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Elementary, dear Trotson (attn Wziela)


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Lope Lighthoof

Lope sat on the train, reviewing the case file for what must have been the four hundredth time. Tangent insisted he be able to answer any one of her questions about the mission by the time they arrived on scene, and she had a knack for being able to inquire about obscure details he was sure the writers of the file themselves weren't aware of. Garden Gait, three missing ponies within the last week, two earth ponies, one male one female, and one pegasus stallion. The only reason S.M.I.L.E. was being called in was because the circumstances seemed to suggest that these may not be ponynappings done by ponies. Something seemed to be snatching the victims up with greater power. Perhaps even monstrous power. Regardless, the two were warned that other agents of the crown may be investigating in the same area. They were instructed to cooperate, but avoid giving up their organization if at all possible. Their identities were to be preserved, and they were to erase memories if their involvement with the League became known.

 

He quizzed himself over the names of the missing ponies again, and reminded himself where each had gone missing. There seemed to be a pattern to the disappearances. All took place at night, though the exact time of night was unknown, as nopony had been around when it happened, and all took place near the edge of town, specifically on the eastern side (Tangent suggested this may be because the eastern side of town catches more shade during the sunset, allowing whatever creature they were looking for to come out earlier). It seemed ponies in this town were responsible enough to tell others where they were going at night. That was highly useful information.

 

In lieu of the disappearances, the mayor had issued an order prohibiting anypony from leaving their homes after dark. Tangent and Lighthoof would be taking advantage of the fact that no one would be able to enforce such a curfew as the townsponies didn't have nightly guard.

 

As the train reached the station, Lope retrieved their luggage from the compartment above their seats. "Ready to rid this town of its night terrors?" he asked as the train finally arrested.

 

Tangent Line

Agent Tangent didn't have her case file out. She knew everything she needed to know. And from the sounds of it, Lighthoof did, too. She had conditioned him well. He was beginning to absorb debriefing content almost as well as she did, though she'd never tell him that. She didn't want it going to his head. 

 

She gazed out the window, watching the countryside go by. Strange to think that a beautiful area like this could be plagued by such a terrible monster, whatever it was that they were here to neutralize. This was going to be just like the last mission they were on, in Ponyville. Late nights, lots of sneaking around and chasing shadows. Though, hopefully they wouldn't run into any interference as they had last time. Though the griffon and unicorn stallion had been helpful, she would have preferred they stay out of it. S.M.I.L.E. was a serious organization. She hated when she had to work with freelancers or privateers who were only in it to earn the extra bits. It gave a bad name to the profession of monster hunting.

 

She knew it was likely other investigators would be in the area. She was just hoping to Celestia that when the chief had said "Investigators", he hadn't meant "S.T.A.R. agents". She didn't think she could handle a headache on top of this case. S.T.A.R. jurisdiction battles could get intense. 

 

As the train reached the station, Lighthoof retried their luggage from the compartment above their seats and made a comment about ridding the town of it's night terrors. She gave a slight smile, unable to help but catch a bit of his positivity. "As ready as I'll ever be. Hope you got a good night's sleep last night, because tonight is going to be quite long," she reminded him as she rose and levitated her bags from him. They exited the train and started off for the bed and breakfast where they would be nesting for the next few days.

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Sundown Trail watched the Equestrian countryside pass by, lit by the midday sun. He pressed his forehead against the window of his train compartment. He was tired. He stayed up late to catch the morning train and hadn't slept a wink since he got on. He had hoped to get a nap in on the way to Garden Gait, but his mind kept dwelling on the case he was assigned to, and he hadn't been able to fall asleep. Three ponies had gone missing within a week of each other, all under similar circumstances. Usually, the Guard wouldn't get involved in small-town disappearances like this until the local authorities asked for assistance. But given the unusual details of this case, the Guard thought it was prudent to send somepony down to immediately take charge of the investigation. Sundown was the pony who the Guard sent. Having grown up in the White Tail Wood and having experience with working on missing ponies cases, the Guard believed him to be uniquely suited for handling this case. Sundown hoped he was up to the task. Three ponies going missing like this was nothing to scoff at. The White Tail Wood was undoubtedly safer than its sibling to the west, the Everfree Forest; it still is dangerous to anypony who isn't prepared or doesn't know what they're doing. Despite not being as visible, dehydration and exhaustion are just as threatening to anypony who gets lost in the wilderness as a manticore or a cockatrice is.

 

He glanced down at the manila folder lying to his left on the compartment bench. He had read the case file back at headquarters and had meant to review it a little on the train, but his drowsiness kept him from being able to focus, and he had put it down shortly into his trip. He'll have to come back and reread it once he got some sleep. But right now, all he wanted was to stretch out on a bed and sleep.

 

Sundown got up lazily as he felt the train halt at the Garden Gait station. He stuffed the case file into his saddlebags and grabbed his suitcase from the rack above him. After cautiously balancing the bag on his back, he left his train compartment and headed towards the exit. After letting a pair of ponies, a scarlet mare and a sky blue stallion, pass him, he jumped off the train and headed into town. His destination was the Town Hall. The mayor of Garden Gait had sent word ahead that she would have a small room in the Town Hall set up for Sundown to use. It was probably nothing more than a cot or sleeping bag in an empty office, but it'll have to do. Once he gets there, he plans on taking a nice long nap, and then afterward, he will investigate the area where the ponies went missing. It'll probably be dark by then, but a quick flash of his badge would prevent any local law enforcement from getting too mad at him breaking curfew. After all, he will have an excuse to be out and about.

 

He yawned as he walked lazily through the cobbled streets. Only a few blocks to the Town Hall, and then he could sleep...

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As the two ponies were unpacking and setting up home base, the inevitable quiz of materials in the case file came. Lope was able to answer most of his senior's questions, but stumbled or just plain forgot the answers to a few, for which she scolded him. "You need to know the case inside and out if you ever want to be a senior agent, Lighthoof. Knowing your enemy is the first rule of war, and knowing all the facts of the case is the first rule of investigation. It's how we add monsters to our suspects list. For instance, all of these disappearances took place at night, and since they were on the east side of town, it's likely that they took place in the evening before the sun was fully set. That tells us a lot about our culprit. It's nocturnal, but an early riser, and it either can't or won't go into the sun. So there's a possibility it's a giant spider. However, we also know that there weren't any signs surrounding the disappearances, so it's possible these are kidnappings. But out in a rural community, with no ransoms, what would be the motive for kidnapping three full-grown ponies?"

 

Lope thought for a minute. "Well, the only reason I could think of would be for food, but you're the senior investigator, and if you're asking that, then that means it was probably more complex than just food. Plus, there hasn't been any blood found, and no one reported hearing screams. So it was probably someone who kidnapped them and got them to go quietly. But that still leaves motive... Perhaps a creature like Tirek who wants to drain their magic? But then, why kidnap them? Why not just take it then and there?then an idea struck him. "Are there any cave systems nearby?"

 

As usual, Line was impressed. "That, I think, is one of the first things we should know. However, the sun is beginning to go down, and we need to be out on the field when that happens. So it will have to wait until tomorrow. Remember, we stick together tonight. Can't risk one of us getting snatched with no one to see."

 

"Right. Shall we go for a stroll then?" He offered his hoof in a mock-gentlemanly way. Tangent smirked a little at him, but walked by his outstretched foreleg. He followed her down the stairs of the motel and out onto the street. For now, they would need to stick to the alleyways and avoid suspicion. After curfew, however, they should be relatively free to roam, so long as they didn't make too big a deal out of it. They reviewed their stories in the event that they got caught, and set out for the east edge of town.

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Sundown sat atop one of the taller buildings on the eastern side of Garden Gait. He had already gone to the town hall and unpacked. And after a nap and a short review of the case file, he decided to find a nice overlook to survey the surrounding area. He was now sitting atop one of the few two-story buildings in Garden Gait. He glanced around.

 

To the north, in the distance, he could see the skyline of Canterlot, the royal city making a beautiful sight in the evening light. To the west, he could see the sun beginning to dip below the horizon. The valley below, lit by the dusk, making a sight that was worthy of a postcard or painting. It was beautiful, and Sundown found it no wonder why this area is considered one of the most picturesque in all of Equestria. After enjoying the view for a few more moments, he looked away; he had a job to do after all.

 

To the east, he focused on the area where the three ponies went missing. It was a sparser side of town, with wood timber residences and farmhouses making up most of the buildings. Further to the east, he could see an ancient stone wall, overgrown with vegetation. Sundown didn't quite know why there was a large stone wall that bounded the eastern quarter of the village, but he could tell it was very, very old. Probably a couple of centuries, if not millennia old. Many stones were missing, and some portions of the wall looked to be mere shadows of what they used to be. Likely, the townsponies scavenged the wall for anything valuable over the years it has been in disuse. Past the wall, Sundown caught glimpses of fields of flowers which continued until they hit the edge of the White Tail Wood in the distance.

 

As he was taking in the landscape around him, something caught his eye: movement. Something was moving between the buildings, quickly making its way between the streets and alleyways. No... Not just one thing, make that two things. They were about pony-sized, and they were trotting through the alleys and streets of town. Sundown's eyes narrowed as he watched their quick and unpredictable path through the eastern side of the village.

 

He took a step back and opened his wings; he was going to get a closer look. With a short running start off the top of his perch, Sundown's wings caught air, and he glided over the village buildings. After a short glide he landed silently, or as silently as he could, and came to a stop atop a wooden structure with a thatched roof. He was considerably closer to the two offenders now, and he could make their silhouettes out much better. They were an earth pony and a unicorn, a stallion and a mare, respectively. They appeared to be in hushed conversation and moved with care and precision. What were they doing snooping around town at this hour? A glance to the sky showed that they were undoubtedly breaking the evening curfew.

 

Sundown watched them from his rooftop quietly. He wasn't going to confront them right away; he'll try to figure out why they're sneaking around and then tell them to get inside. Following them from a distance, he tried to keep his movements silent and unseen. He didn't want to alert them, and he certainly didn't want to scare them. It would be a considerable headache if they ended up fleeing and yelling about "a monster on the roof".

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Lope Lighthoof

So far, nothing interesting had happened. The two of them stuck close together as they went down alleys, through back areas of the street, mostly patrolling areas where a pony could be easily isolated. In particular, Tangent wanted to investigate sewage grates and other holes in the ground through which a pony could feasibly fit. If her hypothesis was correct, that's where their culprits would be taking the MIA ponies. "If we don't find anything tonight, then we'll take a trip down there tomorrow after a little rest," she told him. He was already starting to yawn, and the thought of staying up even later into the day didn't sound pleasant, so he was glad she added the stipulation about resting first.

 

As they trotted along, Lope thought he heard something behind them. His head whipped around, his training kicking in. Tangent proceeded on her path, not noticing until several seconds later that she had left him behind. "Lighthoof! Come on!" she whisper-yelled to him.

 

"Just a second! I think I heard something!" he replied with identical volume.

 

Tangent Line

So far, they hadn't stumbled upon any evidence that would confirm her hypothesis as to who the culprits might be, but that didn't necessarily mean there wasn't any. Tomorrow they would interview family members of the missing ponies and then take a venture into the sewers to search for clues. But for the time being, they patrolled the streets, hoping to catch the creature and end this case as soon as possible. 

 

As they journeyed down one alleyway, she became aware that Lighthoof was no longer with her. A wave of panic went through her momentarily until a quick look around revealed that he had simply stopped several feet back. "Lighthoof! Come on!" she called quietly to him. He relayed that he had heard something, and she trotted back to him, intrigued. The alleyway appeared to be devoid of anypony (or anycreature for that matter) other than themselves, but they checked behind a couple of trash cans just in case. "I think it's dark enough for that night vision spell now," he suggested. She looked up at the sky to assess the light. The spell she had been taught in her training was very useful at night, but could have painful effects if used when there was too much light around. She didn't have the skill to cast more advanced vision spells that could be adapted to various lighting conditions, unfortunately, so they had to wait until after sundown to use it. "I think so. It's dark enough that I'm having a hard time making out acute details now, so we should be good." Her horn glowed momentarily and she touched it to Lighthoof's forehead, then focused instead upon herself. When her light diminished, the alleyway was much brighter, as was everything else. They reexamined the alley again before deciding to move on. "Best stay alert, though. Just because we didn't find anything doesn't mean it was nothing," she said as they continued to trot. 

 

 

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Sundown watched the two ponies scamper down the alleyways and streets of Garden Gait. They doubled backed on themselves multiple times and returned to some areas more than once. The investigator wondered why they were doing this. It almost looked like they were on patrol. But these ponies didn't seem like law enforcement; they looked like normal ponies. Despite this, their movements were precise and measured. Did they have some sort of training? These questions bounced around in Sundown's head as he observed from above.

 

Sundown accidentally stepped on a drier piece of thatch, making a crunching sound. The earth pony stallion then stopped and glanced around. Crud. He must've heard that. Sundown ducked his head and huddled against the roof. He waited for about a minute or two as he listened to the pair searching the alleyway below. Once the investigator worked up the courage to check again, he saw the two of them walking away. He breathed a sigh of relief. Good. They didn't see me. Sundown thought to himself.

 

Sundown started to follow the duo again, but they crossed one of the wider roads in town. To get to the next roof, the investigator would have to get more of a running start to make the jump. The detective took a couple of steps back and then galloped towards his destination. Just as he reached the end of his roof, he leaped, hoping he hadn't misjudged the distance.

 

He had.

 

Sundown's forehooves caught on the thatch of the next roof, but he couldn't get a grip. He fell back. He let out a yelp as he felt himself begin to drop. His wings snapped out, a desperate attempt to create some drag to slow his descent, but it was in vain. He hit the ground.

 

The drop wasn't too bad; the fall was from a one-story building, after all. But, the force of his landing knocked a nearby trash can over and sent the lid careening away in a random direction. The investigator groaned as he tried to bring himself onto his hooves. This was going to bite him in the backside later. He went to fold his wings back, but a flare of pain shot through his left wing. He sucked his teeth and flinched. Ouch. He looked back to check the appendage. It didn't appear to be broken. He must've just sprained it. He'll have to take it easy for a couple of days while it heals. Sundown sat down on his haunches and brought his wing in front of him to get a closer look at it, forgetting there were two ponies nearby who'd most certainly heard his ungraceful landing.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lope Lighthoof

As they continued their patrol, Lope was feeling especially on edge. He couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched, but every time he turned around, there was nothing to suggest that such suspicions could be correct. 

 

Then midway through an alley, he heard something, and judging by the instant reaction of his trainer, she had, too. It sounded like a yelp! A trash can was knocked over, too, which meant there was probably a struggle! The two ponies didn't even look at each other before doubling back and sprinting their way towards the sound. His cutie mark sprang into action as he sprinted, ignoring the slight pain in his back leg. But when he burst out of the alley at a canter, what he saw was not what he had expected. There sat a perfectly normal areion, clutching his wing, a trash can knocked over beside him. Perhaps the foalnapper had released him? A moment or two later, Tangent arrived behind him and seemed equally confused at the sight before them. "Are you alright??" he asked frantically, whipping his head around to see if there was possibly a creature within sight. "Were you attacked??"

 

Tangent Line

Agent Line's ears picked up the cry at the same moment Lighthoof's did, but he was faster on the draw. Having an athletic cutie mark gave him the edge over her when it came to things like that. As she sprinted after him, she charged her horn with a stun spell, preparing to fire on anything they encountered.

 

When she got to the end of the alleyway, however, it was not an encounter they found, but rather what looked to be the aftermath of one. The areion didn't look particularly harmed, but did appear to have put up a fight against whatever had attacked him. Her partner was faster to speak than she was, and when she did speak, she was much less empathetic than him. "Why are you out this late? Don't you know there's a town-wide curfew? Even for areions, being out alone is incredibly dangerous. The last three ponies who were are now missing. And if you thought your flying could save you, clearly you were wrong. But even so, you should have had the forethought to know that if a pegasus had been nabbed, your wings would be of little use to you. Unless..." Agent Line had never really trusted areion in the past. They were shifty, creepy, and continued to pay homage to Princess Luna during her exile as public enemy number one. But now her suspicions were growing slightly. A ring of nocturnal ponies would make sense. They could get around in the sky unnoticed, had exceptional dark vision, which would give them an advantage over the the more flight-adept Pegasi at night, and could be out during the night because they didn't sleep. She listened to his answer with a high degree of scrutiny.

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