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The House on Flathoof Avenue [ATTN: Aisede]


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He ducked into one of the aisles, trying to break line of sight with his pursuer. It was entirely instinctual, being drilled into him from his time at the academy. But, this maneuver was not likely to be effective. After all, his enemy was in his head, almost literally. However, Sundown didn't consider this at that moment.

 

He took a few steadying breaths from behind a stocked shelf full of miscellaneous household good. His heart rate had increased rapidly in the past few moments, and to him it felt like it was about to pound out of his chest. His mane was frazzled and his eyes darted from side to side. He was a mess.

 

I have to calm down. The demon wants me off-balance. She wants me vulnerable. I need to calm down. I need to calm down. He thought, repeating that final mantra to himself multiple more times. All while trying to control his breathing. It took him a couple seconds, but he was somewhat able to regain control of himself. At least his thoughts weren't flying through his head at a mile a minute.

 

After his recuperation, he worked up the courage to stick his head out of the aisle, trying to spot his filly pursuer.

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"Excuse me, sir, are you alright?" Came a voice from right behind him. It was one of the staff, dressed in a smart blue vest and neat blue cap. Concerned red eyes watched him with a dizzying intensity, threatening to absorb what remained of his sanity if he neglected his duties any longe-

 

"Um... You're not unwell, are you?" Suddenly he was a normal colt again, owlish blue eyes blinking at him as he took a cautious step towards the detective. The isle was otherwise empty, and no sign of Aurora could be seen. Shai was also oddly silent, although what shadows he could spot writhed like a den of angry snakes. 

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The areion flinched back from the pony, almost jumping out of his skin when he saw his red eyes. He brought his hooves in front of him and over his eyes in a vain attempt to block whatever blow or attack that was surely coming soon.

 

Yet no attack came.

 

The bat looked out from behind his hooves and saw a normal pony standing in front of him. A colt in a staff uniform. The colt stared at the him like the detective was a madpony who had just vowed his loyalty to Nightmare Moon. He asked the detective is he was feeling ok.

 

"Oh..! No, I'm completely fine! Nothing wrong here. Heh-heh."

 

Nice addition of the nervous laugh, real smooth Sundown.

 

The detective went to turn away but a realization hit him. He almost forgot something.

 

Just as the staff member was about to sigh and write this off as another crazy out-of-towner, the detective whipped around and grabbed his front with both hooves; holding onto the blue material of his jacket for dear life. Sundown looked into the poor colt's eyes with the gaze of a pony possessed.

 

"Candles! I need candles! Green ones! As fast as possible!"

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The poor colt was startled out of his damned mind, raising his hooves defensively with a whimper. "Please! Um... " Eyes flicking about the corridor, he couldn't find anything within reach that would get him out of that position. So, instead, he slapped on a shaky smile and just decided to report him when he was in a safe place.

 

"C-candles? Oh! Right, candles! Eheh... Just... Let me go and I'll go get some." He gulped, and tried to free himself from the mad bat's grip. "What kind of candles are you looking for, sir?"

 

"... And shouldn't you be looking for something else?"

 

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That was an insult. That colt was implying that the detective didn't spent enough time looking for his sister. That he let Aurora stay lost. Well, Sundown didn't have to take that. He didn't know what the bat went through. He didn't know how much time the bat spent combing the woods outside his house, trying to find any trace of her. He didn't know how it felt to have his hopes built up and then completely dashed whenever a false lead would develop. He didn't know what it was like to lose what was closest to him. He didn't know.

 

Sundown's tone became decidedly less friendly as his grip tightened on the colt's uniform. He looked him dead in the eye.

 

"I need candles. Green ones. It's an emergency. Keep whatever snide comments you have to yourself!"

 

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"O-o-okay! Okay! I'll get your candles just please don't hurt me!" The colt looked on the verge of tears as he trembled in Sundown's grip, terrified eyes staring back at him.

 

A quiet giggle sounded off through the store, but this time it didn't come from the worker. 

 

As soon as Sundown would let him go, he'd scamper off towards the back of the store, and quickly out of sight. Whether or not he was actually grabbing candles or calling the local authorities was anyone's guess. 

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Sundown couldn't trust that colt to get what he needed. He didn't understand. He had made fun of him. He had made fun of his loss. And those eyes. Eugh... They made the detective shudder whenever he thought about them. They were familiar, too familiar.

 

He had to get out of here; who knows what could show up? He resolved to take as little time as possible to get what he needed.

 

The bat took the task of finding the candles on by himself. Having found himself alone in the store, he searched, looking for the correct aisle. Every now and then, he looked over his shoulder, making sure the false image of his sister wasn't hunting him.

 

It didn't take long. After all, candles are a ubiquitous household good. But, green candles seemed to be scarce. And he had to search down and up the aisle before finally finding a display with a basket full of lime-green candles.

 

Bingo.

 

He trotted over to the basket and reached his hoof over, trying to grab a couple of the waxy sticks...

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Just as his hoof touched it, another one was placed over his. A tiny hoof. A bloodstained hoof.

 

Aurora was there, staring him in the eye with a look that was decidedly searching. Not so much accusatory as it was curious, as if this was a plain social visit and she was there to check on him.

 

"What are you doing, brother?" She asked in that accursed voice of hers. "Are you really going to trust her? Sell me out to a demon?"

 

She shook her head, and he couldn't help but feel she was disappointed in him. 

 

"Please, stop. Come find me. She promised. We can be together again... Just put down the candles and follow Her."

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As soon as her hoof touched his, the bat's eyes shot over to the filly.

 

Her words made him feel like she had just punched him in the gut. His features fell, and his posture slumped. Was he making the right choice? Was he abandoning her? Was he selling her out? For what? For some home-cooked meals? That didn't seem fair. He had been searching his whole life for her. So why wasn't he jumping at the chance to finally find her? To finally find Aurora?

 

Because it wasn't her, a voice reminded him from the back of his head. That isn't her.

 

The detective's realization was visible to the filly, as she could see his expression harden and his eyebrows lower into a dispassionate stare. He smacked her hoof away roughly.

 

"You're not her."

 

His voice was quiet, barely audible above a whisper. But it soon gained substance as he continued to speak.

 

"You're not her. You're not my sister! You've never been her! You're a fake! And you're trying to trick me! LEAVE! ME! ALONE!"

 

He was practically yelling as the last words shot out of his mouth. He was glaring angrily down at the filly, finally having enough of her puppet master's games.

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In one blink, his little sister watched him with tearful, wide eyes. In the next... Oh shit, that was the shopcolt. He trembled like a leaf, holding a box of candles in his hoof. Or he had been. The poor thing was shaking so much that he had dropped it, along with his flank. 

 

"Please, I was just trying to help!" He pleased, covering his face as he curled up on the floor, tail tucked between his legs. "I- I don't know about your sister! I'm sorry!" It would seem she had played another trick on his perceptions, and he'd just yelled at the poor colt instead.

 

A soft sigh sounded in his ear as he contemplated just how close behind the guard must be.

 

"It's not a trick, Sundown. You will see your sister... And you will be thankful for it."

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Sundown's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as he realized what just happened. He had just screamed at the poor shopcolt when he was just trying to help him. The bat felt numb. He couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe what he had just done.

 

"I... - I'm sorry." he mumbled, barely audible above the colt's sobs.

 

He had to get out of here.

 

He reached into his saddlebags and pulled out his coin purse, dropping it right next to the prostrate colt. He then took the box of green candles off the floor and scurried out of the store as fast as he can. Knocking over one store display in the process.

 

As soon as he got out into the street, he ran, not caring which direction he was going.

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Either luck or misfortune ensured that nothing impeded his path, nor stalled his swift retreat. No guards pursued him, no ponies gawked and pointed- except for the one right outside the stood when he left- and, most importantly, no ghostly voices taunted him.

 

He was utterly alone, with just his thoughts and candles for company. Even Shai was oddly quiet, although he could feel her eyes on him all the while, silently judging his every thought and action.

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As soon as his reason came back to him, the detective began to take stock of what happened and where he was. He was back on the street, having escaped the store handily, and now he was left only with himself and his possessions. He turned down a couple more streets, double-backing and making his route unpredictable to any pursuers, real or imagined.

 

He had all three things he needed for the ritual now: his blood, green candles, and the sigil that Shai had given him. Now... He just had to find a place to perform it. His apartment was a no-go, he still remembered what the demon showed him through his bedroom walls, and he had no intention of seeing that again. Other than that... He didn't know. He was only in-town for the investigation, he wasn't a local. He didn't have any places he knew of where he could hide out. He certainly couldn't do the ritual in public, that'd get shut down by the guard quicker than they would shut down an illegal mage ring.

 

Having found himself stumped, the bat decided to ask the one pony who could and would actually help him.

 

"Shai," he said sotto voce, careful to not let any passersby hear, "Where should I go?"

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"My dwellings are a place most grave,

A site for those whom ponies could not save. 

Head not the siren calls,

For demons forever will 'tempt to break your walls.

Come now, choose not the loitering befuddlement if a knave."

 

Shai failed to explain just where, exactly, she seemed to have made her dwellings, but it was easy enough to parse her words. That just left directions, for she gave none. It shouldn't be too hard to find a grave in a city, though. 

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He needed to find a graveyard... Great. And just where was he going to find one? He didn't have a map, and he certainly didn't have the time to scour the entirety of Manehattan looking for a graveyard. Perhaps he ought to ask for directions from a local?

Time to put those interpersonal skills to work, Sundown.

 

He stopped and looked around, checking to see if there are any passersby or pedestrians he could ask for help.

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