• Published 11th Feb 2021
  • 1,631 Views, 53 Comments

A Woman Worth Saving - Undome Tinwe

In a city as corrupt as it is beautiful, Detective Rarity searches for her missing lover, Officer Twilight Sparkle, with the help of her former mentor, Celestia.

  • ...

Chapter Three: Wayward Sun

Never in a million years did I ever think I'd be the sucker getting stuck in the honeypot.

And never in a million years did I think I'd be inviting said honeypot into my office with a smile on my lips and fire in my eyes.

"Hello, darling!" I greeted the dame who had wormed her way into my heart despite my best efforts. "You're looking ravishing as usual. I do so love a woman in uniform."

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes, as she was wont to do when I was expressing my most sincere appreciation for her beauty. "Hey, Rarity. You wanted to meet with me for something?"

I nodded. "Yes, I have a little gift for you." At this point, Twilight Sparkle had peeled away so many layers of my mask that I needed to take whatever chances I still had to be the mysterious woman in her life. "But I believe in a little pleasure before business." I gestured to the chair in front of me "Sit, please. As much as I'd love to hold you in my arms, I'd rather not have to drag you to a seat when you swoon over my generosity."

"If you talk like this to all your friends, I'm surprised you're still single," Twilight commented as she sat down, crossing her legs and holding her posture straight and professional.

"I'm far too enamoured with the chase for that." I leaned back in my chair, a lazy smirk playing on my lips. "The only place I'd let someone tie me down is in the bedroom. And even then, I'm not usually the one wearing the ol' ball and chain."

"One day, someone is going to make you eat your words, and I can't wait to shake their hand."

I laughed to hide my discomfort at her words. Showing weakness so early would ruin the fun, and I did so love matching wits with this brilliant, beautiful copper. "Until then, may I offer you a drink?" I reached down into the hidden drawer under my desk, preparing to pull out my top-shelf brandy for her enjoyment.

Twilight raised an eyebrow. "Do you want me to arrest you for possession? I know you like being handcuffed, but I'm not sure that's how you want to go about getting what you want." Damn her, she was still smiling as she said that, and I hated how much I loved her smile.

Still, I wouldn't be defeated that easily. "With you, I'm sure I could turn that into a most... stimulating experience for the both of us." I stood up. "Won't you at least search me, officer?"

Twilight snorted. "Why bother? No one else on the force gives a damn, and seeing as I can't even pin down who Nightmare Moon is, I'm not much better than them. Might as well help a friend dodge the law too."

I winced. "Oh dear. Hard day at work?"

"Normal day at work." There was a bitterness to her voice that I didn't like. It felt like absinthe tasted, and it only made me more sure about my gift. Twilight Sparkle was the best of us, and I couldn't allow her brightness to fade.

"Well, regardless, I know you're much more than those other brutes you call your colleagues," I said, my smile returning. "I don't give gifts to just any officer, I'll have you know. And if we're not in the mood for pleasure, then perhaps we should move on to business?"

Twilight, ever the proper woman, stood as well and watched as I walked over to one of my filing cabinets and pulled out a manilla folder. "I hope you remember this when Hearth's Warming comes around," I said as I handed it over to her. "For the record, I enjoy tasteful but expensive jewelry, and clothing made with authentic silk in the latest fashions."

I waited several seconds for Twilight to flip through the papers inside and realize what she was holding. And when her eyes lit up with awe, when that anger was replaced by wonder, my traitorous heart leapt and actually began to flutter. How positively mortifying!

"This is..." Twilight trailed off as she pulled out one of the pages. "We've been trying for years to get something like this. A paper trail of records that proves Shadowbolt Security is involved with money laundering will be enough to get a warrant and do a more thorough investigation of their finances, which should be enough to shut them down and take down at least a few of the higher-ranking members of the Nightmares."

The smile on my face grew wider, and my heart soared. "I thought you might like it."

At those words, my dear Detective remembered my existence and looked up at me. "Where did you get this?" she asked. Then, a moment later, she frowned. "If the Nightmares know you gave me this information, your life will be in danger."

The most infuriating thing about Twilight Sparkle is that she didn't have to try to think about others. It came as naturally to her as colour theory did to me. Was it any wonder that she would manage to capture my mind and heart so thoroughly?

"Don't worry about me, dear." My professional confidence returned as I spoke. "I obtained these from the offices of a poor unfortunate soul who passed away last week in a tragic accident. A bean counter who was dipping his fingers in the pots while counting them.

"My client thought that he might be a snitch, and hired me to make sure that he hadn't leaked any documents to the cops." A wicked grin played on my lips. "Such a shame that I'll have to report he was giving vital documents to some upstanding officers on the force. Sudden attacks of conscience are such a terrible thing, aren't they?"

"I should be able to make the records reflect that," Twilight said. "I'll need to look into regulations to see what needs to be done to ensure your safety and anonymity." Her own professional tone faltered after that as she looked me in the eyes, her gaze piercing far deeper than it had any right to. "Thank you for this, Rarity. You've done a good thing today, and we're going to save a lot of lives with this information. I always knew you had it in you."

"Don't sell yourself short, Miss Sparkle," I replied, an unexpected bout of heartfelt sincerity assailing me. "You've been quite the bad influence on me, making me want to be a do-gooder. My colleagues would be oh-so disappointed in me."

"Well, I'm proud of you." There was a pause as Twilight looked hesitant. "I always hoped I'd be able to inspire someone one day," she confessed quietly. "Just like how Celestia was an inspiration to me."

I'd already made my own opinion on the former chief quite clear, so I couldn't help but deliver a snide reply. "Well, this is only the first step. Perhaps we'll be able to do what your mentor never could, and take down Nightmare Moon herself. Wouldn't that be something?"

Twilight didn't take the bait, thankfully. "That'd be nice," she simply said, before going back to reading over the papers. "We can discuss the details of your involvement and how to hide it for this case after I do some due diligence. I have to make sure that these documents are authentic first, of course, before we move forward."

"Why, I never!" I huffed. "Accusing me of providing false information! You've wounded my pride, Detective Sparkle. I should demand that you kiss it better as recompense."

To my dying day, I will never forget the expression on her face after I said those words. She gave me a look of such intense calculation, like I was an insect she had pinned against her web and she was the spider trying to see where I would be weakest to strike at. And behind that intensity was fear and longing mixed together in equal measure.

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes and leaned in, and in that moment, I knew that whatever happened next, it would define the rest of my days, and I would have to decide now if I wanted to let her do what I had asked her to so many times before.

Well, that was hardly even a choice, wasn't it? Not with her.

It was not the most practiced kiss that we shared, but it hardly mattered. I had never fallen for anyone as hard as I had fallen for Twilight, had never respected or desired any man or woman this much.

I had never been so terrified to explore my passion with someone.

And I had never been so excited.

When she eventually pulled back, I saw panic rear its ugly head in Twilight Sparkle's expression. "I..." she stared at me with wide eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. You were just joking and I— I forced myself on you and I'm so sorry I understand if you don't want to be around me anymore I'll just leave and—"

I silenced her ramblings with a finger against her lips as I considered my response. Before now, I thought I had grown used to how Twilight could surprise me and keep me on my toes, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

Of course, there was no question as to whether or not I regretted what had happened, and it was vital that Twilight know she had done nothing wrong. "Darling!" I laughed, and I had to hold back a wince at the hysteria creeping into my own voice. "A lady may play hard-to-get, but don't ever think for a moment I don't truly desire you." I reached out a hand to cup her chin, and was honestly surprised that it wasn't trembling. "You're clever, intelligent, and positively ravishing."

"R-Really?" Hope glimmered in her eyes as she looked up at me.

"Would I lie to you?" I replied playfully.

Twilight tried to force a smile. "Frankly, yes."

I chuckled. "Touché. But actions speak louder and truer than words, no?" With that, I leaned down and kissed her again. "Do you believe me now, my dear?"

"I guess I do," she replied in a daze. Then her previous sharpness returned and she sat down. "Well, I guess the chase is over," she said with a hesitant smile, though I sensed pain in her words. "Now you can move on to your next conquest, right?"

That was the million-dollar question, wasn't it? I had never thought of settling down before, and the idea of being in a relationship was very much foreign to me. Why would I, Rarity, wish to be tied down to a single person when the whole world was my oyster?

And yet, what was the world compared to this copper who actually believed in doing the right thing and inspired me to do the same? This woman who made me believe I still had a soul, and fought to save it by being herself? Twilight Sparkle was one in a million, and she had already made me break so many of my rules. What was another one to add to the list?

"First of all," I finally said once I had made my decision, "it's adorable how you think a kiss is all I would be after. And secondly..." My voice grew soft, and for the first time since I had met her, I did my damnedest to pour my heart and soul into my words and sound as sincere as I could. "I think, if you can make me believe that I can make a difference again, you can sweet-talk me into anything. Including staying to make you breakfast after we share a torrid night of passion beneath the moonlit sky."

The blush on Twilight Sparkle's cheeks was all I needed to know I had made the right decision. "Hey!" she shot back. "Are you just assuming that I'll waltz into your bed because you crooked a finger at me? What if I want to be wooed?"

The challenge hung between us, and I revelled in it. "Oh, Miss Sparkle," I said, my voice dripping with fire as I circled languidly around her. "If it's seduction you want, then that's exactly what you'll receive. And I know just what the fastest way to a girl's heart is."

"What is it?" The best damn honeypot I had ever met asked, wide-eyed.

"Cold, hard evidence." I picked up the folder she had left on the table. "I'm going to help you burn down Nightmare Moon's empire, and then we can make sweet, sweet love in its ashes."

"Sunset Shimmer was one of yours?" Rarity asked as she rifled through the trunk of her car.

"Once upon a time, yes." Celestia replied, her voice getting closer until Rarity knew she was standing beside her. "And I really must reiterate that I think this is a terrible idea. If she recognizes you..."

"Sugarcube Corner is neutral ground," Rarity said. "But it won't come to that. Nightmare Moon's lieutenants can't possibly be expected to know of everyone who works for them, and as long as we get our story straight, she won't even know to suspect me." She pulled out a set of baggy clothes that she wouldn't have been caught dead wearing if her very life didn't depend on it.

Celestia politely turned away Rarity put on the ill-fitting shirt and pants and ruined her delicately coiffed hair under a large baseball cap. They then returned to the front seats of the car, where Rarity began removing her makeup.

"Very well," the former chief finally said as Rarity worked. "But don't blame me if something goes wrong."

"No worries, darling. I know you don't like to take responsibility for things anymore." Rarity squinted into the mirror, making sure to wipe off all traces of her mascara and deliberately ignoring Celestia as she spoke. "So, how is it that you can summon up one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants on such short notice? I can't imagine there's any love lost between you two."

"There isn't," Celestia replied, also ignoring her jab, "but I have something Nightmare Moon wants, and Sunset knows me well enough to know that I wouldn't go back on a deal."

"What Twilight and I wouldn't have given to be able to get a meeting with one of her inner circle on neutral ground." Rarity shook her head sadly. "Then again, I doubt it would have done us any good. Nightmare Moon inspires such deep love and admiration from her most ardent followers— none of them would have given her up for anything."

"She does that, yes," Celestia agreed. "It was always one of her greatest strengths."

"It's a pain in the rear is what it is." Taking one last look at the mirror, she turned to face her partner of convenience. "So, how do I look?"

Her question received a raised eyebrow from Celestia in response. "You look like someone pretending to be a thug I picked up off the street."

Rarity beamed. "Perfect! Shall we be off, then?"

The drive over to the meeting point was occupied by discussing their cover story and how they would present themselves to Sunset Shimmer. Rarity wanted to ask more questions about Celestia's relationship with one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants, and whether that had anything to do with her disappearance, but she didn't have the opportunity, and ultimately, it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except that Sunset might hold the key to saving Twilight.

If Celestia could trade some secret information for her location, Rarity was willing to stop asking questions, and to let her run back to her previous life.

Twenty minutes later, they arrived at their destination, just in time for the meeting. Rarity took a moment to look up at the neon lights twisted into the shape of a cupcake hanging outside the entrance, bathing them in its soothing pink glow and announcing the name of the establishment in bright, cheery typeface.

Sugarcube Corner was a modern marvel of Canterlot for two reasons. Firstly, they had the most divine baked goods, unmatched by anything in the entire city. The heavenly smell wafting out signalled to the world that only the finest pastries were served here, and that the proprietors were ready to tempt anyone away from their carefully constructed diet.

Secondly, and most importantly tonight, was that this lovely little bakery was the only place in all of Canterlot that was considered to be absolutely neutral ground. Coppers, members of any gang, and law-abiding citizens could all sit down and indulge in a few slices of chocolate cream cake or apple pie together without having to worry about a gunfight breaking out. This place had helped broker more than one truce between rival gangs by giving them a place to negotiate where everyone felt safe.

And it was all thanks to the star employee of the establishment, one Pinkamena Diane Pie. Or Pinkie, as she insisted everyone call her. No one was brave enough to refuse.

"Heya Celestia," the bubbly woman said as she waved to them, her pink curls bouncing up and down as she practically vibrated in place. "Hello new person I've never met before."

"Hello, Pinkie," Celestia replied. Rarity said nothing, not knowing how much Pinkie knew with her unusual insights and not wanting to risk being exposed to anyone else. "We're here to meet with someone."

Pinkie nodded. "Sunnybuns is waiting for you over there." She pointed at a corner, where a fiery-haired woman was sitting with an impatient expression on her face. "Have fun!" she said before bouncing off back into the kitchen.

The woman looked up as they approached, and her lips curled into a sneer. "Well, if it isn't the great Celestia herself, come to grace us mortals with her magnificent presence," she said, her throaty voice dripping with disdain. "I'm so honoured. And who's your friend here in the crappy disguise looking like a film set reject?"

Rarity cleared her throat to retort, but Celestia spoke first. "Just a concerned citizen," she said calmly, her eyes never leaving Sunset's. "She's interested in the same information that I am."

"Whatever." Sunset Shimmer shrugged. "Alright, so what's so important that you called my assistant up in the middle of the night to get a meeting with me? If you need someone disappeared on short notice, I'm afraid you'll have to pay full price. Nightmare Moon wouldn't like it if I gave you the Friends And Family Discount, even for old times' sakes."

"As I said, I'm just looking for some information," Celestia replied, and Rarity could already sense some strain in her voice.

"I'll admit, I'm curious what you need to know so badly that you're willing to hand over that account." Sunset's eyes narrowed. "I assume you haven't done any funny business with it. I don't care what Nightmare Moon says, if you make a fool of me in front of her, I will come for you, protected status be damned."

Protected status? Rarity kept her mouth shut even as she filed that little tidbit away in her mind.

To her credit, Celestia didn't even bat an eye at the threat, even as a chill spread down Rarity's spine. "I haven't touched anything," she said. "You have my word."

"Fine, I guess I'll take it," Sunset replied. "So, what do you want to know?"

"Has there been any talk in the last twenty-four hours about Twilight Sparkle?"

It took all of Rarity's willpower not to show any signs of her surprise. Beyond how blunt the question was, did Celestia really expect Sunset to even know who Twilight was beyond a former colleague from so long ago, enough to pick up on rumours about her?

Sunset cut off her thoughts with a harsh laugh. "Of course this is about Twilight," she said, her lips curling into a smile that barely hid the anger bubbling below the surface. "Why should I have expected anything else? What, did Little Miss Perfect finally try to get a hit of something from one of our dealers to take the edge off? Or maybe she decided to go to one of our girls and finally get laid so she could get someone to take that stick out of her ass?"

Well, tonight was certainly full of surprises. Rarity hadn't been aware that Sunset and Twilight had history. Her lover had only mentioned Sunset in passing when discussing Nightmare Moon's lieutenants, and she'd only spoken of things Rarity already knew from keeping her ear to the ground.

Meanwhile, Celestia did actually wince at Sunset's words. "I'm worried she might be in trouble, and I need to know if The Nightmares have anything on her right now."

"And you're willing to give up the account number for that?" Glancing downwards, Rarity saw that Sunset was gripping the table with enough force to turn her knuckles white. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised that you'd give anything up for her. I wonder if you would've done the same for me."

"Did Nightmare Moon do anything to her?" Rarity demanded, and the tension in the room ratcheted up another level.

At that, Sunset leaned back, her previous devil-may-care smirk returning. "Oh, so Officer Sparkle is in some kind of trouble. Interesting. Well, I can't say I know anything about that. Such a shame; Nightmare Moon will be devastated to find out that she's finally getting what she deserves."

"You're lying," Rarity hissed, her hands clenching into fists. "I know The Nightmares have her, and I swear, if you've done anything to her..."

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "You'll what? What exactly are you gonna threaten one of Nightmare Moon's lieutenants with, huh? And why do you even care so much about one lousy copper who's too dumb to take a hint?"

"Twilight Sparkle is twice the woman you'll ever be, you traitor." If looks could kill, Rarity would have struck down Sunset on the spot.

Sunset's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I'd be careful talking about stuff when you don't know the whole story. And you'll notice that I'm not the one that's apparently been kidnapped, so who's the better woman now? Personally, I'd put my money on the one with a life expectancy that isn't measured in days."

Rage lit up Rarity's soul into a conflagration as the tension in the booth finally reached a boiling point. Her hand instinctively reached into her purse, her fingers curling around the cold metal of the pistol she kept in there. Sunset Shimmer had to know something about Twilight's disappearance, and she was going to get the information out of her by any means necessary.

A sudden stiffness in Sunset's posture told Rarity that she knew what was coming, and her hand shifted somewhere below the table. Rarity's heart pounded away as blood rushed to her head and adrenaline filled her veins, her entire body on a hair-trigger and waiting for Sunset to make a mistake...

"Here you go, girls!"

All three patrons looked up to see Pinkie Pie smiling down at them and holding a tray of baked goods. She was her usual cheery, bubbly self, but something glinted in her eyes, a warning that scared Rarity more than anything Nightmare Moon's lieutenant could say. "I brought you all your favourites! A deluxe cinnamon roll for Sunset, a slice of angel's food cake for Celestia, and a red velvet cupcake for our mysterious stranger!"

She set down the pastries, then winked at Rarity, which she supposed confirmed that her disguise had been seen through. "Oh," Pinkie added, and suddenly Rarity could feel a presence constricting her heart and striking fear into her very soul, even as their hostess' voice never lost any of its cheer. "And I just wanted to give all of you a teensy, friendly reminder that we don't allow any roughhousing in here. You should go to a roughhouse for that, whatever that is. Enjoy!"

With that, she bounded off, and Rarity felt herself relax just the slightest bit now that she didn't feel like she was about to suffocate.

"You know, one day I'll find out how she does that," Sunset commented, prodding at her food as she shivered. "It'd be really useful for a lot of things. Shame Pinkie doesn't seem to care about money; we'd pay a lot to have her as an enforcer."

"Some people have standards," Rarity retorted as her heart rate slowly returned to a normal amount of tense beating.

Sunset snorted. "Says the woman who's hanging out with her." She pointed to Celestia. "I get why she cares about her precious little golden child, but why do you give a damn what happens to Twilight Sparkle?"

"Is it not enough that I want to save a life?" Rarity took a dainty bite of her cupcake to hide her expression.

It didn't matter, as Sunset burst out laughing once again, but this time with genuine amusement. "You're in love with her!" she gasped out between breaths. "Oh, this is too much! Congrats on finally melting the Ice Queen. I gotta know, though, when you're in bed together and it's getting hot and heavy, does she shout your name out loud or Celestia's?"

Rarity nearly choked on her pastry. "Why, I never!" she exclaimed. "I know it's too much to expect one of Nightmare Moon's lackeys to behave with class, but must you do away with all decorum?"

"Look, I never thought she'd find someone else who also liked having sticks shoved up her ass, so sorry for having a little bit of fun. Really, how many book reports did she make you do before she let you cop a feel?"

"Enough." Rarity stood up, grabbing her purse. "We are clearly not going to obtain the information we need here, and if you don't tell us where you're keeping Twilight, then there's no reason for Celestia to uphold their side of the bargain either."

"Woah woah woah." At the very least, that seemed to have gotten through to the lieutenant. Sunset raised up her hands in a defensive gesture. "Look, I actually did mean it when I said I hadn't heard anything, and as much as I'd like it if Twilight's disappearance ended up permanent, Nightmare Moon would find out if I was hiding something from you, and I definitely don't want to have to deal with that."

"And we're just supposed to trust your word?" Rarity asked, taking a seat once again and eyeing her suspiciously.

Sunset shrugged again. "Not that I haven't been known to lie, but Celestia knows I'm telling the truth in this case." A sly smirk graced her expression. "And honestly, I'm not the one you shouldn't be trusting here, considering you actually think Celestia came here to find out if we were holding Twilight."

"Of course that's why we came here," Rarity replied, turning to Celestia. "Right?"

Celestia didn't say anything, and Sunset laughed again, a grating, mocking sound. "She's here to find out if we know which of the other gangs might have acted against her. Which, if they have, we don't know about it." She shook her head. "Typical Celestia, playing things close to the chest. She always thinks she knows best, and it doesn't matter how many people get hurt, she's going to convince herself that she did the right thing."

An unfathomable amount of regret was contained in Celestia's sigh as she replied, "I'm sorry, Sunset. I failed you as a mentor, and I should have tried harder to save you. But that doesn't excuse everything you've done since then."

"Actually, I'd say you were successful beyond your wildest imagination," Sunset said, letting that statement sit for a moment as she finished up her cinnamon roll. "I mean, back when I was on the force, I wanted to be just like you, and now, I am. People listen to what I say, and if I want something, anything, I can have it. Nightmare Moon gave me all the power I wanted from you, and taught me how things really worked in this city."

Her smirk grew. "It's every teacher's dream that one day their student will surpass them, right? Now looks who's running this joint, and who's stuck playing canary in a two-bit dive?"

Celestia shook her head. "I only wanted you to understand what it meant to serve this city, to fight for it and try to make it a better place."

"I did understand that," Sunset shot back, glaring at Celestia. "And when I tried to do what was necessary, you had me kicked from the force." The glare faded, replaced by a lazy smile. "But that was the best thing that ever happened to me, since Nightmare Moon ended up giving me the power to actually make a difference, and bring order to this sun-forsaken city.

"And hey, you always did want the two of us to get along,." Sunset pulled out her wallet and slammed down a few bills. "Chin up, chief, you finally have your perfect little family. Well, what's left of it, anyways. So, the account number?"

"Surely you can't expect us to hand it over when you've been utterly useless in providing any sort of actionable intelligence—" Rarity's words were cut off as she glanced to her side to see Celestia fish a pen and a key out from her purse.

"Here," she said, sliding the key over and scribbling a series of numbers onto a napkin. "You'll need to have Luna's personal information in order to access the safety deposit box, but I assume that won't be a problem."

"It won't," Sunset said, taking the two items. "Pleasure doing business with you. Let's not do it ever again." She turned to Rarity. "And a couple bits of advice for you, whoever you are, from one concerned citizen to another. First, get out while you still can. Doesn't matter how good in the sack Twilight is, you really don't want to get caught up in this twisted little family feud that's going on. And don't trust Celestia, obviously."

"I'll take that under advisement," Rarity said. "Any other nuggets of wisdom you wish to impart upon me?"

"Oh, don't let Suri pick out your clothes for you." An edge of steel laced Sunset's tone, a clear warning to Rarity. "It's really obvious when an undercover cop grabs something from her rack, and she's only still working for the force because she's got too much dirt on everyone. And if I ever see you outside of Sugarcube Corner snooping around in our business... well, Nightmare Moon won't care if one of Twilight's friends disappears."

"I can't believe that worked," Celestia muttered as they drove away from the bakery. "You actually managed to convince Sunset that you were an undercover officer without dropping any hints in that direction."

"Having clothing made in the style of someone else is an oft-overlooked technique in a sleuth's arsenal. Now Sunset thinks I'm a copper who fell for Twilight on the job, and won't suspect that we've been investigating the Nightmares beyond the usual constraints of her position."

Celestia nodded. "Impressive."

"I am a Master of Disguise, after all," Rarity said proudly. "I take pride in my ability to be anyone. Well, I did, until Twilight waltzed into my office and made me want to be myself once again. And speaking of Twilight, care to explain what just happened in there?"

"Sunset Shimmer confirmed several of my suspicions," Celestia replied. "If we can go to your office, I can take a look at the list of companies you sent her and confirm my theory."

"No." Rarity pulled the car over and glared at Celestia. "You've been keeping far too many secrets for me to continue trusting you. Why does Sunset Shimmer seem to think that Nightmare Moon cares for or is even aware of Twilight's existence? And what did she mean by a family feud?" Her eyes narrowed. "Who is Nightmare Moon?"

"It doesn't matter," Celestia said, staring straight ahead. "Or rather, the less you know, the better. Sunset Shimmer was right when she said that you don't want to get caught up in this. I had hoped that Twilight wouldn't as well, but it seems I underestimated her detective skills."

"That's not good enough. You know who she is, and you're covering her up for some reason I cannot possibly fathom." Rarity glanced in the rear-view mirror, watching as another car passed by them. "She killed your sister and now she's taken Twilight. Why are you protecting her?"

"Because I failed everyone I ever cared for." When Celestia finally turned to face Rarity, the pain in her eyes was so immense that it nearly staggered Rarity. "And if keeping this one secret can save a single life, then I will take it to my grave."

If they hadn't been sitting in the car, Rarity would have stamped her foot in frustration. As it was, she gripped the steering wheel tight enough to hurt. "I cannot believe Twilight Sparkle ever saw you as an inspiration. She was going to save this city, instead of letting it fall apart out of some misguided fear of failure."

"You don't understand," Celestia said softly, and Rarity dearly wanted to slap some sense into her.

"Of course I don't understand," she retorted instead, her eyes returning to watching the traffic. "Nobody possibly could. You keep your cards so close to your chest that you can't let anyone in, despite all the people who obviously adored you at some time or another. Case in point, even Twilight could never understand why you simply disappeared one day. Sometimes, she wondered if it was her fault."

"It wasn't," Celestia immediately replied. She bowed her head slowly. "But I suppose I should have seen that she would find some way to blame herself for it. If I can be honest, part of me always hoped that she would come visit me so I could explain myself. I know she could have found me easily enough with her skills and resources."

"Part of her thought you didn't care about her anymore," Rarity said softly. "And she wanted to respect your desire to close yourself off from the world. She would do anything for you." Another car passed by. A familiar, worn buggy.

"That I know too well." Celestia glanced at the mirror. "Let me see the list of Nightmare-owned companies you sent to Twilight, and I'll tell you why Nightmare Moon cares so much about her. Also, I assume that the car following us is gone by now?"

Rarity glanced at her in surprise. "You knew?"

A shake of the head from her passenger. "Not until you pulled over and started staring at the mirror," Celestia admitted. "But I recognize someone trying to lose a tail when I see it."

"They've been following me since before the Sunset Lounge, I think, but I didn't realize it until we were leaving Sugarcube Corner," Rarity explained. "While I sincerely hope that this stalker is an admirer connected to one of my other cases, I can't help but worry that maybe Twilight isn't as safe as you think she is, and neither are we."

"That is... worrying," Celestia said. "Perhaps we should make haste for your office."

Rarity nodded and pulled out of the alley. Her office was only a few blocks down, and soon enough they had arrived. She parked a block away from the actual building as an extra precaution, and then carefully stepped out of the car and took note of her surroundings.

Unfortunately, rent in Canterlot was not easy on one's budget, and Rarity's office was housed in a building that had seen better days. As she pushed open the worn, creaking front door with one hand, her other hand hovered inside her purse, lightly gripping the pistol inside.

"My office is at the end of the hall," Rarity said as they walked down the corridor of businesses which had all closed for the night, row after row of locked doors passing them by as they approached their destination. "I have the rest of the files stashed there as well, if you want to peruse them."

"I doubt that will be necessary, but more information could be helpful," Celestia replied.

The scent of old wood filled the air as the floorboard thumped rhythmically beneath her feet as they continued to walk, their steps out of tempo with the soft swaying of the electric lights hanging above their heads, but synchronized with one another.

That is, until their harmony was interrupted by the sounds of another set of footsteps.

Rarity turned around, her voice dropping down to a whisper.

"Did you hear th—?"

Her words caught in the throat as she saw the glint of steel in the dim hallway, and instinct overrode thought as she tackled Celestia to the ground.

They fell, and the deafening sound of a gunshot rang out.