• 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 Five: Marks of the Past

Daring groaned as she opened her eyes, blinking in the harsh orange light. She tried to sit up, but stopped when her everything protested having to move. “Ow...anypony get the number of that truck?” she groaned, her chest burning when she tried to speak.

“Daring Do?” a voice came to her from a mile away. She looked up and immediately winced when a bright light shone directly into her eyes.

“My name is Daring Do, I’m in Canterlot, it’s Tuesday, the twenty-fifth of the Moon of Grain, 1950, and I don’t have a concussion, bug off,” she grumbled, waving the light away.

“I still need to check, Miss Do,” the voice said patiently. Daring’s vision cleared to see a pair of Canterlot police officers, a male hippogriff and a mare unicorn, bending over her.

The mare scanned Daring with a medical spell and clicked her tongue. “You and your partner are both lucky for that armor,” she reported.

The mention of her partner made Daring jolt upright with a gasp, then immediately grimace in pain, clutching her chest. “Where’s Phil?” she cried.

“He’s okay, he’s over here,” the mare said, gently placing a hoof on her shoulder to try to stop her from rising. “All you both got were some cracked ribs and bruises. You should be okay, but I recommend taking it easy for a few days.”

Daring’s retort of “fuck that” died in her throat when she saw Phillip sitting on the curb, turning his trilby over and over in his hooves. His eyes were on the smoking wreckage of the motorcycle that was now sitting on the sidewalk like some strange art piece that officers and cordoned civilians alike were gawking at. Shoving off the unicorn officer, she got to her hooves and trotted over to him.

“You okay?” she asked, sitting down on the curb next to him.

Phillip shook his head. “Should’ve been faster,” he mumbled, twisting the hat in his trembling hooves. “Shouldn’t have frozen...should have…”

Daring draped her wing over his shoulders and squeezed him to her side. “Hey, we’re both okay,” she whispered into his ear. “Bastard hit us with his best shot and missed. We’re gonna find him, and we’re gonna make him hurt.”

Phillip didn’t respond. Daring squeezed him a little harder. “It’s okay, Phil,” she soothed. “We’re both okay.”

Phillip nodded and stood up with a slow breath, placing his trilby back on his head. “Where’s that saddlebag?” he grunted, looking around.

The battered white saddlebag was currently being photographed by a pair of officers. Phillip strode over to the saddlebag and after a brief nod from the sergeant, opened up the bag.

Inside was a bag of bits, a notebook that was filled with illegible writing, a black hooded cloak and ski mask, several purple cloth bags, and two small bags, one filled with dead rats, the other with soya beans.

“Interesting collection in here,” Phillip mused, shaking the Bags of Holding and finding them empty. “These didn’t come cheap. Probably what he used to haul the money away.”

“And what the hell are these for?” Daring asked, looking at the rats and beans.

“Look like they’re from a pet shop,” another officer commented. “Maybe he’s got a cat and a chicken or something?”

Phillip looked over the cloak. “Take a butcher’s,” he said, lifting up the dusty, bespotted hem. “Dust on the cloak matches dust in the alley. And spent Nightpoppy spores.”

The sound of a car honking made Phillip and Daring look up. A long black car pulled up to the corner just outside the crime scene barriers and halted. The back window rolled down and the head of a silver unicorn mare, her turquoise and pink mane cut into a masculine style, leaned out. The mare tilted her sunglasses down and her eyes focused on Phillip and Daring.

“Detectives, over here,” she called, beckoning them to the car.

Phillip and Daring glanced at each other, then shrugged and walked up to the side of the new car, skirting around the wrecked heap of metal. As they approached, they noticed that despite the warm weather, the mare was wearing a loose dark blue jacket. A jacket with a distinct bulge on the side of her chest.

Once they got a few feet away, the mare held up a hoof to stop them. Her horn lit up with a blue aura, sweeping over the pair of them like a spotlight.

“They have more than earned our trust, sergeant,” another mare’s voice spoke from inside the car, this one sonorous and authoritative. “Let them in.”

“Ma’am,” the mare said, opening up the car door with her magic. She slid aside and beckoned for the detectives to enter, sitting in the seat opposite her.

Daring ducked in first and found, to her complete lack of surprise, that the interior of the car was much larger on the inside. The front- and back-facing seats were both large enough for five ponies to comfortably sit side by side. A pane of bulletproof glass separated the back of the car from the driver and front passenger, who were also dressed in long, loose dark blue coats and scanning the street outside the window.

On the seat opposite her sat the white unicorn mare, who had closed the door and was rolling the window up after Phillip. Next to her was a tall, midnight blue mare, her sapphire mane and tail spilling down her body like waterfalls, her wings folded to her sides. She studied the two detectives with a single cyan eye, her right orbit covered with a patch.

“Your Highness,” Daring said, bowing as best as she could within the confines of the car. Phillip mimicked the gesture.

“Good evening, detectives,” Princess Luna nodded. “I wish this were under better circumstances. Here, allow me to assist you.”

Her horn lit up and waves of indigo magic slowly passed over Phillip and Daring’s bodies. Both ponies let out quiet groans of contentment as bruises quickly faded and cracked bones knit back together, the pain slowly fading away into a dull ache.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Phillip nodded, stretching his shoulders with a series of pops.

“You are most welcome,” Luna nodded. “I’ve been keeping abreast of the bank robberies and the vanishing dragons these past few weeks. When word came up the grapevine that you were involved, I knew it would only be a matter of time before a lead came up.” She leaned forward.

“We heard that you had an encounter with a superstrong felon,” she said. “What happened?”

Phillip gave the Princess a brief rundown of what happened: the suspect entering the Tasty Treat, following him across Canterlot, the fight in the street, and the attacker making his escape by bounding a tall building.

Princess Luna frowned and leaned forward. “This unicorn. Describe him,” she said.

“Blue, silver mane, green eyes,” Phillip recited. “Cutie mark was a test tube with a star coming out of it.”

Princess Luna gritted her teeth, her eye flashing dangerously. “He changed his marks and coat,” she growled.

“Who?” Daring asked.

With a small pop of indigo light, a file appeared before Princess Luna. She opened it up to reveal a photograph of a stallion. This picture appeared to be a cropped part of a larger photograph of a group of ponies, taken from a distance. The unicorn in question was turned slightly towards the camera and appeared to be speaking to somepony to the photographer’s left; he had a muddy brown coat and his cutie mark was a smaller test tube with no star, but the silver hair was the same, as well as the glaring green eyes set in the angular face.

“That’s definitely him,” Daring nodded. “Looks like he got the cutie mark altered with tattoos. There’s an underground and heavily illegal market for that.”

“His name is Rare Reaction,” Luna said, revealing a Crystal Empire military record, with a photograph of a slightly younger Reaction at the head of it. The record noted his rank as Maggiore, major.

“He served under Sombra when he was Prime Minister, and then when he was King,” Luna explained. “During the Crystal War, Sombra did horrific experiments with dark magic in an effort to gain an advantage. Rare Reaction was one of his blasphemous apostles; his specialization was potions. One of his favorite ingredients was dragon blood; in fact, it’s part of the reason why the dragons entered the war. When Princess Cadenza demonstrated proof that dragons were being abducted and used for these experiments, they readily agreed to fight on our side.” She glared at the photograph. “He was one of the few members of Sombra’s circle that escaped at the end of the war.”

“Dragon blood,” Phillip murmured. “Is there a potion made from dragon blood that can grant superstrength?”

“Rare Reaction and his colleagues were working on one such potion towards the end of the war, but based on what we found, he was not successful before he was forced to flee,” Luna said.

“I’m willing to bet he figured it out,” Daring grumbled. “And I think I know where he got the supply.”

“So how does a major in the Crystal Army go from that to robbing banks?” Phillip pondered.

“Pony’s gotta eat. And I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t have a lot of choices for legitimate employment,” Daring commented.

“I fear it may be more than that,” Luna commented. “Part of the reason why using dragon blood in potions is forbidden is because they often cause the user to take on dragon-like aspects—particularly their greed and anger. I fear that these robberies may be a sign of growing instability on Rare Reaction’s part.”

Daring groaned. “Great. You wouldn’t happen to have an antidote for that, would you?”

“Not without knowing the exact contents,” Luna replied. “But there is something I can do.”

She opened up a panel in the side of the door and pulled out a phone, punching a number into the keypad. The line buzzed a few times, then Luna spoke.

“I need to speak to Doctor Burner,” she said. After a moment, she spoke again. “Doctor, I need a weakening potion, as strong as you can make it.” A few moments of silence, then Luna said, “Make it within two hours.” She hung up, then leaned back in her chair.

“What I am still concerned about is how this fiend is able to find his victims,” she said out loud. “There must be some common thread.”

“They were all lured to an alleyway,” Phillip said. “It appears to have been a fake call from work—”

He suddenly blinked, then smacked himself on the forehead. “Bugger me, I’ve been a right bludger. We need to get to the Dragon Embassy.”

“What is it?” Luna asked.

“Not a coincidence that all of the dragons who vanished were looking for new jobs,” Phillip growled. “We’ve all been stupid. Somedragon working with the employment department was helping him.”

Luna magically knocked at the glass pane. “Sergeant Hooves, the Dragon Embassy,” she ordered.

"Yes, Your Highness," the brown earth pony mare with a long dark blue mane nodded, turning the key in the ignition. The car started up with a grumble and pulled away from the scene, heading towards the north. The four ponies inside the cabin settled in for the ride.

“Detectives, there are a few other things my sister and I wanted to discuss with you,” Luna said, leaning forward. “First, the Kyaltratek. You still have not found it?” she asked.

“No,” Phillip admitted. “We still don’t know where Zugzwang was hiding, and none of Scarlet’s hideouts had it.”

“Damn,” Luna growled. “That tome is extremely dangerous in the wrong hooves. It must be found again. You must not stop looking for it.”

“We won’t, Your Highness,” Daring said. “I’m sure it’ll turn up sooner or later.”

Luna nodded. “Second…” She turned to Daring Do. “Your brand.”

Daring frowned and looked down at her right hoof. The mark stared back at her pitilessly.

“My sister and I have noticed it before,” Luna said. “We understand that it is cursed?”

“Yes,” Daring muttered. “From some kinda cursed iron made over a hundred years ago. It marks me as a member of the Family, forever. It's connected to my magic so it can never come off.”

Forever marked as a thief. Forever marked as a murderer. Forever marked as a coward, a traitor. Forever carrying that burning pain deep in her bones that flared up whenever guilt reared its head. Daring bit down on her lip as the pain bit into her and turned away, taking slow breaths to master herself.

Phillip took her marked hoof and squeezed, his grip warm and soft, banishing the pain. She shook her head and refocused, turning back to the Princess, who was gazing at her with a look of soft, sad compassion.

“We disagree,” Luna replied. “It might take some time to work through the curse, but I’d like to try to remove it.”

A bitter voice in Daring’s gut whispered, Why bother? It’s not like she can somehow wipe all the blood off your hooves.

But...didn’t she deserve it? After everything she’d done, all the lives she’d saved, the criminals she’d put away? Wouldn’t it be great to not have to worry about the burning pain whenever she was reminded of her past?

The call of freedom outweighed her guilt. She looked up at Luna and nodded. The Princess nodded with a smile.

“Hold out your right hoof, please,” she said.

Daring did, extending the mark of the Family to the Princess, who began to scan it with her magic in silent contemplation. As they worked, Phillip looked over at the silver unicorn, who had remained stone-faced and silent throughout the entire conversation. She met his gaze placidly.

“You were at Ponyville,” Phillip said.

The Guard hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “First Sergeant Iridescence,” she reported.

“I’m sorry about your comrades,” Phillip said quietly.

Iridescence blinked and took a slow breath, steadying herself. “Thank you. I am sorry about yours,” she said quietly.

Luna draped a wing over her guard’s shoulders as she completed scanning Daring’s brand and jotted down a few notes. “I should have a test spell ready soon,” she reported, patting Daring’s hoof. “Take heart, Daring Do.”

“Thank you,” Daring said.

The car’s engines slowed. “We’re here,” Iridescence stated, opening up the door.

Daring and Phillip exited the car to stand before the Dragon Embassy, the flags flapping in a light breeze and the sentries on duty staring in confusion, claws wrapped around their lances and armor shining in the setting sunlight, partially hidden by an invading force of gray clouds. As they shut the door behind them, the window rolled down.

“One more moment, detectives,” Luna called, holding them back. She leaned forward to speak more clearly to them. Spotting the Princess, the two dragon guards immediately snapped to attention; she gave them a nod before turning back to the ponies.

“Your dreams,” she said. “I expect you may have been wondering why I did not appear in your nightmares yet.”

Phillip frowned a bit as a flavor of bitterness bubbled up his throat, but nodded.

“I apologize for that, I truly do,” Luna said with a remorseful bow of her head. “Some dreams are harder to reach into than others.” She leaned forward a bit more. “It helps if the other pony tries to reach out. I know it hurts. I know it must still be hard to talk about. But hiding your pain will only make it worse. Believe me, I’ve seen it too many times.”

Phillip and Daring remained silent.

“I can help you,” Luna said. “But you have to let me.” She settled back in her chair. “I will contact you later when we have the Weakening Potion ready. Good luck, detectives.”

The thick window rolled back up and the car pulled away, disappearing into the evening traffic. Daring and Phillip turned and walked back up through the embassy doors.

The chaos that they had encountered that morning had died away, now that only a few more dragons were left inside, most of them just milling about.

Phillip approached one of the secretaries. “Where are the offices for employees and work visas?” he asked.

“That would be Consuldragon Heim. He’s in office 319, on the third floor,” the secretary replied.

“Thanks,” Phillip said. He and Daring entered the enormous elevator at the end of the hall and hit the button for the third floor. The elevator doors closed and the elevator trundled upwards, shuddering to a halt on the third floor. The doors dinged open and they walked down a long hallway of office doors, each one spaced out by several meters. A few guards stood post in the corners, leaning against the walls in obvious boredom.

Daring and Phillip trotted down to 319, which was partially cracked open. Angry voices could be heard from inside. The two detectives glanced at each other and opened the door.

Smolder and Krein were both standing on one side of an ornate oak desk littered with papers. Heim, the sea-green dragon that they had encountered that morning, was sitting on the other side, looking down at a binder. Potted plants lined the walls, providing a rainbow of color to the otherwise drab office and filling the air with mixing aromas. A large cloth bag sat next to the desk. On top of the desk stood a framed photograph of Heim with his arm wrapped around a light purple male dragon, a little shorter than Smolder, smiling embarrassedly at the camera. The towers of Manehattan Trade Center could be seen in the background behind them across the choppy waters of Horseshoe Bay.

“I still don’t see why you need this list,” Heim was saying, handing over a list.

“It’s not a coincidence that all the dragons who disappeared were ones who were on visas or were changing jobs,” Smolder replied, snatching up the list. “Somedragon who works in this department knows something.” She gave Heim a rather nasty look. “We would’ve gotten this sooner if you hadn’t flown off.”

“I needed to take care of some business,” Heim said defensively. “We all have our jobs.”

“We’ll have to arrange interviews with all of the dragons in this department,” Krein said, turning to note the ponies’ entrance. “Detectives, glad you’re here. I see you had the same idea we did.”

“This’ll help,” Phillip nodded, taking the list and looking over the list.

Daring winced at the length of the list. “That’s quite a few names—”

She paused, glancing around at the plants all around them. “Heim, you raise these yourself?” she asked, studying the broad leaf of a fern.

“It’s a hobby,” Heim said modestly. “I think it brightens up the place a little.”

“You’ve always been good with plants?” Daring asked.

“I grew up on a farm,” Heim said, straightening his back in pride. “I was tilling the land back when I was knee-high to a roc. I have my own mini-greenhouse at home.”

“You think you could grow anything?” Daring asked. “Even Nightpoppy?”

“Hmm,” Heim mused; he steepled his claws in thought, but his eyes darted to one side for a half-second. “I could, but I wouldn’t try it any day. Way too dangerous.”

“Where’d you go earlier today?” Phillip said, walking towards the desk. His eyes were on the list that Krein had handed him, but Daring could see that his gaze was unfocused, taking in more of the room through his peripherals.

“I was just visiting some of the employment offices we have set up for dragons,” Heim said, his wingtips fluttering a bit. “I was working on some paperwork.”

“You didn’t go up into the mountains?” Phillip asked innocently, pausing near Heim’s bag.

Heim blinked in confusion. “No,” he said slowly. “I haven’t been up there in a while.”

“Really,” Phillip deadpanned. He plucked a small green leaf from the strap of the bag. The elliptical leaf had jagged edges like a saw blade, and the stem had some small white flowers attached to it.

“Because this is a mountain ash leaf,” he said. “Daring and I have been all over this city and we didn’t see any mountain ash here. But it does grow on the mountains over Canterlot.”

Heim blinked and swallowed. “That...must’ve been from a while ago,” he said slowly, his wings fluttering even more. “I—hey!” he cried in protest as Phillip suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled his claw forward, studying his talons.

“Is this ash?” he asked, pointing to some black residue beneath Heim’s talons.

“Funny,” Daring said. “I remember that Nightpoppy grows in dirt from a mountain forest mixed with ash, and yet you said you don’t grow it.”

Heim’s golden eyes widened and he gulped audibly as every pair of eyes facing him narrowed.

“I think you need to answer a few questions,” Krein growled.

Heim stared for a second, then suddenly launched himself forward, snatching up his bag as he flew over everycreature’s head and crashed through the door. Crashing into the reinforced wall, he started scrambling for the window at the end of the hallway. Two guards standing post at the end of the hall started in shock, staring in confusion.

“Guards, stop him!” Krein roared as he leaped after his foe.

Snapped out of their stupor, the two dragon guards raised their lances, the blades extending towards Heim, who skidded to a halt. The blades began to glow vicious orange with enchanted fire, flooding the entire hallway with heat as doors began to open, heads peeping out in confusion.

Heim looked back and forth between the oncoming guards and the furious Krein and Smolder, trapping him in. Desperation shone in his eyes, then suddenly resolved into determination. He dug a claw into his bag and whipped out a small jar of ochre pollen, which he scattered through the air with a long exhalation.

Every dragon staggered, blinking as the honey-smelling pollen hung in the air. Then the sniffling started. Daring gasped, then tackled Phillip, diving back into the office. A moment later, every dragon was overcome with fits of violent sneezing, jets of flame rocketing out of their snouts. The multicolored array washed over the fireproof walls and floor in a cacophony, blanketing the hallway in scalding heat. Phillip and Daring ducked behind Heim's desk, hissing in pain as the forelegs were washed in intense warmth.

Taking advantage of everydragon’s momentary disability, Heim dove for the window and crashed through the reinforced glass. Flaring his wings, he shot up into the golden sky, heading for a nearby bank of clouds.

“Not…ah-choo! Not so fast!” Smolder yelled, fighting through the dragonsneeze pollen to chase after him.

“Smolder!” Krein shouted, reaching out to stop her before being overcome by another fit of sneezing.

Daring glanced at Phillip, receiving a grim nod. Seizing one of Heim's potted plants, she flung it through the window with a great crash. Phillip broke off the remnants of the glass with his baton, then ducked as Daring dove out the opening into the open evening air, banking around to the other side of the Embassy.

Heim was pushing himself as hard as he could with his great reptilian wings. Smolder was right behind him and gaining: with a great snarl, she sent a jet of flame at her target, which Heim clumsily rolled to avoid.

“What did you do to my friend?!” Smolder yelled, her rage giving her a burst of speed. She managed to tackle Heim, wrapping her arms python-like around his wings. He screeched in rage, the two dragons tumbling through the air.

“Dammit,” Daring muttered, drawing her revolver as she dove for the struggling forms.

Suddenly, Heim twisted about and his claw snapped out, talons striking into Smolder’s throat in a trained strike. Smolder reeled away, coughing and choking, and Heim seized her in a chokehold, holding her tight against his body; his torso was almost as large as Smolder’s entire body, Daring realized.

“Come any closer and I’ll snap her neck!” Heim shouted at Daring.

Daring flared her wings and halted in midair, glaring at the traitorous dragon over her iron sights. Smolder struggled and squirmed in Heim’s iron grasp, choking and gasping for air as she clawed at his arm.

Daring growled, gripping her right foreleg with her other hoof to steady her aim. Nothing short of a direct shot to the eye would be enough to stop Heim, and even if she didn't have to worry about accidentally shooting Smolder, she wasn't close enough to hit that.

“Why?” Daring asked, the gears turning rapidly in her mind. “You betrayed and killed your own kind.”

“Do you ask ponies that when they murder other ponies?” Heim growled, tightening his hold on Smolder as she tried to wriggle out of his vise. “You have family, detective? Somepony you’d do anything for?”

“Oh, let me guess,” Daring scoffed. “Your kid has cancer or something and you needed the money.”

“Yes,” Heim replied, ignoring Smolder’s weakening struggles as he kept flying back towards the hanging cloud cover. “Suvulaan is my world. I can’t just stand by and let him die.”

“You think Rare Reaction cares about you or your kid?” Daring snapped back; out of the corner of her eye, she could see Krein and the two Dragon Guards flying towards them, rage in their eyes. “You think he won’t use you for an experiment?”

“You think I don’t know that?” Heim snapped, a few tears suddenly glowing in his eyes, reflecting the sunlight. “If I die, Suvulaan dies, too. I can’t risk that!”

He hefted the limp form of Smolder in front of him as a shield, heading for the clouds. “I’m taking her. You get anywhere close, she’s dead.”

“You know you can’t get away,” Daring growled, keeping her sights on his face even as he retreated. “We will find you and Rare Reaction.”

“You can try,” Heim replied. And with a final flap of his wings, he disappeared into the clouds.

“Fuck!” Daring snapped, chasing after him just as Krein and the two guards caught up to them. She rocketed up into the clouds, suddenly finding herself blanketed by the heavy gray fog that smelled of rain and ozone. She clawed her way through and popped up again on the other side of the clouds, glaring around the darkening skies.

But Heim and Smolder were gone.

Author's Note:

Iridescence and Miley Hooves belong to my friend Anzel and are major supporting characters in his awesome Royal Guard trilogy!

Oh, yeah, and Smolder's gone.

Honestly, I'm not really satisfied with this revelation--I'm pretty sure that most of you figured it out pretty quickly--but I'm trying to move through here fairly fast. I hope you enjoy regardless!

Leave a like and a comment to show your support!

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