• Published 10th Sep 2012
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Red Right Hoof - Japko

Cutie Mark Crusader Crime Investigators, yay!

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Chapter One: The Walk

Red Right Hoof

By Japko

Chapter One: The Walk

The grave-still silence of the hallway was suddenly disturbed, as a staccato of rapid, rhythmical hoofsteps filled the space, echoing between bare white walls.

It was a beautiful evening, and the setting sun merrily trickled through rows of identical, tall windows, painting the floor tiles with deep and warm red color.

But a pony had no time to enjoy the romantic sunset. The pony had a job to do, and it was not one of his most enjoyable jobs. Why did it always have to be him who passed the bad news? He wasn’t the youngest one in the department anymore, not for the last two years at least. But still, it was always him who they sent to Room 518 whenever things got ugly. Of course he was outstanding when it came to stressful confrontations, but he really didn’t ask for this, and he wished somepony else would be picked to take care of such things, at least from time to time.

Theoretically, it was already evening, and most of the department’s employees had called it a day and went home, and so could he. Theoretically, all this could wait until tomorrow. But he knew that the boss definitely wouldn’t be happy if they didn’t inform him right away.

The hoofsteps stopped, but the echo still filled his ears like a presage to what waited for him on the other side of the door. The door he stood by wasn’t very impressive. It was made of dark mahogany with a simple, small carving which said ‘518’. The sudden veil of silence pressed against the pony’s ears as he stared sheepishly at the number. Without too much hesitation, he took a deep breath, knocked and opened the door.

Technically smoking was forbidden in the whole building, but, as usual, the rules didn’t apply to those who stood high in the hierarchy. The heavy smell of cigar smoke – this fresh and this which had been accumulating in carpets, furniture and curtains for years – momentarily attacked his nostrils. It was one of the reasons why he hated to come here, but still definitely a minor one. He had numerous reasons to hate visits in the room 518.

Behind an extensive wooden desk, which was bending under the weight of towers of papers, folders and binders, sat a grayish stallion with dark circles under his eyes. He was wearing his usual old brown suit. A recently put away cigar still smoldered in an ashtray along with at least ten other scraps. The subtle trails of smoke, lazily swirling in the air, were the only movement in the room, as both stallions stayed still, staring into each other’s eyes.

“Just say it,” the pony behind the desk decided to finally break the silence.

“Excuse m-” a pony started.

“The bad news.” The Boss’ voice was dry and rough like a sheet of sandpaper. “It’s not really difficult to guess you’re coming with some bad news. You’ve been working here for years and you still haven’t managed to learn a proper poker face, son. It’s an important ability in our profession, you know. Even if you spend all your day in papers.”

“Yes. Yes, sir,” a pony said slowly.

“So, say it already!” The Boss almost shouted. “This day won’t get much worse anyway, be it with this news or without it. How bad can it be?”

“Actually…” The pony swallowed nervously. He thought he had a delicate way to say it, but now he was just biting his lip in desperate attempts to come up with something. Unable to think of anything, he just took another deep breath.

“We got a report from Cloudsdale fifteen minutes ago, sir. Agent PF13 didn’t show up to a priority one meeting.

“That’s”– he gulped –“that’s automatically a ‘missing’ status, sir. Agent PF13 is missing.”

The grayish pony slowly hid face in his hooves. For a long while he didn’t say anything. “Tell me that at least she didn’t have-”

“She had,” he cut in before he could bite his tongue. Interrupting his boss wasn’t a smart move. But he quickly regained his posture and finished what he was saying. “The exact purpose of the meeting was to hand them over. It’s… It’s missing as well, sir.”

The Boss slowly shook his head. “I hate this job.”

* * *

There is this common view that unusual things happen only to extraordinary ponies.

Actually, most ponies would disagree right now. They would say that it’s not true, that in most cases it’s the grey and inconspicuous ones who are blessed (or cursed) with crazy adventures. But that’s just what they would say, because it’s expected of them to say such words. To reassure the boring and dull ones that their lives can be exciting too, if they only believe, yadda yadda, all that junk of empty words.

The actual truth is that everyone expects simple and cozy existence for the wimps, and for those few extraordinary ones – fascinating adventures and life full of wonders. Deep down we all believe that this is the natural way of life, a universal law, and this is how our world should work.

However, sometimes various errors in causation occur, and a regular pony gets thrown into some surprise adventure that may or may not overwhelm them. I would lie if I said that I had never dreamed of something like this happened to me.

Let’s be honest. I’m not an exciting person by any means, and I’ve never claimed myself to be. Since my very first days I’ve been living on a farm, where nothing amazing ever happens, and where everything is ordinary. The farm was the place where I basically spent all my childhood and where I was raised by my siblings. Yes, I have no parents, and that’s probably the only unusual thing about me. They both died in an accident when I was virtually still a baby. I know their faces only from old photographs. I can’t say I miss them, since I had never really known them, but I must admit that the melancholy of not having mom and dad around can get painful sometimes. As a kid, I often cried myself to sleep, especially after those days when I encountered many happy fillies and colts with their parents, like during school plays and such.

Well, I can’t really complain too much, because even if I have never had parents, I’ve always had my big brother and sister, who took care of me and raised me the best they could. I sometimes wonder how I would turn out without them, probably as a total wreck. On the other hoof, my best friend didn’t have so much luck – she had nopony, not a single family member to raise her and give her that warmth of which I received so much from my bro and sis – and she still ended up a wonderful pony, without too many issues.

I have never done anything to consider myself unusual. I know a few quite famous ponies, but that doesn’t count. My sister is one of the holders of the famous Elements of Harmony, so that’s pretty neat. As a result, I personally know all the bearers of the Elements. Oh, and I know a zebra. She’s a shaman of some sort. But the fact that I know a bunch of interesting ponies doesn’t make me special in any way. I’ve always been a bystander when something interesting was happening. And, to be honest, I had never expected anything else. I was rather happy with my life as it was. I can’t say there were many things I disliked about it.

What I hated was my lack of a cutie mark. When you live in a small town like Ponyville, you can rarely allow yourself to be different and stand out in a group. I don’t know why, but while in a big city you can be anypony you want and you know it, in a small town you constantly feel this stress to follow the path that everyone else is taking. Normally, I wouldn’t care so much about not having a cutie mark, but the social pressure made me feel that I needed one as soon as my first peers started to get theirs. I was terrified by the thought of a possibility that I would be on the grey end, an outcast, ridiculed for not having a special talent of my own. But it didn’t appear, and slowly it became my obsession. With my two friends – also without their marks – we formed a little club, a secret society, as we liked to call it, to do whatever we could to obtain the desired images on our flanks, like our lives depended on those.

When I look back, I sometimes wonder if there were any things we hadn’t tried. Of course without any result whatsoever. I can’t say I don’t miss those times though. It was a ton of fun to use every single opportunity to check if our special talents were hiding in this or that activity. Who knows, maybe we should consider being blank flanks a good thing. If we had gotten our cutie marks, we wouldn’t have so many great memories, and we probably wouldn’t have become such close friends.

But every fire burns out eventually. At some point you can’t keep deluding yourself that picking random things will get you a cutie mark. You have to face the truth that some ponies need to learn to live without one and move on.

It’s not like we suddenly decided to terminate our Cutie Mark Crusaders group, but it slowly became obvious that we had lost faith in our crusade. When we were hanging out, we preferred to just have fun together, instead of chasing the illusion of finding our special talents by trying more and more ridiculous things.

More time had passed and we eventually finished school. We all got good grades, but still all we could feel was the bitter taste of defeat. The school chapter of our lives was over, and we were still blank flanks. Nopony mentioned it, even Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, but everypony knew well how humiliated we felt.

Choosing your life path without the compass that a cutie mark is can be very hard. They all kept saying that I was full of potential, but I didn’t feel it. I only felt lost and scared. I decided to stay on our farm until I came up with any idea for my future. The work with the orchards always needs another set of hooves, and things got a lot more complicated since our grandma had passed away. When she was around we had no idea how much of a help she was.

Anyway, it happened that I stayed on Sweet Apple Acres with only my siblings, and it seemed that it had sucked me in for good.

Meanwhile, Scootaloo decided to join the weather team. She, like myself, claimed it was only until she found anything more ambitious, but I knew that she enjoyed her job, because it was a lot easier to spend time with her idol, Rainbow Dash. She liked it there.

The actual blow that tore our Cutie Mark Crusaders group apart was done by Sweetie Belle. Unlike Scootaloo and me, she had some plans. We were not sure if those were her own or rather her parents’, but it turned out that she wanted to continue her education. We thought she meant some kind of a music school. After all, she was a natural-born singer, even if she was struggling with a severe case of stage-fright. But Sweetie Belle wasn’t going to any music school. She was leaving to Fillydelphia to study law. Law! It was so random that we burst into laughter as we stood, but it died quickly as we realized that she was being serious.

And that’s how the Cutie Mark Crusaders had come to an end. Without a single success, without a blast. Only with a quick punch of brutal reality that forced us to grow up. Right in the face.

Those were the thoughts that stirred in my mind when I was walking between the apple trees of our orchard with a can of anti-bug spray, when Scootaloo broke the silence.

“So, today’s Friday,” she grunted from the shade of the trees, not opening her eyes. “Are we gonna go somewhere or not?”

Scootaloo was one of these types who preferred to work like crazy if it meant she could finish her daily job faster and have more time for herself. As a result, she often dropped by to Sweet Apple Acres pretty early to hang out with me until I finished my chores.

“I don’t know, Scoot,” I replied. “In the beginning of summer there is usually almost as much work as during the Applebuck Season. I might have to do some overtime today.”

“Uuurgh!” She threw her hooves in the air. “I’m so bored!”

Scootaloo wasn’t in the best of moods. And no wonder. She tried her best not to show it, but it was obvious she was feeling downward awful. She was just after a breakup and she wasn’t taking it too well. Nothing unusual though. She was always like this after a breakup, and… well, let’s just say she had had quite a few of those in her life. Don’t get me wrong, Scootaloo wasn’t the kind of a cold-hearted femme fatale, who was never satisfied with any boy she met. In fact it was rather the opposite. Each time she tried to commit to some relationship, she instantly got the feeling of not being good enough and tried to escape in shame which only she understood. The guys were usually more than patient in such situations. The reason why everyone was so understanding was simple. Scootaloo was hot. Not just attractive, I really mean hot as jalapenos dipped in tabasco. And it wasn’t even the kind of beauty you’d expect from ponies like Sweetie Belle’s sister Rarity – the beauty which is a result of years of hard work on your style and fabulosity, years of making sacrifices and suffering for the cause. No, Scoot was walking (or flying) perfection in her natural state. She didn’t give a damn about how she looked and she still managed to be gorgeous anyway. She could just wake up, splash her face with some water and she was ready to go. It was ridiculous, and many girls hated her so much for that. I’d never, ever seen her using a hairbrush, I kid you not.

Nevertheless, she never considered herself attractive, and she seemed genuinely shocked whenever somepony showed their interest in her. And the physical beauty wasn’t her only virtue, oh no. She had this absolutely adorable, compelling, and quite boyish personality that let her easily get along with anyone, regardless of their gender or age. She easily found common frequencies with all the boys, and her spontaneity didn’t let anyone be bored with her around, of course if she wasn’t in one of her depressive phases.

That was her problem. Scootaloo was a one big borderline roulette. One day she could be euphoric and seemed able to take over the world, while the other day she turned into a walking pile of misery. I sometimes got this urge to secretly keep a diary of her moods, because it seemed that those two extremes evened themselves up perfectly.

“How about we go to Sugarcube Corner?” I shot in the dark. I needed to come up with a neutral ground that wouldn’t remind her of the recently ended relationship. I had no idea whether they liked to go to Sugarcube Corner together or not. But Pinkie Pie was a miracle worker when it came to cheering other ponies up, so there was a big chance she would help me make Scootaloo smile.

She nodded. Thank goodness.

Despite still having some work undone, I left it as it was. I was sure AJ would give me a lecture about proper work ethics when I got back, but I had a more important thing on my head. My best friend needed to be cheered up and it was my job to make her feel better. Or die trying.

Half an hour later we were sitting by our favorite table in the Cakes’ cafe. Pinkie, after exchanging some understanding looks with me, started preparing her ice cream specialty. She called it The Jumbo Heart Attack Murder Blast and it was not included in the regular menu.

If you don’t want to waste your time and nerves on attempts to understand the female psyche, just focus on sweets. Always works.

Scootaloo was one of those ponies who found it extremely important to be miserable when they felt it was the right thing to do in a certain situation. But even she finally surrendered to the magnificence of Pinkie’s dessert. Facing this amount of sugar, everypony was powerless. Another good thing was that with her level of physical activeness, she never had to do anything as silly as counting calories.

Scootaloo started to complain, and it was a big step forward.

“I’m totally not girlfriend material, you know. No wonder he dumped me.”

“You dumped him,” I corrected with my mouth full. Yeah, I was raised in a barn, I know.

“Well, yes, but I just said out loud what he had in his mind. He didn’t really like me, but he was just too nice to say it to my face.”

“Scoot, look, you can’t just-”

“It’s because I’m useless. I’m not good at anything. How is it even possible to not have a cutie mark at this age?”

I rolled my eyes. Here we go again.

It’s funny how ponies can change. Back in the CMC days it was usually her who kept the spirits up each time we failed with our attempts. No matter how much work had gone to waste, she would always take it with a smile and boosted our morale before we tried something new. Now it seemed that the roles had switched.

“Scootaloo, relax. A cutie mark is just an image on your flank. It does picture your most special talent, but the lack of it doesn’t mean you don’t have a talent. What if you have too many and you haven’t discovered which one is the most important to you?” In case you’re wondering, those weren’t just empty comforting words. I really meant it.

It took her a long time before she learned to fly. It was quite odd for a pegasus as athletic as her to learn it so late, but she did it eventually. And she still somehow made an advantage out of it. Her ability to mix ground and air stunts was amazing. But she tended to neglect those, instead focusing on something she wasn’t exactly good at. She constantly looked up to Rainbow Dash and she was crazy about her speed and agility. She wanted to be just like her, even if she had talents Dash could only dream of. I told her that countless times, but she never listened. That reminds me of another thing at which she was way better than anyone I’ve ever known – persuasion. You wouldn’t expect something like that from a pony like Scootaloo, but boy, was she a skilled talker. She could easily sell you your own mane. Twice. And you still would return for more.

“Yeah, right,” she grunted in response. “When is Sweetie Belle going to come back? The semester should be ending soon, right?”

“I think so,” I said, glad that she was willing to change the topic, even if it was the same thing we had talked over for the last two weeks. We were, of course, in contact with Sweetie, but from what she reported, her school was a complete mess, and she didn’t know anything either. The exams were constantly moved, and the deadlines postponed. If you asked me, I wouldn’t say it was a sign of a good law school.

“We should totally do some crusading when she gets back!” There it was. Terrible mood – poof! – full excitement. Scootaloo was nothing but a bundle of deterministic chaos. “And I’m not joking. I mean it. We should write down some ideas, even right now, so we already have a plan when she arrives.”

I sniggered. As silly as it might sound, I actually liked the idea. Of course I considered it myself not once and not twice, even if not seriously, but as I mentioned, whatever Scootaloo said, it always sounded more exciting than if you said it yourself. Who cared that we weren’t little fillies anymore? Our crusading was always lots of fun, and it wouldn’t hurt – too much – to have some more of it, even if it might look silly from the outside.

“Sure,” I said with a smirk, “but it’s gonna be tough to come up with anything we haven’t tried yet.”

“There’s always something new.” Could you believe it? Literally a minute ago it was me who tried to help her fight down her defeatism. “If you can’t think of anything, I’ll do it no problem.”

She offered to walk me back home. We took the longer route through a grove near the Everfree Forest and the northern railroad. It was the strolling path we liked to take since forever, because above it Rainbow Dash had her own practice track, and Scootaloo always hoped we would come across her and admire her flying skills.

The grove was rather a small one. It was maybe two hundred meters of walking under a thick canopy of trees and suddenly it ended like it was cut with a huge knife and you entered a vast plain with the edge of Everfree to your right. It was still a while before the sun was supposed to hide behind the horizon, but the sky was already slowly being painted with a subtle shade of orange.

Scootaloo couldn’t stop talking.

“… And, you know, she is totally gonna be excited about it. In fact, I think she’ll want to suggest something alike to us too, I’m sure of it. Just think about it: being stuck for almost a year with a bunch of boring law students. Only boring ponies decide to go study law. I have no idea why Sweetie would want to do such a thing. She’s definitely too cool for that. I tell you, when she gets honest with us, she’s gonna admit that the school sucks and that she wants to get back to Ponyville. Anyway, she’ll love the idea of parachuting. Yeah, I know it’s stupid to think that any of us is going to get a cutie mark from parachuting, but it’s all about fun, right? And remember that one time when we were zip lining and we almost broke our necks when the rope wore through? That’s what I’m talking about- hey, what’s that?”

Extraordinary things happen to ordinary ponies. Even before I turned my head to see what Scootaloo was pointing at, I got the feeling that something strange was about to happen. Something unusual, freaky, even scary. Something that you wouldn’t expect to happen to somepony like me.

It was hard for me to notice at first, but I saw it eventually. Something yellow shone through tall grass by the rail. We got off the road and slowly approached it. Suddenly I realized what the thing was and I felt my heart freeze. Scootaloo must have seen it too, because she sprang up and quickly flew up to the object.

It was a pony.

“Ma’am?” she asked hesitantly.

It was a yellow-coated pegasus mare. She lay inertly in the grass, facing the ground.

“Ma’am?” Scootaloo repeated. “Can you hear me?”

No answer.

I swallowed through a suddenly squeezed throat. I’m kind of a doom prophet, you know. I always jump to the worst possible conclusions in my mind when I’m scared.

I reached out my shaking hoof and touched the pony’s side. As I feared, it was cold as ice. I bit my other hoof not to scream.

“Scoot, let’s leave…”

But she wasn’t listening to me. Her eyes narrowed and she parted her lips a bit. She knew it already as well. But unlike me, she wasn’t scared. She was fascinated. With a swift move, she grabbed the body by a shoulder and turned it upwards.

This time, biting my hoof didn’t help.

I had never seen a face like this before. Frozen as a silent scream mask, pallid like a stone, with blind eyes staring into nothingness… But the worst thing was the tongue. Huge, swollen and dark, sticking out from between yellow, tartar-stained teeth. Why I noticed such details, I had no idea.

The whole world sunk into a void, leaving only this grotesque monstrosity. I didn’t realize I was screaming until Scootaloo slapped me in the face. The effect was instant. “We have to report this to someone,” I started babbling. “We have to tell the police we have to leave we have to report say someone now…” I wouldn’t have guessed I could talk so fast and say so much with only one breath. Scootaloo grabbed me by my shoulders and looked into my eyes.

“Easy, Applebloom,” she said slowly and calmly. How could she be so calm in a situation like this?! “Let me look around.”

“Look around?” My brain was currently having problems with processing information. “For what?”

“Umm…” she hesitated. “For clues, I figure.” She winked and turned around. She’s a psycho, I tell you. “Think about it. It’s not just a dead body. She obviously didn’t have an accident. She was strangled. This”– she turned back to me –“is a murder case.”

I didn’t know what was more terrifying. The fact that I was standing next to a dead body of a young mare, or that horrific twinkle in Scootaloo’s eye.

“That makes it even more important to report it to the police as soon as possible,” I almost pleaded. I talked to her back, as she was sniffing around the corpse like a dog. “It’s definitely not a good idea-” I stopped when I saw my friend freeze like she was suddenly petrified.

“I… don’t think that would be the best idea.” There was something different about her voice. When she looked back at me, her eyes were wide open and filled with nothing but fear and confusion. She was showing me something.

When I saw it, I fell on my haunches.

Scootaloo was holding two cyan-blue feathers.