• 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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Deficiencies

Recovering from my injuries took a few days. I wasn't actually hurt that badly, all things considered, but I was hurt enough that I didn't want to walk into any more dangerous situations until I was sure the possible concussion wouldn't slow me down. In that time I studied the black crystal, looking for clues as to how it was being manufactured.

It was certainly a unicorn creating it, the magic that was infused in them couldn't have been created by any of the other pony races. That unicorn had to have some pretty deep knowledge of both dark magic and the unique properties of Crystal Empire crystals. A little bit of research turned up very few candidates on both fronts, Celestia had curtailed studies into the dark arts for a long time, only those most trusted were given the leeway to delve into their mysteries. The Crystal Empire hadn't even been back for a year, so the only ponies who knew much about it were historians specializing in the time before Celestia's solo rule. Or Crystal ponies themselves.

You can imagine how little overlap there was to work with. I was left with no real suspects, but a better idea of what I would have to look for. Which was progress, I suppose, though not nearly as much as I wanted there to be.

I visited Vinyl often, we went out to a few clubs and she continued to show me around, though now she was doing so with an eye to informing me of the various factions and etiquette of the drug traders and other peddlers of the illicit and the extreme. I began to pick out the black crystal addicts from the crowd. It was a disheartening exercise. There were many, many more of them than I had hoped, though most hadn't progressed to the level of addiction I had seen in that first mare or Shady Deal.

It was a motivator, if nothing else. I worked out a rough model of when the addiction would become too widespread to contain, and if I took my observations as representative then we were dangerously close to that threshold. I needed to work more quickly, and I needed to seriously consider exactly how I planned to succeed.

It was Vinyl's comment about vigilante crime fighting that actually caught my attention. Twilight had gone that route before, in a way, being part of the team behind the 'mysterious Mare-Do-Well'. Canterlot wasn't Ponyville, and I wasn't planning on saving anyone from random building collapses, but the basic principle behind the costumed adventurer held true. It was a way to protect my identity while also accomplishing my goals.

I wasn't going to pull out the old Mare-Do-Well costume, of course. That would reveal me just as much as walking in and announcing myself as Twilight Sparkle would. Instead I spun the idea by Vinyl and Octavia one night while more than a little inebriated. Vinyl was enthusiastic, of course, but it was surprisingly Octavia who took the greatest shine to it. Anything to provide some measure of distance between them and whatever crimes I ended up committing was good in her books.

In an annoying twist, none of us knew the first thing about creating costumes. Twilight had always relied on Rarity for these sorts of things, and Vinyl and Octavia just bought things in a store or had them tailored. After wracking our collective brains for ideas, it turned out that Octavia knew a few theatre costumers that could be persuaded to work on off-the-books projects. It wasn't perfect, but it would have to do. Vinyl took it on herself to design the costume, though I reserved the right to veto anything I thought wasn't useful. And I worked out ways to minimize the deficiencies I had discovered in my short fight with Shady Deal.

The first issue to address was the fact that any pegasus could outmaneuver me by simply flying away. As useful as teleportation is, it lacks the sheer efficiency of flight, and the ability to use three dimensions for movement and positioning. To illustrate what I mean: I can teleport straight up, but I can't stay there once I arrive. Yes, you see where this could become a problem.

My first attempt to solve that issue was... frightening. I tried to cast the spell that would give a pony wings. I knew it wasn't something that would be at all useful in combat, taking far too much time and energy to cast, but I was thinking of storing the spell in something that could cast it quickly, a wand or a bell of some kind, perhaps. But when I tried casting the spell, it simply failed. I tried again and again, with the same result each time, I exhausted myself with it, but eventually I had to face the truth: it was beyond my ability.

I had been so used to just being capable of everything Twilight had been that this realization shocked me to my core. It was a split from Twilight, something I was usually happy about, but it wasn't simply a difference in how we did things. This was the first time I discovered something that Twilight could do that I couldn't. A place where I was less than her.

And it had to be magic. I have Twilight's cutie mark, it hasn't changed any. I should have her talent too. I'm as powerful as she was. Maybe even stronger. But... but spells that she could do with some effort are completely beyond me. Not just the wings spell, but anything of similar complexity. Transmutations, selective abjurations, the time spells... whole lists of powerful magic, gone.

I... did not take that well. Vinyl was able to pull me out of the funk that it put me in, though she didn't know why I was in such a foul mood. She knew enough to know that some spells I was trying weren't working, though, and she convinced me to try to find alternatives, to think of it from a different angle. It didn't cheer me up, but it did give me something to focus on other than why I was so much less than I should be.

The fruits of that refocusing was the final costume design. Twilight hasn't been an expert in enchantments, and thus neither was I, but she knew enough that I could work out a way to infuse an object with simple magics. I took that and ran with it, and the result was… well, as you can see, it’s rather impressive.

The thing about the wings spell that makes it so complicated isn’t that the actual wings it creates, those are just gossamer and dew, easily pulled together. What makes it really powerful, and intensely complicated, is that it allows the pony it’s cast on to emulate pegasus magic. Their speed, their flight, their ability to command the weather, etcetera. A similar spell exists to grant earth pony magic, giving its recipient great strength and a green hoof. A figurative green hoof, not a literal one. Usually. There isn’t an equivalent spell to grant unicorn magic. Which, given that the ones who would be able to cast the spell in the first place were already unicorns, makes some sense.

I am not capable of casting the level of magic necessary to grant a pony the magic of a different tribe. It galls me, but it’s true. I am, however, quite capable of creatively applying the magic that I am very, very good at. For instance, a basic rule of telekinesis is that it is exorbitantly draining to lift yourself. It has to do with the way the magic begins trying to lift itself, and the way the forces act against each other. It is a well-known cheat to use another object that you are either holding or standing on as a proxy. Lift it, and it lifts you as well. This trick isn’t perfectly useful, the magic is very inefficient, but it’s easier than picking yourself up. Balance the forces just right, though, and the inefficiencies disappear.

And so my costume has this long jacket that drapes itself all the way down my back and hang down my legs, almost like a cloak. Leather, of course, for protection, durability and because it looks terrifying when fully activated. Energized with my magic it splits open into two wide ‘wings’ that are independently controlled, each infused with several sets of telekinetic spells that allow me to, for all intents and purposes, fly. They’re patterned to look like a dragon’s wings, with a little influence from Luna’s Night Guards, their outline glowing faintly with my magic. I even took a page from the drug I would be fighting and I set small studs of a more benign crystal at key points to channel my power and give me greater fine control. It doesn’t work as well as the wings spell would, I won’t be competing in any best flyer competitions, but enough to give chase or deal with combat in three dimensions.

The particular problems of using my magic this way required another addition to the costume: a hood. To get the greatest reaction time and control from my ad-hoc wings I would need to keep the material in constant contact with my horn. The hood has a ring of metal set in it that locks around my horn, holding it in place and making sure I don’t lose my hold on the wings at the worst possible moment. Vinyl also insisted that I have holes for my ears to poke through because, and I quote: ‘it looks adorable’.

The harness I had gotten for my visit to The Ranch serves as the underpinnings of the whole thing. Attached by some very strong means to the jacket, it allows the wings to take my weight as a balanced, distributed load. A pair of pockets serving as saddlebags, and well, you can see the result. Not quite as concealing as the Mare-Do-Well costume, I’ll grant, but considerably more intimidating. I’ve modified it a bit from its original design, but I think you can see that even before I added the blades, it would have been a fearsome sight for your average pony.

After the fiasco with the wings, I was reluctant to try to tackle the second problem: my vulnerability. Steady had hit me, hard. Harder than he should have been able to, really. The addicts from that first night had also seemed much stronger than their appearance would indicate. It was the black crystal, empowering their bodies and removing the usual limits a pony isn’t even aware they obey to keep them from injuring themselves. Limits that normally take years of training or utter desperation to ignore.

I wasn’t arrogant enough to assume that I’d be able to dodge or counter all attacks coming my way. Shady Deal had proven that I could be surprised, that I could make poor decisions and open myself to attack. I could do my best to minimize it, but I knew there would be some point where somepony got through. When they did, they would be hitting harder and faster than a normal pony would. A single blow from an earth pony could kill me, and pegasi with their speed weren’t any less dangerous. Unicorns, well, a physical fight was the least of my worries with them. I had to prepare for that blow.

The leather had already proven its ability to soften an impact, but it wasn’t enough. The solution was easy to think of: create a shield, a bubble of magic that could turn aside even the strongest of attacks. Shining Armor’s specialty, and he had taught Twilight a lot of what he knew. I balked at trying it at first, afraid to find that I was incapable in yet another area, but eventually I saw the necessity and tried the shield spells.

Fortunately, they worked fine. Better than they had before, even. Perhaps with a more focused repertoire of magic also came a greater ease at using what I had. Not a fair trade. Not by far, but I will take what I can get.

I am not Shining Armor, though, so keeping a bubble of magic up for even the relatively short duration of a fight would be taxing. The system I eventually set up would create an angled shield only for a fraction of a second. Enough to turn aside a blow or protect me from an arrow, not enough to tire me out too fast. It was contingent on my feeding magic into the costume in a steady supply, but that was a drawback I could handle.

The two major problems I could foresee having been dealt with, I turned my attention to working out a plan to eliminate the black crystal from the streets of Canterlot and eventually the entirety of Equestria. Vinyl and Octavia helped where they could, in their own particular way, and I threw myself into the project, happily ignoring every part of Twilight Sparkle’s life that threatened to intrude. Sadly, there are some parts of that life that cannot be ignored.

I was not ready when Celestia paid me a visit. She showed up at the door to my rooms one night unannounced, no guards accompanying her. I was diagramming everything I knew about drug distribution networks in Canterlot to look for possible choke points, and I had to scramble to hide all the material before she saw it. I don’t know if she would have noticed if I hadn’t. She was worried, distracted.

“Twilight,” she said, smiling in that brutally pleasant way she has. So much older and more powerful than us, but that smile is just so… motherly. She loves us, all of us, and she wants the best for us, but she will also let us make our own decisions and mistakes. And that smile tells the whole world about it.

I can’t stand up to her. I’m powerless against that smile, against those eyes that have seen so much… I’m so afraid of her, and I can’t even articulate it. If she finds out what I am… who I am not, then I won’t even be able to defend myself. Not against her.

...Sorry. You don’t want to hear me moaning about how Celestia’s going to kill me. I bet you couldn’t care less about that. No, sorry, I was getting off track again. I was telling you about our conversation.

“Princess, is something wrong?” I asked. A bit direct, but probing questions with her are best masked with as much innocence as I could fake.

“Yes, Twilight, there has been some things recently that have made me worried for you,” Celestia replied. “Would you like to walk with me? The night is beautiful, and I’d like to spend some time with you.”

I could do nothing but agree with her. We walked together in silence for a long time, she with a stoic strength that tried to tell me that everything was going to be okay, and me with a hidden nervousness that I had to work very hard to keep from slipping out. Eventually we came to a place in the castle gardens that had many times served as a picnic ground for a young Twilight Sparkle and her royal mentor.

Celestia took a deep breath. “Ah, so many happy memories,” she said. I nodded dumbly, unsure of what to say, if I was even supposed to say anything. “Do you ever regret becoming my student, Twilight?”

The question caught me off guard. “No,” I said. “Of course not, Princess.”

“Sometimes I wonder if I did you a disservice,” she continued. “I wonder if it was my selecting you as a personal student that prevented you from forming true friendships for so long.”

I couldn’t suppress a scoffing laugh at that. She gave me a questioning look. “I’m sorry, Princess,” I said, quickly adopting a more serious expression. “But if you hadn’t taken me under your wing, I think I still wouldn’t have friends.”

She smiled again, this one a more personal expression than the universal benevolence she had displayed earlier. “I suppose it is possible,” she said. “But I think you’d have eventually come out of your shell. Like you’re doing now.”

“Princess?”

“The trips to the nightclubs, your association with, what was her stage name? Ah, yes, ‘DJ PON-3’.” I went cold. She knew. But how much did she know? Visions of her striking me down flew through my head. Dragging out the corpses I had made and demanding I explain myself. I couldn’t move, frozen like a small prey animal when they hear the howls of wolves. Celestia saw my expression and her smile widened. “Oh, Twilight, there’s no need to be worried,” she said. I couldn’t relax, though I did my best to fake it. “You are still a young pony, and it’s perfectly all right for you to associate with who you want and spend your evenings as you wish. I just hope that they are providing what you need to heal, and I trust you to know where your limits are.”

“Thank you?”

“I am, however, concerned for your safety.”

I thought quickly. If she knew about the deaths, then she wouldn’t be handling it like this. Which meant she didn’t know, which meant that there was something entirely else going on that I wasn’t yet aware of. I decided to play naive. “Vinyl’s not a bad pony, Princess!”

“I know, she’s being a good friend to you,” Celestia said. “But some of the places she’s been taking you… well, it is rather difficult to explain.”

“You mean the fetish clubs?” I asked, probing again.

She chuckled, shaking her head. “No, while I do not approve of everything that goes on inside those places, my disapproval does not make them dangerous. When I say it is difficult to explain, I mean in that it pains me to have to say it at all. Twilight, Canterlot is on the cusp of a violent conflict, one that I am not sure I can avert.”

“Violent? Princess, what do you mean?”

“You heard about the murder several days ago, I presume?” I nodded, no use playing dumb with information that had been splattered over every newspaper in town. “We, my sister and I, believe that it was not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last.”

“A serial murderer?”

“No, such a thing would be easier to handle,” Celestia sighed. “I’m sure that Vinyl Scratch has shown you something of the drug culture in Canterlot.” I nodded, again seeing no use in denying something she probably already knew all about. “There is a new drug that is causing… problems. The Guard are doing what they can, but it is spreading like a plague. An officer of the Guard went missing several days ago during a raid, and then this poor pony was killed. The two are definitely related, considering both had to do with this new drug. We think that this is merely the opening salvo in a conflict that will spill over into the lives of ponies throughout Canterlot, perhaps spreading to the rest of Equestria.”

“A drug war,” I said.

She nodded. “I’ve kept my kingdom free from such bloody violence for so long. To fail now, after having come so far... Twilight, this war will begin in the places you and Vinyl Scratch have been frequenting. In the nightclubs and bars and dance-halls. I know you are a capable mare, but if the violence comes it promises to be indiscriminate. I cannot guarantee your safety, and it worries me.”

“Princess,” I began, but trailed off. She looked at me expectantly, always attentive to her student. I shook off a sudden, irrational surge of jealousy and forced myself to complete the thought. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

She smiled that perfect, omnibenevolent smile again. “Oh, my little pony, I knew you would offer. But this is not your duty. I have another task for you and your friends in ponyville that will take all of your attention soon.”

“A task?” That was something surprising.

“I’m afraid I can’t say more now,” she said. “So much will have to be prepared, decisions weighed. I will have to convince my sister to allow something she is vehemently against, for one, and that has never been a simple trial. No, I want you to rest and have fun while you’re in Canterlot. I’m sorry to have burdened you with this knowledge, but I would be more sorry to find you had been hurt when a word from me could have prevented it.”

I thought about it for a long moment before deciding what to do next. “Princess, I’m really enjoying the time I spend with Vinyl. I don’t think I’m going to stop going out.” Celestia nodded, accepting but clearly unhappy. “I will be careful,” I assured her. “And I’ll make sure Vinyl is careful too. And if any trouble starts, I won’t stick around. I’ll teleport us and anypony I can reach out and far away.”

Her smile turned personal again. It wasn’t more genuine, but it was more directed. I could tell she wasn't smiling at the whole of ponykind, but at me, or, rather, Twilight. “I suppose that’s the best I could ever hope for. But you must promise me that you won’t try and fight. I know you have a strong sense of justice, of right and wrong, and a need to help those in need, but this will be a duty of those trained for it.”

“I promise,” I lied. It was a smooth lie. Easy. I would have believed it if I was anypony but myself.

“Thank you, Twilight. I can rest a little easier now,” she said.

We chatted a bit after that. Not much. By the time she left my head was dancing with the possibilities. The Guard thought there was going to be a drug war. That meant that things were even farther along than my observations had indicated. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to strike hard, fast, and immediately to have any impact.

The moment I shut the door to my rooms I was teleporting across the city and into Vinyl’s apartment. Octavia and Vinyl were just finishing a shared meal, and they both jumped at my sudden arrival. I ignored them for the moment, turning instead to the ponyquin that had my nearly finished costume draped over it. I gave it a quick look over, ensuring that it was ready enough to do what I needed, then turned to the other two mares. “Things are worse than I thought,” I said, and their eyes hardened at the realization of what that meant. “It’s time.”

Author's Note:

True word count: 49,246. Days 1-30 covered. Days missed: 8. Words to succeed at NaNoWriMo: 754. It's pretty much a done deal.

For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo is a yearly 'contest' wherin one attempts to write 50,000 words of a story in 30 days. It's difficult. I am happy to be succeeding.