, and I must guide them. Wilt thou stay here tonight? I’ll see that thy sleep is peaceful.”

Celestia gave a tired smile. “Thank you.”

“And come the morrow we can discuss alternatives, in the unlikely event of their conviction. For it is always better to seek solutions than to mourn our mistakes, is it not?”

Celestia’s voice was muzzy as she drifted off, the knots beneath her coat already coming undone at last.

“Mm-hmm. Thank you again, dear one…”

And then she was asleep, a blue glow enveloping the covers as they tucked themselves around her.

“Any time and always, heart of my soul,” Luna replied, still smiling. Then she dissolved into her midnight-shadowed mist, and was gone.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the palace, Blueblood’s largest study had become a veritable maze of boxes. Boxes which, to Blueblood, all looked just the same. Granted, the ticky-tacky containers were of different colours – green, blue, orange, and yellow – but whatever color coding system they used, if any, was a mystery to him.

Within each box was an assortment of files, colored light tan, green, brown, or (rarely) red or blue. Sometimes they were in groups, bound together with ribbons. Mostly, they were alone, sometimes with ribbons holding them shut and sometimes not. Most of them had pages of official-looking gibberish pinned to their fronts, but not all.

Each box had one or more official-looking stickers on its front, each with its own number. Each file also had a number. And the numbers on the folders and the numbers on the stickers had nothing to do with one another, so far as Blueblood could tell. Just as the box colors seemingly had nothing to do with the folder colors.

Yet somehow, Sour Sweet was able to not only navigate their bureaucratic wilderness but make it look both easy and obvious. It had taken, for example, just a few seconds for her to find the note allegedly proving Rarity’s and Filthy’s museum-based trysts:

My Dear Rarity,

I’m so sorry to have missed you, I would rather have said this in person. Unfortunately, it can’t wait.

I’m going to be spending more time with my family from now on. That of course means we will be seeing one another less, if at all. Believe me, it isn’t for lack of interest. But I think this whole affair has been putting a strain on Spoiled, and I need to distance myself, at least for a while.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. It’s been wonderful rekindling our old friendship. But the more I think on it, the more I think my involvement with the museum will have to be strictly hooves-off from now on. I know you’ll understand.

Always your friend,

--Filthy Rich.

Sour Sweet gave the note a look of irritation. “That doesn’t sound like a love affair. Or the ending of one.”

Blueblood shrugged. “It does if you want it to. What did forensics get from it?”

“Oh, um…” Sour Sweet opened and rummaged through another box of files, pulling out a manila folder. “Yeah, here it is. Despite the death imprint, investigators were able to establish that the note was definitely written by Filthy Rich, shortly before he was killed.”

“That’s impressive. Chance of error?”

“About none. Psychometry results were confirmed by independent hoofwriting analysis and alchemical testing of the ink, which matched a bottle of ink in the room where the body was found. Do you want the specific tests they used?”

“Not now, thank you. Time of death?”

“Eight-twenty p.m.”

“Mmm. Any other records on Filthy’s activities, before his death?”

Sour Sweet nodded, deftly pulling an orange file from yet another box.

“Mister Rich had made reservations for two at the Chez Magnifique the night he died. The reservations were for the following night, presumably to talk things out with his wife regarding his alleged affair.”

Frowning, she pulled another document. “Meanwhile, according to testimony, their daughter would be spending the night at Rarity’s that night. Which… if he’s mending bridges with his wife does sort of fit the prosecution’s theory, except…”

“Except the Crowns’ entire theory hinges on the idea that Filthy was sleeping with Miss Rarity, with their precious note showing Spoiled’s disapproval of her,” Blueblood finished, waving a dismissive hoof. “Disapproval to such an extent that he was cutting all ties, apparently. In which case, why have their daughter stay at Miss Rarity’s house? To rub Spoiled’s nose in it? While talking things out with her over dinner?”

Sour Sweet flipped through a few more pages. “Apparently, Spoiled didn’t know about the sleepover arrangement yet.”

“Well, that’s even more absurd. What, are we to believe that Filthy was saving it for some kind of surprise?

“No,” he said, beginning to pace. “No. The whole situation is ridiculous as it’s presented now. Even a hidebound fossil like Janus should be able to see that it doesn’t add up.”

“Then why doesn’t he?”

“Because, dear lady, he has already made up his mind. Now, facts exist merely to fit around his own conclusions.”

She rolled her eyes. “Gee, I wonder what that looks like.”

“No idea. Now, what about the Missus?”

Sour Sweet nodded, opening yet another box and flipping expertly through the files within it before pulling out the one she sought.

“According to Mrs. Rich and corroborating witnesses, the Rich family had spent the day together at various Summer Sun Celebration events. There’s a detailed list of what and when if you want it.”

Still pacing, Blueblood gave another impatient wave. “Maybe later.”

Nodding, Sour Sweet continued, “So, later that night, while the Riches were busy with different night events, their daughter went to Rarity’s house. And during that time period, of course, Mister Rich went to the museum.”

Blueblood stopped. “Now, that’s interesting. Miss Rarity had also mentioned her having been at her home that night. Do we know why?”

More rummaging.

“Okay, apparently Diamond Tiara – the daughter – has been friends with Rarity’s younger sister for a while now,” Sour Sweet said. “Anyway, according to Rarity, sleepovers are pretty common.”

“And yet, I sense this is heading somewhere.”

She nodded happily. “Uh-huh. Rarity was supposed to be at the museum that night. She normally spent hours on the place after finishing with her day job, but that night she stayed home. Her sister, Sweetie Belle, had been sick all day. Rarity was taking care of her.”

Blueblood politely took the file from her. “I already know that much. Miss Rarity had just gotten over the bug herself. What interests me is that Diamond Tiara spent the night there anyway,” he said.

Sour Sweet’s face contorted into a snarl. “A detail, by the way, which ‘Mommy Dearest’ didn’t even know about until the investigation!”

Then, smiling again, “Also, Filthy Rich usually worked late at his office until around nine, and would only occasionally work on the museum with Rarity afterwards. But since it was a holiday, he closed his businesses and took the day off. And after family time, he went to the museum early.”

“Dying at eight-twenty.”

“Right. Meanwhile, the prosecution has the time of Rarity’s retiring for the night being around six. They argue that he was at the museum early to break up with her, and that she had ample time to sneak out a window, meet Filthy Rich, kill him in a fit of rage, and return.”

Blueblood nodded. “Well, now. The sleepover’s certainly worth looking into, I think.”

Sour Sweet scoffed, frowning. “Psh. They’re still minors. Good luck calling them as witnesses.”

“I don’t intend to. Any other loose ends?”

Sour Sweet nodded contentedly as her hooves deftly ran through multicolored files in several boxes. “Plenty, but not the kind you mean. Nothing that points to an uninvestigated avenue yet… no… no… oh, hello,”

Blueblood’s ears perked up. “Hello?”

Looking at the paper pinned to the pack of folders she held, she shook her head. “No, never mind. One of the displays in the room was an old wax phonograph, and it was apparently recording during the murder.”

Blueblood extended a hoof. “May I?”

Sour Sweet passed him the trio of green folders bound together, and Blueblood flipped through them quickly.

“Hm. The recording time apparently overlaps the murder, and the recording was completely ruined by the fireworks outside,” he nodded at last. “Perfect.”

She gave him an uncertain glance. “Perfect? Um, you do know that recordings are inadmissible as evidence, right?”

Still reading, the noblepony waved away her concerns.

“Of course,” he said. “Any object that records reality can also record illusion, and reliably discerning the two from a recording is considered legally impossible. That was on the primer you wrote up for me. For which I thank you again, by the way. But remember that we’re not looking for evidence at this point. Only for information that’s been ignored or dismissed.”

“Sure, if the information’s worth anything,” she rejoined with another eye roll. “But the recording’s useless, remember? Remember, the fireworks? Kaboom?”

He looked up from the files and grinned. “Perhaps not so useless, my dear. Recent years have seen monumental leaps forward in sound manipulation and recording, especially in music. And if her efforts towards raising Miss Rarity’s bond are any indication, I’m certain the young lady largely responsible for those advances will be more than happy to help.”

Author's Note:

The use of the phrase “legally impossible” in this chapter may have been a bit confusing to some readers, so I will expand upon it here. The important take-away is that it does not refer to the common law phrase in England, the US, etc., but rather a specific recognition by Equestrian law regarding the changing nature of magical research.

Now, for those of you who would like more detail...

Equestria, while it does use technology after a fashion, is not (at least in this timeline) a society which utilizes or values mass production. Simultaneously, while sorcery and enchantment do advance over time, magic is not something that is blindly reproducible to all beings in a lab in the way that matters of science are.

For example: if Sunburst stood in a circle and perfectly recited an incantation from Starswirl’s more advanced research, he probably wouldn’t get the same result as Twilight would. However, Earth college chemistry courses yield consistent results among their students regardless of students’ personal ability. Mostly.

(Likewise, Rarity is not likely to be able to casually nap on a cloud any time soon. But legal impossibility in Equestria focuses primarily upon spell casting and the making and/or use of magical objects.)

This results in the advancement of pony magic being not only slower than human technology’s progress, but also far more uneven. During Starswirl’s lifetime, great strides were made in the fields he was interested in. And in modern times, Twilight is behind many of the more sweeping advances. Magic in such a society does not progress in a geometrically increasing rate like Earth’s (or Gaia’s) technological knowledge does. It advances in sudden, uneven spurts, referred to by scholars in history and thaumatology as “jumps.”

These jumps, in turn, result in an even greater lag between magical advancement and the laws dealing with them than between technological advancement and the legal system in our world.

Therefore, over time the concept of “legal impossibility” came into being. In this chapter’s example, shortly after recording devices first began to be made, it was recognized that it was not only possible they could be fooled by illusion, but potentially impossible to be certain whether they had been after the fact.

This came up in a criminal trial, with the defendants producing a sound recording of the two of them talking idly with a policepony at the time that the crime took place. However, the judge, upon hearing testimony on the matter, ruled that separating fact from fiction on a recording device was to be considered legally impossible. The recorded evidence was therefore inadmissible. This decision was then ratified by a judge in a higher court, independent of the trial’s verdict. At that point, determining fact from fiction from any recording became legally impossible throughout Equestria.

(For those who are curious, the case in question was The Crowns vs. Rumpelteazer and Mungojerrie, involving the theft of three chocolate bars and a strawberry malted. However, the pair were minors at the time, and at the behest of their representative Old Possum they were therefore sentenced to six months community service, paying for the malted, and giving back the chocolate bars. The pair did go on to become accomplished burglars, however, stealing pearls, waistcoats, and even Hearth’s Warming Eve dinners. But those were simpler times.)

While declaring something as legally impossible is a relatively simple matter, the process of challenging and overturning such a ruling involves a special type of tribunal hearing. In this hearing, ponies must demonstrate that the act in question is possible not merely for an individual being, but a wide strata of individuals in the field the act pertains to.

Afterwards, should the tribunal agree, they bring the petition to one of the princesses. The princess examines the evidence and discusses the matter with the three judges. Should the princess also be satisfied, she moves the act from “legally impossible” to “legally unlikely.”

It is not necessary for an act to have been legally impossible to be declared legally unlikely. Rather, a legally unlikely act is one which requires proof of a pony’s expertise in the specific relevant field for the results to be admissible. Gaining detailed and accurate information from a murder scene using psychometry, for example, is considered legally unlikely. If Twilight wanted to present evidence she had uncovered using psychometry at Rarity’s trial, she would have to prove to the judge’s satisfaction that she possessed, not the power or the training, but the expertise in psychometric investigation necessary to give such testimony.

Moving an act from “legally unlikely” to the default classification of “legally possible” is similar to making an act “legally impossible.” A judge rules during court that the act has become sufficiently commonplace within the Equestrian population as a whole, and a higher judge, if they concur, ratifies the ruling in a separate hearing.

I now return you to your lives, already in progress. :twilightsmile: