by Mysterious Stranger

Chapter 2: Chapter 2: Hypothesis Testing

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Twilight could tell from Applejack's expression that she was taken aback. Her reaction was understandable; after all, it wasn't every day that someone offered to track down the pony who had robbed you.

"Well, ah, Twilight, I'm chuffed that you're willin’ to find whoever robbed my family and I. But how exactly do you plan to do that?"

"I made a new discovery last night," Twilight said, clopping her hooves together. "I don't know much about it, but I'm willing to bet it can help me solve the case."

"What sorta discovery?"

"How to describe it..." Twilight said thoughtfully. "Actually, wait, better idea. I’ll show you."

Twilight fired a beam of pink light into the ground. On impact, it produced a glowing white circle that rapidly expanded. Some surprised bystanders jumped back to avoid being touched by the circle, a few yelling out in alarm. Hearing the commotion, several more heads turned towards the scene.

"Ooh, pretty!" a nearby filly said.

"I don't get it. Looks like all you did was add some colors to the ground," Applejack said.

Twilight observed the effect of her spell and saw that her friend was right. Only the ground was splashed with colors, with not a drop to be found on Applejack's stand or the apples on it. To the best of Twilight's knowledge, that meant neither the apples nor the stand had ever been touched by magic.

"You know, I'm not entirely sure what's going on with the ground, but check this out." Twilight reached for an apple with magic. When she levitated the fruit up, it turned purple, stem and all. "Pretty neat huh?"

"It's purple," Applejack stated flatly. "No offense, Twi, but I don't really see what good that does me."

"This apple turned purple because I used magic on it," Twilight explained. "If my theory is accurate, my spell should show where the magic of other unicorns has been used."

"You reckon you can find the culprit by following their magic?"

Twilight nodded. "It’s worth a try. I think I'll head over to Sweet Apple Acres before the trail gets too cold."

"That'd be swell. But before you go, think maybe you could undo these here colors?" Applejack held up the tainted fruit. "I might have a hard time sellin’ this purple apple."

"Actually, um, I haven't figured out how to undo it yet," Twilight said sheepishly. "But it does wear off eventually. Sorry!"

"Ah, well, maybe it'll draw customers." Applejack set down the apple with a sigh. "Best of luck to you."

Even as Twilight turned about and briskly walked away from the apple stand, several ponies moved in to get a closer look at the colorful scenery around it.

"Is that a purple apple?" someone asked Applejack. "Do you have any more?"

Twilight smiled as she trotted away.

Before long, Twilight reached Sweet Apple Acres’ boundary fence. After passing through the gate, she glanced around. As was usual for “apple-bucking season,” a large number of wooden buckets were gathered around the bases of the trees.

A thunk came from nearby. Following the sound, Twilight spotted Big McIntosh kicking a tree over a small crest nearby. Luscious, ripe red apples fell into the buckets at his hooves.

"Hello, Big Mac," Twilight said as she approached him. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

Big McIntosh paused in his task and turned towards Twilight. "Eeyup."

"Applejack told me that your farm got robbed last."

Neither anger nor any other apparent emotion passed over Big McIntosh's face as he nodded. "Eeyup."

"Where exactly were the apples stolen from?"

Big McIntosh turned again and walked off without a word, Twilight in tow.

They walked all the way to the western-most part of the property. Many trees around were noticeably absent of apples and buckets on the ground. For what was apparently an overnight heist, it was impressive how many apples had been stolen. Twilight figured that only a unicorn with very powerful magic could have performed such a job.

"So this is where it happened?"


"Do you mind if I cast a spell to see if I can track the missing apples?"

Big McIntosh shook his head. "Nope."

Twilight prepared the spell and unleashed it upon the area. Instead of starting as a circle on the ground this time, she focused on turning it into a giant white orb that expanded in all directions. As usual, colored spots covered the ground, although not as many as there had been at the market and not as diverse in color. There were even a few on the tree-trunks.

Twilight paid none of those details any mind, for her attention was on the branches of the trees. Much to her dismay, however, there were no glowing colors up there.

"Oh, shoot." She stomped the ground. "I thought for sure that would work. Maybe the spell only shows were my magic has been used."

"Nope," said Big McIntosh.

"Yes, well, there are all these other colors that show up each time," Twilight said. "But they don't make any sense. I can't fathom why there would be traces of magic on the ground, unless some unicorns just like to go around touching it."

Big McIntosh calmly walked up to tree, spun on his forelegs, and gave the tree a buck so powerful that Twilight felt the vibrations through the ground.

Twilight's eyes widened, but not simply because of Big McIntosh's impressive display of strength. Two splotches of green light appeared on the tree precisely where the stallion had kicked it.

"There was… magic in that kick," Twilight said. "But how? Earth ponies aren't supposed to be… magical."

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than Twilight found herself questioning their validity. After all, hadn't it only been yesterday that "scientific fact" had been thrown into uncertainty? If the conventional wisdom about magic had been wrong in that respect, there really wasn't any reason that error couldn't extend further. If Twilight were to disregard what she thought she knew about magic, what her eyes told made much more sense. What she saw explained the colors on the ground and on the trees. Everywhere that an earth pony's hoof touched, magic was there also.

In light of this fact, Twilight could now see where Big McIntosh had walked; glowing green hoof-prints trailed behind him.

"In order to have a special connection to the earth, earth ponies channel magic through their hooves!" Twilight said. "Big Mac, you're a genius!"

Big McIntosh tilted his head to the side, as if seriously considering the praise. "Nope," he said, though a grin flickered across his face.

Armed with her new knowledge, Twilight scanned the trees and the ground. While green was the dominant glowing color, there was still a noticeable blue that had bucked every tree at least once. Moreover, there was more of the same color on the fence.

Scarcely able to contain her excitement, Twilight fired her spell onto the grassy downward slope beyond the fence. A trail of glowing blue hoof prints led away from the scene of the crime.

Twilight grinned. She had no idea how an earth pony could have stolen so many apples in one night, but she could find out how later. Finally, an actual lead!

Not trusting herself to jump the fence without landing wrong, Twilight teleported herself to the other side and began to follow the blue spots. Every few seconds, she renewed the spell to extend its range further as she went. At one point the trail turned, prompting her to follow it in zigzags down the hillside. Soon the path straightened up and continued towards the woods at the bottom of the hill.

Twilight's excitement peaked when she spotted a cave a little ways into the woods. She quickened her pace as she passed through the tree line; sure enough, the blue hoofprints led right up to the cave. The culprit had to still be in there—

A red leg swung out in front of her, forcing her stop. Twilight glanced at the leg's owner.


"Nope," Big McIntosh said.

"Ooh, good point, the thief might be on alert if he’s still inside." Twilight said. "Probably not the best idea to rush right in there. But how am I supposed to solve the mystery if I don't go in?"

Big McIntosh looked around with a slight frown, and then picked up a large fallen branch with his mouth. Holding it aloft, he strode towards the cave himself.

Twilight didn't move. “Oh. You be careful then!”

Big McIntosh grunted what might have been an “Eeyup” as entered the cave.

Right away, someone—or something—jumped at him.

“Big Mac!” Twilight rushed forward, horning glowing.

Big McIntosh staggered on his hooves as he took several hits, but then lashed back with his branch, knocking the attacker further back into the cave.

Twilight charged in after him and fired her spell, paralyzing the ambusher. For a moment everything was quiet. Her horn glowed again, this time with a simple illumination spell.

The cave was nearly filled to the top with apples. Larges piles all around, mostly unscathed save for a few apple cores on the floor. Oddly enough, there were also several logs in the cave, long and thin ones. The stolen buckets were there too, stacked up neatly in a corner.

Twilight turned her attention to her target. Encased in a field of magic was an earth pony stallion, his eyes wide with shock.

"This mystery is solved," Twilight said proudly. "I suppose now would be good a time as any to get someone to actually arrest this guy."

"Eeyup," Big McIntosh agreed.

The entire population of Ponyville had gathered in the town square, watching as Royal Guards put shackles on the apple burglar's legs. Not once had he spoken, even after the paralysis spell had worn off.

Twilight stood by Spike and her five closest friends as she too watched the Royal Guards load the thief into the back of an enclosed chariot. Princess Celestia stood next to Twilight as well, observing with a slight frown on her face.

"I must admit, Twilight, I was very surprised when I got your letter. It has been a very long time since something like this has happened."

"I'm still try’na figure out how he filched so much of our crop," Applejack said as she scratched her head. "That fella took enough apples to stock a dragon’s hoard."

"I think I know how he did it," Twilight said. "In his hideout, he had a lot of logs. Because the theft took place on the outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres, he might even have started during the day without anyone noticing. All he had to do was line the logs up on the side of the hill. Once that was done, he could easily transport all the apples by dumping the bucket on the other side of the fence. With the logs acting as rails, gravity did the rest."

"That orchard is pretty far from the house," Applejack said. "Pretty smart thinkin' Twi."

"Speaking of smart thinking, I heard that you discovered a new spell?" Princess Celestia inquired.

"That and more," Twilight said, her face burning. "It’s a real game-changer considering what we know—or think we know—about magic, so I don't want to say much about it before I'm absolutely certain. I think it may involve the discovery of very unusual particles though."

"Oh? What sort of particles?"

"I... don't actually have a name for them yet," Twilight said. "They might have a lot of different qualities to them, so the name would have to accurately represent the entirety of what they are. Or, at least, what I think they are. For now... I think I'll call them magical bi-planar luminescent particles."

"That's… quite a mouthful, darling," Rarity said.

"Well, yes." Twilight admitted. "But it represents what I think they are."

"How about you call them ‘magicles’?" Spike suggested.

"No, that's not proper grammar," Twilight said with a wave of her hoof. “The word 'magical' is an adjective, not a noun. You can't make it plural by adding an 's'."

"No, not 'magicals'," magicles," Spike clarified. "Magic plus particles. Magicles."

"I like it," said Rainbow Dash. "It's catchy."

"It certainly rolls of the tongue easier," Rarity said. "Magicles."

"Magicles magicles magicles magicles!" Pinkie Pie yelled with a bounce after each word.

"But that's not even a real word!" Twilight protested. "It's a made-up word!"

"Just try sayin' it, Twilight," Applejack suggested. "Magicles."

"Doesn't matter what she thinks—majority rules!" said Rainbow Dash. "Magicles."

"Um, I think yours is nice too, Twilight," Fluttershy said. "Magical bi… um, what you said."

Twilight opened her mouth to point out it was her discovery and therefore her call, but was instead interrupted by her stomach rumbling.

"Oh my gosh, I still haven't eaten all day," she said. "I don't suppose I could buy some apples at your usual price now, Applejack?"

"Twilight," Applejack chuckled. "After all that you've done for the Apple family today, you can have some on the house!"

Tough Break sat alone in his cell, staring at the cobblestone floor. He had been so sure that his plan to steal all those apples had been flawless, but here he was anyway. Somehow, he had been found out. But Tough Break wasn't so much concerned about his imprisonment as he was his employer. His employer wouldn't be happy that Tough Break had failed to do what he had promised.

"You had one job," someone behind Tough Break suddenly hissed.

Tough Break spun around, but of course only the cobblestone wall was behind him. Above his head was a little barred window, too high for him to see out of. During the day it allowed in sunlight, but now the cell was pitch black.

"I'm sorry, I messed up!" Tough Break said quickly. "But since I'm here, you might as well let my wife and daughter go. I can't do anything for you here. There's no point in you holding on to them."

"Thanks for the suggestion, but I think I'll keep them close by anyway. They're not my concern right now, though. You are."

"L-look, I didn't r-rat you out. I n-never said anything about you, I didn't say anything at all," Tough Break stammered.

"A wise choice, most certainly. But your court date will arrive before you know it, and you are very much a liability. I can't afford to have any liabilities."

"J-just promise to let them go, okay?" Tough Break begged. "Please!"

For a moment there was no sound.

Tough Break started to wonder if his blackmailer had actually left to release his wife and daughter.

The ceiling shuddered.

A single scream rent the night as it came crashing down.

Next Chapter: Chapter 3: Emotional Bias Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 17 Minutes
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