Machinations in the Dark

by BaryonBrony

Chapter 8 - Forgotten Rendezvous

The dull thud of the mug hitting the floor gave no echo. Midnight Harvest just stared with bloodshot eyes at where it had dropped. He'd emptied it, and a dozen before it. His other mug was still half-full. The pony reached, but watched as his leg split into two hazy images. He tried to fit his hoof into the handle, but only pushed that mug over too. He bared his teeth, clenching so hard it hurt. Giving up on trying to use the mugs he flopped onto the table and slid his legs to wrap around the bottle. Three empty ones were strewn around him, two others broken in the kitchen. With difficulty he finally managed to tip it so the opening was in his mouth.

His sense of balance did not approve as he leaned back. Midnight tipped over and collapsed onto the floor, losing his grip on the bottle. The cider spilled onto him, inciting him to try and save what he could. Without thinking, he simply tipped the bottle up over his mouth, quickly filling it with more than it could handle. Turning over and retching, he coughed and spat while trying to evacuate his lungs of the burning drink. He coughed again and again, and finally gagged. He'd recovered from his fit only to reach once again for the bottle of cider. Grabbing it and lifting it to his mouth only resulted in a few drops falling. He'd spilled the rest.

Gritting his teeth again, Midnight began to shake. His eyes squeezed shut as he convulsed, shudders running down his spine. With every flinch and shiver he brought his legs in closer to his body. He tucked his head and held it between his legs as he curled into a ball. The sound that followed started as a sob before droning on into a long groan. His expression was frozen in pain as he gripped his head tightly. The sound he was making trailed off as Midnight began to hyperventilate. He sucked in quick, spastic breaths before he clenched and groaned again.

With a start he shook himself out of the ball and looked around. The mug he'd dropped still had a bit of the cider in it. Midnight dragged himself to it as quickly as he could and dumped what was left down his throat. It was barely a mouthful. The mug made the same dull thump as he let it go and flopped onto his back. He was looking at his ceiling now, unable to recall how he'd gotten into that position. From his back he could see the warm royal blue that mimicked a perfect night sky. The little glow in the dark stars and planets his dad had given him as a gift so long ago made it look like it truly was night. The fond memory was gone as quickly as it came.

He had hoped for emptiness. Instead, Midnight Harvest could only think of those notes. The song that played in his mind every day. The tune that filled his thoughts and his dreams. Even drowning himself in cider and wine couldn't mute it. They'd only made it more clear. Wincing again, he hugged his head and wheezed, "Damn coward." Absentmindedly, Midnight reached around and found a bottle. He lifted it, and discovering it was empty rolled onto his belly, then tried to drag himself towards one of the others on his floor. He didn't make it far before a wave of nausea and dizziness paralyzed him.

The dizzy spell passed, but he remained motionless, spent, without even the energy to keep moaning. The alcohol was burning his stomach, chilling his veins, and making the world spin. But despite everything he'd imbibed the music was still there. It rose above the haze and the burn to continue persistently inside his mind. The song was never overwhelming, never deafening, and never stopped. It continued, just a constant playing inside his mind, gently reminding him every moment of what he'd done.

"I did what you wanted," Midnight whispered. "Please--I did what you wanted." A horrible feeling rose in his stomach. Mustering all the strength he could, Midnight got up and ran to his bathroom. He made it just in time as his stomach refused to hold the cider any longer. After several seconds of spasms and groans he collapsed against his bathtub and took big gulps of air. His body felt like he'd just run a marathon.

Midnight pushed against his tub with a growl. He was sitting in his bathroom throwing up his guts. He was drinking to try and forget his regrets, to silence the song that judged him, but the simple tune was forcing him to remember. Try as he might there was no forgetting what he had done. He almost started to cry, but instead turned to anger. Slamming a hoof against the floor, Midnight shoved himself up. His sense of balance destroyed, it took all his effort to remain upright. He failed.

Tumbling forward, Midnight barreled into the hallway and slammed his head right into the wall. He couldn't fight off the darkness. His mind was already addled. With wine and cider flowing through him, his grip on wakefulness was already weak. The blow only sealed his fate. Lying in his hallway, Midnight finally passed out.

The sound of screaming jarred him awake. Midnight was confused. Where was he? His hallway was gone, he wasn't in his house anymore. He was in the street watching ponies flee from something. The confusion began to leave him as he recognized where he was. This was Canterlot, but it was days ago.

What guard remained were trying to get ponies out of the city. There wasn't been much else they could do. The one that was attacking them could drain the magic from any pony of any tribe. The assault came so fast, and the scramble to save any was frantic.

Midnight realized what he was seeing. Events of his life only a few days ago. The day Tirek had attacked. The day he'd done the unthinkable.

Shepherding civilians through the back streets, Midnight had hoped they could make it to the city gates. They'd not made it far. Now he was standing his ground.

Tirek was chasing them, or at least had been. He was in front of them now.

Armed with only a spear, Midnight put himself between the civilians and a warlord.

Midnight tried to charge, but couldn't. Magic surrounded him, pulling him off the ground. He was face to face with the beast. He stabbed with his spear, but the weapon broke in half. He was met with only laughter, Tirek insulting his attempts at resistance. Midnight retorted angrily, cursing the much larger opponent. It did no good.

He had no control over his words, like a passenger in his own body. The scene was playing before him, and he was powerless to stop it.

Tirek opened his jaws, and the magic-stealing power was rising up.

"Wait!" Midnight yelled. "You want magic? I know where you can get a whole belly full."

The warlord halted, looking suspiciously at the pony he held in his magical grip. "I know where I can get all the magic I need. You are just an appetizer."

"A couple of terrified ponies?" Midnight asked with a sneer. "Hardly an appetizer. I'll make you a deal. Let the ponies behind me go, and I'll show you something that will make a much better meal for a brute like you." His taunt was met with narrowed eyes. "Or you could eat up our magic and never find it. Your choice."

Thinking for a moment, Tirek glared down at the huddling ponies before him. They cowered, quite the opposite of the hovering guard. "Fine," he growled. "But if you think you can trick me, I will make you regret the moment you were born."

Without hesitating, Midnight waved at the group he was leading. Once they had disappeared around a corner, he finally addressed his captor, "Alright. We're looking for a cave on the side of the mountain. It's below the castle, on the far side. We're looking for some glowing green marks. That is, if you are any good at getting past illusions."

"And you would just reveal this willingly?" Tirek demanded, still suspicious.

"I gave my word."

"You gave your word," Tirek mocked. "Very well, then let us find this cave of yours."

Midnight felt trapped behind his own eyes. He could see and hear, but despite all his efforts could not move. His body would move, but it was not him doing it. He was a prisoner inside himself. The harder he fought to try and move, the more constricted he felt. He was aware for a moment that the events before him were getting murky, images flashing by more quickly, so he focused harder on being free of the nightmare. This was a flashback he did not want. He'd just drunk himself into oblivion to make this all go away. Now he was in the midst of it, a captive to his shame.

He could not even close his eyes. He saw they were in the cave, which only pushed Midnight to fight harder. He wanted to wake up, wanted to get away. No matter how much effort he expended, Midnight still had to watch. He couldn't even close his eyes. He had to watch as Tirek looked around at this strange cave. It had crystals that glowed a deep emerald. They pulsed, and ribbons of green light filtered to the ground. The spot they touched glowed the same bright green as the symbol on the floor of the cell-block. They had reached its source.

"What is this?" Tirek had demanded.

"I don't know, some kind of magic," muttered Midnight in response.

"You don't know? Then how did you know it was here?" Tirek still sounded suspicious.

"I don't know, I just did," he murmured as the music played in his mind again.

The music from his memory overlapped with what he was already hearing. For the first time, it was getting louder. It echoed in his mind, the sound of whistling. It was so loud now, his thoughts consumed in a cacophony that beat against the inside of his skull. Everything went dark for a moment. then he could see he was lying on the ground; Tirek had vanished. He didn't remember how he got there, or how long he had been lying there.

Slowly lifting his head, Midnight looked around. He was still in the crystal cave, but the green glow was gone. It struck him then that he could move on his own. He wasn't just an observer, he was back in control. Then came the greater realization: the music was gone. He thought about it, searched for it, but it wasn't there. He couldn't even recall how it went. In that one moment, he smiled. It was no longer in his head. He knew this was a dream, but at least for that moment he was free.

The sound of footsteps broke the elation. A shadow had moved into the cavern's entrance, the figure's silhouette now moving towards him. He watched it approach with wide eyes, finding he was only able to move his head and neck. He knew exactly what was coming for him. That had to be why the music had stopped. His usefulness had met its end. This was it for him.

"So fatalistic," a calm voice spoke. The shadows finally broke from around the figure. Tobias knelt down beside Midnight, looking him in the eye. "I won't break our deal." He placed a hand on Midnight's forehead, an honest smile on his face. "I wanted to thank you. You gave me so much more than I even hoped. I wasn't about to go back on my word. I did as you asked, plus a little extra. Thanks again, Midnight Harvest." Standing up, Tobias made his way back towards the cavern's mouth.

"Stop!" Midnight called out. It surprised him when Tobias complied. "We all know what you are going to do," he continued. "Please, I know you can be reasonable. I know you like to make deals. I want to make one. What do you want in return for leaving Equestria alone? Screw everything else. Me and you, right now. You can have anything in my power to give you. You can kill me--I don't care. Just leave Equestria alone."

Tobias looked back at the Night Pony. His expression never changed, but there was something in his eyes. It looked almost kind. "I'm sorry, I cannot make that deal."

"Then why the hell show me this?" Midnight snapped at him. "I know what I did, I don't need a reminder! We made a deal, sure, but I already have to live with this! Don't make me relive it!"

"You did not plan on living with this," Tobias said softly. He had not even needed to shout, he'd silenced Midnight easily enough with his insight. "It makes the most sense. You drank yourself nearly to death because you blamed your friends for what you did. Or at least that is how you feel. You interrogated them secretly, gave them the impression that what happened was their fault. It wasn't. That's why you have no intention of trying to live with what you just relived."

"Well," Midnight growled. "Don't you have it all figured out."

"Most of it. Maybe not all. We're still working on the details. It's always the details. Let me offer you one. Listen to Pleiades again. He has some good ideas. Make it right, and help him."

This took Midnight by surprise. "He wants to hunt you down and recapture you. He wants to put you back in a cage."

Tobias only grinned as he spoke a single word, "Good." Extending a finger, he poked Midnight in the head. "You won't remember this, but you'll know what to do."

He was jolted awake. Whipping his head back and forth, Midnight quickly came to his senses. A headache screamed its presence, but there was no time to worry about it. He had to get back to the hospital. That thought burned in his mind so hot that it made whatever pain he felt inconsequential. He couldn't figure why he felt this way, but he knew one thing was clear: he'd made a mistake trying to dissuade Pleiades. He'd made the mistake of tricking his friends, whether it was a lie of omission or not. The worst mistake of all, he'd made a deal. Even if it wasn't for himself, a deal was a deal. Pleiades offered a way of righting that wrong. Prepared or not, he was going to help them. He had to make things right. Anything and everything from this point was his fault. He couldn't run from that.

This new frame of mind overwrote everything he'd felt the day before. He had wanted to drink. Maybe even drink himself to death--he wasn't sure. That no longer mattered. He knew what he had to do, and that was make things right. He wasn't about to live a lie for the rest of his life. He wondered for a moment what could have shifted so much in his head, but he couldn't recall. Whatever it had been was gone. But now was not the time for deep thought. He was out his door in a flash on his way to the hospital. He had a lot of explaining to do.