• 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 Four: A Taste for Mystery

There was indeed a marble fountain at the corner of Puddinghead and Smart Cookie, a pure white construction featuring an earth pony, pegasus, and unicorn cavorting amidst the running water.

“This way,” Phillip said, turning down the cobbled side road, with Daring and Smolder following. They proceeded down a street that was populated primarily by brick and slate retail and office buildings of humble size and decoration.

“You sure we shouldn’t call the police on this?” Smolder asked as they proceeded through the thin crowds of pedestrians who milled on the sidewalks in the early evening red glow.

“Every witness we talked to mentioned something that ties to this place. We want to take a closer look at it first,” Daring said as both she and Phillip dropped a couple of bits into an empty coffee cup being held by a bearded gray unicorn sitting against the wall of a small clothing store.

“Right,” Phillip nodded, hoping that maybe some speech would wet his suddenly dry throat, would relieve some of the pressure that was squeezing his chest.

A few steps more and there it was: 102 Smart Cookie Lane. It proved to be a two-story edifice with a glass door, just another quotidian edifice amidst the street. The interior of the room was dark, and a brief test of the door proved that it was locked. Pressing her nose up against the glass, Daring saw that the room was populated only by a few old desks, a glass display set that was currently empty, and some chairs.

“Doesn’t look like anypony’s used this place in a long time,” she mused out loud.

“Oh, that place used to be a nice little jewelry store,” a passing mare in a long cloak commented. “But the owner died a few moons ago and it folded. It’s been for rent ever since then, but no one’s bought it as far as I know.”

“Thanks,” Phillip nodded to the mare as she continued on her day.

“So why the hell were Kreidol and Geode both sent here?” Smolder asked.

“There’s a bit of tape on the door here,” Phillip commented, pointing at the little bit of adhesive still clinging to the interior of the window.

“Maybe someone took down the For Rent sign,” Daring mused.

“Let’s check the side entrance,” Phillip said. The tension was still there, but it had faded into background noise, easily ignored, and he could ascribe the dry throat to the humidity of the city evening. There was work to do now.

The side entrance was accessible from a surprisingly wide alleyway that was inhabited by a couple of dumpsters and layers of graffiti on the wall. The side door was solid steel with a pick-resistant lock and narrow handle.

Phillip and Daring both paused, studying the alleyway for anything of note before Daring proceeded to the door. She tried the handle and satisfied herself that it was locked. “The lock is unmarked,” she reported, studying it with Phil’s magnifying glass. “No one’s picked it; in fact, I don’t think this door has been opened in a long time.”

Her gaze was attracted by some odd marks in the wall next to the door. “Phil, take a look at those,” she pointed.

Phillip bent down to take a closer look. “These look like...claw marks,” he said, studying them with the aid of a tape measure. “Four marks...dragon. Looks like they were dragging their hand down the wall here.”

He followed the trail down to the ground and frowned, pawing at the sediment on the ground. “Coal dust, tobacco, and asphalt...this isn’t dust,” Phillip murmured, bending down close to the ground. He used the side of his pocket knife to sweep some pale off-white motes that lay on the ground into an envelope.

Daring took a closer look at them. “I think...yup. Those are spent nightpoppy spores,” she reported. “Harmless now, but that’s a lot of spores.”

“What is nightpoppy?” Smolder asked from her position at the mouth of the alley.

“It’s a magical plant,” Daring explained. “When it’s agitated, it releases spores that send anycreature nearby into a deep sleep, but the spores are only good for a few minutes.”

“You used them in the Family?” Phillip said in an undertone.

Daring frowned a bit, scuffing her right hoof against the floor, where the cursed brand stung at her. “A few times,” she mumbled. “They can take out an entire building, but you have to be really careful with them; they’re very sensitive. That, and they only grow in dirt from a mountain forest mixed with ashes.”

Phillip noticed her scuffing her hoof and briefly took her hoof. “It was in your past, Daring,” he whispered. “You—”

“Leave it,” Daring grunted, yanking her hoof away. “Focus on the case.”

Phillip paused for a moment, then looked around, spotting a side alleyway. “That’s wide enough to hide a truck,” Phillip mused. “My guess; whoever lured the dragons here hit them with the nightpoppy, then dragged them off. Somedragon made those marks when they fell.”

“Makes sense to me,” Daring nodded.

Smolder gritted her teeth and rushed into the alley. She started looking frantically around, pawing at the ground, the walls, eyes darting about everywhere for any clue, any sign.

“Smolder, stop,” Phillip said, gently pushing her back.

“There’s got to be something here!” Smolder cried, trying to shove him off, but he gently deflected all of her shoves. “Some clue, some trail or—”

“We will find it,” Phillip said gently, directing her out of the crime scene. “Just give us time, all right?”

Smolder stomped her foot. “Kreidol has been missing for two days now! We’ve already wasted hours, we don’t have time!”

“Smolder, listen to me,” Daring said, taking over for Phil. “We are doing everything we can, but it’ll take time.”

Smolder growled, then flapped off. “I’m going back to the Embassy, talking to Krein. At least then I’ll feel like we’re accomplishing something.” She disappeared over the rooftops.

Daring sighed and shook her head. “She’s scared and confused,” she mused out loud.

“Can you blame her?” Phillip asked, still checking the ground around the wider side alley. “Hang on, got something here.”

He bent down closer to an oil stain on the ground, pulling out a magnifying glass. “There’s a partial tire track in the ground here,” he said. “It looks like the same track that Ace showed us.”

His eyes panned over to the opposite wall. “Scratch mark here,” he said, walking over and pointing to the brick wall where a thin scratch, no wider than an inch and a couple of feet off the ground. A small piece of red plastic was embedded into the brick, amidst a faint layer of light gray paint.

“The scratch is arced down,” Phillip said. “Seems like somepony was opening the tailgate on a truck and scratched the edge against the wall here.”

“You think it’s a Chevroneigh 1948?” Daring asked.

“Can’t be sure,” Phillip said, using a tape measure to measure how high above the ground the scratch mark was. “Bet Trace would—”

He froze for a moment, the realization reflecting dully in his eyes, and he mopped his face with a hoof. Daring planted a hoof on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off, shaking his head.

“Let’s get the police down here,” he muttered, rising.

“So,” Hidden Ace said a half-hour later, mopping a thin layer of sweat from his brow. “In just one day, you manage to make more headway in two cases than we have in months.”

“We do have a reputation for a reason,” Phillip commented.

Ace glanced over at the alley and the front of 102 Smart Cookie, which was now secured with Crime Scene tape. A crime scene technician was studying the ground with a tracking wand, casting the entire ground into shades of scarlet.

“There’s a lot of tracks here, detective,” the technician reported. “But I can definitely make out dragon prints coming up this way and tire tracks over here.” He twisted the glowing wand a few times, filtering out the tracks by casting the tire treads into a dark yellow.

“Yup, most of these are the same vehicle,” he said. “Can I see your photo of the tracks?”

Ace floated his picture over to the technician, who bent down closer to the glowing tracks. “I can’t be sure, since the tracks are all overlapping each other, but I think it’s the same truck.”

“Hmm,” Ace murmured. “So it seems that these are connected after all.” He glanced around. “Wonder where Paw Print is. She should be here.”

“What does Paw Print look like?” Phillip asked. “Might need to know if we see her again.”

“Unicorn mare, blue coat, blonde mane, cutie mark of a trio of dog paw prints,” Ace reported. “She’s got an earring of her cutie mark, too. Can’t miss her.”

“Noted,” Phillip said.

“Okay, we’re gonna wrap this up here,” Ace said. “We’ve already got more police patrols near the banks. We’ll keep you in the loop if we find anything of note. Thanks for the help.”

“Keep in touch,” Phillip said, briefly bumping his hoof against Ace’s. Daring declined, following Phillip off the crime scene.

As soon as they were out of sight, Daring glanced over her shoulder, then hissed into Phillip’s ear, “You know there’s a chance that he’s the one behind it, right?”

“Possibly,” Phillip conceded as they trotted past the marble steps of a modest white building with great glass doors, gilded gold, the same color that declared “Equestrian Amalgamated Trust” in three-inch high letters over the archway. “But even if his brother’s murder is sufficient motivation, clumsily framing some dragon is a bloody roundabout way to get revenge. And it doesn’t explain how he was somehow strong enough to tear open steel doors.”

Daring groaned and rubbed her slightly damp forehead. “All I know is, we need to get some food.” She paused, sniffing the air, then a broad grin crossed her face. “I smell Marwari.”

Phillip sniffed and smelled it, too: warm broth on his tongue and the sharp tang of spices scratching at his nostrils.

“This way,” Daring said, beckoning him on, bumping into a bearded unicorn wearing a single battered saddlebag. The two detectives followed their noses down several blocks and up a small side street and up to a restaurant. The storefront was painted in vivid orange, with accenting stripes around the purple-curtained windows. A red flower with an elephant embossed over it was painted over through the door.

“I haven’t had Marwari in so long,” Daring said, practically drooling as she entered, with Phillip behind.

The same flower and elephant symbol was displayed on the opposite wall, with more indigenous Marwari artwork hanging from the walls. Vividly colored curtains hung from the walls, lit by warm firefly lanterns. More lanterns sat on the low wooden tables, which were surrounded by cushions. Mouthwatering scents filled the room, wafting in from the kitchen, and a record in the corner was playing Marwari music, though Phillip detected the faint audio of a radio coming from the kitchen, which was separated from the rest of the restaurant by a beaded curtain.

“Welcome to the Tasty Treat!” an orange unicorn mare with a poofy fuschia mane and tail sang as she entered, the beads on her clothes jingling as she walked. “I am Saffron Masala, please be seated! Can I start you off with a drink?”

“Do you have aam panna?” Daring asked Saffron, who smiled and nodded. “Mango drink, great for hot nights,” Daring explained in response to Phillip’s querying look.

Since there were only a few customers inside, Daring and Phil chose a small table near the back of the room, where they could both watch the front door. Saffron floated over two tall glasses filled with a green liquid topped with mint leaves and a platter of small fried snacks.

“Vegetable pakora as an appetizer, and your drinks. I’ll be back in a bit to get your order,” she said, exiting with a small bow.

Daring licked her lips as she looked over the menu. “Oh, this is just what I needed.”

“I’ll have to pick up some recipes if I want to keep up, then,” Phillip said, experimentally dipping a pakora into the green sauce and taking a bite. Instantly, his mouth was filled with flavor, the hot, sharp spice of the pakora mixed with the smooth sweetness of the fruit chutney, and he failed to suppress a groan of delight. “Bugger, that’s good,” he said, devouring the rest of the fried snack in two bites.

When Saffron came back, Daring ordered rogan josh—caramelized lamb with spices—and Phillip asked for a dish of tandoori chicken marinated in yogurt. While they waited for their food to come, they sat back in their seats in silence.

“So what are you thinking?” Daring asked.

Phillip closed his eyes and took a slow breath. “A unicorn, evidenced by the fact that they somehow removed that lease sign from outside the building,” he mused out loud. “Somepony who knows how to work with exotic plants, so maybe somepony who uses potions.” He frowned, furrowing his brow. “That may be how he got the superstrength. They’re relatively smart…” He rubbed his face.

“But why take the dragons?” he asked. “Why rob banks? It’s beneath somepony who can do that.”

Daring glanced around, then leaned in and lowered her voice, despite the fact that the few other attendees were paying no attention to them. “You don’t think Kreidol is alive, do you?” she whispered.

Phillip was silent for several seconds, then shook his head. “Instinct tells me no,” he admitted.

“There’s something that’s been bothering me,” Daring said, “How’s he getting rid of the bodies? It’s hard enough to get rid of a pony body. A dragon body, especially an adult one, has to be harder to deal with. After a few months, somepony should have seen something.”

Phillip nodded slowly. “Good point,” he admitted. “He might be using a magical method for that, as well.”

A hissing of steam came from the kitchen and Saffron exited with a platter with several bowls of curry, passing them out to the delighted occupants of one table.

“Pointless to try to figure it out without evidence,” Phillip stated, closing his eyes.

“How you feeling?” Daring asked.

Phillip was quiet for a bit, then nodded. “Good,” he said. “Better than I have in a while, actually. I feel like I needed this, doing detective work.”

“Me too,” Daring said. “I felt trapped, waiting at home. Having something else to think about, being able to help somecreature, was a huge help.”

She looked over at the now-empty platter being taken back to the kitchen and licked her lips. “Some food will help, too,” she said.

“Seconded,” Phillip said.

They sat in a more comfortable quiet for a while, occasionally speaking of other things, of Canterlot and the Tasty Treat, of dragons, of past cases and adventures—anything but their current mystery. When their dinner finally came out, they dove into the entrees with great eagerness.

“Give me a taste of that,” Phillip said, jabbing his fork at the lamb meat floating in the red sauce.

“Trade you for that,” Daring said, looking over at the grilled chicken wing with the rice and yogurt sauce.

“Deal,” Phillip said, stabbing a particularly large string of lamb and placing it into his mouth. The firm, tender texture of the lamb carried the sweet tang of the caramel and he let out a delighted moan.

As Daring chewed her taste of chicken, there came the sound of the door opening. Phillip looked up to behold a blue unicorn with a short silver mane and the cutie mark of a star coming out of a test tube wearing a white saddlebag entering the store. The visitor paused at the door, wiping his face off with his foreleg.

But something called Phillip’s attention to the stallion, his eyes instinctively following the heavily breathing visitor as he proceeded to a single corner booth. Phillip took a long sip of his aam panna, ignoring the sharp tang of mixed mango and mint.

“What is it?” Daring whispered through another casual forkful of lamb.

The clues suddenly clicked in Phillip’s mind. “That stallion who just came in,” he said. “He’s the pony we bumped into outside the bank.”

“You sure?” Daring asked, studying the pony out of the corner of her eyes as Saffron bustled over to him.

“Same height, same build, same saddlebag,” Phillip recited.

“He doesn’t have the beard,” Daring pointed out.

“Notice the faint markings behind his ears,” Phillip said. “He was wearing a fake beard. And why is he breathing hard and sweating so much?”

The sound of a siren approaching intruded upon the music and chatter of the restaurant. A cruiser passed by outside the Tasty Treat, lights spinning and siren blaring. Several heads turned to catch a glimpse of the vehicle.

But Daring and Phillip were watching the new stallion. He’d remained still, but his green eyes were darting around everywhere, his shoulders suddenly tensing as he gripped the cup of chai tea he’d been given. Daring recognized the look of a pony who is suddenly taking stock of the exits.

A sound caught Phillip’s attention. Closing his mouth, he swiveled his ears towards the beaded curtain, listening to the voice on the radio coming from within.

“—again, we interrupt for an important news alert,” an announcer was saying. “An unknown assailant just attempted to rob the Equestrian Amalgamated Trust. It is believed that this robber may be the same robber who has struck several banks in the past months. A night guard saw the figure attempting to enter through a window and forced him to flee on hoof down the alley. The robber was a unicorn wearing a dark hooded cloak. Police are already scouring the local area for him, but all ponies are asked to be on the lookout for anything suspicious—”

Phillip took another bite of his chicken, keeping his gaze on the unicorn stallion. As he chewed, he raised a hoof to his eye, disguising the gesture as brushing his mane back behind his ear, and tapped the side of his head next to his right eye twice.

Daring recognized the silent signal: I have the target.

She nodded and scratched her nose: I see him, too.

The blue stallion relaxed slowly, but kept his head down and his green eyes alert as he sipped his chai. When Saffron came back, he just ordered a small platter of potato and vegetable squares, which he quickly devoured. Leaving some bits on the table, he left quietly as soon as he was done.

Leaving payment and a sizable tip on the table, Phillip and Daring both exited as well. As they proceeded out the door, they caught a glimpse of the blue unicorn walking quickly down the side street to their right. The detectives turned left and walked casually away.

The blue unicorn turned a corner, disappearing from sight. Daring took to the sky as Phillip jogged around the block. He paused behind the Tasty Treat, pressing his back against the wall. Taking out a small green hoof mirror, he peered around the corner and spotted his target in the reflection, fast approaching down the street.

Looking up, he confirmed that Daring was flying overhead; she pointed to her eye briefly to indicate that she still had him. Hiding behind a dumpster, Phillip pulled a small purple bag out of his vest: from this, he extracted a makeup kit and stencil, a ball cap and a pair of sunglasses. Stuffing his trilby and gray undershirt into the bag of holding, he donned the cap and sunglasses, reversed his vest to the blue interior and zipped it up loosely so that he could still reach his shoulder holster, and then used the makeup kit and stencil to cover his flanks with generic horseshoes.

His disguise complete, Phillip stepped out of the alleyway and crossed the street, pretending to study the mannequins in the window of the clothing store. In the reflection, he saw the blue unicorn walking down the shadowed sidewalk, his head lowered and his step quick. Daring was hovering overhead, peering down at him over the rooftops.

Phillip began to casually follow their target, keeping him in his peripheral vision. The unicorn suddenly paused and turned around, gaze sweeping back and forth.

No need to panic. He’d been through this before. Phillip kept walking, never slowing or faltering, turning to look straight ahead as if he was just another shopper checking out the wares on the way home.

The target kept moving past him, but Phillip noticed him checking in the store windows, probably not looking at the wares. The unicorn adjusted his saddlebags and marched on.

Phillip continued to the end of the block, then quickly sprinted around the block, doffing his cap and sunglasses. A quick glance up confirmed that Daring was still on the rooftop; she tapped her eye again to indicate that she still had the target. He paused at the corner, glancing around the edge to spot his target crossing the street, away from him. Another quick change of hat and glasses from the Bag of Holding and Phillip proceeded after him.

This could take all night, he thought to himself.

He was suddenly interrupted when the unicorn whirled around and glared right at him, green eyes blazing with hate. He froze, his heart leaping into his throat.

“I see you, detective!” the unicorn shouted, causing everypony in the street to stop and turn as the unicorn lunged at a parked motorbike on the street next to him. Before everyone’s astonished eyes, the grunting and snarling unicorn heaved the vehicle up over his head and threw it across the street at Phillip.

Phillip froze. The mass of deadly metal was tumbling through the air right at him, and all he could do was stare at his oncoming doom. His heart was pounding hard against his throat, but his limbs felt as if they were turned into granite. The spinning motorcycle blotted out the sun, casting him in shadow.

A golden angel streaked down from the sky and tackled him, knocking him out of the way as the bike crashed down onto the ground with a great cacophony, rolling over to smash into a storefront, sending glass spilling everywhere.

Daring set Phillip down on the sidewalk, drawing her revolver from her shoulder holster and taking aim. Reality snapped Phillip out of his daze and he swung his vest around to its green side, drawing his own revolver.

“Don’t move!” Daring barked at the unicorn.

The unicorn moved, charging right at them with a bellow. Daring and Phillip both opened fire, but their bullets merely cracked harmlessly off the conjured yellow shield that he projected in front of him. Seizing a street lamp, their foe yanked it out of the ground with a grunt and swung it like a baseball bat.

Daring shot up into the air, while Phillip hit the ground, rolling like a log as the steel lamp wooshed over his head. The unicorn grunted and slashed the lamp down at him like an ax. Phillip threw himself into an aerial cartwheel, the world spinning on its axis as the makeshift weapon missed.

His hoof darted to the pocket near his back and snapped out towards the upside-down unicorn in a trained motion even before he landed. His boomerang whistled through the air and cracked the unicorn right in the forehead between his furious emerald eyes. He staggered with a grunt, dropping the lamp with a clatter. Bolts of ochre energy zipped at Phillip, and he dove to one side, tumbling across the hard concrete, grimacing as the hot stone burned his flesh.

Daring rocketed down behind the mad unicorn and her kusarifundo snapped out, ensnaring his foreleg. "Ha!" she barked as she pulled the limb out straight and smashed her foreleg down onto the elbow joint. The blow should have shattered the joint with a crack like a tree limb, eliciting a screech of agony.

Instead, the unicorn shoved her back, sending her flying several feet with a surprised grunt of “Shit!” Daring landed hard and opened fire again as she wheezed, but her last two bullets merely bounced off the shield with musical pings. With a bellow like a steam engine, the blue stallion leaped up into the air.

“Whoa, fuck!” Daring shouted, quickly rolling out of the way as he came down like a jackhammer. The impact formed a small crater in the concrete where she’d been lying, sending dust flying into the air. The ground shuddered as if in terror, making Daring stumble. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Phillip stagger, nearly dropping his baton as his charge was halted.

Then she saw a back hoof barreling at her face like a train. With a gasp, she dodged to one side, snapping her kusarifundo at her foe's supporting knee. She felt the weight crack into his knee, grinned as she heard him grunt and saw him buckle, lunged forward for the clinch.

And then she felt a sledgehammer crash into her chest, sending her flying into the air. Instinctively trying to grab onto something as the ground left her, Daring wound up seizing the unicorn's saddlebag, her momentum tearing it from his body; she thoughtlessly gripped it like a lifeline even as she tumbled across the air.

She remembered the brick wall behind her right before she smacked into it, the impact crushing the wind from her lungs. Daring blacked out before she hit the ground.

“Wandjina!” Phillip screeched as another spell rocketed at him. He felt the ward cover his body in a warm blanket just as the incantation reached him, smashing into his shield like a brick wall had suddenly charged into him. He stumbled, but snatched a smoke bomb out of his pocket and threw it at the unicorn. Daring’s new formula worked perfectly: a little bit of pegasus magic and thundercloud mixed with the potassium nitrate caused the bomb to go off with a crackle of lightning before covering his foe in smoke. Panting, Phillip lunged for his target's injured knee.

Coughing and choking, his red face drenched with sweat, the unicorn lunged blindly forward, right into Phillip's path. With no time to dodge the incoming cannonball, Phillip braced for impact, tightening his chest and turning to one side. Shitshitshit this is gonna hurt—!

The unicorn’s head smashed into Phillip’s obliques like a battering ram. Phillip was launched as if out of a cannon, flying back three yards before crashing onto the concrete and rolling several more feet before halting in a wheezing, gasping heap. He gulped like a fish that had been plucked from its tank, staring up at the orange sky.

The blessed howl of sirens caused the madpony to halt. He stood for a moment, hunched over and panting, staring at his groaning attackers, then turned and leaped. His jump launched him up to the third-story landing of a fire escape ladder, which he clambered up with a grunt. The robber sprinted up the ladder and over the rooftops, disappearing from sight just as the first police cruisers pulled up to the curb with screeching tires, officers bustling over to assist the gasping Phillip Finder and the feebly stirring Daring Do.

Finder stared after his foe, fighting to get his breathing under control as a mare officer soothingly urged him to calm. Somewhere in the back of his racing mind, he realized that his hooves were shaking.

Author's Note:

Marwari, for the record, comes from a breed of Indian horse.

So our mystery foe reveals himself! How are our heroes going to deal with this one?

Leave a like and a comment if you enjoyed!

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