• 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 Seven: No Longer Alone

The first thing Phillip noticed when he started to wake up was a thick, fluffy mattress that he was laying upon, covered by a thin cotton sheet that smelled far too clean: only a hospital bed felt and smelled like that. The second thing he noticed was the dull, thumping pain that spread across his entire head, which made him groan: the bandages that were wrapped around his skull and jaw shifted as he moved, scratching at his flesh and smelling of oil and salves.

And then the third thing he noticed was a scent tickling his nostrils: the familiar, teasing aroma of jasmine shampoo and rain. A smile crossed his face before he even opened his eyes, raising a hoof to run it through the cloud-soft mane.

“G’day,” he whispered in a slightly raspy voice, opening his eyes to behold Daring curled up on top of him, her head resting on his chest.

She beamed up at him, raising her head to kiss him on the nose. “Don’t scare me like that, you dork,” she said. “I’m the impulsive one, remember?”

“You know, we seem to be winding up in here a lot,” Phillip said, snuggling Daring as he looked around the hospital room, which looked practically identical to every other one he’d been in. The morning sun was shining through the window, warm on his face. “Was I out all night?” he asked, reaching up to examine the golden band around his head, tingling with the magic that was repairing his concussion. He coughed, his throat prickling in protest of speech.

“And most of the morning,” Daring replied, getting off of him and stretching.

“Did we lose anypony?” Phillip asked, stomach twisting in worried anticipation.

“No casualties,” Daring smiled broadly. “Except for that damn cockatrice.” Her smile vanished after a moment, replaced by a sad frown. “Unfortunately, Luna couldn’t bring back any of the dragons or Paw Print.”

Phillip took her hoof. “We got the wanker, right?” he asked.

Daring nodded. “Heim spilled everything. Rare Reaction is in the prison infirmary: from what I’m told, he was ranting for hours before they finally decided to tranq him.”

Phillip nodded. “At least there’s that.”

A nurse entered the room. “Oh, Mister Finder,” he said, giving his patient a smile and a quick scan. “How are you feeling?”

“Throat and head hurt, but I’ve been worse,” Phillip replied.

Daring gave him a tall glass of ice water from the side table while the nurse scanned him over, checked his pulse and breathing, and shone a painful light into his eyes. “You seem to be in good shape,” the nurse nodded, giving him a painkiller. “You’re lucky you rolled with that punch, and that Princess Luna was there to give you a quick healing spell, but that fella still rang your bell pretty hard, didn’t he?”

Phillip nodded, running a tongue over his gums and noting that his teeth were all back in place.

“We’re going to have to keep you in bed for the rest of the day for observation, but barring anything serious, you should be okay to go home tonight,” the nurse said. “Just don’t do anything strenuous for a week or so.”

“Got it,” Phillip rasped, taking another glass of water.

The nurse exited, leaving Phillip and Daring alone once more. Daring rubbed Phillip’s hoof; her touch was warm and soft and he smiled as he squeezed her hoof back.

“Has anyone called mom and dad?” he asked.

“Yeah, I called ‘em last night,” Daring nodded. “They were just happy to hear from me. They send their love.” She rubbed his hoof. “How you feeling?” she asked.

“Been worse,” Phillip replied.

“I don’t mean physically,” Daring answered. “I mean with…” Her voice trailed away, clearly unable to articulate what she was thinking.

Phillip thought for a beat. For a moment, he was back in the mud pit, cold mud dripping from his face, heart pounding fast and the taste of blood in his mouth. Rare Reaction was lumbering towards him, face twisted in rage, one hoof drawn back to strike.

He took a breath and studied himself, like he was pulling his emotions and thoughts out of his body and pinning them on a slide to study. He noted that he’d been breathing fast, that his hooves had been shaking slightly when he gripped his baton, that there had been ice prickling in his stomach when his foe charged.

But he’d stood and won. He hadn’t run, he hadn’t cowered, he hadn’t frozen. The echoes of fear retreated from his stomach, and a thrill of victory flowed through his body at an unhurried pace, down to the tip of his tail and up to the crown of his head, temporarily banishing the pain.

“Good,” he nodded with a contented smile. “Real aces. Honestly, better than I’ve been in a long time.”

“Me too,” Daring said. “I was kinda worried that we’d freeze up or something, but...didn’t happen. Didn’t even think of that the entire time.” She grinned. “I think that we needed this, to be honest. To get back to work instead of sitting at home, just thinking about—”

She stopped abruptly, turning her head away to hide the small flinch. Phillip felt the pang in his chest as the memories of black eyes and red skies and death screams flashed unbidden into his mind. He trembled, gripping Daring’s hoof tighter like a lifeline as she replied in kind; his heart started to speed up as if trying to race away, his breath came faster.


He held his breath for a moment, then let it out slowly, controlling it, controlling the fear. Exhale for five counts, hold. Inhale for five counts. Hold. Repeat. He heard Daring’s breathing echoing his own as she battled her own terror.

The sounds, smells, touches, and sights rose up like a tidal wave to envelop him. He kept his breathing controlled as the memories washed over him. He didn’t fight it: he allowed them to come, to pass over him, and then he let them go.

The wave slowly faded away, and he sighed as its pressure left him. The last image that left him was Trace’s face, sad and reproving, his dead gaze stabbing Phillip in the chest. Wiping two tears from his face, he blinked up at Daring. She swallowed, blinking rapidly, and leaned down to rest against his chest.

“It’s okay to not be okay,” he whispered, stroking her mane.

She took a ragged breath, one final shiver running through her body before she sat up. “Hey,” she whispered, leaning in close. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Phillip answered, raising her chin and kissing her on the lips.

A rap at the door sent Daring quickly retreating from him. “Am I interrupting?” Hidden Ace asked from the door.

“No,” Daring replied as the unicorn entered.

“Glad to see you’re awake,” Ace grinned. “So, two PIs from Ponyville come up here and, in one day, manage to solve two cases that the entire Canterlot PD were stumped over for months. I hope you heal up fast: if you hang around here much longer, you’re liable to make us all look bad.”

“If you and Stacked Deck are the best you have to offer, that won’t be too hard,” Daring smirked. “How’s he, by the way?”

“On vacation, but he said hi,” Ace replied, extending his hoof. Daring bumped her hoof against his. “Thanks for the help, you two. And thanks for getting me out of that statue.”

“Just doing our job,” Daring answered.

There came another rap at the door. “Hey, you guys decent?” Smolder asked, entering and shooting a brief glare at Ace. Krein followed, having to bend almost all the way over to enter the door.

Ace frowned at the Ambassador, who frowned back at him, letting out a brief huff of smoke through his nostrils. After a moment, Ace sighed.

“I owe you an apology,” Ace said, stepping forward and extending his hoof.

Krein blinked at him, then nodded and took his claw gently, shaking the proffered limb like a twig. “And I owe you our gratitude for finding Smolder and getting her home safely,” Krein nodded.

“Thanks,” Smolder nodded. “I’m sorry about your friend.”

Ace nodded and swallowed dryly, shaking her claw as well. “And I’m sorry about yours,” he said. He gave an embarrassed cough. “Um...I gotta head back to the precinct and finish up some paperwork. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”

With a final nod, he exited.

“How are you doing?” Krein asked Phillip.

“Fine,” Phillip replied, massaging his throat. He looked over at Smolder. The dragoness was hovering behind Krein, her arms folded and her gaze cast down. Her puffy eyes were rimmed with red. “Are you okay?” he asked her.

“Fine,” Smolder grunted, turning away.

Daring Do stood up. “Smolder, no offense, but we both know you’re not,” she said. “You lost one of your friends and nearly died. No one would be fine after that.”

Smolder turned her head even further away. “Maybe dragons are just tougher than ponies.”

Daring sighed. “I know you think you can tough it out. That you can just bury it and pretend it’s fine and it’ll go away.”

Smolder didn’t answer, but she shifted in place.

“It’s not going to get better if you hide it,” Daring said. “Look, just...get some help. Maybe you can come down to Ponyville and talk to Twi and Spike. You don’t need to keep hurting yourself because you’re trying to be tough.”

Smolder didn’t answer, but her lips quivered and she sniffled. “Yeah,” she said after a minute, turning back towards Daring and wiping her watering eyes with a forearm. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

Daring briefly patted her on the shoulder as Krein draped a wing over her. Smolder didn’t quite smile, but her lips did twitch upwards.

“I also wanted to give you something,” Krein said. “First of all, your payment.” He pulled a large bag that jingled with coins out from his pack.

Daring blinked. “Ambassador, that...that’s way too much,” she protested halfheartedly.

“I’d argue that it’s not enough for what you did, especially since you didn’t have to come in the first place,” Krein replied. “There is also this.”

From the pack came two iron necklaces inlaid with Dragontongue symbols around the edges. “These necklaces, marked with our alphabet, mark you as Zinfahdon, as friends of the dragons,” he explained, ceremoniously placing one over Daring’s head. The surprisingly light accessory was still warm from the furnace; she ran a hoof over the runes, already trying to commit them to memory.

“When you wear these, you will mark yourself as friends of all dragons, and guarantee safe passage and assistance from dragons,” Krein continued as Phillip obligingly bent his head forward to allow Krein to adorn him with his necklace. “As Speaker of the Dragons and the Voice of Lord Torch, this is my gift from all of us to you as our thanks.”

“Thank you, Speaker,” Daring replied with a grateful bow. “It was our pleasure to help.”

Krein and Smolder both gave the detectives a final bow and bade them farewell. Phillip laid back down in the bed and closed his eyes to rest. Giving him a final farewell kiss on the cheek, Daring exited quietly.

The evening came on slow over Equestria, the sun seeming to reluctantly dip beneath the horizon to give way to the moon.

“I will ask the prosecutor to go easy on Heim,” Luna told Daring as they stood beneath the glass dome of Canterlot train station. “His son will be coming up to testify on his behalf.”

“And Reaction?” Daring asked, watching as the loudly chugging train south trundled up the rails towards the platform.

Luna paused as the train let out a piercing whistle to announce its arrival. “He was already wanted on a laundry list of war crimes. As I speak, he is being prepared for transport to Clovenworth Island,” she replied.

“Good,” Phillip answered in a much less raspy voice.

"I wish to apologize for not getting you out sooner," Luna said, lowering her head a bit. "Reaction's shield was heavily layered; if I tried to simply smash through it, the energy required would have been too powerful and imprecise; the risk of hurting you was too great."

"It's fine, Princess," Phillip shrugged it off as the train pulled onto the platform, brakes squealing.

Luna turned to the detectives and bowed her head low. “This city owes you a debt,” she stated. “Be well, detectives.”

“Thanks, Your Highness,” Daring replied as Phillip shook hooves with Iridescence and the other Guards on duty.

The doors of the carriages hissed open and passengers began to disembark. Luna looked over at Smolder, who was leaning against a steel column a few feet away.

“I will be seeing all of you tonight,” Luna stated to Daring.

Daring stared at Luna for a moment, then nodded, swallowing quietly. “Right. See you tonight,” she said as she, Phillip, and Smolder entered the carriage.

Smolder slid into a seat and curled up against the window, staring out at the purple sky. Phillip and Daring sat down opposite her, leaning against each other. The train trundled away from the platform, heading south with a heavy chuffing.

Their passage south passed in silence, but Smolder gradually pulled away from the window as they came closer to Ponyville, huddling closer to the ponies and leaning forward over the table with her head down.

Daring patted Smolder’s scaly arm. Smolder looked up, blinking her wide purple eyes, and managed a feeble smile.

Night had long fallen by the time they arrived in Ponyville. When the trio disembarked onto the platform to find a familiar group waiting for them.

Smolder slowly walked over to Twilight, Spike, and Flash, her head lowered and one claw rubbing at her forearm. Spike immediately walked up to her and hugged her around the waist. She froze for a moment, then hugged him back, tears falling from her eyes as Twilight joined the embrace. Flash gave Phillip a pat on the shoulder and a smile before putting his forearms around the small group.

Phillip and Daring moved on to where Bobby and Rain were waiting. Bobby strode forward and immediately seized them both in a crushing hug that pushed the air from their lungs.

“We knew you’d come back safely,” he grinned, kissing them both on the forehead. “We saw the paper!”

An evening edition of Foal Free Press was prominently displayed in a nearby stand. The bold headline read, “Local Detectives Crack Dragon Disappearances!” and featured a photograph of Princess Luna standing outside Canterlot hospital, giving an impromptu press conference before a crowd of reporters. An archival picture of Phillip and Daring was placed next to that image.

“How’d it go?” Rain asked, wheeling herself over to them.

“Went aces, mom,” Phillip said, kissing his mother on the forehead. “But we’re just glad to be home.”

“Your voice sounds a bit rough, ampa,” Rain said as they started to head towards a waiting taxi, the wheelchair ramp already waiting for her. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Just a bit of a tingle,” Phillip reassured her as they all climbed inside, waving goodbye to Twilight, Flash, Spike, and Smolder, who were set to head home on Flash’s motorcycle.

Once they were all in the back, the taxi started towards Honeybee Bakery Drive, passing beneath glaring streetlights and twinkling stars. Daring and Phillip both stared out the window at the night sky above them for many streets.

When the taxi paused at a red light, Phillip looked over at Daring. She frowned a bit, then let out a slow breath and nodded.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you before I left,” Phillip said, not able to meet his parents’ eyes. “I was…” he sighed and mopped his face, noting the moisture in his eyes. “It’s been hard,” he admitted. “And I’m tired of feeling weak. Of being scared all the damn time.”

“It’s okay,” Bobby replied, gripping his son’s shoulder. “This has been hard on all of us: we’re all struggling to make peace with what happened.” He looked down at his wife’s paralyzed legs trapped in the wheelchair and made a small grimace of a smile. “I’m just glad that we’re all alive. If there’s one thing I learned in the ring, anypony can learn to swing hard. What matters is learning to roll with the blows, to get back up when you’re knocked down.”

“You should be a life coach or something,” Daring said with a dry chuckle. Her smile quickly faded and she found herself rubbing her right hoof, where the brand prickled and stung.

Rain reached out and took her hoof in both of hers; her warm touch banished the pain in an instant. “If you’re ready to talk, we’re here,” she whispered with a smile.

Daring smiled back and leaned forward, rubbing her forehead against Rain’s mane. “Thanks, Rain,” she said as Bobby and Phillip leaned against them as well.

When they got home, Bobby and Phillip prepared eggplant parmesan on the grill while Daring created pavlova under Rain’s careful guidance. They ate beneath the stars, laughing quietly at past memories, blushing over embarrassing anecdotes, performing impromptu concerts on sax, trumpet, clarinet, and didgeridoo.

As the night wound down, Bobby and Rain started to play a familiar tune on trumpet and clarinet, the soft melody carrying up to the stars. Phillip stood and gently pulled Daring to him and they started to revolve on the porch, just holding each other and resting their heads on each other's shoulders, Phillip whispering the lyrics into her ear:

“You know I can’t smile without you, I can’t smile without you…”

When the song finished, Phillip lifted Daring onto his back and carried her inside; she murmured sleepily, nuzzling his ear. Giving his parents a tired smile that they returned, Phillip carried her upstairs into their bedroom. Drawing the sheets back, he gently deposited her onto the mattress and drew the sheets up over them both. He pulled her already sleeping form into his arms, sniffing at her mane. The scent of jasmine and rain carried him into sleep.

The sky was cold red over his head, the clay cold and unyielding beneath his hooves. All around him were doors of every shape and size, jutting out of the ground like some bizarre plants.

An icy laugh stabbed into his ears and Phillip spun around, panting; he shivered in the cold and was suddenly aware that he was nude, unprotected. The voice bubbled out of an inequine throat, like something that had no vocal cords trying to mimic laughter.

Acidic pain bit into his foreleg and he drew away, yelping in terror. The tentacles that dangled from its mouth waving in ecstasy, the Ngluwi emerged from behind a blue door with golden letters nailed to it: 221.

“There you are,” Zugzwang smiled, something horrid shining in the tarry voids that served as its many eyes, connected by bulbous, pulsing veins.

Phillip turned and sprinted away, darting in between doors, skidding and slipping in the clay. But no matter where he ran, the thing was always behind him, biting at him with its stinging tongues, laughing when he screamed or cried out.

Phillip stumbled and slammed into a large set of double doors that were set in a brick archway. He tried to grab the handle, but it rattled mockingly in his hooves, refusing to open.

He turned around and looked up. The hideous thing loomed over him, desire etched in every inch of its predatory posture.

“You cannot run from me, Liebling,” Zugzwang crooned in that revolting voice that sent shudders up his spine. “I will always be here. I will always be with you.”

Phillip stared up into the cold voids, gasping for air...then paused. He closed his eyes and took in a slow breath, forcing himself to still even as the hot, disgusting breath washed over his face.

“Help,” he breathed out.

There was a clap of thunder, a flash of blinding light. The thing reeled away with a startled shriek.

“BEGONE, BEAST!” a voice roared with the fury of a hundred storms, and Phillip opened his eyes to see Luna descending from the sky like some vengeful goddess, eyes glowing bright white. Her horn shone like a silver sword. The Ngluwi retreated, but a beam of moonlight cleaved it into pieces; with a horrid scream, it dissolved into black ooze that quickly evaporated.

Luna landed before Phillip and extended a hoof with a maternal smile, both of her eyes twinkling. “You’re safe now,” she promised, helping Phillip to his hooves as the door forest dissolved around him, giving way instead to a peaceful forest; the doors were replaced by tall trees, grass sprang up from the cold clay, and the red sky became twilight purple, bespeckled with stars.

“You are all safe now,” Luna declared, looking around.

Phillip watched as more figures emerged from behind the trees: first Daring, who immediately walked to his side, her face lowered meekly. Then Twilight, Flash, and Spike, who joined them with soft smiles. Rain and Bobby followed, Rain smiling as she walked on her own hooves. Rainbow Dash flapped in, her left wing made of flesh and bone here in her dreams, and landed between Daring and Twilight.

Then a final figure emerged slowly from the trees, pausing at the edge of the group. The red pegasus hovered near the treeline, blinking at them in uncertainty.

“Come on, Red,” Flash called, beckoning the detective on.

Red Herring stared for a beat more, then slowly, like a foal walking out onto the diving board for the first time, walked over to join them. He sat down near Flash, offering him a tight smile and a small nod.

“I’m glad to see you all here, my friends,” Luna said, smiling around at them all. “I know that this is hard for you all, to open up and speak of things you’d rather forget, but looking around here, I want you all to understand and take heart: you are not alone. You are never alone.”

She sat down in the grass in the center of the small circle, removing the crown and gorget that marked her as their superior.

“I, uh,” Red admitted, shuffling his hooves. “I’m not real good at these therapy things. I’m not really sure what to do here.”

“That’s all right,” Luna reassured him. “For now, you just need to say what’s on your mind.”

Red blinked at his hooves for a moment, then sighed. “I...I miss my friend,” he said quietly.

Flash slowly raised a hoof, then placed it over Red’s withers. Red glanced at him, but did not resist.

“That’s what we’re all here for,” Flash smiled at him.

Author's Note:

And so ends this case, bringing our two detectives back into the fray of crime-solving!

I hope you enjoyed this case and are looking forward to more! It's exciting for me to keep writing like this for you all. I look forward to reading your comments and seeing your upvotes if you liked it!

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