• Published 2nd Nov 2013
  • 7,544 Views, 342 Comments

Alienation - Longtooth



I am not Twilight Sparkle. We share one body, one past, but not our souls. I do not know why I am here, or why I have done these terrible things. This is my story.

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Allies

I admit that I leaned on Vinyl a lot in those first few days. It was a lot of factors coming together that made her ideal for helping me with both of my purposes. She was uniquely positioned to help me with my search for myself, knowing the ins and outs of the Canterlot nightside, and her those same connections afforded her a way into the underworld without getting herself immersed, which was something I dearly needed for my war against black crystal. Most importantly, she didn't question what I was doing. She just trusted me to be doing the right thing and helped out where she could. Sometimes it took the form of getting me access to places I would have no idea how to get into otherwise, like with The Ranch. Other times it was a more personal assistance, like what she offered me that night.

I don't remember going to bed. It was probably a bad idea to sleep, actually, considering the possible concussion. But she didn't know and I didn't tell her, and so my exhaustion and my injuries finally caught up with me, and at some point after we had returned to her apartment Vinyl had put me to bed.

I woke to the sounds of an argument. My entire body ached, but nowhere more than in my head. I felt nauseous as I tried to open my eyes and found the light stabbing into them like needles. This was worse by far than the hangovers I had suffered after a raucous night at Heather's. The places where Shady Deal had hit me ached with every movement, no matter how small, and my neck was so stiff it was a chore to just turn my head.

I took a mental stock of myself as I brought my aching brain to full consciousness. I was hurt, but not seriously. The nausea was a bad sign, but it wasn't severe enough that I was worried about it yet. I shifted my limbs and found that the ache wasn't enough to keep me from moving if I had to, and from the sounds of the argument going on in the living room, I would have to soon.

"In my bed?" an unfamiliar voice was saying. It had a high-class Canterlot accent that sounded as much practiced as natural. Too clear, too smooth, but not completely artificial.

"Well, yeah. You weren't home and I wasn't going to make her sleep on the couch." That was Vinyl, sounding defensive and worried.

"You could have put her in your bed!"

"Uh, would that really be any better?"

There was a pause. "No. No it wouldn't have. Why are you bringing strange mares home anyways?"

"Hey, chill. She needed it."

"She 'needed' it? What kind of an explanation is that?"

"I dunno? A simple one."

There was an exasperated sigh. "Vinyl, can you understand why I'm a little upset here?"

"Walk me through it, babe."

"I come home after a gruelling tour, hoping to spend a relaxing day at home, starting with getting a nap in my own bed. When I get home after an all-night train ride, I find not only that my dear roommate has not cleaned up like she said she would, she has rather made an entirely new mess with her most vulgar clubwear. Worse than that, she has another mare sleeping in my bed. Worse than that is that this mare appears to be a dangerous drug addict!"

"Whoa!" Vinyl said. I jerked out of the bed, trying to force my body to limber up enough to get to the door. "What do you mean, drug addict?"

"I found this in your pile of skins." I tripped over my own hooves, falling heavily to the ground. Thankfully the roommate was much more tidy than Vinyl, so there wasn't anything but floor for me to fall on. "I know what this is, Vinyl. I know for all of your... experimentation, you wouldn't go as far as using something like this. So it has to be hers. Did you know what your little leather-friend was into?"

I dragged myself upright again, my head pounding like a massive snare drum with every beat of my heart.

"She wouldn't do that," Vinyl said, though she sounded unsure.

"Do you even have any notion of who she is? Or did you just think she was fun and so you brought her home?"

"Nah, it's not like that. She wouldn't."

"Are you sure?"

I finally reached the door, falling against it and trying to open it, only to discover that it opened inwards. The two ponies in the living room went silent, obviously hearing my struggles to get out. I finally managed to wrench the door open, and leaned against the frame as I took in the scene.

Vinyl was sitting down, looking at me with concern, and a small pulse of suspicion. the other mare was a brown/gray earth pony with an elegantly styled black mane and a treble-clef cutie mark. I had seen her before, Twilight's memories supplying her name from a list of performers at the Grand Galloping Gala, as well as several symphony concerts she had attended. Octavia.

"Well, look who's up," Octavia said, giving me a glare. "Would you care to explain yourself to..." she trailed off as she really looked at me. From my tousled mane down to my clearly displayed cutie mark. I could see the realization dawn on her in slow motion. If I had been in a better mood I would have laughed. "By the princesses! You're Twilight Sparkle!"

I winced, and not just from the way the sudden volume spiked my headache. "Or a very clever facsimile," I said, my voice rasping from a very dry throat.

"What..." Octavia stammered. "What are you...?"

"The drugs are mine," I said. "But I have no intention of taking them. I need that sample to study. Vinyl, can I get some water?"

"Sure," Vinyl replied, getting up. She was obviously enjoying her roommate's stumbling at the sight of me, and I hated to deprive her of that, but I really did need something to alleviate the painful aridness of my throat if I was going to do any more talking, which I clearly was.

"Twilight Sparkle?" Octavia repeated, with added incredulity.

"Still here," I said, accepting a glass from Vinyl and greedily swallowing the soothing water. "Sorry to use your bed. Didn't think it would be an issue."

"No... no of course it's not an issue," she lied. "I was simply startled." She composed herself, forcing her legs to relax a bit. "If you don't mind me asking, why are you staying here? Surely you have rooms in the palace?"

"I do," I said. "Vinyl insisted I stay here last night. I'm glad she did. Thank you." I gave Vinyl a nod.

"No prob," she replied. "How you feeling now?"

"Sore," I said. "But better than I could be."

"Sore?" Octavia asked. I could see her mind churning through possibilities. Her eyes flickered to the bruises that wouldn't be wholly hidden by my coat's color. "What happened?"

"Twilight just got in a little fight," Vinyl said.

"A fight," Octavia repeated, deadpan.

"Yeah, you know, hero stuff," Vinyl sat back down.

Octavia's eyes went to the packet of black crystal she had drawn out to confront Vinyl with. Then they went back to me, and I saw some unfolding knowledge in them. "Vinyl," she said, quiet and focused, she wanted every word she said to carry weight. "In the papers this morning there was a story of a drug deal gone bad." I forced myself not to react, but I met Octavia's eyes and held her stare. "A stallion was killed."

"Ouch, that sucks," Vinyl said, wincing. "I told you this stuff was bad news," she said to me. I didn't so much as glance her way, fixated on the mare who was figuring it all out. "I'm glad you're taking care of it."

"Trying to," I said, barely more than a whisper, but enough for them to hear.

"He was crushed into a wall," Octavia said, her tone shifting towards accusation. "They wouldn't even describe the state of the body. Only said it was horrific."

"That's pretty considerate of the Canterlot rags," Vinyl mused. "Must have been really bad."

"It was," I said. I could have stayed silent, but Octavia was already suspicious, already putting it all together. As more information came out and as Vinyl inevitably told her the story of what had happened the night before she would become more and more certain. Eventually it would come to a head. Either she would confront me, or she’d go to the authorities. I could deal with the first, could conceivably talk my way around it. I would have considerably more trouble dealing with the second. Because of that, and because I was probably still a little concussed, I decided to give them the truth here and now.

Octavia took in a sharp breath, stepping back from me. Vinyl frowned, but she caught up quickly enough. She was on her feet in an instant, and the look she gave me was hurt, betrayed, even. "No," she said. "Tell me I didn't just hear that right. Tell me that you don't mean what I think you mean!"

I shrugged. "I wish I could."

"Dear Celestia," Octavia breathed.

"It was self defense, right?" Vinyl stepped towards me, her entire body pleading with me to say yes.

I couldn’t deny that need she had for her faith in me to be vindicated. “It was,” I said. It was the best kind of lie, one that was technically true. “He was on black crystal.” I nodded to the packet. “I took that off of him after he attacked me. I didn’t want to hurt him, but…” I let myself trail off, dropping my gaze to the floor. I would like to say it was genuine contrition, but I didn’t feel anything for the stallion I had killed. Satisfaction, perhaps, but certainly no guilt.

“Oh, man, Twilight,” Vinyl said, and I could hear the sympathy drowning out the hurt in her voice. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know how you would react. You knew him.”

“Yeah, but… this has to be killing you, Twilight. I can’t even imagine how you’re feeling.”

I silently concurred with her. She wouldn’t in a thousand years imagine a pony feeling the way I was about a murder. It’d probably blow her mind to find out it was my second within twenty four hours.

“Why didn’t you go to the Guard?” Octavia asked, staying sensible. It was both a quality that I enjoyed with her and also found incredibly frustrating. Knowing a pony that could stay rational in emotional situations is a wonderful thing. Knowing a pony who will ask hard questions and pick holes in your hastily constructed lies is aggravating in the extreme. To be perfectly clear: the second outweighs the first by a fair margin. It’s no wonder I avoided spending much time with her when I could. Vinyl was much more my speed. Fun, energetic, and trusting.

“It’s complicated,” I said, in far too much pain to come up with a proper reason.

“Explain it to us,” she demanded.

I nearly snapped at her. My horn began to glow as my magic began to gather. I don’t know if I would have lashed out at her, but some sort of explosion was coming. I had to release some of my anger before I did something stupid and escalated the situation. Fortunately, I knew exactly what I could do.

I reached out and plucked the packet of black crystal into the air. I opened it and drew a few grains of the dark crystal out. They were bigger than I expected, but I knew why that would be. I set the rest of the packet aside, making sure it was closed again, and floated the crystal up where the other two ponies could easily see it. “This is not a drug,” I said. “It looks like one, and it sort of acts like one, but it isn’t.”

“What is it, then?” Octavia asked.

“A latticed mana-induction conduit designed for capacitance and release of black-scale perturbation along equine-specific wavelengths.”

Ha! Yes, I see that look. No, I didn’t make that up, that is an actual thing, and it actually is what black crystal is. Well, most of what black crystal is. There’s a little something extra included, but I didn’t find out exactly what until much later.

Octavia gave me a flat look, and Vinyl tentatively raised a hoof. “Uh, that’s cool and all, but I didn’t understand any of that. Could you, you know, dumb it down for the rest of the class?”

I smirked a little at that. “It means that this is magic bound in crystal form. Specifically black magic. It stores dark power and when a pony swallows it, it releases that power until its empty. Like a battery.”

“So it gives its users black magic?” Octavia asked.

I nodded. “As well as all the emotions that go into creating and sustaining the dark powers. Fear, anger, lust, jealousy, dominance, despair. Things like that. A pony takes this stuff and it feeds them power, they feel like they could do anything. They gain all the arrogance and desire for power of a master black mage, but none of the discipline or control. The power runs wild in them, and that’s why their moods swing so suddenly. They can’t stand to be opposed because the magic is telling them they should dominate everything around them. If they’re overmatched they suddenly become terrified. It’s… it can make them crazy. Most ponies are steeped in good magic, the power of friendship and life. They don’t know how to handle dark power. They drown in it, and when the magic runs out they feel like their insides have been gouged out. Emotionally drained and yearning for a taste of the confidence, the power they had while the crystal was working. They become lost, hopelessly addicted.”

“Damn,” Vinyl said. “Good thing I stayed away from that stuff.”

I nodded in agreement. “That’s not the worst part,” I said.

“There’s worse?” Octavia asked, looking horrified already.

“There’s this.” I closed my eyes and concentrated, dredging up all the blackest feelings I could. It was easy. The power came to me eagerly, soaking in my confusion over my own existence and the targetless anger I felt at being put in the situation I was in. I remembered hurting Spike, and the power surged into my horn. Black bubbles of twisted magic formed around the spirals of my horn, and I directed the magic into the floating crystals. It went in a roaring beam of shadows and flickering green light, completely unlike my normal magical aura. Octavia and Vinyl jumped back at the display, eyes wide and mouth hanging open as the light in the room was sucked out, leaving things in an eerie-half light. A temporary twilight where the brightest thing in the room was the burning glow of my eyes, streamers of light and shadow trailing off them as I moved.

The crystals soaked up the dark magic, flaring with a shadowy aura of their own and swelling until each was as large as an equestrian bit. They spun in the air, growing in fits and starts as the magic filled them to the point where they burst out a new spike of black crystal, then filling that new reservoir until the process repeated itself. I cut off the dark magic before the crystals got too large, letting the light of the day back into the room and letting the darkness fade from my eyes.

“They aren’t inert,” I said. “After they’ve expended their charge of magic, they will collect the dark feelings of the pony who swallowed them, growing and expanding and integrating with their host. They will drain them of strength, creating increasing weakness and depression. The only cure for it would be another infusion of dark magic from a new set of crystals, but those will just add to the problem. A two-pronged addiction, ever growing, never sated. Until…”

“Until what?” Vinyl asked. “You can’t just stop talking in the middle of important stuff like that!”

I shook my head. “I’m not sure. They would hit a critical mass at some point, the crystals would become self-sustaining, creating a feedback loop with their host. A permanent high, if you will. That would last for a while. If the pony has a way of using the dark magic, like I do, then they could survive indefinitely. If not? Well, they’d only have so long before they’d be utterly consumed.”

That statement hung in the air for a long moment before Octavia spoke. “How did you learn to do that?”

“Celestia taught me,” I said. They relaxed immediately, their trust in their princess far outweighing their trepidation. I felt a twinge of annoyance at that, but let it pass. I trusted Celestia to do the right thing just as much as they did, I was just certain that the right thing would likely include my personal annihilation. “I figured this much out just by watching the effects of the black crystals,” I continued, carefully drawing the enlarged crystals towards myself, letting them orbit my head slowly. “But I don’t know the full nature of their power. I needed samples. I also wanted to get the source of them, but Shady was too far gone. He attacked me. Hurt me. I defended myself, and he ended up dead.”

There was a long moment of silence. “But the Guard–” Octavia began, but I cut her off.

“Can’t handle it,” I said with a certainty that surprised even me at the time. “I can. But it won’t be pretty.”

“You mean more ponies could die,” Octavia said. She was frowning, distressed at the very thought of it.

“Yes.” I didn’t sugarcoat it. Didn’t feel like coddling her feelings. I don’t dislike Octavia, quite the opposite, but she sometimes hits the buttons that make me a less than cordial pony. Maybe she reminds me too much of Rarity.

“Damn,” Vinyl said, shaking her head. “This is heavy stuff, Twilight. I never figured being a hero meant having to hurt somepony.”

“It usually doesn’t,” I said. Lying about that was fairly easy. Twilight’s regular activities didn’t hurt anyone at all. Usually. The hero stuff, though? Usually there was something that got hurt. Whether it was her, her friends, or whatever enemy put themselves against her. Nightmare Moon, the Changelings, Sombra, the list goes on. Sure, they deserved it, but that doesn’t change the fact that violence is part and parcel of saving the world. Twilight had accepted that fairly readily, and I wasn’t having any problems with the concept either.

“Are you sure this the way to stop the… the black crystal?” Octavia asked. “Couldn’t there be a way to save the ponies addicted to it?”

“There probably is,” I replied. “But until I know what the source of the crystal is, who is distributing it and why, I don’t think I’ll be able to do any more than provide stopgap measures. I’m fairly certain I can cleanse the crystals out of a pony, but that won’t stop them from wanting more, from seeking them out and getting hooked all over again. A two-part addiction, like I said. Physical and psychological.”

“And to stop it you have to cut off the supply completely,” Octavia reasoned. I just nodded. “And you’re sure the Guard can’t handle this?”

I thought back to the raid on the addicts I had witnessed. “They will try. Their methods aren’t… sufficient. They won’t be able to get to the root of the problem before it becomes epidemic. If I’m right about some of the tactics the ponies behind this are using, then the Guards will be compromised themselves long before they become effective.”

“That’s pretty crazy,” Vinyl said. “And you can stop them by yourself?”

“I can stop them,” I confirmed. I was confident in that much. I still am, and I have made such great strides to that end. “But,” I continued, raising my head to look her in the eye. “I can’t do it by myself.”

I saw the idea connect with her. I was asking for her support, and she wanted to do it. The best part of ponykind at work: they see someone in need and they immediately want to help. Octavia would be harder to convince, but I knew that if I could get Vinyl on board, then she would go along just to stick with her roommate. It’s what friends did, after all.

Vinyl nodded, slowly at first, but quickly gaining in enthusiasm. “Yeah. Yeah! Alright, I’m totally feeling the vigilante crime-fighter vibe. I’m in, but I gotta warn you I’m not much good in a fight.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you in danger anyways,” I said, smiling. “But you know Canterlot’s streets better than I do. You know ponies who know ponies, and you know who to ask to get just about anything. You can give me something much better than another pair of hooves in a fight. You can give me access.”

“I don’t like this,” Octavia said.

“Aw, come on, she needs us,” Vinyl said, giving Octavia a look that would have battered at my resolve.

Octavia sighed, refusing to acknowledge the big, pleading eyes of her roommate. “You’ll keep her, us, out of any direct danger?” she asked me.

I nodded. “I’ll protect you. This is all my responsibility. No matter what happens, I won’t let any of it come back to you.”

She thought about it for another long moment before giving a curt nod. “Very well. I’ll be a part of this so long as you keep that promise.”

“Thank you,” I said giving them my best smile. My head still hurt and my body still ached, but I felt a thousand times better. They were both backing me now, and I wasn’t alone. I wouldn’t call them friends. I know friendship better than perhaps any other pony in the world, Twilight had seen to that. As much as I enjoyed Vinyl’s company, as much as I appreciated Octavia’s calm poise, I never connected with them as Twilight had with her friends. No, they weren’t friends. But they were allies.

For the time being, it was enough.

Author's Note:

True word count: 45,422. Days 1-30 covered. Days missed: Plenty. Words to succeed at NaNoWriMo: 4,578. I might actually make it. Glee.