When the Curtain Falls

by JohnPerry

First published

An incident in a Manehattan theater quickly draws secret agents Vinyl Scratch and Octavia into a hunt for a strange killer.

When an incident in a Manehattan theater quickly becomes a hunt for a strange killer, secret agents Vinyl Scratch and Octavia are drawn into a bizarre conspiracy behind stage in a city that never sleeps.
Proofread by the fantastic RTStephens. The cover image was made from backgrounds and vectors by SDC2012, Quanno3, EROCKERTORRES, and CobaltWinterborn on deviantART.

Beat City

A young mare raced down a long pier, her hooves pounding against the wooden planks that held her above the water below. She was panting, her body covered in sweat and grime and her hair plastered to her face, but she did not stop galloping for even a second. Behind her, the lights of the Manehattan skyline twinkled beneath the night sky, whose stars were hidden from the sheer brightness of the city. A swift breeze that smelled of salt swept across the pier, chilling the mare to the bone. The sound of waves slapping against the wooden supports of the pier almost drowned out the steady hum that emanated from the city. It was a tranquil setting, one that the mare was in no mood to appreciate.

She skidded to a halt as she came to the end of the pier. The mare looked around frantically, seeing nothing but dark, cold water below. In the distance, across the wide stretch of river, was a thin line of lights along the opposite shoreline. She paced anxiously along the end of the pier, mumbling to herself before hearing a voice that caused her to freeze in her tracks.

“Wait!” The mare turned to see an anxious-looking stallion galloping down the pier towards her.

“Don’t come any closer!” she screamed, quickly backing towards the edge as she faced the stallion. “I’ll jump! I swear I’ll do it!”

The stallion slowed down, but didn’t stop approaching the mare. “Stop! Please, I just want to help you!”

“Don’t come any closer!” the mare repeated, squealing in terror as she took another step back. “Don’t—”

Her last words were cut off as she felt nothing but air beneath her rear hoof. Before she realized what was happening, she slipped backwards off the pier, tumbling through the air. The stallion lunged forward, desperately reaching for her hoof, but he was too late. He watched in stunned shock as the mare plunged into the darkness below. Unable to see her now, he waited for the sound of her body hitting the water.

But the sound of a splash never came. The stallion waited, peering over the edge of the pier before realizing with a start that the river had vanished entirely. Now the wood beneath his hooves was transforming from the crude planks of a pier to a smooth, varnished floor. There was no longer any sea breeze or the smell of salty air. He looked up and winced as the surrounding darkness was replaced by bright lights glaring down at him. The view of the wide river and the skyline behind faded into that of a stage in a small, cramped theater. The stallion looked down to see the mare lying on a mat on the floor in front of the stage, giving him a bewildered look. The sound of waves and wind came to an abrupt halt and confused mumbling began to fill the room before there was a loud ‘thump’ from behind him. The stallion turned to see an older mare, her coat drab and her mane graying, passed out on the back of the stage.

The next few minutes were a haze of confusion as stage hooves and the actors crowded around the passed out mare, while the ponies in the audience muttered amongst themselves. The ponies on stage huddled together briefly before carrying the mare behind stage and out of sight, while the stallion actor trotted to the front of the stage and cleared his throat.

“Um, fillies and gentlecolts, we apologize for this interruption. We’re having some, err, technical difficulties at the moment, and I’m afraid tonight’s show will have to be canceled.” There were some groans from the audience at this. “We’ll be happy to offer you all rain checks for a future performance. A theater representative will pass these out as you leave.”

He retreated behind stage while the audience slowly lifted themselves out of their chairs, grumbling as they filed out of the small theater. They discussed the show, bemoaned the delay, or came up with new plans for the evening. But in one corner of the room, a white-coated mare with a spiky blue mane and red eyes was sitting by herself. She watched the now-empty stage for a moment before rising to her hooves and trotting up to the front, following the actor behind stage.

“You mean to say that she was poisoned?” asked a grey-coated mare in a refined, measured tone. She had a Canterlot accent and a carefully groomed appearance, with a black mane and tail and a treble clef cutie mark.

“Yep,” replied the white mare with the spiky blue mane, who was now wearing a set of purple goggles over her eyes. “At first we just thought she had collapsed from exhaustion, but then the doctors found traces of haylock in her blood.”

Vinyl Scratch and Octavia trotted side-by-side down the sidewalk of a Manehattan street. Accompanying them were their two friends and fellow members of the Pinkieton Detective Agency. One was a dapper-looking, charcoal gray stallion named Watt Sun. He had a cutie mark of a lit lightbulb and wore a bowler hat and a black bowtie. Walking beside him was Sharp Eye, a young, chestnut brown mare with a red mane and tail and a cutie mark of a magnifying glass.

The four ponies were walking through a gritty neighborhood of Manehattan that had been jokingly dubbed “Little Tartarus.” Though not particularly dangerous, the neighborhood’s reputation was reflected in its appearance. Grimy brick apartment buildings and small theaters stood next to the occasional parking lot or warehouse, facing narrow streets with uncrowded, dirty sidewalks. Just a few blocks to the east, the spires of Midtown skyscrapers pierced the heavens, jagged peaks of equine construction that served as dockings for the many airships that silently hovered in the sky. Pegasi flitted between the skyscrapers or out over the Hubson River to a small city of cloud homes, which were famously forbidden over Manehattan to preserve sunlight for the island city’s inhabitants.

“By the way, I appreciate you guys getting out here so quickly,” Vinyl said. “This one just struck a little too close to home for me, you know? I want to see if we’re dealing with murder here.”

“But why would somepony want to kill a stage director?” Watt Sun wondered aloud.

“New Wave wasn’t just a stage director,” Vinyl replied. “You guys heard of themerse, right?”

“Thee-merse?” Sharp Eye asked, accentuating the syllables. “Isn’t that when unicorns project a movie, but in such a way so that it feels like you’re there, in the movie?”

“Well, sorta,” the DJ answered. “But there’s no movie. See, unicorns have always been using stage magic for things like magic and fashion shows, to make their stuff flashier. But themerse takes that to a whole different level. It’s about immersing the audience in what’s going on, putting them in the most realistic illusions possible! Only the most talented stage unicorns can pull it off, which is why it’s not very common. But it’s amazing!”

“If I’m not mistaken, themerse was imported from Prance,” Octavia remarked. “I believe they refer to it as ‘théâtre immersif.’”

“That’s where the word ‘themerse’ comes from,” Vinyl added. “But in the last decade or so, it’s really taken off in Manehattan. Ponies just can’t get enough, and new talent keeps coming out of this place. Right now, you guys are standing in the center of the themerse world!” She swept a forehoof towards their surroundings to emphasize her point.

Octavia looked around at the grimy buildings and sidewalks. The facades of the structures looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in decades, trash bags sat against the graffitied walls of alleyways, and the cement slabs they walked on were spotted with gum stains flattened into the pavement by thousands of hooves and blackened by soot. It was enough to make the cellist grimace. “Why in Equestria would an artistic movement happen here, of all places?”

“Where else are artists supposed to afford to live?” the DJ shot back. “Plus, we’re only a few blocks away from Broncway. This is where it’s happening, baby!” She stopped in front of a small theater with a rather dull, grey exterior and a simple marquee overhanging the sidewalk. The word “IMMERSE” was spelled out in flashy red neon above the sign, but in the light of day with the neon turned off, it looked markedly unimpressive.

A stallion was standing on a ladder in front of the sign, taking down the letters on the marquee one by one. He happened to glance down at Vinyl and nodded, gesturing towards the door. “It’s open, go on in.” The DJ thanked him before leading her friends inside.

The lobby was small and dingy, just barely large enough to hold a counter that served as both a ticket booth and a snack bar. Vinyl led the way through a set of metal double doors, entering a cramped theater. Light stands and speakers lined the walls and benches of seats were squeezed in where possible against a modest stage at the other side of the room. On stage, a group of ponies were speaking in hushed tones, glancing up when they heard Vinyl walk in. Upon seeing the DJ, a stallion peeled off from the group and trotted down off the stage to meet the newcomers.

Octavia, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye all did a double take when they got a good look at the stallion. He had a pure white coat with a cutie mark of a black musical note, his mane and tail were spiky, and he wore a set of purple shades over his horn, revealing bright red eyes. If it wasn’t for the fact that his mane and tail were neon green instead of blue, he could have easily passed as the male version of Vinyl Scratch.

“Hey, Feedback,” Vinyl greeted him. “So what’s the deal?” she asked, nodding towards the group on stage, who had gone back to talking amongst themselves.

“Everypony’s trying to figure out what to do now that New Wave is gone,” he answered. “Personally, I don’t think we have anything to go on without her. Oh, I’m Feedback, by the way,” he quickly added, holding his hoof out to each of Vinyl’s friends in turn.

“Feedback and I were experimenting with new sound techniques for this production,” Vinyl explained. “Feedback, these are my friends from the Pinkieton Detective Agency. They’re here to help with the case.”

“Detectives?” Feedback chortled. “Scratch, I know you get around, but what the hay did you do to make friends with detectives?”

Vinyl and Octavia glanced at each other, sharing a smile. “It’s a long story,” the DJ said airily.

“Well, I hope you have better luck than the MPD did,” Feedback remarked. “They looked stumped. She collapsed right over here,” he added, leading them up on stage. Watt Sun and Sharp Eye started examining the area, treading carefully around the small yellow markers left behind by the police during their investigation, while Octavia and Vinyl remained with Feedback.

“May I ask you a few questions about New Wave?” the cellist asked the stallion.

“Go right ahead,” he answered calmly.

“Well firstly, was New Wave a big name in themerse?”

“Was New Wave a big name?!” Feedback cried. “Filly, you don’t know the half of it.”

Vinyl spoke up. “New Wave wasn’t just a big name in themerse, she was the big name in themerse. Before New Wave, the Manehattan critics looked down on themerse. They thought it was all just a gimmick.”

“Well, they had a point,” Feedback admitted. “It used to be most ponies would just use it to project environments that would be impossible to capture. You know, things like inside volcanoes, or in a dragon’s lair, or outer space. Big, flashy stuff like that, you know? So those shows wound up being not really stories so much as vehicles for a lot of fancy special effects. But New Wave knew that if you used it subtly, you could really immerse the viewers into the story. She didn’t invent themerse, but she made it into an art. I’m telling you, Hitchcolt, Cantra, Manekiewicz, they all owe their careers to New Wave.”

Octavia frowned, looking around the small, cramped theater. “But if she was so influential, then why was she playing in such a... um, modest setting as this?”

Feedback rubbed the back of his neck, glancing over at the spot where New Wave had collapsed the night before. “Well, I mean, I don’t want to speak ill of the dead and all...”

“Speak away,” Vinyl said with a chuckle. “My friends aren’t going to be able to do much if we’re not totally honest.”

Feedback still looked uneasy. “Well... she was an auteur, let’s put it like that. Very, very stubborn. Wouldn’t let anypony compromise her vision. At times it got irritating, but you couldn’t help but respect her for it, cause of what she had done. Still, she must have burned a lot of bridges over the years. If she hadn’t ticked off the right ponies, she would have been running some huge production on Broncway.”

“Did she have any enemies?” Octavia pressed.

“Well, like I said, she burned a lot of bridges,” Feedback repeated. “It was just an occupational hazard of working with her. You knew at some point you were going to say the wrong thing and wind up on her blacklist, so you just hoped you could stick around long enough for some of her genius to rub off on you.”

“I don’t suppose she kept a physical copy of this blacklist?” Octavia asked hopefully.

Feedback put a hoof to his chin. “Actually, now that you mention it...”

The noted author Walt Witmane once wrote “Manehattan is the purest example of a city in the world. All others are but a pale imitation.” As Octavia recalled that quote while clutching a pole in a rattling subway car, she couldn’t help but wonder if he had been out of his mind when he had written that.

If Octavia had been bothered by the grime of Little Tartarus, she was downright appalled when she stepped into the nearest subway station. The air was stale and humid, the lighting was harsh, and the iron beams along the tracks that held the ceiling up were rusted. She suspected that at one time the station looked beautiful, given the intricate tile work on the walls, with beautiful mosaics that spelled out the name of the station, but the artwork was hard to admire beneath the layers of grime that had accumulated over the years.

Worse were the subway cars themselves. True, Octavia had been impressed by the sheer length of these trains, which seemed to be as long as a typical city block, but they were sorely lacking in terms of aesthetics. Steel grey on the outside with dull orange and yellow seats inside, they rattled loudly and swayed from side to side as they sped down the tracks. The wheels squealed every time the train slowed to a stop, which was so halting it would have thrown her off her hooves had she not been clinging to a pole in the middle of the car. She couldn’t understand how everypony else took it all in stride; grim looking commuters hiding their faces behind newspapers, excited fillies and colts chatting loudly, and awe-struck tourists with cameras dangling around their necks. None of them seemed to give the conditions of the subway a second thought.

Octavia glanced over at Vinyl, who was levitating a journal that had belonged to New Wave in front of her face, calmly flipping through the pages. “Explain to me why we couldn’t have taken a taxi,” the cellist said pointedly.

“Explain to me why you want to spend fifty bits to get stuck in traffic,” Vinyl retorted, not bothering to lift her gaze from the journal’s pages. “Unless you’re a pegasus, the subway’s the fastest way to get around.”

Octavia bit back a retort and looked over to Watt Sun and Sharp Eye for assistance, but found none. The two Pinkietons were sitting together on a bench, Sharp Eye’s head resting on Watt Sun’s shoulder. Both of them had their eyes closed and were smiling contently. As Octavia watched, Sharp Eye took one of Watt Sun’s forehooves in her own, holding it tightly as they softly swayed with the motions of the train. The cellist awkwardly looked away, deciding not to intrude on this intimate moment. She wasn’t sure where to look. Was it rude to look at the other passengers? She glanced at somepony holding a copy of today’s Manehattan Times in front of her to see the words “THEMERSE WORLD LOSES INFLUENTIAL FIGURE” printed on the front page. Octavia turned to look down the subway car, where she noticed several teenaged fillies and colts staring in her direction. She promptly turned away, contenting herself with gazing at her reflection in the window.

At last, they reached their stop and clambered out with the flood of ponies that poured out of the train, up the stairs, through the turnstiles, and up yet more stairs until they emerged on the surface. The transition was as jarring as it was stark; one moment they had been underground in cramped tunnels filled with the echo of trains rumbling down the track, and the next they were outside in fresh air once more, surrounded by the bustle of a Midtown street. Carriages rattled down the street, their drivers occasionally yelling profanities at one another, the gum-stained sidewalks were crammed with ponies, food carts and newsstands sat on seemingly every corner, and the sound of machinery and sirens mingled with the chatter of thousands upon thousands of ponies within the canyons formed by the tall buildings on every side. Every so often they’d pass by a building covered in scaffolding, with the sidewalk sheltered to prevent anything from falling on pedestrians below, giving the sidewalk a tunnel-like appearance. Octavia, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye would have stopped in their tracks to take it all in, but the steady flow of ponies against their backs prevented this. Instead they nimbly followed Vinyl through the crowd, stealing glances up at the huge skyscrapers towering over them.

Soon they made their way off the bustling avenue and down a quieter side street which was lined with trees and parked carriages. Facing the narrow street were small apartment buildings and rowhouses. As they continued down the street, they found themselves in a pleasant residential neighborhood tucked away beneath the dizzying heights of Midtown’s skyscrapers. Vinyl spotted their hotel, a humble brick building only a few stories tall sitting on a relatively quiet intersection. As the DJ led them up the steps inside, Octavia looked around to see that the intersection was lined with coffee shops, small grocery stores, and several restaurants, including no less than three pizzerias. She did a double take when she noticed their strangely similar names: across from the lodge was a place called “Neigh’s Pizza,” while across the street to her left was “Original Neigh’s Pizza” and catty-corner to the lodge was “Famous Neigh’s Pizza.” Octavia stared at them for a moment before shrugging and following the others inside.

The cellist stepped over the threshold and into the lobby to see Watt Sun standing in front of reception, speaking with a mare behind an ornate desk.

“What’s the name?” the receptionist asked.

“Yes,” Watt replied.

“No, your name.”


“Your name.”


“I’m asking you what’s your name!”

“And I’m telling you, that’s it.”

“That’s what?”


There was a long pause. “All I’m asking you for is your name!”

“Watt is my name!”

“How should I know?!”

Octavia suppressed a smirk and turned away to look around. The inside of the hotel was modest but inviting, with a cozy lobby that had wooden floors, plush couches and chairs, bookshelves lining the walls, and a small glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling that bathed the room in soft, yellow light.

She turned back to the counter, where Watt Sun, apparently fed up with the back-and-forth at the desk, was taking off his bowtie to reveal a small badge shaped like a party balloon hidden within the fabric, with his name printed on it. Comprehension finally dawned on the mare and she walked out from behind the desk, approaching one of the bookshelves. She reached up towards a large, encyclopedia-sized book sitting on the top shelf. Octavia was just able to make out the words “On the Theory and Application of Celebratory Festivities and Preparation Techniques” printed on the side before the desk mare pulled the heavy book part-way off the shelf. An adjacent bookcase suddenly spun out of the wall, revealing a passageway behind it.

“Party Room,” the receptionist stated, gesturing to the passageway. “Your luggage has already been moved to your respective rooms. If you’re out late and return after hours, the password to get back inside is ‘I can’t answer it.’ If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to ask.” The four Pinkietons thanked the receptionist before walking through the passageway, hearing the bookcase close shut behind them.

The Party Room, or Manehattan Pinkieton Headquarters, was a flamboyantly decorated lounge with walls covered in streamers and party balloons and a floor littered with confetti. Tables stocked with pastries and snacks sat on one side of the room, while a few ponies relaxed on comfy chairs and chatted amongst themselves, glancing up only to nod and smile at their fellow Pinkietons entering. Sitting on one table was a short stack of folders that had been wrapped in pink ribbon with a bow stuck on the top. A gift tag on it was labeled “For Watt Sun and co., courtesy of hotel staff.” Watt Sun hauled it over to a table in the corner where Vinyl, Octavia, and Sharp Eye were taking their seats.

Watt Sun flipped open the top folder, which was stamped with “Manehattan Police Department” in large lettering, to see a set of police documents and medical records from the previous day, all pertaining to New Wave. “The MPD seemed more than eager to hand this case off to us,” he remarked. “It looks like they were getting ready to write it off as a suicide or some sort of tragic accident.”

“I don’t think we should rule those out ourselves,” Sharp Eye added, taking a folder from Watt Sun. “There wasn’t anything at the scene to suggest a break-in or foul play. New Wave was at a low point in her career; maybe she couldn’t take it anymore?”

“I don’t think so,” Vinyl replied. “I didn’t know her that long, but I know she was driven. She had a lot of ideas for this project we were working on, and she wanted to see it to the end.”

“But we’ve got nothing to go on,” Sharp Eye pointed out.

“We’ve got this,” the DJ replied, pulling out New Wave’s journal. “But it may not be much. I mean, this mare was crazy paranoid. She thought everypony was out to get her.” She hoofed it over to Octavia, who started flipping through the pages.

“Paranoid or not, this blacklist could be just what we need,” the cellist said. “Let’s read through these names, then investigate the most likely suspects tomorrow.”

“Sounds good,” Vinyl said, stretching her limbs before rising out of her seat. “But it’s been a long day. Why don’t we take a break and go for a little walk first? I could show you guys Thyme Square, or take you to the top of the Equestria State Building, or get you into CBDB.”

“CBDB?” Watt Sun murmured, looking perplexed.

Vinyl gave the stallion a sly grin. “Club Better Drop the Bass. All the great acts play there. And they love me.”

“Ooh, I like the sound of that!” Sharp Eye chirped before shrinking under a sharp glare from Octavia.

“Vinyl, we’re here to investigate a potential murder, not go sightseeing and cavorting across Manehattan,” the cellist scolded.

“Correction: you’re here to investigate a potential murder,” the DJ said with a cheeky grin. “I’m still just a simple DJ in Manehattan. And seeing as I’m the one who hired you, I say if we want to go sightseeing and cavorting, we go sightseeing and cavorting.”

Octavia groaned and put a hoof to her forehead, while Watt Sun and Sharp Eye glanced at each other, sharing a small smile and rolling their eyes.

In Bronclyn We Go Hard

Octavia rubbed her eyes with her forehooves as she sat on the bench of a subway car, blinking as her eyes readjusted to the harsh light. It wasn’t enough that they had stayed up late walking around Midtown the night before; Octavia hadn’t been able to get much sleep after heading to bed, given all the noise outside her window. The cellist groaned, wondering how the locals put up with it, although the advertisements for sleep medication currently above her head and the abundance of coffee shops on the surface gave her some clues.

However, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that was weighing Octavia down. So far they had spoken to two different themerse ponies working in Little Tartarus who were mentioned in New Wave’s journal. Both had heard about New Wave’s death, but didn’t seem to know anything more beyond that. The knowledge that she had been poisoned hadn’t been passed on to the press, so neither of the ponies they spoke to seemed to catch on that they were being interviewed as potential suspects. They both spoke rather indifferently about New Wave: “Shame to hear about that, really.” “I haven’t talked to her in years.” “What can I say? I barely knew the mare.” They were more interested in getting back to their production than talking about a mare from their past. As Octavia looked down the long list of ponies New Wave had maintained a grudge towards, she was beginning to see the futility of the task.

Watt Sun and Sharp Eye had split off to interview more ponies in the theaters of Little Tartarus, while Vinyl and Octavia decided to find a pony named Curtain Call, a former assistant of New Wave who had an entire chapter devoted to her “betrayal” in the journal. New Wave wrote frequently of the alleged sins of those she met, but her relationship with Curtain Call must have been very close to earn such wrath. If anypony seemed a potential suspect, it was her, but finding her required a long trip to the adjacent city of Bronclyn, across the Beast River from Manehattan.

“I’m telling you, that’s her!” Octavia’s ears perked up when she overheard the whisper of somepony else in the subway car. She glanced up to see a trio of teenaged fillies sitting at the other end of the car, staring in her direction. Her skill with classical instruments had given her a practiced ear for picking out the subtlest of sounds, which made it easy for her to pick up individual noises. However, that ability had been dulled by the loud rattling and screeching of the subway trains. She wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or horrified that her hearing was becoming accustomed to the cacophony under the streets of Manehattan.

“No way, girl,” another of the teenagers muttered, though she sounded unsure. Now that Octavia looked, she noticed that the teenagers had spiked manes and tails dyed in garish colors, neon-colored bracelets around their fetlocks, and bizarre clothing adorned with phrases like “REBEL BASS” or “Broncz Bomberz.” Octavia looked curiously from them to Vinyl, who was sitting on her other side. The DJ was quietly relaxing with her head resting against the window and her goggles covering her eyes, but Octavia could have sworn she saw the ghost of a smile on her face.

Octavia stared at the names of the stations they stopped at, counting down on their way downtown. 42nd Street. 34th Street. 23rd. 14th. 4th. Hoofston. Canal. Chambers. At last, they got off and made their way up to the surface, emerging in the middle of downtown Manehattan. Downtown was bustling, but lacked that certain frantic, almost maniacal energy that characterized Midtown. Cold, sterile-looking office buildings of glass and steel stood next to stately old brick and stone structures. Office workers dressed in suits and ties crowded the narrow streets, walking swiftly down the sidewalk, grabbing a bite to eat at one of the food carts lining the street, or stepping into taxi carriages.

Octavia and Vinyl walked past the majestic city hall building, joining a large crowd of equines moving east. They were slowly funneled onto a narrow walkway in the middle of a busy roadway that climbed above the streets of downtown towards the Beast River. Directly ahead of them was a massive, towering structure made of huge slabs of grey stone, standing like a mountain of granite in the midst of the river: the Bronclyn Bridge. A mesh of steel cables fanned out from the tower, holding the bridge above the streets and waters below. As they continued east, the buildings and streets below fell away to reveal docks lining the shore of the river, bustling with ships.

The walkway was crowded with tourists snapping pictures of the bridge, the view over the river and the many ships below, the skyline of Manehattan, or the distant sight of the Statue of Harmony far out in the harbor. Behind them were the imposing skyscrapers of downtown Manehattan, jutting out of the harbor like jagged cliffs, while ahead were the humbler brick structures of Bronclyn, rising up like a gentle hill over the river. Removed from the shelter of downtown’s buildings, they were exposed to the chilly salt air sweeping in from the sea. The air was filled with the excited chatter of equines mingled with the squawks of seagulls overhead, barely audible over the clatter of carriages and trolley cars rolling across the bridge.

“I must admit, I’ve never been to Bronclyn,” Octavia said. “Is it very different from Manehattan?”

“It’s... different, yeah,” Vinyl replied. “It’s, uh, more—”

Hey!” The two agents turned to see a stallion in the roadway pulling a taxi towards Bronclyn, yelling at a pair of mares in front of him. Both mares were pulling a large wooden cart laden down with garbage. They were moving slowly across the bridge side-by-side, effectively blocking the taxi driver from moving any faster. The taxi driver was having none of it. “Outta my way, ya bums!”

“Who ya callin’ a bum?!” one of the mares screamed back.

“Yeah, put a sock in it, ya joik!” the other mare shouted.

“Same to youz! Same to youz!” the taxi driver hollered. Octavia was aghast at this crass display and turned to face Vinyl, who merely shrugged in response.

“Welcome to Bronclyn.”

Beyond the colorful language, Bronclyn was different from Manehattan in many other ways, some obvious and some subtle. Where Manehattan was defined by towering skyscrapers that spoke to equine ingenuity and a mad pursuit of the sky, Bronclyn was made up of humbler buildings built for practicality rather than prestige. Brick rowhouses and apartment buildings stood beside warehouses facing cobblestone streets. Ponies crowded the streets, dodging the trolley cars that rattled past. It was busy, but lacked the manic pace that defined Manehattan.

And it wasn’t just the physical attributes that made Bronclyn different. There was a grittier feel to this city, not unlike that of Little Tartarus. But at the same time there was a more diverse crowd here: factory and office workers, couples, families with children, and tourists shared the streets with unkempt-looking equines wearing hoodies, scarves, plaid shirts, goatees, or thick-rimmed glasses. Dive bars and graffiti sat next to bookstores, fancy tea and coffee shops, and fashion stores with names like “Urban Outfarriers” or “Apple Crumble & Hitch.” Even though it was right across the river from Equestria’s largest city, everything about Bronclyn seemed to want to scream how un-Manehattan it was.

The address they had for Curtain Call lead them to a gritty section of Bronclyn sitting in the shadow of the huge Bronclyn and Manehattan Bridges. Massive stone piers supporting the bridges towered over dilapidated brick warehouses and industrial buildings-turned-housing advertising their proximity to downtown and excellent views of the river and the Manehattan skyline. Octavia couldn’t imagine anypony wanting to living here; between the grimy buildings, the noise of the trolleys and ponies on the streets, and the ever-present roar of traffic on the bridges overhead, it seemed like a thoroughly unpleasant environment to live in.

Their address led them to an old brick apartment building several stories tall. Metal fire escapes hung off the dirty facade, which was tagged with graffiti. A pile of trash bags sat on the gum-stained sidewalk in front, awaiting pickup, while a group of teenaged equines sat on the curb, sharing a sugarette. Its pungent aroma wafted over the two mares as they approached an elderly stallion standing outside the front door of the apartment building, sweeping the stoop.

“Excuse me, sir, are you the caretaker of this building?” Octavia inquired. The stallion looked up.

“I’m da landlord, if dat’s what ya mean,” he replied in a heavy Bronclyn accent, raising an eyebrow at the cellist. Vinyl smirked.

“Is this where Curtain Call lives?” the DJ asked.

The stallion looked back with a confused expression. “Coitain Call?” Suddenly, his face lit up. “Oh yeah! Young gal, unicoin, blue coat, dat who ya thinking of?”

“Maybe?” Vinyl replied uncertainly.

“We’re not sure, actually,” Octavia explained. “But we need to ask her a few questions, if that would be alright.”

“Oh shore, shore...” the landlord said, leading them inside the building. The interior was dirty, with peeling wallpaper, stains running down the walls, and floorboards that creaked loudly when stepped on. A musty smell filled the air and a ceiling fan clinked loudly overhead. The landlord led the two mares up a narrow stairwell that spiraled upward to the top floor, where they emerged in a hallway lined with doors, each one the entrance into a different apartment. He trotted up to one marked “410” and rapped a hoof against the door.

“Coitain Call?” he called out. “Ya got some visitors!”

There was no response, just silence for a few moments. “Huh,” the landlord murmured, looking thoughtfully at the door. “Ya know, now dat I think of it, I haven’t seen dat mare in days.”

Vinyl and Octavia shared an uneasy look before the cellist knocked on the door herself. “Ms. Curtain Call, are you there? My name is Octavia and I’m from the Pinkieton Detective Agency. I wanted to ask you about a pony named New Wave.”

There was a clatter from inside the apartment, like something falling to the ground. Octavia pressed her ear to the door before they suddenly heard a bloodcurdling scream that shook all of them to their core. A splatter of liquid and more clattering was heard as the stallion yelped and reached for his keys. Octavia promptly shoved him out of the way and spun around, planting her forelegs on the floor and bucking the door in with a loud crash. She and Vinyl dashed inside only to freeze at what they saw within.

A young mare was lying motionless on the wooden floor. She had a deep blue coat and a long, flowing turquoise mane and tail, stained red with blood. A long knife protruded from the back of her neck and blood seeped out from the wound, pooling around the mare’s body. The color had drained from her face and though her mouth hung open, she wasn’t breathing. The mare was clearly dead.

There!” Vinyl yelled, pointing at a doorway across the room. The trail of a cloak vanishing into the next room caught Octavia’s eye and she raced after it, emerging into the bedroom of the apartment to see a pony cloaked in black galloping for the window, whipping a set of curtains out of the way. The murderous pony glanced back at Octavia to reveal a dark mask concealing its face before the pony leapt out the window, disappearing through the curtains.

Octavia dashed to the window, throwing aside the curtains to see a fire escape outside the window. She leapt out over the windowsill and onto the iron grating of the fire escape, glancing up to see the trail of the pony’s cloak vanishing over the edge of the roof. The agent reared up on her hind legs and jumped, grasping the bottom rung of the ladder above with her forelegs before climbing onto the ladder and scrambling up to the top. She grabbed the edge of the roof, pulling herself over the ledge to see...

Nothing. There was no sign of the murderous pony anywhere, only a bare roof with a few utility boxes and antennas. Octavia clambered onto the roof and galloped over to the other side, expecting to see the cloaked figure making its way down the other side, but nopony was there. She couldn’t find any trace of the murderer anywhere, be it on the roof, the surrounding streets, or up in the air. Octavia frantically looked around, but it was becoming painfully obvious that the murderous pony had gotten away.

“It was moider, I tells ya! Moider!” the landlord cried out hysterically.

“Yes, you’ve made that perfectly clear, sir,” a police officer replied in a flat tone.

The Bronclyn Police Department had been quick to respond to the landlord’s call. Within minutes, a contingent had secured the building and swarmed the apartment, carefully examining the body of the dead mare before draping a sheet over her and investigating the crime scene. Vinyl, Octavia, and the landlord were pulled aside for questioning.

“Did you know the victim well, sir?” the officer asked the landlord.

“She was a nice enough gal,” he answered. “Didn’t see her dat much, I don’t think she left da building very often.”

“She didn’t have a job?”

“I think she mentioned inheriting some money from her parents. I dunno, I don’t go sticking my nose into other ponies’ business.”

“Alright, you can leave if you like,” the officer said before turning to Vinyl and Octavia. “You two stay here. We still have some questions for you.” He led the landlord out while the DJ let out an exasperated sigh.

“Well, this is just great,” Vinyl muttered. “Found at the site of a murder. Do you know what this means?”

“It means you were right, Vinyl,” Octavia replied. “Your suspicions about New Wave’s death were correct. We’re obviously dealing with something much larger than we had thought.”

“Oh, yeah, that. I was thinking more that the cops are gonna be all over us for this.”

“Well, you got that right,” a raspy voice muttered. The two mares looked up to see a stallion wearing a police badge approaching them. Unlike the other police officers in the room, he wasn’t wearing a hat. The stallion had a weary look about him, hunched over with dark circles under his eyes. His coat was dull and looked like it had seen better days, a sharp contrast to the gleaming copper badge on his chest. “Name’s Gum Shoe, detective for the BPD. Are you two the ponies who found the victim?”

Octavia nodded. “We’re with the Pinkieton Detective Agency. We came here to—”

“Pinkietons?!” Gum Shoe exclaimed. “Oh Celestia, you aren’t going to tell me this is tied to some prince or the mayor or something big like that, are you?”

Octavia turned to Vinyl, giving the DJ a small grin. “Our reputation precedes us.”

“‘Scuse me, Gum Shoe,” a police officer said, approaching the detective. “There’s a couple of ponies downstairs who say that they’re with the Pinkietons.”

“That’s our friends!” Vinyl spoke up. “Watt Sun and Sharp Eye, right?”

“That’s right,” the officer confirmed.

“Alright,” the detective said, “you can escort them up.” The officer nodded and left the apartment. “Now then, what were you two doing here?”

Vinyl was the one to answer. “We came here to look into the death of this stage pony I knew. Curtain Call here was an old friend of our victim.”

“And you found her just as she was murdered?” the detective replied, raising an eyebrow at the DJ. “Forgive me if that sounds like an awfully big coincidence.”

“Believe it,” Vinyl said. “The landlord will vouch for us.”

“Excuse me, detective.” Another officer approached Gum Shoe. “We’ve got a couple reporters outside. What should we tell them?”

“Nothing,” Gum Shoe quickly answered. “Until we know exactly what we’re dealing with here, I don’t want anything getting out to the press, especially if we’re dealing with some sort of revenge killing. The last thing we need is some lunatic getting recognition in the papers.”

“So what do I tell the reporters?”

“For now, just that we found a mare dead in her apartment. And that we’re still trying to determine the cause of death. Keep it vague.”

Gum Shoe began leading the officer out the apartment door, but just as they were about to step through they had to dodge out of the way as Sharp Eye and Watt Sun bolted inside, looking around frantically before spotting Vinyl and Octavia.

“There you are! What the hay happened?!” Sharp Eye exclaimed, panting heavily.

“We got here as fast as we could,” Watt Sun added. “Are you two alright?”

“We’re fine, but our victim here wasn’t so lucky,” Octavia responded, gesturing to the covered body of Curtain Call. “Somepony apparently got to her before we could.”

Watt Sun and Sharp Eye cautiously approached the body, gently lifting the sheet to peek underneath before laying it back on. The two Pinkietons glanced at each other before turning back to Vinyl and Octavia.

“So... what does this mean?” Sharp Eye murmured in a hushed tone.

“It means that Curtain Call knew something about New Wave’s killer,” Octavia said. “Something our killer wanted to make sure she couldn’t tell anypony.”

“But if that’s true,” Watt Sun began, “then what could Curtain Call have possibly known that was so dangerous?”

“Well, we’d better find out,” Vinyl said darkly. “Because for all we know, there might be more themerse ponies in danger.”

“But to what possible end?” Octavia inquired, placing a hoof on her chin and staring at the sheet covering Curtain Call.

“Okay, bag that body,” Gum Shoe ordered as he reentered the room. “Send it to the morgue, I think we’ve got all the evidence we’re gonna get off her. And you four,” he added, pointing at the Pinkietons, “you’re coming down to the station with us and explaining to me exactly what’s going on here.”

“Oh, joy,” Vinyl muttered under her breath.

Play With Fire

Octavia stifled a yawn as she trotted downstairs from her hotel room. The Pinkietons had been thoroughly cross-examined by the Bronclyn Police the previous night, and it was only after Gum Shoe could be absolutely sure that the Pinkietons were not responsible for the murder of Curtain Call that he would let them go. On one hoof Octavia sympathized with the cautious detective, but that sympathy was tempered by the fact that they hadn’t returned to the hotel until well after midnight.

Bleary eyed, she emerged in the lobby and made her way over to the bookshelf, glancing around to make sure nopony was watching before tugging on the large book that opened the secret passageway. Octavia trotted into Pinkieton HQ to see Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye already sitting around a table, each munching on a bagel and sipping a drink.

“Morning, Octy!” Vinyl said cheerfully, giving her friend a wide grin. “Sleep well?”

“Mmm,” Octavia grumbled, giving the DJ a sharp glare. She poured herself a steaming mug of tea and took a muffin before sitting herself beside her friends. “I don’t know how you can stand this city, Vinyl. I can’t get a wink of sleep.”

Vinyl grinned while Sharp Eye pointed to an empty cup sitting in front of her. “Oh, that’s easy! Just have some sarsparilla!” At Octavia’s raised eyebrow, Sharp Eye continued. “What? It gives you extra sass.”

Octavia gave her fellow Pinkieton a pointed look. “That’s... not... you know what, forget it. Just tell me something about the case.”

“We’ve narrowed down our list of suspects,” Watt Sun said matter-of-factly. “Since we’re looking for somepony who would want both New Wave and Curtain Call dead, we think it only makes sense that it could be somepony who worked with the both of them.”

“That still leaves us with quite a few possibilities,” Vinyl added. “Among them a couple of ponies who went on to become prominent themerse directors.”

“Oh?” Octavia asked before taking a steady sip of chamomile tea.

“Yeah, turns out Mule Brooks studied under New Wave way before he went on to do Springtime for Sombra!” Vinyl exclaimed.

“Huh, that sounds familiar,” Sharp Eye muttered, putting a hoof to her chin. “Is that that musical where they want to make lots of money on the show by closing it on opening night, so they turn Sombra into a giant monster and he wrecks the set and climbs to the top of the Equestria State Building?”

There was an awkward silence around the table as Octavia and Vinyl glanced at Watt Sun, who tried to formulate a polite response. “That... uh... no. No, it isn’t. I think you’re thinking of King Kolt.”

Sharp Eye scrunched up her face in concentration. “Nah, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t it.”

Anyway,” Vinyl began, “I doubt that he would do something like this anyway. But I’ve got another director in mind: Dramatic Tension, better known as Hitchcolt.”

“Hitchcolt?!” Octavia exclaimed. “The filmmaker? You mean the Hitchcolt who made The Mare Who Knew Too Much? And Psycolt?”

“And Fear Window and Acrophobia and The Phoenixes and Dial N for Nightmare. Yes, that one,” Vinyl said hurriedly. “Anyway, he has been working in themerse for a long time, remaking his films into themerse productions. And he worked for a long time with New Wave and Curtain Call before he left over ‘creative differences.’”

A sly grin crept across Vinyl’s face and even with her goggles on Octavia could easily picture a glint in the DJ’s eyes. “Plus, both the murders were reminiscent of murders in Hitchcolt films. New Wave was poisoned with haylock, just like a pony in Dial N for Nightmare. And Curtain Call was stabbed when she was in her own apartment, just like in Psycolt!”

“I don’t know, Vinyl,” Watt Sun replied, sounding unsure. “What in Equestria would motivate Hitchcolt to kill these two? He’s a big name producer with a successful career. What would he have to gain?”

“I dunno,” the DJ responded with a shrug. “Just a hunch, I guess.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Vinyl,” Octavia said sternly. “We need more substantive evidence than that to levy such an accusation.”

“Still,” Sharp Eye murmured, “even if Hitchcolt didn’t do it, and we’re looking for somepony that worked with New Wave and Curtain Call, maybe they worked with Hitchcolt too? That would make him another possible target.”

“Good point,” Watt Sun agreed. “Right now, all of our suspects are just as likely to be victims.”

“Then let’s not waste any time,” Octavia said, standing up. “Each of us should find one of our suspects and guard them. And while we’re at it, we can keep an eye on them.”

The sound of trumpets and drums signaled the arrival of the pony everypony had been waiting for. As the shadowy outline of a portly stallion appeared on stage, the audience rose to its hooves and cheered loudly, stomping their hooves on the floor. The theater was large, with a prominent location on Broncway near Thyme Square, and packed with eager-looking ponies. The music faded and a light was turned towards the stage, revealing the portly stallion’s face. He was smartly dressed, wearing a suit and tie, and gave the audience a warm smile.

“Good evening,” he announced in a formal Trottingham accent. “I’m Mister Hitchcolt. And tonight I present a story of mystery and suspense that, to borrow a tired cliche, takes places on a dark and stormy night. On dark streets where villains wait to strike and danger lurks around every corner... which reminds me, should you need to validate your parking, just have a word with our building manager. He’s usually in the alleyway behind the theater.” There was some nervous, albeit excited laughter from the audience at this.

“About mid-way through our story, we shall have an intermission, at which point you may proceed to the lobby to stretch your legs, pleasantly converse, and purchase some overpriced refreshments.” The audience chortled. “And now, sit back and enjoy the—”

A loud boom echoed through the theater, accompanied by the crackle of thunder. Everypony in the audience started, looking up at the dark ceiling. Hitchcolt himself looked up with an expression of mild curiosity. “Oh dear,” he muttered before reaching over to the end of the stage to pick up an umbrella.

“It seems we are due for a little rain.” At this, he unfurled the umbrella and held it above his head just as rain began falling from the ceiling. A number of ponies in the audience yelped as the cold drops of water fell upon them, and only after the initial shock passed did they began to settle down. Hitchcolt trotted backstage, still holding the umbrella beside him before slipping behind the curtain.

Once he stepped beyond the range of the illusion, he could see his stage crew standing backstage, accompanied by a grey-coated mare with black hair and what looked like a musical bow strapped to her back. A light blue unicorn was concentrating on the stage as his horn glowed, casting the rain illusion spell over the theater. Another unicorn began casting a spell of his own, and the stage slowly vanished to be replaced by the image of a narrow alleyway as two actors trotted out onto the stage.

As all this was happening, Hitchcolt turned to Octavia. “You know, it isn’t necessary for you to remain here. I highly doubt somepony will try to attack me while I am surrounded by my crew.”

“I’d rather not take any chances,” Octavia replied. “We have two themerse ponies killed in the last couple of days, one of whom collapsed on stage.”

“Hmmm,” Hitchcolt muttered through pursed lips. “I must admit, while I was pained to hear of New Wave’s fate, I confess that I was not entirely surprised.” He turned his attention back to the action on stage, moving towards the unicorn who was casting the illusion of the alleyway. “Back Drop, brighten up the image a touch. We want the audience to be able to make out the alley.” Back Drop nodded and adjusted his illusion accordingly.

And so it went on. Octavia was impressed as she watched Hitchcolt at work. Though he was not a unicorn and therefore couldn’t cast the illusions himself, he clearly knew what he was doing and how to convey his vision to the crew members. His orders were direct and he carried himself in a no-nonsense manner, but Octavia could see a glint in his eyes every time he saw the audience react with shock or horror to the show. He had them in his hooves, and he was enjoying every moment of it.

“Hey, Octy!” Octavia turned to see Vinyl trotting down a long hallway towards her. The hallway was bare save for movie posters framed and hung on the walls. The show had long since ended and nearly everypony had left, save for a few remaining ponies. Octavia stood outside a door marked “DIRECTOR,” and the sound of typing could be heard coming from the other side.

“Hello, Vinyl. Were you able to find Lime Light?”

“Turns out she’s not even in town. She’s in Applewood for a shoot. Can’t believe you got to hang out with the famous director.” Vinyl glanced at the door. “So what are you still doing here?”

“Apparently, Mr. Hitchcolt likes to stay behind after the show to do some writing. Just as well, it makes it easier to keep track of him.” Octavia heard the sound of the back door closing shut, and glanced over to see one of the crew members leaving for the day. “Why don’t you keep an eye outside? Make sure that nopony gets in.”

“Sounds good to me. Radio me if you see anything,” Vinyl replied, gesturing to a small communication device wrapped around her fetlock. She walked past Octavia and followed the crew member outside. The sound of her hoofsteps and the door closing shut behind her were soon replaced by the click-clack of the typewriter in Hitchcolt’s office.

Suddenly, there was a loud clatter and a crashing sound coming from around the corner, like china shattering on the floor. Octavia started and raced down the hallway, rounding a corner before spotting a small kitchen for the theater staff. She turned on a light and looked inside, bracing herself for an attack.

But it was empty. What’s more, it was absolutely clean. A stack of plates was sitting untouched on the counter, but there was nothing on the floor, no shattered china, and no mess of any sort to speak of. The only thing that was out of place was that a drawer of silverware beneath the counter had been left open, revealing its contents. Octavia glanced around, but there was nopony in sight. Bewildered, she closed the drawer and turned off the light before returning to the hallway.

The sound of the typewriter was still coming from Hitchcolt’s office. Octavia began to wonder if he had even heard the noise when she heard a loud “thump” from inside the office, even as the sound of the typewriter continued unabated.

She raised a hoof and knocked on the door. “Mr. Hitchcolt? Are you alright?”

No response. The clacking of the typewriter carried on as before. Octavia knocked louder. “Mr. Hitchcolt, can you hear me? I asked if you were alright.”

Still no response. The typewriter continued clacking on. Frowning, Octavia pushed open the door. “Mr. Hitchcolt, I would really prefer it if you didn’t ignore—”

She stopped dead in her tracks. The sound of the typewriter filled Octavia’s ears, but there was nopony sitting at the typewriter. Instead, a cloaked figure was standing above the struggling form of Hitchcolt, who was lying on the ground beneath the attacker’s hooves. The glow of a unicorn’s horn was apparent even though the cloaked figure had its back turned to the door. Hitchcolt was doing his best against the assailant, but the attacker had the handle of a knife clenched in its teeth, and had already managed to draw blood. A deep cut on one of Hitchcolt’s hooves was bleeding, and he was desperately trying to hold the attacker at bay.

Octavia reacted quickly. She grabbed the nearest object within reach, a small figurine of a bird sitting on a cabinet, and reared up on her hind legs. “Stop! In the name of the law!” she screamed. As she flung the object with one of her forehooves, the cloaked figure turned around, revealing the dark mask of the figure that she had seen in Curtain Call’s apartment.

The cloaked figure narrowly managed to dodge the figurine, but the object struck the blade of the knife, knocking it clear of the murderer’s grasp. Startled, the assailant released Hitchcolt and backed away. Now that Octavia could get a good look, she realized the cloaked figure was that of a mare. The cellist grasped the handle of the musical bow strapped to the her back and unsheathed it, revealing the long, gleaming blade of a sword set into the frame of the bow. She held it in her forehooves as she stood upon her hind legs, waving it threateningly at the cloaked figure.

The attacker didn’t bother engaging Octavia. Instead, her horn, barely visible over its dark mask, glowed brightly before there was a sharp “bang!” and a flash of light accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke that instantly filled the office. Octavia heard hooves running past her and swung her sword blindly, but the hooffalls quickly faded into the hallway outside. The cellist followed, stumbling out of the smoke-filled office and into the hallway to see the cloaked figure vanish around a corner.

Octavia raced after the assailant on all fours, holding the handle of her sword between her teeth. She began to reach for the radio wrapped around her fetlock to call for Vinyl when she heard the DJ’s voice coming from ahead of her. She sped up, rounding the corner to find herself in the lobby of the building before the double doors leading into the theater crashed open and the figure of Vinyl came sailing through, landing on the floor with a pained grunt and skidding across the carpet.

“Vinyl! Are you alright?” Octavia cried.

Vinyl groaned as she lifted herself to her hooves. “Fine,” she grunted. Her mane was disheveled and her goggles were broken, with one lens cracked while the other was completely shattered. She removed the goggles and perched them above her horn. “Careful, she’s a tough one!” the DJ warned as she followed Octavia into the theater.

The large theater was empty save for the cloaked figure, who was racing towards the stage with the two agents in hot pursuit. “Stop!” Octavia screamed through the sword handle clenched in her mouth as the assailant leapt onto the stage.

To Octavia’s surprise, she did indeed stop. The cloaked figure paused in the middle of the stage and slowly turned around to face Vinyl and Octavia. Her horn began to glow brightly as the two agents clambered onto the stage. Just as Octavia began to close in, there was an explosion of light and heat so intense she halted in her tracks and threw her forehooves over her face.

When she lowered her hooves, it was with shock to see flames leaping from the assailant’s horn. They landed upon the floor, instantly leaping into the air and generating such heat that Octavia was forced to back away several paces. The flames rose higher, quickly joining together into a raging inferno that ignited the entire stage in a matter of seconds. At the heart of it, the cloaked figure stood, unharmed by her own fire.

Octavia backed against the form of Vinyl, who was crouched low to the ground, watching the assailant through glaring, narrowed eyes. The cloaked figure turned and ran backstage. Vinyl quickly followed, taking advantage of a small opening in the inferno to leap over the flames and race after the cloaked figure. Octavia tried to follow, but the moment Vinyl passed through the flames rose higher, sealing off that route. The cellist couldn’t make out any sign of her friend or the assailant, only flames and smoke.

A loud groan came from overhead and she looked up to see the flames licking away at a timber beam before it detached and fell from the ceiling. Octavia leapt off the stage, barely dodging the beam as it smashed into the stage, sending sparks everywhere. Her mind cried out in panic as she felt the heat wash over her and the smoke fill her nostrils. The huge red curtain on the stage was now nothing but flames and ash, and the inferno was quickly making its way to the front of the theater as the fire consumed seats and raced up into the rafters. Tongues of flame lapped at Octavia’s hooves as she ran up the center aisle back towards the lobby, seeing the flames threatening to close off her last escape route. The smoke became so thick she could barely see the exit. Panic took hold as she blindly ran for it, her eyes wide with terror and her chest heaving as she tried to avoid choking on the dense smoke.

Suddenly, Octavia was in the lobby once again, with the raging inferno that was the theater safely behind her. She coughed violently, but felt no burns or injuries. She heaved a sigh as her muscles relaxed.

Her relief was not to last. With a sharp crack and another loud groan, a beam in the ceiling of the lobby crashed to the floor, sending up another explosion of sparks and starting a new fire. Octavia looked up to see the ceiling being consumed by flames as smoke began to descend to where she was. She looked across the room and saw a narrow view of the street through the glass entry doors of the theater. Ponies were running around in a panic, pointing at the theater with expressions of horror on their faces.

Then Octavia saw a sight that made her blood run cold. A pony in the street ran into view, his body engulfed in flames. He ran frantically, as if trying to escape the flames that were burning away at his coat. He let out a horrible, bloodcurdling scream as he fell to the ground, rolling and twitching in agony. Everypony on the street watched on in stunned shock, unable to help the poor stallion.

Octavia looked around frantically before spotting a fire extinguisher in a glass case on the wall. She ran over to it, smashing the glass in with a forehoof before pulling the extinguisher out with her teeth and racing for the entrance. Through the glass doors she could see the pony writhing in agony on the sidewalk in front of the door. Just as she reached the door she reared up on her hind legs and took the extinguisher in her forehooves, shoving the door open and unleashing a torrent of foam onto the pony.

It seemed to do the trick. She could hear a strangled cry and many yelps of surprise, but the flames were instantly gone from the unfortunate pony’s body. Now he was laying on the sidewalk, waving his hooves in front of him to block the spray of foam Octavia was pelting him with.

Suddenly, she felt herself being shoved to the ground. Octavia struggled, but found herself being pinned to the sidewalk by two stallions in police uniforms. “Hold it right there!” one of them growled, forcing Octavia’s head against the sidewalk.

Ow! What are you doing?! Can’t you see this pony needs help?!”

“I said hold it! Don’t move!” the police officer said, pulling Octavia’s hooves to the sides as he held her to the ground.

“Are you mad?!” Octavia cried. “Call the fire department! Put out the fire!”

“What fire?” the other police officer yelled.

“What... why, the fire that’s right behind you, you imbecil—” Octavia raised her head to look back at the theater, and the words died in her throat.

The theater was perfectly fine. The entrance doors, still opened, revealed a beautifully lit lobby that showed no sign of damage. There were no flames or smoke. There were no burning timbers raining from the ceiling, no sparks or heat. The entrance doors were now made of solid metal, not the glass Octavia had been able to see through just a moment before. She turned back to the street. Ponies weren’t staring with shock at the building, they were staring with shock at her. She glanced over at the stallion who seconds before was wreathed in flames, but there was no stallion now. In his place was a mare, her police uniform barely visible under the foam that covered her body as she glared down at Octavia with a look of utter disgust.

Octavia went limp as she took all this in, and she felt the police officers slap hoofcuffs on her fetlocks. “But... but there was a fire! Right here! T-the building was on fire! Y-you were on fire!”

“Alright, we got a looney one here,” one of the police officers muttered. “Let’s take her into the station before she hurts anypony.” Octavia felt herself being hoisted to her hooves before she was forcefully dragged down the street. She glanced back at the theater, which was still devoid of flames, before slumping over and staring at her hooves, feeling the eyes of everypony on the street following her.

“Alright kid, you’re free to go. You’re lucky your friends came to bail you out.”

Octavia glanced up from the bed she was sitting on, looking up through the bars at the officer who had spoken to her. She was accompanied by Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye, who were all looking very uneasy. The officer pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the cell door, sliding open the bars with a rattling sound. Octavia slowly stood up and walked out of the cell, not saying a word or making eye contact with any of the others.

“Uh, we’re really sorry about this, ma’am,” Vinyl said. Her goggles were missing and she was wearing a saddlebag. “She, uh, isn’t very good at holding her liquor. I tell her she needs to watch herself, but she never listens to me.” She flashed an awkward smile at Octavia, but the cellist didn’t acknowledge her.

“Well, keep your friend out of trouble,” the officer said sternly. “I don’t need to be spending my time taking care of dumb tourists.” She led the four Pinkietons down a narrow hallway to the front desk, where she put Octavia through a short paperwork process before finally letting them exit.

They emerged onto a busy street near Thyme Square, the sidewalk lined with police carriages in front of the police station building. Even at this late hour, the street was crowded with equines and carriages as the lights of Thyme Square in the distance cast an eerie glow over the canyons of skyscrapers, like a beacon of light in the middle of this crowded city. The four Pinkietons stood on the stoop of the police station for a moment. Octavia still had not said a word or made eye contact with any of the others.

“Well...” Vinyl said uncertainly. “I’m sure this is something we’ll one day look back on and laugh—”

“Drink,” Octavia suddenly stated.


“I need a drink. Where’s the nearest place I can get a drink?” Octavia’s tone was cold and forceful. She still hadn’t even glanced at the others.

“Uh... I guess right there,” Vinyl answered, pointing across the street at a busy sports bar on the corner of the nearest intersection. “But you wouldn’t like that sort of...” She trailed off as Octavia immediately began trotting hurriedly forward, making a beeline for the sports bar. Vinyl glanced at Watt Sun and Sharp Eye, who shared Vinyl’s looks of confusion and concern, before they all ran after Octavia.

A Quick One While He's Away

Vinyl Scratch, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye followed Octavia inside the pub. The cellist headed straight for the bar and took a seat in front of the counter. The bartender was quick to notice her and trotted over. “And what can I get for—”

“Give me the strongest glass of scotch whiskey you have,” Octavia said firmly, slamming several bits on the counter. The barkeeper raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything, instead dutifully obeying Octavia’s request. Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye sat beside her as she raised the glass to her lips and took a long, steady drink.

Vinyl looked around at their surroundings. They were in a loud dive bar, populated almost entirely by ponies who were listening intently to a radio broadcast of some game being played over the loudspeakers. There was some sports memorabilia hung up on the walls, such as jerseys and balls, and nearly everypony was drinking beer and eating greasy bar food. What stood out about this crowd was that nearly all of them were clad in blue and white pinstripe jerseys or dark blue caps, save for one table that was made up entirely of ponies in red and white clothing.

“Octy, you never come to places like this,” Vinyl commented. “What’s going on?”

Octavia set the glass down on the counter. Vinyl noticed that half of the scotch had already vanished down her friend’s throat. Now that she looked more carefully, she noticed the cellist’s hooves trembling against the glass.

“What happened to the fire?” Octavia asked quietly.

“Fire? Wait, what fire?” Sharp Eye replied, looking confused.

“The fire!” Octavia snapped, startling the others. “The fire that mare cast! The one that nearly burned down the entire theater! What happened to it?!”

“Octy,” Vinyl began, her tone wary, “there wasn’t any fire.”

Octavia whirled around, staring at Vinyl with shock. The DJ edged away slightly, shrinking before her gaze. “What are you talking about?! You were right there in front of her when she cast that spell!”

Vinyl was now looking increasingly alarmed. “What are you talking about? What spell?”

Octavia stared at Vinyl for a second before grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her vigorously. “In the theater! The mare we were chasing! The one who broke your goggles!”

Vinyl shoved her friend’s hooves off of her. “Octy, what are you talking about? My goggles are right here!” She opened her saddlebag and pulled out her signature purple shades, which looked perfectly unharmed. “I just took them off ‘cause cops don’t like it when you wear them indoors.”

Octavia stared at the purple shades in Vinyl’s hoof, her mouth hanging open. “But... you were in the theater with me...”

“Octy, I was never in the theater. I heard some noises and I came inside and found Hitchcolt in his office, with this nasty cut on his leg. I helped him out, called Watt and Sharp here, and then I heard some yelling on the street and came outside to see you being dragged off by the cops. There wasn’t any fire and I didn’t chase anypony.”

Octavia slumped against the counter, staring off into space for a moment before picking up the glass and draining the rest of the whiskey. The crowd in the bar groaned loudly to something heard over the radio broadcast, save for the red and white clad ponies, who whooped and applauded.

“Octavia,” Watt Sun began, speaking slowly and clearly phrasing his words carefully. “When we took Hitchcolt back to his hotel, he told us that the masked mare who attacked him set off a cloud of smoke. Maybe... maybe you smelled the smoke and just thought there was a fire?”

“I know what I saw,” Octavia retorted with such forcefulness that Watt Sun flinched.

The group fell into an uncomfortable silence. Around them, the other ponies in the bar were listening intently to the game. The Pinkietons overheard the announcer proclaiming that one team had scored before there was a chorus of groans from the blue and white clad ponies in the bar. The table of ponies in red and white cheered loudly, with one, a green-coated stallion with red hooves, standing up and shouting “LET’S GO, RED HOOVES!” before his companions clapped rhythmically. This was met with a great deal of boos and catcalls from the other patrons in the bar.

Vinyl finally spoke up. “Look, Octy, for what it’s worth, I think you’re telling the truth. I know you too well to doubt you. But that doesn’t change the fact that there wasn’t any fire.” Octavia was silent, staring into her empty glass.

“Aw, go back to Horston!” The Pinkietons looked up to see many of the ponies in the bar catcalling the group of red clad ponies, who were yelling and hollering right back. Everypony, looking quite inebriated by this point, was getting rowdy.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Vinyl muttered, grabbing Octavia and pulling her off the seat. The cellist glumly obeyed, allowing herself to be dragged out of the bar. Watt Sun and Sharp Eye silently followed. They got outside just in time to see a basket of hay fries splatter against the inside of the window, leaving behind a smear of ketchup. Soon, there was an assortment of condiments and fried food decorating the windows, concealing the brawl within.

Sharp Eye let out a huge yawn as she sat in Pinkieton headquarters the next morning. She rubbed her eyes, the memory of the previous night still fresh in her mind. Vinyl Scratch sat across the table, her goggles pushed to her forehead as she looked over the case notes from the police files. Sharp Eye stifled the next yawn that came.

“Here you go.” She looked up to see Watt Sun offering a steaming mug of coffee to her. She smiled and took it as Watt sat next to her. Sharp Eye leaned her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes. Visions passed through her mind of the stallion wrapping his hooves around her, burying his face in her mane, kissing her along the neck and rubbing his hooves across her coat as she giggled softly...

“Hey, Octy—Woah. Are you al... uh, I mean, mornin’?”

Oh well. So much for that,” Sharp Eye thought to herself, opening her eyes to behold a disheveled grey-coated mare trudging into the room. There were dark circles under her heavy-lidded eyes, her head was drooped, and her every step was sluggish. She slowly drew up a chair beside Vinyl and sat down heavily, reaching across the table for the teapot.

“I think you’re gonna need something with a little more caffeine,” Vinyl remarked, using her magic to levitate the mug of coffee Watt Sun had brought for Sharp Eye across the table and into Octavia’s grasp. Watt Sun raised a forehoof and opened his mouth to complain, but the words died in his throat as Vinyl gave him a sharp glare. He held his hoof in the air for a moment, his mouth still open, before giving Sharp Eye an awkward glance and getting up to make another cup of coffee.

Octavia merely stared into the black depths of the coffee mug for a moment before raising it to her lips and taking a long sip. She grimaced at the bitter taste, but it was clear the coffee was already having its intended effect. She let out a long, slow exhale before taking another drink.

“Another rough night?” Vinyl asked. “You gotta get used to the city noise at some point.”

Octavia stared at her cup. “I couldn’t sleep. ...nigh... nightmares,” she mumbled.

“Sorry, what was that?”

The cellist bit her lip and twiddled her hooves around the mug in her grasp. “I couldn’t sleep because I kept having nightmares.” She glanced up at the others sitting at the table. “What about you? Why aren’t you guarding Hitchcolt?”

“Oh, he skipped town,” Sharp Eye answered, accepting a new mug of coffee from Watt Sun as he returned. “After we got you back from the police, we went to Hitchcolt’s hotel and got him on the first airship to Los Pegasus. He’s probably back in Applewood by this point.”

“Do you think he’ll be safe there?” Vinyl asked.

“Safer than he is here,” Watt Sun replied. He started fumbling around with his bowtie, looking around in confusion. “Hey, have you seen my badge?” The others shook their heads.

“Anyway, we’ve been talking about last night, and I think I know what happened,” Vinyl said. “I think you did see a fire last night, like you said. ...But that doesn’t change the fact that there was no fire.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Octavia snapped.

“Hitchcolt mentioned something very interesting back at the hotel,” Vinyl answered. “He said that when that mare attacked him, his typewriter kept making noise even though he wasn’t typing. He said he tried calling for help, but the mare was casting some kind of spell on the doorway that kept you from hearing him.”

Octavia was silent. She had forgotten about the sound of the typewriter in everything that had happened afterwards.

“Now, that’s a pretty advanced spell for your typical unicorn,” Vinyl continued. “You really have to know your illusion magic to pull that off.”


“So, I’d say that there’s only so many unicorns who can do that, and most of them are in themerse.”

Octavia looked up at her friend. “Are you telling me that what I saw last night was just an illusion?”

“Not just an illusion, the best illusion!” Vinyl exclaimed. “What if the pony we’re looking for is a master of themerse? Somepony who learned from the greats, and now is using that skill to try and kill them? Somepony who can project incredibly realistic illusions?”

“Vinyl, I’m telling you, I could feel the heat... the flames, the smoke...” Octavia trailed off with a shudder.

Dangerously realistic visions,” Vinyl added.

“But... this is good, this is good,” the cellist murmured. “This narrows down our search. Now we just need to find a unicorn who worked with New Wave, Curtain Call, and Hitchcolt. Then we’ll have our pony.”

She looked up to see Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye share an awkward look. “Yeah...” Sharp Eye began, “that’s kind of the problem now.”

“What do you mean?”

“We spoke with Hitchcolt before he left,” Watt Sun explained. “We asked if he, New Wave, and Curtain Call worked with anypony else. He said there were some stage hoofs, a few writers, but no unicorns. Nopony who could do what we’re talking about here.”

“So then we checked all the unicorns who work for Hitchcolt, to see if they ever worked with New Wave,” Vinyl added, gesturing to the police files sitting in front of her. “But they all check out.”

“Maybe we’ve been going about this the wrong way,” Sharp Eye offered, scratching her head. “Maybe it’s some kind of crazed fan who’s obsessed with themerse and wants to kill off famous directors?”

“But Curtain Call wasn’t a famous director,” Vinyl pointed out. “How do you factor her into this?”

“Maybe... she knew something?” Sharp Eye said uncertainly. “I don’t know...”

“So, if I’m hearing this correctly,” Octavia muttered, “are you saying that we have nothing to go on?”

“...Yeah, that sounds about right,” the DJ answered.

Octavia groaned and planted her face on the table. Vinyl patted her on the shoulder. “Look, we shared what we know with the police. The MPD is planning to assign security to every themerse star in the city, in case there’s any more attacks. We can at least offer to help with that while we figure out what to do next.”

Octavia considered this for a moment. “I suppose it couldn’t do any harm. But we will need to be inconspicuous about it.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Vinyl assured her. “It’s gonna be totally undercover.”

“We're so glad to see so many of you lovely ponies here tonight! And we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Manehattan's law enforcement community that have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time!”

“So much for staying undercover,” Octavia muttered under her breath.

She and Vinyl were sitting in the audience, watching the beginning of a comedy act. Several MPD officers in uniform were sitting near the front row. Octavia took umbrage at the sight of a few of them sitting with their significant other next to them, clearly treating this more as an opportunity to score good seats for a show than as a serious assignment.

“Hey, give them some credit.” Sitting next to the two agents was Gum Shoe, the Bronclyn police detective who had come to Curtain Call’s apartment. “At least they haven’t let word of this get out to the press. I think I heard a couple of them referring to your killer as the ‘Phantom of the ‘Merse.’”

“Sorry, but I’m a little unclear about why you’re here,” Vinyl whispered, giving a sideways look at Gum Shoe. “Isn’t this outside your jurisdiction?”

“A mare in my jurisdiction was murdered by your killer. I think that’s enough,” the detective retorted in an undertone. He looked around. “Say, where’s your friends? Sharp... err, Sharp Eye and, uh, what?”

“That’s right,” Vinyl answered, failing to notice the perplexed look Gum Shoe was giving her. “They’re watching some other themerse production.”

“This seat taken?” The three ponies looked up to see a white-coated stallion who looked remarkably like Vinyl, but with a neon green, spiky mane.

“Feedback!” Vinyl exclaimed, quickly receiving a chorus of “Ssh!” from the surrounding audience members. She blushed while the stallion took a seat beside Vinyl. “How’s it going?” she whispered.

“Not great,” he murmured. “With New Wave gone, the production has fallen apart. Six months of work, straight down the tube. I came here to try and enjoy myself... didn’t think I’d run into you!

“Everypony is kinda nervous, too,” he added. “There’s all sorts of rumors going around, and now I just heard that Hitchcolt canceled his next performance.”

Vinyl and Octavia glanced at each other. “Yeah... that had something to do with us,” the DJ replied.

Feedback whistled. “Damn, Vinyl. You sure get around.”

“Just be sure to keep that info to yourself,” Gum Shoe muttered. “We don’t need some kind of panic developing.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Feedback said with a chuckle. “We may work on stage, but you learn pretty quickly how to keep a secret in this business.”

“What are you hiding?” Sharp Eye asked, her voice filled with curiosity and tinged with confusion. “Where are we going?”

“A show! I thought we could spend a little time together,” Watt Sun answered enthusiastically. He was holding her forehoof and pulling her down a bustling sidewalk, deftly maneuvering around ponies making their way along Broncway. Despite being sandwiched between ponies on all sides, Sharp Eye could still glance up and see the vast expanse of neon lights and colorful signs overhead. Gleaming theater marquees hung over the sidewalk and the air was filled with the chatter of ponies, the stomp of hooves, and the bustle of carriages in the street.

Sharp Eye let herself be pulled along by Watt Sun. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him so excited. He led her to a theater with a sign that read “Coltacobana” in neon red lettering, and another sign in one window with the words “Dinner and a Show” in curly writing. A long line of ponies, most of them in fine suits and dresses, stood in front of the entrance.

But rather than getting in line, Watt Sun led Sharp Eye along the side of the building. “Come on, I know another way in!”

“Wait! Aren’t we supposed to be watching over a themerse director?”

“We are! But that’s no reason for us not to enjoy ourselves,” Watt Sun answered with a smile. They entered what appeared to be a small service entrance on the side of the building, which was little more than a dank, cement stairway that led to a large steel door set below the sidewalk.

However, when the door opened it revealed the last thing Sharp Eye had been expecting. A narrow corridor, with wood paneled walls, red carpeting, and low lighting, was revealed behind the door. Behind the door stood a single pony who stood in their way, but when Watt Sun unfolded a flap on his bowtie to reveal his Pinkieton badge, the doorpony smiled and stepped aside to let them past.

“I called ahead to let them know we were coming,” Watt Sun explained, taking Sharp Eye’s forehoof as he led her down the narrow hallway. The mare wasn’t sure how to respond; usually she was the one who took the initiative, rather than the stallion. Whatever this was had Watt Sun really excited. So Sharp Eye let him drag her through the twisting corridor, turning around one corner after another.

Suddenly they were walking through a bustling hallway, packed with ponies hurrying back and forth, carrying heavy objects or lugging carts of items. Sharp Eye was just able to get a glance at a massive set piece being wheeled past them as Watt Sun led her on, winding around one stage pony after the next. Before Sharp Eye could fully grasp what was going on around her, one of the stage ponies trotted up to them. Watt Sun flashed his badge again and the stage pony gave a look of recognition before leading them through a nearby set of double doors.

If Sharp Eye had thought that the backstage was busy, it was positively tranquil compared to what awaited them on the other side of the double doors. Before them was a huge kitchen, crammed with cooks, sous chefs, and buscolts in white linen outfits navigating around the many countertops, stoves, and sinks in the room. Servers in tuxedos claimed dishes prepared with food before passing out another set of double doors on the other side of the room.

The stage pony led them through the cramped kitchen, deftly navigating around the ponies in his way. Through the gaps between chefs Sharp Eye was able to briefly glimpse pasta being tossed out of a strainer, vats of soup being stirred, and sprigs of rosemare being carefully laid atop a plate of something she couldn’t identify before she was swept along. The clatter of pans, the sizzle of something grilling, the rapid chopping of vegetables, and the constant hollering of chefs and servers completed the illusion of barely contained chaos. Through it all, Sharp Eye just let Watt Sun guide her through to the other side, where they followed the stage pony out of the kitchen.

And suddenly, the cacophony of the kitchen was gone, replaced by the tasteful decor of a large dining room. Low lighting accentuated the beautiful murals on the wall and the plush red carpeting. Every table, each one covered in white linen and laden down with food, was occupied by ponies in exquisite dresses or formal suits and ties. Sharp Eye suddenly felt very self-conscious about her lack of clothes. Even Watt Sun, with his black bowtie and bowler hat, looked out of place in this gathering of Manehattan elite.

There was a long line of ponies standing to the side of the dining room, being attended to by a single server in a tuxedo. The stage pony led the Pinkietons up to him and whispered in the server’s ear for a moment. Immediately, his face lit up and he beckoned to the Pinkietons.

“Oh, we’re so glad you showed up!” the server said in a warm voice. “The show’s just about to start; we’ll put you right next to the director.” He gestured to the side of the room and a unicorn waiter appeared, hovering a small table, a pair of chairs, and a rolled up tablecloth in the air above him. “Right up front, Tip!” he ordered before turning back to the Pinkietons. “Just follow him. Anything you need, he’ll take good care of you.” Watt Sun offered his thanks before leading Sharp Eye into the dining room.

Sharp Eye couldn’t suppress a sheepish grin as diners turned to watch the spectacle of the wait staff producing a new table on the Pinkieton’s behalf. Behind her, she could hear angered muttering from the ponies standing in line. “Hey, how come we can’t get a table?” one of them shouted. The realization that she and Watt Sun were currently the envy of these Manehattan elite was not lost on Sharp Eye.

The waiter led them to a small clearing between the tables at the front of the room, setting the table and chairs on the ground. With a flourish, he unraveled the tablecloth and set it on the table to reveal plates, silverware, and glasses already arranged in perfect order. As the Pinkietons took their seats, another waiter appeared with a bottle of wine. She held up the bottle so they could read the seal, waiting for their approval before pouring them both a glass.

“Are you ze detectives?” Watt Sun and Sharp Eye looked up to see an elderly unicorn stallion with a white, windswept mane and glasses. Despite his hardened features, he had a kindly expression. He offered his hoof to the two Pinkietons in turn as he spoke in a Prench accent. “I am Cheval Coustrot, ze director of tonight’s show. I wanted to offer my thanks in advance for your service.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Watt Sun replied with a smile. Cheval nodded and trotted away, leaving the pair alone at the table for the first time.

Sharp Eye turned to her friend. “You just thought of everything, didn’t you? But you still haven’t told me what this show is.”

Watt Sun grinned and placed a forehoof over Sharp Eye’s. “Oh, wait and see. You’ll love this!”

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” they heard Cheval announce. They turned to see him standing nearby, walking in between the tables of the dining room. “I am Cheval Coustrot, ocean explorer and ze former ambassador to ze Seapony Kingdom. Tonight, I am very pleased to present my newest show on ze wonders of ze sea. But first, let us set ze stage!”

His horn began to glow, and immediately Sharp Eye heard what sounded like the crashing of waves against a beach. She looked around curiously for a moment before there was a rush of noise and a huge wave of water suddenly emerged out of one side of the room, sending up huge splashes and plumes of mist over each of the tables as it crashed against them. Sharp Eye barely had time to grasp what was happening before the wave smashed against her and she felt water wash over her. She grabbed onto the table in a desperate attempt to keep from being swept away before noting with alarm that the water was rising very quickly. Within a few seconds, it had risen above her head, immersing her completely.

But something was off. She felt the water, but had not sensed the impact from the wave she had been expecting. As she opened her eyes, she found her eyesight barely affected. Her ears, far from being waterlogged, were still picking up the noises of the dining room as clearly as ever. And as she looked around, she noticed that everything still seemed to be obeying the law of gravity. No one’s mane or clothing was floating in the water around them, and the wine in her glass wasn’t mingling with the water immersing it. She looked over at Watt Sun, who was smiling at her.

Sharp Eye let go of the breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding and gave Watt Sun a sheepish grin. Now she noticed that the “water” was warm, just as warm as the temperature of the room. Coral began appearing on the floor around the tables, as if growing out of the carpet, which itself was quickly taking on the appearance of sand. The murals on the walls faded to the blue backdrop of the ocean’s depths.

“Ze sea is home to many beautiful creatures,” Cheval Coustrot said, now walking past the Pinkieton’s table. “In ze coral reefs, you can find some of ze most incredible sights in all of ze world.” Suddenly, fishes emerged from under the tables, filling the surrounding “water” with life. The diners “oohed” and “aahed” as a dazzling display of color swam overhead, with fishes darting between tables or lazily drifting by. Jellies floated past while rays sailed by along the floor and a clownfish nestled itself in Sharp Eye’s mane before darting out. She felt Watt Sun’s hoof gently stroke against hers and they shared a smile before looking up to take in the show.

“Well, that was a waste of time,” Vinyl grumbled. She and Octavia were trotting down the street to their hotel, preparing to turn in for the night. It was quite late by this point, and the street was mostly deserted. “Cops in every theater in the city, and nopony notices a thing.”

“We should be so lucky,” Octavia muttered. The sidewalk was quiet with only a few ponies walking around, and the night air was filled with the steady hum of traffic on distant streets and the machinery of the tall buildings that surrounded them. They rounded the corner and were soon standing in front of their hotel, climbing up the steps.

As they approached the front door, Octavia paused and looked across the street. Something seemed different. It took her a moment to realize that the pizzeria across the street had changed its sign: where before it had read “Neigh’s Pizza,” now it said “World Famous Neigh’s Pizza.” Across the street to her left, the pizzeria formerly known as “Original Neigh’s Pizza” had tacked on an addition to read “Famous Original Neigh’s Pizza”. Catty-corner to the hotel, the pizzeria there had changed its name completely to “Real Neigh’s Pizza.” In each one, the light was on and there were no customers; only a stallion standing at the window, staring icily at one of the other pizzerias on the intersection.

The cellist stared at the sight for a moment, lost in thought before she heard Vinyl knocking on the hotel door behind her. A slot on the door opened to reveal somepony looking out at them for a moment before she spoke. “How is a pegasus like a writing desk? Can you answer this riddle?”

“Nope, I can’t answer it,” Vinyl replied. The slot on the door closed and the door opened to allow the two Pinkietons inside. Octavia glanced back at the odd sight before shrugging it off and following Vinyl inside.

“Hee hee, I think I had a little too much wine...” Sharp Eye giggled as she walked slowly and deliberately down the hallway outside their hotel rooms. Her cheeks were flushed and there was a slight stagger in her gait. Watt Sun held her steady as he walked beside her. “Oh, I hope Melody Maker doesn’t get mad when we charge it to the agency... I bet it was pretty expensive.”

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” Watt Sun offered with a grin.

Sharp Eye descended into a fit of giggles. “You know,” she began when she recovered, “that’s probably the last thing I expected to hear you say.”

“Oh?” Watt Sun gave her a lopsided grin. “Maybe I had too much wine too.” They shared a laugh as they stopped in front of the door to Sharp Eye’s room.

She pulled out her room key but then struggled to get it into the lock, trying repeatedly to maneuver it into the keyhole but failing. Finally, Watt Sun gently took her forehoof with his own and guided the key into the hole, unlocking the door with a sharp click. His hoof remained atop hers for a moment, gently caressing the back of her hoof.

The two shared a look, staring into each other’s eyes. They slowly leaned closer together, Sharp Eye’s gaze flicking momentarily to Watt Sun’s lips. He seemed to take notice and drew closer, his face hovering within inches of hers for what seemed like ages before their lips suddenly met. She inhaled sharply, feeling him press against her as she closed her eyes and returned the kiss with a passion.

Sharp Eye wrapped her hooves around his head, keeping their lips locked together even as she backed through the door into her room, pulling Watt Sun in before the door slammed shut behind them.


Sharp Eye awoke slowly, her eyes fluttering open to behold the ceiling of her hotel room, softly illuminated by the morning sunlight. She sighed contently and glanced to her side to find the distinct lack of somepony else in her bed. She blinked a few times, a part of her daring to hope that doing so would reveal a different sight, but the gap in the bedsheets remained as empty as ever.

There was a sudden knock at her door, and Sharp Eye bolted upright, hurriedly looking over at a mirror on a nearby dresser to see a disheveled mess of a mare staring back at her. She leapt out of bed and snatched a brush off the dresser, quickly running it over her mane and coat until it began to resemble something respectable. Satisfied, she dropped the brush back on the dresser and ran over to the door.

Her expression softened when she opened it to see Watt Sun standing in the hallway, holding a tray with a bagel and a cup of coffee sitting upon it. “Good morning!” he said in a cheery tone. “I thought I’d bring you up some breakfast.”

“Aw, you’re sweet,” Sharp Eye cooed, taking the tray in one hoof as she leaned closer and pressed her lips against Watt Sun’s. The stallion’s eyes widened considerably and a fierce blush reddened his cheeks. He remained standing stock-still in the doorway even as Sharp Eye pulled away and took the tray with her back into the room.

“Uh... you seem... cheerful this morning,” Watt Sun remarked, slowly recovering as he walked into the room.

Sharp Eye giggled. “Well, why wouldn’t I be?” she said, waggling her eyebrows at the stallion.

Watt Sun had a blank look on his face. “...I guess I don’t know,” he replied with a lopsided grin.

The mare gave him a puzzled look for a second before shrugging it off and turning to her tray, taking a huge bite out of the bagel. The sight of food made her realize just how ravenous she felt.

“So...” Watt Sun began, “not to sound like I’m prying, but where did you go last night? I got your message but when I got to the Neighpollo I couldn’t find you.”

Sharp Eye paused, turning around to face Watt Sun. After a moment of awkward silence she began to laugh, but quickly stopped when the stallion didn’t join her. “...I don’t get the joke.”

“No joke. I mean, I was just curious is all,” he quickly added. “I would have called you, but I seemed to have misplaced my communicator—”

“Watt Sun... you were with me. You took me to that underwater show, remember? And then you and I came back here.”

The stallion was looking thoroughly confused by this point. “No, I most definitely was by myself last night. In fact, I think I still have the ticket stub.” He reached up to pull off his bowler hat and looked under the inner flap before pulling out a small white slip of paper and hoofing it to Sharp Eye.

She took it and read the name of a show printed on it, along with yesterday’s date and a time roughly around when she had met Watt Sun last night before he had taken her to the Coltacobana. A hole had been punched through one side of the ticket.

A feeling of queasiness overcame Sharp Eye as the single bite of bagel she had taken suddenly felt very heavy in her stomach.

“Bleegh... I don’t know how you stomach this every morning, Vinyl.” Octavia was grimacing at the cup of coffee in her hooves.

“I don’t know how you survive without it,” the DJ responded, taking a sip from her own mug.

The two were sitting in the lounge of Pinkieton headquarters, looking at case documents over breakfast. Octavia was slumped over the table, once again suffering from a sleepless night. Her eyes were bloodshot and the circles under her eyes were becoming quite prominent. She was leaning her head against one of her forehooves, which was placed with the elbow on the table. She gazed down at New Wave’s opened diary in front of her, reading the same paragraph over and over again without really absorbing it:

...not see what I’m trying to do here? He has the gall to deny my story! Are these critics blind to the legions of ponies who are touched by my work? They would fault my art for technical mishaps and fail to see its true intent! And meanwhile Curtain Call grows more distant with me... I dare say she seems to think herself equal to me at times. Why, today she had the nerve to correct me! Me, the one who brought her to where she is now! This filly grows more interested in playing with her illusions than helping me create true art! The entire world clamours for mindless drivel and I am left alone...

Octavia was snapped out of her stupor when she heard the bookcase slide open and suddenly the sound of arguing reached her ears.

“Look, I’m sorry! I didn’t even do anything!” Watt Sun cried as he followed Sharp Eye into the room.

“That’s the point,” Sharp Eye growled, not looking back at the stallion. “You didn’t do anything. You never do anything.”

Octavia and Vinyl gave each other a quick glance as Sharp Eye sat down at the table with a grunt. “Uh... are you two okay? What happened?” the DJ asked.

What happened?!” Sharp Eye yelled, startling Octavia and Vinyl. “Apparently, I just made out with a projection, that’s what happened!”

“...And he never makes the first move, he’s always waiting for me to start anything! It’s almost like he’s scared to make the first move, you know what I mean?” Sharp Eye said.

“You said it, sister,” Vinyl replied in a dull monotone.

The two ponies were trotting through a backstage prior to a themerse show. All around them, ponies bustled about readying the set, getting everything into place, practicing their lines, or giving direction to the actors and crew. Vinyl and Sharp Eye were here to watch the proceedings and keep an eye out for anything strange.

Following the discovery that the Pinkietons had been infiltrated, presumably by their suspect, Octavia had insisted upon keeping their case documentation close by for fear that it wouldn’t be safe at the hotel. Which was why both Vinyl and Sharp Eye were wearing saddlebags laden with police documents and case files, in addition to their normal detective tools.

Octavia and Vinyl also quickly decided on separating Watt Sun and Sharp Eye for the time being. To Vinyl’s dismay, she had gotten stuck with Sharp Eye, who proved to be eager to talk at length about the state of affairs between her and Watt Sun. After far more relationship talk than Vinyl could stomach, the DJ cast a spell to fill her ears with some familiar music while Sharp Eye rambled on, apparently oblivious to the subtle blue glow of Vinyl’s horn. Each time the DJ noticed Sharp Eye’s mouth not moving, she responded with an automatic “Yep,” “Mmm-hmm,” or “You said it.”

So it was to Vinyl’s shock when she noticed Sharp Eye stop in her tracks and begin to wail loudly, tears streaming from her eyes. The DJ stopped casting her spell and looked at Sharp Eye in confusion.

“Oh, you’re right!” Sharp Eye bawled. “I bet Watt Sun doesn’t even think of me that way! Oh, how could I be so stupid?!”

“Wait, what?” Vinyl said. “N-No, I didn’t say... err, that is, uh, what was the question again?” She was becoming uncomfortably aware of the many stage ponies around them now watching them.

Sharp Eye ran a hoof over her tear-stained face. “I (sniff) asked if you thought Watt Sun doesn’t really love me, (sniff) and you said yes!”

“Wow,” Vinyl heard one of the stage ponies mutter. “That is cold.”

“I didn’t say that!” Vinyl retorted, her face flushed with embarrassment. “I just, uh, misheard what you said! I’m sure he, uh, really likes you?” Vinyl found herself envying Octavia. Surely whatever she was going through couldn’t be worse than this.

Octavia found herself envying Vinyl. Surely whatever she was going through couldn’t be worse than this.

“I don’t know, maybe Sharp Eye is right,” Watt Sun murmured, looking down at his hooves. “I mean, I was just outdone by an illusion of me. Maybe I don’t do enough for Sharp Eye... maybe I don’t deserve her.”

Octavia fought a powerful urge to groan and roll her eyes. “Look, Watt Sun, I may not know much about relationships, but if you’re really worried about this, why don’t you just treat Sharp Eye to something nice? Something couples would do, like a nice dinner or a moonlit stroll.” She paused for a moment, then added, “Couples do those things, right?”

“Do they?” Watt Sun asked, his tone utterly sincere. He and Octavia shared an awkward look before Octavia corrected herself.

“I mean, yes. Yes, they do,” she said quickly. “So, just... um, be a little more forward around her. A little self-confidence never harmed anypony! It certainly couldn’t hurt to try, right?” she added with an encouraging smile.

Watt Sun looked unsure. “Uh, I’m not sure... could it?”

Octavia only narrowly resisted the temptation to slam her forehoof into her forehead. ‘It’s like the blind leading the blind,’ she thought. ‘How do I keep getting wrapped up in this nonsense?

Around them, stage ponies were assembling a set piece-by-piece, preparing for a performance tonight. Octavia noticed that many of them looked tense, speaking in hushed tones and constantly on the alert. Word of the “Phantom of the ‘Merse” had spread quickly through the themerse world. The cellist felt her sheathed bow resting against her back, hoping that the sight of a weapon would ease the stage ponies’ fears. But it seemed to serve only to remind everypony of the danger, given the sideways glances they gave the two Pinkietons.

Watt Sun glanced down at a saddlebag hanging on Octavia’s side, which contained New Wave’s diary as well as a folder of case files. “This incident last night worries me... This mare has killed New Wave, Curtain Call, and tried to kill Hitchcolt. Why is she interested in Sharp Eye now?”

“I wish I knew. My best guess is that our suspect is trying to scare us off,” Octavia muttered. “Be on the lookout, and ready for anything.”

“Alright everypony, places!” hollered a stallion trotting out to the middle of the stage. He was wearing a beret, spoke in a loud, commanding voice, and occasionally clapped his forehooves sharply to accentuate his speech. “We need more practice on Scene 23; the atmosphere needs more work.”

Octavia stifled a yawn and turned to Watt Sun. “So who is this pony? I’m afraid I’m starting to lose track of all these directors.”

“He’s Stage Craft,” Watt Sun whispered back. “He worked with New Wave and Curtain Call, although I’m afraid he has nothing to do with Hitchcolt, as far as I can tell.”

Octavia sighed. “Well, it’s better than nothing, I suppose.”

“Are we ready?” Stage Craft yelled as the stage ponies hurriedly took up positions on the edge of the set and the actors assumed their places on stage. The director sat down in a chair in the front row of seats. “Lights!” At his command, the unicorns cast a spell on the stage lights hanging from the ceiling, maneuvering them to focus on the actors on stage. “Set? And... ACT—”

Suddenly, every single light in the theater went out, plunging the stage into darkness. There were a few surprised shouts and groans from the ponies on set as Octavia instinctively reached for the handle of her bow. “Get some light on the stage!” Stage Craft’s voice yelled out amidst the clatter of somepony dropping something.

The glow of several unicorn horns slowly flickered into life, bathing the set in soft light. The stage ponies looked around hurriedly, checking for anything out of place. “Somepony check the fuse boxes!” one of them shouted out.

“Wait, where’s Stage Craft?!” another yelped. Everypony instantly turned towards the seats below the stage, finding nopony in the chair where the director had been sitting just a moment before.

Just then, a high-pitched scream came from overhead. Everypony in the room looked up only for their blood to run cold at what they saw: Stage Craft was dangling from a catwalk high above the stage, clutching the edge of a light stand with his forehooves. Standing above him was the cloaked figure of a mare wearing a dark mask over the top half of her face.

“It’s the Phantom!” a couple of the stage ponies yelped, pointing up at her.

Help me!” the director squealed, looking fearfully down at the stage beneath him as his grip on the catwalk seemed to loosen. Octavia was already racing for the spot below Stage Craft as she watched the Phantom rear on her hind legs and slam down on the director’s forehooves, causing his grip to fail. Time seemed to slow down as Stage Craft fell through the air, flailing in panic as Octavia leapt off the stage, extending her forehooves to catch him before he hit the ground...

But just as she reached up to catch Stage Craft, her hooves closed around him to feel nothing but empty air. The stallion passed through her, as if incorporeal, before vanishing entirely in a puff of smoke. Caught by surprise, Octavia failed to recover mid-leap and landed head-first on the stage, slamming into the floor with enough force to knock her saddlebags off and spill their contents across the stage.

“There!” somepony shouted. Octavia stumbled to her hooves to see one of the stage ponies gesturing out at the rows of seats, where the cloaked figure was standing at the edge of the unicorns’ light, dragging a passed-out Stage Craft with a white cloth pressed over his face.

Immediately, everypony on the stage dashed down into the seats, racing at the Phantom. The cloaked figure looked up to see at least a dozen ponies running at her. She seemed to hesitate for a moment before dropping Stage Craft on the floor and rearing up on her hind hooves. With a flourish, she whipped her cloak around her and vanished in a sudden burst of light and a cloud of smoke, only for no less than six copies of her to reappear around the room in a flash of magic.

Chaos took hold in the theater as everypony made a mad scramble to catch one of the Phantoms in the theater. The light of the unicorns’ horns flashed around as Octavia drew her bow-sword out, carefully following the movements of the nearest Phantom. Just as it came close enough, she leapt off the stage at the cloaked figure, who turned around just in time to see Octavia’s sword slicing through the air straight at her. However, the bow passed effortlessly through the Phantom, which vanished in another puff of smoke.

Undeterred, the cellist leapt over the first row of seats, clenching the handle of her bow between her teeth. She jumped over one row after another, landing gracefully atop seat backs as she tracked down another Phantom. Her attention was focused on one facing down three different stage ponies who were trying to charge it, but were holding back due to the gleaming knife the masked mare was brandishing between her teeth. Just as the Phantom lunged at one of the stage ponies, Octavia leapt in front of her and swung her sword before it could react. It vanished in another puff of smoke as the stage ponies watched on in stunned shock.

“Octavia!” Watt Sun yelled out. The cellist turned to see him standing a few rows over, gesturing frantically at the stage. She looked over to spot another Phantom standing on the stage, unnoticed by the ponies who had rushed down to confront the doppelgangers in the seats. To Octavia’s alarm, the figure on stage was gazing down at the documents spilled out on the stage, showing particular interest in a book the cellist recognized as New Wave’s diary.

Stop right there!” Octavia bellowed, sheathing her sword before she and Watt Sun rushed at the stage. The Phantom looked up and, after a moment’s hesitation, snatched the book up in her mouth before turning tail and bolting for the edge of the stage, with the two Pinkietons in pursuit. Out of the corner of her eye, Octavia noticed the other Phantoms vanish and the stage lights abruptly turn back on the moment the real one dashed out of the theater and whip around the corner. Octavia followed it into a hallway past the theater, with Watt Sun hot on her heels.

Ahead of her, the Phantom plowed through an exit door at the end of the hallway. The door had almost come to a close when Octavia slammed through it, finding herself in a dark alleyway outside the theater. The sound of galloping hooves alerted her to the Phantom racing away, towards the bustling street at the end of the alley. Octavia wasted no time continuing the chase.

The masked mare turned around the corner and ran out onto the busy sidewalk, narrowly avoiding bowling over several ponies walking past. Octavia galloped out after her, darting through the crowd of figures packing the sidewalk. Ahead of her, ponies were stopping in their tracks and turning to stare at the cloaked figure running past them, clearing a path for Octavia. She didn’t let the Phantom leave her sight, watching for any indication of the villain trying to slip away while projecting an illusion or vanish into another cloud of smoke.

The Phantom glanced back to see Octavia gaining on her, then made a beeline for a nearby subway entrance facing the sidewalk, leaping down the staircase into the depths below. The cellist ran after her, taking the steps three at a time as ponies coming the other way hurriedly pressed against the walls to avoid getting trampled.

They raced through the corridor, heading straight towards a set of chest-high turnstiles which were supposed to stop ponies from getting into the subway without paying. The Phantom leapt atop one of the fare machines separating the gates, galloping across the surface with a loud clatter before jumping off the other side. A security officer ran out of his booth to shout at this strange fare dodger only to nearly get run over as Octavia raced past him and mimicked the Phantom, clearing the turnstiles in a single bound. She turned on her hooves to see the Phantom disappear around a corner, past a sign labeled with the words “Trains to Downtown and Bronclyn” underneath a set of colorful circles with letters and numbers in them.

Octavia followed, running down another staircase towards the platform. The Phantom wasn’t in her sight until she reached the bottom of the stairs and looked across to see the cloaked figure push her way into a crowded train. The cellist ran for the train just as an announcement was piped in through the speakers: “Stand clear of the closing doors, please” followed by a chime. Octavia galloped faster as the doors began to slide close. She was almost there. She made a leap for the closing gap between the doors...

Yes! Success! She sailed through the doorway, bracing for the impact against the floor and perhaps a couple of passengers.

But the impact never came. Rather than landing on the floor, she continued through it unabated as the subway car and all its passengers dissolved into smoke around her. Octavia yelped as she plunged into the dark depths below, landing painfully on the hard concrete between the tracks.

She heard shouts on the platform and the screech of an approaching train. The impulse to flee took hold and she reached out a hoof through the smoke still dissolving around her. Suddenly, a powerful shock ran through her body and she cried out in anguish, quickly withdrawing her hoof. The smoke cleared to reveal what Octavia had just touched: the third rail, still sparking with electricity.

She felt her limbs go numb and she collapsed in the track bed, looking up to see the headlights of an approaching train grow brighter. The squeal of the train’s wheels filled her ears as she struggled to lift herself to her hooves, hoping against hope that this was an illusion too.

Just as the train was almost upon her, she sensed something collide into her, shoving her out of the way of the train and carrying her over the third rail and into the adjacent track bed. A scream of pain could barely be made out over the screech and clatter of the train rushing past before it finally squealed to a halt. Octavia lay on the ground, looking up at the side of the train and heaving a sigh of relief at the realization that she was safe. In her current state, she couldn’t feel her limbs, which she was grateful for given the rough landing.

She looked over to see Watt Sun laying beside her, breathing hard as tears streamed down his face. His teeth were gritted and he was clenching his muscles. He glanced up, giving Octavia an apologetic look before squeezing his eyes shut.

“I don’t think I... cleared the train in time,” he whimpered. Octavia saw that he was holding up one of his hindlegs, which was sticking out at a weird angle and had a bloody gash running along one side.

“Is everypony alright? What happened?!” a voice on the other side of the train shouted out.

“I... I don’t know! This train just... appeared on the tracks, and these mares tried to jump on! And they fell through, and then this guy jumped in after ‘em!”

They’re down there!” This voice came from the platform on the other side of the tracks, in full sight of Octavia and Watt Sun. “Somepony help them!

Octavia was barely aware of the voices around her. She managed to nudge one of her numb forehooves towards Watt Sun, taking his hoof in hers as he lay on the tracks, whimpering in pain.



MANEHATTAN — The 50th Street subway station nearly became a scene of tragedy last night when a unicorn mare wanted by police cast an illusion of a subway train in order to evade pursuers, nearly killing two detectives and risking the lives of passengers on the platform when a real subway train entered the station.

“She was wearing this black cloak and a mask, and when she came down the platform her horn started glowing and this train just appeared out of nowhere,” an eyewitness recalled. “All of us on the platform, we weren’t sure whether to get on or not, and then we watched her just jump through it before this other mare came down and tried to follow her. And then she almost got ran over when the real train pulled in.”

Manehattan Police Department officials wouldn’t release details, but the Manehattan Times has learned that the mare is currently wanted for questioning regarding a series of crimes against themerse creators. Many theaters are canceling any future themerse presentations in light of the apparent danger.

Octavia was sitting in a hospital room, holding the newspaper in her shaking forehooves before she crumpled the paper between her hooves and threw it on the floor. “Damn it!” she bellowed before getting onto all four hooves and stamping the paper into tatters beneath her forehooves. “Damn it, damn it, damn it! How are we supposed to catch this mare?!”

Behind her, Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye were watching her with alarm. Watt Sun was laying on a hospital bed, his injured leg wrapped up in a thick cast and suspended above the bed, while Vinyl and Sharp Eye sat at the side of the bed. All of them looked exhausted after a long, sleepless night at the hospital.

“Woah, Octy, calm down,” Vinyl said hurriedly, trotting up to her friend. “It’s okay, we’ll—”

It is not ‘okay’!” Octavia roared, whipping around to face Vinyl, who quickly took a step back. “In fact, it is the very opposite of ‘okay’!”

“Miss!” A nurse who had been walking down the hallway past the room was now standing in the doorway, glaring at Octavia. “If you do not lower your voice, you will be asked to leave the premises!”

Octavia growled and turned away to face the window, pressing her forehead against the glass. She let out an exasperated sigh, her breath fogging the window around the lower half of her face. She looked out at the view from the tenth floor of the hospital. Beneath her was the wide reach of the Beast River, with its many boats making their way past Manehattan. A towering steel truss bridge spanned the river nearby, carrying ponies and carriages between Manehattan and the expansive boroughs that seemed to stretch out to the rising sun on the eastern horizon. Pegasi soared overhead or flitted between the buildings below. It was a serene image, one completely at odds with Octavia’s present mood.

Octavia felt a hoof rest on her shoulder. “Listen, it’ll be alright,” Vinyl said in a reassuring tone. “We’ll figure this out. We’ve been through worse, right?”

The cellist remained silent, continuing to stare out the window. Behind them, Sharp Eye leaned over the bed and wrapped Watt Sun in a hug, which he returned. The news of Watt Sun’s injury had sent her into a panic the night before, a far cry from her present calmness. She rested her head on his shoulder, nestling against him.

“Um... Sharp Eye, would you be willing to stay here with me?” Watt Sun asked. “You know, for protection,” he quickly added, giving her a smile.

Sharp Eye lifted her head off of his shoulder and cocked an eyebrow at him, giving Watt Sun a smile in return. “Only if you promise not to scare me like that again.”

“Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” he replied, going through the motions. “I’ll be a better stallion to you, I promise you that.”

Sharp Eye leaned her head close to Watt Sun’s, giving him a wide grin. “You know what, forget the silly illusion. I think I like you the way you really are.” She then pressed her lips to his, causing him to close his eyes and blush furiously even as he returned the kiss.

“Oh, brother,” Vinyl groaned, rolling her eyes. “Get a room, you two.”

The two ponies on the bed broke their kiss and glanced over at the DJ. “Uh, we do have a room,” Watt Sun pointed out. “You’re standing in it.”

Vinyl glanced around at the hospital room. “Oh. Right.” She turned back to Octavia. “Hey, why don’t we get out of here and leave the lovebirds to it? Come on, let’s head back to HQ.”

Octavia let out a noncommittal grunt, not bothering to turn away from the window. Vinyl took that as the closest thing to a ‘yes’ she was going to get and took Octavia’s hoof, leading her out of the room.

The two musicians walked side-by-side down a busy Midtown street, heading west away from the hospital as they made their way through Manehattan’s glass and steel canyons back to their hotel. Even so shortly after dawn, the streets were already alive with activity as morning commuters poured into the city, mingling with the street sweepers, food vendors, and other service workers that kept the city functioning.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Vinyl remarked, stepping towards the green iron railings that marked a subway station entrance. “Let’s take the crosstown.” She stepped down the first couple of steps before glancing back to see Octavia frozen in place just short of the stairway.

“I’m not going in there,” she said, her tone resolute.

Vinyl opened her mouth to argue, but stopped when she met Octavia’s gaze. While her tone was calm and firm, her eyes were wide and panicked. Vinyl quickly relented, stepping back up onto the sidewalk.

With the subway no longer an option, Vinyl walked up to the curb, raising her hoof above her head. “Taxi!” she yelled out, facing the stream of oncoming carriages moving up the street. It took a few tries, but finally a yellow carriage with the word “TAXI” painted on the side maneuvered over to the curb and stopped nearby.

Vinyl made to get into the cab, only to be forcefully yanked back on the sidewalk. She spun around, finding her face within inches of Octavia’s.

“Wait!” the cellist hissed. “It could be a trap! That driver looks untrustworthy to me.”

Vinyl glanced over at the stallion pulling the taxi carriage. He was a middle-aged pony with graying hair and stubble on his chin. He looked over his shoulder at the two mares with a bored expression, noisily chewing some gum.

“He seems okay to me,” Vinyl muttered.

“No! I am not taking any chances, and neither are you! Don’t you see? Stuck in a carriage in busy traffic? It’s the perfect opportunity for that mare to get us!”

“Okay, okay! Geez.” Vinyl turned back to the taxi driver. “Uh, sorry. I guess we’re gonna be walking instead.” The taxi driver stared at her wordlessly for a second, continuing to chew his gum, before shrugging and trotting off back into traffic while the two agents continued walking up the street.

Unfortunately, even walking didn’t seem to do much for Octavia’s paranoia. Vinyl watched her friend turn her head this way and that, warily eyeing passerby on the sidewalk, carriages rolling up the street, or glancing up at the towering buildings overhead. Her ears swiveled around, her eyes occasionally twitched, and she would jump at loud noises, which in this bustling part of town happened on a regular basis.

“Quick, this way!” Octavia suddenly said, pulling Vinyl down a busy street. The neon signs of Thyme Square were visible just a few blocks away. “If we’re being followed, we can lose her in the crowd.”

“Octy, the last thing you need is to be surrounded by even more ponies,” Vinyl muttered, uneasily watching her friend try to take in everything around her. “You need to settle down. You look like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown or something.”

“I’m fine!” Octavia snapped, not looking at Vinyl.

They had barely started moving down the street when a young stallion standing nearby thrust a flier into Octavia’s path. “Hey, come check out our live sh—” The invitation was quickly forgotten as Octavia let out a strangled cry and grabbed the stallion’s hoof and spun him around, holding his foreleg against his back as she pinned him to the pavement. He let out a terrified yelp as Octavia forcefully attempted to interrogate him.

Octy!” Vinyl cried out, grabbing her friend and pulling her off the struggling stallion. A crowd of passerby stopped in their tracks to take in the spectacle. Vinyl looked around and gave the onlookers a nervous smile. “Uh... and that’s the kind of stuff you’ll see at the... uh...” She snatched the flier off the sidewalk and quickly glanced at it. “...Manehattan Comedy Club! Check it out!” She thrust the flier at one of the onlookers, who reluctantly took it before walking away. The stallion hoofing out the fliers quickly scampered to his hooves and ran off into the crowd.

Vinyl turned back to Octavia, who was standing in place, glancing around at her surroundings and not making eye contact with Vinyl. “Octy, you need to calm down,” she whispered. “Let’s just find a nice quiet place to relax, okay?”

“Hey!” they heard a voice behind them shout. “Is that who I think it is?”

“Woah! I think that’s DJ-PON3!”

Octavia whipped around, grabbing the young mare who had spoken and forcing her to the ground. “How did you know who she was?!” she shouted into the young mare’s terrified face. “Who sent you?!

Octavia!” Vinyl yelled, grabbing her friend by the shoulder and whipping her around before smacking her in the face. The cellist seemed too stunned by Vinyl’s action to properly react, and remained still while the DJ tried to apologize to the young mare. “Uh, sorry about that. She’s my... uh... bodyguard. Yeah. She’s new. Uh... would you like an autograph?” she added, giving the young pony a sheepish grin.

“Um, that’s okay,” the fan squeaked before she and her friend made a run for it.

Vinyl turned back to Octavia, who was now sitting on her haunches and staring up at the blinking, brightly colored signs overhead. Her ears were still swiveling around, her eyes were wide, and her every muscle looked tensed. The DJ sat down in front of her friend, gently taking hold of the cellist’s shoulders. It was only then that Vinyl realized how much Octavia was shaking, quivering uncontrollably under her hooves. The bags under her eyes served as a reminder that the cellist hadn’t gotten any sleep for several nights now.

“Octy, you need to stop,” Vinyl insisted. “You’re trying to take in too much at once. Just focus on me, okay?”

Octavia’s breathing was becoming short and her pupils had shrunk to the size of pinpricks. “She’s going to find us,” she murmured. “She could be anywhere... she could be anything...”

Vinyl used her magic to take off her goggles before grabbing Octavia’s head in her forehooves, forcing her to look into her friend’s eyes. “Octy, just focus on me. Shut everything else out. You’re safe here, okay?” Vinyl raised her hooves to Octavia’s ears, gently pressing them against the sides of her head to block out any noise.

As she did so, she felt Octavia’s muscles relax ever so slightly. Her breathing slowed and her pupils began to return to normal size. “V...Vinyl? What are you—”

“It’s okay,” Vinyl replied, giving her friend a small smile. “Nothing is going to happen to you here.”

Octavia shuddered, slowly tilting towards Vinyl before leaning her head against the DJ’s chest, pressing her face against her friend’s white coat. Vinyl wrapped her hooves around Octavia, holding her tight as she felt tears run down her chest. “There you go,” Vinyl whispered, patting her friend on the head. “Just let it out.”

They remained there for what seemed like ages, the chaos and bustle around them forgotten as Octavia broke down in her friend’s hooves. Vinyl continued to hold her, slowly easing out the trauma of the previous night.

Vinyl gently stepped out into the hallway outside Octavia’s hotel room, glancing up at her friend sleeping soundly in her bed. The DJ reached into her saddlebag, pulling out a small bottle labeled “Moon Shine” with a picture of a mare resting peacefully under a star-filled sky. A pang of guilt went through Vinyl; tricking her friend into taking the sleep potion may not have been honest, but she decided it was for the best. If the label was accurate, the few drops she had put in Octavia’s tea would put her out for a good eight hours.

Vinyl placed the bottle back in her saddlebag before pulling out a small device and planting it on the doorway, activating it with a touch of her magic. She waved a hoof in front of the sensor to test it, and was satisfied by the vibration she felt around her horn. Content with the security measures she had set up around Octavia, Vinyl quietly closed the door behind her.

She made her way downstairs, entering the lobby and pulling on the book to open the passageway into Pinkieton headquarters. Vinyl trotted through the corridor, stepping into the small cafeteria to find that she wasn’t alone. Sitting at a table in the middle of the room was somepony all too familiar to Vinyl.

“Hello, Ms. Scratch,” Melody Maker said, giving Vinyl a cold look. The DJ started, caught off-guard by the elderly mare’s presence.

Vinyl was momentarily unable to respond. “Uh... hi, Melody,” she mumbled. “I, uh, didn’t expect to see you here.”

The Pinkieton leader raised an eyebrow. “Is that correct? I would have thought my presence would have been expected. After all, this agency has become involved in a highly publicized investigation, this very facility was infiltrated by a suspected murderer, and two of my best agents were nearly fatally injured. Did you believe I would ignore the well-being of my agents?”

Vinyl gulped, frozen in place under Melody’s stern gaze. “O-of course not,” the DJ stammered.

“And aren’t my agents here at your request?” the elderly mare asked pointedly. “Risking their lives to find the murderer of your themerse associate?”

Vinyl bit her lip and looked down at her hooves. “Yes, ma’am,” she mumbled. The bluster and sarcasm she normally used in front of Melody Maker had failed her. All she felt now was a deep sense of guilt.

“Where’s Agent Octavia?” Melody asked sharply.

“She’s sleeping. And she really needs her rest, too,” Vinyl quickly added. “Octy’s not ready to talk to anypony at the moment.”

Melody frowned, stepping up to Vinyl until she was standing directly in front of her. The DJ hated to admit it, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by the fact that her boss could be so intimidating even when she was a good head shorter than Vinyl was. “This situation has gotten out of hoof. Can I trust you and Octavia to be able to carry on this investigation?”

“Of course you can,” Vinyl replied, a hint of resentment finding its way into her voice.

“And can I count on you to look out for the safety of your fellow agents?” Melody asked, her tone steely.

Vinyl swallowed hard as she stared back into the elderly mare’s eyes. “Yes. I promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” she said, going through the motions.

Melody silently considered the agent for a moment. “I’m sure you’re aware that’s not a vow to be taken lightly.” She paused, then gave Vinyl a small smile. “Very well, then.”

She began walking past Vinyl towards the exit, but then stopped and turned back to face the agent. “Oh, and I think you may have gotten your first break in this case. The MPD officers are still searching the subway tunnels for your suspect, but they managed to recover a piece of evidence for you.” She gestured towards a large padded envelope sitting on a table in the middle of the room.

Vinyl walked over to the table and picked up the envelope. She reached inside with her magic and levitated out a small book she recognized immediately as New Wave’s diary.

“But... but this doesn’t make any sense,” Vinyl muttered, her tone one of stunned disbelief. She flipped the book open to find that many of the pages had traces of grime on them, most in the shape of hoofprints. But aside from the dirty pages, it looked just like it had when Vinyl had read through it. “This was our most important piece of evidence! Why would she take it and then just leave it behind?”

Nopony answered. Vinyl looked up to see that Melody Maker had left the room, leaving Vinyl alone to ponder her own question.

Mad World

Octavia, Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye were sitting in a circle around one side of the stallion’s hospital bed, all of them staring down at New Wave’s diary, which was lying on the bedsheets. The curtains were drawn to hide the sight of the four agents discussing the case from any watchful eyes in the night outside.

“I don’t understand,” Octavia said. After a long rest, she was starting to look more like her normal self, although a trace of the dark shadows under her eyes remained. “Why would she just leave the diary behind?”

“Maybe she dropped it by accident?” Watt Sun offered. “She was probably in a hurry to get out of the subway tunnels.”

“I don’t think so,” Sharp Eye said. “Look at the hoofprints on some of these pages. It looks like she stopped to read it while she was down there.”

“Maybe she didn’t realize what it was until she started reading it?” Vinyl suggested.

“No, she had to know what it was,” Octavia countered. “The moment she saw it on the stage, she focused on it.”

“And anyway, a lot of the pages have her hoofprints,” Sharp Eye pointed out. “If she had picked up the wrong thing, why would she continue reading it? Especially if she was on the run.”

The four lapsed into silence. Octavia rose to her hooves and started pacing around the room. “It doesn’t make any sense! She had a clean escape and the diary was the only thing she was carrying. She must have known its significance, or she wouldn’t have taken it. What’s more, she even stopped to read it. Now, if she knew it was such an important piece of evidence, why wouldn’t she destroy it? Or keep it? Why would she let it slip so easily back into our hooves?”

As Octavia continued to pace, Sharp Eye let out a thoughtful ‘hmm,’ her brow furrowing. “Maybe... maybe she didn’t know it was an important piece of evidence. Maybe she took it for a different reason?”

“What do you mean?” Watt Sun asked. Octavia stopped in her pacing to look up at Sharp Eye.

“I want to go back to my crazed fan idea,” Sharp Eye replied. “What if we’re dealing with somepony who’s obsessed with themerse stars, and took the diary only because it belonged to New Wave?”

“That’s a thought,” Watt Sun said.

“But I don’t think the fans knew about the diary,” Vinyl countered. “For that matter, I didn’t know about the diary. It was only the ponies who worked with her that had some inkling of it.”

“And anyway,” Octavia began, “if it was an obsessed fan, wouldn’t it make more sense for her to keep the diary as a souvenir?”

“Oh yeah...” Sharp Eye murmured.

“Besides, it doesn’t even have her name on it,” Vinyl said, closing the diary to reveal its blank cover. “Whoever it is would have to be really familiar with New Wave to recognize it as her diary.”

“Although...” Octavia trailed off, putting a hoof on her chin and staring off to the side for a few seconds. Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth slightly as an expression of revelation came over her. “My word, I just had a remarkable notion.”

“Is that fancy talk for ‘crazy thought?’” Vinyl said, grinning. “‘Cause I’m all for crazy thoughts right now.”

“We’ve been led astray by so many illusions now. But what if we were led astray from the start? What if the killer is New Wave herself?”

There was a long silence following Octavia’s words, in which the other three Pinkietons gave her blank stares. The silence was finally broken by Vinyl. “Okay, maybe not that crazy of a thought.”

“Think about it!” the cellist exclaimed, speaking rapidly as her tone became excited. “All the murders and attempted murders were of ponies that New Wave worked with and that she had a grudge against. What if she used her themerse skills to stage her own death, then set out to kill these ponies? And when she took her diary, she was simply taking back what was hers!”

“Pretty good, Octy,” Vinyl remarked, nodding. “There’s just two tiny little problems with your theory. One, if New Wave was taking back her diary, then why wouldn’t she keep it? And two, New Wave is definitely dead.”

“But how do you know for certain?” Octavia insisted.

“Because after New Wave collapsed on stage, the police took her body to the station and performed an autopsy on her,” Vinyl answered. “That’s how we found out she had been poisoned.”

“Oh.” Octavia sat down on her haunches, looking down at her hooves. “Never mind, then.”

“Still, it’s an interesting thought,” Watt Sun offered. “I don’t think I would put such a thing past this mare.”

“Heh, I guess I wouldn’t, either,” Vinyl admitted. “And you’re right about all the victims having something to do with New Wave. She’s the only element connecting them all together. Well, except for—” She suddenly stopped as a curious expression came over her. The others in the room were taken aback at her abrupt silence.

“Uh, Vinyl?” Sharp Eye said uneasily. “Are you ok—”

Suddenly, Vinyl’s face lit up and she sprang to her hooves. “That’s it!” she screamed, startling the other three ponies as she began dancing wildly around the room. “Octy, you’re a genius!” she yelled with delight, grabbing Octavia by the shoulders and spinning her around so that their faces were mere inches apart. “I could kiss you!”

“Um, perhaps you could restrain yourself to just calling me a genius,” Octavia hurriedly replied, pushing her friend off. “What are you talking about? What’s it?”

“I think you might just be onto something!” Vinyl grabbed the cellist’s hoof and began pulling her towards the door even as she looked utterly bewildered.

“But you said that New Wave was—”

“Not her! Come on, we need to get to Bronclyn!” Vinyl tugged Octavia out the room, leaving a completely baffled Watt Sun and Sharp Eye behind.

Architecturally, the Bronclyn morgue was just as depressing of a building as its function suggested. Cold, grey, and modern, it looked like an oversized block of concrete with the words “BRONCLYN POLICE DEPARTMENT” in large metal letters over the front door. The inside was little better, with long, dimly lit corridors with no decorative elements. It was simple, with nothing to detract from its function, making it a fitting place for the recently deceased.

“I don’t know what you expect to find,” Detective Gum Shoe said, leading Vinyl and Octavia down a hallway. The three were accompanied by a single Bronclyn police officer as they entered a large, empty room where one wall was covered with small, safe-sized steel doors. Each one hid a compartment capable of preserving a fresh corpse.

“Did you examine the body after you brought it here?” Vinyl asked.

“No. Why would we? The cause of death was pretty clear,” Gum Shoe answered. Vinyl and Octavia glanced at each other.

Gum Shoe pulled out a key and walked up a small door labeled with a paper card that read “CURTAIN CALL.” He unlocked the door and opened it before pulling out a long metal table that had a body bag placed upon it. “Well, there she is,” Gum Shoe said, stepping back to give Vinyl and Octavia a full view of the body bag.

“If you wouldn’t mind opening it, detective,” Octavia said. Gum Shoe rolled his eyes, then grabbed the zipper and pulled it down the length of the bag before opening it.

The moment he caught sight of what was in the bag, he gasped and took several steps back, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. The police officer who had accompanied them took a curious look and also reacted with surprise, and even Octavia’s eyes widened. Vinyl, however, was grinning broadly.

Gum Shoe stepped closer to the body bag, which contained nothing more than a large burlap sack that was roughly the size and weight of a pony. A bit of flour leaked out of a hole on one side. “What the hay is this?!” he yelled. “Where’s the body?!”

“There was no body,” Vinyl answered. “You said it yourself, detective. Didn’t it seem like an awfully big coincidence that we found her right as she was being murdered? Turns out you were right to be suspicious.”

“Sweet Celestia above...” Gum Shoe murmured, gaping down at the burlap sack. After a moment, he seemed to snap back to reality. “Get a unit over to that mare’s apartment!” he ordered, pointing at the police officer in the room. “Get on the radio and find somepony in the neighborhood to arrest that mare!”

The officer quickly nodded and bolted out of the room. Gum Shoe pointed at Vinyl and Octavia. “You, you, and me, we’re heading over there!”

“Can we head back to HQ and get our equipment first?” Vinyl asked.

“No time!” Gum Shoe said, already galloping for the exit. “We’re finally gonna get this killer!”

As they followed the detective out of the room, Octavia turned to Vinyl. “Something tells me that’s going to be easier said than done.”

By the time the three ponies had made it from the morgue to the neighborhood beneath the Manehattan Bridge, it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. The chatter coming through the radio in the police carriage began to be filled with requests for back-up and Gum Shoe’s repeated demands for more information went unanswered.

When they arrived, they found the apartment building surrounded by a huge crowd of ponies. The street in front of the building had been cordoned off by police to hold back the many onlookers. In the dark of night, the flashing lights of the many police carriages parked on the street illuminated the nearby buildings in harsh tones of red and blue.

Gum Shoe leapt out of the police carriage as soon as it arrived. “What the hay is going on here?” he yelled at the nearest police officer. “Why are all these ponies out here?”

“Something happened in there,” the officer replied, looking frightened. “We went in to offer back-up, but the building... it...”

“What?” Gum Shoe demanded.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. In the end, we decided to just get everypony else out of there.”

“Where are the first officers who entered?” Octavia asked.

The officer pointed at two ponies in uniform sitting on the curb, both looking shell-shocked. Octavia, Vinyl, and Gum Shoe walked up to them.

“What did you see in there?” Gum Shoe asked. The two officers didn’t even acknowledge the detective’s presence, instead continuing to stare off into space.

“It looks like they’ve had quite a fright,” Octavia noted.

Vinyl waved a hoof in front of the two, failing to generate a reaction. “Are you sure they’re even real?” she said with some skepticism in her voice. “Maybe they’re just another illusion meant to scare us.”

She prodded one of the two, who looked up at Vinyl and glared. “Screw you, mare.”

“Uh, never mind,” Vinyl said, giving them a sheepish grin before looking up at Octavia. “What do you say? Should we go in or call Sharp Eye and wait for her to bring our equipment?”

The cellist looked out at the crowd of ponies on the street, some of whom seemed just as shell-shocked as the two officers. “I’m not sure we can afford to wait any longer.” She turned to Gum Shoe. “Detective, if you don’t mind, we’d like to try and handle this ourselves. We know what we’re dealing with here.”

Gum Shoe looked uneasy, but after a moment he nodded. “I suppose you haven’t given me any reason to doubt you. But if you run into any trouble, you try to signal us immediately. Wave out the window, make a lot of noise, anything.”

Octavia agreed as she and Vinyl stepped through the entrance, passing from the crowded and brightly-lit street into the dark recesses of the apartment building.

“Uh... we do know what we’re dealing with here, right?” Vinyl muttered.

“I think so,” Octavia replied, walking confidently through the hallway towards the stairs. “They’re just illusions, after all.”

Two minutes later, the agents were inching themselves up a stairwell. Or perhaps it was down the stairwell. It was hard to tell, given that the moment they had entered the stairwell, the world seemed to inverse until they were on the ceiling, desperately trying to avoid slipping off and falling towards the roof. The effect was disorienting to say the least.

“Octy? We have no idea what we’re dealing with here, do we?” Vinyl mumbled. Her voice had gotten unusually high after the abrupt change in perspective and her complexion was pale, an impressive feat given her white coat.

“I don’t think so,” Octavia replied.

The two slowly made their way up the smooth surface on the underside of the stairway below them until they finally made it to the flat ceiling above - or below, from Vinyl and Octavia’s perspective - the nearest exit. Eager to get out of the inverted stairwell, they began reaching up for the top of the doorway.

“What floor are we on?” Vinyl asked.

Octavia tried to read the now upside-down sign next to the doorway, turning her head to the side so that she could read it. “Looks like the second.”

“Okay. Tell me when we get to the fourth. I’m gonna throw up.”

Octavia managed to grab hold of the top of the doorway and pulled herself over, reaching down to offer Vinyl a hoof before pulling her over with her. They both collapsed onto the ceiling of the second floor hallway, breathing heavily.

“Wait, this is absurd!” Octavia yelled, getting up to her hooves. “It’s just an illusion! We don’t have anything to fear from this!” At her words, the world suddenly reversed back to its original position around them, placing them on the floor once again.

“Oh, that’s better,” Vinyl muttered, taking a deep breath. “I was starting to get a little woozy there.”

Octavia warily glanced around the long corridor. “She’s watching us. Why else would everything have returned to normal the moment I said that?”

“Maybe she just got tired,” Vinyl suggested, rising to her hooves.

The door to the stairwell suddenly slammed shut behind them, its loud bang reverberating down the hallway and startling the two ponies.

“I don’t think so,” Octavia muttered. The lights overhead began to flicker. For a moment, the only sound in the corridor was the ‘clink’ of the lightbulbs turning on and off before they all shut down, plunging the hallway into darkness.

Octavia took a step towards Vinyl, standing close enough that their coats rubbed against each other. “Stay close,” she whispered.

Suddenly, the lights came back on, revealing a ghastly sight that caused Octavia’s blood to run cold. Hanging from the ceiling were the figures of four ponies, each strung up by a thick noose wrapped around their necks. They hung limply, their decomposing bodies swaying back and forth ever so slightly as the pungent smell of death suddenly filled the corridor. But it was who the ponies were that caught Octavia off-guard: herself, Vinyl, Watt Sun, and Sharp Eye had each been replicated as one of the corpses.

But while Octavia was momentarily transfixed by the sight of her own rotting flesh, Vinyl looked bored. She casually walked up to her own corpse, giving it an unimpressed look before nudging it, causing it to vanish in a puff of smoke. “Oh, please. The ‘foreshadow the protagonist’s death’ trope is so old hay.” She flicked her tail through the corpse of Octavia, causing it too to vanish. The cellist blinked, her nerves quickly returning to normal now that the effect had been spoiled. The other corpses shortly vanished as well.

“So what other horror show cliches do you have in mind?” Vinyl yelled up at ceiling, grinning broadly. “Am I gonna look into a mirror and see a ghost? Is a cat gonna suddenly jump out and scare me?” She trotted over to a set of elevator doors positioned midway through the corridor and knocked loudly on them. “Are these gonna open and spill a river of blood?”

As a matter of fact, the elevator doors did open right at that moment, although no blood spilled out. Rather, they revealed only the shadowy depths of the elevator shaft before a cable suddenly snapped out into the hallway and wrapped itself around Vinyl’s hindlegs. Driven by an unseen force, the cable quickly dragged a screaming Vinyl back into the elevator shaft before the doors closed shut after her.

Vinyl!” Octavia yelled, racing for the elevator doors. She banged on them, trying to reach into the gap between the doors and pry them open, but it was too small for her hooves to fit into. The lights started to flicker again for a moment before they suddenly stopped. Octavia heard the door at the other end of the hallway open with a loud creak followed by the sound of heavy hoofsteps, signaling the approach of somepony slowly walking down the corridor towards her.

Octavia looked up and froze at the sight of the figure, who was somepony painfully familiar to the cellist. It was the figure of a tall, handsome stallion, with a tan coat and a horn sticking out of the part in his brown, swept-back mane. He was wearing a fine, black tuxedo and a red bowtie, and on his flank was the cutie mark of a pink, sprinkle-covered doughnut.

“Hello, Ms. Octavia,” he said in a smooth tone, regarding the cellist with a smug grin.

Octavia slumped to her haunches, staring at the stallion wide-eyed and with her mouth agape. “No...” she murmured, her voice barely rising above a faint squeak. “That’s impossible...”

Con Mane smirked and lifted his forehooves to adjust his bowtie. “Oh, come now, Ms. Octavia. Who says you only live twice?”


Vinyl clung to a thick cable in the middle of the elevator shaft, trying her hardest not to slip down. Her horn was glowing brightly, illuminating her surroundings in a pale blue glow. Below her, she could see the elevator cab at the bottom of the shaft.

Wrapped around her hind legs was a thin section of rope, now dangling limply below her. She frowned down at it. “A ‘come to life’ spell, huh? Well, two can play at that game.”

The blue glow of her magic began traveling down the length of the rope and it slowly rose into the air, unwrapping itself from Vinyl’s legs before tying itself snugly around the mare’s midsection. Aided by some levitation magic on Vinyl’s part, the rope began sliding itself up the side of the elevator shaft like a snake immune to the laws of gravity. The rope then wrapped itself around a steel beam at the top of the shaft, pulling tight until it started slowly lifting Vinyl upwards.

About halfway up the elevator shaft, there was a sudden ‘thoom’ coming from overhead before the air was filled with a loud hum. Vinyl noticed the thick cable she had been clinging to was now moving and she looked down to see the elevator coming up towards her, threatening to squash her against the ceiling.

Vinyl looked unfazed. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” She glanced around before spotting a set of wires running along the wall of the shaft. Vinyl swung over to the wires, grasping them between her teeth before yanking them away from the wall. With a spark of electricity, the wires broke apart and the elevator below grounded to a halt.

“Alright, Curtain Call,” Vinyl muttered, using her magic to open the fourth floor doors as soon as the rope pulled her up to them. “Let’s see you hide behind your illusions this time.”

Octavia shook her head rapidly. “Wait a moment, what am I saying?” She stood up and stared defiantly at the stallion before her. “Of course this is impossible! You’re dead! What’s more, I killed you!”

Con Mane grinned back. “Beauty like mine shouldn’t be kept from the world. Especially from a fine mare like you.”

Stop this!” Octavia roared. “You’re not real! You’re an illusion created by Curtain Call! For that matter, how do you... how does she even know about Con Mane?”

“Why, no mare should have to live without knowing of my charms,” Con Mane replied, giving Octavia a wink. “Though I must admit, I was initially attracted to her. Much like you, she has abilities that make her very difficult to capture.”

He grinned slyly, waggling his eyebrows at Octavia. “And as you know, I love a mare that plays hard to get.”

Octavia gritted her teeth and let out a snarl. “Why did you kill New Wave? Why did you try to kill Hitchcolt and Stage Craft? Is this just your revenge for not making it as a themerse director? Is that what this is?”

Con Mane put a hoof to his chin, looking thoughtful. “Hmm... I’m not sure, actually. You’ll have to ask Curtain Call about that.”

“You are Curtain Call!” Octavia roared, stamping her forehoof on the floor. “You’re an illusion! Stop this Con Mane nonsense this instant!

“First rule of my work: never break character,” he replied with a wink.

“Fine,” she growled. “Then will you at least care to explain why you are targeting us? Why you tricked Sharp Eye despite having never seen her before?”

“Ah, now that was fun,” Con Mane murmured, smiling and gazing off into space, as if recalling a fond memory. “A fine looking mare, that one. Not as fine as you, of course, but certainly pleasing. Though I question her tastes in stallions.”

“Why did you go after Sharp Eye?” the mare muttered through her clenched teeth.

“Ms. Octavia, isn’t it obvious?” When she didn’t respond, he shook his head and chortled. “Why, to mess with you, of course!”

Octavia stared back with a blank expression on her face for a long, silent moment before she sighed deeply and started trotting down the hallway. “I’ve had enough of this. If we’re quite finished here, I’m going to find the mare who started this madness and put an end to it.”

Con Mane stepped in front of her, blocking her path. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that. Curtain Call isn’t going anywhere.”

“Oh, please,” Octavia muttered, continuing to trot forward even as Con Mane raised one of his forehooves. “You’re not real. I may have fallen for the earlier illusions, but this one is too transparently obvious for me to—”

Suddenly she felt the impact of Con Mane’s hoof against her chest before she was sent flying down the corridor. Octavia hit the floor hard, skidding to a halt. She looked up at the figure of the stallion who was slowly trotting towards her.

“Alright,” she muttered, grunting as she rolled upright. “That felt real.”

Con Mane reared up on his hindlegs, raising his forehooves to strike again, but Octavia was too quick. She nimbly rolled out of the way just as his hooves came down onto the floor, then sprung up and delivered an uppercut to the stallion. He stumbled back, clutching his jaw, while Octavia leapt to her hooves and charged at him.

Con Mane saw Octavia rush at him just in time to dodge her punch. He sidestepped the agent’s next attack, pulling back to avoid another swing before striking back, hitting her with enough force to knock her against an apartment door. He ran at her, but Octavia was already prepared.

Just as he was almost upon her, she crouched low to the ground and snapped out a hoof, causing him to trip. As the stallion fell on her she reared up on her hindlegs, lifting him with her back and launching him into the air. Con Mane went sailing over before smashing through the apartment door, landing on the other side with a loud crash.

Octavia stood up, peering through the hole in the door into the darkness of the unlit apartment beyond. A groan came from within, followed by the sound of something shifting beneath planks of wood before there was silence. The mare braced herself, waiting to see if he reemerged, but nothing came back out. Octavia hesitated for a moment, then began galloping down the corridor towards the door at the end of the hallway where Con Mane had come through.

“I’m getting really tired of this,” Vinyl grumbled under her breath as she walked down a dark corridor, her horn providing the only source of illumination in the gloom. Everywhere she shined her light, she would catch a brief glimpse of a swarm of cockroaches scuttling back into the shadows. Granted, she wasn’t entirely sure if this was an illusion or merely the condition of the apartment building, but it was enough to alarm her either way.

Vinyl whipped her head around for what felt like the umpteenth time in the last few minutes, looking for a figure she could have sworn she saw out of the corner of her eye. She looked back and forth up the corridor, expecting to catch a glimpse of a figure walking across the hallway.

Vinyl took a step forward only for the floorboard beneath her hoof to creak loudly. She quickly withdrew her hoof, holding her breath and waiting for any hint of being detected. Several moments passed, with the only sound reaching her ears being the scuttling of insects in the darkness around her. Finally, Vinyl slowly exhaled and carefully maneuvered around the creaky floorboard to continue down the hallway.

She looked up at one of the apartment doors, the light of her horn reflecting off the number “410” in metal lettering mounted on the door. A strange whistling noise was coming from the other side. Vinyl placed her hoof on the handle and took a deep breath before opening the door to Curtain Call’s apartment.

A rush of cold air swept past her and she squinted at the sudden brightness meeting her eyes. Vinyl blinked and looked inside the apartment, seeing nothing but white for a few seconds before she started noticing vertical lines of brown...

Tree trunks?” Vinyl thought. Her eyes widened as she began to fully grasp what she was seeing. A snowy forest lay within, extending far into the horizon. She stepped inside, hearing the slight crunch of snow underhoof over the whistling sound of a breeze sweeping through the branches. Save for the bare trees which rose above her, everything from the snow-covered ground to the overcast sky overhead was white.

A rush of wind swept past her and she heard a rustle from behind. She glanced back to see that the door had vanished and replaced by more of the snowy landscape. Whatever was casting the illusion knew that Vinyl was here.

“I know you’re in here,” Vinyl called out. “You might be pretty good at this themerse stuff, but it can only disguise you. It can’t make you invisible.”

She glanced around at her silent surroundings. The stillness was unnerving. Vinyl took a step forward and heard the creak of a floorboard barely disguised underneath the sound of crunching snow. She glanced down at her hoof and noticed how her white coat seemed to vanish into the snow on the ground. The wheels in her head began turning and a small grin crept across Vinyl’s face.

Vinyl’s horn lit up and her mane and tail changed from their normal bright blue streaks to the same white of her coat. “Well, maybe you can’t turn invisible,” she said with a chortle as she took off her goggles and tossed them onto the snow. Quick as a flash, she let off a bright light from her horn which crackled and flashed brightly like a firework, a trick she had learned for her stage shows. Under cover of the distraction, she dashed over to the nearest tree and ducked behind it, glancing around to see if anypony was watching.

It seemed that her distraction had done the trick. The firework faded and silence fell over the woods once again. But the stillness was quickly shattered when a knife came hurtling through the air, passing through the spot where Vinyl had been standing. She was able to spot the faint glow of magic encasing the knife before it sunk into the ground with a loud ‘thunk’ of metal piercing wood, a noise that sounded out of place in the snowy illusion.

Vinyl crouched low to the ground, counting on her disguise to keep her camouflaged. As she lay there, Vinyl noticed that the snow beneath her wasn’t crunching underhoof like it had before. With nopony to keep track of her to maintain the illusion, the sound couldn’t sync up with her actions any longer.

The wind whistled through the trees, rustling the branches overhead. Just over the sound of the breeze, Vinyl could make out a low voice: “Get out.” It rang clearly through the woods, mingling with the wind so that it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.

“Subtle,” Vinyl muttered under her breath.

This is my home,” the voice continued. “Leave.

Vinyl scanned the tree trunks, looking for any sign of movement and knowing that Curtain Call was likely somewhere out there doing the same. She began walking slowly around the edge of the clearing. “You do realize you’re surrounded, right?” she called out, trying to throw her voice between the trees. “There’s no way out of this, Curtain Call!”

“Get out!” The voice suddenly lost its loud, echoing character and was now just a shout in a normal, feminine voice. Vinyl whipped her head around to try and spot the source. “You’re not supposed to be here! Leave me alone!”

“Maybe you should have thought of that before trying to off half the directors in Manehattan,” Vinyl shot back.

“I had to show them my talents! None of them ever took me seriously before, they always looked down on my art. I had to get their attention!”

“Well, you managed that pretty well,” Vinyl muttered. “So, what? You killed New Wave just because she didn’t appreciate you enough?”

There was a moment of silence before Curtain Call spoke again. “New Wave was a monster. I once thought she was my friend, but she stabbed me in the back! She never saw me as an equal!” As she spoke, the wind picked up and began to roar through the trees. “That last play she did, where the mare falls into the river, did you know that I wrote that? But she never used it until I was gone! She always took advantage of me! She deserved what she got!”

Vinyl took a step forward and heard the crunch of snow under her hoof. She froze in place, looking down at her hoof. The agent remained in place, her ears swiveling around as complete silence descended on the woods. Vinyl gulped, eyes searching for any sign of movement. She knew what was coming, it was just a matter of getting the timing right.

“You know,” Vinyl said, her muscles tensing as she braced herself, “all these trees and places to hide in here... it would be a perfect place for somepony to try and...”

She heard the creak of a floorboard directly behind her and reacted instantly, spinning around to see a cloaked figure standing not two paces away. “—sneak up on me!” Vinyl bellowed, leaping for the pony.

She passed right through the figure, landing on all fours as the cloaked figure vanished in a pull of smoke. Vinyl was momentarily stunned. “Wha—”

All of a sudden she felt hooves grab her from behind, wrapping around her throat. Vinyl was pulled back off her hooves, struggling against the grip of her assailant. She grasped at the hooves wrapped around her neck, trying to wrench herself free of the strangle hold as the air to her lungs was cut off.

It was then that she noticed a pale glow of magic materialize around the handle of the knife that was embedded in the floor. The blade wrenched itself free and came hurtling through the air towards them, but Vinyl reached out with her own magic, catching the knife in mid-air. It hovered in place, jerking around violently while both unicorns struggled for control over it.

As they battled, Vinyl noticed the surroundings changing abruptly. Trees were fading in and out of sight, the cold air seemed to fade, and the sky had simply vanished, replaced by an apartment ceiling. Curtain Call was grunting and Vinyl could hear the telltale crackle of sparks emitting from her assailant’s horn. Despite only doing one task with her magic, Vinyl was struggling for control over the knife as Curtain Call continued to clamp down on her throat, squeezing the air from her lungs.

In her desperation to escape, Vinyl flailed about in a panic, thrusting her head upwards. She felt her horn come into contact with something before the grip around her throat suddenly slackened and the illusion of the snowy woods abruptly vanished, replaced by a dimly lit apartment. Vinyl heard a howl of pain as she slumped to the floor, gasping for air. Her eyes were trying to adjust from the bright snow to the sudden darkness, and she wheeled around blindly, just barely able to make out the figure of a mare on the floor holding a hoof to her eye.

Vinyl rushed forward, tackling the cloaked figure to the ground. Curtain Call struggled under her hooves, pinned down by her weight. “Ha! I got you now

Curtain Call’s head lunged up at Vinyl with alarming speed, her eyes narrowing to yellow slits and curved, gleaming fangs emerging from her mouth, reaching out to sink themselves into Vinyl’s flesh. The agent yelped and leapt back just before the monster could reach her, but the snake’s head quickly vanished and Curtain Call, free of Vinyl’s grasp, scrambled to her hooves and bolted for the open front door.

Stupid, Vinyl, stupid!” the agent cursed under her breath, immediately giving chase. She stayed hot on Curtain Call’s heels even as the trail of her cloak whipped around the corner into the hallway outside. Vinyl began to slowly catch up, the end of the cloak flicking against her snout before she lunged forward and grabbed it between her teeth, galloping hard to keep up with her assailant while yanking back on the cloak.

The two struggled for a moment, with Curtain Call frantically trying to gallop faster and Vinyl continuing to pull her down. Finally, the fabric couldn’t take it any longer and the cloak ripped in two, sending both stumbling over each other. Curtain Call fell to the floor but was able to scramble back up, while Vinyl tripped and landed with a hard thump, the torn remnant of the cloak held in her mouth.

She jumped to her hooves, spitting out the fabric, but even as she continued to run she realized she had lost track of Curtain Call. Vinyl cursed again, galloping down the corridor. Now that she had a moment of relative calm, she could hear the whir of propellers outside the walls of the building. A beam of light passed over a window at the end of the hallway, and Vinyl paused to look out and see an airship with “POLICE” written on the side circling overhead, its spotlight trained on the building.

There was a sudden creak of a floorboard coming from nearby and Vinyl whirled around to face the door at the end of the hallway. She held her breath, treading carefully towards the door and charging up a spell in her horn. As she came nearer, Vinyl slowly reached for the handle.

Just when she grasped the handle, the door flew open at Vinyl, smacking her in the face and briefly stunning her. She stumbled back, looking up just in time to see somepony rushing at her before she was tackled to the ground. Vinyl struggled against her unseen attacker for a moment before the beam of light from the airship passed over the window again, revealing the face of Octavia looking down at her.

“Oh geez, am I glad to see you,” Vinyl muttered, smiling up at her friend. She made to get up, but felt Octavia holding her down.

“Hold it!” Octavia snapped. “You’re not fooling me this time! You didn’t even get Vinyl’s hair right!”

“Hair?” Vinyl mumbled before realizing with a start what she was referring to. “Oh right, the mane! Sorry, I had to put on a disguise.” Her horn began to glow and the white strands of her hair turned back to their normal neon blue. Octavia’s grip relaxed and Vinyl was able to sit up, though the cellist was still giving her a suspicious look.

“I’m sorry, Vinyl, but I just have to be sure. Tell me something only the real Vinyl Scratch would know.”

“Uh... Ooh! You once told me you have a crush on Fawn Cale!”

“I told you, it’s not a crush, I just appreciate his mus—” Octavia stopped when she caught sight of Vinyl’s sly grin before smacking herself in the face. “Never mind. Did you find Curtain Call?”

“I almost had her! I was this close! She’s somewhere up here. What about you? What took you so long to get up here?”

Octavia swallowed and glanced up and down the hallway, causing Vinyl to give her a curious look. “You okay, Octy?” she asked, tilting her head to the side as she examined her friend. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Octavia turned back to Vinyl, her face pale. “It’s—”

Before she could say another word, there was a thunderous boom coming from overhead. Both mares glanced up at the ceiling, then out the window where they saw smoke pouring down from the roof, then finally at each other before making a run for the stairs.

They raced up the stairwell, barging through the metal door at the top to find themselves enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke. Around them, beams of light were barely able to penetrate the cloud and shouts rang out in the darkness, almost inaudible over the steady hum of the airships. Vinyl and Octavia scanned their surroundings, but there was little for them to see.

The smoke began to clear, but before either of them could get a good look around they had to shield their eyes from the sudden brightness of something overhead. Both glanced up to see the police airship with its spotlight trained on them, then looked around through the clearing smoke to see that the roof was deserted save for them.

The door behind them suddenly opened with a loud bang and Vinyl and Octavia looked back to see Gum Shoe and several police officers charge through. “Hold it right— Oh, it’s you.” He stopped short and glanced around. “What happened up here? We saw some kind of explosion.”

Vinyl and Octavia glanced at each other before Vinyl responded. “I don’t think you’re going to find any evidence of an explosion, detective. In fact, I’m not sure you’re going to find anything here at all.” She looked out over the surrounding rooftops, and even through the bright beam of the searchlight she could see the lights of the Manehattan skyline across the dark reaches of the river.

Midnight in a Perfect World

“We’ve been going about this all wrong,” Vinyl muttered. She was back in Watt Sun’s hospital room, pacing around the room while Octavia, Sharp Eye, and Watt Sun sat nearby and watched on.

“What are you thinking?” Sharp Eye inquired.

“I’m thinking we made a mistake letting the cops get involved,” Vinyl replied. She paused to glance at a copy of the morning’s Manehattan Times, which had a massive headline reading “NIGHT OF TERROR GRIPS BRONCLYN” and a picture of a huge explosion engulfing the roof of an apartment building.

“Don’t get me wrong, Gum Shoe seems decent and all, but the cops did the only thing they know how to do: charge in blasting.” She looked over at the other Pinkietons. “We’re spies, for crying out loud! If we’re going to catch this mare, we gotta get as sneaky as her.”

“That’s all well and good, Vinyl,” Octavia said. “Though you might be overlooking the small caveat that we have no idea where she is.”

“Did she have any friends?” Watt Sun asked. “Maybe family to stay with?”

“No one,” Vinyl answered. “The landlord said she almost never left the apartment, and records show that her parents passed away several years ago. They left her some money, which is how she’s been able to afford that apartment without an income.”

Octavia rubbed her eyes, which were red from another sleepless night, and groaned. Her normally well-groomed mane was messy and she was slumped over in her seat. “We’re overlooking the more obvious question. What in the world does any of this have to do with Con Mane?”

There was a long, uneasy silence following her words. The others glanced at each other before Watt Sun spoke. “Maybe she read about him? Perhaps there was a picture of him in the newspapers?”

“Even if such a thing did exist, what I saw was far too accurate to be from a second-hoof account,” Octavia replied. “He didn’t just look like him, he had his voice and his manners.”

“Maybe Con Mane met Curtain Call at some point? And told her about us?” Vinyl suggested.

“When? Between San Franciscolt and Canterlot?” Octavia said, raising an eyebrow at her friend. Vinyl shrugged in response. “Even if that was true, do you realize what an unlikely coincidence that would be?”

“I dunno, Octy,” Vinyl sighed, placing a hoof to her forehead.

“The more I think about this, the less sense it all seems to make,” Octavia muttered. “When we first went to Curtain Call’s apartment, she convinced us that she had been killed by the murderer. So why would she remain in that apartment and risk being discovered? Then when the police showed up, instead of using her powers to hide or run away, she tried to scare everypony out and refused to leave. Why?”

“Maybe she was hiding something there,” Sharp Eye suggested.

“Or maybe she’s just a homebody,” Vinyl said. “Perfecting her craft, like a total workaholic. I should know,” she added, winking at Octavia.

“And why impersonate Watt Sun?” Octavia continued. “Why risk being discovered then? And why attempt to kidnap a director off the stage when his entire crew was present? Just to prove that she can?”

“Why not?” Vinyl replied. “I mean, she did say she had to show the directors her talent. This pony lives and breathes themerse. She has to, she’s too good at it. I’ve never seen anypony with the kind of skill and variety that she has. But it sounds like she also hasn’t had anypony to show off that skill to since New Wave blew her off.”

“You almost sound like you’re sympathetic,” Sharp Eye muttered, raising an eyebrow. “Like you feel sorry for her.”

“It’s not that,” Vinyl said hurriedly, “I’m just trying to get into her head. Like... what if your entire life revolved around just one thing? What if the only thing I ever did was make music? I would just sit around my house recording songs, obsessing over it, talking about nothing but music...”

“And this is different from how you normally behave?” Octavia said with a smirk.

“This whole time we’ve been treating her like some kind of master criminal,” Vinyl went on, ignoring her friend’s remark. “But Octy’s right. Nothing she does makes any sense... for a master criminal! A master criminal wouldn’t let the diary slip back into our hooves or risk detection. But somepony who wants to show off would. She does have a flair for theatrics, you have to give her that.”

“So she’s a homebody and a show-off,” Sharp Eye surmised. “Interesting combination. But what does that tell us?”

“It tells us that she only knows one thing,” Vinyl answered. “And she sticks to the familiar. So what place would Curtain Call know best besides her own apartment?”

The streets of Little Tartarus were eerily quiet. Normally the neighborhood would be alive with activity in the evening, with ponies visiting to attend a show at one of the many theaters in the neighborhood. But nearly all of the theaters, even those that didn’t show themerse, had canceled their performances for fear of “the Phantom.” The restaurants and cafes that normally catered to theater-goers had closed early with nopony to serve. If one looked east up the dark, narrow streets, the bright glare of Thyme Square and Broncway shone in the distance like a miniature sun in the middle of Manehattan. Down to the west was the blackness at the edge of the city, where the lights and life of the city gave way to the dark, cold depths of the river.

The Immerse Theater was among the many in the neighborhood that were closed. Locked tight and with nothing advertised on its marquee, the theater had quickly shut down after the death of its star performer. Now Vinyl, Octavia, and Sharp Eye stood atop the roof of an adjacent building, looking over the place where the Phantom had first struck.

“Well, somepony is in there,” Vinyl said. She was wearing a pair of headphones and holding up a device that looked like a megaphone, pointing it in the direction of the theater. “Kinda hard to make out, but there’s definitely activity inside.”

“You really think Curtain Call is in there?” Octavia asked.

“Why not?” Vinyl replied. “She’s got nowhere else to go. Besides, it’s kinda fitting, isn’t it? Returning to the scene of the crime and all...”

“Alright, then,” Octavia said, strapping her sheathed sword to her back while Vinyl put her equipment into the saddlebag she was wearing. “Are we ready?”

“Are you sure we should have left Watt Sun behind?” Sharp Eye asked, looking uneasy. “I mean, considering what we’re up against... if she gets away again, she might look for him.”

“I’m sure your hubby will be fine with the police guards watching him,” Vinyl said, smirking. Sharp Eye merely scowled in response.

Octavia placed a hoof on Sharp Eye’s shoulder, giving her a smile. Sharp Eye nodded in response before they clambered down a fire escape on the side of the building before hopping across the narrow alleyway that separated the theater from the building next to it. All three landed easily on the roof of the theater and began creeping silently across it, pausing near an electric box in the middle of the roof. With a bit of magic, Vinyl opened the box and examined the circuits inside.

“Man, this place has virtually no security,” Vinyl muttered, yanking out one of the cables. “That’s the alarm taken care of. How do you want to enter?”

“Hmmm.” Octavia looked around, scanning the roof. She settled on a huge ventilation shaft that emerged up out of the building before curving to the side, with the opening facing them. “Do you have the rope?”

“Way ahead of you,” Vinyl said, already using her magic to levitate a length of rope out of her saddlebag before tying off one end around a nearby pole. Octavia wrapped it around her midsection, then silently climbed into the ventilation opening. The sheet of metal depressed slightly beneath her hooves, making a small “thoom,” but remained sturdy.

“One at a time,” Octavia instructed, perching herself on the small ledge over the ventilation shaft and peering down into the darkness below. “Let’s try not to make too much noise.” Vinyl and Sharp Eye nodded and she hopped back off the ledge and into the shaft, gripping the rope between her hooves and allowing just enough slack to drop slowly down the shaft. She carefully rappelled her way down, gently placing her hooves against the walls so as to not make a sound.

Her hooves found the bottom of the shaft and she carefully settled herself onto it, hearing the slight thud of the sheet metal beneath her but otherwise not making a sound. She noticed a patch of light nearby illuminating the ventilation shaft and crept slowly along the narrow passage to find an opening in the floor. Octavia peered through the screen covering the opening and found herself looking down into a small office. It was undecorated, with a window that allowed some light in from outside. A single desk, a couple of chairs, and a few filing cabinets were the room’s only furnishings. She pressed down on the screen, finding that it gave away easily and catching it before it could make any noise. She then leapt down, landing catlike on the floor before giving the rope a tug.

Octavia heard the small thump from overhead that signaled another pony passing through the ventilation shaft. A moment later, Sharp Eye’s head appeared in the opening before she slid down the rope into the office. Vinyl followed shortly thereafter, joining the other two before using her “come to life” spell to retrieve the rope and put it away in her saddlebag.

“Alright, stay on your guard,” Octavia whispered, pressing an ear to the closed door. “Keep your—”

There was a sudden thunderous roar coming from the other side of the door, causing Octavia to leap back in alarm. Vinyl and Sharp Eye crouched, bracing themselves for an attack that never came. The roar continued, echoing through the building and mingling with cheering voices and whistles.

“Is that... applause?” Sharp Eye whispered.

The three Pinkietons glanced at each other before Vinyl used her magic to unlock the door, opening it slowly to make as little noise as possible. Her caution turned out to be unnecessary, however, as the applause effectively drowned out any sound the door made. The three walked down the hall towards the roar, which eventually died down with a few solitary hooffalls.

Vinyl walked up to a door marked “MAINTENANCE” and cracked it open, peering through the narrow opening and what lay on the other side. She spent a moment just staring through before glancing back at Octavia and Sharp Eye and pressing a hoof to her lips, then quietly snuck inside. The other two followed, finding themselves on a large ledge overlooking a vast space. A catwalk lined with stage lights spanned across the space from the ledge to the other side of the cavernous room.

The three of them could hear voices coming from below, and crept along the ledge, peeking over the edge to see a huge crowd in the theater beneath them. The seats were filled with ponies, all of them giving their rapt attention to the stage, where a beautiful young unicorn mare was standing before the audience. She was a striking figure, with a deep blue coat that had a sheen to it and a long turquoise mane and tail that seemed to flow out from her, sparkling in the stage lights.

“Is that Curtain Call?” Sharp Eye asked, her tone one of awe.

“Yeah. Why? What did you think she looked like?” Vinyl replied.

Sharp Eye opened her mouth, but took a moment to formulate her response. “Come to think of it, I guess I don’t really know. But I need to make sure Watt Sun never lays eyes on her.”

Fillies and gentlecolts!” Curtain Call announced, smiling broadly as she looked out at the audience. “You have been such a wonderful crowd! I hope you enjoyed this performance of ‘Mare of the River.’ Thank you all!” The crowd rose to its hooves, roaring its approval and stomping on the floor. Curtain Call bowed as roses were tossed onto the stage, landing gently near her hooves.

Vinyl and Octavia glanced at each other. “Octy?”


“This is happening, right?”

They turned back to the stage, watching as Curtain Call blew kisses towards the crowd and bow a couple more times before finally retreating behind the curtain. The moment she did, the audience abruptly vanished. There was no trace of the crowd now; the seats below were completely empty.

“I don’t believe it is,” Octavia responded.

Curtain Call strode forward, her mane billowing out behind her as she walked. Around her, backstage ponies were busy wrapping up the set, each one complimenting her as she walked past. Heads turned at her approach, each one gazing upon her with a look of admiration. She acknowledged all of them; a star like herself always made time for her fans.

“Oh Curtain Call, your performance was breathtaking! I’ve never seen such a heart-wrenching portrayal of a mare’s plight...”

“...such an innovative use of themerse techniques. There will be a generation of directors who shall speak the name Curtain Call with reverence...”

“...so brilliantly written, with thought-provoking themes and compelling characters...”

“...it’s as if you have an equally proportionate gift to writing, acting, and directing!”

“Oh, it’s nothing, really!” Curtain Call replied with a giggle. “You’re too kind!” She proceeded to the very back of the room, where a red couch and a pair of young stallions were awaiting her. She laid down upon the couch and felt the gentle touch of one of the stallions upon her back, massaging her shoulders. She cooed softly, relaxing into the plush cushions of the couch.

“That was a wonderful show, Curtain Call,” the masseur said. “Truly, the best performance of ‘Mare of the River’ I have ever seen.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” Curtain Call answered. “I dare say I did better than New Wave herself.”

At the thought of her old mentor, a scowl crossed her face. The memory of the diary flashed unbidden through her mind. Around her, the surroundings changed to that of a gloomy subway tunnel, where a single, solitary cloaked figure sat by the edge of the train tracks, clutching a book. Curtain Call remained in her couch, looking upon the illusion of herself. “I knew taking it would be a bad idea, but I had to know what New Wave had written!” she narrated, watching herself read the diary. Tears streamed down the cloaked figure’s maskless face before she closed the book. Her teeth were gritted and her eyes were tightly shut as she rose to her hooves and flung the diary into the gloom, casting its vileness amongst the grime and filth of the tunnel. As Curtain Call watched herself flee from the tunnel, her gaze lingered on the diary. Perhaps some rat would come across the book and make a meal of its pages, consuming such poisonous words.

The tunnel vanished and Curtain Call was backstage once more, still laying upon her couch and tended to by the stallions, even as a solitary tear rolled down her cheek. “Nothing I did ever made her happy, nothing I did ever satisfied her!” she yelled, stomping her hooves into the plush cushions.

She looked across the stage to see New Wave standing there, giving Curtain Call that cold sneer she remembered so well. Curtain Call rose off the couch, walking towards her old mentor with a defiant expression. “Well, what do you think of me now?!” she shouted. “Am I your equal now? Were you afraid that I would finally stand up to you?”

New Wave merely stood in place and stared back even as Curtain Call yelled in her face. “You’re finished! I’m greater than you now! I even have your theater! What do you think of that?!

Her mentor didn’t respond. “Well?!” Curtain Call bellowed. “Answer me!” She swung her forehoof at New Wave’s face, but it passed right through. The elder mare vanished in a cloud of smoke, leaving Curtain Call alone, panting and bent over with her teeth gritted and her eyes glaring at the spot where New Wave had been standing.

After a moment, she closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. She stood fully upright and gave her sparkling mane a toss. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. I don’t need you. I have my fans now.” As if on cue, she turned around to view a crowd of ponies, their faces lit up with delight and looking eagerly at Curtain Call. They quickly began to surround her.

“Oh Curtain Call, you’re the greatest!”

“Curtain Call, I’m your biggest fan!”

“Ms. Call, could I get a shot for the Times?”

“Ms. Curtain Call, could I get your autograph?”

She reached out to take the small notebook that somepony was holding out to her. “Certainly,” she cooed, pulling out a pen. “And who should I make this out to?”

“Scratch. Vinyl Scratch.”

Curtain Call froze and looked up to see a mass of white before something collided into her, knocking her off her hooves. She fell through the air, her attacker pushing her to the floor before she landed on her back, her head hitting the wood floorboards with a sharp smack. The crowd of ponies around her immediately vanished, leaving only Curtain Call and the pony standing atop her.

Hah!” Vinyl cried. “I got—”

Her words got caught in her throat when she looked down at the pony laying beneath her hooves. It took her a moment to realize that this was even the same pony who had been on stage just a moment before. The long, flowing turquoise mane was gone, replaced by a short, light blue mane that was frayed at the ends and graying. The luster and sparkle of her hair had vanished. Even more shocking was the change in her figure; where the Curtain Call on stage had a pleasant, healthy-looking figure, this Curtain Call looked thin and frail, with a visible rib cage and neck veins. Her coat was dull blue and unkempt, and her face no longer had the youthful appearance it had a moment ago; there were dark circles beneath her eyes and her cheeks were thin.

Curtain Call took advantage of Vinyl’s astonishment to kick her off, before jumping to her hooves and racing away. But she didn’t get more than a couple of steps before something gray leapt onto her, pinning her to the ground. She felt somepony on her back, pressing her against the floorboards. Curtain Call struggled, but a second figure joined the gray one already on top of her, holding her hooves down.

“Ms. Curtain Call,” Octavia grunted, wrestling her head to the floor, “you are under arrest for the murder of New Wave, and the attempted murder and kidnapping of no less than four other ponies.”

“No, stop!” Curtain Call whined. “Why do you keep ruining everything? Why do you hate my performance?”

A set of white hooves stepped into her vision, and she looked up to see Vinyl staring down at her. “We’re here because you killed New Wave, obviously.”

“Why do you keep saying I killed her?” Curtain Call cried. “She was just here, didn’t you see?!”

“That was an illusion and you know it,” Vinyl muttered.

“No! No, she was here! She was here, and so were all my fans! See?” Her horn began to glow and the crowd of admirers reappeared around them, taking pictures of Curtain Call and complimenting her.

“Stop this!” Octavia growled, smacking Curtain Call’s head against the floor and causing the illusion to vanish. “You know perfectly well that this isn’t real!”

“No, please!” Curtain Call moaned, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t take away my fans...”

Vinyl, Octavia, and Sharp Eye glanced at each other while Curtain Call continued to cry. “I don’t think she’s...” Vinyl paused, pointing a hoof at the side of her head and twirling it around. “...well.”

“Ms. Curtain Call,” Sharp Eye began, “will you admit that you poisoned New Wave?”

“Yes, I did!” Curtain Call replied quickly. “She deserved it, too! Connie said it would end her career, and he was right!”

There was a long silence following her words, and Curtain Call could feel Octavia shaking on top of her. “How do you know Con Mane?”

“He came to find me,” Curtain Call said. “He’s been helping me put together my performance! He told me how to end New Wave’s career and how to get all the other directors to pay attention to me! When I’m done, everypony in Manehattan will know about me!”

“Con Mane is dead!” Octavia growled. “You’ve probably just been imagining him, like these ‘fans’ of yours!”

“No, he’s real! He tells me he’s my biggest fan, and how much he loves my work, and he helps me, and he said he would spy on somepony named Sharp Eye to find out more about the Pinkietons—”

Stop it!” Sharp Eye cried. “None of that was real!”

Suddenly, all of them were bathed in bright light. The three Pinkietons winced, shielding their eyes from the stage lights overhead, which had abruptly turned on. “What the—” Octavia muttered before a hoof smacked her across the face, striking with enough impact to push her off Curtain Call. She felt the performer slip through her hooves, scrambling away even as the stage lights turned off.

Don’t take your eyes off her!” Vinyl yelled as Curtain Call leapt down into the audience seats, racing up the aisle towards the front of the building, with the three Pinkietons right behind her. Curtain Call burst through the double doors to the lobby and then across the room and out into the empty street, with her pursuers following close.

She turned right and began galloping west, down the middle of the narrow street. She may have looked thin and frail, but she was proving to be a fast runner, and on the downward slope towards the river she was picking up speed. Octavia, the fastest of the three Pinkietons, kept close even as she began to leave Vinyl and Sharp Eye behind.

Curtain Call was in full flight now, galloping frantically away. Her horn began glowing and a pair of nearby garbage cans were suddenly upturned, rolling straight towards Octavia, but she leapt over them easily. The agent tried to close the distance between them as they crossed another block, bringing them to the edge of Manehattan. Ahead of them, all that could be seen was a vast swath of darkness that Octavia knew to be the river. The smell of salt water was suddenly in the air and it invigorated Octavia, filling her with adrenaline as she felt the end of the chase quickly approaching.

They raced past a huge warehouse separating them from the river before Curtain Call ran for a nearby pier, her hooves pounding loudly on the wooden planks. Octavia followed, hearing the groan of the ancient, rotten wood and the splash of waves beneath her. In the distance, across the wide stretch of river, was a thin line of lights along the opposite shoreline. The pier was dimly lit, with faint circles of light from the lightposts separated by wide stretches of darkness. Octavia briefly lost track of Curtain Call in the darkness before she reappeared in another circle of light further down the pier.

“Wait!” Octavia called out. “I’m not going to hurt you! You need help!” Curtain Call either didn’t hear her or choose to ignore her, continuing to run on.

At last, Octavia watched Curtain Call, barely visible in the darkness, arrive at the end of the pier, skidding to a halt. She glanced back at the approaching agent. “Don’t come any closer!” she yelled. “I’ll jump! I swear I’ll do it!”

Octavia didn’t slow down, watching Curtain Call back away towards the end of the pier. “Don’t jump! You’re not well!”

“Don’t come any closer!” Curtain Call repeated, but Octavia was almost upon her now. She leapt at her, intending to tackle her to the ground before she could slip off. Her outstretched hooves reached for Curtain Call, but as she came closer she finally noticed her features in the dim light: a mare with a healthy-looking figure with a long, flowing mane.

Octavia yelped just as she passed through the figure, which vanished in a burst of smoke. She landed on the wooden planks, skidding towards the end of the pier. The agent had just enough time to throw out her forehooves and catch the ledge before sliding off, falling towards the cold waters below. Octavia now dangled off the end of the pier, desperately hanging on.

Hah!” a triumphant shout called out. Octavia looked up to see the true face of Curtain Call as she jumped out from behind a box nearby. She began jumping up and down on the wooden planks, cheering gleefully. “You can’t catch me! I’m too smart for you! I’ll always—”

A loud crack rang through the air, followed by several more as Curtain Call suddenly plunged out of sight. Octavia caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure falling beneath the pier before there was a loud splash, accompanied by a series of quieter ones as chunks of wood fell into the water. She heard a desperate gasp over the waves and frantic splashing, staring down with wide eyes to see a figure in the river below, quickly being swept away by the current.

Octy!” Vinyl’s voice cried out. She looked up to see her friends approaching. Vinyl quickly reached down and grasped Octavia’s forehooves with her own, grunting as she pulled her back up onto the pier. They collapsed onto the edge of the pier and sat for a moment, panting heavily and staring at each other before Vinyl pulled her friend into a hug. Octavia gave a muffled grunt of surprise before smiling and patting Vinyl on the back.

Sharp Eye looked from the gaping hole now in the wooden planks of the pier out over the river, where she caught a glimpse of a figure still struggling against the current, hooves flailing above the water before she slipped beneath the waves, vanishing in the river.

Stand Up

Octavia sat in the cafeteria of the Pinkieton Manehattan headquarters, across a table from Melody Maker. The elder mare had spent the last several minutes reading over a document while the agent sat quietly, resisting the urge to fidget in her seat.

Melody reached the end of the last page and let out a long sigh before folding the document back into its binder. “That was a very... interesting report, Agent Octavia.”

Octavia bit her lip as Melody went on. “I do believe this is your first case where the culprit has gone unaccounted for. Has any sign of Curtain Call been found?”

The agent shook her head. “The local authorities are still searching the river, but they’ve informed me that after a couple of days the likelihood of finding a body markedly decreases.”

“Indeed. I am also concerned about the sightings of Con Mane you mentioned.”

“We were unable to find any evidence whatsoever that Curtain Call had an accomplice.” Octavia paused and seemed to be collecting her thoughts.

Melody raised an eyebrow. “I’m sensing a ‘but’ in your next sentence.”

“...But we also weren’t able to determine how or when Curtain Call met with Con Mane, if she ever did.”

Melody sighed and rested against the back of her seat. “I see. So our old friend manages to strike back from beyond the grave.” A small smile crept across her face. “Why am I not surprised?”

She looked down at the binder containing the report, then used her magic to levitate it into a suitcase lying on the table. “Very well, then. I suppose the Pinkieton Detective Agency has done all it can here.”

She rose out of her seat and looked across at Octavia, gazing intently at the agent. “Why don’t you take some time off? Agent Scratch informed me that this case was particularly hard on you.”

“I’m fine!” Octavia said quickly, then blushed slightly and cleared her throat. “I am perfectly capable of continuing my regular duties, Ms. Maker.”

“I’m sure you are,” Melody replied, chortling. “But I need you to be at a little better than merely ‘capable.’”

The sound of muffled shouting suddenly met their ears. They looked around, trying to place the noise and determining that it was coming from outside. The shouting only grew louder the next moment, and Octavia and Melody Maker shared a glance before the agent jumped to her hooves and ran for the exit. She raced down the secret passageway and past the bookshelves out into the lobby, where she turned towards the front door.

Vinyl, Sharp Eye, and Watt Sun were already standing on the front stoop, watching something outside. Watt Sun had one leg wrapped in a thick cast and lifted slightly off the ground, with a small crutch attached so that he could still walk around, while Sharp Eye had a forehoof tucked around one of his. Octavia stepped up next to Vinyl and looked down at the street to see three stallions tussling in the middle of the intersection, trading blows and trying to wrestle each other to the ground.

“What’s going on?” Octavia asked.

“See for yourself,” Vinyl said, pointing across the street. Octavia looked and saw that one of the pizzerias on the intersection had changed its name once again, this time to “The One and Only Famous Neigh’s Pizza.” She looked across the intersection to see a sign reading “This Is The Actual Neigh’s Pizza.” The third one, which had a ladder in front of it as if somepony had just finished putting up the sign, said “The Only Worthwhile Neigh’s Pizza.”

Octavia blinked, then turned her gaze back to the stallions fighting. A couple of police officers were already galloping down the street, one of them blowing a whistle as they approached, but the pizza makers seemed not to take notice, instead continuing to throw punches. A crowd of onlookers had already appeared, and Octavia even noticed some ponies poking their heads out of windows in the buildings above, looking down to see what all the fuss was about.

As the scuffle went on, Octavia turned to Vinyl. “You know what, I’m starting to think that there’s really no point to themerse.”

“Oh?” Vinyl replied, raising an eyebrow at her friend.

“Yes. This city is bizarre enough as it is.”

Along the shore across the river from Manehattan, a single boat rumbled down the river. It was a small motorboat, with the initials “MPD” printed on the side and a searchlight affixed to the front. It floated silently, bobbing up and down atop the waves, its light scanning the shoreline intently. The beam cut through the darkness of the night, revealing the twisted remnants of a factory resting on the shore. Steel beams jutted out of the water or poked out of the partially collapsed roof overhang the rubble of the building.

The searchlight swept across the shoreline a few more times before the officers on board finally stopped. The motor roared to life and the boat took off, continuing downriver where it would certainly stop a short distance away to scan another section of shoreline.

As silence fell and darkness reclaimed the factory ruins, there was movement amongst the rubble. Curtain Call’s head poked up from behind a large sheet of metal that had shielded her from the police boat’s sight. She let out a breath and rested on the muddy ground, looking out across the river at the twinkling lights of the Manehattan skyline. She was still too exhausted to move very far or even use magic. She curled into a ball, shivering as she wrapped her hooves around herself.

There was a sudden clatter nearby and Curtain Call’s head shot up. She scanned the ruins, but saw no one. “H-hello?” she called out. “Is somepony there?”

There was silence for a long moment before it was broken by the sound of hooves trotting against the ground, growing louder as whoever they belonged to came closer. Curtain Call ducked behind a pillar, waiting to see who emerged. A figure stepped into the small clearing in the middle of the ruins, barely visible in the moonlight.

It turned out to be somepony very familiar to her. There was no mistaking that tan-coated unicorn stallion, with his brown, slicked back mane, doughnut cutie mark, and tuxedo and red bowtie. Curtain Call leapt out from behind the pillar, crying out, “Connie!”

Con Mane turned to face her, smiling at the mare. “I see you’ve survived. You’ve passed the test then, and with flying colors, I might add.”

Curtain Call began to trot forward to embrace the stallion, but stopped short. “Test?” she asked, tilting her head. “What test, Connie?”

Con Mane smirked, adjusting his bowtie. “You see, Ms. Curtain Call, I haven’t been entirely straightforward with you. I’m something of a... talent scout. And we’re looking for somepony to play a part in a great performance. Quite possibly the greatest performance in the history of Equestria. Even greater than what you’ve already done.”

Another performance?” Curtain Call replied, her eyes growing wide. “An even greater one?”

“Oh yes,” he answered, taking a step towards her. “If you play your part right, ponies all over Equestria will be talking about this one for many years to come.”

As Con Mane took another step closer, Curtain Call noticed his eyes flash green. Suddenly his body seemed to undergo a transformation. His horn began growing longer, turning black and curving to a sharp point. His coat seemed to fade away, replaced by a layer of jet black chitin. Holes appeared in his legs and transparent blue wings unfolded from his back, buzzling rapidly. Con Mane’s smug smile remained as fangs extended from his mouth and his eyes turned into a single shade of solid blue. Curtain Call backed against the pillar, too petrified to make a sound while the creature continued to advance.

The creature made a strange, rattling snarl before he was engulfed by a flash of green light. As it faded, Curtain Call found herself looking upon a different stallion, this one with a white coat and a cutie mark of a black musical note, looking incredibly similar to one of the mares who had chased her out of the theater. He too had a spiky mane and tail and wore a set of purple shades over his eyes, only his hair was neon green rather than blue.

“Heh, not my most original disguise, I admit,” Feedback said with a chortle. “Still, like my queen once said: ‘When in doubt, just remember rule number sixty-three.’”

Curtain Call still had not spoken, instead staring, mouth agape, at the figure before her. Feedback held out a hoof towards her. “So, what do you say, Curtain Call? I think we will have use for your abilities.”

Vinyl and Octavia sat besides each other, overlooking the lights and bustle of Thyme Square. It was early in the evening and a pleasantly cool breeze swept between the buildings, chasing away the heat of the day. Both ponies were sitting on a set of bleachers that had been placed at one end of the square, giving passersby a chance to stop, rest their hooves, or just sit and watch.

Octavia inhaled deeply before slowly letting out her breath, feeling far more at ease than she had in the last several days. With no hint of any trouble, she and Vinyl had taken to doing a little sightseeing around Manehattan and they kept finding themselves passing through Thyme Square.

There was something inexplicably compelling about Thyme Square. There was virtually nothing about it that spoke to the rest of the city; it was little more than a glamorous facade that distracted one from the darker corners of Manehattan, much like a stage light focused on a theater set. And yet, despite the superficial nature of the place, the gaudy signage, the corny street performers, the multitude of brand names staring down from every corner, and the fact that no local would want to be caught dead here, there was something oddly comforting about Thyme Square. Perhaps it was the sea of fellow ponies that crowded the streets, staring slack-jawed up at the signs or taking pictures. Perhaps it was the bright lights which seemed to draw everypony in, leaving nary a shadow even in the darkest night. Or perhaps it was simply the iconic nature of the place. It was awe-inspiring and yet at the same time strangely familiar.

“You know, it’s kind of a shame,” Vinyl said.

“What is?” Octavia glanced over to see her friend staring at something in the distance. She followed her line of sight to a theater marquee, which was advertising the return of themerse to Manehattan.

“Curtain Call could have been an amazing director,” Vinyl said. “She had the talent and she even had a few connections. If only she hadn’t become so obsessed with it. Maybe if she had had a better mentor or something.”

“You mean somepony who wasn’t so thin-skinned?”

Vinyl smirked. “Yeah, something like that.” They lapsed into silence for a moment before she continued. “So, how are you feeling?”

“You keep asking me that,” Octavia muttered. “I told you, I’m fine. Really, I am. I’m just...” She trailed off, closing her eyes and putting a hoof to her forehead. “I’m just uncertain, is all. There were a few too many questions left unanswered in all of this.”

“You thinking about Con Mane?”

“Please don’t mention his name,” Octavia groaned, burying her face in her hooves. “It’s bad enough I have to keep seeing that idiotic smirk of his in my nightmares.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Vinyl said hurriedly. An awkward silence fell between them for a long moment before Vinyl spoke up again. “Of course, you know that it couldn’t possibly have been Con Mane.”

“Because I killed him?” Octavia mumbled.

“No, because if it had actually been him, this wouldn’t have been nearly so easy.”

Octavia looked up and gaped at Vinyl, who stared back with a blank expression for a long, silent moment. But then Vinyl’s mouth curled upwards and a snicker escaped her lips before she dissolved into laughter. Octavia shook her head, but couldn’t suppress a smile of her own.

“So what about you?” Octavia asked. “What are you going to do now that New Wave’s production has been shut down for good?”

“Well, all the themerse work in town kinda dried up, in case you didn’t notice. It’ll come back, I’m sure, but I’m starting to think I’m a bad luck charm. I mean, I haven’t even heard from Feedback in days.”

“Frankly, I’m surprised you would want to keep working in themerse after everything we went through.”

“Are you kidding me?” Vinyl said, her face lighting up. “After everything we’ve seen it do? No no no, we need to get ahead of this thing. In fact, we should try to be the ones to introduce it to Canterlot! Think of the music shows I could do with this!”

Octavia laughed. “It never changes, does it? No matter what we go through, it’s always about the music for DJ-PON3.”

Vinyl threw back a cocky grin. “It always is.”

Return to Story Description

Other Titles in this Series:

  1. Mission: Implausible

    by JohnPerry
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  2. You Only Live Twice

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  4. When the Curtain Falls

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    An incident in a Manehattan theater quickly draws secret agents Vinyl Scratch and Octavia into a hunt for a strange killer.


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