Under A Luminous Sky
Jake The Army Guy
Chapter Four- Revelations
Twilight Sparkle was a pony who didn’t mind silence. Even before her tenure as a part time librarian, the lack of noise never bothered her. Growing up, her nose was almost always stuck in a book; talking had always been a distraction from her learning. As a student, the same applied. Small talk was a distraction, nothing more. Say what you must, then move on. Only since her move to Ponyville had she begun to see appeal in filling the silence.
However, this was one of the few times in her life she had found silence aggravating. For the past twenty minutes, she had walked beside Agent Bentgrass, and not a word had been uttered. Twilight had long, informative speeches ready for when they passed local landmarks: the recent expansion of Sofas, Quills, and Parchment, the history of Equestria’s first hydroelectric dam, the string of corruption charges leveled against Mayor Mare. Her speeches went unused, however, as the pale stallion beside her remained annoyingly silent. He merely looked around every now and then, not even flinching when Twilight would clear her throat pointedly or let out an aggravated sigh. Finally, she could take no more.
Bentgrass flicked his eyes towards her. “Hm?”
“We’ve been walking around for almost twenty minutes, and you haven’t asked me anything!”
“Oh. I wasn’t aware that you wanted conversation.”
Twilight flicked her tail in annoyance. “I don’t! You dragged me out of my library so I could answer your questions about Ponyville! So, ask!”
The air was silent once more, save for the clip-clop of their hooves on the ground. Twilight opened her mouth to shout at him when he finally spoke.
“Why did you turn down the position in Canterlot?”
Twilight jerked to a halt, her hackles rising at the abrupt question. “What?”
Bentgrass stopped and turned to her, once more studying her with his mismatched eyes. Twilight withered slightly under his gaze. “Oh, come now, Miss Sparkle. Her Majesty’s School for Gifted Unicorns is the most esteemed center of learning in all of Equestria. Stallions and mares have worked their entire lives and never achieved what you were offered, and turned down, at the age of twenty-five.” He arched his eyebrow. “I’m curious as to why.”
“My whole life is in Ponyville. All my friends. You know, the Elements of Harmony? I can’t break that up to go be a teacher.” Her tail twitched slightly as she offered the most genuine smile she could muster. She hoped that Bentgrass didn’t hear the mechanical, rehearsed way she’d said it.
Silence descended once more as Bentgrass continued to regard her. Twilight felt very small under his stare. His face seemed as calm as ever, but there was an intensity to his gaze that shook her. There was no way to tell what he was thinking; his eyes betrayed no emotion. The effect was compounded by his serpentine right eye, a soft amber glow seeming to come from it even in the bright sunlight. If eyes were the windows to the soul, Twilight had decided, then this mysterious policepony didn’t have one.
Twilight shook her head and glared at Bentgrass. “Besides, why do you care? You said you had questions about Ponyville, not my private life!”
He held her gaze for a few more moments before looking away. “Merely curious. Anyway, we’re here.” He motioned to the sign next to him with a hoof: Ponyville General Hospital.
Twilight brought a hoof to her face. She had been so lost in thought that she’d missed the giant, gleaming white building before her. With a small sigh, she said, “Thank goodness.” Turning away from him, she trotted to the door.
They strode through the sliding glass doors into the reception area. The polished floor tiles reflected Twilight’s face back at her, still looking very annoyed. The wall to her left was covered in photos of various ponies, each with a small nameplate underneath. Ponies sat in rather comfortable-looking chairs along the walls, a few appearing worse for wear. A mare with a screaming foal sat in one, gently rocking the little colt while muttering soft words of comfort. Twilight nearly sidestepped into Bentgrass when a particularly green-looking stallion just about coughed right on her.
In the middle of the lobby was a large, round desk, varnished wood displaying a similar polished sheen as the floor. Behind it sat a rather bored looking mare, her slightly graying mane tied in a tight bun. Her hind legs were kicked up unceremoniously on the desk as she read a magazine.
“Good afternoon, miss,” Bentgrass said. “We’re looking for a Doctor Fulton Well.”
The mare looked up from her magazine. “Do you have an appoi—” She stopped when she looked at Bentgrass. “What’s with your eye?”
Twilight gasped at her brashness. She thought a nurse would have some sense of tact.
For his part, Bentgrass didn’t seem to notice. He simply looked at her, his eyebrow raised. “Eye? What eye?”
She stared for a few more moments before shaking her head and returning to her magazine. “Second floor, third door on the right from the stairs.” She gestured lazily towards the stairwell with her hoof.
Bentgrass simply nodded and walked away. Twilight shot a glare at the nurse, who still didn’t look away from her reading.
They trotted up the stairs in silence. Once they got to the second floor, the smell of antiseptic and bleach assaulted Twilight’s nostrils. Here, the luxuries of the reception area were gone, replaced by cold functionality. The floor wasn’t nearly as polished the one in the lobby, and the overhead lights were the same harsh florescent that she had seen in countless government buildings before. Unused stretchers sat randomly against the walls. Twilight’s hoofbeats echoed surprisingly loud in the empty hallway.
For a place dedicated to saving lives, Twilight thought, this floor seems really... dead.
After a few minutes, they reached a heavy wooden door, Bentgrass knocked firmly, the sound resonating loudly in the empty hallway.
“Come in,” came a gentle, baritone voice from behind it.
Twilight followed Bentgrass through the door to find a mustard yellow unicorn sitting behind a small desk. His thick, brown mane was combed neatly into waves that hung down to his neck. The wall behind him held numerous degrees from various schools, the largest of which hung in the middle. Twilight squinted her eyes, reading the flowery hoofwriting. Her eyebrows raised slightly in admiration when she read the words Summa cum Laude beneath his name.
“Are you Doctor Fulton Well?” Bentgrass asked.
The doctor looked up from a file on his desk and smiled warmly at them. “Please, call me Fully.”
Bentgrass ducked his head and removed his badge case from his saddlebag, placing it on the desk. “Well met, Doctor. Special Agent Bentgrass, R.I.S. This is my associate, Miss Sparkle.” He nodded towards Twilight, who smiled and gave a small nod.
Doctor Well shot a puzzled look at the two of them, his horn lighting up as he picked up the shield. “R.I.S.?” He gave a small smile. “Who forgot to pay their ta—” His face fell as he squinted to read the fine print on the ID. “Oh.”
Twilight felt a chill as the doctor’s warm face turned into a deep scowl, staring directly at Bentgrass. “You’re from Division Six,” he spat.
Bentgrass’ face remained as calm as ever. “Ah, I take it you’ve heard of us?”
The doctor sneered and threw the badge back at him. “You could say that.” He rose from his seat and glared at Bentgrass. “I was the doctor on-call the night Nightmare Moon returned. Some of your cohorts were... less than thrilled when I refused to let them see the injured guards while they were still being treated.” At this, he strode up to Bentgrass and stared into his eyes. Though the doctor was taller than Twilight, he still had to look up to make eye contact with the slim Bentgrass. “I was detained and nearly stripped of my medical license!”
Bentgrass didn’t flinch, standing as calmly as ever. “Yes, well, when a vengeful goddess returns and threatens to end all life as we know it by casting the world into eternal darkness, one tends to get a little... flighty.”
The air practically vibrated with tension as the two stallions stared each other down. Doctor Well looked up at Bentgrass with contempt, while the agent simply looked down with the same impassive gaze as ever. A muted call over the hospital intercom came from outside the door, but other than that, all Twilight could hear was her pounding heart.
Finally, she cleared her throat. “So, Doctor Well, you graduated Summa cum Laude from Princess Luna’s School of Health and Healing?” She gestured towards the large diploma. “That’s quite impressive. I recently received my Doctorate in Thaumatic Energy Manipulation from Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”
After a few more seconds of silence, Doctor Well turned from Bentgrass and looked to Twilight. He studied her for a moment before his gaze softened slightly, his more genial nature showing through once more. “Ah, yes. You’re the Princess’s protege, aren’t you?”
Twilight blushed slightly and nodded.
“Aren’t you also friends with that crash-happy pegasus I’ve treated a few times?”
Twilight chuckled. “Rainbow Dash, yes.”
“Ah yes, the former Wonderbolt.” He glanced at Bentgrass before huffing and turning back to his desk. “My oldest son was a huge fan of hers. Broke his heart when she quit the team.” Sitting back down, he motioned his head towards Bentgrass, never looking away from Twilight. “What are you doing with him?”
At this, Bentgrass stepped forward and reclaimed his badge. “She’s helping me with an investigation, which is why we’re here. I wanted to ask you a few questions about the death of Miss Berry Punch. You do serve as the hospital’s coroner, do you not?”
Doctor Well slouched when he spoke. “Yes. Not my favorite part of the job, but somepony has to do it.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Wait, is the R.I.S. investigating her death?”
“No. I was brought in merely as an advisor. Sheriff Shackle asked me to talk to you, see if I can glean anything new from your report.”
“I see.” He looked at the two of them with a raised eyebrow before leaning down and pulling a manila folder from his desk drawer. “Well, here’s the report. Take a look if you want, though it isn’t very pretty.”
Bentgrass leaned down and opened the folder. Immediately, Twilight glanced away. Even in her peripheral vision, she could still see the pictures that sat inside. She shuddered as Bentgrass flipped through them nonchalantly.
“So, what were your findings, Doctor?”
“Not much. Cause of death was exsanguination. Massive blood loss from a single wound on her torso.”
“Yes, I’m familiar with the term,” Bentgrass said. Twilight nodded in agreement.
“Oh, okay then.” The doctor cleared his throat. “The ‘official’ explanation is a timberwolf attack.”
While she still tried to avoid the pictures, Twilight had to turn to look at him. “Doctor, you say that like you don’t agree. Do you think something else happened?”
He leveled his gaze at her. “Officially? No.”
“And unofficially?” Bentgrass said, finally looking up from the file.
The doctor sighed heavily, removing his glasses from his snout with his magic and rubbing his eyes with a hoof. “There are some... inconsistencies...”
“By all means, Fully, enlighten us.”
Nopony moved for a few moments. Finally, Doctor Well stood up and walked to the door. The heavy bolt clicked home as he locked it. He walked back to the desk and took hold of a few of the photos with his magic. “Well, first off, there’s the number of wounds.”
“What does that mean?” Twilight asked.
“Look here,” he said, motioning to a picture of Berry’s forelegs. “She has scarring on the heel perioplium of all four hooves and minor abrasions on her knees. These are consistent with somepony running through the forest in a panic. But those are the only marks on her legs.”
Twilight thought for a moment before her eyes widened. “Which makes no sense. You would think if she had a timberwolf on top of her, she’d at least throw a hoof in front of her face to protect herself.”
“Very good, Miss Sparkle,” Bentgrass said. Twilight had to suppress a prideful grin.
“Exactly,” Doctor Well said. “She doesn’t have a single defensive wound on her body. No cuts on her fetlocks, no scrapes on her forelegs, nothing. It’s as if she simply laid back and let herself be eaten.”
A shudder ran through Twilight as she imagined the scene. Doctor Well noticed this and gave her a moment to collect herself. After closing her eyes and clearing the image from her mind, she turned back to him and nodded slightly.
He placed the picture down and grabbed another. “But the biggest problem is with the main wound on her torso. Take a look.” He lifted the photo up and held it before them both. “I talked with a local wildlife expert, and she told me that timberwolves traditionally go for the throat, as it’s the easiest way to take down large prey. Ms. Punch bled out from her stomach.”
Twilight felt her gorge rise and turned away after a few seconds. While the wound was nowhere near as gruesome as what she had seen in the forest, it was no less disturbing. The blood had been washed away, leaving only a faint trace of crimson around it. Somehow that almost made it worse; it seemed cold, like they had taken what was once a living pony and turned it into some slide in an anatomy class.
For all the trouble she was having, Bentgrass seemed unfazed. “I see nothing particularly off about it.”
For a moment, nothing was said as Bentgrass leaned in closer to the image, brow furrowed in concentration. Suddenly, he straightened and looked at the doctor, who merely nodded.
“One wound. Timberwolves have four claws on each paw.” He set the photo down and floated over a large magnifying glass. “There’s more. Take a look at the wound track.”
Once more, Bentgrass moved his head over the glass, staring intently. After a moment, he turned back to the doctor. “Again, I see nothing wrong with it.”
“Exactly.” Doctor Well traced the picture with a hoof. “It’s smooth. One clean wound from her sternum to her groin.”
Across the room, Twilight had been listening to the two. While she had no intent of coming any closer to the grisly images, she still could not quiet the nagging voice in her head. “So?”
Well moved back to his chair, sitting down roughly. “My older sister is an archaeologist, and she has a saying. ‘The Celestial Parents didn’t design at right angles.’”
Twilight thought for a moment then nodded. “Straight lines don’t appear in nature.”
“Precisely, Ms. Sparkle.”
Bentgrass looked at the two for a moment before speaking. “And that means precisely what, doctor?”
Once more he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “What it means, Agent Bentgrass, is timberwolves have claws. Claws tear, rip, shred. This,” he said, pointing to the picture with his hoof, “was cut. Most likely with a kitchen knife or something similar. I can’t be certain.” He looked up at Bentgrass, who stood with a judgemental look in his eyes. The doctor fidgeted slightly. “You have to understand, I’m not specially trained for this. Ponyville hasn’t had a single death not caused by accident or natural causes is its entire existence. Coroner is simply an additional duty I was assigned, for Celestia’s sake!”
The room was silent for a few moments as Bentgrass studied the doctor. Finally, he spoke again. “Very well, doctor. What was the other thing?”
Doctor Well sighed heavily. “I shouldn’t even be telling you this. The sheriff was... adamant that the case was closed.”
“And indeed it is, doctor,” Bentgrass said plainly. “I am merely trying to get a firm grasp of the facts as they stand.” He leaned in towards the doctor. “I would hate for my report to the Princess to be incomplete.”
A loud gulp came from the doctor. He appeared to be mulling something over in his head, brow furrowed in thought. Finally he spoke. “Very well. Almost all of Ms. Punch’s internal organs were completely intact. Very odd for a timberwolf to kill her and not eat anything, wouldn’t you say?”
Bentgrass nodded his head slightly, looking closely at the gruesome picture. After a moment, he looked back up at the doctor. “Wait, you said almost all her organs?”
The doctor turned away from them, facing the wall, his discomfort written on his face. “Her heart,” he said quietly.
“Her heart was found damaged?” Bentgrass asked.
Doctor Well turned back to them slowly. A cold, business-like look was on his face as he leaned forward and rested his forelegs on his desk. “No, Special Agent Bentgrass. Her heart was not found at all.”
Twilight took a step back, her front hoof raising to her mouth. “Her... her heart was... removed?”
“Cut out,” the doctor said coldly. “Two clean slices on the superior vena cava and the aorta.”
Bentgrass nodded solemnly. “I see. And there was no trace of it at the scene?”
Twilight stepped away from the desk, taking shaky steps towards the door.
Bentgrass glanced over at her, seeing her unease. “Doctor,” he said, still looking at Twilight, “was there anything else of note you found in your examination?”
Doctor Well leaned back in his chair. The bearings inside it squeaked as he turned it away from them, facing the wall of diplomas. All was silent for a few moments before he answered. “No.”
Bentgrass turned towards him, his eyebrow raised. He seemed to study him for a moment before nodding his head. “Very well. Thank you for your time. Come along, Miss Sparkle.” With that, he walked to the door, unlocked it, and strode out. Twilight followed quickly behind him, suddenly craving some fresh air.
They walked through the lobby silently, Bentgrass not noticing the stare from the receptionist. Twilight trotted a little faster and barged through the doors, deeply inhaling the clean air. After the cold sterility of the hospital, the smell of dried leaves and the cool breeze were a blessing. She stood there for a few moments, her mind trying desperately to make sense of the gruesome facts they had just heard. “That... that was...”
“Informative, yes,” Bentgrass said, trotting past her.
Twilight quickly caught up with him. “I guess that’s one way to put it.” She looked up at him. “So, I guess that means it really was... murder.”
“Yes,” he said plainly, turning to face her. “The evidence can not lead to any other conclusion. Ms. Punch was the victim of foul play.”
“Murder...” The word felt foreign on her tongue. The very concept was unthinkable, that a pony would harm another. All the villains she’d faced, the disasters she and her friends had averted were horrible in their own right, but this was different. Nightmare Moon was a crazed goddess bent on revenge, but she never killed anypony. The guards she attacked at the celebration were gravely injured, but they recovered. More than that, her actions—in her mind, at least—were benevolent; she just wanted ponies to bask in her night. Even Discord wasn’t so evil as to kill. He was more of a cruel prankster, more intent on driving ponies insane than harming them. There were deaths during the Changeling Invasion, but that was more an act of war than anything else.
She stood for a few moments before Bentgrass trotted up to her and waved a hoof in her face. She shook her head, clearing her mind of the vile thoughts, and looked up at him, an expectant gaze on his pale features. “Huh?”
“I said we must be off.” He turned to trot away, Twilight following him closely. “Now that we have established that it was indeed equicide, we can move on to the next phase of the investigation.”
“Wait, don’t you have to report to Sheriff Shackle first?”
Bentgrass turned to her, looking as though she’d just asked him to remove his own head. “Why would I do that? I’ve never even met the fellow.”
“But, you told the doctor...” Twilight jerked to a halt once more. “Wait, so you lied to him?”
“Not at all. I do at some point intend on liaising with the local constabulary. I simply,” he looked up, thinking of the right words, “exaggerated my timetable to suit my needs.” He smiled at her.
“And that is different from lying how?”
He stroked his chin with a hoof. “I guess it’s not really. Hm!”
Twilight glared at him. “You never heard ‘honesty is the best policy’ in grade school?”
“Not when it comes to catching killers, it’s not.” With that, he trotted off.
She stood rooted to the spot for a few more moments. Then, grunting in annoyance, she cantered to catch up to him. Somewhere in her mind, she wished Applejack was here to give him a good kick for being so dishonest. “Okay, so what is the ‘next phase?’”
“Now, we must establish a suspect pool. Find out who, if anypony, would wish to harm Ms. Punch.” He looked up at the sky, noting the position of the sun. “However, I fear it must wait until nightfall.”
Twilight looked up briefly before turning her eyes to Bentgrass. “Why?”
Bentgrass looked at her with that same off-putting small smile. “Tell me, Miss Sparkle. Would you care for a drink?”
Doctor Fulton Well sat at his desk, eyeing the small manila folder before him. He hadn’t moved since Twilight and that strange stallion left. Finally, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk, pulling out a small bottle and a glass. He placed them both on the desk, doing his best to avoid the picture of his family.
Flitter would kill me. He had promised his wife that he’d quit drinking years ago, but every now and then, he found an excuse to take a few sips. Already the heady aroma of the whiskey filled the room, the pleasant clinking of the bottle on the glass a soothing sound as he slowly poured. Taking one last look at the folder before him, he grunted and threw back the glass, swallowing it in one gulp. He screwed his eyes shut as the fiery liquid burned his throat, sighing as the pleasant buzz of the alcohol already started to show itself.
He refilled the tiny glass, spinning around in his chair to glance at his diplomas. All the evidence of his many years of study hung on the wall. He truly loved his job. What, he often thought, could rival the joy of telling parents the sex of their foal, helping to extend the life of a loved one, or the tears of happiness when he saved a life? It almost made him forget all the bad moments.
Almost. He turned back to the desk, raising the glass to his lips while opening the bottom drawer of his desk. Finishing the shot, he began to refill it as he pulled out a photograph from the drawer: a photograph from the autopsy, one that he had been “firmly persuaded” by Sheriff Shackle to make disappear.
“It will only complicate things,” he said, mimicking the words the sheriff had said to him. He looked one more time at it: Berry’s left flank, her cutie mark partially obscured by a splash of blood, and the strange pattern carved into the skin beneath it.
Grumbling, he crumpled up the picture and threw it in the wastebasket, at the same time throwing back the shot of alcohol. He slammed the glass down on the table, the force knocking over the picture of his wife and children. He didn’t even move to put it back up.
The last thing he wanted was them looking at him.