The West Is Not Enough

by JohnPerry

Chapter 8: Firestarter

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Vinyl and Octavia raced into the mine, quickly leaving any trace of sunlight behind as they plunged into the darkness of the tunnel. The inside of the mine was faintly illuminated by a series of dim lamps embedded in the walls, spaced close enough together that one could just make out the inside of the tunnel, but far enough apart that it left large gaps of blackness between the small pools of faint yellow light.

They galloped further underground, the sound of their hooffalls on the wooden railroad ties of the mine cart track echoing through the darkness. The tunnel abruptly widened before them and the two agents skidded to a halt, finding themselves in a huge cavern that stretched far above them. The mine cart track came to an end at the base of a rope and pulley system that wound its way up the cavern wall, leading up to other tunnels branching out of the cave. The glimmer of a gold vein winding up the wall could just be made out in the faint lantern light.

“Stay on your guard. She could be anywhere in here,” Octavia muttered, holding a hoof close to the handle of her bow, ready to draw it at an instant.

“Hang on,” Vinyl said, tapping the side of her goggles. Green-colored shades slid into place over the normal purple ones as a small light flickered on within the goggles. “Ooh, night vision-y,” the DJ commented, looking up into the cavern.

“Do you see anything?” the cellist whispered.

Something on the ground caught Vinyl’s attention, and she looked down to see what seemed to be a small stain against the dark rock. She rubbed some of it off with a forehoof, lifting it into the light as she pulled off her goggles. A faint smear of red could be made out on her hoof.

“That looks fresh,” the DJ commented, showing the blood stain to Octavia. “She must be bleeding from your arrow.” Vinyl looked over at the other side of the cavern, where two tunnels led out of the cave. One had no illumination while the other glowed with the faint light of more lanterns. A quick glance with the goggles showed a small trail of blood stains leading into the darker tunnel.

The two proceeded slowly into the dark tunnel. It was pitch black, presumably abandoned when the miners moved on to other parts of the gold vein. The faint green glow from Vinyl’s night vision goggles was all Octavia could see as she remained close to her friend’s side, ready to draw her sword at any moment.

They rounded a corner before Octavia felt Vinyl stop in her tracks. “Hang on, this can’t be right...” The DJ’s horn began to glow brightly, illuminating the tunnel.

“Put that out!” Octavia hissed. “We’ll be seen!”

“Where’d she go?” Vinyl mumbled, staring ahead. The cellist turned to see nothing but a wall of solid stone in front of them. The tunnel had come to a dead end.

Octavia blinked in confusion. “But if she’s not here, then...”

They heard the click of a trigger from behind them before the world suddenly erupted into light and flames and the two agents were blasted off their hooves. Octavia briefly felt nothing but air beneath her hooves before she smashed headlong into the wall, sliding down it painfully before tumbling to an abrupt halt against the ground. Her mind swam as she tried to get up, seeing nothing but flames in front of her. She scooted backed into a corner, one forehoof clutching her ribs as the other reached for her bow, trying to find some cover in a small alcove where the tunnel widened slightly. Octavia grunted as she pressed her back against the wall, drawing an arrow against her bow. Vinyl was nowhere in sight.

“I’m just too clever for you, aren’t I?!” Octavia turned towards the source of the voice, squinting her eyes to try and see beyond the flames that blocked her path. She could just make out the silhouette of a figure standing on the other side of the raging inferno that separated them. Messy Manes was clutching her shoulder with one hoof, levitating her hoof cannon beside her. “Didn’t think I’d set a trap and double back on you, did ya?!”

Octavia fired an arrow, but the bandit saw it coming far before it could reach her and jumped out of the way, crouching against one wall of the tunnel. “It’s over, Messy Manes! You’ve got nowhere to run!”

“I’m not gonna run, I’m gonna fight!” The bandit let off another blast from her cannon, which crashed into the wall with such force it shook the whole tunnel, throwing rocks into the air and raining down on Octavia. She threw her forehooves over her head, but fortunately none of the rocks were large enough to do any damage. With nothing to burn, the flames died out, but a mixture of dust and smoke was rapidly filling the enclosed space. An orange light from Messy Manes’ horn was the only source of light in the tunnel now.

A streak of blue light suddenly flew past Octavia, striking Messy Manes head-on and encasing her in a pale blue aura. Even from a distance, the cellist could hear the screech of audio feedback and the thump of a loud bass line. Messy Manes let out a pained yell, throwing her hooves over her ears and clenching her eyes shut. “Stop it! Make it stop!” she bellowed, firing off another shot. But in her current state her aim was way off and the blast from her hoof cannon hit the ceiling with a huge explosion. Octavia backed away hastily as the section of tunnel between them collapsed with a thundering crash that shook the entire mine.

Octavia could taste the dust in the air, but couldn’t see anything as the tunnel was once more plunged into pitch blackness. The crumble of pebbles falling to the ground slowly subsided as silence descended in the tunnel before she heard a cough from behind her. “Octy! Are you okay?” Vinyl’s voice called out.

“Yes, just fine!” Octavia briefly saw the green glow of Vinyl’s night vision goggles before they flickered out with a spark of electricity. The DJ cursed and hurriedly pulled them off before illuminating her horn to reveal a wall of rock separating them from where Messy Manes had been, trapping them inside.

Vinyl flopped onto the ground, tossing her broken goggles aside. “Grrreat.”

Messy Manes hobbled back up the tunnel, still clutching her wounded shoulder with one of her forehooves. She was levitating her hoof cannon beside her, but it was quite useless; a boulder from the tunnel collapse had smashed into it and dismantled its inner mechanisms. Nevertheless, she kept it by her side in case she needed to intimidate anypony she met. Her ears were still ringing from Vinyl’s magic, loud enough that she couldn’t hear her own hoofsteps.

She emerged back in the cavern to find it empty. Despite her injury, she couldn’t suppress a grin; with all the tunnels in this mine, she could hide down here as long as it would be necessary, perhaps luring any others into a trap. If more were coming, let them come.

The ringing in Messy Manes’ ears kept her from noticing the lasso sailing through the air towards her until it was too late.

With a start, she felt a rope drape itself around her frame, and before she could react she was hoisted into the air, immediately losing her grasp on her hoof cannon as she was lifted into the darkness of the cavern, yelling in shock. Before she could figure out what was happening she abruptly came to a halt, dangling upside down several lengths above the ground. Messy looked around in alarm before she felt herself being tugged up towards the ceiling. She glanced up to see the rope tied to a pulley, slowly lifting her upwards.

After a long moment, the bandit was pulled up beside a small ledge overlooking the cavern. The figures of several ponies stood on the ledge, all of them with various scratches and bruises, but also with a look of triumph evident in their faces. Quiet Earp was standing in front, glaring at her, with Watt Sun and Sharp Eye flanking him. Behind them, a group of ponies were tying off the rope, securing Messy Manes in place dangling from the ceiling.

“Morning, sheriff,” the bandit muttered. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Where’s Vinyl and Octavia?” Sharp Eye asked sharply.

Messy Manes made a small noise of indifference, which provoked an irritated snort from Quiet Earp. “Come on boys,” he said to the group of ponies behind him, “let’s check out that tunnel.” The others nodded and began following the sheriff down to the base of the cavern while Watt Sun and Sharp Eye remained behind with the bandit.

“Now then,” Watt Sun said, giving Messy a sly grin. “Why don’t you tell us about this contact of yours?”

“Was this contact the one who told you we were coming?” Sharp Eye added.

“Psht,” Messy scoffed. “You expect me to talk?”

The two Pinkietons glanced at each other, sharing a smile. “Nope. We expect you to smile,” the stallion said.

“Watt Sun,” Sharp Eye began, her eyes narrowing, “get... the feather.”

In a Canterlot office, Melody Maker dropped a dossier on the desk of Prince Blueblood before taking a seat across from the prince himself. Blueblood leaned back against his huge leather chair, which bore a strong resemblance to a throne, regarding the Pinkieton conductor coldly.

“I’ve been waiting for your report for a few days now,” the prince muttered. “Are you going to explain why I was not immediately informed of any updates?”

“We had some rather interesting developments in this case,” Melody said smoothly, unperturbed by Blueblood’s chilly reception. “It’s all in the report, but I can offer you a summary. I’m sure you’re aware that Messy Manes was apprehended?”

“Yes. And I’m also aware that it happened in the mine that I have a stake in!” the prince snapped. “May I ask why the destruction of private property had to be involved?”

“Rest assured that no significant damage was done to your mine,” Melody replied. “...By any employees of the Pinkieton Detective Agency. As to why you were not immediately informed, it turns out that there may have been larger forces at work than a mere gang of ambitious bandits. We believe that Messy Manes was acting on behalf of a pony within Equestria, possibly right here in Canterlot.”

Prince Blueblood gave Melody a stunned look. “My word! Are you sure?”

The elderly mare nodded. “Apparently, Messy Manes was offered a contingent of soldiers and a cache of weapons in exchange for the gold from your mine. Once in Equestria, the gold could be sold through the black market, while Messy Manes and her group of outlaws were granted free rein over No Mare’s Land.”

“Did you find out who was giving Messy Manes these orders?” Blueblood asked urgently.

“Yes, but apparently that pony was working at the request of another pony. Who may have been working on behalf of yet another. Right now it’s just a matter of following the paper trail. Even more disturbing, whoever this pony was apparently had access to the knowledge that my agents were traveling to No Mare’s Land. But I feel we might be close to the culprit now.”

The prince exhaled slowly. “By Celestia’s word, the mystery only deepens.”

Melody rose from her seat. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to report this to the mare upstairs.”

Blueblood gave the Pinkieton an odd look. “The mare upstairs? You mean Princess Celestia?”

The elderly mare chuckled. “No, no, our mare upstairs. The boss.”

“You have a superior at the Pinkieton Detective Agency?” the prince said, taken aback. “Why wasn’t I directed to her when I contacted you?”

“Oh don’t feel slighted, your highness,” Melody offered, stepping towards the door. “No one ever sees the mare upstairs. Not even me. ...That is, not until you get the pink slip.”

With that, Melody Maker turned and trotted out of the office, leaving a thoroughly confused Prince Blueblood alone. Once the door closed shut, the prince suddenly started and began frantically opening drawers in his desk, searching desperately for something. Finally, he found what he was looking for: a communicator device that was painted gold and small enough to fit on a hoof. He trembled and sweat began to leak from his brow as he tried to power the device with his magic.

“Grieves? Grieves! Answer me, this is urgent!” he yelled into the small microphone.

“Yes, your highness?” answered a calm, refined stallion’s voice.

“Grieves, please tell me you’re at the mansion!”

“Indeed I am, your highness.”

Blueblood let out a quick sigh of relief. “Okay Grieves, listen very carefully. I think they’re onto us. Destroy all the evidence we have. All of it!”

“Including the land grant deed, your highness?”

“All of it, Grieves!” the prince yelled frantically.

“Very good, sir.” There was a small click from the device and the conversation ended.

At the other end of the line, a dapper stallion wearing a formal suit and tie and radiating an aura of calm dignity put down his communicator device. He straightened up and adjusted his tie before turning to a gray-coated earth pony mare with black hair and a white-coated unicorn mare with a spiky blue mane and wearing a set of purple goggles.

“Follow me,” Grieves said, leading the two mares out of a foyer and down a lavishly decorated hallway deeper into Prince Blueblood’s expansive mansion.

“So while we’re walking, why don’t you tell us why somepony would order an attack on his own mine?” Vinyl said.

“Prince Blueblood only controls a partial share of the Diamond-Blueblood mine, and he and Mrs. Tiara are only the two most prominent owners among several others,” Grieves calmly explained, his tone never once rising or falling. “Having the gold smuggled into Equestria not only allowed the prince to profit from the sale of gold without having to pay taxes, it also gave him control over the entire output of the gold mine.”

“But Blueblood had no intention of hoofing his mine over to Messy Manes, did he?” Octavia inquired.

“Indeed not,” Grieves answered. He stopped in front of a portrait of Blueblood with a rose clenched between his teeth. The stallion pulled it down to reveal a safe embedded in the wall behind the painting. “The prince had a larger vision for the future of the gold mines of No Mare’s Land, and it all had to do with a single document.”

Grieves opened the safe and carefully pulled out a dusty box that was filled with what looked like ancient pieces of parchment. He showed Octavia and Vinyl what was written on a few of them: a deed to a land grant with a seal from the royal government, and a crude map showing a large swath of land west of Equestria’s present border.

“The Blueblood family has long held a claim to what is today considered No Mare’s Land; indeed, that claim is the only reason Prince Blueblood was able to secure any right whatsoever to a gold mine there. But the family has been smarting over the fact that their claim was deemed all but worthless when it was found that buffalo, mules, and griffons had settled the land before any pony got there.

“Though Prince Blueblood has accumulated some wealth from his share in the gold mine, the prospect of ruling over his own land, a new domain of Equestria to industrialize and develop as he saw fit, never lost its appeal to the prince.”

“But he couldn’t have the land until everyone there was driven out,” Vinyl said, “and then... what? He would just take it back from Messy Manes?”

“Precisely,” Grieves answered. “With his connections and influence in the royal government, it would have been quite easy for him to arrange an invasion force to drive out Messy Manes and her band of outlaws while simultaneously cutting off supplies to the bandits. He merely had to wait until the current inhabitants had been driven off the land.”

“Wow...” Vinyl muttered, looking through the documents. “A conspiracy that goes all the way to... almost-the-top.”

“But then why would he hire us if he wanted the locals driven out?” Octavia asked, frowning at Grieves. “Wouldn’t helping the residents be the last thing he wanted?”

“Indeed. But the prince noticed that the sheriff of O.K. was coming to Canterlot to ask for help fighting Messy Manes, and he feared that if he took his case before others — namely Princess Celestia — she would sympathize and offer assistance before Prince Blueblood could enact his grand scheme. So he intervened and hired you because he felt that against a band of armed robbers, a group of detectives would not be, if I may borrow a current phrase, ‘up to it.’ Especially after they were informed that you would be coming.”

Vinyl put the lid back on the box of documents as Octavia gave Grieves a grateful smile. “Thank you ever so much for your assistance,” the cellist offered. “Are you sure you will be alright?”

“Absolutely,” Grieves answered without hesitation. “I must confess that working for Prince Blueblood has been most disagreeable. Tomorrow, I shall seek work elsewhere.”

Vinyl and Octavia trotted out the front door, accompanied by Grieves. “Oh, and do give my best to Ms. Melody Maker!” he cried out as the two agents made their way down the stairs. “I was very grateful to hear that she is well!”

“That old mare really got around, didn’t she?” Vinyl muttered in an undertone to Octavia, who responded by elbowing her friend sharply. The DJ snickered before a huge grin spread across her face. “I forgot how much I love this job.”

The two mares trotted down the long driveway leading out of Blueblood’s huge estate on the edge of the city. The sky in front of them was blazing with color as the day came to an end, casting the pearly white towers of Canterlot in hues of orange and red light. Vinyl and Octavia left the vast mansion behind, heading off into the sunset.

Vinyl and Octavia will return in When the Curtain Falls

Return to Story Description

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