The World At Large

by ToixStory

Chapter 1: Episode 1: Swing Vote - Part 1

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Grapevine laid a newspaper on the table in front of me. I peered at it over the top of my cup of coffee. We were sitting in Joya’s kitchen—Sterling Bristle, Joya, and I—and having breakfast the morning after getting back from Las Pegasus. Sterling and I had arrived in town late last night, and had fallen into bed.

The little breakfast nook shone from the early morning light that streamed through the windows behind us. It was a cute little area that those of us who lived in the house had grown fond of using for all sorts of meetings. And breakfast. Always breakfast.

Now, my quiet morning was being interrupted by a certain purple pony. Grapevine’s amber eyes glared at me. Her mussy mane several shades violet-er than the rest of her was pushed back today and held in place with a bright red hair band. “Well?” she asked.

I blew some of my own orange bangs out of my face. “Well what?”

“Have you seen today’s paper?”

To tell the truth, I hadn’t. I had found myself more concerned with what meal Joya, our donkey landlord, had come up with. As it had turned out, it was mostly grits. All grits, if you didn’t count a few thawed out bagels. I pushed one around on my plate.

“Well, no, not exactly,” I admitted.

Grapevine picked up the newspaper and whacked me over the head with it. “You’re not just the average reporter anymore. You’re Minty Flower, reporter,” she said. “You’re supposed to keep up on these things.”

“I was gonna eventually,” I said.

“Right.” Grapevine threw it back to me. “Might as well read it yourself, then.”

I took a sip of coffee and looked at the paper—a copy of the Manehattan Times—over. The headline was the first thing that screamed at me, of course. “MAYORAL CANDIDATE SHOT!” it announced. I kept reading. According to the story, one of our own Fillydelphian mayoral candidates had been killed just outside his campaign office out in the rich part of town, the Burb. Rich Text, 38, was found this morning by his campaign manager who had arrived at the building and smelled something coming from the alley. Ol’ Rich, as he was known to friends and family, was recovered with multiple bullet wounds in his head and stomach. Other candidates Party Line and Marshmallow Bauble have yet to be reached for comment.

I put the paper down. “Does Marshmallow know?”

Grapevine shrugged. “Probably. Seeing as she’s only one of the two candidates left, I imagine she’s probably getting a knock on her door from the police right now.”

“What’s going on?” Sterling asked. My brown-coated coltfriend looked worried from behind his mop of green-yellow hair. “I’m out of the loop too, you know.”

I passed him the Times. “One of Marshmallow’s competitors got shot. Pretty bad, apparently, and they don’t know who it is.” I turned to Grapevine. “I’m going to assume that’s why Ornate sent you over here?”

Ornate Vision, the sour Editor in Chief—and my and Grapevine’s boss—for the Fillydelphia Chronicler had been hounding me ever since Sterling and I had started the drive back from Las Pegasus. Seeing as the story I had been sent there to cover had dissolved into some sort of book, he wasn’t the happiest to hear that I didn’t actually have anything to print.

Figures he would send Grapevine all the way out here to West Fillydelphia.

Grapevine nodded. “Ornate’s beside himself with this new story. He’s saying it’s the biggest thing to hit this city since, well, the last mayor offed herself.”

I flinched at the mention of Ms. Pullmare, a.k.a. Golden Remedy, the city’s previous mayor who had died with her brother in a fire that consumed the city hall. Even as Sterling and I drove back into Fillydelphia, it was easy to see the charred remains of the once-great building.

“So who’s he putting on the story?” I asked. “Me or you? I mean, we’re both reporters now, right?”

“About that . . .” She rubbed the back of her head. “We’re kind of going on this one together. As partners. Again.”

I could feel my jaw start to hang open, so I snapped it shut. “Am I back to being your photographer?” I asked with deliberate slowness.

“He didn’t say that,” she said. “But he didn’t say much, really. We’re on the case, and we’re together.” She glanced over at Sterling. “And no more coltfriends on the case with you, either. I think he’s still bitter at you turning that last story into a book instead of something he could print.”

I sighed. “So what now?”

Grapevine reached over and grabbed a bagel for herself. She took her time to smatter it with grape jelly before answering, “Get ready, I’d suspect. We’ll be leaving for the crime scene as quickly as we can. I was told that a certain Officer Rover would be waiting for you.”

I perked up a little bit. Red Rover had been a gang leader I had worked with on a case and who had decided to go straight afterward. In all the chaos of this new story, he would be a welcome sight. I stood up from the table. “I’ll be down in a minute,” I told her.

“Yeah, yeah, take your time.” She waved me away and turned to move into conversation with Joya.

Sterling followed me out of the kitchen and into the front room of the store-combination-house we lived in. There were shelves spread out in the spacious room that had every manner of dresses and suits piled on top of them. Festive ribbons of fabrics hung down from the vaulted ceiling as Joya began to move into her fall line. With the publicity Grapevine and I had begun to receive for our stories, business for her had picked up and it was rare to see her at anything but her sewing machine.

We climbed the stairs above her workroom and down the small hall to the bedroom we now shared. It had been a tentative thing at first; just a one night thing with Sterling unwilling to make the trip downstairs to the room he had been given after Grapevine and I had blown his house up. But then he started staying every night, whether or not we did anything.

It had just fell in that way, and I wasn’t sorry for it.

I strode into the room and headed over to the dresser we shared. It sat across from the spacious, Luna-sized bed we shared. The covers were still messy from where we had fallen into them the night before. Sterling joined me by the dresser.

“So, back to work so soon?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I knew it would be coming. When I called Ornate and told him about the book, I knew he wouldn’t take it lightly. I’m kind of surprised that he even waited until this morning to sic Grapevine on me.”

“Yeah.” Sterling shuffled his hooves. “And now you and Grapevine are partners again . . .”

“She promised last time I saw her that we’re just friends now. There won’t be any advances from her.” I laughed a little for him. “Though I’m surprised you would find that so bad.”

He shook his head. “No, it’s not that, it’s just that when you two get together you seem to attract trouble. Dangerous trouble.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t say that’s completely true,” I said. I threw open the top drawer and pulled some clothes out. For a second, I could see the glass vial pushed all the way to the back of the drawer and filled with a green liquid that sometimes glowed at night. I shut the drawer and turned back to Sterling.

“Stranger things have happened when she’s not been around,” I finished in a hushed tone.

I shoved myself into the clothes. I was wearing a festive, blue shirt just a tad darker than my coat that was covered in pictures of bright flowers. Its design came from some island but the shirt itself from a cheap novelty shop in Las Pegasus. I also threw on a wide-brimmed, floppy white hat I had purchased from the same store. Overall, I thought I looked like a strange cross between a tourist and a madmare. Perfect, I thought, for a pony in my position.

Sterling brought me my camera. It sat proudly in its ebony case with the telescopic lense and large flash that extended on its own branch. The little camera had stuck with me since he had made it for me just two days after I had arrived in Fillydelphia. It had seen me through troubles thick and thin, become a part of me, really.

“I know you’re a reporter now,” he began, “but I figured you still might find some use for it . . .”

I reached over and gave him a peck on the cheek. His cheeks grew hot and I giggled. “Of course I wouldn’t leave my camera behind,” I said. “It’s practically tradition if I’m going to be slumming around the city with Grapevine.”

He brought the strap up and sat it around my neck. I looked down to see its familiar presence just beneath my chin. Even the weight around my neck was just perfect.

“How do I look?” I asked Sterling.

He gave me a goofy grin. “Great. Perfect for a reporter.”

I walked closer and kissed him again.

* * *

I said my goodbyes to Sterling and Joya before Grapevine could pull me out of the shop and onto the streets of West Fillydelphia. The drab little neighborhood was just beginning to come alive in the morning light that glittered off the glass towers downtown.

There was a steamcar waiting for us, its boiler humming patiently. It was a handsome little thing with shiny, black paint and a cloth hood that went over the top to keep the inside sealed away. Grapevine took the driver’s seat and I climbed in on the other side.

“You’re driving?” I asked.

“Yeah, why not?” she said. “It is my car, after all.”

I stared. “You . . . you got a car?”

She shrugged. “I figured that I might as well. While you and Sterling were off on that little vacation to Las Pegasus, I was still here and making crazy bits off of new stories. This little thing was well within my price range.” She looked out the front window. “Don’t know how it holds up to your coltfriend’s car.”

I didn’t disagree with her there. Parked just a little ways ahead of Grapevine’s vehicle, Sterling’s custom-made car sat, sparkling in the light. He and a friend had created it for an inventor’s expo in Las Pegasus, and he had naturally kept the thing. It was wider than most steam cars, and longer too. The seats were a creamy white leather and the entire thing was painted a bright, cherry red. The most peculiar thing about it, however, was what it ran on. Gasoline, Sterling had called it, as opposed to the usual steam engines. He talked about it being the next big thing, and with all the mail we had come back to from investors after the expo, I wasn’t sure he was wrong.

“But hey, let’s not dilly dally,” Grapevine said. “We’ve got a story to get to.”

She put the car in gear and we drove away, over rough pavement toward downtown. A few other cars joined us on the road, but otherwise it was almost deserted. Typical for a Thursday, though.

“So I heard about your little identity crisis back in ‘Pegasus,” Grapevine began, breaking the silence.

I coughed. “You heard about what now?”

“My mother called. Talked to me about a very peculiar meeting she had had with a strange young filly that I might know.” She winked. “Would you happen to know anything about that?”

I shrugged. “Well, maybe, but you know there are plenty of fillies who might look like me from here to Los Celestias who would love to meet the Great and Powerful Trixie.”

“Right, and I’m sure they all drive cherry red convertibles.” Grapevine Lulamoon laughed.

My face burned. “Yeah, well, at least you know it got resolved.”

“I figured. How are you and Sterling, by the way?”

“Going steady, I guess,” I said. “I think we got some things out in the open on the drive back. Talked a lot. I think it’s pretty good, at least.”

“You two did it in the desert, right?” She snickered. “Come on, you just had to take advantage of that opportunity.”

“Grapevine!” I hissed.

“What?” she said. “The hot sand on your back while his hindlegs dig into the dune around you and he leans down and—”

I slugged her on the shoulder and she stuck her tongue at me. It got her off the subject, at least.

“You’re no fun,” she said.

“I just don’t like airing my private business,” I said.

She snorted. “Oh, right, because you never have before. ‘Sides, if you’re so defensive that just means I’m right.”

I didn’t say anything, but just let myself stew in silence. She rolled her eyes, of course, and went back to the road. Soon we were passing over the Schuyllhoof River and into Fillydelphia proper. The houses became closer together and the streets were already filled with cars and ponies going about their day. Traffic was brought to a standstill.

Grapevine tried pressing the horn a few times, but when it did little she gave up and sat back in her seat. She sighed. “I guess this would be a good time to let you in on the case, huh?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t hurt,” I said.

“Right.” She cleared her throat. “Obviously, this starts with Marshmallow deciding to run for mayor. Since the whole Pullmare incident, the city council has been running the whole thing for a while until new, ad-hoc elections could be held. The two forerunners on the city council, Rich Text and Party Line, naturally decided to run. The only surprise came when Marshmallow decided to throw her hat in the ring.”

“Do you think she has a chance of winning?” I asked.

Grapevine shrugged. “Before this? Probably not, but who knows? The big deal is that, with Rich Text out of the running, Marshmallow has a fighting chance. It helps that her platform is actually about helping ponies instead of rebuilding Pullmare’s infrastructure. I’d think ponies aren’t ready for another dictator quite yet.” She smirked. “Besides our esteemed Princesses, of course.”

“So Marshmallow runs for mayor beside the two frontrunners, but one of them gets shot down, what, just a few days before the voting starts? Is there any motive in this so far?” I asked.

“That’s the problem,” Grapevine said. “In cases like these, there can be a lot of factors. Personal revenge, political differences, assassination organized by a rival, or even a crazy pony that just wants to be famous and no other reason besides that. So you can see this investigation is still pretty much at square one.”

I snorted. “Joy. Will we be lent any help by the police?”

“Ornate said for us not to get our hopes up.” Grapevine shook her head. “Even with this Officer Rover of yours on the case, it’s doubtful we’ll be let anywhere near the evidence room on something as sensitive as this.”

“So what will we do?”

“The same thing we always do: make use of what we have and cobble something together.”

We shared a laugh and the traffic finally began to surge forward. Within minutes, we were puttering along toward the destination and the promise of a new story. I could almost smell it in the air. It was good to be back.

* * *

We parked in front of a dreary little building in the middle of downtown among a group of police cars with their lights still flashing. The outside of the squat office was decorated in red flags bearing a manticore as their emblem. Some sort of party insignia, I supposed.

Grapevine stepped out of the car and joined me on the passenger side. Around the side of the building was a flock of police ponies and about two rolls’ worth of yellow tape. The scene of the crime. “We heading over there?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Everything worth gathering from there has already been done,” she explained. “If we want a story, it’s waiting for us inside the party building.”

I snorted as I fell in behind her. “Party’s too nice a name for it.”

My prediction turned out to be true when we let ourselves inside. The stubby little hall was made up of two main rooms. One contained around a dozen desks with state-of-the-art phones on top of them, waiting to be used to haggle grandparents for their vote. The other was at least a little more festive. It contained writing desks with typewriters, printing presses, and a big pile of signs waiting to be painted with slogans and logos. It was like a business except . . . no, it was pretty much a business.

There were police officers milling about while employees just stood around with vacant expressions on their faces. I could sympathize. They’d lost everything they’d been planning and hoping for in one quick moment. It reminded me of my arrival to Fillydelphia in the first place.

Before we could interview any of them or set about doing whatever normal reporters did, I was approached by a large stallion in full police regalia, hat and all. He had a stark red coat that clashed with his ivory mane. He smiled at me.

“Well if it isn’t Miss Minty Flower,” he said in greeting.

“It’s nice to see you again, Red Rover,” I said. “Getting used to the uniform?”

He stretched at the starched collar. “It’s going to take a little while. You know, it’s too bad we have to meet like this, really.”

“Like we ever meet with the police in any other way,” Grapevine snarked from behind him. She’d found something interesting to look at on one of the desks and was pawing at it.

I shrugged. “It’s kind of true.”

Rover laughed, then took off his hat off to scratch his head. “Well, I suppose that is true. Anyway, is there anything in particular that brings you here? Most of the larger papers were here earlier this morning already.”

Grapevine opened a drawer, which Rover slammed shut and glared at her over. When he did, I watched as Grapevine slid what looked like a small matchbox on the floor under her hoof without him noticing. She rolled her eyes. “We’re here to find out more about the killer,” she said. “Everypony’s so caught up with the victim that they’ve started to overlook the cause of this whole thing.”

“Well I wouldn’t say that—” Rover began, but his words were left to hang in thin air as Grapevine trotted off to another corner of the room to check out something else. Rover sighed and turned to me. “Is she always like this?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “usually she’s worse.”

We both chuckled and I leaned against one of the desks. “So how’s Scout?” I asked. The last I had seen of him, he had been united with his captured girlfriend and, well, I could have figured out the rest.

“We’re good, we’re good,” Rover said. “At first I was going to take back over the gang, you know, but she talked me out of it. It was time to move on anyway. So I joined up here and now we’ve got a little place out in Chestnut Hill.” He laughed. “Now, do you want to know anything about the case or not? You’re a reporter, aren’t you?”

I gulped. Just traveling around with Grapevine had gotten me to fall back in our pattern of her leading and me following. Funny to think we were equals now, if only technically.

“Right, right,” I said. I looked around and grabbed a pen and paper off of a nearby desk and held it in front of me with my wings. “So what did happen?”

Rover began to pace. “We’re not exactly sure, of course, but we know the murder happened sometime between two and four in the morning. It occurred shortly after the victim, Rich Text, locked up the party office and was the last one to leave that night. He didn’t get far.” Rover coughed. “He was set upon just outside the office and killed with three shots: two to the stomach and one to the head. His manager found him this morning.”

“What about anypony around here?” I asked. “Are there any suspects on the staff?”

“We’re going through them right now,” Rover said, “but so far the alibis are lining up. Most of them left hours before the crime could have taken place at all.”

I paused. “So . . . what was the unusual part?”

“That’s just it,” Rover said. “There is none. He left no evidence and didn’t seem to have any motivation besides robbery. He shot Rich, took his wallet, and left. If anything, this is just a case of robbery and assault that just had happened to affect an influential pony.”

“So you’re saying there’s no story here.”

“Not until you find whoever did it, no.”

I sighed. “Well that’s great.” I looked behind Rover and saw Grapevine trotting up behind him with a dour look on her face.

“I can confirm what he said,” she told me. “There isn’t a piece of worthwhile evidence in this whole place.”

“What will you two do now?” Rover asked.

Grapevine smiled. “Go interview some folks around here and see if we can’t dig ourselves out a witness.” She started to half-drag me to the door until I set my hooves in motion and followed her. “You take care now, you hear?”

Rover was left to watch with a funny look on his face as we departed as swiftly as we had come with only the front door swinging closed to mark our passing.

Outside, Grapevine finally let go of me and I struggled away from her. “What was that all about?” I asked. “You’re not even going to let me look around?”

Grapevine snorted and walked over to the car. “Do you really think you’d find anything?”

“Well, no . . .”

Grapevine tossed something to me and climbed in the car. I caught it and took the passenger seat beside her once again. It was the matchbox. On the flap was a stylized picture of a grand hotel, one that I had seen downtown before. “Hotel Rapture,” it said.

“See, this is why I’m still the better reporter,” Grapevine said. “Evidence is everywhere, you just have to look. Lucky for the both of us, I know how to get this stuff without any of those police friends of yours finding out.”

“Then why say there’s not anything to be found?”

She knocked me on top of my head. “You’re too honest, Minty,” she said. “When it comes to politics you have to be delicate. The police are not. If we want to find this killer, we’re going to have to take the lead.”

“Okay . . .” I said, “but what does this matchbox have to do with anything?”

Grapevine started the steam car and it came to life with a gentle purr. “The Rapture’s a high stakes place,” she explained. “Exactly one person in that office could afford to take home one of those matchboxes, and that was Rich Text himself. Problem is, he doesn’t smoke.” She turned to me. “Which means . . .”

“It was left by whoever killed Rich Text,” I finished. “And if it was left inside the party room even though Rich Text locked up afterwards, then that means he knew the killer!”

Grapevine smiled. “Now you’re getting it.”

* * *

The Rapture Hotel in downtown Fillydelphia was a sight to behold. Instead of bare steel and straight edifices, the place had a kind of style to it that was rare to see in the city. It had arched windows and delicate curves about it, with brass mixed in to give it a sense of style that few other hotels in the city could match. It was no wonder, then, that the place was the most expensive around.

Grapevine parked on the street across from it and turned off the engine. She pointed to the glove box in front of me. “Be a dear and get us some passes out of there,” she said.

I complied and opened the little compartment. Inside were dozens of blank press passes, just waiting to be filled out. I gulped and took two of them. I gave them to Grapevine and she snapped them up in her magic. “Uh, isn’t that illegal?” I asked.

“Not if you don’t get caught,” she said. “Now is ‘Rapture’ spelled with one or two t’s?”

I sighed and told her. Best not to argue with her since the case had started. All it’d do at this point is annoy her and hamper both our investigations. Though, at this point, it felt more like her investigation. That would have to change at some point.

“There we go,” Grapevine said, giving me the pass. “It won’t hold up if anypony gets a close look, but let’s not let them, huh?” She placed her pass beneath her headband and I stuck mine on my hat.

“Alright, let’s go.”

We tumbled out of the car and started across the street once the traffic was light. I noticed as we went that our shadows were soon engulfed by something much larger, though it was a cloudless day.

I looked up to see Fillydelphia’s more famous moving monument doing its morning routine. Serenity, as it was called, was a massive floating city that served as both the weather base for the pegasi and as a mobile trade dock. It was, for all intents and purposes, a massive metal platform with dirigible gasbags lining its underside in a circle. Mooring platforms and a massive prow stuck out from the platform and airships gathered around it like moths to candlelight.

“Kind of early for Serenity to be downtown, isn’t it?” I asked.

Grapevine shrugged. “They’ve been getting more erratic lately because of the election. Starshine was saying something about the opposing council members trying to get their own share of publicity over the weather.”

“How is Starshine, anyway?” I asked.

“She’s fine.” Grapevine sniffed. “Been talking to Ornate quite a bit lately. I’d watch her if I were you.”

“Sure . . .”

We arrived at the front of the hotel. Porters bustled around with luggage carts while fancy limos and taxis disgorged overdressed passengers. Among all the uniforms, tuxedos, and dresses I felt more than a little underdressed. Then again, as I reminded myself, why would I want to fit in with this crowd? After all, Grapevine walked in the glass revolving door without batting an eyelash toward the others. I followed her inside.

The lobby was as fancy as one might expect from the outside. Heavy oak concierge desks underneath a massive chandelier hanging from a domed ceiling with a fresco of sea life painted on it. The way I looked at it, it was almost like Rapture was underwater.

Grapevine walked right past the front desks and baggage carts, her hooves clicking on the tile floor. I followed her as she led me over to a row of elevators at the far end of the lobby, past an extravagant water fountain that spewed up water in large jets. There were stallions in dark suits next to the elevators and they were checking room keys before the guests were allowed on.

My heart beat a little faster.

They stopped Grapevine as we arrived, though if she was nervous, she didn’t show it. “Key?” one of them asked.

Grapevine pointed to the press pass under her hairband. “Business of the press,” she said. “Just going up for a conference.”

I tried to smile and showed them my pass as well. Their eyes lingered on us for half a second longer than was comfortable, but they let us through in the end. We gathered on the elevator together and closed it before anypony had the bright idea to join us.

Grapevine hit the highest button and the elevator started to glide upward on well-oiled joints.

“Can I see the matchbox?” she asked.

I pulled it out of my pocket and gave it to her. “Are you really going to smoke now?”

Grapevine laughed. “No, but this little matchbox here will give us a better idea of where we’re going.” She flipped it upside down to where I could see and underneath was a stylized picture of a regal dining room with the words “Atlas Room” floating above it.

“Each of these matchboxes is custom made for the room they’re given out in,” she explained.

I stared at her. “And how could you possibly know that?”

She rubbed one leg over the other and looked down. “You remember about my wedding . . . the one that, uh, didn’t happen?”


“It was booked for here.”

I gulped and said nothing more. Her cancelled wedding had been the last thing we had talked about for weeks. It was also the last time I had seen her tough facade fall apart right before my eyes. I noticed, now, that her movements since we had come inside had been a little jerkier than usual.

“If you want, I can just take a look myself,” I suggested.

She shook her head. “It’s old news,” she said. “I’ll be fine.” She reached up and hit the button for the Atlas Room’s floor before the elevator could make it all the way to the top.

The doors dinged open and we stepped out into a deserted hallway. It was lined with rooms that stretched around a corner in either direction. Something was off about the whole thing, though. The lights flickered overhead and everything was silent.

“Well isn’t this place just cheery,” Grapevine muttered.

“Where do we start?” I asked.

“If all these floors are the same,” Grapevine said, “then the entrance to the conference room is going to be on the other side of the floor. If the killer stayed here, he had to be in the room at some point. Maybe we can find something that will link us to him.”

We started off one way down the hall toward a corner. The whole floor, I began to realize, was massive. Each story of the building had to be at least the size of a small dirigible balloon. The ballroom, then, must have been about half as large as the one in the city hall that fateful night weeks ago.

The hall toward the ballroom entrance was just as empty, but some of the lights had gone out. There was a coppery smell in the air. Grapevine nodded at me. “I feel it too,” she said. “It feels . . . wrong.”

We arrived at the doors leading to the conference room. Above them was the word “Atlas” inscribed in brass. Below it: “Only What You Choose”. The feeling of wrongness only grew stronger.

“You ready?” Grapevine asked.

“Just do it.”

She pushed open the double doors to reveal a dark room. The copper smell hit me head on just as the lights were flipped on. My stomach turned to ice as the fluorescents overhead blazed to life. Sitting around a single table near the middle of the room were four ponies in business suits. All of them were slumped over on the pearly white tablecloth. Just by the smell, I could tell they were dead.

In the middle of the table were piled books and documents of every type. It took me a moment to notice that, by the way the way the light was glancing off them, they were wet. A cloaked figure popped up from behind the table. Under a stark white mask and black hat and cape, I couldn’t discern anything about who he—or she—was.

The one thing I could tell, though, was that the figure had a small gun in one hoof and a lit match in the other. He threw the match toward the documents as he began to run toward us. The match hit the gasoline-soaked paper and roared into a blazing fire within moments. Meanwhile, the cloaked figure kept coming for us.

Grapevine stepped in his way as if to stop him. Undeterred, the figure kept galloping toward us and raised the gun right at Grapevine. She was too stubborn for her own good, and still didn’t move. I watched the two get closer and closer until at last, with a grunt, I grabbed Grapevine and pulled her out of the figure’s way.

He ran past us and disappeared around the corner.

“What was that for?” Grapevine screamed.

“I’m not going to watch you die!” I said. “Now come on, we can still catch him!”

There was no time to argue, so she nodded and galloped away in the direction the assassin had been going, with me running to keep up. The fire inside the ballroom was already starting to spread and I could feel the hallway growing hotter by the second.

We came to a stop near the elevators. The cloaked pony was standing there, waiting for the elevator. When he saw us, though, he leapt into action. He pulled some sort of knife from beneath his cloak and wedged it in the doors. Just as fast, he shoved them open, took one look down, and jumped.

An elevator car rose up to meet him and by the time we reached the edge of the floor the car had risen up past us, far out of reach. Grapevine yelled and stomped on the ground.

“We’ll take the next one up after him,” she growled. “He is not going to escape!”

I looked behind us and saw the smoke and flames getting closer. The heat was almost unbearable on the entire floor. “Uh, Grapevine,” I said, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

She looked and grit her teeth, then sighed. “Hold on to me,” she said. She looked down where another elevator car was ascending toward the lobby. She closed her eyes and her horn began to spark.

There was a white flash and suddenly we were on a crowded elevator car speeding downward. The ponies inside gasped and stepped back from the new intruders. Grapevine coughed, woozy from the effort. “Call the fire department,” she ordered. “Fire on the Atlas Floor.”

She looked at me and shook her head. “This case just got a whole lot worse.”

Next Chapter: Episode 1: Swing Vote - Part 2 Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 34 Minutes
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