• Published 2nd Nov 2013
  • 8,290 Views, 346 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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Dark Hospital part 4: The Trap

The things that go through my mind while channeling black magic are difficult to describe in words. I suppose, to be a touch poetic, it is as if I become void, being possessed of a hunger that does not know limit or satiation. My every desire is magnified, taking on twisted form as the worst sort of gluttonous impulse. It's not exactly an overwhelming sensation, since I can still think and act normally, but more of a constant background noise. It drowns out the details and leaves me with only the most immediate of sensations, magnifying their importance. Preoccupation becomes obsession, desire becomes lust, annoyance becomes anger. And it all feels natural. It feels right.

Self reflection is, of course, something I obsess over normally. So you can imagine that, with my head buzzing from the dark power infecting it, I was lost enough in my own thoughts that I have no reliable memory of the next several minutes. I know that I wandered the hallways of the hospital, heading downwards in the vague understanding that I would find more terminal addicts waiting for the Guard closer to the ground level. I passed by other infected patients and staff, dispatching several with an entirely foolish expenditure of my remaining energies.

I was thinking of the ponies in the burn ward, of how I had set fire to them with not even a flinch of hesitation. Twilight Sparkle wouldn't have been able to do that. She would have fought the addict, certainly. Perhaps she would have even found a way to win. But to give a quick death to those ponies? No. She would have tried to save them. Could she have succeeded? I don't know. I do know that her compassion would have left her vulnerable and distracted. It would have made her easy prey for Alley Cat and her ilk. My own brand of compassion was far superior, then. A swift end that left me able to deal with the ones who had forced them into such a sorry state. Yes. Far better for everypony.

At least, that is the conclusion I came to. A conclusion that I still come to, every time I revisit the thought, which I do, and often. I think there is something in me, some remnant of Twilight Sparkle perhaps, that wants me to be wrong. I am never disappointed in being right, but sometimes I will admit that I am not overjoyed either. It would be a much better world if I was wrong more often.

Ah, but I'm wandering from the action. As I said, I was meandering towards the ground floor. I didn't take a direct path, much as that would have been the logical thing to do. Instead, I zig-zagged through the hallways, making my way from one dark staircase to another, seeking the addicts at the heart of this horror. It was somewhere around the third floor that I realized things had changed outside.

I pulled my thoughts out of themselves and focused my conscious attention on the world. I walked up to one of the blacked out windows and shattered it with a thought. Outside the world was painted bright with the searching lights shining from the horns of dozens of Guard unicorns. I winced at that light, the flare compensation magic in my hood taking a moment to shade my vision. That delay was a warning sign that actually got through the black magic high, telling me how low my reserves really were.

I looked down on the street and I saw that the hospital was surrounded by the Guard; cordons and barricades already going up to keep a gawking public at a safe distance. Several teams were forming up, weapons being distributed and harsh warnings going out. At the center of activity, giving orders like one born to command, was Shining Armor. At his side stood Cadance, looking as stern as I had ever seen her. Her pretty mouth was compressed into a thin, angry line and her eyes flared with pulses of her own not-inconsiderable power.

There was a cry, and Twilight’s brother followed a pointing hoof to look right at me. I wasn't worried about him recognizing me. I would have barely recognized myself in my costume. I was, however, worried about him deciding that the mysterious vigilante being on the scene meant he should send in his troops now.

I had to think fast, and, sadly, the first idea that sprang to mind was as energy-intensive as it was effective. My horn burst to brilliant incandescence, completely outshining the spotlights that were trained on me and blinding onlookers. Magic poured from me, twisting into a spell that fell to the ground and looped around the entire hospital, creating a barrier of magenta light that rippled in sheets of sparkling power.

I’m actually quite proud of that bit of quick spellwork. It wasn’t terribly complex, actually, but very effective. A dozen layers, each composed of alternating hard planes and elastic netting, moving at different rates along the path I had set for the spell. Any force applied to the spell would cause the elastic layers to draw the hard planes together, solidifying the barrier only at points where somepony was trying to break through. An individual plane could be shattered, a single net could be cut, but the alternating layers meant that attacking one in either way would only harden the barrier, quite possibly negating the intended attack altogether.

Of course, there were ways around it. For instance, I had completely neglected to protect against aerial incursion. Pegasi could just fly over the barrier. It was also very vulnerable to a pony with decent observational skills and the patience to wait until the layers were properly aligned and then use the appropriate tactic to remove them all at once. I didn’t consider it at the time, but I suppose I was counting on the Guard not thinking outside of the ‘smash it’ box. Regardless, it wasn't exactly a perfect deterrent, and certainly not one that would stop a pony as powerful as Shining Armor for long, but it was something that could delay him and his forces. That was all I thought I needed.

… Yes, I know. I was a fool.

The loss of magic hit me immediately. I staggered back from the window, suddenly overwhelmed with the aching emptiness that comes from overextending my magic. My jacket, so recently compromised, failed again, going dead and heavy around me. Some of the enchantments still functioned, specifically some of the more important protective measures, but anything that required active input from my horn was shut off. My shoes felt like lead on my hooves, and I tripped as my legs refused to coordinate. I went down, hitting the ground and scrambling to a sitting position as I began sucking in quick, shallow breaths.

I’ve never run dry before. I’ve come close, a couple times, but never been completely, utterly, out of magic. The feeling was… terrifying. I felt like some fundamental part of me had been stripped away… Of course I felt that way. It had. Magic is a part of me, so deeply ingrained that… well, cutie marks don’t lie, right? Have you ever felt something so… so… I don’t even know if you can run out of magic. I know what it takes to beat you, though, and I don’t ever want to test their limits, so there you go.

Panic is a poison. It eats at you, eroding the very thing that can save you: rational thought. I am ashamed to admit how badly my thinking had already degraded from the black magic high, and you can imagine how much worse that all got when I felt my power run out and I began to panic.

I screamed. I remember that. Pain or fear, I don’t recall which prompted it. It hurt to be so empty. I wanted to tear open my chest, terrified that I’d find a yawning void there instead of my heart. The only reason I knew I still had a heart at all was that I could hear it pounding in my ears. I wanted to run, to get away from something that was coming from within me. Yet I couldn’t move, my limbs filled with burning static that my desires failed to pierce.

I was, in short, an absolute wreck.

Heh. It’s funny. I think, in one way or another, I’ve been a wreck for my whole existence. From that first horrible morning right up until now. This was, perhaps, just the first time I really felt it.

Regardless, I didn’t have long to wallow in my private agony. The addicts came for me, attracted by my spell or by my screaming, I couldn’t say. I can say that the first I knew of them was when a chain made out of links of black crystal was wrapped around my neck and I was thrown with enough force to send me crashing into a wall.

I will say this for being blindsided: it really helps me focus. The panic fell away as I realized I was in immediate, mortal danger. I twisted, trying to loosen the chain. A length of the chain was stretched out to an earth pony with a dark yellow coat and a messy orange mane. She smiled at me, her lips pulling too far back, turning her face into a death’s-head rictus. My instincts told me to lash out with magic, and I foolishly did not reign them in. Pain blinded me. It was like trying to walk on four broken legs, you’re punished for merely attempting it.

When my senses returned, I was being flung down the corridor, the chain still wrapped around my throat. Impacting the wall was practically soothing compared to the screaming agony of trying to use magic when I had none left. My jacket’s remaining protections kept me from taking serious damage from it, at least.

I dragged at the chain, but it writhed like a living thing, slipping out of my hooves and only gripping me tighter. A twitch from the earth pony addict and the chain whipped me across the hall again. Then again. And again. I believe at around this point I lost consciousness. I know this because the next thing I can remember is being dragged along the hall, my legs securely tied together and a heavy, full-body ache warring with the agony of my missing magic for my attention.

I would like to say that I was plotting how to escape during that slow, rough trip down to the ground floor emergency room entrance. I would like to talk about how I analyzed each of the seven terminal addicts as, one by one, they joined my captor. I would absolutely love to declare how I had it all figured out by the time Alley Cat showed up and they turned their attention to me.

I would like to say these things, but you would not be fooled.

I lay where I was put and I wallowed in my own pathetic failure. I berated myself for not keeping track of my magic use. I moaned over the pain in my body. Heh, bruises only. The addict had been practically gentle with me. I thought of home, and nearly cried at the thought that it wasn’t really mine. Just another place where nopony had yet realized I was an impostor. As my mind ventured into self-pitying thoughts of Ponyville and the mare whose life I inherited, I paid very little attention to what was going on around me.

Not my lowest point, but close.

I was deposited in the emergency room lobby. Chairs for waiting ponies had been ripped up from the floor and shoved up against the doors, an extra level of barricade that would not stop the Guards from coming in through the large, very breakable windows. Those windows were painted the same black as the others, blocking any view of how Shining Armor and his troops were dealing with my barrier spell. Nodes of black crystal were everywhere, growing on the walls and ceiling like moss. Patches of them had even been deposited on the floor, crystalline projections pulsing with dark energy as they absorbed the enormous well of negative emotion that the hospital had become.

My captor sat down and waited, staring at me with her death’s-head grin. She didn’t say a word, though her eyes roamed over me in a way that I find more disturbing in retrospect than I had the wherewithal to feel at the time. When the others began arriving, they sat down as well, staying silent. One by one, quietly taking places around me in a circle. Their eyes were bleeding shadows and faintly luminous with a green tinge, the sickness in them made all-too visible.

I still wonder about that, the silence. I would have expected boasting, threats, the usual ranting and raving that black magic brings on. They were eager for what was to come, the excitement was plain in their faces, but not a single word of gloating triumph escaped them. Was it significant? Was it something I missed? Something that could have made it all so much easier?

I don’t know. Speculation at this point would be an exercise in pointlessness. Perhaps I will find out when this is all over… Perhaps.

As I said, there were seven, plus Alley Cat and the one who had caught me. If you include the mad pegasus in the burn ward, that meant there were ten terminal addicts sent to take the hospital. Ten. Every time I fought them before, I had my hooves full with just one. If they hadn’t decided to get clever with me, they could have easily overwhelmed me with numbers alone. Still, as it was I was in no shape to fight off a single normal addict, let alone nine powerful and experienced ones.

The wait for all of them to arrive did have one good side-effect, though. It allowed me to recover the barest sliver of my magic. Not enough for any useful spell, but enough to draw me out of the grave of self-pity I had dug for myself.

When Alley Cat arrived, the change in atmosphere was palpable. Nine terminal addicts in the same room, the weight of their combined power was a pressure on my mind. One I was in no shape to resist. She took up a place in the circle around me, smirking as her eyes found mine. “Shadow Slayer,” she said, the name they had given me dripping like honey from her lips.

“Shadow Slayer,” the others repeated in unison. Unlike Alley Cat, none of the rest of the addicts could have passed for a normal pony anymore. Infected wounds filled with spikes of black crystal dripped oily fluids down their hides. Eyes burned with green light and trailed shadows like smoke in the air. Two earth pony addicts even had hideous pseudo-horns similar to the first terminal addict I had fought, a proverbial lifetime ago. Most of these ponies would not survive much longer. Until their addiction killed them, however, they would only get more dangerous. “Shadow Slayer,” they said again, and with each repetition of the name their dark magic came more and more into sync.

I realized where I was: in the center of a magic circle made out of nine wells of black magic. I recalled the trap they had laid for me upstairs. This would not be the same, nor would I have the same avenue of escape. What they were planning I couldn’t figure out. In retrospect, I should have known. The signs were everywhere, after all. From the moment I had burst my way into the dark hospital I had known it was a trap. I was simply never concerned that it could be a trap for me. Or what form that trap might take.

Spectral claws formed at the end of Alley Cat’s hoof as she reached out for me. They touched my horn with a light caress, sending a frisson of dark power into me. I couldn’t contain the shudder as my starved soul drank in the magic. “The Masters were hoping you’d succumb to the command spell,” she said. “I told them you were too canny for that. There was no way you’d fall without casualties.”

Her flattery had no real effect on me, but the rising swirl of dark magic around me certainly did. I could feel the hairs of my mane crackle with static, my legs twitching with nervous energy. The repeating chant rose in volume as the power circulating through the addicts surged, drawing magic from the crystal nodes they had seeded throughout the hospital.

“Personally, I thought you’d make it harder on us,” Alley Cat continued, her claws tracing the spiral of my horn, feeding a thread of dark magic into me. It was like swallowing bitter water, I knew it was dangerous, but I wanted it so badly I couldn’t stop myself from sucking eagerly at the offered power. “I guess we got lucky. Or you got sloppy. Either way, cheers to us, huh?” She grinned. I glared back at her. “Oh, don’t feel too bad. This whole place is a trap, you know?”

Of course I knew. Shining Armor was outside, and they were going to target him for infection. With Cadance as the perfect target of opportunity at his side. Of course I hadn’t even been thinking about that. I was too busy pouting over my own misfortune to remember what was at stake here.

My eyes flicked to the blacked-out windows as I suddenly recalled who was waiting outside, horribly ignorant of what was waiting for them. “Yes,” Alley Cat said, not missing my glance. “A trap for the Guard, but more importantly, a trap for you.” She chuckled, and I felt the flow of magic from her increase. I should have been alarmed at that, but, well, I was not at my best. “The Masters have got it into their heads that you’re something special.” She shrugged, smirking. “Honestly, I think the same thing. They think that if we could sway you to us, you could become the most powerful shadow of all. Again, I’m inclined to agree. Unlike them, however, I know it’ll take more than shoving a hoofful of black crystal down your throat and promising you more if you behave.”

... Yes, I am aware of the irony of the statement. That’s exactly the situation I most feared, because it would be the one I can guarantee you would work. Thank Celestia for small mercies, right?

“You need something to push you to our side. Something that suits your beautiful power.” She leaned close. “I can smell the shadows on you, I can taste your lust and feel the heat of your rage. It’s exactly like ours while at the same time being so fundamentally different. Making you into another shadow would not suit. Oh, no. So I cooked up this little drama for you. I’m sure you’ll like it. You see, instead of making you one of us, we’re going to make you more of yourself.”

That got through to me, and suddenly I knew what was happening. The chanting, the gathering of dark magic from the entire hospital, the stream of power Alley Cat was feeding into me, all of it clicked into place. I tried to block the flow of her power, but it was too late. She had those claws in my soul, now, and it would take more strength than I could muster to dislodge them. I struggled against the chains holding me, but they constricted tightly enough to cut off circulation. I lit my horn in a feeble attempt at magic, and the magenta light was barely brighter than a candle. I was caught.

Alley Cat saw my understanding, and her eyes burned with evil green light. Her horn bubbled with dark power as she took the magic the other addicts were raising and prepared to channel it straight into me.

I didn’t know what an influx of that much black magic would do to me. Insanity was only one option, and one of the more pleasant ones. At the very least I would lose all self control while at the same time being empowered to near the height of my peak ability. This would be terminally dangerous for the addicts around me, certainly, but it would also certainly spell doom for many of the ponies outside. I understood the full extent of their plan, now. The hospital was the trap for me, but I was the trap for the Guard. Shining Armor could survive my rampage, but he would be weakened and easy prey for black crystal infection. The rest of the Guard would be devastated, a blow from which they would never recover in time to save Equestria from the Masters.

I knew all this, and I could do nothing to stop it.

Or, rather, almost nothing. I still had one trump card left, but it would require perfect timing. Worse, it would require that I keep my focus even as dark magic was flooding my mind with distractions that it has been consistently proven I could not shut out. It was a huge gamble, but it was my... it was Equestria’s only hope.

“I’m going to kill you,” I snarled at Alley Cat.

“That’s the spirit!” she replied with a dark chuckle. “Now, Shadow Slayer, let’s see what you can really do.”

With that she opened the connection full blast, and the whirlpool of dark power around me was funnelled through my horn and straight into the core of my being. My eyes poured shadows, my horn burned with black light. I could feel it coating me inside, a stain of darkness that would never, ever come clean.

It felt so very, very good. I couldn’t help but grin, laughter bubbling up my throat. They didn’t understand what they had done. They didn’t quite realize who they were dealing with.

It was time to show them

Author's Note:

Apologies for the incredible wait.