by Samey90

First published

A filly gets murdered in the bat pony district of Canterlot. Scootaloo and Archer take the case.

Bat pony district of Canterlot. It's not a place shown on postcards. In the caves under the town, everything looks different. Life, death, morality... Everything is different, except one thing. Crime.

Canterlot. It’s not Manehattan or Detrot, where poor, little ponies commit their little crimes. In Canterlot, crimes are so big, they go unnoticed. Ponies can’t comprehend them; just like an ant can’t comprehend a pony passing by.

But somepony made a mistake. Small crime; a broken body on the pavement.

Scootaloo and Archer both saw many things in their lives. But this trip will take them to places they wished they didn't know.

Pre-read by Bootsy Slickmane.

Russian translation by repitter:
🇺🇦Google Docs🇺🇦

A part of the Sleepless Continuity. Check the link for the rest of stories, TVTropes page, and other trivia.

Spiral Out

View Online

Scootaloo stretched her wings and looked into the shadowy nook. Archer yawned and trotted to the corner of the street where, despite the late hour, Donut Joe’s shop was still open – the only beacon in the middle of Canterlot night. She came back soon after, with a paper bag in her mouth.

“Really, Archer?” Scootaloo muttered. “Donuts?”

Archer hung the bag on the harness next to her crossbow and said, “We’re guards, Scoots. We eat donuts. We walk through the town at night, looking for trouble. Everyone hates us. Simple as that.”

“Maybe,” Scootaloo replied, reaching for a donut. “Also, what trouble do you want to find here? We’re in the city centre. Worse thing that can happen is a rich kid throwing up on a pavement.”

“Bored?” Archer asked. “We can go to bat ponies if you are willing to become a beverage...”

Scootaloo sighed. “Remember what the boss told us?”

Archer stood in attention. “Bat ponies don’t drink blood and are our friends.” She sighed. “I know that! You see, if the nobles wanted to cooperate with us like some bat ponies do–”

“Speaking of them,” Scootaloo interrupted her, looking at the top of one of the towers of Princess Celestia’s castle. “Seems that we won’t have to go to them...”

Archer followed her cousin’s gaze and saw a dark silhouette hanging upside-down from the tower. “Do you think she sees us?”

“Please,” Scootaloo muttered. “I flew with her once. She dived and swept a rat from the street, while I couldn’t even see the street.”

“A rat?” Archer stopped chewing a donut and looked at it unsurely. “Why did she need a rat?”

“How do you think?” Scootaloo asked. “Go to that cave where bat ponies live. You can buy a grilled rat on a stick on every corner of the street. Well, Schwalbe prefers them raw, but she’s Schwalbe.”

Archer looked at the half of her donut, sighed, and put it back in the bag. “Seems that she heard you calling her name.” She pointed at the tower.

The black silhouette let go of the edge of the roof and spread her wings, gliding above the houses. She took a sharp turn above the street and lowered flight, approaching them.

Schwalbe landed on the pavement and trotted to Scootaloo and Archer. She was much older than them, but she was still in the top form. She waved her wing at them, showing a large scar on it – a souvenir from a changelings’ nest she’d raided somewhere in Germaney. There were a few grey hairs in her dark blue mane and she’d apparently acquired a new scar on her superciliary ridge, running around her eye and down on her cheek.

“Hello,” Schwalbe said with a distinctive, thick accent. She’d only recently learned to speak Equine and she wasn’t much of a talker. “Looking for trouble?”

“I just said that,” Archer replied. “Did you hear us from there too? I can’t feel safe... Do you also hear when Button and I–”

Schwalbe only smirked, showing her fangs, which was enough for Archer to stop talking. Her smile, however, quickly disappeared. “We have a problem,” she said.

“A problem?” Scootaloo asked. “I always thought you deal with most of your problems alone...”

“Yeah,” Schwalbe muttered, suddenly avoiding Scootaloo’s gaze. “Catching the perp and giving ‘em to the guards. But now it’s different.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It was somepony from the outside...”

“From the outside?” Archer asked. “You mean... Not a bat pony?”

“Yes,” Schwalbe replied. “Dead bat pony. Told the rest not to touch. A bat didn’t do that, I’m sure.”

“How?” Scootaloo asked, even though she knew that Schwalbe wouldn’t reply. She thought for a moment. “I’ve seen Cloud Kicker in the town recently. You know, the one who wanted to burn Dusk Dancer’s house back in Ponyville. Maybe–”

Schwalbe waved her hoof dismissively. “Fifteen years ago. Too dumb. Not a killer.”

“It’s our task to determine that,” Archer said officially. “Lead the way, Schwalbe. Let’s see what’s going on...”

“I’m never gonna get used to that…” Archer muttered, standing in at the corner of the street – or rather a long, dimly-lit tunnel with numerous smaller caves and side corridors on its both sides, comprising a part of Canterlot tourists or even the capital’s dwellers often weren’t aware of. Several bat ponies were standing around the place where the moon could be seen through the hole in the ceiling of the cave, not letting the others come closer. Schwalbe flew to them and said a few words. They looked at Scootaloo and Archer and gestured them towards themselves.

“Chill out, Archer.” Scootaloo tried to remain calm, but her voice also trembled when she saw a small lump, covered with a blanket, lying on the floor of the cave. The blanket was soaked in blood that was also covering the stones in a stale, jelly-like mass smelling of copper.

“Never gonna get used to that…” Archer repeated, shuddering and automatically reaching to her crossbow. “Who is the victim?” she asked Schwalbe.

“A kid,” Schwalbe replied, looking at the blanket. “Don’t know her.” She approached the body and pulled the blanket aside.

Scootaloo prepared herself mentally, but despite that, she couldn’t help but wince when she saw the body. The filly’s head was resting on one of her wings, as if she wanted to shield it before her death. The wing itself was bent in an unnatural way. Her mane, originally light green, was covered in stale blood. Scootaloo shuddered, seeing that the filly’s other wing was mutilated – it looked as if someone used a knife to make a few long cuts in it and then branded a spiral-like symbol on the only undamaged part of its skin.

“She… She was dropped from there,” Archer said in an emotionless tone, staring at the opening in the ceiling. “S-someone cut her wings and threw her here…”

Scootaloo, feeling the taste of bile in her mouth, looked at the body once more. The filly was maybe six or seven years old and she had no cutie mark. “We need to get more guards,” she said. “Whoever it was… They left a lot of traces. You didn’t move anything, did you?”

“No guards,” Schwalbe said quickly, pointing at the crowd where bat ponies were whispering to each other. “They don’t like you here…”

“Oh, come on!” Archer snapped, approaching Schwalbe and looking into her eyes. “She was murdered, for fuck’s sake! Someone foalnapped her, cut her wings with a knife so she couldn’t fly and threw her into your cave! It’s not the time to be a bunch of distrustful imbeciles!”

The crowd went silent. Schwalbe, who at first backpedalled, now was piercing Archer with her gaze. Scootaloo looked around and saw that some of the bat ponies barred their fangs looking at her and Archer. She looked at the opening above her and realised that, in case of danger, she could try to fly away. Her cousin, however, couldn’t.

“She’s right,” one of the bat ponies said, stepping into the circle of light. Even though Scootaloo hadn’t seen her in fifteen years, she recognised her immediately. Dusk Dancer stood next to them, spreading her wings and barring her fangs. “We have nothing to hide,” she said. “We need to find the killer and to do that, we need to trust the guards.”

Several stallions in the back started to whisper to each other again. Some old mare nodded and smiled at Dusk Dancer. The conversations lasted for some time, but when Schwalbe joined Scootaloo and Archer, they slowly died down. “Fly to the station,” she said to Scootaloo. “You…” She turned to Archer. “Don’t do that anymore…”

When Scootaloo came back with a couple of other guards, including their former teacher, Charge, she found Archer sitting on a bench with Schwalbe, hiding her face in her hooves. She sat next to them, watching as their companions surrounded the body, taking photos and gathering samples of blood, dust, and everything they found important. She noticed Boysenberry, a guard-in-training, walking carefully around the body in order to not step into a puddle of blood. Scootaloo couldn’t help but smile, remembering her own beginnings as a guard.

Finally, the small body was packed into a bag and levitated on a stretcher.

“Look at this…” one of the guards, called Riot Shield said, picking something from the ground. Scootaloo and Archer trotted to him to see a blood-stained, yellow feather. “It was lying under the body.”

“It’ll be easier than I thought,” Scootaloo said, watching as Riot Shield put the feather in a string bag.

Schwalbe approached them. “I know that,” she said, pointing at the feather. “Lives nearby. Wanders here during the day. Chased him once.”

“When everypony can see him?” Riot Shield asked. “Doesn’t seem like someone who–“

Scootaloo cleared her throat. Riot Shield looked at Schwalbe as if he saw her for the first time and realised his mistake. “Of course…” he muttered. “Why did you chase him?”

“Following kids. Didn’t like it,” Schwalbe replied and smirked, stretching her scar. “Keep an eye on him…”

“Okay,” Charge said, approaching them. “Can you show us the way?”

Schwalbe looked into the commander’s eyes, but he didn’t even flinch. “Sure,” she replied.

“Riot, Scootaloo, and Boysenberry – you’ll go with me,” Charge ordered. “The rest will go back to the station.”

Archer looked at the commander unsurely, but he didn’t say anything, so she joined the unicorns levitating the stretcher and technicians carrying samples. When they sat in the cart and rode away, Charge turned to Scootaloo. “May I ask you something?”

“Of course, sir,” Scootaloo replied, looking at Boysenberry, who was staring at Schwalbe in awe.

“Is your cousin okay?”

For a moment, Scootaloo didn’t know what to say. “What do you mean?”

“She seemed to be rather shaken by the sight of the body,” Charge replied.

“The victim was six and she was tortured,” Scootaloo said. “It’d be a problem if she wasn’t shaken, sir.”

“Definitely, but it’s not the first time I noticed something strange about her behaviour. She changed much since that incident in Dodge Junction.“

“I guess her psychologist knows more about that,” Scootaloo replied. “But yes, she changed. She’s… more careful, I think.”

Charge nodded. “Is she too careful? If she had to shoot to save somepony’s life again, would she do that?”

“You should ask her that, sir,” Scootaloo replied dryly. They walked out of the cave and Schwalbe guided them to a row of small, battered houses.

“I’m sorry,” Charge said. “I was recently thinking about transferring her… I don’t think she can patrol the streets anymore.”

“A desk job would only make it worse,” Scootaloo said. “She can’t sit in one place for too long. When she’s doing something, she… dunno, she seems more alive.”

“Alive?” Charge shrugged. “Still, I think that maybe she should become a shooting instructor... Somewhere where a moment of hesitation doesn’t kill her.”

Scootaloo nodded. A few months before, she had to get her cousin out of serious trouble, when she’d let a young, drunk, and aggressive pegasus get close enough to her to disarm her. Scootaloo managed to tackle him at the last moment, causing him to miss, and later spent a few days in a hospital after he hit her with the now-useless crossbow. Luckily, Archer woke up just in time to hit the assailant with her hoof and bring him to the ER, along with her concussed cousin.

“Maybe that’d be better for her,” Scootaloo said reluctantly.

“Talk with her about it,” Charge said. “She’s kinda, umm... impulsive so we have to give her time.”

Scootaloo lowered her head, sighing. She knew well what Archer’s “impulsiveness” meant.

“Here,” Schwalbe said, pointing at the last house in the row. The light was still on and they could hear that somepony was walking inside. Scootaloo and Schwalbe took off, in case the pegasus wanted to fly away. Charge, Riot Shield, and Boysenberry approached the door and the commander knocked.

The yellow, scruffy-looking pegasus opened the door almost immediately. When he saw the guards, he only nodded. “Good evening... Or morning,” he muttered with Manehattan accent, reminding Scootaloo of Babs Seed. “Can we talk here or do I have to go with ya?”

“We’d prefer the latter,” Charge replied, watching as the pegasus joined them and sat in the carriage. Schwalbe narrowed her eyes, watching him carefully. She flew behind them till they got to the city centre. Then she turned back and flew away without saying a single word.

“Who is she?” the pegasus asked. “Some undercover agent?”

“A concerned citizen,” Scootaloo replied.

“Yeah,” the pegasus muttered. “Knew she wasn’t one of ya. Ya look sexy. She doesn’t.”

Scootaloo looked at him coldly. “Say one more fucking word...”

“Scootaloo!” Charge hissed.

“Yes,” Scootaloo said in emotionless tone, trying not to think about the bat filly lying in the puddle of her blood. “I’m sorry.”

The carriage stopped in front of the station. The guards escorted the suspect to one of the interrogation rooms. Scootaloo caught a glimpse of Archer in one of the corridors, but they didn’t have time to talk. She, Riot Shield, and Boysenberry sat in a room with the two-way mirror, watching Charge talking with their prisoner.

“What is your name?” Charge asked, sitting at the opposite side of the table and staring into the suspect’s eyes.

“Ya should know,” the yellow pegasus replied. “Some important idiot somewhere thought that ‘Biscuit’ would be a good name for me...”

“What is he talking about?” Boysenberry asked.

Scootaloo shrugged. “No idea. I guess he should blame his parents for calling him that...”

Charge looked at Biscuit unsurely. “What do you mean by that?”

“I’m a protected witness,” Biscuit replied. “The guards from Manehattan caught quite a few drug dealers because of me. Including guys who wanted to take over the town after the Big Guy’s bitch cut off his–” He paused seeing the look Charge was giving him.

Behind the mirror, Riot Shield nodded. “I remember that guy,” he said. “His real name is Cracker. About ten years ago, a daughter of some important asshole from Manehattan was murdered. He was seen throwing the body into the bay. They had no proof that he killed her, but he confessed and they jailed him.”

“And what happened?” Scootaloo asked.

Riot Shield chuckled. “You’d never believe. After your friend Babs Seed kicked the bucket–”

“Shut up...” Scootaloo hissed, looking at the door. Last thing she wanted was Archer walking in and hearing the mention of Babs.

“Let me finish.” Riot Shield rolled his eyes. “After Babs’ death he regained memory and told the cops that it was her who killed that filly. Nopony really gave a fuck, but he also started telling stories about mafia in Manehattan. He told them enough to jail a few motherfuckers...”

“So, he’s dead now,” Scootaloo muttered, looking back at the two-way mirror. “If he goes back to prison, they won’t welcome him warmly...”

In the interrogation room, Charge said, “A feather was found in the crime scene. Soon we will know if it’s yours. You expected us. Save us time and admit that you killed her.”

“I didn’t,” Biscuit said. “I... I found her and ran away... I didn’t even touch anything, but when I saw you, I thought that you’ve probably found something...”

“Yeah, right...” Charge muttered. “We have a witness who says that you like watching little fillies...”

“That crazy mare? Please,” Biscuit replied. “I didn’t kill that girl. All the bats were asleep. I was walking down the street and she just fell from the sky, a few steps from me. I thought it was some freaky accident...”

“Then why didn’t you call us?” Charge asked. “Or even some bat ponies for that matter... A kid splashed on the pavement and you ran away?”

“I panicked,” Biscuit replied. “I immediately thought that ya’d think it was my fault...”

“Well...” Charge smirked grimly. “That’s exactly what we’re thinking now. You’ll spend some time in the cell and we’ll see what to do with you...”

“I’ve seen somepony,” Biscuit said in a raspy voice, as if his throat suddenly went dry. “I... I looked up to check if that kid didn’t have any parents nearby or something.”

“And who was it?” Charge asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Some pegasus mare,” Biscuit replied. “I saw only a glimpse of her before she flew away...”

“Yeah, right,” Charge muttered. “A glimpse. We’ll check on that. Till then, you’ll be in the cell.” With these words, he left the room.

A moment later, Charge opened the door. “It’s him,” he muttered to the rest of the guards.

“I don’t know,” Scootaloo said. “That mare he mentioned... Maybe it was Cloud Kicker after all? She’s in Canterlot and she–”

Riot Shield shook his head. “Simplest solutions, Scootaloo...” he muttered. “He may not have killed that filly ten years ago, but he threw her into the bay. Sounds familiar, huh?”

Scootaloo nodded. “Indeed...” She looked at the clock. “I think I’ll go and talk with Archer now...” She left the room and trotted through the station, to Archer’s desk. The building was mostly empty; the guards who were on duty were mostly patrolling the town.

Archer wasn’t at her desk. When Scootaloo approached it, she saw only an opened case file. A black and white photo of some burned meadow was lying on the top of a stack of paper. Below it, there was a photo of Cloud Kicker.

“Should’ve listened to Schwalbe, cousin...” Scootaloo muttered to herself, rushing to the door.

It was an early morning when Archer stood in front of scratched door of a flat in an old tenement house in the eastern Canterlot. She took a photo out of her saddlebags, raised her hoof and banged at the door.

For a while, nothing was happening. Then Archer heard trotting and clinging of a latch being undone before the door was opened. A pegasus mare with a dishevelled blonde mane looked at Archer unsurely. She was, as Archer knew from the file, in her late thirties, but she looked much older; she yawned and shivered, seeing Archer’s uniform.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Ms. Kicker?”

“Yeah,” Cloud Kicker replied. “What do you want?”

“I wanted to talk with you about that...” Archer muttered, showing the photo to Cloud Kicker who shuddered, seeing it. She backpedalled, her mouth agape, and make a gagging noise.

“W-what is that?” she asked.

“You tell me,” Archer replied. “It’s you who like killing bat ponies...”

Cloud Kicker suddenly changed. Any trace of drowsiness suddenly disappeared. She straightened and approached Archer, glaring at her angrily. “Listen to me, punk,” she said, her voice trembling with fury. “I don’t know why you think I killed her, but I’ll make sure you’ll lose this uniform.” She pushed Archer at the opposite wall. “How old were you when I was arrested? Five?”

“Nine,” Archer replied. “What does it have to–”

“You don’t remember it then,” Cloud Kicker said coldly. “I didn’t want to kill her because she was a bat pony. I thought she killed my little sister, for fuck’s sake! The prosecutor said I was racist and the jury believed him. Then some fuck in the court made a ‘mistake’ and I spent my first night in prison with four bat mares. Habitual criminals! Do you want to know how it was?” She leaned to Archer who could see her reflection in the pegasus’ eyes. “Do I have to tell you what they did to me?” A tear ran down her face. “And now you’re coming to me with a photo of a dead kid and you’re telling me that I killed her? Do you at least have a proof?”

Archer felt that her throat was dry. “No,” she said.

“Then get the fuck out of here!” Cloud Kicker yelled. Several doors in the tenement house opened, neighbours expressing their annoyance over such noises at an early hour.

Archer nodded, backpedalling. When she got to the stairs, she turned back and quickly ran away.

Cloud Kicker only sighed and went back to her flat.

Button Mash awoke and looked around, trying to get his bearings. He groaned, seeing that there was nopony but him in his bed – Archer still didn’t come back from work. Muttering curses under his breath, Button went to the bathroom, took a shower, and trotted to the kitchen. Putting the kettle and a frying pan on the stoves, he started to wonder about his life.

It was definitely a good idea to move his shop to Canterlot. He had many more clients there than in Ponyville. He was now looking for an assistant and he felt that he finally overcame his problems. While Archer was often working all nights, she at least didn’t go on tours, like Sweetie Belle.

Button liked his life calm and boring. Picking scrambled eggs from the pan and taking a sip of his coffee, he thought that his relationship with Sweetie Belle would have fallen apart sooner or later even without her cheating on him with Rumble.

He was just eating his breakfast when he heard the door opening. Archer walked inside slowly and looked at him. Button stood up, approached her, and kissed her cheek. “How was work?” he asked.

“Fucked up,” Archer replied. Without adding anything, she trotted to the bedroom and threw herself on the bed.

Button shrugged. He looked at the clock and thought that soon he’d have to open the shop. Archer definitely wasn’t in the mood for talking; he decided to speak to her again after going back home.

He left the flat and trotted downstairs. When he opened the door, he stood face to face with Scootaloo.

She had bags under her eyes and looked like she was running or flying through half of the town. She wiped sweat from her forehead, and asked, “Is Archer home?”

“She’s sleeping,” Button replied. “What do you want from her?”

“A few things,” Scootaloo said, trotting downstairs. “I know she’s tired, but I guess she’ll make an exception for me...”

Elephants in a Room

View Online

Canterlot. It’s not Manehattan or Detrot, where poor, little ponies commit their little crimes. Not Trottingham where cultured gentleponies commit sophisticated atrocities. No, Canterlot is not like that. Canterlot has money. Canterlot has big ponies.

In Canterlot, crimes are so big, they go unnoticed. Ponies can’t comprehend them; just like an ant can’t comprehend a pony passing by.

But somepony made a mistake. Small crime; a broken body on the pavement. Yet another scar on the image of the town. Why so close to the dungeon? Needs further investigation. A scar. Every scar has a history. Wing – a cornered changeling warrior. Hind legs – kids in the worst gutter of Flankfurt. Neck – an iron collar. Back – my owner. Slit his throat. Flew away. Eye – a bottleneck in a bar. Forty five years since I crawled out of the gutter. Not as fast as before.

Schwalbe closed her notebook and hid it and a pen in a small bag under her wing. She stretched her hooves and lowered her head entering a cave. The darkness didn’t bother her. She gave out a quiet screech; her ears perked up, catching the faintest echoes. Schwalbe smirked and delved into the cave, avoiding the stalactites with ease. Finally, she found a place where the ceiling was lowering. She crawled inside.

“Hello,” she said, trying to make her voice sound as friendly as possible. “Come with me...”

“Archer?” Scootaloo asked, pushing the door open. The flat seemed to be empty, but snoring coming from the bedroom was a clear indication that her cousin was home. For a moment, Scootaloo wondered whether she should wake her up. Back in the old flat they’d shared, waking Archer up could end up in a crossbow bolt or a few bullets to the face. But now, Archer changed or, as Charge was saying, matured. She kept her stash of weapons in a safe and it was unlikely that she had one lying on her nightstand.

Scootaloo trotted to the bedroom. The large bed was in a mess; Archer was lying on her belly across it, still tangled in the warm outfit she was wearing under her armour. She turned on her back when Scootaloo called her name.

“Archer!” Scootaloo groaned.

“You have the right to remain silent...” Archer muttered in her sleep.

Scootaloo rolled her eyes, approached her cousin, and patted her mane. Archer’s eyes shot open; she focused on Scootaloo and sighed. “You’re not Button,” she muttered. “Get the fuck out.”

“We need to talk,” Scootaloo said.

“Can we do that later?” Archer covered her head with a pillow.

“Charge wants to transfer you.” Scootaloo decided that only a short, sharp shock was going to wake her cousin up.

“Fuck him,” Archer replied. “I screwed up. After I left, I went to Cloud Kicker...” She told Scootaloo about her unfortunate meeting with the pegasus mare.

“You screwed up, indeed,” Scootaloo muttered. “And you wasted time. She didn’t do that.”

“Well, I kinda know that now...” Archer said. “I’m hopeless, huh? Getting crazy over a filly I didn’t even know...”

“A bit,” Scootaloo replied. “Anyway, the case is almost closed. That Cracker, Biscuit, or whatever his name was did that.”

“Good,” Archer said and yawned. “Can you let me sleep now? I guess you’re tired too... We’ll talk about Charge later, okay?”

“Okay,” Scootaloo replied. “See you later, Archer.”

Archer only snored.

Even though Archer had moved out to Button, Scootaloo still lived in their old flat. The collection of crossbows and firearms disappeared from the walls, replaced by Wonderbolts posters, blueprints of various machines, and clippings from various newspapers on a cork board.

Scootaloo liked that place. Diamond Tiara was still her neighbour; Scootaloo didn’t know much about jewellery, but it seemed that her earrings and necklaces were all the vogue. Scootaloo herself owned a pair of earrings, given to her by Diamond as a birthday gift.

Scootaloo was just opening the door of her flat, when she heard hoofsteps behind her. Quickly, she turned around and saw Diamond Tiara walking out of her flat with her saddlebags on.

“Hello,” Scootaloo said. “How are you?”

“Fine,” Diamond Tiara replied. “Night shift?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo muttered, yawning. Archer was right – it was time to go to sleep. “Kinda hard night, you know...”

“Why?” Diamond Tiara asked. “What happened?”

“Umm...” Scootaloo suddenly thought that it wasn’t the best idea to tell Diamond Tiara about this. Sure, Diamond was okay, save from a few occasions, especially during winters, when she’d come to Scootaloo being on the edge of an anxiety attack. “The case is still going, so I shouldn’t really tell you about that.”

“Oh, okay,” Diamond Tiara said, shifting her legs nervously. She leaned closer to Scootaloo and whispered, “You know, I had a strange dream tonight. I don’t remember it exactly, but you and Silver Spoon were in it. When I woke up, I thought I was going to have an attack...”

“Maybe you should talk to your doctor?” Scootaloo asked, looking at Diamond Tiara unsurely. She wasn’t afraid that Diamond was going to kill her, but it was always hard for her to see her being afraid of something she couldn’t see and couldn’t even name.

“I’m going to,” Diamond Tiara replied. “Right after meeting Octavia.”

“Good,” Scootaloo said. “If you need something, I’ll be here for the whole day.”

“Great.” Diamond Tiara smiled. “See you later.” She walked down the stairs.

Scootaloo looked at Diamond Tiara till she disappeared and entered her flat. The only things she could think of were shower and her bed.

When Diamond Tiara approached the large house not far away from the princess Celestia’s castle, she heard the sound of violin coming from the back of the garden. The melody wasn’t perfect; there were occasional mistakes and it seemed that the violin was slightly out of tune, but the melody sounded nice and Diamond Tiara caught herself humming the melody along.

She stood by the gate and rang the doorbell. At first there was no reaction, but after a while, a navy blue unicorn mare trotted out of the house and let Diamond Tiara in.

“Ms. Octavia is tryin’ out the dresses,” the mare explained. Diamond Tiara looked at her, surprised. The last thing she expected in such a house was a pony speaking like a thug from Manehattan... Or like Babs Seed. “My name is Nightcap and I’m Ms. Pommel’s assistant.”

“I’m Diamond Tiara,” Diamond Tiara replied. She noticed that Nightcap winced slightly upon hearing that name. She’d gotten used to that reaction and it didn’t bother her anymore, but still it made her feel a chill running down her spine. “I brought a necklace for Ms. Octavia’s daughter.”

“Let’s go to her then,” Nightcap said. “Dresses, necklaces... Is that some kinda party goin’ on?”

“Cute-ceanera, I think,” Diamond Tiara replied, following Nightcap inside the house. “Ms. Octavia is quite popular among the Canterlot elites, so there’ll be everyone there...”

“Yeah, she mentioned that to Coco,” Nightcap said. “I... umm... I have to go back upstairs. Octavia will come to ya soon, I think...” She quickly trotted away.

Diamond Tiara sat on the couch and looked at the glass door leading to the garden. She saw a little unicorn filly on the other side of it. She had a grey coat, like her mother, and long, chocolate-coloured mane. She was about four and she was levitating a violin and a bow, playing noisily. Diamond Tiara approached the door and pushed them open.

“Hello,” she said.

The violin fell from the filly’s grasp. She looked at Diamond Tiara with her big, mulberry eyes and froze.

“I’ve heard you playing,” Diamond Tiara said. “You’re pretty good.”

The filly didn’t reply, picking up the violin clumsily with her hooves. Diamond Tiara backpedalled, deciding not to stress her further. When she went back to the living room, she saw Octavia standing by the stairs and watching her.

“Good morning,” Diamond Tiara said, blushing. The filly ran past her and hugged her mother’s hoof. “I, umm... I didn’t mean to scare her...”

“Don’t worry,” Octavia replied, patting her daughter’s mane. The filly looked at Diamond Tiara and darted upstairs. Diamond Tiara could still see her eyes watching her from there. “Heart Beat doesn’t talk to strangers, even to her teachers in the kindergarten.” She sighed. “I’m a bit worried, but my mother says that I used to be the same.”

“Yeah...” Diamond Tiara muttered. “Must be hard for her, so many ponies here...” She opened her saddlebags. “I have that necklace for her. I hope I got the cutie mark right...”

“It’s perfect,” Octavia said, looking at the necklace. “And actually, I wouldn’t make it such a big party, but unfortunately this is what all those ponies expect me to do...” She shook her head. “That’s how Canterlot works. You either are in the centre of attention or you don’t exist. But, of course, you don’t like being in the centre of attention, do you?”

Diamond Tiara thought of Nightcap’s reaction when she’d introduced herself. “No,” she replied. “It was fifteen years ago, but some ponies still remember what I did... Some think it’s cool that I’m famous... But that’s not the fame I want. I’d rather keep it my secret.”

“Well, we all have secrets,” Octavia said. “Not many ponies remember that before meeting my husband I was in a relationship with two DJs.” She took a piece of paper from the coffee table. “A list of guests,” she explained. “Let’s see... Coco Pommel’s assistant used to be a prostitute. She’s a good girl. Coco told me that some of her other workers don’t like her because she married a donkey and has a child called...” She sighed. “... Vinyl. But the Canterlot elites also have their secrets. Upper Crust... Her husband was cheating on her with underage fillies and making business with mafia... No wonder he was killed... Black Marble...”

“I think I get the idea.” Diamond Tiara said. “Guess it’s hard to move in a room with so many elephants... My friend, Silver Spoon, and her mother...” She paused. Even though Silver Spoon died fifteen years before, it just didn’t feel right to talk about her secrets.

“Exactly.” Octavia nodded. “No one is without a fault; without a secret. For example, my husband still can’t really get over the things he saw in the dungeons.”

“I’ve read his story,” Diamond Tiara said. “But I wonder...” She lowered her head. “Why look for monsters underground when there are lots of them here?”

Octavia didn’t reply. Instead, she looked at the door – Dr. Stable just came back from work. He walked to them and kissed Octavia’s cheek. “Hello, Diamond,” he said, tossing his saddlebags in the corner. “How are you?”

“Great,” Diamond Tiara replied, smiling. “But I have to go soon – Dr. Ink Blot is waiting for me.”

“I saw her in the morning,” Dr. Stable replied, yawning. Diamond Tiara thought that, just like Scootaloo, he was coming back from a night shift. “I guess she’ll be glad to see you.” He was smiling, but Diamond Tiara noticed something about him; maybe it was the way he looked at the stairs or rather at his daughter sitting there and watching them?

“He’s hiding something,” Silver Spoon observed, appearing next to Diamond Tiara suddenly. “He and Scootaloo.”

I know, Diamond Tiara thought. Do you think it’s about me?

“You’d better go to the doctor,” Silver Spoon replied. “You start to think it’s all about you...”

Even though Scootaloo liked to cook, she often ate lunch in a small bar next to the editorial office of Canterlot Times. It was partially connected to the fact that after night shifts she wasn’t in a mood for cooking and, despite a lot of enthusiasm, she’d never gotten past the stage of pasta with various sauces. Not to mention that Shady Daze, a colt she’d first met during her Gabby Gums days, was now working for Times and often ate lunch in the same bar.

Scootaloo was now sitting at the table, pouring a bottle of tabasco sauce all over her plate and looking into Shady Daze’s eyes. “Are you sure you’re gonna eat this?” he asked.

“Sure,” Scootaloo replied. “When my cousin cooked food, hot sauce was the only way to survive eating it.”

Shady Daze nodded. “Tough night?”

“Kinda. How do you know?” Scootaloo asked, taking a spoonful of her food. She had a hard time guessing the original taste under the layer of tabasco, which meant that she achieved her goal.

“This stuff has more carbohydrates than you usually like,” Shady Daze replied. “Also, you added two spoons of sugar to your coffee.”

Scootaloo gave him a disapproving look. “You should’ve become a guard,” she said. “What else did you deduce?”

“Oh come on,” Shady Daze said. “I work for a newspaper. That’s where news about dead fillies go.”

Scootaloo sighed. “I won’t tell you anything about her. We have a suspect and we’re looking for her parents. Case closed.”

“I wasn’t going to ask.” Shady took a sip of his coffee. “I just thought, when I saw you, that you and Archer were probably unlucky enough to find her.”

“‘Unlucky’ is the right word,” Scootaloo muttered. “Archer completely fell apart.” She took a sip of her coffee, trying to gather her thoughts. “Well, you know Archer. Normally she’s all in for pranks and stuff, but upset her and suddenly there are lots of guts on the floor... And lots of crying later.”

Shady winced. “I’m eating here, you know... But, well, guts on the floor is an easy way to get to the front page.”

“Exactly,” Scootaloo replied. “I think we both could use a break.”

“Well...” Shady blushed. “I have a free evening...”

Scootaloo smirked. “Are you suggesting something?”

“Umm... I mean, you and me... We could...”

“Sure,” Scootaloo replied. “I guess we can skip the stammering part and get to that part where we think where to go and what to do, okay?”

“If you say so.” Shady’s face wore a deep shade of crimson. “I know a Neighponese restaurant I really wanted to check out. And I’ve heard that there’s a new Spidermare in the cinema...”

Spidermare, you say?” Scootaloo smirked. “We’re not sixteen, Shady...” She waited a few seconds, watching the changing emotions on his face. “But it doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy it.” She laughed.

Shady Daze also laughed nervously, trying to cover his previous embarrassment. “So, six o’clock in front of the cinema?” he asked.

“Sure,” Scootaloo replied.

Scootaloo turned in her bed. She looked around the dark room. The fluorescent hands of a clock on her nightstand were showing quarter past two. Shady Daze muttered something in his sleep.

That went further than I expected... Scootaloo thought, getting up. The Neighponese food as well as a bottle of wine helped them making the evening and night great, but now Scootaloo couldn’t get back to sleep. She untangled herself from the rumpled sheets, stretched her wings, and put on her gown.

She left her bedroom and walked through the living room; light of the moon was casting eerie shadows on the walls. Scootaloo trotted to the window and opened it, inhaling the cold air. There was nopony in sight; empty streets were well-lit, but it seemed that nopony was wandering through them. Scootaloo looked for the guards, but they were apparently hiding right close to the walls, out of the wind. She started to wonder who had a night shift that day.

“Hello,” she heard a raspy voice above her. She looked up and saw a pair of yellow eyes. “Glad to see you awake.”

“Schwalbe!” Scootaloo hissed, looking at the door of her bedroom. “What are you doing here? And I have a door, you know?”

“Sorry,” Schwalbe muttered. “Would’ve been earlier, but heard you had a guest...” She smirked, showing her fangs.

“You... You heard me?” Scootaloo suddenly felt hot.

Schwalbe nodded. “Hard not to. Don’t worry, Diamond Tiara sleeps. Didn’t hear anything.”

“Thank you,” Scootaloo deadpanned. “What do you want?”

“Brought you a guest,” Schwalbe replied and gave out a short screech. Scootaloo watched, stunned, as a small, maybe five years old, bat filly flew through the window to her living room and stood on the floor. Schwalbe followed her inside and patted her shoulder.

The filly turned towards her and squeaked quietly. Scootaloo noticed that her purple mane was cut by somepony who had no idea how to do that – it was short, unkempt, and uneven. Maybe it was to get rid of lice, Scootaloo thought.

Scootaloo looked at the filly unsurely and froze, seeing her eyes. The irises were light yellow, almost white, and slit pupils were narrow, despite the darkness. While walking through the room, the filly was making barely audible squeaks, moving her ears constantly.

“Blind since birth,” Schwalbe explained. “Not important. Say hello to auntie Scootaloo, kid.”

The filly stood in attention and gave out a louder screech. Her ears perked up and she turned to Scootaloo. “Hello,” she said in a strange voice, like somepony who’d read about speaking in some book, but never actually bothered to listen how ponies speak, or try that skill themselves. “My name is Stellar Dust.”

Scootaloo saw that Stellar Dust shuddered and a tear flown from her eye, running down her face. “What happened, Stellar Dust?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Stellar Dust replied. “But something happened to Moonwing...”

Conversations in the Night

View Online

Scootaloo stood in the middle of her living room, speechless. She looked at Stellar Dust, then at Schwalbe again. “Who is Moonwing?” she asked finally.

“My sister,” Stellar Dust replied, weeping. “She took her.”


Instead of a reply, Stellar Dust gave out a long, ear-piercing shriek that, Scootaloo was sure, woke up everypony in the house. Indeed, after the filly went silent, Scootaloo heard Shady Daze trying to walk through her bedroom, bumping into things and cursing.

“What was that?” Scootaloo asked Schwalbe.

“Echo,” Schwalbe replied. “She doesn’t see, so she uses it to know where she is. That’s how it sounded to her when it bounced off the mare that took Moonwing.”

“Can you understand that?”

Before Schwalbe could reply, Shady Daze entered the room and stopped in his tracks, seeing the two bat ponies in the middle of the room. “What’s going on?” he asked groggily.

Schwalbe smirked, approached him, and gave him a wink. “You did well. Heard everything.”

“You heard us... what?” Shady’s blush could be seen even in the dim light of the moon.

“Shh... Filly’s here.” Schwalbe muttered. “Sit and listen, Big Boy.” She turned to Scootaloo. “A pegasus mare. Young, cyan and purple. Dunno which is which. Smelled of perfumes.”

Scootaloo looked at Stellar Dust in awe. “She figured that out just by listening to the echo of her voice?”

“Also smelled her.” Schwalbe sighed. “Know that mare? Took Moonwing and flew away.” She pointed at Stellar Dust. “Kid says she wandered through the caves for a week. Bats started to talk but only I found her.”

“Wait.” Shady Daze looked around, as if he wanted to find a quill and a piece of parchment. “You mean that Moonwing is that filly who–”

“Shh...” Schwalbe pointed at Stellar Dust who was listening to every single word of their conversation. “Doesn’t know.”

“Oh...” Shady nodded. Scootaloo looked at Stellar Dust and thought of Moonwing, whose body was probably lying in the morgue, waiting for the autopsy.

“Why did you come to me?” Scootaloo asked. “We need to get her to the station. She’s our only witness!”

“Don’t trust them,” Schwalbe replied. “They don’t trust me. Mit dir kann ich die Pferde stehlen... Take her to the station. Need to check something.” She took off and flew through the window, leaving Shady and Scootaloo with Stellar Dust.

The filly gave out a short squeak and flapped her wings, landing clumsily on the couch. She yawned, revealing two small, yet sharp fangs, one of them in the upper jaw and the other in the lower, which made Scootaloo wonder if bat ponies also had milk teeth.

“I’ll get some blanket,” Scootaloo said. “Where’s my uniform?”

“I’m afraid it got rumpled a bit...” Shady smiled sheepishly.

“Doesn’t matter,” Scootaloo muttered. “Get the taxi or something...”

“I can fly myself!” Stellar Dust exclaimed.

“You should be sleeping...” Scootaloo said.

“At night?” Stellar Dust asked. Scootaloo suddenly remembered that bat ponies such as Schwalbe or Dusk Dancer were an exception rather than a rule; Dusk Dancer was, as she called it, crepuscular – mostly active at dusk or dawn, though she preferred to sleep at night. About Schwalbe, Scootaloo wasn’t sure if she ever slept.

“Okay,” Scootaloo said with a sigh. She forced herself to smile at the filly. “We’ll go to the ponies who will want to talk with you about a mare who took Moonwing, okay?”

Stellar Dust nodded. “I’m hungry...” she muttered.

Scootaloo sighed. Of course, Schwalbe didn’t think of feeding the filly. Scootaloo tried not to think what Stellar Dust was eating for a week since Moonwing was kidnapped.

“Umm... What do you want?” Scootaloo asked, hoping that it wouldn’t be a roasted rat or something similar.

“I like pineapples and kiwis,” Stellar Dust replied. “Mommy said they are healthy...”

Scootaloo thought that she indeed had some kiwis in the kitchen. She started to wonder if the filly could smell them. “Where’s your mommy?” she asked, walking to the fridge.

“She went to rich ponies,” Stellar Dust said. “She leaves me with Moonwing and brings the money.”

“And where’s your daddy?” Scootaloo put a kiwi in front of Stellar Dust. The filly grabbed and devoured it quickly.

“Mommy says he kicked the bucket,” Stellar Dust replied absentmindedly, her mouth full of the second kiwi. “I don’t kick any buckets, so I don’t know.”

Shady Daze came back to Scootaloo’s flat. “I got a taxi,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Scootaloo grabbed a blanket and wrapped Stellar Dust in it, despite her protests. They walked downstairs and sat in the carriage.

Twenty minutes later, Stellar Dust, accompanied by a psychologist, was telling her story to Charge. Scootaloo was surprised to see her boss getting on well with the filly. Working with him, it was easy to forget that he had two grandchildren himself.

Scootaloo went to the social room, hoping to get some coffee. To her surprise, she saw Archer sitting at the table and reading something.

“Hello,” Archer said. “I thought it wasn’t your shift tonight, was it?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Scootaloo replied. “Schwalbe brought that blind filly to me, so I had to come here...”

“Oh yeah, Schwalbe,” Archer muttered. “She thinks sleep is something that happens to the others. Also, why is that reporter here?”

“Shady?” Scootaloo asked. “He was with me when–” She paused seeing Archer’s smile.

“You and him?” Archer laughed. “I’ve never expected that from you, cousin...”

“Oh, shut up,” Scootaloo muttered. “I just had the same conversation with Schwalbe, of all the ponies.”

Archer shook her head. “Oh Celestia, that must’ve hurt... And who is that blind filly?”

“Moonwing’s sister,” Scootaloo replied. “Moonwing was the name of our victim.”

Archer immediately stopped smiling. “Where was she?”

“In the caves. Apparently Moonwing was kidnapped a week ago and killed only now,” Scootaloo said. “Their father is dead and Stellar Dust told me that her mom went ‘to the rich ponies.’ Do you know what does it mean?”

“At 3 AM?” Archer shrugged. “She was a thief or a whore. That’s all I can think of. Something else?”

“The foalnapper was a pegasus mare,” Scootaloo replied. “Either cyan with purple mane or purple with cyan mane, if Schwalbe got Stellar’s description right.” Scootaloo explained the way Stellar Dust was perceiving ponies to Archer.

“So, that Cracker is innocent,” Archer muttered. “What the hell is cyan, by the way?”

“Think Rainbow Dash, but more green,” Scootaloo replied. “Stellar also mentioned that she smelled of some perfumes.”

“What perfumes?” Archer asked. “That might be important...”

“You read too many novels,” Scootaloo said. “She can just use the other perfumes tomorrow...”

“Maybe,” Archer muttered. “But did they live in the caves, or what? Maybe we should go to the place where Schwalbe found that filly?”

“Not now,” Scootaloo replied. “I’d like to go back to bed, you know. What are you even doing here?”

“I had a small argument with Button,” Archer replied. “He thinks I’m working too much.”

“And your answer was to go to work, huh?” Scootaloo shook her head. “Way to go, Archer...” She stood up. “I’m going home.”

Before she could leave the room, the door opened. “Hello,” Boysenberry said, walking inside with Stellar Dust on her back. The filly slid off it and walked to Archer. Her ears perked up.

“Hey!” Stellar Dust exclaimed, pointing in Scootaloo’s general direction. “You look just like her, but without wings...”

“Yeah, never heard that before...” Archer muttered.

“So now you know.” Stellar Dust smiled and walked to Archer, wrapping her hooves around her leg, much to Archer’s dismay.

“What will happen to her?” Scootaloo asked, staring at Archer trying to free herself from Stellar’s grasp.

“Soon someone will take her to the orphanage,” Boysenberry replied, stroking her braid automatically. They walked out of the room, leaving the bat filly with Archer. “She’s been through a lot. No father, disappearing mother... Moonwing was practically bringing her up and remember that she was six...”

“I know,” Scootaloo muttered. “Umm... did you tell her about Moonwing?”

“The psychologist will tell her about that soon,” Boysenberry replied. “She’s strange. You saw her... She’s happy now, but at first she didn’t want to talk with Charge. She prefers to talk with mares.”

“She spent a week in the caves, eating some leftovers she found,” Scootaloo said. “She doesn’t seem phased...”

“Mother was leaving them for a long time.” Boysenberry looked at the door of the room and sighed. “Unless... Do you trust that Schwalbe?”

“As far as she can be trusted,” Scootaloo replied. “I don’t think she killed Moonwing. That’s not her style.”

“What’s her style then?” Boysenberry asked.

Scootaloo hesitated. She’d heard a lot of things about Schwalbe. Schwalbe herself told her about the fate of a gang of three bat ponies who used to terrorise some districts of Canterlot, only to disappear and not be heard of again. She killed changelings, ponies, griffons, and other creatures, but she’d never killed anyone who, according to her, didn’t deserve that.

“She’d never kill a foal,” Scootaloo said.

“If you say so...” Boysenberry shrugged.

The door opened and Archer walked to them, carrying Stellar Dust on her back. The filly grabbed her ear with her mouth and pulled it gently. “She isn’t that bad,” Archer said.

“Watch out.” Scootaloo laughed. “She’ll suck your blood or something...”

“I don’t suck blood!” Stellar Dust protested. “Moonwing does...”

“You can suck my blood if you want,” Archer said. “Maybe you want to stay with me? Guess Button won’t mind...”

Suddenly the filly froze, her ears perking up. Scootaloo looked back and saw Charge approaching them, accompanied by an older earth mare with thick-rimmed glasses – Ms. Ice Pick, the psychologist.

“We’re going to take Stellar to the orphanage,” Charge said. “She’s going to stay there till we find her mother.”

“She can stay with me,” Archer replied quickly, feeling that Stellar clenched her hooves around her. The filly hissed at Charge, trying to make eye contact with him. The fur on her back raised, making her appear bigger.

Charge shuddered when he looked into Stellar’s pale eyes. He wanted to say something, but Ice Pick approached the filly. “Listen, Stellar,” she said slowly, carefully choosing every word. “I know that you’d rather stay here, but we need to find your mommy... And if she wants to find you too, she’ll look for you where other kids are.”

Stellar stopped hissing, but she was still holding Archer.

“We really have to go,” Ice Pick said softly. “I can assure you that Archer will soon come to you, right?” She gave Archer a threatening glare.

“Yes... Of course...” Archer muttered. “Listen, Stellar... We have to go and find your mommy, okay? Be a good girl and go with Pick. See you later.”

Stellar Dust reluctantly let Archer go and trotted to Ice Pick, giving out silent squeaks to find way. The psychologist lifted her and put her on her back. Archer watched them as they walked away and turned to Scootaloo. “Gonna catch some z’s and we can talk to Schwalbe about those caves.”

Charge cleared his throat. “Another thing... What is that reporter doing here? Should I arrest him?”

Scootaloo smiled sheepishly. “He came here with me,” she replied. “He was with me when Schwalbe brought Stellar to us.”

“Tell him not to write anything about that,” Charge said. “Once we know more, I’ll issue an official press statement.”

“Sure,” Scootaloo replied and waved at Shady. “Stop sneaking around and let’s go home!”

Archer opened the door of her flat and trotted to the bedroom, tripping over boxes in the darkness. She’d told Button many times not to use the living room as a storage for comics, toys, and merchandise, but it was like trying to reason with a brick wall. Finally, she found a safe way to her bed. She was about to lie down on it, when she saw that Button was lying across it, snoring loudly.

“Button!” she hissed. “Wake up, idiot!”

“I swear, officer, it’s not my fault!” Button muttered groggily. “Somepony keeps dumping dead tramps in my bed...”

“What?” Archer raised her eyebrows.

Button opened his eyes and looked at her. “Ah, it’s you,” he muttered, moving to his side of the bed.

“Still mad at me?” Archer asked, placing herself next to him.

“A bit,” Button replied, burying his face in a pillow. “Where were you?”

“Scootaloo found the sister of our victim. She’s four and...” Archer’s ears drooped. “...she’s blind.”

“So, you care about a blind bat filly more than about me?” Button asked, turning to Archer and looking into her eyes.

“Yes,” Archer replied bluntly. Seeing Button’s expression, she added, “I mean... You’re great and all, but... She lost her father, sister, and her mother is missing... Don’t you get it?”

“I get it,” Button replied. “It’s just... We barely see each other. You know what it reminds me of? Sweetie Belle. She kept travelling across Equestria while I was still in Ponyville. You know how it ended...”

“Oh, come on...” Archer muttered. “I’m still in the same town... And I don’t have a lover. I stopped screwing randomly met cute little painters and other hay fries tramps when I was eighteen. You’re a great guy, Button, really, but I have to work...”

“Yeah.” Button sighed. “But there’s work, blind fillies, some mares you assault in their houses, and somewhere at the end of that list there’s me. No offense, Archer, but that’s how it looks like.” He turned away from her.

Archer crawled closer to him and hugged him. “Sorry, Button...” she whispered into his ear. “If that’s what you feel... I’ll get better, I promise. Just give me some time...” She thought for a moment. “Hey, it’s our fifth anniversary in two weeks. We really need to spend some time together...”

Button turned to her. “You remembered?” He sighed. Even in the darkness, Archer could feel that he was blushing. “I... I was going to propose to you... But now I don’t know.”

Archer smiled and kissed him. “I know,” she whispered, wrapping her hooves around Button. “And I totally agree...”

Crime and Punishment

View Online

In the middle of the part of the lower district of Canterlot inhabited mostly by bat ponies, there was a small bar that, unlike other similar establishments in the neighbourhood, offered not only traditional bat pony cuisine, but also dishes more palatable for other kinds of ponies. Scootaloo really liked it – it was bringing memories of her last meeting with Apple Bloom when it was the last stop of their pub crawl.

Scootaloo smiled at the memory of that fateful day. Apple Bloom, tired after visiting numerous pubs, bars, watering holes, and dives Canterlot had to offer, first tried to play pool with one of the patrons, only to find out that if someone’s cutie mark was a triangle of red balls with “147” above them, the chance of defeating them was rather poor. Then she forgot that they weren’t fillies anymore and called Scootaloo “chicken”, prompting an amused reaction from the other patrons, who dared Scootaloo to eat some chicken. Scootaloo, being even more tired than Apple Bloom, accepted the dare. It didn’t end well.

The door opened and Archer came in with a smile on her face and a pair of large saddlebags on her back. She walked through the hall and joined Scootaloo at the table. “Hello,” she said. “Schwalbe didn’t show up yet?”

“No,” Scootaloo replied. “Maybe she’s sleeping...”

“Schwalbe, sleeping?” Archer shrugged. “No way. Guess she went to those caves without us...”

Scootaloo shook her head. “You seem quite happy today,” she said. “Something happened?”

Archer smirked. “Button and I had the best sex in ages. Also, he kinda proposed to me, I think.”

Scootaloo felt that the patrons were looking at them. The bat ponies had become used to them since they usually visited the bar during the night shifts or if they needed information, but now they were definitely attracting their attention. “You may want to speak a bit more quiet,” Scootaloo deadpanned.

“Oh, come on,” Archer muttered. “You and Shady–” She was interrupted by Schwalbe who somehow managed to approach them unnoticed.

“Hello,” Schwalbe said in her usual monotone. “Tried to find Stellar’s mother. Got a few hints.”

“What hints?” Scootaloo asked.

Schwalbe sat at the table and ran her wing through her mane. “The family’s from Hollow Shades. Father got killed before Stellar was born. Mother... No known job. No address. No name. Looked similar to Moonwing; that’s all I found.”

“Nopony knows her?” Archer asked, raising her eyebrows. “How is that possible? There aren’t so many bat ponies here...”

Schwalbe looked into Archer’s eyes and smirked, seeing her shudder under her gaze. “Three thousand in Canterlot. Over twenty in Hollow Shades. About ten more scattered throughout Equestria. Even I don’t know all of them.”

“But how come no one knows her?” Archer asked. “They should know a name... She has to work somewhere, dammit!”

“Was probably someone’s undertenant,” Schwalbe replied. “Nopony asks. Stellar didn’t know her job, remember? Went to rich ponies...”

“Yeah, we remember,” Scootaloo said. “We think she was a burglar or a prostitute...”

Schwalbe narrowed her eyes and nodded. “If a burglar, I’d know her. Convinced some of those to stop stealing. Convinced some others to stop breathing...” She smirked, showing her fangs.

“You do realise that we can arrest you for that, don’t you?” Scootaloo asked, staring into Schwalbe’s eyes without blinking. “If you catch somepony, you give them to us, get it?”

“Just try,” Schwalbe muttered. “Bats need teaching. You arrest them, they only learn new tricks and go back to crime. When they misbehave, I give a warning. I warn again and again. They either learn or ignore me. And then...” She licked her lips. “... I teach them.”

“Well, they can’t really learn from you... Mainly because they’re dead,” Scootaloo said. “Prison at least gives you a chance. I know lots of ponies who–”

“Babs Seed,” Schwalbe interrupted her. “Didn’t warn her. Boot camp, then a bolt through the heart.”

“Fuck off...” Archer muttered. “For every Babs Seed there’s one Cloud Kicker...”

“Wasn’t it you who went to her after Moonwing died?” Schwalbe asked. “Some wounds never heal.” She spread her wings, revealing her scar.

“Schwalbe, stop showing off,” Scootaloo said, seeing that Archer was about to tackle the bat mare. “Your wings don’t impress anypony anymore. Also, it’s not that I don’t like discussions about crime and punishment, but maybe we’ll talk about that after checking those caves, okay? Possibly over a glass of beer.”

Schwalbe shot Scootaloo a nasty glare, but didn’t say anything. She stood up and gestured them to go with her. Scootaloo and Archer followed, walking out of the bar. Schwalbe took off and flew down the street. Scootaloo, much to Archer’s dismay, did the same.

Soon, the street ended with an entrance to a large cave. It seemed that for the dwellers of that place it wasn’t any difference; the cave was divided into small flats, their walls made of stone, bricks, plywood, or even thick cardboard or fabric. Some more spacious houses were dug in the solid rock. Several dirty foals were playing in the narrow passage between two rows of provisional flats. Somepony was yelling something; somepony was screeching, making Scootaloo cover her ears. The air was permeated with a thousand of different smells, ranging from moderately bearable, such as bananas, to downright sickening. Scootaloo shuddered, smelling week-old blood. It seemed, however, that those were just remains of somepony’s lunch.

“Like it?” Schwalbe asked. “The surface is for tourists. Getting why nopony knew Moonwing’s mother?”

“What’s that?” Scootaloo asked. “I’ve been in other caves inhabited by bat ponies. Living there was expensive and they looked much...” She looked for the right word. “... cleaner.”

“Used to be a good neighbourhood,” Schwalbe replied. “Not so much after Berry Punch’s case.”

“So it’s this place!” Scootaloo exclaimed. “I guess the news about a monster living nearby didn’t exactly help the real estate agents...”

“Exactly,” Schwalbe replied, flying between a maze of ropes, strings, and poles somehow keeping the cubicles below together. “A bat has nowhere else to live – they end up here.”

Scootaloo sighed. “Just something for a lonely mother with a blind daughter...”

Schwalbe nodded. “Still better than canals of Manehattan. Also, it’s still a cave. Nothing better than a cave, even if you have to get rid of changelings first.”

“Maybe,” Scootaloo replied, shuddering. Just like many pegasi, she felt the best in open spaces. She couldn’t get rid of a feeling that something was squeezing her stomach. She looked at one of the buildings below. A piece of dirty, ragged cloth that served as a door was moved aside. Seven bat foals walked from behind it and flew somewhere, flapping their wings erratically and bumping into things. Scootaloo was watching them when she realised that someone was missing. “Where’s Archer?” she asked.

“I’m here, thanks for caring,” Archer replied, pushing herself through the crowded street. “I had to explain to some kid that my saddlebags are mine and then I had to explain to his father that his son is an idiot and he totally deserved that. And I stepped into a puddle.” Archer sighed. “I hope it was water, though with all those kids here I’m not so sure...”

“No whining,” Schwalbe muttered. “Soon we’ll get outta here...”

“Great,” Archer said. “Not everypony here has wings, you know...”

Schwalbe ignored her and turned, disappearing behind the plywood wall. Scootaloo and Archer followed her, nearly bumping into a bat pony hanging from a horizontal pole attached to two other walls. He woke up and muttered something angrily, but they didn’t hear him, trying not to lose Schwalbe. She landed on the ground and trotted to some side tunnel, behind the backyards of the houses, if a pond of stinky water with some stalagmites sticking from it could be called a backyard. Scootaloo landed next to her, while Archer walked to them, carefully stepping on the stones protruding from the pond, trying not to get her hooves wet.

“You know what’d solve the problems of that place?” Archer muttered. “A large fire. Which is waiting to happen, by the way, just like an epidemic of cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, and whatever shit you can think of.” She groaned, throwing her head back. “How’s that even possible? Bat ponies’ district or not, it’s still a capital, for fuck’s sake! Some of them are Luna’s guards!”

“Luna’s guards are in the barracks,” Schwalbe said calmly. “Their families live there.” She pointed at the place they came from. “Here’s the fun place.”

“You call that fun?” Archer sighed. “There’s a whole cave of fillies that can end up like Moonwing and no one cares about them! Right under the capital of Equestria!”

“Hold your horses, as you say in Equestria,” Schwalbe replied. “Seen a lot of poor ponies. Poorer than those. Starving, but they cared about the place they lived in. Those don’t. Apparently it’s fine for them.”

Archer only shook her head and took off her saddlebags. She opened them and took her bow and a quiver with arrows.

“Rate of fire over stopping power?” Scootaloo asked. “You should’ve taken a gun.”

“In the caves?” Archer looked at her cousin askew. “To deafen you with echo and give away our position?”

“Whatever you prefer,” Scootaloo muttered, looking into Archer’s saddlebags and taking her helmet. “We’re not going to fight anypony anyway.”

Schwalbe muttered something, revealing a pair of straps on her forelegs. At first Scootaloo thought they were scrunchies or strange socks, but then Schwalbe pushed the back of the strap. A ten-inch blade slid from it with an audible swish.

“Teaching aids?” Scootaloo asked. Schwalbe nodded, hiding the blade.

They walked up the tunnel, next to several wooden signs with warnings. Archer stopped to look at them.

“Possibly Keter-class object inside,” she read. “Psychically hazardous effect. Any trespasser may die or become mentally and physically injured. Risk of falling stones or slipping on the wet rocks.”

“Not gonna go too deep,” Schwalbe said. “Twilight Sparkle buried that thing under a pile of rocks. Not gonna dig itself without pony’s help.”

“Would three ponies be enough for it?” Scootaloo asked, looking at the battered signs unsurely.

Schwalbe waved her wing. “Seen it working. Was weak twelve years ago and it had Berry back then. Well, weak for those things. Didn’t catch me then. Not gonna catch me now.”

“Also, somepony was here,” Archer said, looking behind a sign and coming back with a cyan feather in her hoof. “Looks familiar?”

“Our killer also likes to read warnings,” Scootaloo muttered. “Let’s go.”

Schwalbe led them down the tunnel. It soon got too dark for them to see, so they walked closer to her, turning on their flashlights and waiting as their eyes got used to the faint light coming from them.

Scootaloo felt that the fur on her back raised, chill running down her spine. She looked at Archer – she could barely see her silhouette, but seeing her cousin trotting behind Schwalbe was keeping her from running away.

The tunnel expanded into a wide cave. The crystals embedded in the walls were shining, casting ethereal shadows on the stalactites and stalagmites. Scootaloo stood, stunned, and looked at the ceiling. Schwalbe took off, flying to the opposite wall, and landed on a part of it that looked like an entresol.

“Nothing here,” she said to them. “Can’t really see what’s directly below me, though.”

Scootaloo also took off and made a circle just below the ceiling, trying to spot something in the dark corners of the cave. Archer only sighed and walked between the stalagmites that were so close to each other that they looked like a fossilised forest.

Scootaloo dived, seeing an opening of another tunnel in the corner of the cave. It was small and low and when she landed next to it, she thought that she wouldn’t want to go inside. She turned on her flashlight and aimed it into the darkness.

She shuddered, seeing what was inside. The corridor was short; just about twenty metres. Its bottom was filled with some green gas, oozing from the walls. Scootaloo decided that it wouldn’t be wise to go there and took off again, leaving the opening behind. She thought that she’d have to talk with Schwalbe about it. Closing the tunnel with a few rocks seemed like a good idea.

She saw Schwalbe hanging from the ceiling, her tail wrapped around the stalactite, and told her about the gas.

“Probably just poisonous,” Schwalbe replied. “Go back to the ground. Your wings disturb the air and I can’t smell anything.”

“Smell what?” Scootaloo asked.

“Moonwing was here,” Schwalbe said. “Same with the cyan mare.”

“Where exactly?” Scootaloo looked at the ground, but saw nothing.

Before Schwalbe could reply, they heard Archer’s voice. “Hey, girls... Yesterday, I was at home, sleeping after the night shift, then I argued with Button, went to work, you brought Stellar Dust, then I went back home and had sex with Button, right?”

“Right...” Scootaloo replied. “But why are you telling us that?”

“Because when Charge sees that, he’ll want to talk with me about that...” Archer muttered. Scootaloo and Schwalbe flew to her, trying to find the way between the stalagmites.

Finally, they found Archer in a small tunnel, similar to one Scootaloo found earlier. This one had no gas. On the bottom, in front of Archer, there was a cyan pegasus mare with blue mane, lying on her side in a puddle of stale blood. Her right eye was gone; the socket was filled with blood and remains of the eyeball. Scootaloo, wincing at the smell, walked around the body and saw a crossbow bolt protruding from the back of her head.

“Nice shot.” Schwalbe nodded. “You’re indeed my first suspect.”

“Do you know what was that?” Scootaloo asked.

“Of course,” Archer replied, shuddering. “I have one of those crossbows. They call them ‘tramp’s besties’, because they’re small but very powerful. It’s hard to reload them, but that’s not the point. A whore loads it at home and when a client gets nasty, it takes one shot to make them calm as a dead kitten.”

“Which is what we see here,” Schwalbe muttered, staring at the tip of the bolt and the mare’s bloodied saddlebags. “She was shot from the distance?”

“No,” Archer said. “See? It pierced her eye, brain, and the skull. It penetrated almost completely. She knew the killer.”

Schwalbe pointed her wing at something half-buried in stale blood. Scootaloo looked there and saw a golden coin. “Somepony paid her. Killed Moonwing, went to get the money, got a bolt to the head.”

“More or less...” Scootaloo muttered. “But who paid to kill a six-year-old filly?”

Ultimate Good

View Online

“Well, Lyra, I don’t think this song would be suitable for my daughter’s cute-ceanera...” Octavia laughed. “We’d better stick to something that wouldn’t cause the Canterlot elites to faint...”

Lyra put her lyre on the table. “I don’t get it,” she said. “You always liked playing this song with me...”

“That was when we were twenty and I wasn’t a mother,” Octavia replied. “Everything was much simpler back then.” She sighed. “Vinyl was still alive...”

“Same with Berry... and her nutjob cousin.” Minuette entered the room, limping slightly. “Speaking of Berry, my leg is a bitch again... Also, Lyra, Bon Bon said that if everything is supposed to be on time, you’re not allowed to enter the kitchen. She said that one kid there is enough.”

“Wasn’t going to,” Lyra replied. “Also, maybe you’ll convince Octavia that ‘My Coltfriend’s Apples’ is a good song to play at the cute-ceanera.”

“It’s not,” Minuette replied and sat on the couch, hissing and rubbing her leg.

“I still can’t believe that Heart Beat talks to Bonnie,” Octavia said, ignoring a nasty look Lyra was giving Minuette.

“I don’t know why you all think Bonnie is a bitch...” Lyra muttered. “She is, but only in bed. And she’s my bitch...”

“Note to self: don’t let Lyra anywhere near alcohol or nobles,” Minuette whispered theatrically. “Of all ponies you could’ve invited, you invited us, Octavia? I’m surprised.”

Octavia smirked. “Well, nobles are rather boring. I thought you’d be the stars of that party.”

“I can tell them about my scar,” Minuette said. “Your husband may fill the details.”

“I think they already know that story,” Octavia replied with a smirk. “But I guess you may attract a few listeners...”

“But seriously, it’s not something you talk about on cute-ceaneras,” Minuette said. “Back in my days, there were card tricks and spiked punch.”

“I can do card tricks,” Lyra said. “And I know a great trick with vanishing coins.”

“I know that one.” Minuette shook her head. “You once vanished twenty bits from me and suddenly forgot how to get them back.”

“I think I’ll see how Bonnie is doing,” Lyra said quickly, blushing. She trotted downstairs, nearly knocking down some statue standing by the stairs. She grabbed it with her magic and put it back on its stand. She wasn’t sure what it was depicting, but it stood in Octavia’s house and looked awful, so it was probably very expensive.

“I see you’re interested in the statue of Commander Arcturus?” Lyra heard a voice behind her. She turned back to see a tall, white unicorn with pink mane.

“You must be Fleur,” Lyra muttered. “Octavia mentioned that you’d come here. And actually, I was just going to the kitchen and I accidentally bumped into Commander Arctica...”

“Arcturus,” Fleur corrected her. “According to the legend, he was the leader of a bat pony tribe before the founding of Equestria. It is said that he and his followers slept in the caves during the meeting of the leaders of other tribes and that’s why they didn’t attend it.”

“I didn’t know about it,” Lyra replied. “And I’m kinda interested in old legends...”

“I heard that story from my maid,” Fleur said. “Of course it’s a legend. We don’t even know if he really existed.”

“Yeah... Same legend as the otherworldly creatures living underneath Canterlot...” Lyra muttered. She could swear that Fleur shuddered when she heard that.

Fleur scratched her mane. “I think I’ll go to Octavia...”

“She’s upstairs with Minuette,” Lyra said. “I think you’ll like Minuette. She’s the brainy one.”

“Surely,” Fleur muttered and walked to the stairs. Lyra shrugged and trotted to the kitchen.

The door was half-opened. Lyra stopped, listening to the voices inside – she wanted to know what mood Bon Bon was in, not to mention that she knew that Heart Beat would stop talking once she joined them.

“Heart Beat, honey, what did you do with the flour?” Lyra heard Bon Bon saying. She looked inside and saw her marefriend staring at something behind the table.

“It just happened...” Heart Beat replied. She had a high-pitched, rather melodic voice and she was apparently trying to mimic her mother’s accent, though the result was quite amusing.

“Just like the pitcher and the plate earlier?” Bon Bon asked and sighed. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your mom about it...”

Lyra furrowed her brows. Last time she broke something, Bon Bon didn’t speak to her for days.

In the kitchen, Bon Bon leaned closer to Heart Beat. Lyra heard fast trotting and the filly’s laughter. When Bon Bon stood up, her face was covered in flour, and she was muttering some words fillies shouldn’t know under her breath. Lyra smirked. Because of Heart Beat’s selective mutism, many ponies assumed that she wasn’t mischievous.

Bon Bon turned towards the door and her eyes focused on Lyra. “Hello,” she said coldly. “I was just thinking about you...”

“Cool,” Lyra said, entering the kitchen. “Hello, Heart Beat.” She leaned towards the filly who was sitting on the floor, watching her. “Still not talking to me?”

Heart Beat didn’t make any move.

“Remember that there’s a big bag of candies waiting for you if you speak to somepony other than Bonnie or your mom,” Lyra said.

Heart Beat nodded.

“So, maybe you’ll say ‘hello’?” Lyra smiled at the filly. Heart Beat shook her head.

“Okay, maybe later,” Bon Bon muttered. “Lyra, can you help me clean that flour? We still have lots of things to do...”

“Her name was Cyan Skies,” Charge said, watching two guards levitating the stretcher with the body away. “She was also from Ponyville and worked in Canterlot as a...” He looked at the file closer. “... Concierge. You know, the guy who’ll get you tickets for a Wonderbolts show three minutes before it starts and so on.”

“Seems that she was also running other errands...” Scootaloo muttered. “What else is in her file?”

“She once tried to buy drugs for some client, but somepony paid a lot of money for her lawyer,” Charge replied. “Otherwise, her rap sheet is blank like a newborn filly’s flank.”

“Just great...” Archer sighed. “Guess we’ll need to get a warrant and look through her notes, then–”

“I’d like to remind you that you’re off that case,” Charge muttered. “Not to mention that you can’t stay in the crime scene and you’re forbidden to leave the town.”

“Okay, I’m going...” Archer slowly walked away, from time to time looking at the place where they found the body.

“You, Scootaloo, are off the case too,” Charge said. “Our main suspect is your cousin, so I guess, you understand...”

“Sure,” Scootaloo replied. “Who will take the case?”

“Riot Shield and Boysenberry,” Charge replied. “They’re good guards.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo muttered. “Also, sir... Do you really think Archer did that?”

“If I did, she’d be in a cell,” Charge replied. “You’re dismissed. I think you understand that everything must be according to the rules.”

“Yes, sir,” Scootaloo replied and took off. She flew from the cave and caught up with Archer who was pushing herself through, as Schwalbe called it, “the most interesting part of the bat pony district.” The crowd was smaller than when they visited it for the first time – a group of guards walking there a few hours before was most likely the cause.

“He kicked you out too?” Archer asked when she saw Scootaloo. “Who’ll be our replacement?”

“Riot and Berry,” Scootaloo replied, trying to avoid getting tangled in the ropes supporting a large tent, full of holes patched with everything its owner could find, from pieces of cardboard to old clothes.

“He’s good, but she’s just a kid...” Archer muttered, almost stepping on a foal playing in the mud covering the bottom of the cave.

“She’s older than we when we caught Rumble,” Scootaloo said. “And Riot is more experienced than us. They’ll dig through Cyan Skies’ notes in no time and find the killer.”

“Yeah, sure...” Archer muttered. They walked out of the cave and found themselves in the more civilised part of the bat pony district. Scootaloo turned towards the upper part of Canterlot, but stopped in mid-air, seeing that Archer was walking in a completely different direction.

“Where are you going?” Scootaloo asked.

“To Schwalbe,” Archer replied. “She disappeared so quickly... Maybe she already has something about Cyan Skies?”

Scootaloo narrowed her eyes. “And you’re not going to try to solve the case with her?”

“Of course not,” Archer said, flipping her mane. “Just gathering information... To help Riot and Boysenberry...”

“You know that I can arrest both of you, right?” Scootaloo asked. “And I will do that if I see that you’re plotting something with Schwalbe...”

“You’d never do that,” Archer said. “Also, arresting Schwalbe? She’d probably kill you with a chainsaw hidden in her ass.”

“I can also tell Button that you’re cheating on him with a bat mare that could be his mother...”

“Schwalbe, his mother? No way...” Archer laughed and trotted off, disappearing between the buildings. Scootaloo only shrugged and flied away.

Dead filly and dead killer. Who stands behind them? In this town, someone always stands behind everyone. Thought I was done fighting evil in this town once. But when I snapped the last criminal’s neck in some dark nook, it turned out that there was somepony behind him, more powerful and evil than him. Didn’t fight. Started to think.

Maybe one day I’ll reach the top. The ultimate evil. But what then?

I’m afraid I’d have to take its place.

Schwalbe threw the pen on the table and went back to her can of baked beans. They were almost cold, but she ate them anyway, spraying tomato sauce on the yellowish pages of her diary. She sighed and slammed it shut.

After a while, however, she put the baked beans back on the table and opened the diary on the other page. Large letters, running across the paper, were saying “Why Moonwing was killed?”. Several other question marks were written under it.

Somepony knocked on the door. Schwalbe opened the drawer and took a large, sharp knife from it before walking to the corridor to open it.

“Oh, it’s you” she muttered, seeing Archer standing behind the door. “The blue one. How did you find this place?”

“Asked your landlord. She hates you,” Archer replied. “And I can see why...” she added, seeing the floor of the flat, littered with empty cans, pizza boxes, and bags of something rotting. “Are you a hoarder?”

“Useful,” Schwalbe replied. “Burglars trip on those.”

“An alarm would be better,” Archer said. “Also, who’d want to rob you?”

Schwalbe gave her a nasty look. “What are you doing here? Without your cousin?”

“I need help,” Archer replied. “You see, they think I killed Cyan Skies... You know, that mare who killed Moonwing. Anyway, Scootaloo and I are off the case.”

Schwalbe smirked. “Wanna find the killer on your own? Bad idea. Getting your hooves filthy.”

“If I stay here for longer...” Archer muttered, looking at her hooves.

“There’s worse filth than that,” Schwalbe said. “Don’t make me show it to you...”

“Oh, come on.” Archer rolled her eyes. “I know what you’re doing... I just need some help, you know...”

“I work alone,” Schwalbe replied. “Go back home. You want to help, don’t wander here.” Before Archer could reply, Schwalbe closed the door and went back to the kitchen. She opened her diary and wrote:

Becoming an ultimate evil. Not good. But, to think about it, is ultimate good something better?

When Scootaloo came back home, the first thing she noticed was the smell of cigarettes in the staircase. She knew that an old stallion who lived in the flat above hers had an annoying habit of smoking there, so she flew upstairs, ready to tell him what she thought about that.

She froze, seeing some lanky, cream-coloured mare with long, orange mane. She was standing by the window, smoking a cigarette. What surprised Scootaloo was that the mare was trying to avoid looking through the window – she was staring into the floor, covering her face with her hair.

“Excuse me,” Scootaloo said. “You can’t smoke here...”

The mare shuddered and looked at Scootaloo. She had large, green eyes. Scootaloo automatically took a look at her cutie mark and saw two theatre masks – a smiling, black one, and a sad, white one.

“I’m sorry,” the mare said, avoiding Scootaloo’s gaze. “I’m waiting here for... for a friend.”

Something clicked in Scootaloo’s head. “So, you’re that Curtain Call...” she said. “Diamond told me a lot about you... So, they let you out of the hospital too?”

“Y-yes,” Curtain Call replied, shuddering. “Diamond Tiara is your friend?”

“She’s my neighbour,” Scootaloo said. “Are you okay?”

“Not really,” Curtain Call whispered and sat on the stairs, holding her head with her hooves. “I don’t like open spaces... I wrote to Diamond Tiara when they were going to release me and she said that I can stay with her, since my parents...” She sighed.

“It’s okay...” Scootaloo approached Curtain Call. “I think she’s running some errand now. You can wait for her in my place, you know...” When she said that, she immediately thought of getting some weapon. Diamond Tiara was okay when she was on her meds, but Curtain Call... Scootaloo knew almost nothing about her and she didn’t seem to be well after travelling from Trottingham by train with her agoraphobia.

The sound of hoofsteps interrupted her thoughts. She looked down and saw Diamond Tiara walking upstairs with full saddlebags. She joined them and smiled at Curtain Call.

“Hello,” Diamond Tiara said. “I see that you’ve already met Scootaloo...”

“Yeah,” Curtain Call replied, her eye twitching. “I’m a bit tired...”

“Sorry that I made you wait,” Diamond Tiara said. “Didn’t know you were going to come here today...”

“Diamond, can I talk with you for a moment?” Scootaloo whispered when Diamond Tiara opened the door for Curtain Call. “Are you, umm... sure about her?”

“She’ll be okay,” Diamond Tiara replied. “She just left the hospital for the first time in sixteen years. No wonder she’s a bit nervous.”

“Come to me if you need something,” Scootaloo said. “I don’t want any of you getting hurt.”

The bar wasn’t as shady as the one Archer had visited in the bat pony district, but still it wasn’t a place she’d normally visit. Booze & Coffins was, in its previous incarnation, a basement of some half-ruined tenement house, changed into a bar by some clever mare. From what Archer heard, most of the patrons were servants and butlers of ponies living nearby.

It was evening and the place was crowded. Archer, wearing a long, dark robe, walked to the bar and sat on the stool.

“I’m lookin’ for Cyan Skies,” she said, trying to make her voice sound like she was from Trottingham. “‘ave ya seen ‘er recently?”

“Haven’t seen her in a while,” the bartender replied, spitting on a rag and wiping a tankard with it. “Ask that guy in the corner. He was talking with her last time she was here.”

“Okay, thanks,” Archer replied and walked to the corner of the bar. The stallion sitting there was also clad in a robe, his hood on.

“What are you doing here?” he asked in a low-pitched voice, eyeing Archer’s outfit. “I told all of you not to wear those in the open.”

“What do you mean?” Archer asked, dropping her accent.

“I mean you’re an idiot,” the stallion replied. “Get out of here!”

Archer leaned closer to him. “I need to see Cyan Skies,” she said. “It’s urgent.”

“Soon you will,” the stallion whispered.

Suddenly, Archer felt pain in her stomach. She slid off the chair and collapsed. Several guests looked at her. One of the waitresses screamed in horror. Archer looked down and saw a bolt protruding from her abdomen.

She felt cold. An image of Babs Seed, falling to the floor after getting shot in the chest, appeared in her mind. Several patrons rushed to her.

“Excuse me!” somepony shouted. “I’m a doctor!”

“Who’s she?” some other pony asked. His companion was trying to calm down the screaming waitress, but without any effect.

“No idea,” the navy blue unicorn with glasses, who said that he was a doctor, replied. “She’s my patient now...”

“Hey, where’s that guy?” the bartender asked, looking at the table in the corner. Archer, struggling to stay conscious, looked at that direction.

The hooded stallion was nowhere to be seen.


View Online

3 AM. A unicorn doctor teleported in the middle of the ER, holding a bloodied pony in his hooves. Few hours later, a trauma surgery and several blood transplant later, the patient, earth mare aged twenty four, ended up in the ward, fighting with the effects of hypovolemic shock and peritonitis. Young kid, gonna be better.

Schwalbe, hanging upside-down on the street lamp, looked through the window of the hospital, at a blue pony lying in bed, surrounded by various machinery and tubes. She bit the pen stronger and wrote in her journal:

Seems that the blue one has more luck than brains.


The world around her was blurry. She blinked, but nothing changed. She could see mostly a greenish, blurred background, with some brown and orange blur above her.

“What...” She coughed.

“Don’t talk,” the brown blur said in Button Mash’s voice. “Use this.”

She was given a pencil and a notebook. She grabbed a pencil with her mouth and wrote:

“How bad is it?”

“You were out for two days, you have a hole in your stomach, you pee in a bag, and you’re high on meds,” an orange blur replied in Scootaloo’s voice. “Also, the doctors decided to check your head. It turned out, there was nothing there, except for a thread. When they cut it, your ears fell off.”

“Ha. Ha. Ha,” Archer wrote. “The guy who shot me?”

“We’re looking for him,” Scootaloo said. “You’re lucky he used a different crossbow than the one he shot Cyan Skies with.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Also, Riot told me secretly that both bolts have a spiral engraved on the tip, similar to one that was cut on Moonwing’s wing.”

Archer nodded and turned to Button. “Seems that we’re not gonna go anywhere on our anniversary,” she wrote.

“Yeah,” Button muttered. “Why do you always have to be like that, Archer? Can’t live a day without getting into trouble?”

Archer attempted to shrug, but winced.

Dr. Stable entered the room and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, but the patient needs rest,” he said. Button and Scootaloo walked out of the room with him.

“How long will she be here?” Scootaloo asked.

“It’ll take a lot of time for her to fully recover,” Dr. Stable replied. “It’s a miracle that we managed to save her.” He sighed. “Gonna go back to her. Dr. Ventricle will be with her later.”

“Why not you, doc?” Scootaloo asked.

“It’s my daughter’s cute-ceanera today,” Dr. Stable replied. “But don’t worry, Ventricle won’t let her die. He brought her here, after all.”

Scootaloo nodded. “I have to go,” she said to Button. “I have some work to do...”

“I’ll stay here,” Button replied, looking at the door to Archer’s room.

An interesting coincidence. The hospital Archer is in is also the place where Stellar Dust is being kept. Pneumonia, parasites, malnutrition, Luna knows what else. Checking her eyes. Psychologist sits there all the time.

Schwalbe knocked at the door and, not waiting for any response, opened it. The mare she recognised as Ice Pick, a psychologist working with the guards immediately trotted to her.

“You can’t go here,” Ice Pick said. “The patient is–” She paused when Schwalbe looked into her eyes.

“Looking for her mother,” Schwalbe said. “Need to ask a few questions.”

“Are you a guard?” Ice Pick asked. “I don’t remember you...”

“Auntie Schwalbe!” Stellar Dust exclaimed. She got out of bed and trotted to Schwalbe, grabbing her leg.

“Hello, Stellar,” Schwalbe muttered, pushing the filly away gently. “How are you?”

“Moonwing died.” Stellar’s voice quivered. “B-but it means she’s in better place now, right?”

“Yes,” Schwalbe replied. “She definitely is. Still looking for your mom. You didn’t recall anything she said?”

“No,” Stellar replied. “I miss her. The doctors are okay, but...”

“I know.” Schwalbe sighed and patted the filly’s mane. “I’ll do anything to find her.” She saw the look Ice Pick was giving her. “Gotta go. Later.”

“Later,” Stellar said when Schwalbe left the room.

“Go back to bed, Stellar,” Ice Pick said. “I need to talk to the guards about something...”

Schwalbe trotted down the hospital’s corridor. She had seen Scootaloo there earlier, and, hoping she didn’t leave yet, went to the ward to talk with her.

The corridor was mostly empty; even Button Mash went somewhere. The only pony there was a short, blue pegasus wearing a black cloak, who was sitting in front of the door to Archer’s room, staring at it.

He didn’t see Schwalbe coming. She bumped into him, causing him to fall.

“Sorry,” she said, grabbing his hoof to help him up. However, instead of releasing it, she looked at it, spotting a small, spiral-shaped scar on it.

The pegasus suddenly felt Schwalbe’s grip tightening. “I believe we have to talk,” she muttered.

The pegasus blinked. He realised that he was lying on some cold, metallic surface and that someone heavy was sitting on him, holding his hoof in a tight embrace.

“Now, you’ll talk.” He heard a monotone voice. “Don’t bother screaming. Abandoned part of the basement. Just you and me.”

“What if I don’t talk?” the pony asked, looking around. The walls were covered with green tiles. There was also something that looked like a large chest of drawers made of metal on the opposite wall. A table, also made of metal, stood in the middle of the room. He realised he was lying on the other such table.

The pressure on his hoof increased. “The weakest point of the bone. I move it one more inch...” Schwalbe smirked. “Complicated, displaced fracture. Months to recover. Why are you here?”

“Fuck you... Aargh!” His scream was interrupted by an audible snap. He gritted his teeth, rolling on the table.

Schwalbe grabbed his other hoof. “You have three more. And two wings. Why are you here?”

“They... sent me...” The pony hissed.


“I can’t tell... Don’t break my hoof!” the hooded pony cried. “They’ll kill me...”

“They’re far away,” Schwalbe said innocently. “Me, however...”

“O-okay...” the pegasus shuddered. “I... I don’t really know them... There’s that guy, he’s always masked and he told us that we’re gonna rule the world and–”

“Rule the world?” Schwalbe clicked her tongue. “And you, such a smart colt, believed him?”

“I’ve seen things...” The pony licked his lips. “You have no idea...”

“I will,” Schwalbe replied. “They sent you here, right? Why?”

“I can’t... Aargh!”

“Two,” Schwalbe muttered. “So, why are you here?”

For a while, the pony was panting heavily, muttering curses under his breath. “They told me to follow...”

“Who? The wounded guard? Or the other one? Or maybe–” Schwalbe paused. The less ponies knew about Stellar Dust, the better.

“No...” the pony tried to move his hoof and hissed, gritting his teeth. “That doctor... Stable or something like that... I was just told to inform the guys when he leaves the hospital...”

“What guys?” Schwalbe asked, looking into the pegasus’ eyes.

“Not gonna tell...” the pony braced himself, but his hind leg was still intact. He looked at Schwalbe to see that she was looking at the metallic chest of drawers.

“Always wondered what’d happen if one got locked in those while alive...” Schwalbe muttered.

Scootaloo entered Riot Shield’s office, carefully balancing three cups of coffee in her hooves. “Hello, guys,” she said to Riot and Boysenberry who were sitting on the floor, surrounded by stashes of parchment. “Charge said that since Archer definitely didn’t kill Cyan Skies, I can help you with her papers. Did you find anything interesting?”

“So far, nothing,” Boysenberry replied. “Laundry, letters from aunt in Vanhoover, some orders from clients... Nothing interesting. Maybe for the tabloids. For example, Sapphire Shores once ordered twenty cream cakes on 3 AM and some guy called Black Marble–”

“Enough,” Riot muttered. “Don’t make Scootaloo think this work is fun. Few of her clients contacted her quite often.” He gave Scootaloo a piece of paper.

“Probably nothing,” Scootaloo muttered, looking through the paper. “And that’s definitely nothing. Fancy Pants needed catering for fifty ponies three times last month? How does that connect to a dead filly and some psycho with a crossbow?”

“Yeah, it’s crap,” Riot said. “Same like the fact that Fleur Dis Lee needed someone to go to Ponyville and buy fabric from Rarity.”

“What fabric?” Scootaloo asked. “Supermodels don’t usually buy fabric. They buy dresses...”

Boysenberry chuckled.

“What?” Scootaloo asked. “I don’t wear dresses, but I know something about them, okay? Rarity’s sister is... was my friend...” Scootaloo sighed. Over the last couple of years, she tried a lot of times to contact Sweetie Belle and tell her that she wanted to meet, but Sweetie never replied.

“Dunno,” Riot said. “They didn’t write what fabric.”

“I found something,” Boysenberry said, waving some piece of dirty parchment. “There’s a spiral on the top, same like on the kid’s wing... and...” She turned the paper upside-down. “I have no idea what it says...”

Riot looked at the parchment. “It’s some kind of code...” He gave the paper to Scootaloo, who read:

aeeso masef dathm ttrib koiew hhlya bmrie iltbe onlpm yhlgn ilote eimgg wounv ihieu needt vrcse nsteo hpdtu huv

“I don’t know...” Scootaloo said. “Someone got wounv and they needt vrc– How am I even supposed to pronounce that?”

“Better check if there are any hoofprints on it,” Riot said. “Also, there are some brainy guys in the station, give it to them instead of a morning crossword.”

“Sure,” Scootaloo said. She was about to get up, when she heard somepony knocking at the window.

“Schwalbe?” she asked, seeing the bat mare behind the glass. She rushed to open the window. “Something happened to Archer?”

“Better,” Schwalbe replied. “Where did your hare-brained cousin get that black cloak she was wearing?”

“Few years ago we arrested some idiots who tried to rob a grave,” Riot said, looking at Schwalbe unsurely. “After they got jailed, we didn’t need their cloaks lying in our evidence magazine anymore and we wanted to throw them away. Archer took one. She wanted to wear it during Nightmare Night or something...”

“Of course...” Schwalbe muttered, turning to Scootaloo. “Found another of those idiots. Told me we should go for a walk.”

“Now?” Scootaloo asked.

“Yes, now,” Schwalbe replied. “I’ll give her back safe and sound,” she said to Riot Shield.

They left the room through the window and flew above Canterlot. The sun was slowly setting behind the mountains.

“Is that guy alive?” Scootaloo asked. “The one you found.”

“Sure,” Schwalbe replied. “Two broken hooves. A little cold. Turns out, all pegasi are claustrophobic.”

“I’m not gonna ask...” Scootaloo muttered. “What did he say?”

“Had a black cloak. Our masked crossbowpony told him to follow Dr. Stable.”

“Dr. Stable? Why?” Scootaloo asked.

“Caves,” Schwalbe replied. “Remember his story? We both were in those caves... And now Cyan Skies was found there, right next to the entrance to that thing’s lair.”

“I don’t get it,” Scootaloo replied. “Why’d they follow Dr. Stable? He hasn’t been there ever since. He mentioned that his daughter’s cute-ceanera is today, so he’s not gonna go there. Moonwing probably never heard of that place, though she apparently lived nearby... What?” Scootaloo asked, seeing Schwalbe looking at her, frowning.

“His daughter, you say?” Schwalbe flapped her wings harder.

“That was really nice,” Lyra said when Heart Beat put the violin on the table. “When I was four, I couldn’t levitate anything.”

“Come on, Lyra, you’re a talent,” Bon Bon said when the other ponies gathered in Octavia’s house stopped clapping. “Your magic was as good when you were four as it is now...”

“I was quite talented,” Minuette muttered. She was sitting on the couch, resting herself against Beauty Brass, who didn’t seem happy about that. “And then Berry Punch came and screwed up my life...”

“Minuette...” Octavia hissed. “Are you drunk?”

“Maybe a bit,” Minuette muttered. “I’m sorry. Give me some coffee or something...” She stood up. “Well, maybe more than a bit...”

“You’d better go to sleep,” Lyra said. “Those rich guys are quite shocked by that Stable’s friend, but they may notice something...” She pointed at Dusk Dancer, who was looking at the statue of Arcturus standing by the stairs. Fleur approached her and the two started to talk.

“Sure,” Minuette muttered. She trotted through the crowd, bumping into Hoity Toity, who looked at her and winced. Minuette, however, didn’t notice him – she walked to Dusk Dancer and Fleur.

“I know you,” Fleur said, seeing her. “You are that doctor’s friend, right? The one who tried to cure that mare’s alcohol problem.”

“Sure I am...” Minuette replied, resting herself against Dusk Dancer, who hissed. “How do you know?”

“I was bitten by her too,” Fleur replied. “Dr. Stable wrote about it in his story...”

“Oh yeah, I totally forgot...” Minuette muttered and turned to Dusk Dancer. “And you were there too, right? In the caves, when Twilight Sparkle had to kill Berry...”

“Yes, I was there,” Dusk Dancer replied. “I’d rather not remember that...”

“Yeah, Equestria isn’t a fun place to live for you, huh? Idiots thinking you killed kids, trying to burn your home, making you live in the caves...”

“I like the caves, myself,” Dusk Dancer said. “And Fleur is really interested in bat pony culture. I think you should go to sleep, really. A kid is watching...”

“Yeah, kid...” Minuette looked at Heart Beat, who walked to the garden, sneaking between the guests. Most of them were Octavia’s and Dr. Stable’s friends; there were only a few foals there, mostly a bit older than Heart Beat. The filly, however, was actually very talkative, at least when she was among her peers. They were playing in the garden, watched carefully by Octavia’s mother.

Octavia approached Minuette and pulled her away from Dusk Dancer. “I still have a feeling that you enjoyed yourself too much today...” she muttered. “I’m sorry for her,” she said to Fleur.

“No problem,” Fleur said. “Have you seen Fancy?”

“He was talking with my husband and Hoity Toity about the money for the hospital,” Octavia replied.

“Of course...” Fleur muttered. “My husband can’t go for a minute without talking about money...”

Suddenly, the door to the garden opened and Octavia’s mother ran inside, panting. “S-some bat pony j-just grabbed Heart Beat and flew away with her!” she exclaimed.

Dusk Dancer took off immediately, but then Hoity Toity bumped into her, knocking her down. “Going to meet your partner?” he asked.

“I wanted to save her, you idiot!” Dusk Dancer exclaimed, kicking him in the face unceremoniously. She took off and flew through the door. In the garden, Black Marble, Lyra, and even Minuette were trying to stop the escaping bat pony with their magic. Several other ponies were running around, trying to calm down their screaming foals.

Dusk Dancer dodged Minuette’s magic beam and flew behind another bat pony, who was flying a bit erratically as Heart Beat kept thrashing. Dusk Dancer flapped her wings as fast as she could, but the foalnapper was too far.

Suddenly, another dark grey pony dived from the nearby cloud, tackling the foalnapper. Dusk Dancer screamed, seeing the filly slipping from their grasp. However, before she hit the ground, an orange pegasus caught her.

Dusk Dancer rushed to the pegasus, whom she recognised as Scootaloo. Heart Beat was trembling in her hooves, staring at the ground below.

“I got her,” Scootaloo said. “We’d better bring her home...”

“H-how?” Dusk Dancer asked, staring at the roof of the nearby building. Schwalbe pushed the foalnapper at it and punched her a few times.

“We got a tip-off,” Scootaloo replied. “Hey, Schwalbe! I want her to still be able to talk!”

“Don’t worry,” Schwalbe muttered, pinning the unconscious, green-maned bat pony to the roof.

Dusk Dancer took Heart Beat from Scootaloo. “I’d better go back there,” she muttered. “I think I broke Hoity Toity’s jaw...”

“Way to go...” Scootaloo nodded. “We’ll join you later. Tell them that no one can leave the house.”

“Sure,” Dusk Dancer replied and flew away.

Scootaloo joined Schwalbe at the roof. Their prisoner was slowly getting back to consciousness. She didn’t look like a foalnapper – she was only a bit older than Scootaloo and looked pretty nice, despite her lankiness and a black eye.

Schwalbe shook her brutally. “Who are you?” she asked. “You don’t talk – I’ll cut your wings to shreds and throw you on the pavement, like your friend did to Moonwing...”

“Please, no!” the mare exclaimed, crying. “I... I had to do that...”

“Why?” Scootaloo asked.

“Th-they already killed one of my daughters...” the mare replied, shuddering. “And they said that they’ll kill Stellar too...”

Second Plan

View Online

Boysenberry sighed, seeing the first pony she was supposed to interrogate. A blue, middle-aged unicorn mare was drinking her third coffee, but she still was barely able to sit straight. Boysenberry looked around, but Charge was busy talking to Octavia, while Riot Shield was sitting next to Lyra, taking long and detailed notes. Scootaloo went to the station with the captured bat pony and all the other guards were also busy.

“So, are you gonna say something?” the blue mare asked. “I’m Minuette and you should know that since I remember you from Ponyville, kid. I hardly remember anything and I’d rather go to sleep. Oh, and I tried to hit that bat pony with my magic, but my aim is shit now. Can I go?”

“Wait a minute,” Boysenberry said. “Do you recall where was everyone after Heart Beat was kidnapped?”

Minuette scratched her head. “Lyra was with me... And that cute white guy... Dusk Dancer flew behind her. She, like, kicked Hoity Toity, I think.”

“Why?” Boysenberry asked, remembering a grey earth pony who had been transported to the hospital.

“Because he was an idiot,” Minuette replied. “Can I go?”

“Yes, you can go...” Boysenberry sighed again.

“So, everypony started to panic, and then Dusk Dancer kicked that old dude, and I was like, ‘I got it, Bonnie’, and I ran to the garden and fired a spell and–”

“Ms. Heartstrings, can you speak a bit slower?” Riot Shield asked, staring at his broken pencil. He grabbed another one from the table and looked back at Lyra. “I’d like to know if you noticed something unusual about other guests?”

Lyra scratched her head. “Well, Dusk Dancer talked with Fleur about Arcturus...”


“That guy over there,” Lyra replied, pointing at the statue. “He was a leader of the bat pony tribe. Fleur told me about it a few days ago.”

Riot Shield made a note to check who Arcturus was. “What else?”

“Octavia panicked, Dr. Stable joined us, but it was already over when he did, so he didn’t have an occasion to magick her–”

“Okay, I get the idea. How about the other unicorns? Or any pegasi, for that matter?”

“There weren’t any pegasi here,” Lyra replied. “I have no idea how about the unicorns. Because, you know, Fancy Pants was talking with Dr. Stable and Fleur was talking with Dusk Dancer and they didn’t have time to just, you know, run to the garden and go all, like, ‘I got it!’ and–”

“Yeah, I already wrote that,” Riot Shield muttered. He sighed, seeing that Boysenberry already finished her interrogation. “You said that Fancy Pants was talking with Dr. Stable. How about the rest?”

“I don’t exactly know everypony here,” Lyra replied. “But, as I said, I was with Bonnie, Octy, and Minuette, Octy’s mom was in the garden, those guys there...” She made a wide gesture. “They were drinking and talking to each other. That mare, I think her name is Upper Crust, she talked with Black Marble and wanted to run with him to the garden when the whole shitstorm started... I’m sorry,” she muttered, seeing Riot’s expression. “When Heart Beat was kidnapped, she ran with Black Marble, but bumped into somepony... Fancy Pants, I think. Oh, and those two teenagers disappeared somewhere, but then Bonnie found them in the kitchen, having–”

“Yes, we already interrogated them,” Riot Shield said. “Thank you Ms. Heartstring. Please, call us if you remember some more details.” He stood up and walked to Boysenberry, who was waiting by the door.

“How was yours?” Riot asked, seeing that the young guard was rubbing her forehead.

“Drunk,” Boysenberry replied. “How about yours?”


“Nice. So, how about a drink?” Boysenberry asked. They walked out of the house and headed to one of the carriages.

“Not now,” Riot said. “We need to go back to the station and try to make something out of those testimonies...” He sighed. “Also, I wonder what Scootaloo got from the foalnapper.”

“She and Archer are always getting the best jobs,” Boysenberry muttered. “She’s talking with the criminal while we have to deal with drunken nobles...”

“Scootaloo caught her,” Riot said, taking a place in the carriage. “Also, you may not remember that, but it was me who was working on the Babs Seed case. Archer only shot her.”

“Yeah...” Boysenberry muttered. “Though from what I’ve heard, they were solving Featherweight’s murder at the same time. Also, I’m pretty sure it was that crazy bat who caught the foalnapper. Scootaloo wouldn’t pummel her that much.”

Riot nodded, watching the other guards leaving the house and joining them. “Well, she helps us a lot... But I’m not sure about her. Scootaloo is oddly quiet about her.”

“I’ll ask her about that,” Boysenberry said as the carriages set off.

Scootaloo looked at the bat mare in front of her. Her mane was in a mess – she was constantly pulling it on their way to the station. She was shaking and crying when they seated her in the interrogation room. Her face was swollen after Schwalbe hit her and she was currently observing Scootaloo with only one of her yellow eyes.

“What’s your name?” Scootaloo asked. She knew that Charge was watching them from behind the two-way mirror. The more information she could get from the bat mare the better.

“Cygnus,” the mare replied. “Where’s Stellar Dust?”

“She’s safe with us,” Scootaloo said. “Who told you to foalnap Heart Beat?”

“She’s not safe,” Cygnus muttered, shuddering. “If they know that I failed... They’ll find her... They’re everywhere.”

“Who?” Scootaloo asked, barely stopping herself from sighing.

“They... The cult. They need a sacrifice...” Cygnus whimpered. “They tried with Moonwing. Someone took her when I was away, leaving only a smell of perfume.”

“Cyan Skies?” Scootaloo asked.

“Something like that. She wanted to foalnap Stellar too, but she ran away. At least that was what this masked guy told me.”

“What masked guy?” Scootaloo leaned closer to Cygnus.

“He came to me a few days later, asking where’s Stellar,” Cygnus replied. “He... He told me that Moonwing tried to fight... and she slipped from Cyan’s grasp. I told him that I didn’t know... He took a crossbow and wanted to kill me...” She started to cry loudly.

“And what happened next?” Scootaloo asked when Cygnus calmed down a bit.

“He got a message. S-some pegasus wearing a black cloak came to him and said that somepony called Schwalbe found Stellar.” Cygnus shivered. “He was pissed. I... I thought he’d shoot me, but he said... something about three fillies being... suitable as a sacrifice. He told me to either bring them the third one or they’d kill Stellar...” She hid her face in her hooves.

“I understand,” Scootaloo said. “Stellar is guarded by us. There’s no way they can get her.”

“You understand nothing...” Cygnus whispered. “They’re everywhere.”

“Then we’ll catch them,” Scootaloo said. “An organisation that big can’t hide forever...”

Boysenberry looked at the board hanging from the wall of the office. They put everything they learned from the guests on it. She even drew a plan of Octavia’s house, showing everypony’s position at the time when Heart Beat was kidnapped. Still, it didn’t make any sense.

Her gaze landed on the pile of Cyan Skies’ papers, still lying on her desk. She noticed a small, green sticky note glued to something that appeared to be someone’s grocery list. She looked at it. “9x11” was all it said.

Boysenberry groaned. Nothing in this case seemed to make sense.

She looked at the piece of paper with the encrypted message written on it. Riot was supposed to take it to someone who’d try to crack it, but he had apparently forgotten about it. Boysenberry picked it up and looked at the sticky note again. Then, she quickly picked up a pen.

The hospital corridor was dark and silent. Icewind looked around unsurely. It seemed to her that there was nopony there, but he preferred to be careful. After all, nopony expected that Stormcloud would come back from this very hospital with two broken hooves.

Icewind sighed. Maybe Stormcloud was good when it came to the rituals, but he was hopeless when sent on a mission. Icewind saw him before. He even put his black cloak on! Icewind shook her head – she worked in that hospital as a nurse for five years. She had a perfect opportunity to watch dr. Stable. But no, they had to send Stormcloud there.

Icewind trotted down the corridor and stood in front of the door. The orders were easy: go inside, grab a filly and fly away as fast as possible. From what she heard from Stormcloud, it was supposed to be the plan B, which meant that plan A failed.

Stormcloud is a complete idiot, Icewind thought. He couldn’t spend a minute anywhere without raising suspicious. Hell, instead of staying in the hospital after Icewind found him, he had to run away from it, flying with two broken legs. Of course, he passed out two blocks away from the hospital and was transported back there. Icewind thought that it was a miracle that the cops didn’t get interested in him.

She opened the door. In the dim light, she could clearly see a small lump on the bed, covered by a blanket. She walked to the bed, trying not to make any noise. No doctor was going to go there, but Icewind didn’t want to take any chances. She approached the bed and grabbed a blanket, ready to gag the filly in case she wanted to scream.

“What the–” she muttered, seeing a pile of cushions and rolled blankets in the place where Stellar Dust was supposed to be. She barely felt a pin prick after which her vision started to darken slowly. Shuddering, she turned back, feeling that the time slowed down to a crawl.

Behind her, stood a short, grey-maned mare, her eyes hidden behind thick-rimmed glasses. She was holding a syringe, staring coldly at Icewind.

“You really thought we’d keep her here?” the mare asked.

“Who–” Icewind felt that her muscles weren’t listening to her. She started to sweat – just like Stormcloud and many pegasi, she didn’t feel well in narrow spaces. Now, she was about to experience the worst kind of imprisonment – being trapped in her own body.

The older mare watched as Icewind staggered, resting herself against the bed. She slowly collapsed to the floor, her body twitching from time to time.

“Sleep well, bitch,” the old mare muttered. “Once you wake up, you will answer to a few questions...”

The door opened and a guard walked in. “Hello, Ice Pick,” he said, looking at Icewind lying on the floor. “Is that her, or did you put down some innocent nurse?”

“Apparently,” Ice Pick replied. “She sneaked in here like some thief. But, as you can see, I didn’t smear her face on the wall, just in case.”

“Hmm...” the guard looked at Icewind, who was trying desperately to move any part of her body other than her eyes. “A nurse. That’d fit, you know? One of Charge’s kids caught another kidnapper who said that they’re everywhere.” He poked Icewind with his hoof. “Let’s get her to the station and see what she’ll tell us...”

“Ice Pick caught somepony trying to get to Stellar Dust,” Riot Shield said, entering the office. He saw Boysenberry biting the pen, staring at a piece of paper in front of her. “We should tell her mother that she’s safe.”

Boysenberry spat a pen on the table. “She probably won’t believe us. Scootaloo said that she is...” She waved her hoof around her ear and went back to the papers. “I thought I found a key to Cyan Skies’ code, but it’s probably a bunch of horseapples.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Riot replied. “I was thinking... There were three fillies those nutjobs could sacrifice, right? Moonwing, Stellar Dust, and Heart Beat. What connects them?”

“They all have grey coats...” Boysenberry muttered. “No, it’s not that.”

“Yeah, not to mention that Moonwing’s mane was green, Stellar’s is purple and Heart Beat’s is brown,” Scootaloo said, entering the room. “I see you’re brainstorming.”

“Yeah,” Boysenberry muttered, sighing. “What else?”

“Age,” Riot Shield said. “Heart Beat and Stellar Dust are both about four years old. Moonwing was six.”

“There are thousands of four-year-olds in this town.” Boysenberry looked at the papers and started to draw something on them.

“True,” Scootaloo said. “They have almost nothing in common. Two bat ponies, one unicorn. One of them blind. One of them lives in a moderately rich family, her father is a doctor, her mother is a musician. Moonwing and Stellar’s father is dead, their mother is a cleaner. They’re kids, they live in Canterlot... Nothing more. They probably never met.”

“There must be something...” Riot Shield muttered. “And, above all, what they want to sacrifice them to?”

“The unspeakable,” Boysenberry replied.

“What?” Scootaloo exclaimed. “What’s the unspeakable?”

“Dunno,” Boysenberry replied. “Maybe...” She stared at the wall and smirked. “Maybe that thing from the caves?”

“That’s possible,” Riot Shield said. “And how do you know about this?”

Boysenberry pointed at the piece of paper she’d been drawing on. “Cyan Skies told me...”

Always Someone Better

View Online

Button Mash took a deep breath and entered the hospital room. Just a few minutes before, he saw two ponies, an older mare and a young stallion carrying an unconscious nurse somewhere. He thought that she’d probably passed out from exhaustion and thus she wouldn’t mind if he visited Archer.

Archer’s heart monitor was working steadily, beeping quietly as Button approached her. Even if it wasn’t there, it’d be easy to see that Archer was alive – she was snoring loudly, muttering something from time to time.

“Archer?” Button whispered.

Archer’s eyes snapped open. Button winced when her hind leg connected with his side. Luckily for him, the kick was quite weak. Archer hissed and looked at Button. She smiled and reached for her quill and notebook.

You should be happy that I didn’t have a crossbow, she wrote. They’d bring you directly to the morgue.

“That’s why they don’t let the patients have crossbows,” Button whispered. “How are you?”

Sleep-deprived. Couldn’t you wait till the morning?

“I wanted to see you now,” Button replied, kissing Archer’s cheek. “I was just thinking...” He paused, seeing that Archer was writing something.

I have a new hole, if that’s where you’re going. Though I guess the doctors wouldn’t approve.

Button smacked his forehead with his hoof. “No, silly... I was just... you know, I love you and...” Button scratched his mane. “I think that you shouldn’t work as a guard. You can go to archery competitions... Just don’t do anything that can get you killed...”

Archer sighed, narrowing her eyes. “Last time I went to a competition, somepony shot a judge in his hotel room from over a hundred metres,” she said in a raspy voice, not even bothering to get the notebook. “Tough shot, but there were twenty suspects in town. Get it? I just love solving such cases.”

Button shook his head. “Either work or me,” he said.

“Can I think about it when it’s not the middle of the night and I’m not feeling like shit?” Archer asked. She turned in her bed as much as the various tubes surrounding it let her. Groaning, she tried to cover herself with a blanket, but suddenly, she hissed and grabbed her stomach.

“You okay?” Button asked, helping her with the blanket.

Archer nodded.

“Should I call a nurse? You didn’t tear anything, umm... inside, did you?”

Archer opened her mouth, but a fit of coughing interrupted her. She shook her head, reached for her pen, and started to scribble something in her notebook.

If you find any, tell her that I’d throw up, but this shit they feed me ain’t good even for that.

Archer winced, spitting the pen. “No, seriously, get somepony here...” she whispered. “Painkillers wearing off...”

Button rushed out of the room.

“I don’t get it,” Scootaloo muttered, staring at the paper in front of her. Some of the scribblings were crossed out and she noticed that Boysenberry drew something rather inappropriate in the corner. “You just arranged them in a table...”

“Which has nine rows and eleven columns, yes,” Boysenberry said.

“Still, it doesn’t explain anything.” Riot Shield waved the paper with his magic and looked at it closer.

a e e s o m a s e
f d a t h m t t r
i b k o i e w h h
l y a b m r i e i
l t b e o n l p m
y h l g n i l o
t e e i m g g w
o u n v i h i e
u n e e d t v r
c s e n s t e o
h p d t u h u v

“You seriously can’t see that?” Boysenberry asked, sighing. “Read along the columns, not the rows!”

Scootaloo looked at the paper again. “Oh shit...” she muttered.

The encrypted message was saying:

A filly touched by the Unspeakable needs to be given to him on Midsummer night. That will give us the power over him.

“So, we have a week, right?” Riot Shield asked. “Also, what do they mean by being touched by the Unspeakable?”

“Well, unless they wait another year,” Boysenberry said. “We caught a few of them. Maybe they keep their identities secret even from each other, but there’s no way those idiots know totally nothing. We need to push them a bit.” She stood up.

Scootaloo put her hoof on Boysenberry’s shoulder. “Dr. Stable!” she exclaimed. “He was in the caves and they wanted to kidnap his daughter. Cygnus lived in those caves... Maybe she or her daughters wandered there?”

“They’d be dead now,” Boysenberry muttered, shaking Scootaloo’s hoof off of her. “That thing makes ponies attack other ponies, remember?”

“I guess it’s weakened, or something,” Scootaloo said. “Maybe we should go and contact Twilight Sparkle. If someone knows something more about this thing, it’d be her.”

“Meanwhile, we’ll have to protect those fillies for a week,” Riot said. “Stellar is already in one of our safe houses, protected by our best ponies. Maybe we should do the same with Heart Beat?”

“They already have our bodyguards there,” Scootaloo muttered. “But yeah, we can talk to Charge about that.”

Riot Shield nodded. “I’ll go to him.” He stood up and left the room.

He barely left when the door opened again and Ice Pick stood in it. “Here you are,” she said. “I brought you a suspect. She’s kinda sleepy, but she should be able to talk soon...”

“Who’s she, exactly?” Scootaloo asked.

“I checked her. Her name is Icewind and she is a nurse. Her shift was long over, yet she came to me and tried to take Stellar. She has been caught stealing meds once, but someone hushed this up...”

“Interesting,” Boysenberry muttered. “So, let’s see what our nurse has to say...”

They walked to the interrogation room where a greyish pegasus was sitting, her face hidden in her hooves. When the door slammed behind them, she raised her head and looked at them.

“I get it,” she said, slurrying slightly. “Good cop and bad cop?”

“Bad cop and homicidal cop,” Boysenberry replied, narrowing her eyes.

“I want a lawyer,” Icewind said quickly. “I won’t tell anything without my lawyer.”

“Oh, I have no doubts.” Scootaloo circled around the table, staring at Icewind. “He’ll be here soon. I have a feeling that he’ll make us wonder how a nurse can afford such a good lawyer...”

“Also, lots of things can happen while your lawyer is on the way.” Boysenberry looked at her hoof and leaned closer to Icewind, whispering, “Like, you can fall down the flight of stairs and snap your neck.”

“Boysenberry!” Scootaloo hissed.

“That’s threatening,” Icewind muttered. “Also, one of you already broke my friend’s hooves and locked him in the fridge. My lawyer–”

“Oh, so this guy is your friend?” Scootaloo asked. “It’s not us who broke his hooves, but it’s nice that you know him. He told us interesting things about fillies... and the Unspeakable.”

Icewind’s left eye twitched. “I don’t know him. He was my patient, that’s all. Also, what fillies? What’s the Unspeakable?”

“You’d better start to talk,” Boysenberry said, staring at Icewind and smirking. “Your friends won’t help you. One of them shot a guard, not to mention killing and kidnapping. They’ll blame you and run away...”

“Also, my cousin told me an interesting story, recently.” Scootaloo leaned closer to Icewind. “About a pegasus mare who wanted to burn a bat pony’s house. They put her in a cell with three bat mares... Do you know what they did to her?”

“Those three are still in prison, you know,” Boysenberry said. “I wonder how they’ll react to a tip-off that you killed a filly...”

“I didn’t!” Icewind exclaimed. “It was that dumb cunt, Cyan Skies!”

“Oh, we already know about that,” Scootaloo said. “But we hope that you’ll tell us more names...”

“I can’t,” Icewind said, hiding her face in her hooves. “You saw what they did to Cyan... They’ll kill me too...”

“I’m almost moved,” Boysenberry deadpanned. “Maybe if you cry some more in the court, they’ll give you a life sentence instead of–”

“I... I’d tell you if I knew those guys...” Icewind said. “There’s that guy... Always masked. And there was a mare. She was mostly talking with Cyan. Unicorn, I think. Always masked and cloaked. Smelled of some foreign perfume. They helped me when I was caught stealing meds and paid for my rehab. Lawyers, doctors, reporters... The guy who contacted me first is a doctor, his name is Terminal... Axon Terminal.”

“We’ll talk to him,” Scootaloo said. “Did you know someone else?”

“No, this was all our group. Me, Doctor Terminal, and Stormcloud. I knew Cyan only because she was sometimes giving us messages. During the meetings we were masked.”

“Meetings?” Boysenberry asked. “What meetings?”

“Rituals. I was only in one, a few months ago,” Icewind said. “That masked guy was reading some old book near the collapsed cave. I didn’t understand a single word. We’ve never got any invitation after that.”

“Okay,” Scootaloo muttered. “You’d better stay here.” She gave Boysenberry a look and they walked out of the room.

“So, what do you think?” Boysenberry asked.

“They’re clever,” Scootaloo said. “Split into small groups, so if we catch one, they won’t betray too many of their companions. I guess they pretend they’re bigger than they really are.”

“Yeah.” Boysenberry yawned. “I haven’t slept for, like, last two days.”

“Me neither.” Scootaloo sighed. “I think I’ll go home. Tomorrow I’ll go to Ponyville to talk with Twilight.”

“And I’ll take a day off,” Boysenberry said. “Tootsie probably forgot how I look like...”

“Who?” Scootaloo asked.

“My roommate,” Boysenberry replied. “Sometimes more. Hey, you two were in school together! You should know her.”

“Tootsie? Yeah, maybe...” Scootaloo muttered, suddenly thinking of Shady Daze. “Also, what do you mean by ‘more’? I always thought that you and Riot–”

Boysenberry shook her head. “No way, he’s older than me... Also, it’s nothing serious. Benefits, mostly.”

Scootaloo nodded. “Interesting that we barely know each other... Coffee?”

“It’s night.” Boysenberry sighed. “I wanna go home and go to sleep instead of walking around like a caffeine-powered zombie. Tootsie finds it disturbing.”

“Yeah...” Scootaloo yawned. “Maybe later. Let’s go home...”

It was early morning when Scootaloo got back home. She landed in front of the door and immediately saw Curtain Call sitting on a bench and smoking a cigarette.

“Hello,” Curtain Call said, trying to focus only on Scootaloo, not watching the street behind her. “Can’t sleep. Also, some guy was knocking at your door. I told him that you’re at work, but he said that he’d wait.”

“Thanks,” Scootaloo muttered. “How’s Diamond?”

“Better than me,” Curtain Call replied. “But hey, who said that life is fair...”

“Yeah...” Scootaloo walked to the door.

“Say, if you were locked for most of your life, with ponies constantly telling you that you killed your parents, and if you realised one day, that you really did... What’d you do?” Curtain Call asked.

“No idea,” Scootaloo said. “Seriously...”

“Yet I have to deal with that...” Curtain Call blew out the smoke and sighed. “No wonder I can’t sleep.”

Scootaloo nodded. “Okay, I’ll see what’s going on with this guy. Take care, Curtain.”

Trotting upstairs, Scootaloo wondered who was that. She hoped it’d be Shady Daze, but she couldn’t get rid of a nasty feeling that the mysterious organisation that killed Moonwing could send somepony to deal with her.

“Scootaloo? Is that you?” she heard a familiar voice above her.

“Button?” Scootaloo felt that her stomach froze. “Is something wrong with Archer?”

“She’s alive,” Button replied. “But everything hurts her. She asks how’s the investigation.”

“We made a breakthrough,” Scootaloo said, opening the door of her flat. “It’s all secret, you know.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Button muttered. “Scootaloo...”


“I told her to give up her job or I’ll break up with her,” Button said, staring at the floor.

“And?” Scootaloo asked, yawning louder than it was necessary.

“I don’t know,” Button replied. “I have a feeling she doesn’t love me anymore.”

“It’s Archer,” Scootaloo said. “Sometimes I think my aunt dropped her on her head one time too many when she was a foal. Give her time to think.” She looked at Button. “Lots of time.”

“But still... She could’ve died and–”

“Listen, I’m not the best at this, okay?” Scootaloo sighed. “My previous coltfriend landed in jail and last guy I met has probably already forgotten that I exist. And I kinda haven’t slept for a while.”

“Okay,” Button muttered. “Maybe I’ll go back to Archer...”

“I’ll join you later,” Scootaloo said before closing the door.

The carriage rode from the station. For some time it was riding between the crowd of ponies going to work, before the pony pulling it chose a way down.

Icewind stretched her wings. She shuddered – the carriage wasn’t very big and she started to feel uncomfortable. For a moment she thought about Stormcloud, locked in the fridge in the morgue.

She found a piece of paper tucked under her wing and grabbed one of her feathers with her teeth. The feather was still alive and she hissed pulling it off. She noticed a drop of blood on its tip and started to write quickly, from time to time poking the wound with the feather to get more blood.

tio een hhd msk aee eys eff ymo eyi ile udg nll fgt odl hru hnt y

She didn’t write any numbers. From what she knew, the guards already knew that code, so it’d be useless. The pony to whom the message was addressed knew how to read it.

Icewind moved her face to a hole in the wall, smelling the air. A sharp odour of barley malt told her that they were in the lower district of the capital and the brewery was nearby. Icewind banged her hoof against the wall of the carriage.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I haven’t taken a leak before we left, so if you don’t want any mess in the carriage...”

“Sure,” the guard pulling the cart muttered. “There should be some toilet here. Just try not to show up too much. Your friends may be hunting for you...”

“I know,” Icewind muttered. The carriage stopped and she walked out of it. Indeed, there was a toilet there – a small staircase leading to a basement with a row of stalls. The guard gave Icewind a bit so she could pay and she walked downstairs.

“Hello,” Icewind said to the washroom attendant – an older mare with long, greyish blue mane. “My stomach is a bit upset. Must be the salad I ate.” She threw a bit on the counter.

“Watch out for stall number three,” the washroom attendant said, her expression unchanged. “It’s haunted.”

“I’m not afraid of the ghosts,” Icewind said and put a piece of paper on the counter. “Have a nice day.” She trotted to the stall.

Few minutes later, Icewind walked out of the toilet and went back to the carriage, bumping into some sleepy bat mare walking down the street. The bat mare only looked at her and trotted to the toilet.

“Morning,” she said to the washroom attendant, who didn’t even look at her, reading a newspaper. “My stomach is a bit upset...”

“Yeah, take the message and get the fuck out,” the washroom attendant muttered.

“... must be some foal-killing fucker I ate...”

The washroom attendant raised her head – right in time to see a pair of yellow eyes with slit pupils glaring at her from under half-closed eyelids.

The Thing

View Online

Scootaloo stretched her hooves. The train to Ponyville was about to arrive at the Canterlot station and she was already thinking about getting into the carriage and catching some sleep before visiting Twilight Sparkle. There were only a few other ponies on the platform with her, all of them walking around groggily.

Suddenly, Scootaloo felt a cold breeze on her back and heard a sound of hooves touching the ground. She turned around quickly and saw Schwalbe, who sat on the concrete, panting heavily.

Scootaloo’s eyes widened when she looked at Schwalbe more exactly. The bat mare had a black eye and she was clutching her chest with her hoof. Blood in her fur around that place was giving disturbing clues of what was underneath.

“Don’t worry,” Schwalbe said, making a grimace that was probably supposed to be smile. “Had a knife. Looks worse.” She leaned closer to Scootaloo and whispered, “Drowned her in the toilet.”

“Who?” Scootaloo asked, shuddering.

“Some mare Icewind went to,” Schwalbe replied. “Gave her this.” She produced a bloodied piece of paper with encrypted text. “Still plotting something.”

“We observe her, from what I know...” Scootaloo muttered. “But if she really tried to give somepony the message...” She heard the sound of the train. “Listen, I’m going to Ponyville. Can you find a guard called Boysenberry? She has a violet mane, usually a braid...”

“This one. Yeah.” Schwalbe nodded. “Saw her a few times. Doesn’t like you. Where does she live?”

Scootaloo shrugged. Suddenly, a thought came to her mind. “How does the place where you, umm... got this message look like?”

Schwalbe’s face became red. “Could be worse,” she replied. “Cleaned the blood. Wasn’t much, you know. But there’s the body... Couldn’t get it out.”

“She’ll be there,” Scootaloo said, trying to keep her voice steady. She and Archer were one thing, but if Boysenberry got enough evidence to arrest Schwalbe...

Schwalbe scratched her mane. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Hung ‘out of order’ sign on the door. It’ll take a while before somepony finds her.”

“So?” Scootaloo asked and sighed. “What does it change?”

Schwalbe smirked. “Oh, officer,” she said in a high-pitched voice, with a distinctive accent from the north of Great Bridletain. “I went inside and I saw that washroom attendant in the stall number three... I tried to help but it was too late... She held that in her hoof, some kind of message... I tried not to touch anything but I may have left–”

“Nice,” Scootaloo muttered, seeing that her train arrived. “But Boysenberry knows how you look like. Also, you’re wounded...”

“No problem,” Schwalbe said. “Do you have a thread and needle?”

“Go to the doctor, Schwalbe...” Scootaloo muttered, stepping into the carriage.

“Don’t worry about me...” Schwalbe blinked.

Boysenberry groaned. Not only the first thing she had to do in the morning was going to some sordid public toilet to get the corpse out of the stall, but also the pony who found the body happened to be an old earth mare wearing a baggy dress, a hat, and a pair of glasses with lenses so thick that they looked like bottle bottoms. The old lady also had a weird accent and an obnoxious speech impediment, as if she was trying to speak without opening her mouth.

Boysenberry looked at the old mare and finished deciphering the message. “They’ll hide me from you. Guessed the key. Gonna find the filly,” she read and tore the page from her notebook.

“Give it to Charge,” she said to Riot Shield, giving him the note. “Try to talk with him for a while. I have something to say to our witness in private.”

“Okay,” Riot replied.

Boysenberry approached the old mare who was eyeing the guards curiously. “Okay,” she said. “So, you just came here and saw the body in the stall, right?”

“Exactly,” the mare replied. “I jutht had to, you know... My bladder ithn’t ath good ath it uthed to be...”

“And you’re completely sure that you weren’t here in the evening?” Boysenberry trotted closer to the mare.

“Where did you get that idea?”

“Schwalbe, or whatever your name is...” Boysenberry whispered. “If you want to hide the fact that you’re a bat pony, don’t lower your glasses when looking at my badge...”

“Okay, you got me,” Schwalbe muttered, dropping her accent and lisp. “What do you want?”

“Put you in the cuffs and get you to the station,” Boysenberry replied. “You’re a fucking idiot, you know? If you want to play the guard, you should’ve watched this place instead of killing that crapper manager... Sooner or later, she’d give that message to someone else. Now they know that something’s wrong...”

“That’s the point,” Schwalbe said. “They’ll now do something stupid.”

“So far, the only stupid ones here are you and Archer.” Boysenberry sighed. “I’ll give you one last chance. I’ll let you go, but if I ever see you with Scootaloo, or anywhere outside your district, you’re going to prison. Who knows how many unsolved murders will be explained...”

“You won’t do that,” Schwalbe said, taking off her glasses and staring into Boysenberry’s eyes. “Defeated stronger guys than you.”

Boysenberry didn’t even blink. Instead of a reply, she smacked Schwalbe’s side, causing her to hiss and lean against the wall, panting. “You’re unconsciously protecting that place,” Boysenberry said. “Also, we found your blood on the floor. I can add one to one too...”

Schwalbe said nothing, getting her bearings.

“Get out,” Boysenberry said. “Leave finding those ponies to the guards.”

Schwalbe glared at her angrily and walked out of the toilet. Boysenberry smirked, seeing her getting rid of her disguise and flying away in an errant manner.

“Now, let’s see what you’ll tell us...” she muttered, staring at the body lying on the stretcher.

Scootaloo got out of the train and stood on the platform. The town didn’t change much since she was a filly. A new layer of paint had been put on the walls of the station. Some new houses were built near it, and Scootaloo didn’t know most of the children running around her. She trotted down the street, heading to Twilight’s castle.


Scootaloo turned to see a young, yellow filly with orange mane and blue eyes. “Hello, Pumpkin,” she said. “How’s Pinkie?”

“Great,” Pumpkin replied. “She’s helping Rarity and Fluttershy with the kids. Pound is helping mom and dad in the bakery and I’m going to Twilight. Midsummer is soon and Pinkie is preparing a party.”

“Actually, I’m going to Twilight too,” Scootaloo said. She smirked, seeing Sweet Apple Acres in the distance. Apple Bloom was probably busy, but she made a mental note to visit her after her talk with Twilight.

“Is it something about that dungeon?” Pumpkin asked, crossing the street. Scootaloo realised that they were walking by Lyra and Bon Bon’s house. She thought of Babs Seed and shuddered.

“How do you know?” Scootaloo looked at Pumpkin unsurely.

“Oh, come on.” Pumpkin sighed. “All kids read that story. When I was, like, ten, we were telling it during the sleepovers.”

Scootaloo shook her head. “I much preferred the Headless Horse...”

“Pound once said that there was a filly who dared to go to Twilight and ask her how it really was.” Pumpkin looked back at Lyra and Bon Bon’s house. “Twilight told her and later that filly went insane and killed several ponies, including Bon Bon’s sister and that filly with glasses who haunts the cemetery. But I think he made this up. And I’ve never seen any ghost at the cemetery.”

“Yeah...” Scootaloo muttered. “It was three years earlier...”

“Really? So it happened for real?” Pumpkin asked.

“Well, not the Twilight part,” Scootaloo said. “And I’m pretty sure ghosts aren’t real.”

They walked to the gate of Twilight’s castle. Pumpkin raised her hoof and knocked.

After a while, they heard steps and the door opened. “Hello, Pumpkin,” Spike said. “Scootaloo! I didn’t recognise you...”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo muttered. “I guess it’s the mane. Is Twilight home?”

“Sure,” Spike replied. “She’s upstairs, reading.”

Scootaloo and Pumpkin walked inside the castle. Pumpkin went with Spike to the kitchen to talk about the party preparations and Scootaloo trotted upstairs.

“Hello, Twilight,” she said.

Twilight moved slightly. Despite the sunny weather outside, the curtains were closed and the room was dim. Twilight seemed to be napping and Scootaloo thought that maybe she should retreat and come back later.

“Scootaloo?” Twilight asked. She opened the curtains with her magic and the room was flooded with sunlight. “What brings you here?”

“Nothing good, I’m afraid,” Scootaloo replied. “I guess you’ve heard about what happens in Canterlot now?”

Twilight nodded. “I’ve read about it in the newspapers. Some guard was shot recently.”

“My cousin,” Scootaloo said. “She’ll be okay,” she added, seeing Twilight opening her mouth. “The thing is, those who shot her, also killed a filly and tried to kidnap the other one. We suspect that it may have something to do with what happened twelve years ago...”

“I’ve never told anypony about what happened there,” Twilight said in a monotone, avoiding Scootaloo’s gaze. “I did some research, of course... but it can’t–”

“Those who killed that filly are probably trying to bring that thing back,” Scootaloo said. “I need to know what’s going on.”

“There was a book there.” Twilight looked at Scootaloo, but her eyes seemed to focus on something distant; an event from the past she’d tried to forget. “Dr. Stable mentioned it in his story.”

“I don’t remember that part,” Scootaloo muttered.

“It wasn’t exactly a book, just the cover and some remains of the pages,” Twilight whispered, as if she was afraid to speak louder. “What I saw there was... blasphemous. It was just remains of some formula, but... Well, a moment later I saw it working.”

“What exactly was that?” Scootaloo asked.

For a moment, Twilight was silent. “I researched it. Some of the books on the early Equestrian history are hard to find, but after I had to... k-kill Berry, I needed to know why. Shortly after the Princesses defeated King Sombra, a group of wizards managed to summon this thing. It wouldn’t be wise to speak its name.”

“Summon?” Scootaloo asked. “From where?”

“It is mentioned that it came from the very distant part of space, where it lived with similar creatures surrounding–” Twilight winced. “The book called them ‘gods’ or ‘spirits’, but they’re nothing like Discord or other such beings. Well, maybe a bit.”

“I’m pretty sure that I’ll recognise it when I see it,” Scootaloo said. “What did it do?”

Twilight’s eye twitched. “After summoning, it killed half of the unicorns who did that on the spot. Clover the Clever mentions that many of the others went insane. Some of them were disfigured... It stayed in the mines beneath Canterlot and soon the miners started to disappear.

“After some time, they managed to find the culprit. One of the unicorns, long presumed dead, was caught red-hoofed, trying to attack a daughter of one of the miners. His friends saved her and bludgeoned him to death.”

“Nice guys,” Scootaloo muttered. “What happened later?”

“Soon after, two miners went crazy and attacked their co-workers,” Twilight replied. “The rest checked in which tunnel they were working and collapsed it. For some time, it calmed down.”

“I guess it wasn’t long,” Scootaloo said. “That whole thing reminds me of Berry.”

“Indeed.” Twilight sighed. “The former leader of the cultists started to gather new allies. He wrote a manuscript which was a compilation of some old magic books, myths, and his own theories, stating that this... creature could be controlled. He said that it needed food and that was why it was making ponies aggressive. He thought that if he sacrificed a pony to it, a pony who was earlier ‘chosen’ by it, he’d be able to control it. This is, of course, rubbish. Those things don’t care about ponies at all.”

“And what did he do?” Scootaloo asked.

“There are not many records,” Twilight replied. “He apparently tried to abduct that miner’s daughter. There’s also a very vivid depiction of him being hanged, drawn, and quartered.”

“Too bad his ideas survived,” Scootaloo said. “Someone in Canterlot tries to do exactly that – Moonwing and her sister lived next to the cave where this thing is, and those guys tried to kidnap Dr. Stable’s daughter...” She thought for a moment. “What was this guy’s name?”

“Rosier,” Twilight replied. “Rosier the Ignominious.”

Scootaloo scratched her mane. “I guess I’ll check the libraries of Canterlot,” she said. “If anypony read his works... Thank you, Twilight.”

“Good luck, Scootaloo,” Twilight said. “We’ll need it...”


View Online

Icewind groaned, rolling out of her bed. Against her hopes, she was “protected” in a house other than the one where Cygnus and Stellar Dust were kept. Four guards were with her all the time, preventing her from running away. She received no signals that her message reached the cult leaders.

Icewind hoped that the guards didn’t know that she was trying to contact them. The fact that, despite her pleas, she hadn’t been given any newspapers wasn’t, however, a good sign.

“Hey, sweetheart,” she said to the brown guard with blonde mane who entered her room. “Any progress?”

“The investigation is still in process,” the guard replied.

“Too bad,” Icewind said. “I’m getting kinda bored here.”

“It’s for your safety,” the guard muttered and left the room. Icewind sighed and went back to her bed.

Outside the house, Riot Shield joined Boysenberry and Scootaloo. Scootaloo just finished telling Boysenberry about Rosier the Ignominious and other things she’d learned from Twilight and both of them were waiting for news about Icewind.

“What’s up?” Boysenberry asked.

“She’s getting suspicious,” Riot Shield replied. “She said she wanted some newspapers. I guess they don’t write about that murdered toilet granny anymore?”

“I don’t think so,” Boysenberry replied. “But we’ll need to check everything we give her. What if they send messages in the small ads?”

“You read too many novels,” Scootaloo muttered. “I think we need to focus on the bigger problem: a bunch of some crazy guys who believe that a thing living in Canterlot and making ponies eat other ponies will bow to their will if they give it a filly.”

“Now they read too many novels,” Riot Shield said. “By the wrong authors. Do we know where they live? Maybe they had some books delivered to their houses?”

“I don’t think so,” Scootaloo replied. “All I know is the name of the guy who first tried to do that. Rosier the Ignominious.”

“So, can we arrest him?”

“He’s long dead,” Scootaloo replied. “But I was wondering... Maybe he had some relatives? Or maybe we can find some books about him in the Canterlot Library.”

Boysenberry sighed. “Great... I’ve dreamed about going to the library to look for information about some old nutjob.”

“Coffee?” Riot Shield asked, raising his head from some dusty tome.

“We’re not allowed to bring food and drinks here,” Scootaloo replied, pointing at the sign on the wall. “We need to find something about this guy...” She looked at the book she was holding and sighed. “Damn. I was never a bookworm...”

Boysenberry was playing with her mane unconsciously, looking at some old manuscript. “I don’t think it’s what we looking for,” she said. “It’s even earlier history... Before the tribes were united.”

“Boring,” Scootaloo muttered. “I guess it’s in some forbidden part of the library. Maybe we should ask Princess Celestia?”

“Yeah, because she has nothing else to do...” Boysenberry banged her head against the desk, causing the librarian to give her a nasty look. “Hmm, Rosier the Ignominious, right?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said. “Did you find him?”

“It’s in this scroll,” Boysenberry replied. “A small mention... Something about him trying to prove the existence of Arcturus...”

“Who?” Scootaloo asked. “Please, tell me that it’s not another guy we’ll have to look for...”

“Oh, it was a leader of the bat pony tribe, more or less at the time when the tribes united,” Riot Shield said. “I learned that when I was interrogating Lyra Heartstrings. Octavia Melody has a statue of him in her living room.”

“And I had to talk to that old drunk…” Boysenberry muttered. “Where did Heartstrings learn about Arcturus? And why does Octavia have his statue in her house?”

“Do you think it may be important?” Riot Shield asked. “Maybe it was Lyra?”

“I doubt it,” Scootaloo said. “I mean, Lyra somehow attracts weird stuff, but I don’t think she’d make her best friend’s daughter a sacrifice for that thing.”

Boysenberry nodded. “Yeah, I remember when Babs Seed killed someone in her basement. She’s kinda like Archer, minus the weapons.” She shrugged. “I don’t think she did it. Most of those guys aren’t exactly bright or subtle. I haven’t seen her wearing a black cloak…”

“But still, there are a few smart ponies behind them,” Riot said. “What if she’s one of them? She seemed nice, but she may be a skilled actress, pretending to be dumb while–“

“No way,” Scootaloo said. “You don’t know her. This is probably somepony who lives in Canterlot, has lots of money and knowledge of ancient history…”

“Which is like most of the town,” Riot Shield muttered and sighed, staring at the books in front of him. “Can we think about it during the lunch?”

Archer groaned, turning her face to the window. Something had just obscured the view, scaring her. She tried to get up and defend herself, but it only end with a sharp pain in her stomach that made her fall back on the bed.

“Hello,” Schwalbe said, landing on the windowsill. “How are you?”

“I feel like shit,” Archer whispered. “Since I felt like a fuckload of shit, you may call that an improvement.” She noticed that Schwalbe was breathing heavily, clutching her chest. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Schwalbe replied. She went through the room, searching for something. “Do you have any spare bandages here?”

“Normal ponies go to the doctor when they’re sick,” Archer muttered. “Like, they use the door. Who did that to you?”

“Same guys who did that,” Schwalbe replied, pointing at Archer. “And that little bitch in a uniform. The yellow one.”


Schwalbe nodded. “Idiots. They’re close to catch those guys, but they can’t put things together…”

“And you can?” Archer asked and coughed. “Why did you even come to me?”

“Let’s say that I like you,” Schwalbe muttered, her expression remaining unchanged. “The orange one comes to you often?”

“Every day, when she has time,” Archer replied. “And I’m waiting for Button, actually.”

“The dumb one. Good,” Schwalbe said. “When your cousin comes, tell her to think of Heart Beat’s cute-ceanera, but not about things ponies were doing, but what they weren’t doing…”

“That’s kinda cryptic,” Archer muttered. “Why don’t you tell her that yourself?”

“The yellow one told me that she’ll kill me,” Schwalbe replied. “And I don’t want to kill her.” She stood in attention, her ears perking up. “Gotta go. Somepony’s coming.” Before Archer could reply, Schwalbe left the room through the window and flew away.

Archer lay back in her bed, listening to the hoofsteps on the corridor. She could easily recognise their pattern – she was hearing it everyday at home. She raised her head and looked at the door.

“Hello, Button,” she whispered when the door opened. She coughed and reached for a jug of water standing on the nightstand.

“Hello,” Button replied. He walked to Archer and poured her a glass of water.

“Thanks,” Archer muttered and took a large sip. “How are you?”

“Fine,” Button replied, avoiding Archer’s gaze. “I was just thinking...”

“What?” Archer felt her stomach twist. It had nothing to do with the wound.

“I was wondering if you thought about what we talked about the last time,” Button said, finally turning to Archer and staring at her.

Archer sighed and shook her head. “Listen, Button... I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m not exactly in a mood for making life decisions. Just... Give me some time, okay? I’ll get out of here, lie down on a couch, have a beer, and think about getting a new job. How does that sound to you?”

“I don’t like it, to be honest,” Button replied. “You’re clearly hoping that I’ll forget about it.”

Archer raised from her bed, piercing Button with her gaze. “I am hoping that you’ll forget about it?” she shouted as loud as she could before wincing and clutching her stomach. “I almost got shot. That’s not the best time to make decisions.”

“It’s simple,” Button said, lowering his head. “Me or work. It’s really not a hard decision.”

“It is!” Archer exclaimed, sinking her face in her hooves. “I mean... Can’t it be like at the beginning?”

“It’s okay,” Button said, hugging Archer. “I’m sorry... I’m just afraid that you may get yourself killed one day.”

“I’ll be careful,” Archer replied. “No more going to shady bars and getting myself shot. I promise.”

The door opened and Dr. Stable walked inside. “Is everything okay?” he asked. “I heard shouting.”

“Sure,” Archer replied. “How’s your kid, doc?”

Dr. Stable sighed. “She doesn’t want to talk. Even to me and Octavia. All those guards in our house don’t make the psychologist’s work easier.”

“I can imagine,” Button said. “How about that mare who tried to foalnap her?”

“Hidden with her daughter,” Archer replied. “Only a few ponies know where exactly.”

Dr. Stable nodded. “It’s strange, but I can understand her. After I nearly lost my daughter I can imagine how she felt when they came to her... Promise me that you’ll catch them.”

“Well, I can’t do much here,” Archer said, shrugging. “But I’ll definitely tell Scootaloo once she comes to me.”

“Thank you.” Dr. Stable walked to the door. “I have to see the other patients. Take care, Archer.”

“Sure, doc,” Archer replied. Looking into Button’s eyes, she thought that she’d have a lot to say to Scootaloo.

“So, are we going back to the library?” Riot Shield asked. They were sitting with Boysenberry in a small restaurant on the other side of the street. Their “lunch break” lasted over two hours and eventually Scootaloo excused herself, telling them that she had to visit Archer.

Boysenberry was pretty sure that it had something to do with Shady Daze, but she didn’t say anything about that. She thought about Tootsie Flute and sighed.


“I’d rather not,” Boysenberry said, snapping out of trance. “Just like I told you when you asked me about that before. Twice. We’re not going to write a paper about ancient Equestrian history, but to catch a bunch of psychos here and now. What else did Lyra say to you about Arcturus?”

“Not much,” Riot Shield replied. “The statue, leader of the bat pony tribe... She seemed slightly off, like everyone on that party.”

“Don’t remind me,” Boysenberry muttered, rubbing her temples. “But didn’t she say anything more about this guy? Did she read about him in some book? Or maybe Octavia told her about it?”

“No, she didn’t read about him in a book,” Riot replied. “She... Wait, I know! She talked about him with somepony!”

“Who?” Boysenberry asked. “C’mon, think... Who was that?”

“Don’t worry, I made notes,” Riot said, producing a piece of paper. “Panic... Dusk Dancer kicking Hoity Toity... Dusk Dancer talking with Fleur about Arcturus... Note to self: check who is this guy.”

“Dusk Dancer?” Boysenberry asked. “She lived in Ponyville but moved out when I was a little kid.”

“Really? Why?” Riot leaned closer to Boysenberry, his ears perking up.

“It probably had something to do with ponies trying to burn her house down,” Boysenberry replied. “How about Fleur dis Lee?”

“Rich, noble... But why’d she do that?” Riot asked. “She’s a model. Models don’t usually try to start the apocalypse.”

“Yeah. Poisoning their friends – that’s what models do,” Boysenberry deadpanned. “There’s surely more of them,” she whispered. “But if she’s one of them... She’s probably very high in the hierarchy...”

“We need to find the rest and arrest them,” Riot muttered. “All of them at once. If we cut off the head...”

The door to the bar opened. Boysenberry immediately reached to her pocket, where she held a knife. Only then she realised how stupid it was to talk about that in public.

“Why are you so scared?” Scootaloo asked, approaching them. “I hoped that you’re still here. I figured it out.”

“Fleur dis Lee?” Boysenberry whispered. “I don’t think it’d be wise to talk about it here... Too many ponies.”

“H-how did you know?” Scootaloo asked, looking around. There weren’t many ponies in the restaurant – just the owner, a bored waitress, and two ponies sitting in the corner – but any of them could be a member of the cult.

Boysenberry and Riot stood up and they walked out of the bar. It was slowly getting dark outside; ponies were wandering alone or in small groups, rushing to their homes to avoid getting cold.

“Never mind how did I know. How did you know?” Boysenberry asked, looking around and seeing that nopony was following them.

“Archer gave me that idea. We focused on what ponies were doing when Heart Beat was kidnapped,” Scootaloo replied. “Most of them rushed to save her, right?”

“Like Dusk Dancer,” Riot Shield said. “We think it could have been her...”

“Well, but she was trying to do something.” Scootaloo waved her hoof. “Even Minuette tried, and she was drunk. But who didn’t do anything?”

“Fleur,” Boysenberry replied. “Fancy Pants... Hoity Toity...”

“Damn,” Riot muttered. “You do realise what’s the worst thing? We can’t prove shit. Many ponies know about Arcturus and he’s not even connected with the case. And they may say that they were busy at the party. Or that they panicked.”

“We need to find a proof...” Scootaloo muttered. “But how?”

“Icewind,” Boysenberry replied. “We need to push her. Break her wings and lock her in the fridge if that’s necessary. She knows more than she told us.”

“Damn those ponies...” Icewind muttered, checking the window of her room once again. It was locked – she knew about that well, but she was still checking from time to time. She could hear the guards downstairs, walking and talking to each other. She had to act quick.

Icewind got out of her room and trotted downstairs.

“Where are you going?” one of the guards asked, raising his head from the book he was reading.

“I wanted to get a glass of water,” Icewind replied, trotting towards the kitchen. “I’m feeling a little dizzy from lying there for a whole day. Are you protecting me or keeping me hostage?”

“You can walk around the house, you know,” the guard muttered.

Icewind shrugged and walked to the kitchen. Luckily, nopony was there. She opened the cupboard and took a saltshaker from it. She then poured herself a glass of water and put three spoons of salt in it. She thought for a moment and added another one, just in case.

Waiting for the salt to dissolve, Icewind looked at the door to check if the guards weren’t coming, and opened the fridge. She smirked, seeing that the bottle of tomato juice was there intact, just like she remembered it. Icewind opened it and drank about half of it in one go. She winced – tomato juice wasn’t her favourite drink. Despite that, she finished it and went back to the glass of salty water. She drank it and went back to the room where two guards were sitting on the couch.

“Are you okay?” one of the guards asked.

“Sure,” Icewind replied, feeling her stomach twitch a bit. “I’m just not used to sitting at home for days.”

“Me neither,” the guard said. “But well, your friends still want to kill you, so it wouldn’t be wise to leave that house.”

“Yeah,” Icewind replied. Her stomach twitched again. She winced and rubbed it, feeling another cramp coming.

The other guard looked at her unsurely. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Icewind nodded. She inhaled loudly and felt a violent twitch of her oesophagus as she threw up on the floor right in front of the guard. She staggered, resting herself on the couch and threw up again, panting heavily.

“Is that blood?” Icewind asked, opening her eyes and looking at the floor. “My... father had an ulcer...”

“I don’t know,” the guard replied. “We’d better call the doctor...”

“It’ll be hard,” the other guard said. “When that kid caught cold, we could just go on the other side of the street and call Ventricle, but here...”

“So, are we going to transport her?” the first guard asked. “We can’t leave her like that.”

“I don’t know. It’s just a gastric flu, I think.”

“What if she bleeds out? The boss won’t be happy...”

The guard nodded. “Let’s go to the carriage. We’ll take her to the hospital.”

Icewind barely stopped herself from smirking. She waited as the guards put a blindfold over her eyes and led her to a small carriage without windows. One of them sat inside with her, while the other pulled it through the streets of Canterlot.

“Sir?” Icewind asked, looking at the guard.


“Can we stop? I think I’m gonna be sick again.” Icewind leaned forward to the guard.

“Wait a minute, I’ll call–” The guard was interrupted by Icewind’s hoof connecting with his jaw. He hit the wall of the carriage with his head and went limp.

Icewind felt that the carriage slowed down. “Is everything okay there?” the other guard asked.

Instead of a reply, Icewind kicked the door open and took off. She turned around to see the carriage stopping and the other guard looking at her. She turned sharply, avoiding the magic beam, and hid behind the nearby house. Feeling her stomach twitching again, she darted forward, above the clouds.

Loud snoring echoed through the small, dirty bar in the outskirts of Canterlot. The bartender, a tall, brown unicorn walked to the only patron, sleeping in a puddle of spilled booze and levitated him out of the building. He then grabbed a broom and started to sweep the floor, listening to the radio. Through the heavy layer of static, he could hear the late night news about somepony being chased by the guards.

The unicorn lifted his head, seeing somepony landing in front of the bar. The door opened and a grey pegasus walked in.

“Icewind,” the unicorn said. “Where were you? The pony they talk about on the radio seems awfully like you.”

“I gave the message to Mouthwash,” Icewind replied. “Didn’t you get it?”

The bartender stopped sweeping the floor. “Haven’t you heard?” he asked. “Mouthwash is dead.”

“Damn,” Icewind muttered. “But it doesn’t matter now. I know where they keep the filly.” She leaned closer to the bartender. “We need to check where Dr. Ventricle lives. She lives on the other side of the street...”

Strangers in the Night

View Online

Boysenberry punched the carriage wall. “How?” she exclaimed. “How did you let her escape?”

“She was pretending to be sick,” the guard replied, rubbing his jaw. “I didn’t expect–”

Boysenberry sighed. “Well, you should always expect something like that from a suspect! I’m gonna talk to the boss. We need to move Stellar and her mother.”

“I don’t think it’ll be necessary,” the guard said. “She doesn’t know where they are...”

“Better safe than sorry,” Boysenberry muttered, walking away. “Those guys are everywhere, remember? The richest ponies in town may be among them...”

Scootaloo turned in her bed. When she’d finally gotten home, she was too tired to do anything, so she just fell on the mattress and dozed off. Her ears perked up, catching some noises from the distance. She turned again and her eyes shot open.

The noise continued; somepony was screaming in the corridor. Scootaloo shuddered and got out of her bed, tripping over the furniture. Cursing under her breath, she got to the light switch and pushed it. Faint light blinded her, but she rushed to the place where she held her crossbow. She loaded it and darted out of the flat.

“Scootaloo!” Diamond Tiara exclaimed. She was standing in her pajamas and shuddering.

Scootaloo looked at her and lowered her crossbow. “What’s going on?”

“S-somepony sneaked into our flat,” Diamond Tiara replied. “He had a knife. C-curtain threw him out of the window.”

“Where’s Curtain?” Scootaloo asked. “Is she okay?”

Tears flowed down Diamond Tiara’s face. “She’s catatonic. Who was this guy?”

“I may be wrong, but I think he was sent to kill me,” Scootaloo replied, rushing to Diamond Tiara’s flat. Curtain Call was lying on the floor, motionless, staring blankly at the wall. The window was broken; Scootaloo could already hear the sirens wailing downstairs.

“Curtain?” Diamond Tiara ran to her friend.

Curtain Call didn’t react. She was breathing, but her body was stiff – when Scootaloo tried to put her in the recovery position, she found it impossible to bend her limbs.

“We need a psychiatrist,” Scootaloo muttered. She heard several ponies climbing up the stairs and walked to the corridor.

“Scootaloo!” Riot Shield exclaimed, seeing her. “Did one of your neighbours decide to cash in his chips?”

“I’m afraid not,” Scootaloo replied. “He broke into a flat next to mine, armed with a knife. Maybe he got the wrong address.”

“Shit,” Riot Shield muttered. “Have you heard what happened tonight? That idiot you caught beat one of the guards and ran away while they were taking her to the hospital.”

Scootaloo lowered her head. “Seems that she already managed to pass the news to her friends...”

“Yeah.” Riot Shield sighed. “Anyway, that sucker wasn’t lucky. Both your neighbours are, umm...”

Scootaloo cleared her throat. “They need a doctor. Curtain Call went catatonic after throwing this guy out of the window. Diamond doesn’t seem well either...”

“Okay.” Riot Shield called another guard and told him to find the doctor.

Scootaloo looked at the guards who were now crowding in the corridor. Some neighbours also poked their heads from behind their door, watching the situation carefully. Scootaloo looked through the window to see guards surrounding the place where the unfortunate assassin had fallen. “Where’s Boysenberry?” she asked.

“She went home,” Riot Shield replied. “She was kinda pissed after Icewind ran away...”

Boysenberry sighed. The flat she shared with Tootsie Flute was cheap, and it was its only advantage. To get to it, she had to walk through a dark, narrow nook, smelling of rotting rubbish and filled with squealing of hundreds of rats living in the sewers and basements. Boysenberry thought of Tootsie, who was probably already asleep. The idea of trying some creative uses of a horn they’d read about would have to be postponed again.

Boysenberry saw a dark silhouette of a pony crawling from behind the trash cans and shook her head. The neighbourhood she lived in was certainly interesting. She watched the pony staggering towards her and walked faster, trying to reach the door before they met.

“Excuse me, ma’am!” the pony said in a raspy voice.

“What?” Boysenberry turned towards him, ready to attack or run away. Suddenly, she saw moonlight reflected in a piece of metal and darted to the side immediately. Her right hoof went numb and she felt blood flowing down her fur.

“Greetings from Icewind!” the pony exclaimed, raising his knife. Boysenberry screamed when the blade hit her ribs, sliding down. She leaned against the wall, panting heavily and watching the opponent approaching her. Before he raised the knife again, she pushed herself off the wall and rammed into him, knocking him down.

“Greetings from my hoof!” Boysenberry muttered through gritted teeth, punching the attacker. “Go to the caves and let that thing eat you!” She punched him once more.

Pain almost blinded her. The pony kicked her in the wound, sending waves of torment through her nerves. Boysenberry staggered, trying to land a kick on her opponent, but it missed, causing her to fall.

Suddenly, the window above her bursted open. Boysenberry looked there and saw Tootsie Flute jumping from the windowsill and landing between her and the attacker.

“Watch out, Tootsie!” Boysenberry screamed. A fit of cough interrupted her and she fell to her knees.

The assassin raised his knife and charged at Tootsie, who lowered her head, aiming her horn at him. The light blinded him and he felt the knife slid from his hoof, hitting the pavement with a loud bling.

Tootsie didn’t wait for the pony who was trying to hurt her friend to get his bearings. She charged at him and punched him with her front hooves. She smirked, feeling his nose snapping under her horseshoe. Watching him stagger, she hit him again with a powerful right hook, sending him rolling on the pavement.

The pony groaned, wiping blood from his nose and trying to recall what happened just a few seconds before. He looked around, but all he could see was his knife lying far away from him, and a young mare with a horseshoe cutie mark, who was standing above him. The pain in his nose was telling him more than he wanted about her special talent.

“Lesson for today,” Tootsie muttered. “Don’t fuck with a boxer’s friend. Ever.” She smacked him in the head again, knocking him unconscious. “Go to sleep, asshole.”

Boysenberry coughed. Breathing was hard, but she felt that her wounds weren’t too deep. Her vision was a bit blurry; she could barely see Tootsie walking to her.

“You okay there?” Tootsie asked, grabbing Boysenberry effortlessly and putting her on her back. “Who was he?”

“I need a doctor,” Boysenberry muttered, gritting her teeth. “Fast. Let’s go to Dr. Ventricle. It’s not far away.” She hissed, clenching her wound.

“Sure,” Tootsie Flute muttered. She looked at the pony she’d beaten – he was still lying where she’d left him, groaning occasionally. “How about him?”

“Get his knife,” Boysenberry replied. “I don’t think it was poisoned, but you never know. I’ll tell the guys to get him by the way. It’s not like he’s going anywhere.”

Tootsie nodded and carried Boysenberry down the empty street. Boysenberry groaned – the wound in her leg was only a scratch, but, even though she was holding it, her side was still bleeding, making her oddly light-headed.

Boysenberry looked around. She recognised the street Dr. Ventricle lived in. Not far away from there was a home where the guards kept Stellar Dust and her mother. Boysenberry started to wonder if they had been already transferred somewhere else.

Suddenly, she saw a flash of bright light. She looked around and realised that she was lying on a sofa in some room with white tiles covering the walls. Several lockers with medicines, bandages, medical journals, and syringes were surrounding her.

“She’s awake,” a blue unicorn with brown mane and thick-rimmed glasses said before turning to her. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“The street,” Boysenberry whispered. “I must’ve passed out.”

“Better out than away,” Tootsie muttered. “Doc patched you up and called help. They’ll take you to the hospital.”

“Can he tell them that I don’t wanna be in the same room with Archer?” Boysenberry asked. “I wouldn’t survive that.”

“Archer?” Dr. Ventricle asked. “She’s getting better, from what I’ve heard. She looked bad when I brought her to the hospital. You guys get injured a lot recently...”

“Yeah.” Boysenberry winced. “Those guys don’t like screwing around. They–” She paused, hearing the sound of gunfire coming from the outside. She shuddered and got up from the couch. Her vision blurred and she almost collapsed, resting herself against the locker.

“What’s going on?” Tootsie asked. “Did that guy bring his friends or what?”

“Worse,” Boysenberry muttered through gritted teeth. “They’re trying to foalnap Stellar! I told them to move her to another house!” She tried to get up, but Dr. Ventricle stopped her.

“You can’t help,” he said. “Not in your current state.”

They heard a crash coming from the outside. Dr. Ventricle and Tootsie ran to the window and saw two carriages that had just bumped into each other. Two paramedics got out of one of them, but the ponies in the other one didn’t even stop – it darted forward, losing pieces of boards, and disappeared behind the corner.

“Shit,” Tootsie muttered, turning away from the window.

None of them saw a dark, bat-like silhouette descending from the nearby tower and following the damaged carriage.

Lost them. Unbelievable, but I lost them. Or rather, they think so. Know the carriage. Know the owner. Know the place.

Schwalbe looked around. She was hanging upside-down from the street lamp. Her ears perked up, gathering the sounds coming from all the directions. For a moment, she caught a faint echo of Stellar Dust’s crying.

Schwalbe took off. Somepony definitely needed her help.

Scootaloo groaned, slamming her head against her desk. The news coming from the town were getting worse with every passing minute. Some guard was shot in the street; the other was stabbed to death in his house. Boysenberry barely survived an attempt on her life. And finally, Stellar Dust was foalnapped by unknown ponies, who shot two guards and heavily wounded another.

“I sent four guys to guard Archer,” Charge said. “The lab is checking the boards from that carriage.”

“Thanks,” Scootaloo replied, not looking at her boss. “Have you heard anything about Boysenberry?”

“Her roommate is trying to convince her not to run away from the hospital to join us here.” Charge shrugged. “We can assume that it’s personal now.”

“Yeah.” Scootaloo sighed. “But it won’t help us if we can’t even arrest Fleur dis Lee. Because, of course, none of these guys know her?”

“Well, yours isn’t very talkative,” Charge replied. “They’re still scraping him off the pavement, but one of the guys recognised him as the guy he’d arrested for selling drugs to schoolfillies. He was released after paying quite a lot of bits...”

“Not surprising,” Scootaloo said. “How about the guy who stabbed Boysenberry?”

“Not very talkative either, due to concussion and broken jaw.” Charge smirked. “When we showed him the photos, he recognised Icewind. Seems that they don’t like each other very much.”

“That’s always something,” Scootaloo muttered. “But we need to catch all the big fish.”

Somepony knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Charge said automatically. Riot Shield walked into the office, followed by Schwalbe. Scootaloo raised her eyebrow – she was used to the bat pony bursting through the window, so seeing her using the door surprised her.

“Still looking for the carriage?” Schwalbe asked without even looking at Charge. “Close the door. I don’t trust your ponies.”

“You don’t?” Charge’s face became red. “What–”

“From what I’ve heard, they targeted those connected with Moonwing’s case,” Schwalbe whispered. “You have a mole here.”

Charge sighed. “Close the door,” he said to Scootaloo. “What’s going on?”

“I took a look at this carriage,” Schwalbe said. “Saw it before.”

“Who’s the owner?” Scootaloo asked.

“Last time I saw it, it was standing in Rusty Wrench’s workshop,” Schwalbe replied. “It’s in the caves. Rusty repairs various stuff.”

“What are we waiting for?” Riot Shield asked. “Let’s go and arrest him.”

“Not so fast,” Charge said. “We want to catch all of them.”

“Those guys will take care of Stellar for the next two days,” Schwalbe muttered. “Then, they’re going to sacrifice her.”

“Where?” Scootaloo asked.

“That’s what we need to find out,” Schwalbe replied, staring at everypony. “Somewhere in the caves, I guess.”

“The same place where Dr. Stable found Berry Punch, I guess,” Scootaloo said. “We need to tell him to lead us there.”

“The ritual takes some time.” Schwalbe licked her lips. “Enough to go hunting...”

Wild Hunt

View Online

The time has come. They may be good at hiding, but there’s one place where they’ll just have to be. They know, however, that those caves may be their trap. They’ll do everything to fight us; to slow us down till the ritual is complete.

In their pride, they think they’ll be able to control this thing. They’re like a mouse saying that an erupting volcano worships it. If they actually manage to summon it, it won’t be only Stellar Dust who’ll be dead.

We all will be.

Schwalbe threw her notebook on the table and started to search through the rubbish littering her house.

“Too bad I can’t go with you,” Archer said. Over the last few days, her health improved a lot, but she still couldn’t walk much. Her legs were clearly thinner than they used to be and Scootaloo could see a shade of ribs under her skin. Even after walking out of the room she had to stop to catch a breath.

“You’d better stay here and recover,” Scootaloo replied. “This dungeon... I’m afraid ponies won’t be the only thing we’ll be fighting there.”

“Maybe.” Archer shrugged. “Maybe that’d be better? I’m not sure if I can shoot a pony again.”

“Unlike this thing, ponies at least can be shot.” Scootaloo shook her head. “I hope it won’t come to this, though.”

Archer sighed, shaking her head. “So far, they didn’t seem like they were going to give up,” she said. “I’m afraid that you’re in for a battle.”

“Maybe,” Scootaloo replied. “But that won’t stop us from saving Stellar.”

Dark clouds gathered above Canterlot. The local weather team was sent to dissipate them, but the rain was a clear indication that they failed miserably. Scootaloo looked into the sky and stifled a curse.

Charge looked at the pony in the carriage and shook his head. “Boysenberry, I told you to stay home,” he said. “You were stabbed recently!”

“I’ll be your mission control,” Boysenberry replied. Her side was bandaged and she was sitting in the carriage in a strange way, but her tone was firm. “There won’t be many things to do.”

“Still, I’m afraid that–”

“All the healthy guys will be needed down there,” Boysenberry said. “I won’t be in the direct combat.”

Charge said nothing. He waved his hoof and looked around the bat pony district.

“It’s awfully quiet today, isn’t it?” Riot Shield muttered. “Either they don’t like rain, or they know something.”

“I hope Schwalbe will tell us what’s going on.” Scootaloo checked her crossbow. “Where’s she?”

“Had to ask some ponies about something,” Schwalbe said, landing silently next to them. Her pupils narrowed when she saw a group of about thirty guards standing in the narrow street. “Not good.”

“What’s not good?” Charge asked, his face red. “Remember that I’m a commander here.”

Schwalbe bared her fangs, but hid them quickly. “Too much to be silent. Too few to fight.”

“I can assure you that we can be silent,” Charge muttered.

“Empty street doesn’t seem to ring a bell...” Schwalbe shook her head and turned away from Charge. “We need to split into two groups.”

“Split?” Scootaloo asked. “Not the best idea...”

Schwalbe sighed. “Can’t go all at once it you want to surprise them.” She trotted down the street, towards the entrance of the cave. The guards followed her.

The labyrinth of provisional houses seemed empty. Scootaloo could, however, hear some faint noises and occasionally see an eye of some bat pony watching them through a hole in the wall.

Finally, they stood before the entrances of narrow tunnels. Schwalbe walked to them and sniffed the air. Then she gave out a high-pitched scream, her ears moving frantically to catch every trace of the echo.

“You go there,” she told Charge, pointing at one of the entrances. “Take unicorns with you. First choose the left corridor twice, then go to the right.”

“How can you know that?” Charge asked.

Schwalbe spread her right wing. Charge winced, looking at it – the scar was suggesting that the whole wing had been torn to shreds once and provisionally sewn together, before some more skilled surgeon removed the stitches and patched the wing up.

“I got out of the bottom of a changeling nest with that, using only my ears,” Schwalbe said. “You can trust me.” She turned to Scootaloo. “Earth ponies and pegasi go with me here.” She pointed at another corridor. “We’ll engage them first and the unicorns will flank them. Just listen to my call.”

Charge opened his mouth to say something, but Schwalbe was already walking towards the cave. Scootaloo followed her, along with other guards – nine earth ponies and four pegasi, carrying crossbows and wearing metal shoes on their front legs to increase the strength of their punches.

“Take those off,” Schwalbe muttered. “Too much noise.”

Groaning, the guards took the shoes off and put them in their saddlebags. Scootaloo turned on her earpiece.

“Boysenberry, can you hear me?” she asked.

“Hardly.” Boysenberry’s voice was barely audible. “I’m afraid we’re gonna lose the connection soon. In case you don’t come back, I’ll send the second group soon.”

“Copy,” Scootaloo replied. “Let’s hope it won’t be necessary.”

Schwalbe smirked. “The second group will only have to clean the bodies.”

“We’re catching them alive.” Scootaloo frowned. “They need to be punished for their deeds.”

Schwalbe chuckled. “Oh, please. They won’t get an army of lawyers if they’re dead. Need to know your enemy. Those guys are not your typical thugs.”

They trotted down the corridor. Even though they were trying to walk silently, every step was echoing through the caves, and coming back to them. Boysenberry’s weak voice soon disappeared behind the layer of static. Scootaloo sighed and turned the radio off.

The air around them grew colder. The guards started to whisper to each other, glancing at Schwalbe, who was walking forward, occasionally squeaking and listening to the echo.

Finally, they reached a place where one of the walls had partially collapsed, leaving a large window in the side of the corridor. Behind it, they could her a faint echo of wind. Schwalbe stopped and raised her hoof. “We’re close,” she muttered. “You may now put on your metal thingies.” She produced a large hoof-mounted blade from her saddlebags. “We’re gonna go hunting.”

Scootaloo frowned. “Remember that we need to catch them alive, Schwalbe.”

“Well, it depends on how they’ll behave,” Schwalbe replied, swinging the blade. “If I don’t like their attitude, they’re dead. That’s my policy.”

“Your policy will get you arrested.” Scootaloo muttered. “And I won’t be able to protect you.”

“Who’s protecting whom?” Schwalbe crawled to the edge of the cliff. “They’re already there,” she whispered. “May find a good use for your crossbow.”

Scootaloo leaned from behind the rock. Below them there was a large cave – even larger than the one where they’d found Stellar Dust. On the opposite wall there was something that looked like a collapsed entrance of some tunnel; in front of it, a large piece of white limestone was lying on its side. Around it, there was a crowd of ponies, all clad in grey cloaks. Scootaloo slowly realised that the hum she was hearing wasn’t wind – it was a faint echo of hundreds of whispers. She started to count them unconsciously.

“One hundred fifty two,” Schwalbe muttered. “Not bad. When it starts, they’ll mostly get in each other’s way.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure…” Scootaloo watched the crowd more carefully. Many of them had weapons hidden under their cloaks. She also spotted Stellar – the filly was standing next to a tall pony, staggering slightly. Even though she wasn’t tied or magically restrained, she didn’t try to run away and Scootaloo thought that she probably had been given some sedatives.

Suddenly, Schwalbe patted Scootaloo’s back and gestured at the group, pointing at the corridor they came from. They quickly retreated there, while Schwalbe took off and grabbed the stalactite with her tail.

A single pony in grey cloak walked from the other tunnel. Scootaloo stretched her hooves, ready to attack him if he walked towards them, but suddenly, Schwalbe descended from the ceiling right behind him. A quick move of a long blade attached to her hoof and the pony fell to the ground with a slit throat, choking on his blood.

Schwalbe landed on the ground next to him and watched him struggling in death throes, before stabbing him to end his suffering.

Scootaloo walked to the bat pony. “I told you something about killing them!”

“Yeah.” Schwalbe wiped the blade into the pony’s cloak. “He’d scream if you tried to arrest him. Now he won’t.” She gestured Scootaloo to the edge of the tunnel. “It starts soon. The guy in the middle. Hope that good aim runs in the family, or else…”

Scootaloo gulped. She walked to the edge and looked into the cave. Two ponies were leading Stellar to the limestone. A large pony was awaiting her there, levitating a curved knife. Something else drew Scootaloo’s attention – a large crossbow hanging from a harness he was wearing under the cloak.

“He shot Archer,” Scootaloo whispered, grabbing her crossbow and lying by the edge of the cliff with it. “After I shoot, we’ll attack them. Pegasi should try to get Stellar out of it.”

The guards nodded, preparing their weapons. Scootaloo looked through the scope. Now she could see every crack in the limestone, as well as the horn of the cult’s priest protruding from under the hood. She held her breath, watching as the two acolytes put Stellar on the altar, and set the crosshair on the chest of the pony above her.

She was aware that a shot to the head would mean an instant death, but she wasn’t sure about her aim. Also, her crossbow was a heavy model, designed to fire accurately at large distances. Reloading it would take ages, but at the distance she was from the altar, a second shot simply wouldn’t be needed.

The masked priest walked to the altar and raised the knife. Scootaloo could hear her own heartbeat echoing in her ears. The crossbow trembled in her hoof, but she held it steady.

The crowd cheered and at the same moment, Scootaloo pulled the trigger. The bolt flew through the cave, its whistling drowning in the noise. It hit the priest’s right leg, scraping the bone and nearly piercing the flesh completely.

The knife rang on the floor, released from the magic field. The crowd looked around, but it was too late – earth ponies jumped from behind their cover, right on the heads of the nearby cultists. First couple of them fell unconscious after the heavy blows of the armoured hooves, unable to draw their weapons. Chasing the cultists, the guards rushed forward.

Scootaloo darted forward, her gaze focused on the altar. One of the acolytes was helping the priest up, while the other grabbed Stellar Dust. Before they could run away, however, the acolyte staggered and fell down, struck by a rock.

“Gotta use everything we have!” Schwalbe exclaimed, throwing a few more rocks at the cultists. Scootaloo dived towards the altar and grabbed the filly.

Suddenly, a powerful burst of magic threw them both off the stone. Scootaloo rolled on the floor of the cave and hit a stalagmite. Feeling the bruises quickly forming on her back and right wing, she stood up slowly to face the tall and thin unicorn in front of her.

“Fleur, huh?” Scootaloo asked, looking at her opponent. “I know it’s you even with that cloak. And I’m pretty sure I know who I just shot…”

The pony threw her head backwards, letting the hood slide off of it. “Yes, it’s me,” she said, producing a knife from under her cloak. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to finish it…” She walked to Stellar Dust, who was sitting on the ground, turning her head.

“No, you won’t!” Scootaloo darted towards the unicorn. Fleur charged her horn, but Scootaloo was ready. The spell burned a few feathers off her left wing, but she managed to tackle the older mare. The knife fell out of her hoof and disappeared in some hole.

“You think I’ll let the guards stop us?” Fleur laughed, kicking Scootaloo off of her. “Look at us! How many of us are here! And those are only the most important ones!” She screamed when Scootaloo punched her, sending her towards the altar.

“I’m pretty sure Princess Celestia won’t be looking at who you are…” Scootaloo muttered, flying towards Fleur. She crouched in mid-air, ready to kick the unicorn with her hind hooves.

Suddenly, she saw a flash of light and noticed Fleur charging her horn. She spread her wings to dodge, but they were too close to each other. Fleur’s magic engulfed her, causing her to fall into darkness.

Schwalbe let out a powerful scream. She was standing on the top of the altar, surrounded by acolytes, protecting the priest from her. The headless body of one of them was lying in front of her. The other was coughing, trying to stop blood pouring from a large gash in his stomach. Yet another was sitting in some distance from the others, staring at two bite wounds in his hoof.

Schwalbe was panting heavily. There was a long cut in her hind leg, and the magic of one of the unicorns burned fur off her right ear. Her blade was covered in blood; its mount was a bit loose on her hoof, but she quickly tightened it.

She bared her fangs, drops of an enemy’s blood dripping from them. “Come on!” she yelled at the wounded priest. “Are you gonna hide behind them?”

Her ears shot up and she turned back to face a grey pegasus. The momentum of the collision threw her off the altar. She spread her wings, trying to get on the top of her opponent.

“Icewind…” Schwalbe hissed, looking into the eyes of her opponent. They were flying above the battlefield; the cultists who hadn’t been caught off-guard by the attackers, formed a ring around the altar. The guards were trying to break their ranks, but there were too few of them.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Icewind replied, trying to stab Schwalbe with a blade attached to her wing. “And you’re dead, bloodsucker.”

Schwalbe kicked Icewind in the stomach, knocking her back. She stood on her hooves, spreading her wings and standing on her hind legs to make better use of the blade on her hoof. “I’ll put you in the fridge, like that friend of yours,” she hissed.

Icewind chuckled. “I hardly think so,” she said. “I outsmarted you all and stole that filly right from under your nose. I–“ Suddenly, her voice changed into a high-pitched shriek, when Schwalbe tackled her, cutting off one-third of her wing. The wing blade fell down, along with red-stained feathers. Schwalbe punched Icewind with her other hoof, causing her to fall on her wounded wing.

“For such a smartass, you talk too much.” Schwalbe pointed the blade at Icewind’s throat. “I’ll cure you from that habit…”

Icewind’s eyes widened when she started to shudder. “Don’t kill me!” she screamed. “I… I helped the guards, remember?”

“And then you betrayed them,” Schwalbe stated calmly. “Outsmarted, as you called it.”

Icewind trembled. She felt warmth spreading from her crotch and realised that her bladder gave up. “B-but I wanted to help you again!” she exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. “I… I would stop them… I wanted to do that but then you all appeared and…” She paused, seeing that Schwalbe lowered her blade.

“A notorious traitor,” Schwalbe muttered, more to herself than to anypony else. “Then, you’ll get a reward a traitor deserves.”

Icewind screamed and choked when Schwalbe stabbed her in the exposed stomach and moved the blade to the side, cutting it open. The bat pony withdrew the weapon, watching Icewind cowering and clutching to her abdomen.

“From the looks of it, you have fifteen to thirty minutes for thinking about your life,” Schwalbe said, watching the blade with disgust. “Maybe less, if you find someone merciful enough to cut off your head. Auf wiedersehen, my dear Icewind.”

The battle continued. Ponies clad in grey cloaks managed to regroup and were now pushing the guards towards the wall of the cave. Wounded and dead ponies from both sides were lying on the floor. Pegasi were circling above the battlefield, diving at the opponents and punching them with their hooves. Some of them were fighting each other, chasing the enemies around stalactites.

Scootaloo blinked and opened her eyes. The world was spinning around her and she nearly collapsed again. A tall silhouette with a filly on her back was slowly disappearing in the distance.

“Schwalbe!” Scootaloo exclaimed. “She’s running away!”

“Schwalbe’s not here...” somepony muttered, standing above Scootaloo. “Pretty sure she won’t mind if you get hurt...”

Scootaloo barely managed to roll on the floor, when an axe hit the rock, sending sparks around. The tall stallion raised his weapon again to strike her, but at the same time a magic beam hit him in the back.

“Hello!” Riot Shield exclaimed. “Figured you’d need help.”

Scootaloo stood up and looked around. The group of unicorn guards led by Charge was flanking the cultists, striking them with spells. Pegasi and earth ponies who saw it gave out a powerful scream; they charged at their opponents, shooting at them with crossbows or beating them with iron-clad hooves.

“Fleur!” Scootaloo exclaimed. “She ran away with Stellar Dust!”

“Where?” Riot Shield asked.

Scootaloo looked around and gulped. “They’re going deeper into the caves!”

They ran together, tripping over the stones. They saw Schwalbe, flying in a different direction. Her fur was covered in blood, but she seemed unharmed; she raised the blade attached to her hoof and waved at Scootaloo.

“Fleur!” Scootaloo exclaimed. “We need to catch her!”

“Chasing their leader,” Schwalbe muttered. “They’re taking him to the surface.” She flapped her wings and flew away.

Scootaloo shrugged and ran with Riot Shield into the small corridor. They could see a faint light of Fleur’s magic far in front of them, flickering and disappearing behind the turns.

“Faster,” Scootaloo whispered. “I’d rather not learn what’s at the end of this corridor...”

The beam of Fleur’s magic destroyed the nearby stalagmite, spraying debris on them. Riot cursed under his breath as they ran faster.

The tunnel widened a bit and Scootaloo realised that she could fly in it. She spread her wings and flew behind Fleur, gritting her teeth. Riot lit his horn brightly, helping Scootaloo see the obstacles.

Fleur turned back and aimed her horn at Scootaloo, who spread her wings, trying to slow down. The blast of magic destroyed part of the ceiling. Scootaloo darted forward, dodging the falling rocks, and tackled the unicorn. Stellar Dust fell off Fleur’s back.

“This is the end,” Scootaloo muttered, pinning Fleur to the ground. “We caught all your friends and we won’t let you go anywhere with this filly...”

Fleur laughed. “I don’t think so. Do you know where we are?” She looked around. “It’s his kingdom. Since the day I was bitten... I knew that I had to find a way to put this power into a good use.”

“You’ll tell that to a shrink.” Scootaloo produced the hoofcuffs and a magic-blocking ring. “Riot, get Stellar outta here and let’s go!”

“Scootaloo...” Riot’s voice was weak and seemed to be coming from a great distance.

Scootaloo looked around and saw green gas seeping from below the floor and the walls. It was slowly engulfing her and Fleur, creeping towards Stellar as well. Riot grabbed the filly and pulled her further away, but the gas was slowly surrounding him.

The sound of hoofcuffs clinging snapped Scootaloo out of trance. She looked down and saw that Fleur cuffed them together. Scootaloo looked for the keys, but saw that Fleur levitated them away from her.

“You’re going to meet him with me...” Fleur licked her lips and smiled, throwing the key away.

Schwalbe took a deep breath and opened her eyes. The system of caves beneath Canterlot had many entrances. The one she’d just used was a small hole on the top of the hill – Schwalbe had to crawl the last few hundred of metres to get out of it.

She spread her wings and took off into the night sky. Canterlot at night was full of lights, but the bat pony district was a dark spot on the image of the town. Schwalbe lowered her flight, scanning the area and looking for the escaping group.

Finally, she noticed them. A group of ponies dragging their injured leader across the street was slow and easy to be seen. Schwalbe smirked and raised her blade, diving at them.

Suddenly, she felt a small pin prick in her wing. She looked at it and saw a small dart with red feathers in it. “What the–”

Her vision blurred. She lowered her blade and spread her wings, dropping on the street. Her muscles stopped responding to the commands from her brain; her wings fell loose as she skid to a halt in front of the pony who shot her.

“Hello.” Boysenberry trotted to her, limping. “I’m afraid you’re arrested.”

“Are you... with them?” Schwalbe shuddered, barely able to form words.

“Oh no, they’re arrested too.” Boysenberry walked to the side, allowing Schwalbe to see the guards surrounding the group of cultists. “You, however...” She lowered her head to Schwalbe. “They found a pony in the caves, eviscerated with something that looks awfully similar to this thing you’re wearing. Once Charge managed to contact me, he put you on a ‘wanted’ list.”

“It was...” Schwalbe’s tongue went stiff.

“Here, let me take it.” Boysenberry unstrapped Schwalbe’s blade. “The court will decide if it was self-defence. They also have some more mysterious murders they’ll love to explain...”

Schwalbe could only move her eyes. However, the way she looked at Boysenberry caused the guard to shudder.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Boysenberry muttered, limping away. “Let’s see how about those...”

The four cultists were sitting silently, each of them restrained by the guards. The fifth one was lying on the ground. Two paramedics Boysenberry had called were looking at his hoof.

“Mr. Fancy Pants,” Boysenberry muttered. “What a nice meeting...”

“You have no right!” Fancy Pants exclaimed. “I’m going to–”

“You were caught with a bolt in your hoof, running away from the cave where almost two hundred ponies saw you trying to sacrifice a filly.” Boysenberry chuckled. “The crossbow we find with you is similar to one that was used to shoot a guard. We’ll check how similar it was...” Boysenberry looked into Fancy Pants’ eyes. “I’m afraid your only right now is the right to remain silent...”

Scootaloo struggled to pull Fleur away from the cloud of gas. She couldn’t see Riot Shield anywhere.

“Riot?” she asked. “Run away with Stellar!” She coughed. “Don’t wait for me!”

“I can’t!” Riot shouted. “If it gets you, it won’t just kill you! Remember Berry Punch?”

“Run!” Scootaloo pulled Fleur, but she lay on the ground, laughing maniacally. “Or there’ll be four Berries here, instead of just two...”

She sighed with relief, hearing Riot’s hoofsteps. Breathing heavily, she made one more attempt to pull Fleur with her.

“It’s no use,” Fleur muttered. “We’ll serve him together...”

“Never!” Scootaloo exclaimed. She looked around. They were completely engulfed in gas, but she felt that her mind was clean. Fleur noticed that.

“Don’t worry about the gas,” she said. “Look there.”

Scootaloo looked into the darkness in front of them. At first, she didn’t see anything – just the limestone walls of the uneven corridor, full of stalactites and stalagmites.

Then, she finally noticed it. Her eyes widened and she froze, staring into the thin outline slowly emerging from the darkness. Maybe it was more than just an outline – Scootaloo felt that her brain was trying to block it out, to stop itself from watching it. And yet, she couldn’t turn her gaze away.

The sound of Fleur’s magic barely reached Scootaloo’s ears. Time around them seemed to slow to a crawl. Even the light needed a few seconds to reach Scootaloo’s retinas, causing her vision to become red-tinted.

“Let’s play a game.” Fleur’s voice seemed low and slowed down. “He’s weak and will need some time to reach us.” She pointed at the hoofcuffs and Scootaloo saw that the chain connecting them melted. “You can either stay here trying to ‘save’ me, or run away...” Fleur smirked, “... forever blaming yourself for that...”

“No!” Scootaloo exclaimed, trying to drag Fleur out. A thought appeared in her mind, but she rejected it with a shudder.

“Leave me,” Fleur said with a chuckle. “I’m going to become more powerful once he reaches me...”

Scootaloo looked at Fleur, sitting by the entrance of the cave. She then looked into the entrance of the cave. The drone in her ears deafened her. Her vision blurred; the edges of everything around her drowned in static. Buzzing filled her ears, as if she were surrounded by moths.

Scootaloo screamed, covering her ears. Buzzing changed into a thousand of whispers, each telling her what to do – the very thought she’d rejected earlier now came back, taking over her body.

The rock somehow found its way to Scootaloo’s hoof. She picked it up, barely seeing it. She raised it to her face and watched it carefully, trying to estimate its weight.

Then she threw it at Fleur.

As if in slow motion, she watched the rock hitting Fleur’s head, cutting the white skin and sending droplets of blood spraying around. The laughter silenced as Fleur fell to the ground. Scootaloo jumped to her, grabbing the rock and hitting the unicorn repeatedly. The whispers changed; voices were now screaming in her ears. The outline in front of her trembled and, although she couldn’t see it, she had a feeling that she was being watched.

“It won’t... have... any... use... of your body...” Scootaloo panted, crushing Fleur’s skull with the rock. Warm tissues stuck to her fur, but she didn’t care. She knew from Dr. Stable’s story how Berry Punch’s body looked when they found her. The damage had to be as big as possible.

Fleur’s body jerked and hung limply in Scootaloo’s hooves. The pegasus raised her head and screamed, her eyes widening. Now she was staring at it, but she could barely see it; thousands of years of evolution didn’t prepare her mind to perceive it properly.

The rock fell out of Scootaloo’s hoof, splashing in the puddle of blood. Scootaloo backpedalled, sliding on the wet stones. The deafening drone slowly left her ears and the time went back to its usual speed. Still screaming, Scootaloo turned back and flew up the tunnel.


View Online

Schwalbe. Do you know what it means back where I come from? Swallow. A bird. It’s even in my cutie mark. Funny how things go.

Swallows are useful birds. Flying around, catching worms... Insects that can eat your food and bring you disease. Ponies don’t appreciate swallows.

Diamond Tiara lowered her head. After killing an assassin, Curtain Call still was in the Canterlot asylum. Even though bright walls in the corridor were supposed to cheer the visitors up, they kept reminding her of the worst years of her life.

“Diamond Tiara?”

“What?” Diamond Tiara asked, snapping out of her thoughts. “What are you doing here?”

Archer sighed, wiping her eyes. “Visiting Scootaloo. She’s getting better, but still doesn’t want to talk about what happened to her.”

“I’ve heard stories,” Diamond Tiara muttered. “The newspapers wrote that her only words after they found her were ‘blow it up!’.”

“Riot told us what happened there.” Archer sighed. “About Fleur and gas... But only Scootaloo knows the ending of the story. And since they blew that cave up and sealed it with concrete, I doubt we’ll ever learn what happened there.”

For a moment, they were sitting together in silence.

“So... how’s Button?” Diamond Tiara asked.

“Better since I got out of the hospital,” Archer replied. “He’s waiting for me downstairs. How about Curtain Call?”

Diamond Tiara shrugged. “She thinks she’s a filly again. The doctors say that it’s her way of coping with all that.”

Archer nodded, but didn’t say anything for a while. Diamond Tiara stood up and was about to leave, when Archer finally spoke.

“She talks.”

“What do you mean?” Diamond Tiara shuddered, remembering her own breakdown.

“‘Arcturus was first’,” Archer replied. “That was the first thing she said...”

Scootaloo thrashed on the bed, but the paramedics held her in place. She was covered in blood, sweat, and dirt. Many of her feathers were broken or torn out, but despite that she was still trying to take off. Her eyes met Archer’s and she leaned towards her cousin, baring her teeth.

“Arcturus was first...” Scootaloo panted, hanging limply in the paramedics’ hooves. “Fleur... I had to do that... I had to... There were lots of them... Over the ages...”

A nurse walked to Scootaloo, levitating a syringe. “You need to rest,” she said. “You’re in a shock...”

“No!” Scootaloo screamed. Archer backpedalled, seeing her bloodshot eyes and reddish teeth. The nurse pinched the needle in Scootaloo’s foreleg and pushed the piston.

“I had to do that...” Scootaloo whispered, breathing heavily. “They were resisting... She didn’t.... I had to... They told me to... Or else... It’d get–” She closed her eyes and lowered her head.

“What happened to her?” Archer asked, watching the paramedics putting Scootaloo on the bed.

“We don’t know,” one of the paramedics replied. “She crawled out of the cave alone. She has some scratches and bruises, but nothing really serious... Her mind, however... We’re gonna call a shrink once she wakes up.” He pointed at a deep bite wound on Scootaloo’s hoof. “It seems that she did it to herself...”

Archer walked to Scootaloo and sighed, patting her sweat-drenched mane. “What did you see there, cousin?” she muttered.

Sometimes, the insects may be helpful. A swallow doesn’t know which ones are which ones. They hunt all of them.

However, some bugs are worse than the other. That’s what swallows like. A big insect is a bad insect... But for a swallow, it means more food.

Princess Celestia’s voice was cold. Most ponies gathered in the throne room could never imagine it being like that. Used to motherly and caring tone, they forgot that Princesses managed to rule the country for over a thousand years, surviving many dangers.

The case was also something unprecedented. One of the richest ponies in Equestria was arrested along with a group of cultists trying to sacrifice a filly in the caves under Canterlot. During the investigation, he was also charged with attempted murder of a guard and various other crimes, some of them unknown to the public. He kept claiming that it was all a plan of his wife, but hardly anyone in Canterlot believed him – especially since his wife disappeared and was never heard from again.

“Fancy Pants,” Princess Celestia said. “For your deeds, which are too numerous to mention them once again, you’ll stay in prison for the rest of your life.” Celestia stood up. “Court dismissed.”

Fancy Pants lowered his head, his eyes resting on the black and white photo of Fleur dis Lee.

Swallows are caring about their children. They build nests in dark places and catch insects for them. They don’t leave a nest. When they come back to it and find that it was damaged – they repair it.

Stellar Dust squealed quietly. Her ears perked up, catching even the subtlest changes in the airflow. She spread her small wings and flew to the couch, resting on it.

“Are we going to stay here?” Stellar Dust asked.

Cygnus nodded. “Yes, sweetie. We’re not going back to the caves.”

“I liked the caves,” Stellar muttered. “And Moonwing liked the caves too...”

Cygnus wiped her eyes. “I’m sure Moonwing would like this place too.”

“But she’s somewhere else now, right?” Stellar Dust asked. “And she feels better?”

Cygnus trotted to her daughter, sat on the couch near her and hugged her. “Yes,” she replied. “Yes, she is.”

Swallows don’t like living in slavery. They may be living in tight nests, but they fly a lot. Every winter they move somewhere where it’s warm. They…

“What are you writing there, Schwalbe?” Boysenberry stood in the corridor and looked through the bars. “By the way, I think we’re gonna have to take your pen away. Your previous roommate is still in the hospital.”

Schwalbe gritted her teeth. “You know what she was trying to do to me?”

“That’s why you’re still here and not in solitary confinement,” Boysenberry muttered. “But one day, Schwalbe...”

Schwalbe smirked grimly. “One day, indeed. And on that day, you’d better sleep with one eye open...”