• Published 1st Aug 2020
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Ponyville Noire: Misty Streets of Equestria - PonyJosiah13

Scarred from their final encounter with Zugzwang, Phillip Finder and Daring Do struggle to make peace with the past while balancing a slew of new mysteries that will take them beyond Ponyville.

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Case Fourteen, Chapter Three: Diplomacy

The train pulled into Canterlot with a hissing of brakes and steam, and Smolder disembarked onto the gilded platform, with Phillip and Daring following, stretching in the afternoon sun.

“Okay, first stop: embassy,” Smolder declared. “Follow me.”

She took off with a flap of her wings. Daring scooped up Phillip and took off after her, soaring over the streets of Canterlot. Looking down, Phillip watched the streets passing below them, creatures of every type walking the white sidewalks. Pegasi, hippogriffs, thestrals, and dragons passed them by in the sky.

“You know, walking is supposed to be beneficial for ponies our age,” he declared to Daring.

“You calling me old?” Daring asked with a quirked eyebrow.

Phillip opened his mouth, paused, then closed it. “I should not answer that, should I?” he asked.

Daring smirked. “You’re learning,” she said, giving him a boop with one of the hooves that was now wrapped around his chest.

Finally, Smolder banked and started to dive towards the ground, prompting Daring to follow. They landed on a commercial street in front of a huge building, the brick so dark red that it was almost black. The massive gray ironwood doors were flanked by stone golems in the shape of dragons, glaring imperiously at the visitors. A flagpole over the doors bore a flag depicting a white dragon skull on a black background. A few dragons and ponies wandered in and out of the doors, and a dragon guard adorned in steel armor, head and shoulders taller than Phillip, nodded to Smolder as she approached.

Smolder pushed open the door and they entered a grandiose lobby. Dragons of every type and size were meandering around, standing in line, sitting behind desks filling out paperwork and answering ringing phones.

“Oi, Smolder!” a sea-green dragon called, rushing up to Smolder with his wings fluttering in agitation. “Tell Krein I have to reschedule the meeting about setting up the employment center. Someone back in the Dragonlands decided to redesign the work visas again and—”

“Not now, Heim,” Smolder grunted, pushing a path through the crowd to a huge elevator in the back. Ushering her guests inside, she hit the button for the top floor. The doors slid shut and the elevator started to trundle upwards.

“So is there a protocol for this?” Daring asked. “I mean, we’ve met royalty before, but…”

Smolder quirked an eyebrow at her and smirked. “Nervous?” she asked.

“Maybe a bit,” Daring admitted.

“Krein’s pretty laid back,” Smolder explained as the doors opened with a ding, revealing a long hallway with several doors lining the walls. “Just don’t say or do anything insulting and he’ll be good.”

“Got it,” Daring nodded as they proceeded down the hall.

“And relax, he doesn’t bite,” Smolder said as she knocked at the door. “Often,” she added with a smirk.

“Come in,” a voice spoke from inside. Smolder opened the door and the trio entered a large office.

Phillip and Daring entered and immediately halted in their tracks, their eyes widening at the sight of the enormous dragon sitting behind the ornate desk at the opposite end of the massive room. The golden-brown dragon was at least twice as tall as a pony, and every inch of him was built as if from stone. His massive wings were currently folded, but Daring could tell at a glance that they were more than thrice her wingspan. A black brand of a dragon’s skull, exactly like that on the flag outside, was etched into his right shoulder blade.

The dragon looked up at them and blinked owlishly, his red eyes glittering like little smoldering fires. Daring gulped.

“Ambassador,” Smolder said, entering with a small bow. “As I promised, Detectives Finder and Do. Spike and Twilight say hi, by the way.”

“Thank you, Smolder,” Krein nodded, the friendliness in his rumbling voice going a long way towards dispelling the ponies’ nervousness.

Phillip and Daring both bowed low. “Ambassador. I understand that there are some dragons disappearing. We are here to offer our help,” Phillip said.

“Detectives, thank you for coming on such short notice,” Krein nodded, rising and walking on all four legs up to the two ponies, extending a claw to shake. Phillip shook first; his foreleg felt like a twig inside Krein’s massive claw, but the dragon shook gently. “The dragons here are becoming extremely restless; if this continues, we might have riots on our claws. We need all the help we can get.”

“Let’s start with who the victims are,” Phillip said.

“Smolder compiled a list of all the dragons that have gone missing in Canterlot,” Krein stated.

“Fat lot of good it did,” Smolder grumbled. “Police barely looked at it.”

“I hope you can find something there that we and the police missed,” Krein said. “Smolder, show them to the office where your notes are. I need to send a note to Princess Ember.”

“Got it,” Smolder nodded.

“Keep me informed of your progress, please,” Krein requested.

“We'll let you know if we need anything, Ambassador,” Phillip said. “We also might need to speak to the police officers working this case.”

“Good thinking,” Krein nodded. “I will put in a call to the local precinct and ask for them.” He bowed. “Thank you again for coming.”

“We will do our best,” Phillip bowed back.

Smolder led them to a nearby conference room with a circular table surrounded by several massive cushions. Daring sat down on one; the cushion was so large that she sank down into the center of it, looking like a child sitting on her parent’s bed.

“Wait here,” Smolder said, disappearing briefly. She came back a moment later with a single folder, about an inch thick. “This is a list of all the dragons who went missing,” she declared, slapping the folder onto the table to reveal sheets of claw-written notes and photographs. “Krein and I started making it up when the bank robberies started and the police started asking us about the missing dragons.”

Phillip flipped through the list, letting out an approving noise as he noted the photographs of the missing dragons, lists of addresses and workplaces, and notes on who had last seen them and when. “Good work,” he nodded approvingly. “This helps a lot.”

“Thanks,” Smolder grinned.

“Fourteen dragons?” Daring said out loud.

“And it gets shunted to the side because dragons are apparently less important than ponies’ money,” Smolder grumbled.

Phillip turned to the last page. Kreidol smiled up at him from her passport photograph, her grin earnest and brown eyes shining. Phillip’s eyes went to the necklace around her neck; a simple twine cord went through a granite charm roughly shaped like a hammer. Smolder’s face fell and she folded her arms across her chest, looking down at the ground.

“We’ll find her,” Daring promised, laying a hoof on Smolder’s shoulder. Smolder just shrugged and grunted.

A rapping announced the presence of a black and silver winged dragoness at the door. “Smolder, Krein needs you for a bit,” the dragoness said.

“Okay, Niirah,” Smolder said, rising. “I’ll check on you in a bit,” she said to the detectives, heading for the door.

“Wait a minute,” Phillip said, raising a hoof. “You said that Kreidol was here on a work visa for construction?”

“Yeah,” Smolder replied.

“So were these six,” Phillip said, holding up some folders. “And they all disappeared soon after arriving in Canterlot.”

“We noticed that, too,” Smolder said. “But we weren’t sure if that was a common thread or not.”

“Well, we seem to have a celebrity couple in Canterlot,” a voice declared in a tone dryer than desert sand.

Both dragonesses turned and growled as a white unicorn in a red-trimmed suit approached up the hallway, brushing a strand of his black hair out of his light red eyes. His cutie mark was a deck of cards, all but the ace of diamonds turned facedown.

“Detective Ace,” Niirah growled. “Don’t you have somedragon else to bother?”

“Far be it from me to ignore a summons from the Ambassador of the Dragonlands,” the detective said coolly.

“I would not have called you here if I didn’t have to, detective,” Krein’s voice rumbled as he walked down the hall, glaring at the unicorn. “You are in my domain, and I will ask you to treat my staff with respect.”

“Right,” Ace growled at the Ambassador. “I’m sure that advice would’ve helped my brother a lot when he went off on that aid mission.”

“If you’re anything like your brother—!” Niirah started to snarl.

“Niirah,” Krein cut her off. Niirah and Smolder both backed down with the reluctance of a dog being called back from a treed cat, glaring daggers at the unicorn.

“Again, I am sorry about your brother,” Krein said diplomatically. “But the dragons who killed him are serving their sentences. You can’t blame all dragons for his death.”

Ace just grunted and walked into the conference room. The three dragons outside all shot him one final glare before Smolder slammed the door shut.

The unicorn looked over Phillip and Daring and nodded respectfully. “Detective Hidden Ace. I heard what happened in Ponyville. I’m sorry about your friends.”

Again the knife slid between his ribs. Again his heart throbbed. Again Trace’s scream sounded in his ears. Phillip took a breath and nodded. “Thank you, detective. Let’s just focus on these robberies and disappearances.”

“I suppose we could use the help,” Ace shrugged. “But your client’s not going to be happy when we find it’s a dragon robbing the banks.”

Daring and Phillip both exchanged frowns. “You seem awfully convinced,” Phillip said.

“How about we start at the beginning?” Daring asked. “What’ve you got on these robberies?”

“The MO is always the same,” Detective Ace stated. “The robber first enters the banks through the back door or window and places a Nightpoppy inside.” He held up a picture of a potted plant, a purple and dark blue pod, slightly larger than a softball with several fuzzy feelers extending from it, on top of a long purple stalk. The potted plant sat in a marble hallway, next to a door that had been forced open and hung yawning, the jamb ripped from the wall.

Daring whistled. “Nightpoppy’s tricky stuff to handle. One false move and those spores are putting you to sleep instead of your targets. I only used it a couple of times to knock out a large group.”

“Only times I’ve seen it, wankers knocked themselves out with it,” Phillip commented.

“The thief then takes the surveillance crystal from the security room, destroys the alarm circuit board, and tears open the vault door before making off with as much loot as they can carry. And trust me, that’s a lot,” Ace continued. He showed them a picture of the vault door.

Daring let out another admiring whistle. The humongous, multi-ton door had indeed been ripped open, the locks warped and pulled aside to allow entry. A close-up detailed how the time lock mechanism had been laboriously pulled open so that the massive bolts could be freed. Safe-deposit boxes lay open, their covers ripped off. Bits, gems, and other valuables were scattered on the floor.

“Finally, they load it up into a truck waiting outside and drive off,” Ace concluded, placing more photographs of glowing tire tracks, taken in the alley outside of the bank. “They’re smart enough to plan out their route so that they avoid our surveillance cameras and even with filtered tracking wands, we always lose them not far from the banks, though we’ve managed to kind of narrow down what type of truck it is.”

“Chevroneigh 1948, looks like,” Phillip said.

“Correct. We know they’re not using a spell to pull it open: even if there was any trace of magic around the lock, the doors are charm-proof,” Ace explained. “So whoever ripped it open had to do it on natural strength. And then there’s this,” he added, triumphantly slapping some more photographs on the table.

Phillip and Daring looked over the close-up snaps of the glowing tracks on the bank floor, two lines of three-taloned paws leading from the back of the bank, through the back door, into the security office, wound through the vault, then exited once more.

“We took measurements of the tracks, and we figure that it’s an around four-foot-tall dragon; possibly a drake, considering that they take a truck instead of flying. I’d say that seems pretty convincing,” Ace said with no small amount of smugness in his voice.

“I’d say you need to look again,” Phillip said.

Ace blinked. “What?” he asked.

“First, this evidence list,” Daring commented, holding up a list of recovered evidence from the banks. “I don’t see any scales or claw marks anywhere on there. Quite a few hair traces, though.”

“And the dents on the vault,” Phillip said, holding up the closeup. “Those don’t look like claw marks ripping at the metal: that looks more like hooves to me. And speaking of which.”

He held up a close-up of a photograph of a track with a ruler next to it. “Notice anything odd about this?” he asked.

“Looks like a normal dragon clawprint to me,” Ace shrugged.

“Not to me,” Phillip said. “Tracking spells work by picking up sweat, dust, and other traces that were left behind by prints, leaving a shape of the object that made the track. Dragon talons have wrinkles, ridges, just like our hoofprints: I know, I saw them on all the dragons here. These prints here? They’re completely smooth. No ridges or markings at all. Odd.”

“They look more like drawings of prints than actual prints,” Daring mused.

Ace took another look, frowning at the tracks with a reluctant grunt.

“And then there’s these,” Phillip said, pointing at another photograph, a wide view of a line of glowing talon prints trailing into the security room. “Some of those tracks have these odd circular ridges around them. They’re faint, but you can see them.”

“And what do you suppose made those?” Ace asked.

“A horseshoe,” Daring said. “I’ve seen these used sometimes: special horseshoes that have a raised impression of a different creature’s track on them. Normally, they’re used for leaving tracks on beaches or something, but this is the same effect.”

“Seems to me, it might not be a dragon at all,” Phillip said. “Might be a pony framing a dragon.”

Ace scowled. “So maybe it’s a pony trying to frame a dragon. That doesn’t change the fact that no pony can rip steel open with their bare hooves without magic,” he pointed out.

Daring’s eyes wandered over to the list of dragons. “I wonder if the robberies and the disappearing dragons are somehow related,” she mused.

“Seems to be a bit too much of a coincidence,” Phillip agreed. “Ace, you working on the disappearances as well?”

“No,” Ace replied. “I work robberies, not missing creatures. The dragons are being handled by Detective Paw Print. She’s making some headway, but the dragons aren’t really willing to talk to her either. Or any cop, for that matter.”

Wonder why, Daring thought dryly.

“And is she in today?” Phillip asked.

“I saw her this morning,” Ace said. “Don’t know why she hasn’t shown up yet.” He gathered up his stuff and stood. “Thank you for your assistance. I’ll take this into consideration going forward. Good luck with your investigation.” With a final nod, he exited, closing the door behind him.

“Prick,” Daring muttered.

“I was going to say wanker, but yeah,” Phillip agreed. He stood and stretched. “We should work our end. Try to find Detective Print and start talking to witnesses. Maybe there’s something they missed.”

Daring grinned. “Hooves on the ground detective work?”

Phillip nodded and stood, taking the folder. “Good to get back to work,” he admitted with a smile.

Exiting, they followed the sound of voices to an open conference room. Krein was speaking to a teal dragoness with fish-like fins instead of wings and a large dragon with slate-colored scales like metal armor, with Smolder standing off to one side.

“Quarry, you know the agreement: the mine is on yak land, so they get the majority share,” Krein was saying to the scowling slate dragon. “Algae, send a letter to Baltimare, tell them that we need to renegotiate that trade agreement if they’re not going to take responsibility for our cargo.”

“Will do!” Algae chirped. Quarry grunted and exited. Krein turned to face the detectives, dragging a claw over his face.

“Ambassador, we’re going to go out and start questioning witnesses,” Phillip said. “We’d like to borrow Smolder. Might be easier for them to talk to us if there’s a dragon with us.”

“Makes sense,” Krein nodded. “Smolder, have you finished your work for today?”

“Yes, boss!” Smolder nodded, eagerly bouncing in place. “Can I go?”

“One moment.” Krein pulled out a small scroll, wrote down a note on it with a large red pen, then pressed a small ring on his talon to the bottom of the paper. With a sizzling noise and a wisp of smoke that smelled like charcoal, a dragon’s skull image was burned into the bottom of the note.

“This note will tell all dragons to aid you, by my decree,” Krein said, handing the still slightly smoking paper to Phillip. “I gave one to Detective Paw Print last week; it was the only way she could get some dragons to talk to her.” He frowned in thought. “I called her down here with Detective Ace. Wonder where she is.”

“If she comes by, tell her we went to do some investigation on our own,” Phillip said, taking the letter.

“I will,” Krein nodded. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, boss!” Smolder cried, zipping out the door. “Hey, slowpokes, get a move on!”

“Who’s a slowpoke?” Daring called, snatching Phillip and racing off after her, ignoring Phillip’s yelp of protest.

As they rocketed out the embassy doors and into the sky, Phillip glanced over at Smolder. “So, we never asked. Tell us more about when Kreidol disappeared.”

Smolder frowned. “Like I said, she came over five days ago: I met her on the airship docks and brought her over to her hotel, the South Cavern. It’s a big stone place that’s popular with dragons in the undercity. She was supposed to report to her new construction job the next morning. I went looking for her in the evening, but couldn’t find her. I even checked with the construction company that she was hired for, Brick and Mortar, but they said she hadn’t even shown up for work.”

She growled as they flew along the edge of Canterlot, where the ledge of the mountain gave way to the open skies, down to the mountain base. Equestria stretched out for miles before them, glowing beneath the noontime sun. “What the hell happened to you, Kreidol?” Smolder muttered.

“Is the Cavern close by?” Daring asked. “Maybe we can start there. We can check her room and there’s a witness who lives there.”

“It’s this way,” Smolder said, banking to the right and diving over the lip of the city.

Daring grinned. Phillip gulped, looking at the sloping granite cliffs stretching far beneath them. “Daring, can we—AAAAAAAAAH!”

The undercity of Canterlot, home of the lower classes and many of the essential city functions that were considered uncouth and unfit to be displayed to the public, was like an entirely new city. The main city formed the roof of the massive cavern, supported by massive stone columns carved with scenes from Equestrian history. Light filtered in from massive skylights placed in strategic intersections, but most of the illumination came from street lamps and flickering neon signs. Phillip noticed that there was a larger concentration of non-ponies living down here, spotting larger groups of griffons and dragons walking up and down the cobbled streets.

“This place is pretty cool,” Daring commented as they wandered past a winding ramp that allowed access to the surface. Some ponies were gathering into an elevator formed into the center of a massive concrete pillar.

“Cavern is this way,” Smolder said, leading them around a corner.

The South Cavern proved to be a huge hotel carved out of the side of the mountain that Canterlot rested upon, lights flickering from the windows cut into the stone. The hotel’s name was displayed with a golden neon sign that flickered like a fire over the revolving glass door, which was more than three times as high as most ponies. Several dragons were milling around the hotel, talking, throwing dice, and competing in fire-belching contests that filled the air with the scent of sulfur.

Daring entered first, followed by Phil and Smolder. The huge lobby was decorated to look like a natural cave, with flickering torches set in sconces on the wall that sent light and shadows dancing amongst the stalactites and stalagmites. A large circular fire pit in the center was filled with glowing coals; a piglet with an apple stuffed into its mouth roasted on a spit over the pit.

A blue dragoness standing behind the counter looked up with a smile. “Welcome! Are you here for a room?”

“Detectives Finder and Do,” Phillip said, extracting Krein’s note from his vest. “We’re checking on Kreidol’s disappearance from a few days ago.”

The hostess frowned at the note and sighed. “We’ve kept her room locked up, per the police instructions,” she stated, taking a key. “Nothing’s been touched or changed, except for what little the police took. We're keeping it closed until the police close the investigation.”

She led them up the wide stairs to the second floor and down a hallway lit by torches to room number 214, as declared by the gilded numbers etched into the stone door. Crime Scene: Do Not Cross tape was stretched across the doorway, placed so that it would tear if someone opened the door. A chain of custody sheet was stapled to the door, protected by a plastic sleeve.

As Daring and Phillip signed the sheet and carefully peeled the tape aside, the hostess unlocked the door and opened it wide. “Hope you find something; she was a sweet girl,” she said, departing. Smolder waited in the hallway as Phil and Daring entered.

The room was small and cozy, roughly carved out of the stone. A simple chandelier hung from the stalactites above. A raised circular stone in the center covered with a mattress and sheets served as a bed, with a few couches, a dresser, a desk and chair, and a radio rounding out the room. A side door led to a bathroom with a shower that was the size of 221 Honeybee Bakery’s entire bathroom. The only sign that anyone had ever been in the room was a big battered canvas bag laying open on the floor next to the bed.

After scanning the room for anything of interest, Daring started searching the contents of the bag. There were some books in dragontongue, some personal hygiene items, notebooks and what looked like some formal letters, also written in dragon language, and winter clothing made of furs, but nothing leapt out to her.

“Can you read these?” she asked Smolder, holding them up.

Smolder glanced them over. “It’s a message from our embassy regarding his work visa. ‘Dear Kreidol, your work visa has been accepted. Please report to Brick and Mortar on blah blah blah.’”

“Police should’ve taken these,” Phillip snorted. “Bogans. Probably left it because they couldn’t read them.”

“Are there no dragon police officers?” Daring asked Smolder.

“The idea isn’t really popular with Canterlot citizens,” Smolder grunted. “Or with us dragons.”

“G’day,” Phillip muttered, bending over a notepad on the desk. The top sheet was torn off and there was the faint ghost of writing on the sheet. Phillip took a pencil out of his vest and gently rubbed the notepad, revealing some more dragon runes.

“It says ‘102 Smart Cookie Lane, enter through the side door,’” Smolder translated.

Phillip frowned, then checked the phone book in the desk drawer. “Odd. Brick and Mortar isn’t on that address.”

“Might be worth checking that out later,” Daring commented, filing the address away in the back of her mind.

Nothing else stood out to them, so they exited and relocked the door and replaced the tape behind them. “Okay, there’s a witness who lives here,” Phillip said, consulting Smolder’s notes. “Let’s go talk to him.”

The trio proceeded up to room 313 and knocked at the door. After a moment, the door opened and a sand-colored dragon peeked out.

“Sandstorm?” Phillip asked.

“Yes?” the dragon replied in a low, raspy voice.

“Detectives Finder and Do,” Phillip said. “We’re looking into the disappearance of your friend, Geode.”

“You with Detective Paw Print?” Sandy asked. “I haven’t seen her in a bit.”

“We’re working with her,” Daring said. “Can we come in? Might be easier to talk in there.”

“Yeah, yeah, come in,” Sandstorm said, stepping aside.

Sandy lived in a double room. He plopped down on the closest bed, moving aside a few comic books to make room. The other bed was neatly made, with a few stacks of books on landscaping and construction on the floor next to it. The desk in the corner was set up in the middle of a game of Battleship.

“Geode’s been gone for two weeks now,” Sandstorm murmured. “Please, do you have anything?”

“We just need to go over what happened,” Daring said gently. “We might be able to find something that got missed the first time around.”

“Don’t know what to tell,” Sandstorm said. “Geode had been working here for eight months before he invited me over. We set up here: it’s cozy, it’s affordable. I started working for a mining company. Unfortunately for Geode, the landscaping company he was working for folded two months ago and he had to get help from our employment office. Got another job with the city public works.”

“And he disappeared the day he left?” Daring asked.

Sandstorm nodded. “From what they told me, he never showed up to work,” he mumbled. “I don’t know what happened to him.”

Daring patted the dragon on the shoulder. “It’s okay. We’ll find out what happened to him.”

“Do you remember anything odd that day?” Phillip asked.

Sandstorm thought for a moment. “The day before he left, he got a phone call. Something about meeting up at a worksite. I don’t remember the address, though. Sorry.” He sighed. “It’s the same as what I told Paw Print, guys. I don’t see what this does.”

“Any luck that he wrote it down somewhere?” Daring asked.

“He took his notebook with him, sorry,” Sandstorm shrugged.

“Do you remember anything he said specifically?” Daring pressed. “Sandstorm, this is important.”

“I was busy with a comic and wasn’t really listening,” Sandstorm sighed. “Maybe if I…” He shook his head.

“This isn’t your fault,” Daring said. “But even the smallest detail might be able to help us. Please, think hard.”

Sandstorm closed his eyes and tapped his head a few times. “I...wait, there is one thing I remember,” he murmured. “He was repeating instructions the guy on the phone told him. I remember he said ‘left at the fountain’ and ‘side door.’”

Smolder brightened a bit. “Hey...there’s a big marble fountain at the corner of Smart Cookie Lane and Puddinghead Street.”

“And that note said, enter through the side door,” Daring pointed out with a grin. “We might be onto something.”

Author's Note:

Krein belongs to my good friend Olakaan Pellik, and is the star of his story Flames, which I highly recommend!

This was a great chance to show off a bit more of dragon culture in Equestria, and a good way to introduce Smolder to the Noireverse. I hope you enjoyed, and if you did, leave a like and a comment!

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