• Published 1st Nov 2012
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Starlight Over Detrot: Nightmare Night - Chessie



At a Nightmare Night party, Hard Boiled gets drunk and tells of how he and Taxi met Princess Luna.

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Part 1: Scream For Me, Baby

Starlight Over Detrot: Nightmare Night Special

I lay on my couch, one leg thrown over my face. It was an unseasonably warm evening; my apartment fan was on full blast, and still my coat was stuck to my skin. I’d finally gotten to the land of dreams after hours rolling around in my personal sweatbox, and was doing my best dead body imitation. Working in Equicide, there was plenty of opportunity to practice.

Detrot’s finest deserved a damn break...

“Come on, Hardy! Wake up! We’re going to be late!”

...but it was not to be.

I peeled open one eye to discover the source of the disturbance, and was greeted by a feminine horror six inches from my face: a green pony demon with enormous fangs that jutted down from a shapely mouth, and huge stitched-up gashes across its nose and cheeks.

I found myself suddenly awake, fully alert, and crouched on the floor behind the sofa.The demon, who was lucky I didn’t have my gun strapped to my foreleg, chuckled to herself in an annoyingly familiar way. “Ahhh, you’re awake! Teehee! Good.”

“...Taxi?”

“Duh! Who’d you think it was? Get up! We’re going to be late to the party!” My driver straightened her frightfully gelled mane with both hooves. Considering her normal layered black and white checker braid, it should have occurred to me that she could pull off some really strange effects with enough hair product, such as tonight’s lovingly constructed rendition of the Bride of Flankenstein.

Behind her, a very short green dragon with a glowingly orange face was up to her ears in a bag of candy, both cheeks full of something that crackled and popped as she chewed it. My diminutive pegasus partner, Swift Cuddles, had found covers for her outsized wings that made them look like bat wings, and her ears were done up to seem like horns.

“Ugh, why are we getting me up at this foul hour again? My day off is meant to be the one day of the week I don’t have to see either of you,” I groused.

Swift held her bag of candy closer to her chest. “It’s Nightmare Night, sir! You said you’d take us out tonight.”

“You want to go trick-or-treating?!” I scoffed. “Kid, you can’t be serious. When did I say that?”

“Night before last...”

“I was drunk the night before last!”

“Well... sir, it’s... my day off too. Things have been crazy lately, and I just thought we could take some time...” Swift pushed her lower lip out, demonstrating that the trade off for her short stature was a foal’s weaponized pouting powers.

“Fine, fine... ugh. Where are we going?” I rubbed my eyes with both hooves, trying to get the sand out of them.

“Well, there’s a party at the Castle.” Taxi replied, prodding one of the scars on her cheek back into place.

“Slip Stitch’s Nightmare Night party?! You really want to go to that? You spend three hundred and sixty four days a year trying to avoid him like the plague.”

“I will freely admit that he has a talent for the macabre, and that’s what tonight is about. So get off your lazy hump!” My driver grabbed the couch pillow supporting my butt, braced her hooves, and tugged me onto the floor.

I rubbed my freshly bruised behind, rolling over onto all four hooves. “Can’t I just go as ‘overworked cop?’”

“No! You’re going to get a costume on and you’re going to smile or so help me I will tell Slip Stitch you wanted a full explanation of the equine digestive system, top to bottom, inside and out.” It was no idle threat. Taxi’s storied vindictive streak would end my night fleeing a psychotic and surprisingly athletic coroner describing the lower intestine to me whilst swinging preserved and fragrant specimens in my direction.

“Alright!” I cried, holding my hooves up, “Alright, Celestia save me, just get me a damn sheet and some scissors! I’ll go as a ghost!”

“Oh, no you don’t! I’ve got something special for you.”

I don't do much with fortune-telling, but when Taxi grinned as she did, I could see the future reflected in her teeth.

It would not be pleasant.

****

“Where did you even get magic pelt dye?” I gasped for breath, trying to keep my mane out of my eyes. Foul chemical fumes came off the softly glowing bottle as Taxi shook it out over my head.

“Oh, stop complaining! I told you, it’s temporary. It’ll be out of your fur by tomorrow morning.” Taxi held my head down, soaking it into my cheeks.

“Watch the eyes! Is this what you used to dye yourself?!”

“Errr... no, this stuff is special! Hey, hold still or you’ll end up looking like a diseased zebra!”

Swift held my tail, rubbing something powdery into it. “Whew, this stuff stinks... are you sure it’s going to work?” She asked. She’d already done my mane; she was being thorough with the vile mixture.

“The dear ponies who provided this stuff guaranteed it would do the job. Just make sure you don’t miss any spots. We can’t go back and ‘redo’ once we activate it.” Taxi replied.

After a few more minutes trying not to breathe the awful stuff, Taxi cast the now-empty bottle aside and reached into her saddlebags and produced a small pulsing red gem, which she pushed against my forehead. I felt a brief tingle as the spell took effect; I waited to feel something change, but after several seconds, nothing had. I looked around myself.

“Well? What did it do?”

Swift’s eyes bugged out and she spat the candy lozenge she’d been sucking on across the room. Taxi merely smiled one of her devilish ‘I just got Hardy good’ smiles.

“Oh sir... you... oh wow...” My partner sputtered.

I closed my eyes and stepped in front of the bathroom mirror. It can’t be that bad...it can’t be that bad...

I opened my eyes.

It was that bad.

Staring at me from the reflective glass was a very pretty mare with big pink eyes and a fuzzy, canary yellow pelt. Her mane hung to her shoulders, streaked in black and white lines. I waved a hoof. She waved a hoof. My mouth fell open. Her mouth fell open.

I couldn’t think for a few moments. The first coherent thought I managed to assemble was ‘Turned me into a mare.’ The next coherent thought had me shoving my head down between my legs, making sure my ‘equipment’ was still there; I couldn’t see it but I could still feel it. I didn’t feel like turning around for a more thorough inspection.

Twisting my neck around I looked my pelt up and down; It was the same chalky citrine as my hooves. I turned back to the mirror and the image of-

“You made me look like you!?” I howled, swinging towards Taxi who was laying on her back in a gigglefit that had her gasping for breath.

She sniggered, holding her stomach with both forelegs. “Damn right! Just be glad I didn’t ask Minox to be my date for the evening. He’d be very confused. And maybe a little frisky.”

“How much did this even cost? Is this an illusion or did you actually...” I trailed off, staring at myself. Despite the horror swirling in my stomach, I had to admit: It really was a good likeness.

“Oh, it cost somepony plenty, I’m sure... and no, it’s just visual. You’re still ‘you’ under there. I just told Requisitions what and who it was for and they gave it to me for free!” She tumbled over in another spasm of mirth. Swift managed to keep herself to a barely contained grin, which made her look like she was having gastrointestinal difficulties.

“I’m not going out like this!” I scowled at both of them, crossing my forelegs over my chest and sitting down.

“Yes, yes you are! Conscious or not, you’re going to the Castle tonight. Consider this your comeuppance for that stunt you pulled.”

Which stunt?” I asked, confused.

“Any of them! All of them! Now let’s go before we’re late.”

Grabbing my hat and coat, Taxi shoved the fedora on, uncomfortably mashing my ears then threw the jacket loosely around my shoulders.

Swift swung her sack of candy over one shoulder and opened my apartment door. A foal in full medieval regalia charged past, his sack hanging from a plastic lance.

“Well, sir, I just want you to know I think you look absolutely lovely.” My partner said with real sincerity.

Putting a hoof to my throat I rubbed it lightly. “Why does my voice still sound like it usually does? Don’t tell me you couldn’t spring for a fix for that.”

“I could have... but it’s a lot funnier this way.” My driver snickered, re-arranging her fetching black skirt over her hips.

---

Dusk was just settling in. Driving through my pleasantly peaceful neighborhood, I watched as colts and fillies dragged put-upon parents or wheezing grandparents from door to door whilst loading up on enough sugar to put them in comas for the next week straight.

The thundering echo of gunpowder resounded along the city streets. On any other night, that would be cause to dive for cover, or would at least herald a long night for some unlucky detective. Tonight, that gunpowder was inside firecrackers and party poppers, being gaily tossed by foals pretending to divert Nightmare Moon.

Even the criminals and unsavory elements seemed to get in the spirit. Three ponies I recognized mostly from their mug shots stood in changeling costumes on a corner, passing out treats to squealing kids. Community service hours on holidays were always just a little bit easier, and parole officers tended to look the other way if they had a few drinks during the celebrations.

It was a good night and, despite myself, I was glad Taxi had managed to drag me out of the house.

Then I eyed my reflection, took a deep breath, and fortified myself against the terrors to come.

---

Nightmare Night is that special evening every year when every pony gets to let their inner monster out. In the case of the Detrot Police Department, this meant letting Slip Stitch off his leash. He’d outdone himself.

We drove beneath the portcullis, which had been done up to look like opening jaws of a dragon, and I couldn’t help but smile. It bore a striking resemblance to another large reptile of my recent acquaintance, minus a ridiculous excess of makeup and with a much fiercer expression than I had ever associated with that other serpent.

A group of mismatched creatures stood at curbside as various vehicles pulled through. Taxi pulled us to a stop in front of the Castle itself... and then could only gape at the changes Stitch had managed with only a single day and the efforts of the Detrot Police Department administrative staff.

The Castle had become a monstrosity ripped right from the darkest days of pony history. Griffins in full war gear circled the tower, shining talon-carried lights on the illusory bodies of great star-beasts. Unicorns on the rooftops seemed to battle with them, firing bolts of lightning into the air as the creatures tore at the battlements. That the beasts never seemed to do any damage was immaterial; it was still an impressive sight.

On the central spire’s onion shaped roof stood the Eternal Night herself: Nightmare Moon, larger than she’d ever been in life and with her blue-fire mane spilling down the sides of the building. The fangs of the gratuitously sized alicorn glistened in the full moon Luna had provided for just this night.

I didn’t wonder where Slip got the energy to do this, nor did I wonder where he got the money. The budget might have gotten cut down like an overgrazed lawn in recent years, but even the most tightfisted Equestrian accountant can be counted on to cheerfully loosen the pursestrings when given a good excuse to celebrate.

As I stepped out of the car, a four legged tree beast with a tiny red fez handed Taxi a ticket while surreptitiously staring at my flank. I was about to ask what he found so damn interesting about my cutie mark, then remembered exactly how I looked at that moment and just ground my teeth together.

The cobblestones in the paths outside were letting off an eerie glow, which was a fantastic effect; it would probably save the drunken lives of several ponies who might otherwise stumble into the road. A few revelers looked to be well on their way to a classic ‘Hardy’ morning, cuddled up with a glass bottle and an open gutter.

My driver tugged on my tail lightly. I turned around, and when I saw what she had in her teeth I started to back away, but ended up just letting out a loud yelp as I felt Swift suddenly land on my back.

“Hold him! Hold him, dammit!” Taxi snarled.

A foreleg snaked around my throat and I tried to buck, but the pegasus was a wiry little thing, and held on long enough to keep me busy while Taxi went in for a police take-down, forcing me onto my stomach as I tried to pull away. “No! No, seriously, not necessary! Sweets, you don’t have to do this!” I pleaded.

“Your mouth or it’s going in your eyes!”

All my struggles between the two were for naught. She held my head still with her forehooves as she carefully applied a thin layer of lipstick to my muzzle. As she finished, Swift leapt off my back and huddled to the ground, whimpering.

“Sorry, sir!” My partner squeaked. “She made me do it!”

“Sure she did. Traitor.” I grumbled, then lifted her to her hooves and straightened her costume. “You do look good, kid. Come on. I’d rather get in there and start drinking now so I can get on towards forgetting most of what happens tonight.”

A smile peeked from her lips. I gave her a wink, which for some reason made her blush damn near fuschia.

“Sir, you’re very pretty as a mare.” She murmured softly.

“I’ll... try to take that as a compliment.”

****

Swift headed into the Castle ahead of me, her silly pointed tail swishing along behind her. Taxi tossed a leg around my shoulders and dragged me towards the doors.

“Let’s go, my little harlot! Your admiring audience awaits!” Taxi giggled, ruffling my mane.

Harlot? I look like you, remember?”

She didn’t seem to care; she was practically juicing herself with delight as a tentacled creature held open the heavy door for us, checked our invitations, then waved us through. At that point, I wished I’d thought to burn mine, but that was before I saw what had been done to the castle interior.

I had to stop and take in the incredible changes wrought by magic and the absolutely deranged imagination of a psychotic party fiend. It was magnificent in its absurdity and, like all things involving our coroner, really did a number on one’s expectations.

The vast throne room had been cleared of cubicles and office rubbish. It took a minute to start to make out individual shapes in the great seething darkness. Some brilliant, crazy botanist had somehow transplanted, either magically or with a lot of back-ache, an entire forest indoors. It was the sort of darkly brooding wood that haunts childhood nightmares, with branches arching overhead forming a canopy through which a creepy blue light filtered, like the moonlight outside. Far above, the File Cloud, normally used to store documents and evidence, was now taking the role of special effects; It rumbled and shot occasional lightning that illuminated the forest. For the good of all eardrums present, actual thunder was kept to a minimum.

Between the trees, servers bearing trays of drink and nibbles roamed amongst dozens of chatting, cocktail-slurping beings dressed in all manner of sexy, scary, or just outrageous costumes. If there were ever a city-wide emergency on a Nightmare Night, it would likely have been handled by the most mad and eclectic police force ever seen by pony eyes.

A representative example emerged from the dim lightning: a frightful changeling matriarch, her scaly black carapace glistening in the dark and her stringy blue-green mane rustling in the light breezes, swept up to my side. She had four champagne glasses floating in the air behind her and a microphone headset clamped down around her neck.

“Taxi? Oh, Taxi ith that you? Wow, you look amathing! How’d you get your mane to do that?” The changeling demon asked with a hint of a lisp; The voice was that familiar old inflection from far down the police communications pipeline, but she seemed to be having trouble talking through a pair of huge, silly looking fangs.

“Telly? I didn’t even recognize you!” Sweets patted her mane and grinned. “This is a secret I only tell my closest friends... I used a magical cement. I’ll put the solvent in later!”

“Doethn’t that hurt your fur?” The changeling/radio operator asked, then spat out the fangs into her hoof. “Sorry, these look great but they make talking a royal bitch.”

“Nope, doesn’t hurt your fur one bit!... and yes, the teeth do look great. How’ve you been?”

“Oh, fine, fine... won’t you introduce me to your friends? I recognize Officer Swift over there. Looking fine, miss dragon! You’ll pick up a stallion tonight, easy!” Telly winked at my partner, who ducked her nose and pretended to have a piece of candy stuck in her teeth. “Who is this other one then? My, my, she’s a lovely thing!”

Taxi covered her mouth, barely managing to hold in a peal of laughter. “This? Heh, this is my date for the night. Hard Boiledweena.”

“Hard... Boiled... weena...” Telly’s eyes slowly widened. “Get out of town... Hard Boiled?!

“Keep your voice down!” I hissed.

“No way! I should have recognized that silly hat you never go anywhere without.” She squealed, sloshing champagne over her own hooves. I could smell on her breath that she’d had more than one or two already and Telly is not a quiet pony when she’s toasted. “Is that some sort of magic spell? You’re waaay too hot to just be cross dressing! Ooh, and you look like... hee... you look like Taxi...”

“Can we skip straight to the part where you offer me alcohol?” I grumbled, holding my hoof out.

“Sure thing, beautiful.” Telly drifted the thin stem over and held it for me while I drank the entire thing in one gulp. “I’d take you home later, but I’m in the mood for a stud this evening.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek then vanished back into the forest; an insectoid succubus off to hunt a mate or a meal. Or both at once.

As I watched pleasingly shaped flanks retreating into the woods, It occurred to me that said mate or meal might not have been an entirely unlucky soul. I contemplated curvature until Swift reached up and quickly closed my sagging jaw. “Sir, you’re drooling a little...”

Apparently, my salivary glands agreed. I slurped, wiped my lips, then marched down the steps towards the forest trying to cover the burning on my cheeks. I found a quick cover story; Food.

“I’m just hungry, kid. There’s sure to be a buffet spread around here; let’s go find some grub.”

“What, now?” said Taxi, who was casting glances between her antique pocketwatch and Chief Jade’s office, a stained glass-festooned royal audience chamber above the raised dais where Celestia’s summer throne once lay. "The show is about to start!”

I got as far as “What sh—” before the File Cloud let out a blast of thunder that almost flattened me against the ground. I swung my gaze around to see Telly, back behind her control console on one side of the throne room, turning dials and adjusting knobs as she gave life and fury to the storm.

Another lightning blast made sure the Cloud had everypony’s attention. A tense silence settled over the crowd as all eyes turned upwards between the bare leafed branches of the small forest, towards the Chief’s Office. Several panels of the stained glass window slid back into the wall and the lights further dimmed until near complete darkness reigned.

“You all know this night!” The voice, magically amplified and enhanced, filled the room and sent a shiver down my spine. It was Telly’s voice coming from somewhere up above, but in the swirling blackness there was nothing to see. “You have come to celebrate! To hide your faces and pray that Nightmare Moon never returns to devour your souls! But I tell you, there are worse things in the deep night than she!”

The voice drew in a breath. “This is it, fillies and gentlecolts! Your matron of mayhem, your empress of fear... I give you your mistress of ceremonies, The Skeleton Queen!”

Lightning flashed. Somewhere in my hindbrain, in the place all those instincts we never give up entirely love to hide, I felt a pang of real, thrilling fear. Police Chief Iris Jade hung over the crowd in a glow of violet light as the carefully controlled stormfront blasted the walls with arcane power at predetermined points marked by lightning rods. Overall, the effect was perfect. My stomach turned to jelly almost immediately.

The unicorn’s bones glowed through her flesh, giving the impression of a moving, living x-ray. I wondered what spell she’d cast to get them to do that, then decided I didn’t really want to know. It probably involved sacrificing something.

She descended slowly to the ground, then stood at the top of the dais in front of the throne, raising her forehooves as she reared up on her back legs. “My children!” she began, and my bowels clenched again; I could hear her perfectly despite the distance. “Your Queen is here! And tonight, I call on you to be glad I am in a benevolent mood! I see into each of you, and I see you are afraid... but here, in my hall, in my woods, and within the grounds of my Castle, you will be safe from the evils outside! Pray I do not change my mind! Meanwhile, celebrate and make merry! Let the music... begin!”

Telly’s skillful hooves and horn practically flew as a wild, animalistic beat crackled from the speaker system. The crowd let out a whoop and the dancing began in earnest.

****

I finished stacking a third portion of pickles over top of a towering sandwich that wobbled precariously from side to side. Swift was hovering around the small carnivore’s outlay on one end of the buffet, trying to look like she hadn’t been sniping bits of roast duck and stuffing them into her candy-bag. Taxi was off somewhere in the forest: I caught glimpses of her now and then, following orders and making herself very merry.

I’d just seen Iris Jade being greeted by various dignitaries, so I decided I was relatively safe to have something to eat, and that I did not need to hide behind a pillar to avoid a heated and needlessly telekinetic discussion on the ‘unorthodox methodology’ I’d used to solve the Orb Weaver case. Of course, this being my life, that was the moment the ‘Skeleton Queen’ trotted up beside me at the buffet table.

She levitated a stalk of celery smeared in peanut butter to her muzzle, and bit the end off with the sound I’d always imagined certain parts of my anatomy would make if she ever got really angry. Her gaze flitted towards my hat, then down at my trenchcoat, then over towards Swift sitting in the corner loudly chewing the spicy meat and taking unhealthily large swigs of the cheap champagne.

A look of chilling joy spread across Jade’s skull-face. “Hard... Boiled.” She sang, tossing the celery over her shoulder and into a garbage can without looking. “I knew Miss Taxi was a clever pony, but this... She even went for the bonus, I see! I would have sworn I’d never get you into lipstick short of drugging you.”

“You... You did this?!” My voice rose precariously close to a shriek. A few people glanced at us, but apparently decided that the spectacle of a screaming argument with the Chief was utterly routine, and went back to their drinks.

She licked her chops. “Why, of course! Who do you think told Requisitions to release that wonderful dye? I had only the one box left, and the zebra who designed it is currently spending a lengthy sentence in Tartarus Correctional, so I shan’t be getting more... but I think this was worth it. You should feel honored that I felt the need to make certain you were ‘properly dressed’ for tonight, Hardy!”

Jade could be capricious, clever, and sometimes altogether cruel, and I realized I should have seen her hoof in my driver’s machinations.

I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of seeing just how thoroughly she’d gotten my goat. Casually, I stuck a pickle in the side of my mouth and crunched it noisily. “Mmm, could be worse. Anyway, you want to let me get back to my meal? Slip Stitch did a sweet job with the catering. Speaking of, where is his high freakiness anyway? I haven’t seen him.”

A frown crossed her thin features. “You know, now you mention it, I haven’t either. He never misses a party, especially one he’s throwing himself. Last I heard he was headed down to storage to pick up some extra supplies.” She brightened. “Why don’t you go find him?”

I almost choked on the pickle. “Screw that! Day off!”

“Oh, Hardy...” Iris Jade wet her lips, gleefully. “It’s Nightmare Night and I’m... heh... The Skeleton Queen. I doubt anypony would bat an eye if I were to send the griffin consul home with a few extra doggy bags worth of flesh.” Her voice rose a couple of pitches and she threw a leg across her forehead dramatically. “It was awful! To find out that one of our fine officers fell into the industrial meat grinder! I’d just talked to him an hour earlier too!” She abruptly dropped the mocking voice. “Last I saw, Stitch was heading for the kitchen. Ta-ta!”

That was an ongoing issue with working for Chief Jade. Nightmare night or not, I could never tell with absolute certainty when she was being humorous. Either way, she moved off towards the crowd leaving me to consider defiance and death or hunting down the strangest pony alive on his personal favorite night of the year.

I set my sandwich back on the buffet table and gave it a despondent nudge. “Celestia bugger me. Not fair.” I pulled off my hat and waved it until I got Swift’s attention. The miniature dragon quickly forced down what she was chewing, then hopped to her hooves. “Kid, you mind helping me hunt up Slip Stitch?”

“Sir? I... um...can I hang out here for a little while longer?” Her eyes were drifting towards a plate of steaming sliced chicken. She shuffled her hooves self-consciously.

I rolled my eyes, grabbed the platter, and shoveled the whole thing into her satchel. She let out an ecstatic exhalation of surprise, then covered herself as I closed the drawstring on her satchel before one of the waiters could do more than give us a suspicious stink eye.

I gave her a firm poke in the ribs and pointed over the forest towards the general direction of the kitchens. “Are we good to go or do you want to try to grab that turkey too?”

She didn’t answer but stuck her nose into her bag and inhaled a deep whiff. “We-we’re good to go... um... Sir.”

I rubbed the side of my head and groaned. “Sometimes, kid, you are one creepy little pony.”

She nipped playfully in my direction. “Tonight, sir, I’m a dragon!”

****

The kitchens were absolutely bustling with activity. White-shirted chefs galloped between long rows of dishes and hot burners, shuffling plates and washing dirty things. It was ordered chaos at its best.

A towering female griffin seemed to be in charge. I determined this when she grabbed us by the scruffs and demanded to know why we’d invaded her realm on threat of immediate roasting. When mollified that we were not here to disrupt her perfect disorder, she directed us towards a back door beside the freezers.

Inside was a dank set of stairs, descending into the mold-ridden bowels of the Castle. It might have been a dungeon at one point, though I’d never known Celestia to go for locking ponies up. Outside of that one instance involving our nearest orbiting planetary body.

A set of dimly flickering gems in the walls provided enough illumination to see, but the stone steps were still treacherous. Swift had to grab my tail to steady me after what could have turned into a particularly nasty slip. We finally made it to the bottom and faced a row of disused holding cells, each one stacked almost to the ceiling with food. They’d tried to clean up down here, but the air still smelled faintly of fungus and underground lifeforms from which the mind recoils.

“Sir? Are you sure Mr. Stitch is down here?” Swift asked uncertainly as she stuck another piece of cooked bird in her mouth.

I didn’t reply. Instead, I shouted down the hall, “Hey, Stitch! You down here?” then turned my head to listen; after the echo died, a second voice came back. It sounded badly muffled and far off, but someone was there. I tried to get a better feel for where the other speaker might by trotting forward a few steps...

...And then, whiteness.

An explosion of light blinded me and a shockwave seemed to take me off my hooves. For a brief minute I was certain I’d walked into one of Slip Stitch’s party traps gone wrong. Maybe he’d fudged the recipe, or added just a little too much gunpowder to the mix. I wasn’t in any pain, though, and I knew that had to be there pain, unless he’d killed me outright.

Wouldn’t that have been ironic? Chief Jade might have missed her chance. It occurred to me that she might have been the one who set it up, but then, if she had, she’d want me to suffer more. And she’d want to watch.

When I realized I’d had time to have all of these thoughts and still hadn’t hit the stone or a wall, I tried to call out. No sound left my mouth, nor did I seem to have one. That strangeness lasted just long enough for the word ‘horseapples’ to form in what I hoped was still my forebrain.

Then I was back: lips, mouth, and body. All those precious little squishy bits! I patted my chest, then my mane and ears just to make sure it all hadn’t been alphabetized, or mystically rearranged in some other unsightly fashion, but no, they were even in the right order!

“Celestia, I take back all the things I said about buggering me,” I said, with eyes rolled towards the heavens; unfortunately, there weren’t any heavens to talk to. Just more faceless, slippery stone.

I was inside one of the cell blocks, the thick iron bars in front of me. The door was closed with one of those detestable enchanted locks that even the most skilled pony with a hairpin can’t jimmy. Not that it would have mattered either way; I didn’t have a hairpin and Taxi is the one with the criminal skillset.

“Erg... sir... what happened?” Swift said from somewhere nearby. It was when I took a step back that I figured out where “nearby” was, as I tripped over my partner and fell into a stack of light wooden boxes.She’d been almost under my hooves with the

An uncorked bottle on top of one of the crates rolled over and spilled a frothy stream of spiced pumpkin rum straight into my open mouth. I spat, gagged, then rolled over and began wiping my face. Pausing. I picked up the bottle and took a quick swig.

“Ugh, oh... mmm, that’s pretty good.” The drink helped me gather my wits in record time. “I think we were just teleported.” I replied, dusting off my coat.

“Quite so!”

A cheerful voice spoke three inches above my left ear, and again, my gun not being on my leg probably saved a life. I dropped onto my knees and rolled over onto my side in a position to buck my assailant’s head into next week, but no one was there. There were a few seconds of confusion while I righted myself, then looked around for who’d spoken. Swift struggled to get onto all fours, a task made all the more awkward by the presence of that silly draconic head on her costume having been pulled down over her eyes. A hoof she’d blindly placed in the puddle of pumpkin rum slid merrily out from under her, and she flopped onto the ground again.

Detrot City Chief Pathologist Slip Stitch sat on top of one of the crates stacked up near the ceiling, his rear legs crossed one over the other and a bag of toffee peanuts in his lap. He’d painted his robin’s-egg blue pelt with black and white stripes that ran right down the middle of his back to his tail. His mane of electric white seemed to have something worked into it that wasn’t so much ‘controlling’ it as encouraging the mass of insane fuzz into a less chaotic arrangement. He wore a top-hat and a disconcertingly smiling skull painted over his face.

“Stitch... Celestia save me, you damn near gave me a heart attack!” I shouted up at him. How he’d even gotten up to that seemingly unclimbable position at all was a mystery, let alone how he’d been in a position to yell into my ear three seconds ago.

“Apologies, Detective! I’ll be right down.” He slid out of sight.

I began helping Swift up and trying to wring the rum out of her silly plush tail with both hooves.

“Sir, do you have any idea what happened?” She asked, nervously.

“Not a clue. This might be one of Jade’s ideas of a joke. Wouldn’t put it past her to leave me in a dungeon for a couple of hours with Slip Stitch.” I grumbled.

“S-sir? Y-you told me he was... just fumes!” she squeaked, twirling to face me. “I imagined him giving me an eyeball popsicle! You said that wasn’t real!

“And fumes were involved,” I assured her, “but Slip Stitch is real enough. Either way, mission accomplished.”

Swift pushed the hood part of her costume back onto her neck. “I’m not sure how I feel about that, sir... but... I suppose we have bigger things to worry about. Where are we?”

“Let’s look around a bit. Might be something in here to tell us.”

We began exploring our cell. It was actually surprisingly spacious for being what it was, and stacked wall to wall with anonymous wooden packing crates. Experimentally shoving the top off of one revealed what had to be six months worth of food: Buttered popcorn, more toffee peanuts, cupcake flavored vodka, and, best of all, a full basket of designer bagels in all the flavors of the rainbow.

“At least we’re not going to starve if we’re stuck in here for a bit.” I commented, pulling out a bagel and an unopened bottle of alcohol. Hooking the top on one of the crates I popped it open, then swallowed a few muzzlefuls of crisp, clean vodka. It made me feel better right up until I caught my face reflected in the bottle. The dim, industrial lighting was enough to see by, and seeing Taxi staring back at me nearly made me drop my drink.

Slip Stitch appeared at my elbow with the kind of stealth only mice and kittens should be able to manage.

“Ahhh, Detective! It’s excellent to have company. I was getting ever so lonely down here. I must say, your costume is rather special, isn’t it? Beautiful look for you if I do say so myself.” He enthused, snapping up the vodka and taking a few hearty belts. “Mmm, just the stuff, no? There are certainly worse places to be entrapped, though I do hope my guests aren’t missing me.”

“I think your guests are fine. Half of them are so drunk they’d have trouble finding their own plots with six hooves and an atlas. You have any idea why we’re stuck in here?” I asked, pulling a small box over and dropping my rump onto it.

“Yes, it is an odd place, isn’t it? Cell blocks from the Pre-Lunar Return age of Detrot.” He tapped at one of bars lightly and sparks shot off of it, dribbling down to the floor. “No idea what they were built to contain, but it wasn’t ponies. The door is alchemically enchanted and the bars are a funny alloy that does not like being kicked. High pressure attacks give a nasty shock. I think we stumbled into an anti-breakout measure.”

“You mean you think you’ve escaped, get to the exit, and then it teleports you in here?” Swift said, thinking.

“Precisely.” Slip Stitch bobbed his head, tossing another peanut into his mouth and crunching at it. “I believe the door might be opened by a unicorn. We were using it for storage for the party mind you, so somepony will be along eventually.”

Just as he finished that prophetic statement there was a flash and a pop, followed by a stumbling, slatternly Flankenstein’s monster, staggering off of the spot Swift and I had just occupied. Her mane was out of place and her lipstick was smeared on one side. I hoped she hadn’t kissed anypony important, though on reflection, it might help us in future investigations if she had.

“Whooo... that punch was stronger than I thought!” Taxi putting her hoof on her chest and belched so loudly it rattled my fillings. “Oh, hey... heh... y-you look like me, don’tcha? C’mere pretty girl, give us a kiss!”

I leapt back, out of her flailing reach. “Taxi, it’s me! How many have you had?”

My driver blinked her eyes blearily a few times. “Hardy? Awww...damn...I only had a... hic... couple...”

“A couple what?” I said, trying not to raise my voice.

“Couple bottles! Why? Oof, how’d I get down here? I was lookin’ for you and Jade said you’d gone downstairs. That big griffin lady in the kitchen pointed me this way.”

“There’s some kind of old security system on the door. We tripped over it and it dropped us here. Seems you hit the same thing.” I explained.

“Eee, yes. We’ve... gotten ourselves into some minor trouble here methinks. No worries though! By tomorrow, somepony will have discovered the situation and shall let us out.” Slip Stitch said, sounding not even vaguely annoyed by the idea of being locked in a dungeon all night long fifty feet from the lavish gathering he'd planned. Of course, I’d never seen Stitch perturbed. Anything that could ruffle his mane was likely to send anypony else running for any available hills.

Taxi, however, often had her mane ruffled by Slip Stitch’s mere presence.

“Slip Stitch? Awww, four oceans of manticore piss...” Trotting over to the door she began inspecting it. “Are we locked in here? Don’t tell me we’re locked in here! I don’t wanna hear... hic... that I’m locked in an underground cell with my boss and a lunatic on Nightmare Night!”

“Insults aside, Miss Taxi, we seem to be and I should warn you-” Stitch began.

Before anypony could stop her, Taxi whirled and delivered a full-power two-hoof buck to the lock. Lights flashed, sparks danced, and then my driver was laying in a heap at my hooves, her eyes rolling in opposite directions.

“-the lock is a teeeeny tiny bit irritable.”

The door was still letting off some threatening arcs of electricity, so I pulled Taxi a short distance away.

“Oooh, yikes...what a rush!” Taxi mumbled, her mane smoking. I patted out the little smoldering patch and helped her to four unsteady hooves. “That kicks worse than the tequila.”

She took a bit to gather herself together then began looking around the cell in greater detail. Naturally, one of the first things she located was an upturned container of rum; she immediately sat down and began slurping from it. Grabbing a whole pie from one of the tables, she tore the lid off and scooped out a bit on her hoof, stuffing it into her muzzle.

“Sweets, you know what booze and sugar does to you...” I said, warningly.

“Yeah?! What’re you gonna do about it?!” She got up, then found standing not to her taste and flopped down again. “Yahknow, this reminds me of something.”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose and sighed. “What’s that, Sweets?”

“Heh, you remember when we met the princess?” Taxi said, giggling drunkenly. “You remember? She was so... so rad!”

Swift’s blinked at the two of us. Surprisingly, her first question was not about Taxi's use of the word 'rad,' because it would have been mine. “Sir, you’ve met Princess Celestia?!”

I shook my head. “The other princess... and yeah, once. Both of us did, actually... Not that Sweets made the best first impression.” I turned to my hammered driver. “I’m glad you’ve learned some self control since then; I thought she was going to send you straight to the damn moon.

“Oh come on!” Taxi whined, wiping some crumbs off of her chest. “She wouldn’t really have done that. I was just being observant.”

“Your version of ‘observant’ is most ponies’ version of ‘poking around in their heads.’ She caught you, too.” I replied.

“It wasn’t like she had to do that... whatever it was she did... to everypony there.” Taxi rebutted.

“Taxi, you tried to stick your nose into the brain of one of Equestria’s rulers. You’re lucky it wasn’t Celestia! Who knows what she’d have done!”

“Awww, get stuffed, Hardy.” Taxi snickered, flipping her mane back. “Whatever little trick she pulled that made you get on your knees wasn’t the worst thing that happened that night.”

“Really?” Swift asked, her eyes wide with wonder.

The memories were starting to make me cringe. “Yeah, really... and I don’t want to think about—”

Taxi pulled a piece of cotton candy out of one of the open bags and winged it at my head. “Hey! Look, it was still the best night ever, even with all that... and it was Nightmare Night then, too. You remember that tale she told us, right? I’m too plastered to tell everything, and if I get bored I’m liable to start a food fight. You wanna be pretty and sticky? Tell the story!”

Slip Stitch picked up two bottles of hard lemonade, wrenching the tops off with his teeth and setting one near Swift’s leg. “Yes, I find myself most curious. As much as I enjoy a good culinary brawl, I was unaware Princess Luna made a habit of associating with our city’s constabulatory body.”

“She doesn’t. We were kids at the time and... damnit, can’t we just be miserable in peace and quiet?!” I shouted.

“Well, sir... it might make the time go faster if you tell us the story.” Swift said softly, picking up the drink and sipping from it. Smacking her lips she examined the bottle. “Mmm, this is tasty!”

I was cornered. My opponents had estrogen, alcohol, and insanity on their sides. Three forces, immutable when united.

“Fine!” I said, throwing up my hooves in defeat. “But if I’m going to tell this, give me a bottle.”

Taxi passed me her rum bottle and grabbed another. My partner dragged over her own crate and began tugging off one of her reptile-webbed wing covers; setting it aside, she began fastidiously preening her feathers with her teeth. Slip Stitch unraveled a small snack cake from its packaging and stuffed the entire thing into his mouth.

I drew my coat tightly around myself, sipped some of the pleasingly tart alcohol, and tried to think where to begin.

“Hmmm... Heh... how about this: ‘Far back in history, there was a time one might have called me ‘cute...’”


The gramophone spun up slowly, and a scary violin melody spilled out of it, spreading through the house. The last decorations had been put up, the pumpkins were carved, pie was cooling on the windowsill, and homework was finished. Now, if only the final ingredient to a perfect Nightmare Night would get home already.

“Mooom! When is dad getting back? We’re going to be late!” Hard Boiled Junior called for the sixth time in as many minutes.

He lay on his back on his bed, studying his grey hooves, then flailed them at the ceiling to make the shadows from his lamp shift into the faces of ghosts and ghouls. His room was beginning to feel smaller by the minute and he was antsy to get moving. There was candy to be had and he was missing it! Every minute was another sweet treat that slipped through his hooves!

“He’ll be here when he’s here, Junior! Just be patient!” His mother, Dovetail, called back from the kitchen. She sounded harried and her normally sweet voice was tinged with irritation.

Junior groaned impatiently, but knew better than to press the issue. His mother was the sweetest and most beautiful mare in the whole of Equestria, but when she got mad, even zombie ponies knew better than to stick around.

Zombie ponies! Maybe if he was smart, he’d get a cutie-mark in zombie hunting. Nightmare Night was the best time for that, after all. Everypony knew that. He looked down at his blank rear end, stroking the spot his cutie-mark would be one day. The expanse of off-white fur seemed so empty and boring. Most of his friends at school had theirs already.

He began adjusting his costume again, making sure each individual button was perfectly aligned. The police uniform had been his dad’s idea after all; even if it wasn’t as cool as some of the kids at school who were going as their favorite members of the Wonderbolts, it was still pretty neat. Junior stepped in front of his bedroom mirror and struck a pose.

“Zombies? Why, yes ma’am, I’ll handle them straight away!” Throwing his shoulders back he rose up on his rear hooves in one of the fighting poses he’d seen in his comic books, launching a shadow kick at an invisible enemy. “Hiyah!”

Plink.

Junior let out a very un-policepony-like yelp and dove for his bed, pulling the covers over his head. The trotting dead were right outside his window!

On second thought, maybe zombie hunting could be left to somepony else. Zombies are dangerous after all and everypony knows there is no better protection than blankets.

A few seconds later, there was another 'plink.' Wait a second, he thought to himself, zombies don’t throw rocks.

Pulling himself up he tossed off his blanket and went to the window, peering out into the darkness. It took a second for his eyes to adjust to the dim evening light. There didn’t seem to be anything in the narrow strip of grass between his house and the neighbor’s fence except a couple of pumpkins. One of them did seem to have acquired a funny yellow lump though.

The lump moved in a flash and a pebble bounced off of the glass. Undoing the latch, Junior braced his hooves and threw the window open.

“Shiny?! Shiny, is that you out there?” He called out.

Sweet Shine poked her head up from behind the orange vegetable. She was just small enough to fit behind it.

“Shiny, why are you throwing rocks?” Junior asked, raising his voice slightly.

Looking both directions, Sweet Shine darted across the lawn and stood below the roof. “Lower the rope, doofus! I’m trying not to be seen!” She replied.

Pulling his head back in, Junior considered his options. Shiny and he had been friends forever. Like, a whole year. They had something in common which made them prime ‘friend’ material, at least according to Shiny: neither of them was super popular in school because their dads were scary.

His dad was a police pony and her dad was a jerk, so it made a certain sense. He’d just gone along with it because the alternative was some very lonely lunches, even if, like most girls, she talked way too much.

One thing he’d never banked on when he agreed to be her friend, however, was her tendency to show up at all hours, unannounced. She was a year younger than he was, so maybe it was just one of those things girls grow out of. He certainly hoped it was. Of course, even if she didn't, it didn't matter. Being a colt — and one day, a stallion — meant taking things ‘Very Seriously,’ as his dad often told him, and there was nothing more serious than friendship. Even if did sometimes meant losing some sleep.

Thankfully, she wasn’t crying. The nights she came to his window in tears were always kind of stressful, even if he secretly liked taking care of her just a little. He’d never tell anypony that, of course.

In the end, the decision was easy: He couldn’t very well leave her out there in the autumn chill.

Out of his closet, he tugged four scavenged jump ropes that’d been tied together by the handles. He threw one loop around his bedpost, tossed the other end out of the window, then put his forehooves on the windowsill. He felt the line take up slack then began hauling for all he was worth. The rope rasped at the edge of the sill, pulling the canary colored filly with it. Getting one forehoof over the side, she managed to throw one rear leg up and scramble into his room, tumbling onto her rear end with a thump — one too loud to completely avoid parental notice.

Junior raised one ear, waiting for the inevitable; Indeed, his mother called from the other end of the house, “Sweety, one of these days you’re going to have to teach Miss Shine to use the front door!”

“Yes, Mom!” He yelled back.

“Shine, darling, are you staying for dinner?”

“Um... maybe, Miss Dove!” Sweet Shine replied, carefully coiling up the jump rope and stuffing it back in Junior’s closet.

“Alright, wash up in a half hour. Junior, that means you too! Your dad should be home by then.”

“Yeeees, Mooom...”

It had become almost routine. Shiny would appear at his door at strange hours, but for some reason his parents never objected strenuously. His dad had been angrier when Junior had tried to get his cutie mark in lumberjacking than he was the first time Shiny crawled through the window at 1 AM and curled up at the foot of Junior’s bed.

Certainly, they’d never tried to stop her, even if they’d have prefered she find a better way of getting in. The front door wasn’t an option, though: it faced Shiny’s house. If she was sneaking, it meant her dad was having one of his ‘bad’ days and she needed to make herself scarce.

It was just another one of those ‘adult mysteries’ Junior never really felt the need to look into too heavily, like why his parents’ bedroom always smelled funny after he’d spent a weekend at his grandmare’s house.

“Oooh, Hardy, you look just like your dad in that!” Shiny exclaimed, running around him and inspecting from all sides.

“I do not!” Junior squirmed as Shiny got too close, sticking her nose into his pockets to see if there was any authentic policing gear in them. “Oof, stop that! Where’s your costume?” He asked, trying to distract her.

Her expression drooped and she slumped to the floor. “I don’t have one.”

“What? Aren’t your parents taking you out trick-or-treating?”

Shiny gave him a deadpan look. “My parents? Really?"

Junior’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Okay, so maybe not. You at least told your mom where you’re going to be, right?”

“Errr... I left a note?”

“Where did you leave the note?” Junior asked, suspiciously.

“Um...” Shiny’s eyes danced back and forth as she backed up against his bed. “Maybe... I... in... uh...”

“You didn’t leave a note, did you?”

The filly’s tail flapped back and forth then she slumped. “...no...”

“Good work, kiddo. You’re going to be grounded until Celestia gets bored and the sun goes out.” Junior gave her a little push and she shoved him back twice as hard; he almost fell over.

“Hey, you want to go trick-or-treating alone tonight?” She snapped, indignantly.

“Well, no... but who says I’m takin’ you?” He asked, straightening his uniform.

Shiny stuck out her lower lip and whimpered like a lost puppy. He could tell she was about to bring to bear the secret superpower all girls have to defeat a boy’s superior physical strength: waterworks.

Not that Shiny was much weaker than he was. She was a scrapper, and they’d gotten into more than a few wrestling matches where he’d come out on the bottom. Still, there was no beating a weepy girl.

“Okay, okay! Fine! We’ve got to get you a costume though.” He relented, turning and throwing open his closet again. “We could just cover you in super-glue and feathers. You could go as a turkey...”

“Yeah, I think not.” Shiny rebuffed, poking her head in alongside him.

“What about a ghost? Cut two holes in some fabric. Classics are best, right?” He suggested, pulling out a ratty sheet from the bottom of the pile.

“What about me is ‘classic’, Hardy? Wow, do you keep all your clothes?” She picked up a small sports jacket Hardy wore when he was still in diapers, turning it around with mild amusement.

“Mom makes me keep everything. She doesn’t like getting rid of cute things and my baby-clothes are apparently adorable... blech.” Junior stuck his tongue out as he shifted aside another pile of disused clothing intermingled with toys. His closet was a disaster, but that’s how he liked it. It meant his mother usually gave up ambitions of trying to make him dress fancy.

Something rolled out from under the mess, bumping against Shiny’s hooves. She sat, picking it up and examining it. “What’s this thing?”

“Oh... yeah. It’s a crystal ball.” He went to take it back and the filly held it away, waiting for a more complete answer. “Ugh...I don’t know. Some mare my mom used to know who worked as fortune teller gave it to her. She was her best customer.”

Shiny stared into the glass ball, mesmerized by its scintillating surface. “I... I think I should take this with us tonight.”

“What? Why?” Junior sat back, tilting his head curiously.

“I d-don’t know. I... uh... I’m going as... as, um... Ooh! That’s what I’ll be! A gypsy!”

“A gypsy?” Junior gave her a quizzical look. “Shiny, is this one of those ‘things’ you ‘feel’ again?”

“Uh... no?”

“Tsk. don’t lie to me, Shiny. You know it never works.” He pointed at her in an accusatory fashion.

She held the crystal ball protectively to her chest. “So? It’s not my fault, okay? I just feel these things sometimes.”

“Look, you can be a ‘gypsy,’ but don’t actually read anypony’s fortune. Just make some stuff up if they ask this time, okay? You remember what happened when you had that little origami folding fortune toy, right? I think the principal was red-faced for a month.”

Shiny gave a petulant hunch of her shoulders. “Well, he shouldn’t have been doing icky things with Miss Apple Balm then! He’s married!”

“People are gonna think you’re a freak if you keep doing that, and they’re gonna think I’m a freak for hanging out with you!”

“So? Who cares what people think?”

“...Whatever.” Junior gave up and pointed at his closet. ”I hope you can make that costume out of what I’ve got in there. We’re not raiding mom’s dresser again, because I got put in timeout for an hour last time we did that.”

“No! No, it’ll be fine.” Shiny assured him. Digging through the mass of clothing produced a number of old scarfs, which she threw around her shoulders. To this ensemble, she added a train conductor cap positioned at a jaunty angle, then dug out some glitter and patted some into her pelt. She inspected herself in the mirror, peering at it as though one last thing was missing... then proceeded to ruffle her mane until it stuck up in all directions.

All in all, it wasn’t the worst gypsy look Junior had ever seen. Not that there were all that many gypsy ponies to give Junior a basis for comparison, but it did the job.

Sticking the crystal ball in her saddle-bag, she adjusted the strap around her middle to take the extra weight.

“Mmm... there we go! Ooh, your dad is almost home... Eee, he’s got a surprise!” Shiny exclaimed, bouncing towards the door.

Junior heaved a sigh and followed the scarf-wrapped filly. He didn’t really feel like questioning how she knew his father was on the way home, or about the existence of the surprise. They’d had that conversation before, many times. It always came down to him trying to apply reason and finding a gaping logical hole, followed by her throwing something at his head. That it was inexplicable never bothered her; she was right and they both knew it.

It was just that simple. Infuriating, but simple.

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