by DannyJ

Chapter 4: Mister Fish

>Go to the jail and talk to the suspect.

The Dragonfall Chronicle, as the newspaper is called, provides scarce few details about Mayor Stonewall's murder, and its journalistic standards are predictably low. I finish the article knowing about as much as I already inferred from the headline, and not knowing how to react.

On the one hoof, Mayor Stonewall was a bastard, and if I can get away with it, I definitely intend to piss on his grave later. But at the same time, I was probably responsible for his death, and by normal social conventions, I suppose that means I should feel bad about it. And then there's the business side to consider. What exactly is the nature of the Sunheart Company's contract with Dragonfall? Does it have to be renegotiated or renewed with the new mayor now? Would the new mayor even want our protection anymore, given how badly we've failed at our jobs already?

I hope not. I pray to Celestia and to any god that can hear me that we're collectively fired for this. Dragonfall makes me pine for my days of ordering firebombings of defenceless villages. During the Sunheart Company's last job, my platoon suffered maybe six casualties in the entire campaign. Here, we lost three soldiers in the course of settling into the barracks. Say what you will about Dragonfall (and I frequently do), it lives up to its reputation in a big way.

However, the political nuances of my employment status will have to wait, because right now, I'm far more concerned about Fishstink. Of all the ponies who know what I did, he's the biggest threat. The secretary mare who saw us does have motive to bring me down, but after how I threatened her, I doubt she would ever cross me. As for Happy and Golden, they're longtime veterans of my platoon, and they've both already overlooked far worse than this. But Fishstink... his silence may be dependent on whether or not I follow through on the deal. I promised him another six bits. If I don't get them to him... he might talk.

After I'm done with breakfast, I go out to find my platoon already up and working (I sleep in later than the rest of my soldiers, since I'm allowed to). Already, a defensive perimeter is being set up near the armoury corridor, and ponies are running weapons from the old armoury to the kitchen. One of my other sergeants, a navy-blue earth pony known as Coldsteel, appears to have taken command of the fortification. I leave him to it, and go to the room that's been designated as my office to put on my armour.

I find Breakspear there, drinking coffee with yet another sergeant. Yellowbelly, he's called, and he is indeed very yellow, as well as old enough to be my grandfather. He wrinkles his nose as I walk in, coffee dripping from his bushy moustache.

"Ah! Sir, you're here!" he says, pompously. "Great fortune! Did you hear? The Mayor of Dragonfall is dead!"

I give him a quizzical look as I take a seat behind my desk and pour my second coffee of the morning. Suiting up can wait.

"How is that great fortune?" I ask.

Breakspear almost smiles at me. "Did you read the newspaper I sent for you, sir?"

"I did. It was garbage. I've never seen a journalist use so many words to convey so little information. Why do you ask?"

"Because it says there's an election to replace him. Dragonfall doesn't have a vice-mayor to take over in situations like this. No contingencies at all."

"Well, that's predictably stupid for this city. But I don't see what you're getting at, Breakspear."

Yellowbelly clears his throat.

"Young Breakspear directed me to an article on page twenty-three... a rundown on Dragonfall's election process, since it'll be relevant soon. There's a one-month period beforehoof for potential candidates to enter, and the paper listed the requirements for being mayor..."

"Of which there are none," Breakspear says bluntly. "None whatsoever. The Mayor of Dragonfall can be anyone or anything, because these ponies literally have no standardsI could be Mayor of Dragonfall. You could. That slime monster in the basement could, if it got enough votes. And in this city, it probably would."

My eyes flick between Breakspear and Yellowbelly.

"...So what you're saying is..."

"We could enter one of our own in the race!" Yellowbelly says enthusiastically. "If we win the bid for mayor, we could terminate the contract ourselves, and we could all go back to the good life!"

Something stiffens down below.

"...I like this idea," I say, a wide grin spreading over my face. "I like it a lot. But listen, give me a little time to think it over. I want to consider how we approach this. And in the meantime, we should continue on as if we're still expecting to die here. It's our first day, isn't it? Have we got the troops out on patrol?"

Breakspear nods. "My squad are covering the inner Mining District. Their reports all complain frequently about the smog. So far, they've made two arrests, and one soldier was stabbed in the face by an orphan colt and hospitalised. He got away."

My smile dies, and I take a long, drawn-out sigh, placing a hoof on my forehead. "...And yours, Yellowbelly?"

"Mine are in the outer Mining District, sir," he says. "Nothing so dramatic so far, for the most part. Though, one pair did report that they were pelted with feces by City Maintenance workers. They claim that the workers laughed at them and called them 'shithooves' while making lewd remarks about their mothers. I don't quite know what to make of that one, sir."

I stare at him.

"...This sounds like something I will have to deal with later." I take a long drink of my coffee. "Tell your ponies that if they're accosted by City Maintenance again, they should actually arrest them next time. I'm not going to have these sub-equine scum mocking us. Not while we're the only ones preventing them from being stabbed to death by roving gangs of orphans. What are the other squads doing?"

"Coldsteel's are holding the fort here," says Breakspear. "He's trying to get the basement situation under control, as per your orders yesterday. Half of his squad are down here, and the other half are up on the wall, patrolling. So far, nothing to report, he says. As for Rictus, he drew the short straw, so his guys are down in the crystal mines for our first day. He sent back a letter."

Breakspear passes me a broken envelope. I feel a deep sense of dread as I take it in my hooves, and squeeze my eyes shut before I pull out the letter and unfold it. When I open them again, it reads about as I expected.


I slowly close the envelope.

"...I am going to leave this situation to you two," I say slowly. "I have things to do today, and I trust your judgement. Just... try to get as many of us out of this alive as you can, yeah?"

Breakspear and Yellowbelly look at each other, then back to me.

"What is it that you need to do, sir?" asks Breakspear.

"I've got to cover my tracks," I mutter. "I'll see you both this afternoon. Or not. If I die, Breakspear is in charge."

Breakspear salutes. "Sir."

I leave the room feeling distinctly awake, and incredibly afraid.

The ever-grimy Industrial District, where the smog is somehow thinner than in Mining District to its north, isn't home to much industry at all. There are still a few active gem refineries, as well as a recycling centre that looks full to bursting as I fly over it, but most of the factories are dilapidated and abandoned, and only a few of the shops and restaurants here are open. The others are all closed down, shuttered, and vandalised. I pass over one street with several half-demolished buildings, except that their contents still remain within, as if they were functional businesses up until the day that they were randomly bombed.

And everywhere I look, the walls of the Industrial District are graffitied with images of ponies dying gruesome deaths, just like the ones hanging in Town Hall. The golden apple I saw on the base of the dragon statue is also a recurring motif here. Once again, I am disturbed by the morbidness of Dragonfall's inhabitants, and I wonder what the hell is going through their minds. The written graffiti is not much better. Typical phrases include such gems as "CELESTIA HAS ABANDONED US," "THERE IS NO HEAVEN," "WE DESERVE THIS," and "EAST SIDE ORPHANAGE 4 LYFE." I die a little inside every second I spend flying over this post-apocalyptic hellscape.

Dragonfall Prison is located roughly in the centre of the Industrial District, and rain is pouring down on it by the time I'm in sight. Grey clouds blot out the sun, and lightning strikes behind the facility as I approach, just to add to its foreboding atmosphere. Since I don't particularly want to be electrocuted, and my armour is too vital to my survival to give up, I have to make a landing and walk the rest of the way there. It isn't far left to go, but I still curse whatever sorry excuse for a weather team Dragonfall has for this completely pointless thunderstorm. I curse the Dragonfall Chronicle too while I'm at it, for failing to print the day's weather schedule anywhere in its pages.

The shadow of the crumbling grey prison darkens my path as I walk up to the front gate, and a chill runs through me. Dragonfall Prison is not an especially big facility, but it just shouldn't exist. A city of this size and population should normally be able to contain all its prisoners within the jails of its police precincts and city guard. That's how Manehattan handles it. And if there are any truly despicable individuals that need long-term high security, there's always Nameless Correctional Facility in San Palomino. The fact that Dragonfall needs a dedicated prison of this size just for its own population is frankly terrifying.

As I enter the prison's reception, I find a single stallion at a front desk, guarded by two Sunheart mercenaries. The breastplates of their golden armour are adorned with a pair of sigils, first the burning heart that is the emblem of the Sunheart Company itself, and second the black tombstone marking them as Lieutenant Peacemaker's platoon. Every platoon uses its lieutenant's cutie mark as a sigil in this way. Even mine all sport my very own bloody teardrop on their armour, which of course represents the darkness in my soul.

"Lieutenant Agony?" asks one of the Peacemaker guards, looking surprised.

"I heard the Mayor was killed. I understand you have his murderer in custody?"

"U-Uh, yes, we do, but—"

"I want to see him."

"Do you have permission for that?" asks the stallion at the desk.

"Shut up, local," I snap. "You live in Dragonfall; your opinion is worthless."

He slumps on his desk without comment. I turn back to the guards. The silent one remains mostly apathetic to my presence, while the one I was speaking to withers under my gaze.

"See, the thing is, Lieutenant Peacemaker and the Captain are handling the interrogating themselves, and the prisoner is in solitary confinement until then, so..."

"So what?" I ask firmly. "I may not be your direct superior, but I'm his equal. I have the authority to walk through here, and you're not going to stop me. Are you?"

The guard gulped. "No sir."

The other shook his head in affirmation.

"Good. Take me to him."

As I guessed, the suspect in custody is indeed Fishstink. I find him in a padded cell in the prison's solitary confinement ward. Somepony evidently tried to bind him in a straitjacket, but somehow he must have torn out of it, because it now lies in pieces on the floor of his cell. Nevertheless, he sits still in the middle of the room, humming happily to himself as I watch through a slit in the door.

The guard who escorted me up here waits patiently by my side, trying to look anywhere but right at me. I briefly wonder how to phrase my various questions so as to not sound suspicious, but we are interrupted by the arrival of two new ponies coming down the corridor, one a lavender pegasus and the other a grey unicorn.

"Agony, what the hell are you doing here?" asks Captain Blackheart, trotting up to me.

The unicorn beside him gives me the same apathetic grimace that he's worn every day of his life since his mother squeezed him out. If I were to pick one word to describe Lieutenant Peacemaker, it would be "boring." He sucks the life out of every room he enters. The one good thing I can say about him is that he voted against coming to Dragonfall, because boring people at least tend not to be insane.

"Oh, look who it is!" I say, turning to face them both. "It's Blackheart, sitting atop his ivory tower like some clueless, drunken jackass!"

"That's Captain Clueless Drunken Jackass, to you," says Blackheart, dismissing my escort with a look and a flick of his head. "You'd best keep that in mind."

I wave him off absently. "Funny, because you seem less and less captain-y to me with every passing day. This debacle with Mayor Stonewall is frankly embarrassing. I feel bad for you. Dragonfall kicked your ass on your first day here. I said coming here was a mistake, didn't I? Peace, back me up on this."

"It's true," says Lieutenant Peacemaker in his dry monotone. "Statistically speaking, a failure like this was inevitable. I do not think we should have accepted this contract."

"By the way," I shout. "Just so you know, a slime creature came out of the flooded basement in the northwest barracks yesterday, and I lost three ponies. So, y'know, there's that. Feel like assigning us some new quarters yet, Captain?"

Captain Blackheart closes his eyes and rubs his temples.

"Agony. I will ask you again. What are you doing here?"

"Mostly? I'm here to rub your face in what a massive failure you are as a commander. But also, I want to know just how you managed to foul up this bad. You were in the office with the Mayor when I last checked, so how in Equestria did this happen?"

Blackheart glares at me for a moment, but eventually turns away.

"We fell asleep drinking. The Mayor was dead when I woke up."

"Oho!" I grin. "So it is all your fault! What about this guy then, hmm? How did you pick him up? Do you even know it was him?"

"Well," says Blackheart, giving a sardonic smile. "It was a little difficult to piece together. You see, I woke up to find the Mayor with his throat slit, and the suspect standing over him, smiling and covered in blood, with a knife in his mouth. After that, I knew that something was amiss. And then when he said, 'I'm glad I killed the bastard,' I thought that was really suspicious."

Celestia damn it, Fish.

This really puts a damper on my original plan to release him immediately after the crime. If he had just done some simple vandalism like I asked, that would be one thing, but even I can't get away with letting out an obvious murderer.

"Okay, fine, so we've got him dead to rights. Do we know why he did it? Or how? What was he doing in Town Hall in the first place?"

"A secretary let him in," Peacemaker interjects. "She said that she's, quote, 'a stupid pony and a poor judge of character, who also eats shit.' She then apologised profusely, cried a lot, and promised to never ever make cookies. I'm not sure what any of that was about, but she sounded very genuine saying it."

"...Hmph... I want to talk to the suspect alone."

"Why?" says Blackheart.

"Because I have questions, you sad excuse for a pony."

"You need to stop," Blackheart growls. "I know you're riding high right now on a wave of 'I told you so,' but I'm about sick to death of your insults. Don't think you're too high-ranking for me to discipline you, because I can and I will."

"Pshhhh. You don't discipline me. You don't discipline anypony. You just nag. That's all you can do – nag me. 'Oh, you can't attack enemies who are trying to surrender, Agony! It's unethical! You can't perform random executions on your prisoners, Agony! It's unethical! You can't order full-scale chemical weapon attacks on civilians because one insulted you, Agony! It's unethical!' By Celestia's sunny teats, won't you ever just shut up?"

Blackheart opens his mouth to respond, but I cut him off again.

"I mean, seriously, what is wrong with you? I know you're only in charge here because daddy was, but how do you work this job for almost half your life and still suck so hard at it? I bet you wouldn't touch me even if I burned your house down."

He splutters. "I-I-I-"

"Hey, Blackheart, remember your last birthday, when somepony sent you an entire photo album of your parents having sex? That was me."

Blackheart stares at me, mouth agape.

"No?" I say. "Still not going to do anything?"

He lets out a long sigh and hangs his head.

"I need a drink," he mumbles, walking off.

Peacemaker and I watch him as he leaves, staying silent until he disappears from sight.

"I don't understand what you gain from antagonising him constantly," says Peacemaker. "He's far too easy of a target, and besides, it would be so much easier to just get on his good side. If he liked you more, he'd also listen to you more, and then you could both be happy."

"Peace, I torment him precisely because I don't want him to be happy," I reply. "Blackheart is like the pony equivalent of a benign tumour. He's not a problem as such, but he serves no useful function, and every second he spends on my ass, I wish more and more that he wasn't there."

Peacemaker raises an eyebrow at me. "...What?"

"Nothing. Go away. I'm going to interrogate the prisoner now."

He does so, and as soon as I'm finally alone outside of Fishstink's cell, I unbolt the door and stride in. He makes no attempt to escape, instead merely giving me that same cheerful smile of his and balancing up on his forehooves again. His legs are all bandaged up, so the smell he gave off last time we met is somewhat muted now.

"Hey there! Howzit goin'?"

"Um, hello again, Fish..." I say. "Listen, uh... I think you went a little overboard with what I asked you to do. See... I wanted you to just do some minor vandalism, not... y'know... kill the mayor."

"What? Naw. Nawwwww. I didn't kill no mayor. I just said I did! Threw 'em for a loop, that one did! Heh."

I blinked. "Seriously?"

"Seriously!" Fishstink beamed with pride. "It took some doing, but now they think I did it, and none of them Sunheart ponies are any the wiser! Pulled the wool over their eyes, I did!"

"...Why?" I ask. "If you didn't do it, I mean."

"Obvious, ain't it?" Fishstink let his hindquarters drop to the floor, and spread his hooves wide. "I got everything I could ever want in here! Food, shelter, and medical care! Look! They even got ridda my maggots!"

"I can... see..."

"Yeah! Great, ain't it? Ya don't even gotta let me out. I'm happy enough right where I am. But of course, those six bits ya promised wouldn't go amiss..."

I rifle through my wallet until I find six bits to drop in front of him, which he greedily gathers up and begins rubbing over his face.

"Thankee kindly, mister!"

"...Riiiight. Anyway, uh... everything else aside... If you didn't kill Mayor Stonewall, who did?"

"Hmm?" Fishstink sits up and blinks. "Oh... the mob, I reckon. They're the ones what killed the last nine mayors, so..."

I do a double take. "Wait, what?"

"Yeah. It's what they do. The mob funds a mayor's campaign and gets ridda his rivals, the mayor gets into office and does favours for the mob, then he gets too big for his britches and tries t'go against 'em, and then they kill him and elect a new mayor! Always been how it is. Everypony in Dragonfall knows it."

"...Um... wow..."

1. Leave immediately and don't get involved in this.
2. Begin discreetly investigating the Dragonfall mob.
3. Tell Blackheart and Peacemaker that Fishstink is innocent.