by DannyJ

Chapter 5: Murphy's Law

>Begin discreetly investigating the Dragonfall mob.

Dragonfall apparently turned into hell while I was in the prison.

I shiver uncontrollably as I move through the streets, constantly being buffeted by winds that would be considered excessive for a hurricane. The torrential downpour doesn't help matters, soaking me all the way through my armour. I want to fly away and get out of this mess, but it's so chaotic right now that I'm afraid to. Everywhere I look, fences are being blown over, small trees are snapping in half like toothpicks, and dumpsters are upturning and spilling their trash. The lightning hasn't gone away either. I'd probably die flying in this, with or without my armour.

Eventually, I find an overhang outside a closed-down bakery. It does very little to protect me from the wind and rain, but it's better than nothing at the moment, so I lean against the wall to rest a while.

Dragonfall has equine suffering down an artform. There is no justifiable reason for the weather to be this bad. Some rain would be understandable, since most traders are rightfully terrified of Dragonfall, and the city thus has to farm all its own food. Rainfall is necessary for proper irrigation, and I don't doubt for a second that Dragonfall would starve to death without the farmlands to the south and east. By the same token, the city's only source of lumber is the forest beyond the western wall, so that also needs to be kept alive. And hell, even if Dragonfall didn't depend on the farms and forest for resources, a little rain to clear the air is still normal.

This, however, is beyond a joke. I've never heard wind howl half as loudly as this. It sounds as if Dragonfall is being simultaneously gangbanged by around thirty windigoes. For all I know, that may literally be the case. I don't know if I believe in windigoes or not, but if they are real, this is where they would be; Dragonfall could feed a windigo for a thousand years.

Even if there's no mayor right now, I resolve to visit the Town Hall at soonest opportunity, so that I can lodge a formal complaint about the weather. If storms like this are even close to a regular occurrence around here, then I think I've solved the mystery of why so much of this city is damaged and ruined.

I'm about to start walking again, when I see a thin grey colt emerge from an alley to my right, bandages covering his hindquarters and right foreleg. As soon as he sees me, he limps pitifully closer, while I just stare at him and try to conceal my general disdain for children.

"Hello, mister," he says softly. "...Are you one of them Sunheart guards?"

"I am," I answer curtly.

He glances at the emblems on my armour. "What's that other mark besides the heart?"

"It's a bloody teardrop. It's my cutie mark. It represents my tortured existence, and the pain I live through every day."

"...Are you a vampire?"

I glare at the colt. "What?"

"Well, you have fangs and scary bat wings, and your cutie mark is blood, and your eyes are really angry-looking."

Fuming, I lunge at the colt, grab him by the scruff of the neck, and pull him up to my face.

"Listen here, you racist little shit—!"

I don't get to finish my sentence, because the colt then shoves a piece of broken glass into me just below my breastplate, making me scream and drop him.

"East Side Orphanage for life!" He rips the glass out and stabs me again. "Die, pig! Die!"

I'm stabbed a total of four times before I collapse on the sidewalk. I should be reaching for my own concealed dagger, but instead I clutch my wound and howl in pain. The colt throws down his shiv and spits on me.

"Don't ever mess with us again, motherfucker!" he shouts as he runs away, notably no longer limping.

I seethe, rolling around in a muddy puddle as blood leaks out of me. Fortunately, the glass only went skin-deep, so I'm unlikely to die, but it's still... well, agony.

But more than anything, I'm just annoyed by this. Ten years of mercenary work, and I had barely a scratch on me to show for it. Two days in Dragonfall, and I'm already bleeding in a gutter.

"I hate children!" I shout to the storm. "I hate children so much!"

The storm still continues, but it's beginning to let up as I stagger into the Trade District. The rain has become little more than a light drizzle, and the wind isn't as loud or forceful anymore. Still not ideal conditions to be bleeding in, but I try not to think about that right now. My wound isn't too debilitating for me to reach the bar that Fishstink told me about and look into this mob thing.

I let myself ponder the subject for the first time since leaving the prison. I was so distracted by the awful weather and being stabbed that I didn't give the implications time to sink in. Fishstink wove quite a tale, about a powerful organised crime family that runs the underground, and how that underground basically encompasses all of Dragonfall, since the whole city is so densely packed with shit that all the legitimate businesses sunk under its weight. To hear him tell of it, the mob are the real government around here, and it's the mayor's office who are the pretenders.

I'm not quite sure how to feel about this. On the one hoof, the mob are criminals, and shouldn't be anywhere near a position of power, and I suppose if the Sunheart Company are the law now, then we should be doing something about them. On the other hoof, I don't care about Dragonfall, and the mob can burn the whole city to the ground for all I care, so long as they let me leave first. They may even be sympathetic to my desire to get the hell out of here, and their own candidate may let us go if I ask nicely. But I'm not sure. I'll need to see them in action myself before I decide how to deal with these ponies.

I stop by an alleyway, and lean against a brick wall to shiver and clutch my wound. Red still runs through my hooves, and the pain is considerable.

"Damn orphans..." I mutter.

I glance down the alleyway, looking for any sign of life. Sure enough, there's another hobo curled up in a sleeping bag a little way in, lying atop a pile of wet cardboard. Although only his head sticks out, I can still see a ratty scarf wrapped around his neck.

An errant thought crosses my mind, and I stumble over to the hobo.

"Hey," I say. "Hey, you!"

The hobo cracks his bloodshot eyes open and sits up, not leaving his sleeping bag. "Wherrr?"

This one doesn't smell as awful as Fishstink did, but he has bugs visibly nesting in his beard, so I still struggle not to recoil in disgust.

"Hey, I want your scarf."

The hobo, wide-eyed, pulls his hooves out of the sleeping bag to hold onto the scarf, shaking his head.

"I can pay for it," I say, exasperated. "Look, just give it to me now. I'm bleeding, and I need a bandage."

I move my hoof away to show him the wound below my breastplate. He stares at it wordlessly, and then looks up to meet my eyes. I reach back and draw my wallet.

"How much?" I ask. "Will fifteen bits do?"

He slowly nods, still giving me a slack-jawed expression. I wonder how many of my words he even understands. Going by the precedent for necrosis set by Fishstink, this one's probably got worms eating his brain.

I step over, opening my wallet as he unwraps his scarf and pulls down the sleeping bag.

"Right, finally, thank you."

Then he pulls a knife out of the scarf, lunges forward, and stabs me just below the neck.

"Aghhhhh!" I scream.

Why do I even bother with armour?!

The hobo leaps up, kicking the sleeping bag behind him, and charges into me. He runs us both across the alley and slams me into a wall, driving the knife deeper. He gives a maniacal grin as his face presses against mine, and I can feel his infested beard rubbing against my chin.

"Rest in chaos, you poor bastard," he whispers into my ear.

This time I remember my dagger. I pull it from its sheath with the tip of my wing and swing it upwards between our bodies, cutting the hobo's throat in one quick motion. I am showered in blood, and both my attacker and I collapse to the ground, the latter choking as a red river runs from his throat.

"Damn it!" I shout, climbing back up and pulling his knife out as gently as I can. "I probably have an infection now! Thanks a lot!"

I stagger over to the fallen hobo and tear his scarf away from him. He gurgles helplessly, and reaches up with a hoof, clutching his throat with the other.

"Is it so much to ask that even one of you locals be worth more than the air you breathe?" I rip his scarf in half and wrap one piece around my newest wound, just below my neck. "You are just the cherry on a shit sundae right now. I was having one hell of a bad day already, but you somehow managed to make it even worse, you utter waste of skin."

Once finished dressing my new wound, I wrap the other half of the hobo's scarf around my old one. I'm trying to block out the pain with anger, but I need to reach a doctor soon.

"From now on, I'm enforcing vagrancy laws around here! I know it means arresting half the population of this Celestia-forsaken city, but to hell with it! Better a thousand of you languish in prison for your poor life choices than one more degenerate gets a clean shot at me. I am easily worth a million of you."

I pick up the hobo's knife, still red with my own blood, and lean over him. He panics and starts flailing, but I hold him still.

"Do! Not! Stab! Me! Again!" I shout, punctuating each word by stabbing him. "It! Isn't! Nice!"

I'm pretty sure he's dead by the time I'm done, but I don't bother to check. I just throw the knife aside and drag myself back out of the alley, now completely red from head to hooves. I probably look like a serial killer right now. At least the rain will wash some of this away.

"Dragonfall," I grumble.

The pain from both my wounds is quite intense, and I have no idea where to go to find medical help. If Dragonfall even has an intact hospital, I don't know where it is, and I'm not sure I'd trust it anyway. And as for the Sunheart Company's own doctors, they're renowned on battlefields all the world over for their body count. I'd probably come away from them in worse shape than when I went in, subjected to their patented double-whammy of sepsis and gangrene, with an amputated hoof for good measure.

That isn't even paranoia on my part; I've suffered at their hooves myself. Once, back when I was first starting out in the company, I went to my squad's medic to get a toothache treated, and he removed one of my testicles. I later chanced to see him and some nurses playing hackey-sack with it. Eventually, after I made lieutenant, I got back at them for it by selling the lot of them into slavery, improving troop morale and cutting my platoon's fatalities in half in a single stroke.

Honestly, though, I think they had the last laugh in the end; they get to spend the rest of their days toiling in the sunshine for a nice Zebrican warlord, while I'm the sucker who's trapped in Dragonfall.

Taking stock of my options, I conclude that I am the best equipped to treat my own injuries. On inspection, neither of the cuts are particularly deep, and I don't think they'd even need stitches. I just need to soak them in some disinfectant, and slap something reasonably clean and resembling bandages over them, and I'll be as good as new. The trick is finding the necessary materials.

Then I recall that I was already heading for a bar.

Out of all the crumbling, dilapidated ruins I've seen in Dragonfall, the mob's bar is, perhaps fittingly, the least shitty. With its thatched roof and red-brick facade, and the fenced-off beer garden outside, it actually looks rather homey – the kind of place I might take Breakspear to for some strictly non-homosexual male bonding.

I pause in front of the heavy oaken door, and give a wary glance at the swinging sign beside it. "The Flying Golem," it reads, accompanied by a caricatured engraving of a pegasus clutching a frothing mug, drooling dumbly. It admittedly ruins the atmosphere somewhat, but I shrug it off, taking one last whiff of wet, feculent Dragonfall air before I push my way into the bar.

I sigh and shudder as the warmth washes over me. After everything I've been through, it's sorely welcome.

Inside, the bar is just as cosy as it looked from the exterior. An old red carpet covers the floor, and the walls and support beams are decorated with horseshoes and old, faded photographs. A fire crackles away in a hearth by one wall, and hundreds of different bottles are lined up behind the bar itself. All over the room, ponies are conversing around their tables. Many are just drinking, but some are eating hot meals, and a few even have some card games going.

The warm, charming atmosphere and decor confirm, in my mind, that this is the crime capital of the city. It's far too nice for Dragonfall; there has to something terrible and/or horrific going on here.

Blood trickles past my hooves and pools on the carpet beneath me. I'm almost self-conscious of that fact, but the stain's about the same colour as the fabric, so it can't be worth getting worked up over. It's then that I realise that I'm the disturbing presence this time. I'm already getting a few stares from some of the closer tables, but some brief eye contact soon dissuades them.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just another stabbing victim. You probably see a dozen every week.

A few ponies are ordering at the bar, but the stools are largely unoccupied, save for one or two spots. I go over and take a seat at the closest one, sitting just beside a drunk with his face buried in his hooves.

"Hey," I call to the bartender. "Literally dying over here. Can I get a little service?"

The bartender, just finishing up serving a glass of ale to another customer, trots over and gives me a curious look. I pull back the scarf wrappings to reveal my stab wounds, and give her a flat stare in response.

"Oh my."

"Listen, lady, I need something cheap and strong to rub into these, and some rags to cover them. Can you do that for me? Can you get that?"

She says nothing, instead immediately going to the shelves behind the bar and picking out a bottle of what I'm pretty sure is rubbing alcohol, with "WISKEE" written on a wrinkly strip of masking tape. It's entirely the wrong color to be whiskey, the "S" is backwards, and the bottle is covered in a sticky-looking layer of grime. I think if I even attempted to drink it, it would blind or kill me, or perhaps somehow blind me to death; it's the most Dragonfall thing in the entire bar.

I wince. "That will be adequate."

She tosses it over to me, and I catch it in my hoof and pull the cap off with my teeth, muttering thanks as I begin applying the alcohol. I hiss at the contact, but it hurts less than being stabbed.

As the mare goes to get a cloth, the drunk beside me sits up and looks my way. I notice him too, and curse myself for not recognising Captain Blackheart's lavender coat.

"Agony," he says through clenched teeth, swaying somehow despite not even standing.

"Oh, son of a bitch, you're here?" I slap my forehead and groan as I put my bottle aside. "As if my day couldn't get any worse."

"I... needed to drink," Blackheart slurs. "You drive me to it. You and your... gifts..."

"Blackheart, I seriously do not have time for you and your various emotional issues right now. Please, kindly piss off and leave me to die in peace."

The mare returns promptly with what I think is a dishrag, which she slides across the bar. I take it and begin tearing it into strips, glaring at Blackheart while he gives me a sullen, almost sleepy look.

"Y'know..." He hiccups. "I was thinking..."

"Please don't," I say as I pour more alcohol over my wounds. "You're not very good at it."

"I've always wondered, Agony... How did you compile that photo album of my parents?"

"I didn't, Blackheart!" I shout at him. "They made it! I was banging them, and they sent it to me as a gift!"

Blackheart squints at me, mouth hanging open. "W-What?"

I start wrapping the cloth strips.

"Seriously, Blackheart, did you not once wonder about how I climbed the ranks so quickly? I did sexual favours for your dad, okay? And by the way, he was really selfish in bed."

He blinks. I pause to inspect my makeshift bandages, already staining red.

"...I'm not gay, though," I add.

Blackheart tackles at me, sending us both tumbling to the floor. I scream, and try to grip the counter as I fall, but I only succeed in pulling down my bottle of rubbing alcohol, which pours all over both of us.

I grapple with Blackheart, as he flips me onto my back. I'm sure most of the bar patrons are staring at us now.

"You bastard, Agony!" he screams.

His hooves close around my neck, and suddenly my captain is choking me to death. I reach up and shove him back, but he punches me in the face, and we roll across the floor. My bandages come loose in the fight, and I'm bleeding everywhere again. It's every bit as excruciating as I expected it would be.

I rub my face where he punched me. "If it makes you feel any better, your mother wasn't nearly as bad. A solid seven out of ten."

Blackheart grabs me again by the scruff of my neck. "I'm gonna kill you!"

He throws me against the bar, winding me, and I sink to the floor. I squeeze my eyes shut as I try to process the pain, but they shoot open again as I hear the sound of smashing glass. Blackheart comes at me again with the broken remains of the bottle of "WISKEE."

Oh, please no.

For the third time today, somepony stabs me. This time, Blackheart gets me right in the belly. My eyes water, and I try to hold back a scream.

Finally, a pair of stallions in black suits come up behind Blackheart and restrain him. He kicks and screams, yelling drunken insults at the bouncers, but they pay him no regard as they haul him away. On the edge of my thoughts, I note that they aren't taking him to the front door to throw him out, but are instead taking him through a door behind the bar.

...Oh, right. This place is ran by the mob. I was supposed to subtly investigate it.

Well, that plan has certainly gone to hell.

A third stallion in a suit soon appears beside me, holding out a hoof to help me up. I take it gratefully, leaning into him as he hauls me up onto his back. My eyes are already drooping as he carries me away.

"Come on," he says, politely. "Let's get you taken care of."

Yep. I'm gonna die.

I awaken in a warm bed, many times softer than the one in the northwest barracks, a fire burning in a hearth next to me. For a moment, I think this might be Paradise, but then I remember that I don't believe in the afterlife, and that all the various slights I've made against the laws of gods and mortals alike would disqualify me from Heaven anyway. I am thus forced to conclude that I am, somehow, still alive.

Where I am, though, remains a mystery; nowhere in Dragonfall should have beds this nice.

"You're up," says a gruff voice at my bedside. "I almost wasn't expecting you to pull through. Nice to be wrong for a change."

I roll my head over, looking to the other side of the bed, and glimpse the greyest, surliest, most badass-looking griffon that my eyes have ever beheld. He's clad in a suit of black leather, with holes cut into the sides for his wings, and he has a bitchin' eyepatch over one eye. He wears a belt around his middle that's lined with a variety of wicked-looking blades, and over his back is a crossbow and a quiver of arrows, as well as a long golden spear tipped with a jagged purple gemstone that just screams "magic."

I feel inadequate just looking at him.

"You're a Sunheart, by the look of you," says the griffon, staring down at me with his one good eye. "And an officer, too, I'm willing to bet. You got a name, son?"

"...Agony," I rasp.

I cough, and he hands me a glass of water from my bedside table. I drink, and cradle the glass on top of my belly between my hooves when I'm done. Pulling back the blankets, I discover that my wounds have all been stitched up properly. It almost looks professionally done.

"Agony," says the griffon, thoughtfully. "Suits you, I suppose."

"Yeah, it's pretty badass, I guess," I sigh.

"That'll be Lieutenant Agony, right?" At my nod, he continues. "You can call me Crackshot, lieutenant. The proprietors of the Golem, the ones who took care of your little problem, employ me as a sort of... specialist, shall we say?"

"You're a killer for the mob."

"'Specialist' is easier to fit on a business card." He flashes me a predatory grin. "You caused quite a scene downstairs, striding in and bleeding all over the damn place. We normally do our best to keep that kind of stuff outside the bar – to keep it an oasis in the middle of what is, let's be realistic, a reeking, worm-ridden cesspit. You understand?"

"I think I do."

I think wistfully about what a charming place the Flying Golem was, and sigh, realising that I'll likely never be allowed back in. Then I think, with an icy feeling of fear, that this is probably his way of telling me that my head could very well wind up on someone's wall if I choose to make life difficult for the mob. And then I notice the way he's delicately, and somewhat suggestively, fondling the hilt of one of his many, many daggers.

Well, he seems the reasonable sort, at least. Perhaps he and I can meet some sort of compromise.

"Hypothetically," I say, swallowing. "What would it take to make you and your... employers... overlook my little transgression?"

Crackshot's eye narrows, and he scowls at me.

"Son, are you implying that you, a duly appointed officer of the law, with a responsibility to uphold the standards of your office and serve and protect the good ponies of Dragonfall, would be willing to offer me, an unapologetic hired killer in the service of a criminal syndicate, some sort of monetary compensation in exchange for me overlooking your grievous lapse in both conduct and judgment?"

"I was just gonna say, 'Want a bribe?' You know, like a normal person? One who doesn't take six hundred thousand words to express very simple thoughts and concepts? But your way actually sounds a little better."

Crackshot smiles slyly, and his talon leaves the hilt of his blade.

"I've decided that I like you, Lieutenant Agony," he purrs.

I feel my insides go all fluttery.

"More to the point, I think you might be the kind of pony we'd like to see go up in the world. Climb the chain of command, so to speak. The kind of pony who might be willing to scratch our backs if we scratch his. The kind of pony who will look the other way when stallions in black suits carry suspiciously rolled-up rugs and carpets through the streets and deposit them in one of our fine local landfills. And, the kind of pony who will keep a tight enough grip on his subordinates to make sure that they do the same when we need it. In short... the kind of pony that your Captain Blackheart is not."

Crackshot leans closer to me, close enough that I can practically count every last scar and fracture on his face.

"What do you think? If Blackheart were to be suddenly, tragically, and non-incriminatingly removed from command of the Sunhearts... could you be that kind of pony?"

I have never before been so aroused in my life.

1. Let the mob kill Blackheart, and attempt to usurp the Sunheart Company for them.
2. Leave Blackheart to the mob's mercy, and explain intentions to leave Dragonfall.
3. Decline the mob's offer as politely as possible, and bargain for Blackheart's life.