Silent Ponyville: Reunion
Dead on arrival.
The sirens had stopped but he did not remember them stopping. His limbs were free but he did not remember the enraptured monster mare getting off of him either. About the only thing that felt familiar about the process was the way he could already sense he was no longer in quite the same place even before opening his eyes thanks in large part to the stench of decay around him. When he raised his head off the cold metal floor and finally chanced to part his eyelids the mercifully pitch black darkness was there to shroud his surroundings.
He laid his head back down and remained there motionless, wondering what the point was anymore, or even had been in the first place.
”If that's true then I guess she deserved it didn't she?”
“That wasn't her,” he said as he started forcing himself off the ground with a determined groan of pain. He'd lost track of how many injuries he had and for once in his life he'd lost interest. If he was not dead and could still move that was all that mattered. “Posey would never say that.” His front hooves shook as he planted them in the ground and started gritting his teeth against the pain in his two back legs as he started to move them into position. His despair was igniting into something more useful. “This stupid, pointless bucking waste of space is just making me see things again, and that's all there is to this.”
With final grunt he was on his hooves again, legs shaking a bit from the pain. At the time he had not paid it any mind but now he was feeling the after effects of the sovereign's latest indulging in tossing him around like a rag doll. Lance reached into his saddle bag and pulled out the first bottle his hoof touched only to be brought face to face with that implausibly stubborn frozen health drink from the hospital that still had naught but a tiny sip in the bottom. He shoved it back into his bag with a scowl. If worse came to worse he would just have to stomp the blasted thing until he could get a few chunks out to chew on. After finding the other bottle he drank about half of what remained and then sighed with relief at the feeling of the pain in his body subsiding a merciful bit to let him resume functioning.
He knew he was right. There was no reason to assume his wife was really dead yet. For all he knew she was somewhere waking up after having seen him die and doubtlessly coming to the same conclusion. If he just kept going, they would find one another all the quicker. He reached up and switched on his surgical light.
Lance was immediately confronted with the sight of a rusty, dented, scratched up morgue drawer that looked to be very slowly leaking...fluids that trickled down the concrete wall behind it. The floor below was mercifully built at a very slight angle so that the drain at the end of the room kept the pungent fluid from pooling in any way. It was not the only drawer either. As the beam of his light moved upward away from the drain it saw another corpse drawer, and another, and another. The walls were covered with them all around him. Most were visibly sealed from ever opening by steel rebar that had been bent over them after nonsensically jutting out from the wall. The barriers dripped with blood from several spots like somepony had ripped their hooves open with the effort of bending them. More distressingly than even that though, several of the drawers were dented outward. He gave a silent thanks that only a few of them were leaking. He started to turn around but stopped when his light caught a brief flash of a curious bit of color high up on the wall.
It was a severed, blood splattered, amber wing hanging from a string looped onto a hook.
Lance narrowed his eyes at the completely unnecessary reminder of his new found permanent grounding. The wing was hanging too high off the ground to retrieve, though he wondered why that even mattered at the point. It was nothing but a dead lump of feathery meat at that point. It could not be reattached. He would never fly again.
He turned with a resigned sigh and was met with the welcome sight of a door...albeit one that looked less like a proper door and more like a segment of rusted chain link fence with numerous strips of not quite dried out skin woven into it and a bloody door handle.
Locked was fine. Locked was something he had been able to work with plenty of times before. In fact after he spent a moment wiping the bit of blood off his hoof before looking at himself and wondering what the point was, he spotted the last peculiarity of the room. It was a metal light switch panel right beside the door, but instead of a switch there was a circular hole about half the size of his hoof that had been drilled through it. A quick peek with his light confirmed that the hole went clear through the wall, although he couldn't necessarily make out what was on the other side with such a limited view. Scratched into the metal above the hole were the words “Truth and Justice”.
“There's something in the drawers...of course there's something in the drawers,” he muttered to himself bitterly as he came to the only logical conclusion. He would have to sift through them until he found what he was looking for and then force it through the hole to the other side of the wall. After that, the door would unlock...somehow. Lance could not think of any obvious reasons for it off the top of his head, but he was not questioning it.
The drawers held shut by the bent rebar were obviously out of the question, leaving with him five to search through. One of them was leaking.
He groaned and started moving toward it, careful to step over any of the already present streams of fluids on the floor. Though considering what he was about to do there might not be any point to that effort at some semblance of cleanliness either.
“Let's get this over with I guess,” he grumbled, his hoof raising to grasp the handle and pull on it before he could stop to think about it. A small flood of foul smelling maroon colored soup started to pour out and he could help but gag at the stench as he took a step back and let it spill out. Only when the flood had calmed to a trickle and the bulk of the contents had gone down the drain did he dare pull the drawer fully open and look inside.
It was not the corpse he had expected. It was a cage stuffed with burlap sacks and trash bags. He had no desire to sit there and ponder what was in them exactly, but they all looked so small...and incomplete. Lance took hold of the slab and managed to pull it out with some effort as either the wheels or tracks had been partially corroded. Sticking slightly out of the side of the mess was a relatively clean looking metal cylinder with a cap he assumed would twist off. Though it did not stick out far enough to make it easy to grab through the gaps in the bars, he was still able to coax it out with his hoof and then take firm hold of it to pull it free of the mess.
It was followed out by a small, partially rotted hoof that had apparently been resting on top of it. Lance's eyes slowly widened as he realized what was in that cage...and then he carefully took hold of the tiny hoof and set it back inside the bars out of sight. In the end the action accomplished nothing but to him sparing them the indignity of continuing to rot out in the open was better than letting the poor thing's hoof continue to dangle. He swallowed hard and looking down at the cylinder, blinking a few times and silently hoping the rest of the drawers were not similarly occupied.
The cap did twist off as he'd anticipated, and thankfully had been water tight as the scroll inside was still in pristine condition. He unrolled it to find a single passage written in red ink.
He feasted 'til the foals he took had no more meat to give,
but heedless of the lives he took was left his own to live.
Lance furrowed his brow thoughtfully and read over it a few more times before returning it to its place in the cylinder. He then set it down in front of the door for safe keeping. The specifics of this lock were not yet concrete in his mind but he was keying in on it. He either needed two cylinders to represent both truth and justice, or one cylinder that represented both. There was grim truth in this first cylinder, but no justice to be found, a fact he pondered bitterly as he pushed the slab back into the drawer before closing it and hiding away the grisly sight.
After that first drawer the second looked positively inviting. He opened the door and was greeted with a far less overbearing death stench, with the shape inside looking far more familiar though...still a bit off. It was indeed a corpse, but he would have probably reported somepony for misconduct if he ever found a body in such conditions even in a coroner's office. It looked to be the remains of a stallion, held firmly in place by tight leather straps lying on his side. The entire body was covered in deep chemical burns, the limbs not so much pinned to the torso as much they had been melted into it. Speaking of the torso, it had been cut open, and Lance could tell at a glance that some of the expected contents were missing. The final oddity was the head, mostly the fact that half of it was missing. Everything past the ears was gone, and what was left was pinned to the slab by a rusty knife.
In a moment of hope Lance took hold of the knife's grip only to have the blade break off when he tried to yank it free. The rust had corroded the metal past the point of any practical use.
“Right...why would that possibly have worked?” he asked himself sourly as he tossed the handle away and started looking for another cylinder. It proved a good deal more elusive than the first, but just as he was about to consider whether or not there even was a cylinder in each drawer, he caught sight of a metallic glint in the beam of his surgical light...inside the opened gut.
At the very least the act of pushing his hoof into a wound would feel somewhat familiar. Though, all the times previously had not been with a hoof covered in bloody bandages over still stinging wounds. All the same, Lance gingerly eased his hoof into the incision and tried his best to ignore the sickening squelching and feeling of ice cold innards. Once he had a firm hold of the cylinder he eased it out and then hastily stepped back to shake some of the chilled blood and juices off of his hoof. He could not help but cough a few times in disgust but was able to quickly put a lid on it, and then twist open the cylinder with some difficulty, covered as it was in congealed grease.
He came alone at night to take the killer's face away,
and the guards were all too happy when they lied for him next day.
“Justice...but no truth.” He placed the second cylinder next to the first, and then made it a point to pick out the cleanest looking drawer to check next. It was probably just a trap but he felt like at least attempting to take it a bit easy on himself after the first two.
One of the accessible drawers did indeed look conspicuously less worn down than all the others, which had the effect of making him assume the contents were going to be all more horrible for it. Yet when Lance unlatched the drawer and pulled it open, no horrible remnants or pungent odors spilled out. Now even more curious and reasonably assured by the silence of his watch he attempted to pull the slab out but hit resistance after about an inch. A few tugs did nothing to fix the situation either. Something was broken inside.
Pointing his light to shine inside readily solved the mystery or at least gave him suitable reason to believe the track was just bent beyond use. Something that had been sealed inside had struggled with every bit of strength it had, destroying itself and everything inside in the process while leaving its own blood everywhere. It was a miracle then that the two objects resting peaceably in the middle of the bent slab were perfectly intact. One was the metal cylinder he had been expecting to find, and the other was a syringe with the plastic cap still over the needle. He pondered whether or not the drawer had been sealed previously as he reached in and fetched the two items. Either the occupant had been left there to die and later removed by something else, or the way out had been open the entire time leaving them to die a slow death alone for no good reason.
Lance opened the cylinder and read the note inside, his eyes widening before he then looked down at the syringe he had set down on the floor.
Now without any interest in looking through the last two drawers, he stashed away the syringe, replaced the note in the cylinder, screwed the cap back on, then strode back over to the wall before pushing the cylinder as far through the hole as he could manage.
Lance tensed as he heard his watch start to buzz. The cylinder shifted slightly as something on the other side got a grip of it and pulled it free of the hole on its end. He heard the cap unscrew and then drop carelessly to the floor prior to the soft sound of crinkling paper followed by agonizingly lengthy silence.
The clicking of the lock on the handle made Lance flinch back a step, watch still steadily buzzing. The fur on the back of his neck then started to stand on end as he heard a familiar squeaking of wheels above the outside of the door. But founded as his worries may well have been nothing came of them. The buzzing of his watch steadily died down as the sound moved away from him and with distance faded back to silence. He still waited a minute longer before moving.
Sufficiently lacking in an excuse to wait any longer, he pushed the now unlocked door open and was allowed the privilege of seeing what the nightmare had done to his house.
If what he recognized of the layout was correct he was emerging from what was previously one of the upstairs rooms. But instead of a solid path with railing to walk on, he was left nothing but a narrow pathway made of rusted grating only barely thicker than the panel of chain link fence he had just opened. It also bore similarly interwoven bits of not quite dried leather, though the architect had been kind enough to leave enough missing for Lance to get a clear few of the void beneath him. Moving his gaze upwards to the far walls, he saw that his house had been gutted into something of a massive chute, one with a worryingly high number of large missing sections that had been rusted through leaving streams of blood to seep from the damaged walls like a wound gazing out into pitch black nothingness. Just so he would not even have the barest minimum of an illusion of safety, the rails were mostly missing save for the odd bit of jagged metal framing that would do a fine job of impaling him prior to his plummeting should he lose his balance. This was of course assuming that the walkway did not simply buckle beneath him.
A pair of wings at that moment would have been indescribably useful.
Lance carefully put his two front hooves out onto the walkway and let a bit of his weight settle. There was some creaking, and he felt it give very slightly beneath his weight, but it was still better than he had been dreading. After fully stepping out of the room he looked down to his right to see that the discarded cylinder had been left there, note and all. There was enough time to read the red ink of the note before it caught fire, paper and metal alike burning down to ashes
Knew he never took a life but deserved it all the same,
compared to what he'd done the death he gave himself was tame.
“Guess it was supposed to be both,” he muttered before inching toward the edge of the walkway to get a better look downward. The lower level of his house still existed but a majority of the floor was gone, the bits that were left along the far wall at least looking to be made of much sturdier rusted grate than the upper floor. It was almost inviting in comparison. The stairwell in the far right corner had been replaced with a ladder that linked the upper and lower pathways. It was not nearly as inviting. His doors had also been replaced with flesh woven chain link panels, but it was more than just the doors that had been replaced. The walls around them had become old iron bars heavy with the ever present rust with sections of strange twitching fleshy growths between them that seemed to fuse into the bars themselves like some sort of especially macabre mold. Even the doors had bits of tendon-like flesh seeping onto them to hold them closed...although he had to admit there had never been skin covering any tendon he had seen. These were not rooms so much as jail cells that had been closed off by an infestation.
On a whim, Lance inched a bit closer to the edge of his path and looked straight downward fully expecting to see nothing but the walls extending downward forever into the darkness. However he was surprised to see that they were actually finite in length with the bottom of the chute plenty distant but still close enough to see in the beam of his light, if just barely. There seemed to be little other information to glean other than knowing the bottom of this nightmarish house existed from that distance, so he was about to move along when his light so happened to catch a glimpse of something uncharacteristically purple. He let out a small gasp and squinted hard, finding himself calling out moments later with little regard for who heard as though by reflex.
The bit of purple below shifted at the sound and Lance could clearly make out a face that was...only somewhat familiar?
“Is that you?! Are you alright?!”
The figure below seemed to be seated on top of something instead of on the floor, and did not call back to him. The distance was too great to even try and make out the expression on her face. Before Lance could shout to her again she, or rather the thing below her, started inexplicably moving along the floor and retreated out of view through a large door. He was left puzzled but at the same time absolutely certain that he needed to get down there as soon as he could.
Lifting the beam of his light back up to the catwalk below, he followed it until it looped around out of sight beneath the upper walkway, which was odd considering he could not see anything through the gaps of the floor beneath him. He started along the path to his right, teeth clenched with nervousness at the way the weak grating below him slightly yielded with a quiet creak to the weight of each of his hoof falls. When he had a better viewing angle to the unseen corner he checked again to see that it stopped at another ladder leading downward to a platform on an even lower level. There was not a path beyond that platform that was readily apparent at first but a check of the adjacent corner illuminated another platform with a door that lead Celestia knew where. The most notable feature of this second platform however was a section of metal grating leaning against the wall and blocking the door. It was attached to the end of the platform via a set of hinges and looked long enough to bridge the gap if he could find some way to pull it down.
His eyes drifted back up to the flesh infested prison cells, because where else would he find the things he needed? There was one cell on the lower path where his front door would have been, and another three on the upper path. Two of them were behind him, replacing the doors to his office and hall closet, and the other was at the end of the path where the master bedroom had been previously. The doors to his library and upstairs bathroom were both missing and he could only assume it was because space where those rooms would have been were taken up by one of the cells and the body storage that had replaced...that room.
Lance trotted past the corpse closet to the door at the end of the path but found himself hesitating yet again as he stood before the flesh riddled chain link door. Even as he stood there mere steps away watching the erratic twitches in the bloody flesh-like material he could not rightly discern whether it was actually alive or simply appeared to be so thanks to some trick of the light. After a brief pause he gave the door handle a try. It readily turned at his touch, but the door itself would only swing open about half an inch before hitting resistance from the many small tendons that spanned the gap from the door to the wall...but not that much resistance.
He opted to at least try forcing it open before embarking on yet another hunt for the appropriate tool. Lance adopted a more solid stance before starting to put progressively more strength into his attempt to pry it apart. As the opening in the door widened bit by bit the tendrils stretched thinner and the twitching of the fleshy mold grew more intense. The thinning tendrils paled and then finally snapped apart causing Lance to stagger back a step as the door freely swung open sending a spattering of blood flying out, part of which caught him in the face. Once he'd wiped it off as best he could manage he looked up again to see the tendons bleeding copiously...except the blood was not dripping onto the floor, and he became conscious of a very distant, distorted screaming noise.
Every pulse of bright red blood sent seemingly sentient drops crawling back up along the fleshy infestation, soon building into a sanguine swarm trickling its way across the door and cell wall in all defiance of gravity. As the severed flesh bled copiously the twitching motions grew steadily fewer, and as Lance watched it faded into a deathly pale color as the lost and wandering blood turned a sickly black shade. After a while, all motion had ceased, the quiet unnatural screaming in the distance had stopped, and whatever black, dead blood was left began dripping to the floor from the severed tendons as one would have expected from the start.
Lance was left feeling vaguely as though he had just killed something, but soon discarded the sentiment as he opened the door and stepped through. He'd already killed things in that place that were overtly alive. What did he care about some growth on a door at that point?
What had been he and his wife's bedroom was now a bare room, or at least what he could see of the room was bare. The majority of the available space was shrouded from sight by a long hospital curtain that spanned the length of the room to his right, the hanging fabric unable to make up its mind as to whether it was skin or curtain. He glanced downward and dismissed any notions of pushing the curtain aside, as bits of the bottom of the curtain stretched down and fused into the metal flooring. Still, it was a fairly thin looking material, and he knew for a fact that there was plenty of empty space behind it in which something might hide. There were no guarantees that the continued silence of his watch ensured his safety either. On the opposite side of the room, a hole had been eroded through the rusted iron panel that now passed for the wall near the far corner. He could see the remnants of a jagged railing through the hole, indicating that it lead out onto their balcony.
Keeping close to the left wall as far from the curtain as he could manage, he crept slowly toward the balcony. At a little past the midway point, his ear twitched and he stopped, turning his light toward the curtain and staring intently.
Lance brushed it off. He was reasonably certain he'd heard something quietly rustle the curtain but it had been such a slight noise that the culprit may well have just been displaced air from his own movements. The amber surgeon put a bit more speed in his step all the same though. If there was something behind the curtain it likely already knew he was there anyway.
The balcony was in about as severe a state of disrepair as the walkway inside, with nothing but a vast empty black void stretching off in every direction all around him. The door that would have let him inside onto the no longer existent walkway over his living room was missing for fairly obvious reasons. Against the wall where said door would have been now rested an old rusty fold out step stool. What caught his attention before either of these however was the mildew eaten worn down table on which sat a health drink.
A single, completely empty health drink.
“Oh buck off,” Lance seethed quietly as he back hoofed the bottle off the table, sending it flying off the side of the balcony and into the void below. Even if he would need an empty bottle to solve some kind of problem in the near future, he already had a couple.
The stepping stool on the other hoof struck him as having too many uses to simply leave there, even if it was too big to carry in his saddlebag. He could at least lug it back inside so it would be closer when he needed it. Though it was not that heavy to him he still found himself hissing with pain after managing to get it resting on his back, his wing stumps protesting the added weight no matter how slight. Mentally assuring the frayed nerves that had once been connected to his wings that it would be a short trip, Lance was about to step back inside when he heard a door open below that, judging from the direction of the sound, would have been his front door if said front door were still there. He then heard the hoof falls of a group of ponies moving along the front of the house on ground that he knew for fact was not there, piquing his curiosity further as he looked over toward the corner they would be rounding at about that very moment.
His light flickered and went out.
There was a brief moment of panic at the sudden blackness around him that he managed to subdue by noting the silence of his watch. Though given the propensity of the rollers to hide from the vigilance of his timepiece his hooves still moved with plenty purpose as they tried fiddling with the surgical light in hopes of turning it back on. He had not ruled out the possibility of the grinning stalker turning on him yet either.
“So Mr. Strongshy let's go over the events again, as you told them to me,” came the voice of a stallion below at the corner of the house. “From the start.”
“Is there...any particular reason you all had to come out he-”
“From the start Mr. Strongshy,” the stallion reminded him firmly.
“Alright, I...heard glass breaking upstairs, and then Posey screaming. I told Fluttershy to hide beneath the sink in the downstairs bathroom and then ran upstairs. When I was almost to the door I heard hoofsteps running toward the bedroom window, and by the time I made it inside I only caught a glimpse of a pony's tail and wing as they flew away through the broken window. I didn't chase after them because I thought I could still save my wife but...it didn't work,” Lance's voice replied in the dark.
“Right, sounds reasonable. Although...your neighbor told us there were bars bolted over the window.”
“Wait no, sorry, your neighbors told us this. Plural. The husband and wife across the street said the same thing. Those bars had been bolted over the window for at least a month or thereabouts. So according to your story, the intruder was in full view of the window for long enough to undo the bolts and your wife didn't see or hear a thing before the window broke.”
“Napping, right. Convenient she's not here to confirm that, but let's just assume that it's true. The intruder, according to your story, undid the bolts holding the bars over the window, hid the bars somewhere because reasons since we couldn't find them on the ground below, indicating he didn't just chuck the panel over the side of the cloud here, then after having taken so much effort to not make any noise so that neither you or your wife was aware of him, proceeded to carelessly bash through the window as loud as could be.”
“But let's play devil's advocate some more here! Maybe your wife noticed him as he was about to start dealing with the glass more delicately, and he noticed her noticing him, so he had to act fast if he was going to get to her before she screamed. But it didn't work, so he stabbed her...what, twenty-seven times?”
“Thirty-seven,” a third stallion corrected.
“Right thanks. So he stabbed her thirty-seven times while you were bolting up the stairs, and you look like a fairly fit stallion, so that's quite an impressive stabbing speed! So now I'm right here wondering...why the hay didn't this burglar you propose exists just...fly away when your wife noticed him? I don't know if you know anything about burglars Mr. Strongshy, but they generally want to avoid getting into confrontations. So you're going to have a tough time selling me on your wife getting stabbed thirty-seven times during daylight hours by a burglar that didn't even grab so much as the jewelry box on the dresser.”
“So are you going to cooperate peacefully or are you going to make another scene for your daughter to deal with alongside her dead mother and that shiner you gave her? Because let me tell you, we would not mind in the slightest if you decided to resist arrest right now.”
The stallion let out a grumbling disappointed sigh. “Ah well...one for the road at least.”
Lance heard himself let out a pained grunt in tandem with the sound of a stallion's hoof quite competently striking him across the jaw, followed by the sound of him collapsing in a daze. There was another pause before the stallion spoke again.
“You want to make something of it Strongshy?”
“Yeah I thought not. Geldings like you only have enough spine to take on little fillies and mares too sick to fight back. Read this dirt bag his rights.”
The Lance of the present was left to stand there in the darkness a moment longer before his light flickered back on of its own accord. He looked around to find no visible changes to the immediate vicinity, and his watch was still quiet. With no urgent danger present he spent a moment thinking back to the incident he had just listened to for a second time, mostly trying to remember that police stallion's name...
“Blue Shield...Detective Blue Shield,” he muttered to himself as he found the memory in question. He recalled it distinctly now. Having finished his recollection he turned back to the more important business of bringing the step ladder back into the house and then finding something to do with it.
Upon stepping back into the house was stopped in his tracks by the sight of a long, actively bleeding cut slashed into the curtain, large enough for a full grown pony to worm their way out. There were a number of red hoof prints on the floor now as well. They lead to the wall, and then into the house, the bloody hoof prints growing messier as the got closer to the master bedroom door. Lance glanced at the wall to see the words 'WHICH ONE' messily scrawled on the wall in blood...but he did not think it was blood from the curtain. It was too consistent...the author would have had to go back to the curtain a few times to get enough of the sanguine ink. Some bleeding pony had cut their way through the curtain, wrote on the wall with their own blood, then departed into the house without making a sound.
With not much else in the way of options Lance again steeled himself and continued inward, noting with some dismay that the hoof prints vanished at the threshold of the bedroom. If they were inside, he had no idea where, especially considering he could see that the three other doors would still closed at a glance. There was nopony new in the corpse closet either. He set the step stool against the wall next to the door inside for safe keeping and moved on. If the pony that had been hiding behind the curtain wanted to bother him again there was nothing he could do about it and little sense in worrying.
Lance groaned softly in pain as he wrenched the flesh infested door open without nearly as much hesitation this time, not even bothering to watch it die before examining the room inside. It was...oddly normal actually. Certainly not the hall closet but simultaneously nothing like the nightmare outside. He strode further inside and found himself standing in a police station interrogation room with a table in the center, at which himself and Blue Shield were seated at opposite ends with a one way mirrored window on the far end of the room. The room was pitch black but the two seemed to act as though there were plenty of illumination beyond Lance's surgical light.
Blue Shield placed a piece of paper on the table and slid it toward Lance somewhat impatiently. “Sign it.”
“Sign what?” Lance asked pointedly as he glared at the other stallion, a pronounced bruise with a bit of dried blood on the side of his muzzle.
“Your confession. I figured we'd wrap this up quick. Make it easy on yourself and your daughter. She's had a bad enough time without you drawing this out,” Blue Shield explained as he just as pointedly placed a quill and inkwell beside the paper.
“And what does that say I did exactly?”
“That's a fair question I suppose. I'm not going to read you the whole thing but, the gist of it is that you got tired of taking care of your wife and wanted your life back. It was a long, taxing convalescence and in the end you couldn't resist letting out a little of that pent up rage, hence the thirty-seven stab wounds. Your daughter tried to stop you, but a little tap from daddy was all it took to discourage her. Afterward you set up the crime scene in order to make it appear like a break in to cover your flank, and I have to say it was probably one of the worst efforts I've seen in my career. You had the good sense to break the window from the outside but that's about it, the rest was pretty much a transparent lie,” Blue Shield explained. “Again, not the exact text of the document, but that's pretty much what it says.”
“Look, Strongshy, maybe there was a time in your life when you commanded respect. That time is over. Now you're garbage. Stallion shaped garbage. Nothing you've ever done before this point counts anymore. Save yourself the time, save your daughter even more pain, and sign the confession so we can toss you into the bin, forget about you, and get on with our lives.” Blue Shield reached over and dipped the quill into the ink a few times before holding it out for him.
Lance did not utter a single word in reply as his wing unfurled and slapped the quill out of Blue Shield's hoof. The detective glanced over at the wall that now bore a small splat of ink after the quill had struck it, and then chuckled to himself.
“You know technically that's assaulting an officer, but that's fine. We already have plenty of evidence for a murder charge and five officers willing to testify that you resisted arrest. Won't take much convincing at all to get a jury to buy it, and then you're buried for life in Foalsome with the rest of the garbage.” He chuckled to himself again, sounding even more malevolent this time. “Your fellow garbage though, that's the special part. See, they're going to know what you did to get there. Even their sort consider the kind of stallion that would kill a helpless mare and lay hooves on their own daughter like you did the lowest of the low. You won't last a week in there before some kind of 'accident' happens, and then nopony has to deal with you anymore, and some lucky prisoner's going to be a lot more popular for a while.”
“If you're so intent on seeing me dead why didn't you just use that 'resisting arrest' as an excuse to break my neck back there?” Lance spat back glaring daggers at him.
“Wouldn't have mattered back then, truth be told. You would've died defiant, and that's not what I want. I want you broken. I want to see you in a cage. I want to watch the hope leave your eyes. I want you to live long enough to die inside before the rest of you follows. That's the only way I'll be able reconcile the sight of your wife lying there with blank eyes wide open wondering why the world let a monster like you have your way with her. Normally I'd lose sleep over wanting to do what I want to do to you. After I see this through properly though...and get to see you on a slab in the prison morgue...I'll sleep like a newborn foal. Not a care in the world.”
The detective reached down and picked up something that had been resting against the side of his chair on the floor before letting it drop loudly onto the table. It was a nice thick phone book.
“Now I'll ask again nicely, because I look forward to that beauty sleep. Sign the confession, Strongshy, before this gets even worse for you,” Blue Shield repeated himself, staring down Lance patiently.
“I'm not going to sign anything. I had blood on my coat because I tried to help my wife after I found her. I'm a doctor, what else would I do? The neighbors saw the bars earlier but they never saw me take them off, because I didn't take them off. For that matter, they didn't see anything of what happened and can't falsify my story anyway. My daughter was hiding through the whole thing so she can't confirm anything one way or another either. You have no murder weapon, because the intruder took it with them. If you were so sure this was a slam dunk you wouldn't be here trying to beat a confession out of me,” Lance said with narrowed eyes before tearing the confession in half and tossing it back onto the table.
“Alright Strongshy, don't say I didn't warn you.” Blue Shield got up from his seat, lifted the phone book off the table and then...set it down on its spine, opening it before browsing through the business numbers.
“What are you doing?” Lance asked, having expected something far worse.
“Truth be told with everything stacked against you right now the odds are good that the kingdom's attorney could convince a jury...but I don't want 'good'. The sort of lawyer a stallion like you could afford might just turn 'good' into 'reasonable doubt'. I want 'dead to rights', and right now the stallion that can do that for the department is in Ponyville visiting his grand daughter after having warned me not to call the spa they went to unless somepony was murdered, and hey...guess what you did?” the detective explained as he found the number he was looking for and then slammed the book closed before...freezing in place? Lance blinked in confusion, wondering when they were going to burn away like the other visions he had seen in that house.
His light started flickering, again with no siren to be heard. He did not do much besides glance down at it and wait since there had not been anything to do about it in the past. However he was made much less apathetic by the last flickering of light revealing for an instant the two figures of the past suddenly looking directly at him with eyes wide before the room was plunged back into pitch black darkness. Lance backed away a step but knew he could not dare to try moving around that place without a light, and was left standing there blind for a few agonizing seconds before his light came on again, starting off dim but steadily brightening until the true nature of the room became apparent.
It was every bit the jail cell that its outward appearance suggested. Aside from the filthy, half broken toilet in the corner and a slab of misshapen metal jutting out of the wall that he could not definitively place as a table or a bed, it was nearly completely empty. The things that made it only nearly empty were somewhat...interesting.
Against the far wall was a suspended pony figure. It's coat was not quite all gray, bearing something of an amber tinge. Across its body was an assortment of deep cuts, out of which seeped sentient drops of black blood that flowed in any direction they pleased to reach another adjacent wound that they might re-enter the corpse. None of these injuries looked immediately deadly though, especially next to the noose digging into its neck so tightly that the skin had worn through. The face was obscured by what resembled a surgical mask made of pale, flayed skin that had long ago dried into a toughened hide. This mask also covered the knot of the noose behind the neck, making it impossible to untie.
A rope seemed like an excellent starting point in getting that pathway down to bridge the gap to that door. Lance's eyes followed the rope up to see that it disappeared into a small hole in the ceiling. That was no good...clearly he would not be untying the knot but even if he found something with which to cut the rope there was no way of knowing if he could dislodge it from whatever it was attached to, because it was clearly attached to something else the body would have fallen to the floor.
He gave the room another quick look over and found a likely lead. On the side of the room opposite the corpse was a similar looking rope emerging from another hole in the ceiling, traveling perhaps a third of the way toward the floor, and then retreating into another hole in the wall. It was impossible to know exactly how many twists and turns the rope took in the unseen space above the ceiling of the cell, but if the distance between the two ends of the room was any indication it would probably do the trick all the same...assuming it was even the same rope. It was something to work with at the least, and Lance retreated out the door not looking forward to cutting the rope free of that hanging corpse as he took the few steps it took to reach his office.
“If I remember right...this'll lead back into that same interrogation room,” he mumbled to himself before taking firm hold of the door and starting to wrench it open. After the last bit of meat mold had snapped free and the door began bleeding out he was proven right as his light illuminated a different but still familiar face. It was an older stallion sitting across the table from Lance's past self, with Blue Shield standing patiently at the door boring a hole into the murder suspect's skull with his eyes. His seated counterpart had his attention elsewhere though, intently sifting through and examining the various reports and crime scene photographs. The three stallions uttered not a single word as the moments ticked by, the older seemingly apathetic whilst the passing time weighed heavily upon the two younger.
Finally the older stallion looked up at Lance over his glasses, then took them off while glancing down at the papers in front of him again. “So Mr. Strongshy...you and I have something in common,” he began.
“Neither of us hold the rules of our professions sacred. This would usually be a problem, but with the results the two of us produce our bosses stopped caring a long time ago. So understand that literally every other officer here would never do what I'm about to do by telling you that I am about eighty...maybe ninety percent sure that you didn't kill your wife.”
Lance's eyes widened. He did not say a word further. It was an altogether oddly fearful response for somepony that was about to be freed from a murder charge, and the lack of reaction from the older detective belayed the fact that it was exactly what he had been expecting.
Blue Shield took on a sharp frown and stepped closer. “You're...what? Hey, I know our case might get sucker punched by a slimy lawyer and a dense jury Pinot Noir, but that's no reason to throw it-”
“Thirty-seven times is...excessive,” Pinot continued on, completely ignoring Blue Shield. “Your wife was probably gone before the tenth. To keep adding so many after that you'd have to be enraged, panicked, insane, vengeful...let's just call it a crime of passion. I can think of two reasons you might have done this that would fit the bill, but you having done this for either of them doesn't add up. If Blue Shield here is right and you resented your wife for her illness essentially taking your life away, you could have thought up methods much more painful than thirty seven stab wounds. If on the other hoof you loved your wife, you could have sent her on her way painlessly. In both of those scenarios you would've been a hay of a lot cleaner about it too. You're a doctor.”
“You can't seriously be suggesting that your first impressions trump everything else at the-”
“I wouldn't be saying word one if my first impressions were all I had,” Pinot interrupted again whilst casting Blue Shield a sidelong glance that managed to get the other officer to take a step back. “But somepony could hardly be blamed for thinking you did it. Muddled motive aside, you clearly had the means and your attempt at a story is the most hilarious thing I've seen in a good decade. The DA could put you in front of a jury and probably have a conviction the next day, even if I got called to the stand to testify that I'd said all of this to you. For that matter, you could probably tell them exactly what did happen and they wouldn't believe you anyway. I've seen enough trials to know he doesn't need you dead to rights, because any jury that saw a suspect as unsympathetic as you on trial for murdering a victim as sympathetic as your wife would need far more than reasonable doubt to resist a guilty verdict. Blue Shield's only feeling doubtful because he's failing to consider I could just pass your case file on and call it a day.”
“So do that,” Blue Shield suggested.
“Won't fix anything,” Pinot Noir said as he closed the case file folder. “Anything you'd like to add before I walk out that door, Strongshy?”
Lance sat there looking back at him, determined to keep invoking his right to remain silent.
“Probably for the best. Nopony will believe what actually happened until I find enough evidence for it anyway,” the detective replied, taking the folder with him as he exited the interrogation room. Once Pinot Noir had exited the scene, the two other occupants of the interrogation room froze as Lance's light began flickering. By now it was expected and even though he felt the urge to make an early exit from the room he was not about to risk falling off the precarious pathway outside just to avoid his memories leering at him so intently. Near the end of the flickering something was indeed staring at him as predicted, but it was neither of the stallions in the room.
He saw the pale visage of the deaf colt in the reflection of the interrogation room's one way mirror as his watch began to softly buzz. With the last flicker of light there were menacing cracks creeping outward from the center of the pane of glass, and his past self was starting to be overtaken by vein like tendrils of black blood appearing on his face.
Lance was somewhat less willing to stay put for this unexpected entrance and promptly excused himself to the pathway outside, slamming the door shut behind him as his light went out completely. He stood there in the dark with his side pressed against the wall for a few tense moments, listening intently for any sound in the darkness aside from his own unnerved breathing and the generals creaks and groans of the structure around him. His light made a soft clicking noise as it came back to life and returned to him his sight, his watch now silent. Knowing that he was going to have to go back in regardless of his feelings on the situation, he cracked the door open again and peeked inside.
It was another jail cell, much like the first save for the absence of a hanging body in the center of the room. Lance quickly found that the denizen of this cell was on the bed instead. He was covered with what looked like an assortment of bloody, mold encrusted, dusty surgical sheets, the inner edges of which were stuffed inside a large gaping wound that traveled from the bottom of his rib cage clear down to his groin. There were several odd bumps around the wound and Lance felt comfortable assuming they were entrails that had leaked out but were now hidden from sight. The instrument that had cut the stallion prisoner open was still there, and the sight of it gave him pause.
It was a rusted metal hook attached to a chain by a simple clasp. The chain traveled to the nearest bit of iron bar that was peeking out from the interwoven bits of fleshy fabric, attached to which was a small chain pulley with another segment of the chain emerging from the other side. Lance's eyes followed that second length and found himself looking at the ground just beside the bed at a hoof hanging out from beneath the surgical drapes, clinging to the chain tightly even in death.
There was no way to know if this stallion had done so under coercion or by his own will, but it was clear that it was the stallion who had pulled the chain and done this to himself.
No matter what this poor soul's problem had been the hook with which he had ended his own life was something Lance needed as it looked sufficiently large to be able to latch onto the edge of the walkway he needed to pull into position. Lance gave the corpse a tentative nudge, just in case, and then tried to remove it. At first it was stubborn, probably lodged in one of the dead pony's pelvic bones, but a bit of wrenching it back and forth proved adequate to dislodge it. It was still dripping with dead clotted blood, and Celestia knew what else given all that it had cut through. He grimaced but resolved to shake off the worst of it and then wipe off most of the rest with one of the blank pieces of paper in his saddlebag that soon found itself crumpled up and discarded.
Naturally thinking that a chain would be even more useful than a rope, he pulled the end of the chain free of the stallion's hooves and gave the other end a pull. It did not budge in the slightest no matter how hard he pulled. Setting the chain down he stepped over to the pulley to give it a closer look, finding that the entire assembly had been long ago rusted over into oblivion. He gave the chain a few more strong tugs but found it unyielding as ever.
“Figures,” he muttered bitterly as he unclasped the hook from what may have been a very useful item and stashed it in his saddlebag.
He exited the room with a bit more urgency to his hoof steps, practically able to hear the buzzing in his ears from the deaf colt's gaze already. What was worse is that he would have to use that blasted ladder multiple times in his considerably injured state, but there was no way around it. At least the lower walkway looked far more stable. Lance reached the end of the upper pathway and then let out a hissing groan of pain as he took hold of the ladder and then eased his back legs down onto the next lower rung one at a time. Not wanting to aggravate his condition, he took the descent slow, stopping to look around periodically in service to the hairs standing on the back of his neck but eventually reaching the bottom unscathed before limping his way over to the last jail cell. He felt a fleeting appreciation of the way the floor didn't partially give way beneath his hooves before he wrenched the next door open, not even waiting for it to bleed to death before peeking inside.
Having expected another instance of the same interrogation room, he was surprised to see a jail cell with none of his memories painted onto the surroundings. The ceiling of this cell was completely overtaken with the dark red flesh mold that had seemingly spread out from the interwoven bits of cloth on the front panel of bars. Along the walls a tendril of the mold had periodically spread downward seeking anything else to consume and had fallen short save for the one in the far corner of the room. In the corner lay another deceased stallion with his back against the wall, body partially overtaken by the consuming flesh that also completely covered his face. In his hoof was a fairly old looking knife that looked sufficiently large enough to have caused the damage to his neck. His head had been pulled back at a right angle, pulling open the jagged looking cut in his throat that had gone deep enough to expose a portion of his spine. Several tendrils of flesh mold were traveling down his exposed trachea through the fatal injury he'd given himself.
Normally he would have been of a mind to ask why these stallions had all apparently taken their own lives, but given his recent experiences he did not feel it was much of a mystery. He mostly noted the fact that he had just found a knife that would likely be able to cut through the ropes back in the first cell. One might assume he was also thrilled to find an actual weapon, but he was thoroughly expecting it to burn to ash the second he was done using it to cut the rope. He reached down and found the stallion's hoof easy to uncurl, letting him pick up the knife by the handle instead of the blade.
“Thanks,” he said with sincerity toward the corpse, wiping the cold congealed blood off the blade with another errant piece of paper before he placed it in one of the tool holders on the front strap of his saddlebags.
Lance then turned and curiously found himself looking into the same interrogation room...more importantly he found himself looking into the same interrogation room at the same angle from the other side of the room leaving the cell's usual exit blocked. His past self and Pinot Noir were seated at the table with a small pot of planting soil, a bottle of water, and a manila envelope between them, with Blue Shield standing nearby with eyes intently on their suspect. None of them seemed to notice that the one way mirror had been shattered with large jagged shards of it lying all over the ground with nothing to separate them from the black void beyond it.
He did not wait for the memory to even begin before he strode past them and attempted to open the door. It was locked, naturally. No police station worth their salt was going to leave the door unlocked for a potential murderer to leave as they pleased.
“Not even going to ask why I brought this in here?” Pinot Noir asked as he flipped through a folder, eyes still on the paperwork as he nodded in the direction of the small plant pot on the table between them.
Lance did not ask.
“Fair enough. Your right to remain silent is kind of irrelevant at this point since you've already spoken, but suit yourself.” The older stallion set the folder down and then gave it a tap to direct Lance's attention. “Do you know what these are?”
Lance glanced downward, recognizing the file instantly and then glaring daggers at the detective.
“Yeah you do. We'll come around to that. First off I want to say that one of the many things I've learned in my career is that even if they try their very hardest, foals are terrible liars. Not in the sense that they're terrible and liars. I'm saying they're terrible at lying. Your daughter is no exception. I sat down and had a chat with her about this case. Cute kid. Polite too, even with all of this happening to her. You and your wife did a good job raising her.”
Lance did not thank him for the compliment.
“Now when I was talking to her about it there was a pattern. For every question I asked she either hid behind her mane and said nothing, or spent a moment looking downward before she answered. It was almost like she had a script she kept trying to remember...and had no idea what to do when I asked a question that script didn't cover. This pattern of hers changed for one question. You want to know what I asked her, Doctor Strongshy?”
“What did you ask her?” Lance finally spoke up.
“Oh it does talk,” Pinot Noir noted with a brief grin before continuing. “I asked her if her daddy had done this to mommy...and she came to life. She teared up, her eyes went wide, and she looked me dead in the eyes and cried out that daddy didn't do this. She looked me dead in the eye without even a half second's pause and told me her daddy hadn't done anything. Your daughter begged us not to put you in jail, because you were a good pony. She was a completely different filly.”
“So why do you have-”
“Let me finish,” the detective said, silencing Lance with a briefly raised hoof. He then fished a small vial of fluid out of his shirt pocket and set it on the table. “Do you know what this is?”
Lance looked at the label, not recognizing the name on it. “No.”
“Makes sense, I doubt they use this in your line of work. This is called luminol. You spray this on a surface, get it under a black light, and if there was blood on that surface recently enough it'll light up blue. Can't use it on ponies though, it's toxic. But being able to do that would be pretty nifty for us investigators...which is why a few years back the justice department got in touch with some forensics unicorns and tasked them with seeing if those effects could be replicated with a nice, safe spell. I think one of your old college buddies was even consulted on it. Ranny or something.”
“Thank you. Anyway, those unicorns managed it, and the spell they made was tested until it was proven safe and reliable enough to be admissible as evidence, so long as the unicorn casting the spell has been properly vetted. We have one such unicorn on staff here, and a small lab in the building just for catching little things like this before the trail goes cold. We didn't use the spell on you because there wouldn't have been any point to it. Like you said to Blue Shield, there would be blood on you because you're a doctor and would have naturally tried to help your wife.” The detective picked up the manila envelope and started opening it. “Your daughter on the other hoof was supposed to be hiding away from any of the dreadfulness that happened in that bedroom, per your story. If this spell could find blood on her in any amount we might have to start looking for explanations for that.”
Pinot Noir pulled a few photographs out of the envelope and set them on the table. They all portrayed Fluttershy standing in a dark, sterile lab environment looking like she was exerting all her effort to not cry. Her entire body was also glowing a bright blue color.
“We'd especially need to find some way to explain blood having recently been copiously present on literally every inch of your daughter's body. Don't worry too much though, we already did. I sent the boys back to your house and had them spray down your bath tub with the real stuff,” he added before pulling another set of photographs out of the envelope of the aforementioned bath tub glowing blue beneath a black light. “What I didn't expect them to find on top of all this was the little trail of very faint hoof prints on the carpet right outside traveling down the hallway.” He set down the third set of photographs alongside the other two. “I guess she wasn't completely dry yet.”
“What are you-”
“Would you like to revise your statement yet?” Pinot Noir interrupted him sharply.
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