by Mysterious Stranger

First published

Princess Celestia has become gravely ill. It's up to Night Mist to find the cause before she dies.

No doctor can find a cure. Magic does nothing but delay the inevitable. Whether cursed or simply sick, the fact remains. Princess Celestia is somehow dying. It's a race against the clock as Night Mist, the most famous detective in Equestria (or just Ponyville) desperately tries to find answers before its too late. Will he discover the source of the illness in time or will Equestria lose its beloved princess forever?

Chapter 1: Some rules just don't make any sense

"I swear to Princess Celestia, Night Mist, if you lay one hoof on my tower I will end you!" threatened Sharp Wing.

Night Mist, a black earth pony with a silver mane didn't bother to take his golden eyes off the game board.

"That would be an interesting trick considering your army is almost gone. I think I'll ignore your threat and attack you anyway." he commented.

In desperation Sharp Wing turned to the dark red unicorn with a black mane and orange eyes sitting to his left.

"You gotta send me some reinforcements, Frazzle Spark! He's gonna take out my tower!"

"Not a chance. You violated our sacred alliance of power, glory, and bronyhood. Your tower can burn for all I care." Frazzle Spark huffed.

"If you don't help me he'll beat us both!"

"You should have thought of that before you betrayed me."

Sharp Wing opened his mouth to make a comeback when there was a knock at the door of Night Mist's log cabin.

"I'm going to see who that is." Night Mist informed the bickering ex-allies.

He rose from the table and opened the door. Nopony was there.

"Hello?" he called out.

"Down here." someone gasped.

Night Mist glanced down. bending over from exhaustion was Spike, Twilight Sparkle's little dragon assistant. Wordlessly he handed Night Mist a scroll. Night Mist snagged it between his teeth and set it on the floor so he could unroll it with his hooves.

"Is that from the Princess?" Sharp Wing asked with wide eyes.

"I'm hardly important enough to get mail from the Princess." Night Mist scoffed as he read the scroll. "But Twilight Sparkle seems to think its urgent I come to Canterlot right way."

"Getting mail from Twilight Sparkle still makes you kinda important." Frazzle Spark said defensively.

"Maybe. Are you guys free to come with me? This looks like a particularly difficult case."

"You know we are!" confirmed Sharp Wing as he flapped his gray wings in anticipation.

"Why are you needed in Canterlot?" questioned Frazzle Spark.

"Princess Celestia is sick. Very sick." explained Night Mist.

Sharp Wing stopped flapping his wings.

"Sick? Doesn't Twilight Sparkle know the difference between a doctor and a detective?" he asked in confusion.

"There's more to it than that." Night Mist clarified. "I'll explain on the train ride. We need to leave right away."

He turned his attention back to Spike.

"Thank you for getting this here so quickly."

"No problem." Spike wheezed.

Night Mist gestured with his head to signal they were all leaving.The three ponies trotted out the door.

"Remember guys, when we get back its still my turn to move." Night Mist reminded his friends with a grin as they took off at a gallop.

After making a stop at Frazzle Spark's store for him to grab his orange industrial sized saddlebags they arrived at the train station. Remarkably, the brightly colored train for Canterlot pulled in merely minutes after they arrived. Sharp Wing was about to get on board when the conductor stopped him.

"I'm sorry sir, but weapons are not permitted in the passenger cars. You'll have to leave your swords with me.Train policy."

For a moment it looked as if Sharp Wing would refuse. Reluctantly, he used his wings to remove his saddle-sheaths and give them to the conductor.

"Don't worry," smiled the conductor, "You'll get them back when you arrive in Canterlot."

Frazzle Spark stepped up next as the Conductor searched his saddlebags.

"Uh sir, your bags are full of explosives. Weapons are not permitted in the passenger cars. Train policy."

"Weapons? My bags are full of firecrackers. Firecrackers are not weapons, everypony knows that." said Frazzle Spark innocently.

"Huh. I guess technically they're not weapons. Very well, you may take them on the car."

Sharp Wing stared at the conductor in disbelief as Frazzle Spark boarded the train.

"What... why... how..." he sputtered.

Night Mist stepped forward for the conductor's inspection.

"Say, you wouldn't happen to be Night Mist the detective would you?" asked the conductor.

"Why yes, yes I am." replied Night Mist in surprise.

"You're the one who caught the burglar who robbed my house. Welcome aboard detective."

Night Mist gave the conductor a nod as he got on. Soon the train started and they were on their way.

"I cannot believe what just happened with that conductor!" Sharp Wing exclaimed.

"Neither can I, I think that's the first time sompony identified me like that." remarked Night Mist.

"I don't know why you guys are so shocked. Night Mist is the most famous detective in Equestria. It was only a matter of time before sompony recognized him in public." said Frazzle Spark.

"What? No, I was talking about how he let you bring a bag full of-"

"I am most certainly not the most famous detective in Equestria. You have a greatly inflated impression of my reputation." Night Mist insisted.

"No I don't. Everypony knows who you are." Frazzle Spark argued.

"That's ridiculous."

"I can prove it. Hey lady!"

"What are you-"

"Do you know who this guy is?"

The mare sitting on the other side of the car turned and studied Night Mist.

"Um, No. Should I?" she said slowly.

"Ha! told you I'm not famous!" Night Mist laughed in Frazzle Spark's face.

"Octavia you blockhead, that's Night Mist the detective!" said the mare's companion.

"Oh you're right! how did I not recognize him?"

"Alright alright, maybe everyone from Ponyville knows me, but I'm still not famous throughout Equestria." Night Mist relented.

"I'll prove you wrong when we reach Canterlot."

"You will not be asking complete strangers in Canterlot if they know me."

"Yes I will."

"No you won't."

"Guys!" Sharp Wing interrupted. "Didn't either of you think that conductor was really weird?"

"Weird how?" asked Frazzle Spark.

"He let you bring a bag full of-"

Sharp Wing was cut off again by the train car suddenly braking and coming to a stop. Merely seconds after that the sound of shattering glass rang through the car as several ponies wearing cowboy hats and bandannas that covered their lower faces crashed through the windows.

"This is a hold up!" shouted one of them as he snapped a bullwhip using his tail.

Every single one of them was armed with a bullwhip or lasso. Shrieks and cries filled the car as the whips and lassos snatched necklaces and other accessories off of the passengers. The tips of Sharp Wing's wings tried to wrap around the hilt of his swords before he remembered he was unarmed. Not one to be deterred by lack of weapons, he sprang at the nearest bandit and was rewarded by a lasso wrapping around his forelegs that yanked him sideways into a hard kick to the head. Sharp Wing staggered on his hooves before several more kicks to the head and body knocked him unconscious.

"Sharp Wing!" cried Frazzle Spark as his friend slumped to the ground.

"Give us the rest of your valuables and nopony else will get hurt." growled the bandit who had spoke before.

The bandits walked around the car to receive more valuables.

"Open yer saddlebags buddy." A large one said to Frazzle Spark.

Frazzle Spark complied. The bandits eyes widened when he saw the contents.

"What the hay? How in tartarus did ya smuggle a bag of dynamite onto a train?" he sputtered.

"Its not dynamite, I left all my dynamite at home. These are fireworks. The conductor said I could keep them with me." Frazzle Spark said honestly.

"Well, travel rules never did make a whole lot of sense. Whatever. Hoof them over, they might be useful."

Frazzle Spark sadly gave the bandit his prized orange saddle bags. The bandit turned his attention to Night Mist.

"Yer turn golden-eyes. Watcha got?"

"I actually don't have anything with me." Night Mist said evenly.

"Bull crap. Stand up."

Night Mist obliged. The bandit did a double take when he saw Night Mist's cutie mark, a magnifying glass.

"What the- its you!"

"Pardon?" asked Night Mist, suddenly a lot more nervous.

"Hey Boss! its that detective guy who put yer brother in jail!"

A ridiculously large bandit turned around and saw Night Mist.

"Well, what a lucky turn of events. That is him. Lets give him a bandits welcome eh colts?" he grinned evilly.

Night Mist had just enough time to gulp before several lassos tightened around his neck.

Chapter 2: Twilight Sparkle likes making slide presentations

Black spots danced in Night Mist's vision as the lassos choked him. Out of the corner of his vision he saw more ropes restraining Frazzle Spark's legs. Evidently he had tried to jump up and save his friend. The laughter of the bandits were muffled by the roar of adrenaline in his head as Night Mist struggled uselessly against his bonds. Night Mist reflected that he had always assumed that if he were to die prematurely, it would at the hands of some criminal who didn't want to get caught. But these bandits, they could have easily gotten away. They were simply killing him of spite of his profession.

Suddenly several passengers jumped up from their seats and started beating on the ring of bandits that had surrounded Night Mist. The bandits had been so caught up in watching Night Mist choke to death they had neglected to pay enough attention to everypony else. Now relieved of the tension around his throat, Night Mist took a moment to breath freely before he reared up on his hind legs and joined the attack along with Frazzle Spark. With the advantage of numbers it only took all the passengers in the car a few minutes to defeat them.

"Stop!" Night Mist called out hoarsely as the passengers continued to trample the downed bandits. "That's enough! any more and they might die!"

It took several more painful shouts from Night Mist before all the passengers stopped beating on the now unconscious bandits. Before too long the would-be train robbers were tied up with their own ropes and bull whips and placed in the middle of the car.

"We totally just took down a bunch of crooks!" exclaimed one teenage colt as he bro-hoofed with his friend.

Night Mist tried to ask if everyone was alright but he was too busy trying to breath normally. Several of the passengers had been bruised but there were no serious injuries. After all the valuables were restored to their owners many of the ponies helped move Sharp Wing to a seat and push a giant rock off the tracks before they all returned to their places and erupted into excited chatter that lasted the rest of the trip.

When they finally arrived in Canterlot the bandits were taken into custody by the royal guard and Sharp Wing's still unconscious body was moved to a spare bedroom in the palace. Night Mist and Frazzle Spark were waiting for Sharp Wing to wake up when Twilight Sparkle entered the room.

"I heard you had a pretty rough trip up here," she smiled.

"That's a bit of an understatement. I nearly died," scoffed Night Mist.

"I nearly lost my orange saddle bags forever," added Frazzle Spark.

"I think my roughness tops yours Frazzle," said Night Mist flatly.

"I would have to agree with Night Mist." Twilight chuckled. "I take it you got my letter?"

"I did indeed. I came here as fast as I could."

"I don't think you ever told me or Sharp Wing what's going on," recalled Frazzle Spark.

"I didn't give Night Mist the whole story in my letter," apologized Twilight. "After Sharp Wing wakes up I'll get all three of you up to speed alright?"

"Sounds good," laughed Frazzle Spark. "He's going to be mad enough he missed most of what happened on the train. No need to make him made even angrier for missing the briefing."

A few hours later Night Mist, Frazzle Spark, and a miserable Sharp Wing were gathered in a dark room with Twilight working a projector.

"About one week ago Princess Luna sent me a letter saying she needed my help," began Twilight as a picture of Princess Luna appeared.

Frazzle Spark raised his hoof.

"Um, yes Frazzle?"

"Are the slides really necessary?" he asked.

"Yes they are. Trust me, it gets more complicated. Besides, I like making slide presentations."

"Just wondering. Carry on."

"In her letter Princess Luna informed me that Princess Celestia had become very sick. Many doctors and wizards had tried to heal her but they couldn't find find out what was wrong with her. My friends and I came to Canterlot right away to help."

A Picture of Twilight and her five best friends appeared. Frazzle Spark raised his hoof again.

"What is it Frazzle?" Twilight sighed.

"I thought alicorns couldn't get sick."

"They can get sick, they just can't grow old or die of age."

"Oh okay. Carry on."

"Right. Anyway, once we arrived I made a healing potion from a recipe Zecora gave me and gave the potion to Princess Celestia."

Frazzle Spark raised his hoof a third time.

"Now what Frazzle?"

"If alicorns never grow old does that mean Cadence will still look young by the time your brother is very old?"

"I don't know, I guess so. What does that have to do with anything?"

"Just curious. Carry on."

"Pay more attention Fraz, this is where things start to get tricky." Night Mist admonished his friend.

Twilight put a picture of Princess Celestia on the wall.

"Thank you, Night Mist. So I gave Princess Celestia the potion and surprise! It worked and she got better."

Frazzle Spark tried to raise his hoof again but Sharp Wing grabbed both of his front legs and pinned them down.

"At first we thought everything would be okay." Twilight Sparkle continued. "But within an hour she was even more sick then before. This became a cycle that lasted a week. She got sick, we gave her a potion, she felt better, even more sick in less then an hour. We found the only exception to this was if we gave her a potion right before she went to bed. Then she would sleep peacefully and sickness free all night long. Then in the morning she would be sick again and continue to get worse and worse."

"What are the symptoms of her illness?" asked Night Mist.

"All of them. congestion, fatigue, sore throat, vomiting, stuff like that."

"Have you checked the food she eats for poison or magical tampering?"

"I have. water and drinks too. all clean."

"Have you tried curse lifting on Princess Celestia?"

"That too. Neither the wizards, me, or Princess Luna could detect a spell on her but we tried it anyway. Same results as the potion, temporary relief. After trying all that nopony knew what to do next, so I figured it would take a pony who actually had a cutie mark for solving mysteries to solve this one and sent for you."

Twilight rapidly went through the rest of the slides, which were pictures of the symptoms, giving of the potions, and curse lifting attempts.

"And that's pretty much it," she finished.

"So where is Princess Celestia now?" asked Sharp Wing.

"She's still trying to do her royal duties. the potions take time to make, but we have wizards consistently providing relief. They won't be able to keep it up forever though."

"Well Twilight Sparkle, you've already ruled out several possibilities. With all you've done I expect it won't take long for me to find the answers we need," Night Mist predicted.

"Thank you, I trust you can do it time," Twilight Sparkle said gracefully.

"So what's our first move?" inquired Sharp Wing.

"Well for starters, I'm going to need at least thirty cups of coffee," Night Mist replied as if it were a normal request.

"What the hay are you going to need thirty cups of coffee for?" exclaimed Frazzle Spark.

Night Mist was glad the room made it too dark for the others to read his face. The best course of action he could think of would sound ridiculous, and he wasn't sure he could both look and sound professional enough to convince them to let him go through with it.

"So I can watch Princess Celestia sleep all night long of course," he responded flatly.

Chapter 3: I can explain!

Twilight Sparkle, Frazzle Spark, and Sharp Wing all stared at Night Mist in stupefied silence at his stated plan.

"That is so inappropriate I don't even know where to begin," Sharp Wing said finally.

"Disturbing really," contributed Frazzle Spark.

"Maybe you should get sompony else to do that. Preferably a filly," suggested Twilight Sparkle.

"I realize how bizarre my plan sounds, believe me. But the fact the potion only works at night is very strange and I feel it deserves further investigation." Night Mist explained.

"Then let me do it. I'll watch Princess Celestia while she sleeps and report whatever I see to you." offered Twilight Sparkle.

"I would prefer to do it myself. If you miss something important I might not find out why she keeps becoming sick."

"I'll get Rarity to do it then. She's very observant."

"That still won't cut it. This is something I need to be one hundred percent sure of. I'm very grateful for all you've done so far, but I have to insist on doing the investigation personally now. Having a witness reporting to me is not as reliable as being there in pony."

"Alright fine," Twilight Sparkle relented, "In that case I'll tell the guards to let you into her chambers."

"Actually, I don't want you to do that either."

"What!? Are you serious!? Do you really think you can sneak past royal guards?!" Twilight whispered loudly.

"Try to understand; whoever is causing Princess Celestia's condition, assuming it is being caused by anypony, is most likely closely associated with her or the castle. It could be a guard, one of the wizards, or even a servant. The more ponies know about this stake-out the more likely the culprit will too, and that would be bad."

"Should I at least tell Princess Celestia you're going to be spending the night in her room?"

Night Mist's heart nearly stopped at the thought of Princess Celestia discovering him hiding in her chambers.

"Um, yes, yes you should tell her. But be sure not to tell anypony else okay?"

"I'm not going to lie, it would be extremely funny if you didn't tell her and she caught you," Sharp Wing laughed.

"I can explain! Don't send me to the moon!" giggled Frazzle Spark.

Sharp Wing and Frazzle Spark might have felt bad about their taste in humor if it hadn't been too dark for them to see the color drain from the faces of both Night Mist and Twilight Sparkle.

"Right," Night Mist said with a nervous laugh, "We will most certainly be telling the princess about the plan. Worst case scenario some of the guards might know about it too."

"I'm going to go tell her about it right now," Twilight Sparkle said numbly before she departed from the room.

Frazzle Spark's horn glowed red and then orange in order to light all the candles in the room again.

"So I guess we're going to buy a whole lot of coffee for you?" asked Sharp Wing.

Night Mist didn't hesitate to get revenge on his friends for embarrassing him in front of Twilight Sparkle.

"Or enough for all of us, in case you two want to help me watch the beautiful and gorgeous ruler of Equestria as she sleeps," he suggested slyly.

Now that the room was lit Night Mist had the satisfaction of seeing his friends blush.

"No that's okay, I'm sure you can handle it on your own," Sharp Wing muttered.

"I'm gonna go order thirty cups of coffee," squeaked Frazzle Spark as he quickly walked out of the room.

Night Mist went out another door as Sharp Wing followed Frazzle Spark out. He was spared from dwelling on the outward appearance of Princess Celestia by observing his surroundings. He stood on the marble floors in the main hall of the castle. The scent of food fit for royalty lingered in the air, causing his stomach to rumble. It was dinner time, which meant everypony in the castle would be eating, including Princess Celestia. Now would be the ideal time to find her bedroom and find a good hiding spot for the stake-out.

As he ascended the stairs at the end of the hallway he wondered what he would do if he ran into royal guards. Frazzle Spark had said he was the most famous detective in Equestria. Perhaps that might help in convincing them to let him pass? Maybe as a backup plan, sneaking past them would be preferable.

To his surprise, Night Mist found that he was the only one around. Ahead of him were the doors to the tower where Princess Celestia's personal chambers would be. Could the guards all be eating as well? If so, he would have to point out the lapse in security to the princess. Granted, guarding the bedroom when she wasn't there might be overkill, but in her condition it would be far too easy for an assassin to wait in her bedroom for her return.

By now he had climbed the stairs and was now entering the bedroom. It was dark, but Night Mist could make out the queen sized bed with curtains, a night stand, a book case, a door that must have led to the bathroom, and a larger one that most likely revealed a balcony. Surely he had over-estimated the issue of guards. No sooner than that thought had crossed his mind he was abruptly encased in a pink magic bubble and lifted up into the air.

"I can explain! Don't send me to the moon!" he said frantically.

"Save your breath. I know why you're here," growled a voice from somewhere in the room.

Night Mist felt his breath catch in his throat. It was a stallion's voice that had spoken, not Princess Celestia's.

Night Mist spun around in his spherical prison to face his captor. What he found instead was a platoon of royal guards. One of them, a solidly build white unicorn with a dark blue mane was using his horn to magically suspend Night Mist in the air.

"You're going to pay for whatever you've been doing to the Princess." snarled the unicorn.

Night Mist breathed a sigh of relief. It was a trap for a culprit, not a detective.

"Shining Armor, the captain of the royal guard, it's in honor to meet you in pony. I had no idea your magical force fields were as good at capturing as they are at protecting," Night Mist greeted his captor coolly.

"Save your flattery, it will get you nowhere. If you don't tell me how to undo what you've done to our princess you'll find my force fields are even better at squeezing then protecting and capturing," Shining Armor shot back just as smoothly.

Night Mist didn't let the threat faze him. All he had to do was explain himself and everything would be okay.

"Sorry to disappoint you gentlecolts, but you've got the wrong stallion. I'm a detective you see. I'm investigating the cause of our beloved Princess's disease. And, I might add, squeezing me to a pulp would do both me and her no good whatsoever," Night Mist retorted evenly.

"Oh really? If you're one of the good guys as you say, why did you beg me not to send you to the moon a moment ago?" questioned Shining Armor with a raised brow.

Night Mist made a mental note to kill Sharp Wing and Frazzle Spark for making him edgy about entering Princess Celestia's chambers. If there was one thing he hated it was losing his cool in front of others. It certainly wasn't helping his case right now.

"To be frank, I was a tad nervous about entering the private chambers of Princess Celestia. I neglected to tell her I would be investigating in here," he explained.

"Well that's rather convenient. If I were to ask Princess Celestia about you would she even know who you are?"

"Actually, your sister Twilight Sparkle is telling her about me as we speak. She can vouch for my authenticity as a detective."

"In that case, would you have any objection to my colts guarding you while I go ask her?"

"Not at all, just be discreet though. I'm trying to keep my investigation a secret from the majority of the castle residents."

Shining Armor stared down his captive. Night Mist held his gaze. Without another word Shining Armor briskly left the room. Still encased in the force field, Night Mist turned his attention to the guards.

"I would like you all to be discreet about this as well. The more ponies know about my investigation the more likely the culprit will too."

The guards glanced at each other; as if unsure they should be talking to the prisoner.

"If Shining Armor says you're telling the truth then we'll keep quiet," one of them said.

After Night Mist waited in the force field for what seemed like forever, Shining Armor returned to lower Night Mist to the ground and set him free.

"My sister seems to trust you, so I guess I do too," he informed Night Mist.

"I'm glad we've come to an understanding. It was clever of you to set a trap while everypony else was eating dinner by the way."

"It was worth a shot. If you need any help with your investigation just let me know."

Shining Armor turned to address his guards.

"Return to your posts. I'm granting the detective full access to the castle, so don't prevent him from entering any room."

"Thank you," said Night Mist with a courteous nod.

Within a minute he was alone in the bedroom. After poking around a bit he discovered that the bookcase was heavy and solid enough for him to climb on top of. From the top of the bookcase he had a pegasus' eye view of the room. Now all he had to do was get some dinner, retrieve his coffee, come back, and wait.

Chapter 4: This isn't awkward at all

Night Mist adjusted his position on top of the bookcase in Princess Celestia's bedroom. It had been a pain to get all thirty of the coffee cups up there with him, but now he was ready. He snagged the top of a cup between his teeth, tilted his head back, and then set it down again.

Before too long Princess Celestia came through the door. Night Mist could tell from the way she walked she felt as terrible as she looked. Her mane, which usually was in a constant state of flowing around as if there was wind, hung limp around her neck and shoulders. Her head was drooping and she was coughing loudly. Floating behind her was a bottled potion and a box of tissues. Princess Celestia took one of the tissues and blew her nose. Night Mist watched silently as she set the potion and the tissue box on her nightstand and proceeded to remove her crown. Next her crest floated off her shoulders and she kicked off her gilded horseshoes before she allowed herself to collapse on the queen sized bed with a groan of misery.

It struck Night Mist as wrong that he saw her without her usual royal attire on. But surely he was justified wasn't he? He was here in her room because he was trying to save her life. Perhaps he should have allowed Twilight Sparkle to take his place after all. Princess Celestia floated the potion to her muzzle and downed the contents. The effects were instantaneous. She sighed with relief and stopped sniffling. Clearly the potion was very powerful, yet according to Twilight Sparkle the sickness would return in the morning. Night Mist took another sip from his coffee as quietly as he could. He still felt like he was intruding, but it wasn't as awkward as he feared it would be.

"Are you there, detective?" Princess Celestia asked suddenly.

Night Mist wasn't sure if he should feel glad or horrified that the princess had chosen to acknowledge his presence. He would have to respond, least the situation became too awkward.

"I'm here your majesty," he answered causally.

Princess Celestia glanced around the room.

"Where?" she questioned.

Night Mist bought himself some time to come up with the proper answer by taking another sip.

"I'd rather not say."

"Why not?"

"Well, if you turned into a rabid manticore at midnight or something I would prefer that you would not be able to find me too easily."

"Do you really think that's a possibility?"

"No, but I don't take chances with magic."

"Everypony keeps saying magic must have something to do with my sickness, but all of my symptoms feel like a more natural cause."

"If I were to disguise a curse as a natural illness that's how I would make it seem too."

"But I've had many unicorns talented in magic check me and they couldn't detect any signs of a spell."

"Yes, that's the rub. However, I still think the cause is magic. I find it hard to believe that a sickness as powerful as yours wouldn't be contagious. You're the only one who has gotten sick. Furthermore, we have a potion that gives temporary relief during the day and full relief all night long. That's not natural."

"It doesn't make any sense."

"That's why I'm here."

"So you're just going to stay wherever you are and watch me sleep all night long?"

"Pretty much."

"As much as I appreciate you sacrifice, I'm not sure if I'll be able to sleep knowing I'm being watched."

"If I could think of another way to find the cause I would do it."

Princess Celestia didn't respond. Night Mist couldn't help but smile at the ironic timing of her falling asleep. She must have been really tired. He finished off his first cup of coffee and started on the next one. It would be a long night. The hours passed by slowly for Night Mist. He mostly watched Princess Celestia's sleeping form, with occasional sweeps of the bedroom. Night Mist knew that his body would pay for keeping himself stimulated for an entire night. But with the stakes so high, he couldn't afford to be anything less than completely alert. At any given moment something might happen that would solve the mystery.

After he had spent many more hours in this state of attention, Princess Celestia finally awoke. She yawned, stretched, and then dragged herself out of the bed and went out the large door to the balcony. Her horn glowed painfully bright as she summoned the sun. Before Night Mist's eyes it slowly appeared on the horizon, casting its dazzling light over the land and then spilling into the bedroom. It was a sight to behold. Having succeeded it giving the sun the push it needed to make its course across the sky under its own power, Princess Celestia yawned again and came back inside. She did a double take when she spotted Night Mist on top of her book case.

"I had forgotten you were here," she remarked. "What did you think of the sunrise?"

"Amazing," Night Mist responded honestly.

"Glad you liked it. Do you have any coffee left? I could use a cup, or three."

"I'm afraid I only have two left. You're welcome to have them both of course."

Night Mist silently thanked the princes in his heart for treating the entire situation like it was normal. Doubtlessly they both knew how bizarre it was, but neither made any comment about it. They could still pull this off without having it become too awkward. Princess Celestia floated both of the remaining cups towards her, drank them both, and proceeded with the morning routine. Night Mist silently observed her as she brushed her teeth and combed her mane. Once again the situation was beginning to feel weird. Night Mist tried to think of something to say to strengthen the illusion of normalcy, but came up with nothing. Night Mist knew the longer the silence went on the more awkward the situation would become.

Princess Celestia finished getting ready in record time. Whether it was because she sensed the urgency or because she was simply faster than the average mare at getting ready, Night Mist would never know. Finally, she donned her royal accessories, acknowledged Night Mist's presence with a slight nod, and casually escaped out the door. Night Mist breathed a sigh of relief. It was over. Extreme awkwardness had been avoided and professionalism had been maintained. Nopony had sneaked into the room at night and there had been no signs of any spell casting. Was it possible he had prevented something with his presence, or had he been completely wrong about something happening at night?

Night Mist exited the royal chambers. To his dismay, he noticed that Princess Celestia had stopped on the spiral stairs that led down to the rest of the castle and was in the middle of a sneezing fit. The healthiness from last night was already gone. She had been out of sight for mere seconds. There was no way sompony could have done something to her and then vanished so quickly, and he would have heard something if they had. Basically, the sight before his eyes was impossible. Princess Celestia was now leaning up against the wall and had her head drooping really low again. Feebly, she turned her head to face Night Mist.

"It was a noble effort, detective," she said with a weak smile.

"It's like this every morning?" Night Mist questioned.

"Ever since they discovered the potions last all night."

Several servants poked their heads through the door at the bottom of the stairs.

"Does the sickness still plague you, your Majesty?" one of them asked.

"Yes, and it still feels worse than the day before," Princess Celestia called down hazily.

Night Mist had jumped back into the bedroom when the servants had opened the door. He was fairly certain none of them had seen him. He had no intention of letting it be known where he had spent the night, for various reasons. Princess Celestia went the rest of the way down and departed with the servants without so much at a glance at Night Mist. He was confident she would make no mention of it, so he was safe in that respect. Too late, Night Mist realized the doors would be guarded on the other side. If he wished to remain discreet he would have to find another way out.

Night Mist mentally kicked himself as he gave the room a once over. Perhaps there would be a secret passage?

"Trapped in Princess Celestia's bedroom. That's a rather unusual predicament don't you think?"

The voice came from Sharp Wing, who was sitting on the balcony with a wide grin on his face.

"There's a first time for everything I suppose," Night Mist replied with a smile.

"First time for you anyway. I can't help but wonder how may slumber parties our princess has had over the centuries."

"There are some things nopony should ever know. I would think that's one of them."

"Did she say?"

"No she didn't, and I would prefer not to give the idea any more thought."

Sharp Wing studied his friend closely with exaggerated scrutiny.

"You're not telling me something."

"Could you please stop?"

"Sorry, couldn't resist. But seriously though, did you learn anything?"

"I didn't see anything peculiar, except that she got sick again really fast when she left the room."

"That's weird all right. Anyways, do you need a super stealthy way to get down from here?"

"You got up here without anypony seeing you?"

I think so. I used my wings and walked up the side of the tower like a freaking spider. Most of the royal guards are actually facing away from the castle."

"You're not going to be able to do that holding me on the way down."

"Yeah I know. That's what free falls are for."

Without any warning Sharp Wing hooked his front legs under Night Mist's and dove off the balcony. Night Mist had to clench his teeth to prevent himself from yelling. After three terrifying seconds Sharp Wing's gray wings snapped open and they glided to another balcony and landed relatively smoothly.

"You couldn't have warned me you were about to do that?!"

"I did warn you, I said we were gonna do a free fall."

"That was hardly a-"

"Night Mist!" another voice interrupted.

This time the voice belonged to Twilight Sparkle, who was standing beside Frazzle Spark in the balcony's doorway. Both of them looked very worried.

"I really hope you found out what's been making Princess Celestia sick," she said.

"What happened?" asked Sharp Wing.

"The doctors are saying she has less than an hour to live."

Chapter 5: From bad to worse

Despite years of practice in the art of not freaking out, Night Mist found himself starting to panic. In less than an hour Princess Celestia would be dead. That wasn't enough time. His investigation had only just begun, and he had absolutely no idea what was causing Princess Celestia's sickness, let alone who had caused it. He didn't even have a suspect. Twilight Sparkle, Frazzle Spark, and Sharp Wing were all talking at once, asking him for answers he didn't have, begging for even the smallest crumb of hope. It was a bitter joke that his first failure on a case had stakes as high as this. Of course it hadn't been a missing pet or prized possession being stolen as his first failure. That would have been too easy to cope with. Those scenarios would have been embarrassing, but still bearable.

The words of the three ponies before him were drowned out by a sudden surge of thought, an intensity that sparked a battle within his own mind. He had not failed. Princess Celestia had not yet stopped breathing. The mystery could still be solved in time. The defeated part of his psyche resisted this notion. A mystery such as this could not be solved in less than an hour. The stubborn half of his mind responded by escalating in volume. There wasn't any time to waste. He needed to find the pattern. The details flew by in his mind's eye. The letter, the potions, the slide show, the stake-out. The potion only worked at night. But maybe the position of the sun and moon had nothing to do with it. Princess Celestia could change that easily after all. Something changed when Princess Celestia went to sleep.

A new thought came, a path of possibility. A theory formed in Night Mist's mind. It would be cruel to share it and have it turn out to be wrong, but he couldn't afford not to try. He could have it tested first, there was time for that. Twilight Sparkle would have to be the tester. Despite everything, Night Mist started to grin as a plan formed in his head. Not only could she test his theory, she could help expose the mastermind of the plot at the same time.

"I have an idea, but I'll need your help," he said to Twilight Sparkle.

"What is it? Spit it out!" Twilight Sparkle demanded.

"Take me to Princess Celestia, I'll explain as we go. Time is of the essence."

Within minutes the four ponies arrived in the throne room. Princess Celestia, it seemed, wanted to spend her final moments on her throne. Hundreds of ponies filled the throne room. Servants, wizards, guards, Twilight Sparkle's friends, Princess Luna, all were gathered to watch the end of their beloved princess, and in Luna's case, sister. Light shone through the giant windows of stained glass, a beauty that was in sharp contrast with the solemn atmosphere that hung over the crowd. Princess Celestia sat upright with effort, trying to be brave for all her little ponies, but all of them could see that time was short. Twilight Sparkle's horn glowed a bright pink and then cut off. Then she looked straight at Night Mist and nodded. The theory had been correct. Now came the crucial part.

"If I could have everypony's attention please. I have determined the cause of Princess Celestia's disease," Night Mist called out.

One of the wizards stared at Night Mist.

"And just who the hay are you, a doctor?" the wizard asked dubiously.

"I'm a detective actually, and I know for a fact that Princess Celestia is under a spell."

The wizard's eyes changed from a look of skepticism to pity.

"We've already checked to see if somepony cast a spell on her. That's not the reason."

"You misunderstand, when I said she was under a spell, I meant it literally. There is no spell on Princess Celestia herself, but there is one on her crown!" Night Mist declared as he pointed an accusatory hoof at Princess Celestia's head.

The crowd gave an audible gasp. Night Mist realized the big reveal had been unnecessarily dramatic, but he hoped it would surprise the culprit too. The mastermind would have to be caught off guard for the next part of the plan to work.

The wizard frowned, but turned towards Princess Celestia and lit up his horn anyway. His eyes widened.

"He's right! It's faint, but there is a spell of some sorts on her crown!" he exclaimed.

"Now would be a good time to remove the crown," Night Mist suggested. "That will stop the sickness from progressing."

Princess Celestia unceremoniously swatted the crown off her head with a hoof. The golden and diamond encrusted head ornament fell and bounced once on the marble floor.

"So is she going to live?" asked a servant hopefully.

"She won't die, but she'll be exactly as sick as she is now until you give her another potion," Night Mist informed the servant.

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's make another potion!" called out one of the guards.

"Not yet, first I'm going to identify who cast the spell while we have everyone here," said Twilight Sparkle.

If the crowd was surprised before they were even more shocked by Twilight Sparkle's words.

"You mean to say you already know who did it?" asked Princess Celestia.

"Not yet, but I will in a minute. I'm going to use a little trick called the trace back spell to find out who cursed your crown."

Twilight Sparkle's horn glowed again as she levitated the crown in the air. It slowly moved in a circle as if getting its bearings. Night Mist studied the faces of all the assembled wizards. It would most likely be one of them. The crown stopped circling and started to float towards the wizards. Suddenly Night Mist saw one of them snarl right before a green bolt of energy shot out his horn. Twilight Sparkle ducked and dropped the crown, but it was an unnecessary move. She hadn't been the target. The green blot shot across the room and struck Sharp Wing in the face, causing him to howl as he twitched violently.

"Find me a hostage!" ordered the wizard who had snarled and fired.

It was Rarity who had the misfortune to be standing closest to Sharp Wing. He instantly turned, knocked her down, pinned her on the marble floor with one hoof, drew his swords with his wings and held one near Rarity's throat and the other above his back.

"Any sudden moves or glowing horns and the unicorn loses her head understand?" The wizard snarled at both Sharp Wing and the crowd.

All of them nodded. Night Mist noticed that Sharp Wing's eyes had changed from blue to a sickly green after the spell had hit him. The wizard walked past Twilight Sparkle to be closer to his new puppet and hostage. The Wizard was a brown unicorn with a black mane and goatee wearing a dark blue cape and wizard hat with pictures of stars on them.

"What is the meaning of this, Aurora?" demanded the wizard who had spoken to Night Mist.

Aurora ignored the other wizard.

"Everypony back away from us. I need space to think," he ordered the crowd. They obliged.

"I wasn't expecting it to turn out like this. I've never even heard of a trace back spell," he admitted.

Aurora turned his attention to Twilight Sparkle.

"Just where exactly did you learn that trace back spell? Certainly not magic school or I would have known about it too."

Twilight Sparkle looked as if she wished she was anywhere else.

"I asked you a question," Aurora growled.

"There is no such thing as a trace back spell, at least not that I know of. All I did was move the crown around," Twilight Sparkle confessed.

"Ah, I see. No matter, I can get what I want this way too." Aurora said coldly.

"And just what exactly do you want?" inquired Princess Luna.

"There's a mare being held in this castle's dungeon named Star Bright. I want her released."

"Not a chance," Princess Celestia said with a cough.

"If you don't the unicorn dies."

Rarity whimpered.

"You can't kill her. You need her alive to prevent the other wizards from turning you to ash. I don't have to release Star Bright because you would have to be alive to know for sure I did it. We're at a stalemate," Princess Celestia pointed out.

"That's a problem that's easy to solve, Celestia," Aurora hissed, intentionally dropping the honorific title of princess.

He glanced back at Sharp Wing.

"I want you to hold yourself hostage too," he commanded.

Sharp Wing nodded and adjusted his free sword so that the blade was at his own neck.

"I do believe this gives me the advantage. If you don't free Star Bright the unicorn dies, and if anypony tries to stop me the pegasus dies."

"Fine, will you let both of them go if I free her?" asked Princess Celestia with a sigh.

"Bring her here first and then we'll talk about that."

Princess Celestia tried to say something but she was interrupted by a fit of coughing.

"Do as he says," she commanded the guards when she was done.

Two of the guards glared daggers at Aurora as they departed from the throne room.

"Might I be allowed to stand on my own hooves?" asked Rarity nervously as everyone waited for the guards to return.

"Of course you can my dear," said Aurora with mock sweetness.

Night Mist winced as Aurora cast a mind control spell on Rarity at point blank.

"Stay as you are and don't resist if the pegasus tries to kill you," he decreed once he had finished.

Chapter 6: Here's the plan

Night Mist didn't know what do. Technically the mystery had been solved, but now the mastermind of the scheme had both Sharp Wing and Rarity hostage. In the past, whenever Night Mist had exposed a plot and the bad guy tried to get away or kill sompony, it was usually Sharp Wing who wound up being the one to knock the bad guy unconscious. Arguably, a wizard or a royal guard would be even more capable of such a feat, but nopony dared to make a move. After what seemed like forever, the two guards who had left to retrieve the prisoner for Aurora returned. From where he was standing Night Mist was able to get a good look at the mare who must have been Star Bright. She was a green-eyed white unicorn with an orange mane and tail. She certainly didn't seem like a dangerous criminal who deserved to be locked away. If anything, she seemed rather meek. Night Mist wondered what she had done wrong in the first place.

"Aurora, what's going on?" she asked.

"What does it look like? I'm breaking you out!" Aurora answered her.

"You're breaking me out?! But I didn't ask to be broken out! I still have three months left on my sentence!"

"You never should have been imprisoned in the first place," Aurora said gently.

"What are you talking about? I deserved the sentence I was given!"

"Remove the spell you placed on her!" Aurora snarled at Princess Celestia.

"What spell?" asked Princess Celestia feebly, still feeling ill.

"The mind control spell, I don't want to hear any more of this nonsense about my Star Bright being a criminal."

"But she isn't under a mind control spell, or any kind of spell," Princess Celestia pointed out.

Aurora wasn't having it.

"That's a lie! You change her back right now or sompony dies!"

Rarity didn't show any reaction to the threat against her life. Like Sharp Wing, she was completely under Aurora's magical control.

With a frown, Princess Celestia cast a green light from that touched Star Bright. Unlike the green light that had hurt Sharp Wing and Rarity, it didn't appear to cause the subject any pain. Star Bright's already green eyes began to glow greener, just like Sharp Wing's and Rarity's. It was apparent to Night Mist that Princess Celestia had just placed a mind control on Star Bright, not removed one.

"Can you understand me, Star Bright? I'm here to rescue you," Aurora said.

"Thank you for rescuing me," Star Bright replied mechanically.

So that was the game Princess Celestia was playing. She couldn't have done exactly as Aurora asked, so instead she had given him what he wanted, a prisoner happy to be rescued. Perhaps that was why Aurora didn't seem to notice the obvious effects of the spell.

"Listen up everypony, I'm leaving now, with Star Bright and these two ponies. If nopony tries to follow us, I'll eventually let the hostages go. If sompony does, there will be consequences," Aurora announced as he stared down the crowd.

Once satisfied his point had been made, Aurora's horn glowed as he and his three mind controlled companions vanished in a flash of magic. Princess Celestia gave an audible moan of misery and slouched in her throne. After a minute of silence Princess Luna spoke.

"Twilight Sparkle, we strongly desire that you and your fellow spirits of harmony meet us and the royal wizards in the chamber where the Elements of Harmony are kept so that we can plan a rescue," she bellowed in her royal voice. "And sompony, we don't care who, finish making the next potion so that our sister will make a full recovery."

Several servants rushed out to fulfill the potion request as Twilight and her four remaining best friends along with the wizards followed Princess Luna out of the throne room.

"They're going to try and rescue Sharp Wing and Rarity? But I thought Aurora said would hurt them if anypony tried to!" protested Frazzle Spark.

Night Mist thought he understood Princess Luna's reasoning.

"Aurora is clearly not stable, and it's only a matter of time before he notices something is wrong with Star Bright. There's no telling what he'll do when that happens," he explained.

"Oh, okay. But why weren't we invited then?"

"I don't know, but it's out of our hooves. It will take same serious magic to defeat a rogue wizard."

"But Sharp Wing is our friend!"

"And they'll rescue him. The best thing we can do right now is wait."

"Excuse me," said a small voice from behind Night Mist and Frazzle Spark, causing both of them to turn around. It was Fluttershy.

"Princess Luna wants both of you to come right away."

Before too long, everyone was gathered in the chamber. It was even fancier then Night Mist would have guessed. It was a round room with walls decorated with gems and bright colors, with a short glass column in the middle with an elegant looking box sitting on top of it. Most likely it contained the Elements of Harmony.

"Here's the plan we came up with," Twilight informed the newcomers. "The wizards have determined that Aurora is at the top of a dormant volcano. We think he picked it so that both Rarity and Sharp Wing could both easily take their own lives by jumping into the lava if sompony gets to close. Aurora and his hostages will be able to see anypony coming because of their height advantage, so we'll have to convince them all to come down without alerting them to our presence. That's where you come in, Frazzle Spark."

"Me? What am I supposed to do?" questioned Frazzle Spark.

"Your cutie mark talent is making explosions right? Would it be possible for you to make the volcano erupt?

"Yeah, I did that with my pressurization spell when I first earned my cutie mark. But wouldn't that kill everyone?"

"Not if you do it slowly enough for them to escape. Right now, Aurora is off balance because he had to suddenly change his plans. Hopefully he'll decide to keep his hostages alive and tell them to follow him down the volcano. If he leaves them behind, Rainbow Dash can swoop in and save them. The rest of us will be will be hiding in teams near the most likely routes they'll take down. When they pass a team, we'll subdue Sharp Wing from behind and take out Aurora at the same time. Rarity shouldn't have any way to hold herself hostage without Sharp Wing or lava, so she'll be safe. Once Aurora is taken care of, we'll use magic to return Rarity, Sharp Wing, and Star Bright to normal. You understand all that?"

"I think so," confirmed Night Mist.

"Good, here's your headset. Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Princess Luna will be hiding in clouds and watching the whole thing with binoculars from the sky. They'll keep us updated on Aurora's movements by radio. You'll be with me and Apple Jack hiding near a path," rattled off Twilight Sparkle as she tilted her head at Apple Jack.

Night Mist's head swam with the heavy load of information as he took the headset.

"Wizards, teleport all the teams to the base of the volcano!" ordered Princess Luna.

The Wizard's horn's glowed from underneath their hats levitating above their heads. Night Mist's heart hammered in his chest as the room faded away.

Chapter 7: Confrontation

Night Mist, Twilight Sparkle, and Applejack were all huddled together behind a large rock about halfway up the volcano. Any pony coming up the incline would spot them easily, but the rock hid them from anypony coming down.

"Alright, Night Mist, repeat the plan back to me," Twilight instructed.

"Frazzle Spark will use his pressurization spell to make the volcano erupt. If Aurora and company pass by us on the way down, you'll freeze him with an ice spell. Applejack will use her lasso to restrain Sharp Wing and I'll pin him down," Night Mist rattled off as he glanced up at the sky.

Somewhere in the clouds, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Princess Luna would be using telescopes and radio to provide updates on Aurora's position.

"All teams in position?" Twilight asked through the headset she wore.

Through his own headset, Night Mist heard many different voices confirm they were ready.

"All right, take it away, Frazzle Spark," Twilight instructed.

Night Mist nearly lost his balance as the ground beneath his hooves lurched and began to rumble. In his mind's eye, Night Mist could easily imagine Frazzle Spark grinning as he worked his magic.

"Aurora is talking," reported Rainbow Dash through the headsets, "I don't think he suspects it's a pony made eruption. Now they're all following him down the volcano. He's taking the path team three is on."

"That's us, ain't it?" asked Applejack.

"Yes it is. Remember, wait until they pass us before we make our move," Twilight confirmed.

Within minutes, Night Mist saw Aurora pass the rock, closely followed by Star Bright, Rarity, and then Sharp Wing. With flawless symmetry, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Night Mist made their move. Applejack's lasso tightened around Sharp Wing's forelegs, bringing him to the ground. Twilight fired a blue light out of her horn at Aurora as Night Mist moved in on Sharp Wing.

Then everything began to fall apart. Aurora detected the sound of Twilight's spell and countered it with a green beam of energy, locking them in a magic struggle as the beams fought each other.

"Kill the orange and gray one!" Aurora said frantically.

Night Mist jumped aside to avoid Sharp Wing's sword. Sharp Wing then proceeded to cut through the ropes that tied up his forelegs so he could jump up and take at stab at his friend.

"I don't suppose I can break the spell on you by reminding you of our friendship?" Night Mist asked nervously as he sidestepped the thrust.

Sharp Wing only snarled.

"Yeah, figures that would be too easy."

Suddenly Night Mist found himself floating as Bright Star levitated him up in the air. Right before Sharp Wing could hop up to finish him off, Applejack kicked the pegasus in the head, sending him tumbling.

"Sorry 'bout that, Sharp Wing!" she called as she tripped Rarity, who had been trying to skewer her.

From his height advantage, Night Mist watched his friend hit the ground, and then painfully get up again.

"Ow, what the hay just happened?" Sharp Wing complained as he rubbed his head.

Sharp Wing's eyes had returned to blue. Who needed reminders of friendship when you had concussive force? Sharp Wing glanced around, evidently trying to figure out what was going on.

"Alright, I know Applejack and Rarity don't always get along, but is there a reason this mare is levitating you?" he asked Night Mist.

"She's being mind controlled by the wizard over there, make her let me go would you?" requested Night Mist.

Bright Star slammed him into the ground and floated him up again. It seemed mind control stifled creativity when it came to killing.

"You want me to hit a girl?"

"Just do it please."

Sharp Wing shrugged and hit Bright Star above the eye with the hilt of his sword. Both she and Night Mist dropped like a sack of rocks.

"I'll ask how I got here later. So what now?"

Night Mist wearily stood up and glanced at Applejack. She had Rarity hog-tied, all good there. But Twilight was still up against Aurora by herself.

"Why don't you take out the wizard?" Night Mist suggested.

Sharp Wing cautiously approached the fight between Twilight and Aurora. Aurora noticed him and tried to back away while mantaining his magical beam of energy.

"Four on one, Aurora, and more on the way. Might as well give up," said Twilight Sparkle with effort.

"I know Bright Star is innocent! She would never take bits from the royal treasury!" Aurora said frantically.

Night Mist approached the magic deadlock from the left side.

"Mister Aurora, would I be correct in saying that Bright Star is your girlfriend?"

"Fiancee, we were to be married after I came back to Canterlot. But she would never steal! I know she wouldn't!"

"So you returned from a trip and discovered she had been arrested while you were gone, correct?"

"Yes, they all said she did it! But I know she wouldn't! Princess Celestia must have cast a spell on her to make say she did! You've got to believe me!"

Twilight's magic beam pressed Aurora's further back, closer to his horn.

"I believe you love Bright Star very much. So much it would be very difficult for you to believe anything bad about her," Night Mist said gently.

"You don't know her the way I do!" Aurora cried as Twilight Sparkle's magic beam came dangerously close to touching his horn.

With a final surge of effort Twilight's magic broke through and encased the horn in a chunk of ice. At that moment Sharp Wing moved and slashed wildly with his sword. Steel met on ice, and the ice shattered. An audible pause seized everyone present. Aurora's horn was gone. Chunks of ice encasing pieces of brown bone littered the ground.

"My, my, my horn," stammered Aurora in disbelief.

It was Applejack who broke the trance everypony was in by the sight.

"Um, we got lava incomin'," she pointed out.

Night Mist spun around and saw that she was right. The glowing liquid was rapidly flowing down the volcano.

"You overdid it, Fraz!" Night Mist yelled into the headset.

"My cutie mark talent is making explosions, not stopping them!" Frazzle Spark said defensively.

"Don't you know any spells to stop the lava?!"

"I'm not a wizard! Ask Twilight!"

"Don't have the energy," Twilight wheezed, still exhausted from her battle with the veteran wizard.

"We're on our way! Hold on!" Rainbow Dash said through the channel.

"Sharp Wing! Get Rarity out of here! Everpony else run for it!" ordered Night Mist.

Sharp Wing sheathed his swords so he could use his wings and rushed towards Rarity.

"I got her!" announced Rainbow Dash as she zipped into view and grabbed Rarity.

Sharp Wing made for Applejack.

"Ah can run! Get Twi, she's too tired!" Applejack insisted.

Sharp Wing snatched up Twilight and flew away with effort after Rainbow Dash, who had Rarity.

"What about Bright Star?!" demanded Aurora.

"Night Mist and I will carry her, we're earth ponies. You run," decided Applejack.

Night Mist dashed over to Bright Star and helped Applejack pick her up and lay her unconscious form over their backs. Then the three ponies took off down the mountain as the lava gained on them. Fluttershy and Princess Luna were the next to arrive on the scene. Without hesitation Princess Luna carried away Bright Star, allowing Applejack and Night Mist to run faster.

"I can't carry all of you!" exclaimed Fluttershy as she flew after them.

"Applejack's the lightest. Get her next," commanded Night Mist.

Fluttershy did so, with visible strain. Night Mist caught up with Aurora, making sure to keep his distance so that the hornless unicorn wouldn't try to trip him. For several frantic minutes the two ponies galloped in silence. Just when Night Mist felt like his legs were about to give out, one of the wizards from the castle came up into view from below. A flash of magic filled Night Mist's vision, and suddenly he was back in the throne room at Canterlot Castle.

Princess Celestia was seated on her throne, all traces of her former sickness gone. Her mane flowed with magic once again, and she would have looked as regal as ever if it weren't for the absence of crown. Night Mist looked around. All of the wizards had returned, as had the living Elements of Harmony, Princess Luna, and Bright Star, who was still unconscious.

"Glad you made it back, detective," smiled Princess Celestia.

Then she turned her attention to Aurora and all pleasantries vanished from her face.

"Twilight gave me the gist of what happened out there, but I should probably hear your side before I have you executed for treason," she said coldly.

"She's not a criminal," Aurora said numbly.

"Perhaps we should be the one to give the sentence," Princess Luna offered gently.

"Very well," sighed Princess Celestia.

"Aurora, you have been charged with making an attempt on the life of Princess Celestia, our sister, and also placing a mind control spell on two ponies against their will. Not that anypony would ever willingly be placed under a mind control spell. How do you plead?" Princess Luna began royally.

"Princess Celestia made Star Bright say she was guilty when she wasn't. She deserved to die," Aurora said harshly.

"Is that a guilty or a not guilty?" asked Princess Luna, ignoring the jab against her sister.

"guilty, I suppose, but she deserved it."


"You know, I don't think Princess Luna acting as judge made the trial any less biased," observed Sharp Wing as advanced his pieces towards Frazzle Spark's main fortress.

The three friends had arrived back in Ponyville a few hours ago and had decided to finish their game.

"All she did was banish him, that's still a lighter sentence than execution," pointed out Frazzle Spark.

"And many ponies saw that Bright Star wasn't under a spell until Princess Celestia put one on her in the throne room," added Night Mist.

"Yeah I know, Aurora totally deserved it. I was just saying. I still can't believe he didn't notice that Princess Celestia placed a spell on Bright Star instead of removing one. Was he blind?" questioned Sharp Wing.

"In a sense, yes, he was. His version of his fiancee was so dominant in his mind he rejected all evidence that pointed to her being a criminal. I guess you could say he was blinded by love," answered Night Mist.

"That's just sad. He wasn't trying to take over Equestria or anything. He was just in denial." said Frazzle Spark solemnly.

"Very sad, and it gets sadder," agreed Night Mist. "I spoke to Princess Celestia afterwards, and she said Bright Star had stolen from the royal treasury because she wanted to buy a gift for her finance when he came home. Apparently bits were tight."

"Speaking of Princess Celestia, how did you know it was the crown that was making her sick, and not her shoes or crest-thing?" asked Sharp Wing.

"Educated guess. Aurora had issues with Princess Celestia's rule because of his own denial. You have to admit, it would be ironic for Princess Celestia to die because of the main symbol of her authority. But I wasn't one hundred percent sure until I had Twilight Sparkle check it for me."

"You owe me ninety seven bits by the way," Frazzle Spark said bluntly.

"Ninety seven bits?! for what?!" sputtered Night Mist.

"All that coffee you had me buy. Canterlot coffee is expensive, especially when you get thirty cups."

All of a sudden the one hundred bits Princess Celestia had forced on Night Mist didn't seem like such a outrageous sum. Night Mist used his teeth to draw three bits out of the satchel he had received from her and gave the rest to Frazzle Spark.

"Three bits," he said sullenly as gazed at the remainder on top of his hoof.

"I saved your reputation when I got you out of Princess Celestia's bedroom undetected and I helped defeat Aurora," Sharp Wing reminded his friend.

Night Mist reluctantly gave Sharp Wing a bit.

"I helped too," Frazzle Spark pointed out.

"You nearly killed me," Night Mist snapped.

"So did Sharp Wing," Frazzle Spark argued.

"I was being mind-controlled, that doesn't count. Besides, you're richer than Night Mist and I combined," Sharp Wing shot back.

"Not my fault you didn't choose the life of an entrepreneur." Frazzle Spark said with a shrug.

Night Mist forked over a bit to Frazzle Spark.

"Are we square now?" he asked.

"We're square," Frazzle Spark confirmed.

"Saved Princess Celestia's life and all you have to show for it is a bit!" laughed Sharp Wing.

"I wouldn't say that, the entire thing will also help my reputation as a detective," Night Mist said optimistically.

"And from now on, whenever you hear Princess Celestia's name you'll remember watching her sleep all night long," quipped Frazzle Spark.

"Oh, if you give me your last bit I won't tell all of Ponyville about that," grinned Sharp Wing.

"Have I ever told you two you're merciless?" sighed Night Mist.

"You have. And yet you still hang out with us," smiled Frazzle Spark.

Night Mist couldn't help but smile too.

"Well, I guess for revenge I'm just going to have to settle for annihilating your forces."


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