On the way down to the lobby, Charm filled Cloaked Dagger in on the current situation. The detective listened, never speaking a word. He kept one hoof on his chin the whole time however, and when Charm finished he nodded and readjusted his derby.
The elevator dinged and we got out into the empty, dusty lobby. Charm watched Dagger as he walked out.
“I’m going to need to make a call,” the detective said. “Come on, let’s go find a payphone. If this city even still has one.”
We walked out of the lobby and back onto the streets. It had stopped raining, but the ground was still slick. My hooves fought for purchase on the wet ground, and I fell against Charm for balance. His cheeks flushed a little and I had to stifle a giggle.
There was a payphone sitting down the street a little, shining in the light of a lamppost sitting directly overhead. Dagger went on ahead of us and stepped into the red booth. He dialed up a number and cupped the receiver to his ear.
Charm and I waited outside. I turned to him. “So you bring in mares like me ‘all the time’, huh?” I asked.
He gulped. “Well, uh, not exactly,” he said. “I mean, it’s not what you think it is.”
“Then what is it?”
“Well, Dagger seems to think I have a tendency to bring in hard-luck cases.” He rubbed the back of his head. “You know, ponies that can’t pay for the services we give them, but we take their cases because Cloaked Dagger is really a softy at heart, even if he won’t admit it.”
“So I guess you guys taking on a lot of cases for free is why you’re still in that ratty old building?”
Dagger slammed the phone down and stomped out of the booth. “Damn it!” he cried.
“What’s wrong?” Charm asked.
“She ain’t answering,” Dagger said, rubbing his temple. “The phone rang and rang but she didn’t pick up. Same goes for her mobile. Something’s up.”
I stepped between them. “Hey, who is this ‘she’ anyway?” I asked.
“Goes by Roaring Whisper, but her real name is White Lie. She changed it for obvious reasons.” Dagger chuckled. “She works as a psychic, but her real talent is being able to, well, ‘see’ into you. It’s hard to explain, but she’s the best at figuring out what makes a pony tick. I thought she might be the best to help out with your . . . unique . . . problem. ‘Sides, at this point I’m a might curious too.”
I noted with interest that this was the first time anypony had been so interested in what was going in my loins since a certain late arrival after my third Grand Galloping Gala. Spike had been so anxious and Rarity had been practically . . . wait, what?
I shook my head. Where had that come from? My mind went all fuzzy and the memory disappeared, but for a second Princess Rarity had been clear in my mind, strutting around her Boutique like it was yesterday. Even though, by now, she had been dead for four hundred years.
I took a deep breath to calm down. I didn’t have time to worry about that for the moment. I had to focus on the task at hoof.
“So where do we go from here?” I asked. “I mean, you’re a detective so surely you have tons of contacts over this city . . .”
“Not for stuff like this,” Dagger explained. “Your problem is very . . . particular. We could take you to the hospital, but you see how that worked out last time. So, we’ll try ol’ White’s place. If she’s not in, we can figure something out.”
Dagger spun on his heels and started back down the street, pulling his jacket closer around him. Charm and I looked at eachother then followed him at a small distance.
“He’s pretty blunt, isn’t he?” I said.
Charm nodded. “It’s part of how he is. I’ve just gotten used to it, I guess.”
I allowed myself a small smile in his direction. “It is pretty amazing how you put up with all sorts of ponies.”
“I guess . . .” He looked up. “Hey, wait how would you know?”
I paused. Crap. I might have been in a sticky situation, but while I was thinking up a good excuse a car decided to drive by.
It wasn’t an extraordinary car, except for, perhaps, the fact that it decided to drive so close to the street. One of its wheels bounced into a deep puddle that been left in the rain. Water, of course, splashed out and onto the curb. On a normal day, I would have been walking away with a sopping wet mane and a chip on my shoulder.
I first noticed that I felt like I was throwing up, but nothing physically came out. Instead, a bright, golden shield of pure magic roared to life in front of me. The water splashed against it and boiled away with a sizzling sound. Beams of light radiated off the edges of the shield and illuminated the entire city block.
The driver of the car swerved and almost collided with a truck in the oncoming lane. What ponies that roamed the streets stopped to stare. I hiccuped a little and a little more magic escaped out of my mouth.
Charm was staring open-mouthed at me. Cloaked Dagger was behind him and not far from having the same expression.
“Well damn,” Dagger said. “This is worse than I thought. Come on, let’s get out of here before more of those goons of yours show up.”
* * *
The walk from the pay phone to the part of town where Dagger’s friend lived was a long one. It gave me some time to think, however. Which, in the end, didn’t turn out to be that good of a thing.
I couldn’t get my mind off those brief memories. Princess Rarity . . . but I hadn’t thought of her as a Princess. I’d thought of her as just plain old Rarity. Same with Spike. Even Ponyville had looked much different than the one I had been taught about in school. Gone were the glass spires or tramways. It was just green grass and houses and a big tree in the middle of town.
I looked at Manehattan that spread in every which way around me. Times had changed since then. The district that Dagger had led us into wasn’t any less seedier than the last, but was at least more festive. Many more neon signs decorated the buildings and were done up in at least half a dozen languages. More ponies were on the streets too, but didn’t seem to notice us as we trundled by.
“This is Griffintown,” Charm told me. “It’s nicer than back where our office is, but there’s a whole lot more crime here.” He smiled. “We tend to come here pretty often.”
The farther we got into Griffintown, however, the fewer ponies we encountered. It was if a wave of passersby had washed over and we were left only with the remnant. Dagger’s movement became more careful and he began to lean closer to the brick walls of shops and alleyways as we moved. Charm and I followed his example.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“Something’s not right,” Dagger replied. He stopped and Charm and I almost bumped up to him as we brought up the rear. After a moment, Dagger led us around the next corner, clinging to the wall.
The alley ended in front of a block of apartment buildings. All was quiet around them . . . too quiet. No ponies walked the streets and most of the lights were off in the buildings. A cold wind blew down the cobblestone streets. Even the colors seemed muted.
“Not right . . . not right at all,” Dagger muttered.
“Then why are we going near here, Boss?” Charm asked. “If you’re not feeling good about this, shouldn’t we just leave?”
Dagger shook his head. “We need to find White,” he said. “Need to figure out what’s up. It’s our jobs.”
“No buts. We’re going.” He nodded to me. “Then we’ll see if she can’t take a look at Miss Oakwood.”
We headed into an apartment building in the middle of the row. It sagged at the middle and gazed out into the street mournfully through its old eyes of glass. The lobby was deserted, as could be expected. It too was dark and silent. There was no buzzer to call up, however. Just one dirty elevator among the cracked walls and worn carpets. A single light buzzed overhead.
Without a word, Dagger called the elevator down and we all piled in. The building was eight stories up and we headed for the fourth. The elevator creaked and groaned as it went.
“So is this a normal sort of thing for you two?” I asked.
Dagger shook his head. “Something is . . . funny today. And I mean something besides your magic.” He reached in his coat pocket and drew out a shiny, silver revolver. My eyes alighted on it and I gulped.
He saw me looking. “Just in case,” he told me. “Let’s hope I don’t have to use it.”
The elevator skidded to a stop and we filed out one by one, with Dagger taking point. The walk down the hall wasn’t far; White Lie’s room was apparently 4D, anyway. Or, at least, that’s the one Cloaked Dagger stopped in front of.
He took a deep breath, nodded to the both of us, and knocked on the door. Just as quickly, he flattened against the wall next to the door, revolver at the ready for whoever or whatever poked its head out.
The door opened and for a moment I was stuck in my tracks. Pinkie Pie stuck her head out and grinned at me. She was happy to see me, of course. Even in times like these, I could tell she had been baking. There were cupcakes in the oven and spilled batter all over Sugar Cube Corner’s Kitchen. Pound and Carrot would be getting home soon from school and—
I opened my eyes to find myself curled into a ball on the floor, hiccuping and expelling magic as fast as my lungs could move. There was a mare standing over me alright, but she for sure wasn’t Pinkie Pie the Magnificent from the stories. She was pink, but had streaks of violet and white in her mane.
Charm was yelling my name. Well, my name that I hadn’t used except for official documents since childhood. “Leda!” he cried. “Leda, are you okay?”
I pulled myself off of the floor, careful not to move to fast and hurt my head. It was buzzing again, and I didn’t want to jerk myself around too much. Cloaked Dagger and White Lie—who wasn’t exactly white—looked at me with concern. The revolver was gone.
A little more of the golden magic escaped out of my mouth as I steadied myself, but the flow had stopped.
Dagger nodded and turned to White Lie. “See, this is what I was talking about,” he said. “She’s been doing it since my apprentice brought her to me, and a quick scan showed that she’s got a lot of magic in her that no earth pony has any right to have.”
“How much?” White asked, chewing on her lip.
“Enough to collapse a star.”
She whistled. “You never bring me the normal ones, do you?” After a second, she nodded and motioned to the couch just inside her sparse apartment. “Alright, bring her in.”
I could stand on my own, but Charm let me lean on him while I made it over to the couch. I wasn’t about to complain. The one constant in this whole scary place, Charm was like my life raft in an ever-growing sea of confusion.
I was laid out on the couch and White Lie approached my side. Dagger joined her. I looked up at them. “So what is she gonna do?” I asked.
“Well, you know how I can see the magical traces in the air?” Dagger began. “Well, White Lie here can see more what’s going on inside a pony that isn’t just magic. Emotions, I guess. She’s never explained it to me.”
White Lie slugged him in the shoulder. “I have too!” she said. “You just never pay attention.”
She rolled her eyes and focused her attention back on me. There was a horn on her head, I noticed. Pinkie didn’t have one of those.
“Just lie still, dear,” she said. “This will only take a second.”
Hearing those words didn’t alleviate any fears I was having, so I watched Charm on the side of the couch as a pink stream of magic enveloped me. White Lie’s eyes glowed, well, white and her horn pulsed as her gaze swept across me.
My whole body felt like somepony had plugged my tail into an electrical outlet. My hair stood on end and my mane curled up. I was thankful, for once, to have kept it in a ponytail. The magic field eventually dissipated and White Lie’s eyes returned to normal. They were a sour orange color.
She looked grim, and my stomach began to sink. “It’s worse than I thought,” she said at last.
“What’s wrong with her?” Charm asked.
“The magic inside her is very powerful, but not her own.” White Lie sighed. “Because of how strong the magic is, it is fighting to escape her. Even then, it would take far too long to escape on its own. If she is not rid of the magic soon, it will consume her.”
My heart grew cold.
Charm’s voice shook. “Then how do we get the magic out of her?”
“That’s not for me to choose,” White Lie said. She shook her head. “Not anymore. I’m . . . sorry.”
Charm and I looked at each other in confusion, but Dagger whirled around to face her. “You didn’t,” he growled.
“They gave me no choice,” she said. “Everyone knows I’m the best analyst in the city, Cloak. They knew about your apprentice and knew he’d take her to you and that you would come to me.”
Just as I began to piece things together, stallions in dark suits barreled out of the side rooms in the apartment. Dagger tried to raise his revolver, but one of the suits caught his hoof and slammed him to the ground.
Not to be outdone, Dagger bucked him with his hind legs and sent the agent sprawling across the room. The rest of them began to close in.
“Go!” he shouted to us. “Get that girl out of here, Karamat!”
I sprang from the couch as Charm rushed to my side and together we ran for the door. For a brief second, it looked like White Lie would try to stop us, but she let us brush past her without a word.
We burst through the front door and into the hallway with the agents fast on our heels. The elevator was our first option, but its doors opened and spilled out two more agents who began to advance on us as well.
With no other choice, we turned the other way and ran for a door marked “Stairwell” at the end of the hall. Our footfalls echoed in the empty hall. At least now we knew why all the ponies around were quiet. Nopony wanted to disturb the agents.
The stairwell was a plain grey affair with stairwells leading far down to the ground and equally far above. Looking down, though, we could spot a number of agents rushing up the stairs. Charm nodded to me and we ran for the roof.
My lungs burned and my hooves begged for me to stop, but I could hear the agents closing in behind us and spurned myself to go faster even as we ran up stair after stair to the building’s roof.
The top of the stairs ended in a plain door. I tried to push on it, but the thing was locked. I growled and slammed my forehooves into it. I thought I saw a little gold at the end of my hooves, but I didn’t care as the door buckled beneath me and fell open on its hinges.
I galloped through to find myself . . .
. . . back in the library. It was late at night and Spike was asleep among a pile of books. He was getting big now and couldn’t fit in his old bed anymore. I’d need to buy him a new bed soon enough. Little spouts of fire escaped his mouth while he snored.
I laughed and draped his favorite blanket over him. He sighed in his sleep and gripped the blanket tightly around himself. I watched him for a minute and smiled. After all that had happened lately . . . that was still happening . . . it was moments like these that I could appreciate.
I picked up a stray book and turned around to put it back on its shelf. When I did, however, the book dropped in surprise. Spike was standing on the other side of me, too. He looked older and very much awake. He also didn’t look very happy.
“You’re going to want to wake up soon, Tinker,” he said.
“What?” I asked. “My name’s not—”
He put his clawed hands around my shoulder and stuck his face right next to mine. “Wake up!”
Charm had dragged me to the edge of the roof. Agents surrounded us and were only kept back by him bluntly threatening to throw me off the roof if they did.
“I’ll do it,” he cried. “Just watch me, I will!”
I looked up at him. “Hey, Charm,” I whispered.
He raised an eyebrow but smiled back. “Hey, there you are,” he said. “I was worried.”
“Just give us the girl,” one of the agents ordered. “We promise no harm will come to her, but she is needed by order of the state.”
“Just try and make me,” Charm snarled.
The golden magic was back and bright as ever. This time, though, it was sticking to me. I must have looked like a Hearth’s Warming tree. I wrapped my hooves around Charm.
“Hey, Charm?” I asked in a voice that seemed very far away.
“Yeah?” he answered to the name he had not yet taken.
“I’m really tired . . . I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“We’ll be fine just as soon as these goons back away.”
They didn’t, though. With me awake, they finally began to advance on us even while Charm continued to warn them not to come any closer. It wasn’t a big deal to me now, however.
I looked down at myself. “Hey Charm, I’m glowing,” I said.
Then, with my hooves still around him, I pushed us off the roof and into space.
Down we fell. There was little time to scream, and I wasn’t about to anyway. The ground rushed up to meet us. I didn’t want to be on the ground, though. I wanted to be far way. Oh so very far away. I wanted to be home, but if not that, I’d settle for . . .
* * *
With a loud boom, we materialized inside an office somewhere in downtown Manehattan. We left a smoky trail across the smooth office carpet and mahogany business tables. I was lying on top of Charm. He coughed and we parted before getting to our hooves.
“Where are we?” he asked.
I didn’t answer.
I was too busy staring down at my hooves. My legs were still their same teal color, but when it came down to my hooves . . . purple. The bottom of my hooves were purple, and just not any kind of purple. Twilight’s color.
To add on to that, a shadowy figure stepped out of the shadows in the conference room. He wore a white tweed hat and a custom suit to match. Strangest of all, though, was the dragon emblem on the back of the suit like he was part of some sort of gang.
“Miss Tinker, formerly Leda Oakwood?” he spoke.
In a daze of confusion, I nodded.
“We’ve been waiting for you.”