[once again I've lightly edited and glued the whole thing together]
[new stuff is in green text at the bottom]
pony noir | part one: headaches and exposition
Celestia raised the sun too soon, Hardy Sweets was sure of that one. He rolled outta the hay and onto four shaking hooves. A cider hangover stuck like wet taffy. Through one big bloodshot eye, Hardy caught his reflection in the mirror.
He looked like hell. Hardy’s five-o-clock shadow was a day or two late. His once deep purple mane looked positively lavender, shot through with white. When had that started? At least his cutie mark still stood bold: two crossed peppermint sticks, ending in hammer heads.
He needed a wash and hayburger. Instead, he ran a hoof through his greasy mane and choked down the dregs of a cider cup. With a practiced motion, Hardy tossed on his well-worn fedora. Biting down on a licorice stick, the gruff pony strode out into the angry light of day.
The boss was missing. She’d been gone too long. It wasn’t like Stoney Twinkle to run off without notice. She was too careful. He didn’t like it, and tried to stop his thoughts just there. Like the grizzled stallion himself, Sweets’ thoughts never listened.
Over the past few days, he had tried to float her whereabouts out of Equestria’s underbelly. All it netted him was overextended bar tabs and a terrible headache. So much for the peppermint stick, it was time for the hammer.
pony noir | part two: violent trails
A long line of bruises brought Hardy Sweets from Foal Meadows to some dockside slum on the rump end of Manehatten.
It began with Salty Sly and a bloody lip. Salty shouldn’t have run. That led Hardy to Yellow Feather, a wimpy sleaze of pegasus.
Yellow was pretty small-time, really, a smuggler and conpony in one. He got six bit train tickets to places all over Equestria, then sold ‘em for a single coin. He’d tack on a “Oh hey, could you drop this package to my uncle Hot Stars? He’s a unicorn, long story…”
So far as Hardy knew, Yellow dealt in small stuff: bits and bobs, rare plants for mean little potions, griffon dust. He was also the best way to get a ticket on the sly.
It was too bad because Hardy and the pegasus had a misunderstanding over a hoof of cards, long time back. Boss still dealt with him from time to time though. It made sense. Yellow wasn’t talking, though.
He wouldn’t listen to reason. He wouldn’t listen to bits. He listened to pain. Hardy wasn’t all rough; he popped the asshole’s wing back into place when he was finished.
Stoney Twinkle dyed her mane and tail pink then headed east. Yellow thought she looked spooked and real mad all at once.
Hardy knew who to look for then. A long series of hoof fights, criminals he knew by reputation, and dodging patrol colts got him what he needed.
Stoney had bought some sorta antique book then left in the company Two-teeth Nectar, noted redrock molasses junkie and general sack of shit.
So, there Hardy stood under the seedy yellow light of the Seahorse Lounge.
pony noir | part three: fade to black
In a room full of manure it’s tough to find the right pile. Hardy reluctantly tossed two bits to a mean looking unicorn hulking near the door.
Inside, they all looked like desperate ghosts, too pale, too skinny. Above the bar bottles gathered dust. Each table drowned under old wax and melting candles.
The barkeep pointedly looked away whenever somepony thrust some shaking spoon into a flame, cooking waxy stones into caustic syrup. Otherwise the clientele stuck to the shadows along the walls.
For several minutes Hardy stood near the door staring daggers in every direction. The candles burned bright, hiding everything outside their circles in shifting murk. All Hardy heard was heavy breathing and needy sighs.
With a snort, he clopped towards the bar. A sallow orange earth pony squinted at him from the other side.
“Whadda ya want?” she demanded.
Hardy put ten bits on the counter.
She poured him a cup so watered down it wouldn’t foam.
“Know a fella named Two-teeth?” he asked loudly.
“Never heard of him,” she said with a pointed glance towards the far corner.
All ten bits slid into her apron.
A wan white pony clambered wildly out the door. Why did they all have to run?
Hardy wasn’t much on distance anymore, but lucky for him they didn’t call it molasses because it’s sticky. Slow junkies were Hardy’s personal favorite type.
The white, shaking colt had dropped out of breath in a surprisingly convenient alleyway. There was just enough streetlight for Hardy to make out the faded form of a paintbrush on the poor kid’s flank.
“Look I don’t plan to hurt ya,” Hardy spat out up front, failing to keep from sounding winded. “I just need to ask you a question about a book.”
“Ah, shit, pal, anything but that,” Two-teeth stammered. “Somepony, else turns up out there, they’ll know it was me. You don’t understand.”
“I’m just lookin’ for my friend.”
“You don’t get it. They’ll kill me.”
“I can get ya outta here, bud,” Hardy offered as kindly as the gruff old bastard could.
“You don’t understand. They’ll find me!”
“You don’t understand; I already found ya.”
The kid clammed up tight, a sad quivering pile of nothing good.
Hardy sighed and took off his coat. Turning sideways the old brute flexed his back legs.
Cocking his head towards his own cutie mark, “Time was, pal, I could kick a brick to dust.”
Silence did all the talking for a bit.
“How long it been since you painted anything?”
“I got thirty bits in that coat on the ground. That can buy you ticket far away and whole hell of a lot of art supplies.”
Quiet overtook the conversation again.
“Okay, fine!” the colt finally blurted.
“I’m listening, kid.”
Hardy didn’t see the surprise in Two-teeth’s eyes until it was too late.
A splash of stars and fade to black.
pony noir | part four: a better vantage point
Oh Celestia, the big galoot has always proved helpful, even when he doesn’t mean to be.
Name’s Stoney, Stoney Twinkle, and this is my story, I guess.
It started the way these things so often do, a worried mare walked into my office. It was an old yarn.
Her colt got caught up with a bad crowd, with all the typical trouble that brings. He hopped a train to the big bad city. She hadn’t heard head nor tail since. It should’ve been a simple trick to turn so I just let Hardy sleep it off.
Besides, I didn’t think the client could my rates and my bruiser’s too.
I started with the young punk’s shiftless associates. When dealing with vagrant young fellas, it helps to be pretty.
I’m still young enough to sparkle, wise enough to shine, as they say. Coat’s deep blue, and my mane’s a glossy black (at least up until recently). Big jet-black eyes don’t hurt the equation, it all adds up to an easy time with most stallions. For some reason, they never seem to notice the brain behind my wink.
Anyway, several winks later I got what I needed. The kid was into some bad stuff. Redrock’s nothing to sneeze at, but it was about to get weirder. It always does.
The kid hadn’t been quiet. He headed to Manehatten, somewheres dockside, to cut out the middle-pony and get his fix from the source.
That’s some damn dangerous shit to do. I needed to pull him out quick, but I also had some enemies in the area. I probably should’ve tracked down Hardy, but instead I colored my mane and rode the first train East.
I couldn’t quite put my hoof on it, but something about this was spooky. The kids seemed pale and shaky, even for molasses junkies. They were scared, too: almost too scared to care about my wink, almost.
So there I was, hid on the roof of some clapboard tenement, watching my partner and my missing pony get drug off into the night. They finally came for the kid; surprisingly things were shaping up nearly to plan.
Hold up, I jumped ahead again.
So anyways, I rolled into Manehatten and found the kid right off… seriously, as easy as that. He was the junkie buying up old books. Which was weird, a damned weird thing to be doing. Quirk his mom forgot to mention maybe?
I spoke to a few book dealers. Seems the kid was buying up the dream journals of some long dead unicorn named Neverhoof. The ol’ fella’s spell books were long gone, holed away in some Canterlot library. The journals were curios, traded by obscure historians.
The kid somehow kept bringing in the bits though he looked and smelled like a forgotten back alley. He had to be in deep with somepony wealthy, somepony dangerous, somepony going through a lot of trouble and redrock to not be seen buying these books.
It smelled like bad hoodoo, and I began to regret not charging a bigger retainer.
Trouble was, nopony can pull somepony else out of a situation like that. It never shakes that simple.
It could be that easy; that’s the annoying part. A short walk and a train ticket coulda got that kid home. I coulda collected my bits and suggested the reunited family move a ways South or West.
Not nothing’s ever gonna be that easy, though. Kid felt trapped so he was trapped. That’s that.
‘Course, a few days after I started tailing him, that situation got fairly literal.
I needed to act quick, but quiet. With a soft and less than feminine snort, I lit up the tiny horn hidden under my wavy mane.
Horn’s so small, most nobody knows I’m a unicorn. Don’t go flapping your fucking gums about it, okay?
Only ever learned one spell, and with that tiny horn, it hurt to lift a feather duster. So catching all four shoes as I trotted off the damn roof, stung like biting flies inside my skull. It hurt, but my Quiet Hooves spell worked.
I landed an inch above the ground without a sound. It was a bit like jumping onto an old hay mattress; nothing broke but my knees joined right in with the pain in my head. I galloped behind three beefy bastards hauling off my unconscious partner and my whimpering mark towards the docks. I hoped like hell they didn’t have a row-boat in mind.
If their boat wasn’t big enough to hide in my options got real short: let it go and walk away (wasn’t a real option), fight (I’d probably lose and might be left behind, maybe worse), or try to get myself captured (not ideal).
Two stallions had Hardy tossed across their back. Stallion’s got that special vulnerability, especially from behind. Quiet Hooves meant I’d get a free shot at both of ‘em. Then I either kick down the third fella (unlikely), or let him rough me up and turn into a hostage. Of course, he might just leave me bleeding to death in this muddy back lane.
I really, really hoped their boss-pony had sprung for a decent sized boat. At the very least, I could probably produce a few geldings before I went down.
Oh Celestia! I shoulda asked for a bigger retainer.
pony noir | part seven : thermodynamics
When I was a li’l philly, Science was my favorite subject. It all made sense, made me feel better. If you could do the math, if you could think it through, you could control it. It was yours. Who the hell needed magic? I had Celestia-be-damned science!
Almost became a research mare, actually. Until, I fell in with a… never you mind. That’s another story for another time, pony.
Anyway, what I was getting at:
The wind was teaching me a real hard damned lesson in thermodynamics. Heat exchange, ya know? See, everything wants to reach equilibrium. The fire and a cold kettle are trying to balance each other out, and in between it nets ya some tea.
Well I’m guessing the choppy waves was just a hair above freezing, the wind just as rough. There science was, trying reach an equilibrium between my warm body and the hard, cold open sea. All the while, the wind bit like a drunk bastard mule.
I was on a private yacht, freezing my flank. This told me a few things. The pony behind this scheme wasn’t very smart, and I shoulda dressed better.
I had the whoever-it-was dead to rights. The boat sure as manure wasn’t stolen so the owner of record for the E. S. Plentiful…
Assuming anypony believed the story of a two-bit detective from Foal Meadows with too many priors. All I had to do was survive the cold, the goons, whatever bad hoodoo was out there without getting arrested or stomped to death, and I was golden.
Sad to say, pretty sure I’ve been in tighter spots, but I musta been too drunk to remember.
pony noir | part eight : float away
It turned sour like a popping kumquat; the thought came too late. I played the safe bet, and unsurprisingly, I lost. Every steaming breath was one closer, one closer.
I should've charged the door ten minutes before, but I held out. Now I was warm, warm and tired. Hypothermia had me.
I suddenly remembered work yielded heat, but it was too late. My legs were rubber, and I was about drift away. My muscles weren't mine any more. Took a tumble with the frigid air and lost it all.
That same damn thought was trying to force its way through, but I wasn't really there anymore.
"Work equals heat."
"All work produces heat.'
I was too loopy to feel the deck beneath me when I drifted away.
Cut to black, everypony.
pony noir | part nine : narration
So how come Hardy gets a narrator, and Stony tells her own tale?
We’ll isn’t nopony that was gonna tell Stony’s story but her, and Hardy wouldn’t believe he had a story to tell anyways. Point being, you’re saddled with me again, everypony.
Hardy awoke to the smell of blood, buckets of the stuff. Not everypony knows that smell, but the old bruiser sure as Celestia knew it. Rough mooring ropes cinched tight against all four of his legs.
After a few reckless minutes, the stallion figured out his bones would break before the line. He quit fighting and suffered through some thinking.
First he noted the kid wasn’t with him.
Then a seasick stomach and rough dip aft (maybe fore) clued him he was on a boat.
Moonlight filtering through a the open top half of a door, along with the fact he wasn’t too thirsty, and didn’t seem to have pissed himself, told him it was probably the same night.
There was something wrong with the stink of all that blood. Hardy decided it couldn’t’ve come from the kid. (Hardy’s always been a bit secretly optimistic.)
Then the bottom door flung open revealing the ghostly outline of Two-teeth. The kid quickly slipped in a puddle of blood, crashing into Hardy. From there it turned into a gory slap-stick number until the big stallion finally got untied.
“It killed them all! We’ve got to run!”
“Woah, there pony-boy, can’t run in the water.”
“We, we crashed into a dock…”
pony noir | part ten: a sudden storm
It wasn’t a long jump, even on old bones. Hardy took it in stride, but the colt was fucking folly incarnate.
Kid slipped, fell short, and cracked his skull before taking a cold dip in the angry ocean. Only by a miracle succession of lightning strikes did Hardy manage to pull the pale pony out from a wine-dark sea. Nearly lost a tooth for his trouble.
Still, damn kid had a swollen mound of trouble just above his eyes, lacerated and weeping blood too. With a tired snort and a bit of effort the stallion got Two-teeth onto his back before galloping away.
The sullen glow of fire-light burned steamed in the sudden rain on his right so Hardy booked it headlong and half blind to his left. Lightning and luck conspired to hide the ravine until the two of ‘em were tumbling headlong into the muddy bottom.
As he fought to regain his breath, a deep red unicorn appeared in a fiery flash.
“Horseshit…” Hardy managed to cough out before spinning ‘round to kick the smirk off her mouth.
pony noir | part eleven: a bit more pain
Hardy felt a satisfying snap beneath his bucking hooves. Spinning around, he lost this vicious grin. The kid hung mid-air between Hardy and the Unicorn. Two bruising hoofprints stood out on top of the kid’s now shattered ribs. It even looked like Two-teeth had a shard of skull pushing out from top of his head.
Before Hardy could comprehend, Two-teeth and the red unicorn disappeared with an echoing laugh into a sheet of flame. Somewhere off to the right, a bonfire flared high into the sky.
The old brute managed to pull himself out from the ravine. Had it been anypony else, he would have taken a breather and tried to think, but it was Hardy. He charged towards the fire with every ounce of speed and rage he could summon.
The kid sat dazed on the precipice of a burning pit. A white spine of bloody bone protruding above closed eyes. The unicorn stood close, foreleg around Two-teeth’s shaking shoulders. Her eyelids hung low above a wicked grin.
Hardy barreled ahead. His lavender mane shone in a flurry of lightning strikes. He couldn’t hear the thunder of his own hooves above the thunder in the sky. He surprised even himself as he leapt smoothly across the ruddy pit.
In a blink, something black and green blasted against Hardy’s flank. His momentum shifted, sending him careening into the pit’s sandy edge. His great hooves dug desperate furrows into the ground even as his tail caught alight. The kid’s glowing green eyes and wicked smile cut through Hardy like a knife made of bile.
“Your almost back to us, love,” purred the red unicorn.
“Just one, last thing, darling,” a voice like honey on sandpaper announced through the kid’s awkward teeth.
Hardy fell. His eyes shut firmly against the overwhelming heat. All the air smashed out of his lungs, and he resigned himself to die. More than anything his heart sunk for the damned kid.
Drawing cold, wet air into his lungs, Hardy looked up in time to see the screaming kid dissolve into a puddle of blood and shadows.
Nearby, Stony tangled gamely with a distraught red Unicorn. The frenzy did the red mare no favors. Stony ducked, jumped, bobbed, and weaved while Red built into a wild crescendo.
Finally, Red backed Stony up against the burning pit. Red charged. Stony dropped supine and kicked like a mule. That was that. Red arched gracelessly into the flames.
Hardy stood with a grimace and a streak of muttered curses.
“You owe me on this one, Stony.”
She looked across the flames before tilting her head towards the puddle that’d been Two-teeth.
“I’ll be the one to tell his ma.”
“We’re square,” he agreed with a sigh.
“Her father was an historian so I’m guessing that’s the connection to Neverhoof.”
“That still doesn’t make no sense, Stony.”
“Magic. I guess, is the rest of the story,” Stony shrugged.
Stony snorted. There was no way she’d be charging the kid’s mom anything else. Bad news never pays the bills. It had been one of the hardest gigs she’d ever worked, especially to lose ten bits on it.
She should’ve asked for a bigger retainer.