When the Curtain Falls

by JohnPerry

Chapter 1: Beat City

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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.

Next Chapter: In Bronclyn We Go Hard Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 10 Minutes
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