When the Curtain Falls

by JohnPerry

Chapter 3: Play With Fire

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

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.

Next Chapter: A Quick One While He's Away Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 41 Minutes
Return to Story Description


Login with