• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Deference For Darkness - I

“Hey, can you hear me?” he repeated again. No, Charm repeated again.

I gulped. “Y-Yeah, I can hear you.”

“Good.” He looked me over. “You gave me a big scare; I found you lying here in this alley, and I didn’t know if you would wake up.” He held a hoof over my face to keep a little of the rain off. “What’s your name, miss?”

“My name is—”

Before I could finish, I clutched my stomach as pain suddenly rocketed through it. It burned like acid was chewing away at it, and I curled into a tight ball. I could hear Charm yelling at me again, but it was like he was behind a foot of glass. Then, the pain starting shooting upward.

Up from my stomach, through my throat, and finally it forced my mouth open. I watched as the sensation fled from me in a field of gold that dissipated into the air. My eyes widened. Magic.

Charm reached down and pulled me up onto his back. His younger frame was smaller, but he was still as strong as I had known him to be. I tried to stand on my own, but my hooves didn’t respond and he had to hold me entirely on his back.

“We need to get you to the hospital,” he said.

I tried to tell him that it wasn’t necessary and he could very kindly put me down, but only vague grunts came out of my mouth. My tongue felt dry as a desert and stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Without any verbal objection from me, Charm continued on out of the alley and into the late night Manehattan streets.

Neon signs burned atop glassy buildings as the rain fell and washed down the smooth surfaces of skyscrapers and penthouses. It was quiet, save for a few cars who cut through the wet streets. Big drops fell hard on the concrete that Charm walked along, and gave me a firsthoof view of the whole thing.

Manehattan . . . still very much alive with life and energy. It was a stark contrast to the ruins I had seen, and almost made me doubt I had seen them at all. How such a wonderful place could fall into such a state of decay was beyond me. I didn’t want to believe it.

Then again, my mind was reeling at just about everything. The digital ads that played on massive screens on the sides of buildings in particular threw me for a curve. My thoughts felt . . . slippery. The world went dark a few times before I felt my body being pulled out of the rain.

I was put onto what felt like a soft bed, but I was moving. I looked down. A stretcher, of course. Fluorescent lights zoomed by above me. I was in the hospital, and I could just see Charm following alongside my stretcher. Why he was sticking with a mare he shouldn’t even know, I had no idea.

They wheeled me into an empty room with windows that looked out over the dark city. Lights flashed in the buildings outside, or was that lightning? Somepony jabbed a needle into one of my hooves and I bucked against the bed. Ponies stronger than I held me to the bed as the medicine worked its way into my veins.

I fought against the coming darkness. No, I didn’t want to go back there! I struggled, but I could already feel my muscles loosening and my lungs slowing themselves against my will. The last thing I remembered seeing before then was Charm’s face, standing by the hospital room door and looking very concerned.

* * *

I don’t know how much time went by after that. I drifted in and out of consciousness over a long period of time. I saw doctors and nurses flash by in their white coats and frocks. For a little while, there were ponies in dark suits standing near my bed, but I could have just imagined them.

I started to think I had imagined a lot of things. Had I really spent all that time with Twilight Sparkle the time traveler? Had all that time really only been a few days? I didn’t know, and switched between opinions every time I had a brief lucid moment.

Each time, though, I would see Charm still sitting in the corner. Sometimes he would be wide awake and flipping through a magazine, other times asleep. I wanted him to be real. I didn’t want him to be a fake. Every time I would open my eyes my heart would beat a little faster until I saw him in the corner again.

My brain knew that it couldn’t possibly be him. How could Charm, of all ponies, be far into the past in Manehattan of all places? I knew it was probably just my megaspell-damaged mind that kept insisting that my long-lost friend was here. Still, though, I wanted to believe the illusion. If only for a little while.

Eventually, the medicine was weaned out of my system. My thoughts became a little clearer. I could see all number of strange machines hooked up to me. Worse, my stomach was burning again.

I watched the monitors began to beep and whine as the burn worked its way up and out my mouth again in the form of a burp. Just as the magic dissolved into the open air, the door burst open.

Two ponies in matching—and tacky—dark suits marched in and surrounded my bed. A doctor and trailing nurses followed, quisitive looks on their faces. One of the suits spoke into some sort of device on one hoof, but I was too out of it to make out what he was saying.

Their body movements spoke volumes, though.

One of them drew up to my bedside. He slid the needle out of my hoof and began unhooking me from the machines.

“Wh-What are you doing?” I slurred.

They both ignored me, but I could see Charm get out of his chair in the corner and approach the group. One of the doctors was shouting at the suit who wasn’t with me. The doctor suddenly went down with a small flash and the nurses starting shrieking.

I felt myself being picked up by the agent. I kicked at him and tried to struggle in his grip, but I was too weak. I saw Charm rush forward to my aid, but the other pony in the suit stopped him.

I watched in slow motion as Charm tried to shove past him and the agent brought up a little box that he had flashed the doctor with. I tried to move toward them, tried to struggle, but couldn’t do anything. I was helpless. My anger rose at the injustice of it all: to finally find Charm and then to have him threatened right away.

The burning began again, but not in my stomach. It burned in my head. Then, like a bolt of lightning, a gold bolt of magic leapt out of my head and exploded out toward the agent.

A massive boom shocked my ears as the agent crashed through the far wall and into the hallway. The pony who had been holding me was lying against the bed, his suit smoking. Charm, somehow, was still on his feet and looking wide-eyed at me.

I fought my way onto my feet. “We have to run,” I told him. He blinked, but didn’t move. I stumbled over to him, and grabbed him around the neck. “Run!”

He responded to the shouting in his ear by letting me rest against him and we both set off out of the room and into the hallway. My legs still felt like jelly, but it’s surprising what a pony can do when she finds herself being hunted.

The whole world swirled and drifted around me, and I was surprised I even managed to remain upright. We managed to get past the nurse’s desk, but came to a halt just outside the swinging double doors that led out of the ER and into the lounge.

In front of us were half a dozen more agents in dark suits. Behind us, the rest of the dozen showed up. We were trapped.

I pushed myself closer to Charm as the agents started to close in. “Just hold still,” one of them said, brandishing a needle. “We’re not going to harm you. We just need to take you with us.”

I shook my head. I tried to tell them no, but my mouth was stuck again. Charm did all the shouting for me, though.

“I’ve seen you guys before,” he said. “You’re just going to take us away and nopony is ever going to see us again!”

“Pipe down!” the agent yelled. He turned to the pony next to him. “Take care of the brat.”

I did my best to step in front of Charm and look aggressive, though in my current state I probably wasn’t fooling anypony. The agents continued to move forward and sweat began to bead on my forehead.

“Miss, now would be a good time to use that boom thing-y,” Charm whispered to me.

“M-Magic,” I managed to correct. Why, for the life of me, I don’t know.

The burning was gone, and no matter how hard I tried to bring it back up, I couldn’t. Every time I tried to focus on blasting the agents away, I couldn’t stop thinking about how bad I wanted to be anywhere but here.

I grunted. “Why won’t this work?” I cried. I slammed my hoof on the ground.

When I looked up, though, the agents had begun to back away. Their eyes were white and pupils shrunk in fear. Even Charm was looking at me, mouth agape.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

“Uh, Miss,” he began, “you . . . you’re glowing.”

“I am?” I asked. I looked down at my hooves, and saw they were ablaze with golden light. Then, just by chance, I imagined how I’d like to see my hooves anywhere but there.

And suddenly, Charm and I weren’t there anymore.

* * *

The air sparked and pulsed around us. A small explosion deposited us on the rough concrete of another desolate alleyway. My mane smoked at the ends and I smelled like burnt rubber. It appeared my magic wasn’t quite as refined as Twilight’s.

My magic.

Oh . . . this was probably not good.

Charm stood up beside me. He coughed and shook off his grey coat that of soot that made him almost look pitch black. His bright red mane seemed mostly unaffected, though.

“Miss,” he said, “I don’t know who you are, but that was one hell of a time.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, um, sorry about that. It’s not normally like this, I promise.”

“Right.” He tilted his head. “Y’know, I never caught a name.”

“Oh, um, Leda Oakwood,” I stammered.

He looked at the cutie mark on my flank and raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got a cutie mark and haven’t chosen a name yet?”

“Well I’m working on it . . .”

Charm laughed. “Well, until I can find my own cutie mark, I go by Karamat.”

“Karamat?” I asked. “Where’s that from?”

“I dunno, it’s not like I was around my parents long enough to ask them. Although Oakwood . . . is that Los Celestias?”

I coughed a little, then nodded. “Yep. Los Celestias. That’s where I come from.”

“So how’d a mare like you end up in the bowels of Manehattan . . . and how in Tartarus can you use magic?”

I took as long as I could to answer. In the end, I couldn’t come up with a good story, so I went with, “I’m not exactly sure . . . the last thing I remember is waking up in that alley. Before that, not much.”

“Sounds like some kind of pulp novel.” He laughed. “Considering those ponies in suits, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. This city is like a magnet for the weird anyway.”

I chuckled. “Speaking of weird, what kind of pony who doesn’t know me stands vigil in my hospital room for so long?”

“You were only out for like four hours,” he said. He rubbed the back of his head. “Plus, well, it’s kind of my job.”

“What kind of job is that?”

“You’ll see.” He waved to me. “Come on, I’ll take you to my boss.”

I paused and clutched at my stomach, that seemed to recoil in pain at the thought. “We’re going to . . . urgh . . . see your boss? Now?”

“We do our best business at this time of the night.”

With that, he set off and left me to follow him. So I did, of course. I’m not that stupid. Besides, the rain felt good against the sweat that had continued to build up from the fire raging inside that made me feel like I was about to burst.

Then again, what could I expect after taking a weapon of mass destruction to the face and somehow living?

We walked down the wet streets that glowed bright from the neon above. I couldn’t get enough of the city. It was beautiful in its own sardonic way. The dark night picked me up and twirled me around; it danced with me in its quiet beauty. I had spent so many nights admiring the simplicity of Journey’s End . . . and never had I imagined something like this.

“You like this city?” Charm asked in a hushed tone.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. “It’s like the city has its own kind of breathtaking-ness, different from the countryside but still the same somehow.”

Thunder boomed in the distance. “Yeah, this place is nice,” he said. “Sometimes I forget until somepony new comes to town.”

We walked on. Eventually, the streets grew narrower and the buildings darker and quieter. Most of them were old, and beginning to lean. The color was gone from the bricks and the cement soft.

Charm stopped in front of one such building. It looked to be about eight stories, and the sign on the front had long since worn away the names of the residents. We went inside a rotating door.

The lobby was dry and warm, but that was just about the only positive thing I had to say about it. The once-shiny brass was worn and the wood warped. The carpet under my hooves was frayed and thin as paper. Nopony any longer worked the front desk.

Instead, Charm walked over to the desk himself and pressed a button beside the number four. An intercom burst to life. “Who’s goes there?” a gruff voice on the other side demanded.

“It’s me, boss,” Charm said. “I’ve got a guest. Let me in.”

“Matty?” the voice said. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been worried sick here, trying to figure out where that kid of mine has gone.”

Charm sighed. “Sorry, I’ll explain when I get up. Just try not to get mad, okay?”

“Aw fuhgeddaboudit, you know I can’t stay mad at you for too long. Come on up.”

An elevator off to the side of the lobby dinged and its doors opened. Charm beckoned to me and we stepped inside together.

* * *

The elevator doors slid open to reveal a small hallway with a single door at the end. The tinted glass had a stenciled name on it: Cloaked Dagger: PI. I looked at Charm, who merrily trotted down the hall and knocked on the door.

“Come on in, Karamat,” the same voice from the intercom said. “And show me whatever broad you brought up this time.”

I stepped into the office on my own, but nearly reeled back from the stench. The office was choked with smoke and the smell of cheap cigarettes that Charm’s boss apparently smoked by the pack. Rotting food and alcohol didn’t help the atmosphere, either.

The office was simple with wood floors and plaster walls that had once been white but had begun to yellow. A massive wooden desk covered in ashtrays—many with their contents spilling over—and at least a dozen bottles of whiskey. A caramel colored stallion leaned back in a large chair behind the desk, with a tweed derby sitting at a jaunty angle on his head. A coat was wrapped tightly around him, and a Marelbro dangled from his lips.

“This the client, huh?” he said.

Charm nodded. “Yeah, this is her, boss.” He turned to me. “Uh, Miss Oakwood, meet Cloaked Dagger, Private Investigator.”

I turned to him. “Leda Oakwood . . . no job, at the moment.”

Dagger snorted. “Good luck affording us, then.” His eyes snapped to Charm, and then he sighed. “Matty, please tell me you don’t accept another one of those charity cases.”

“This one’s different, boss—”

“You say that about all of them, Matty.” He looked up at me. “I’m sorry, miss, I don’t know what he promised you, but if you don’t have the cash then I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.”

Charm shook his head. “She has nowhere to go. She told me so herself; I found her in the gutter.”

“Come on, everybody’s got somewhere to go,” Dagger said.

“But the government’s after her!”

Dagger started. “The government? You brought somepony wanted by the government to my office?” he shouted.

He began moving toward me. “Out, out, out! Don’t show your face ‘round here again, or I’ll call the gov’ment myself!” he said. “I’ve got enough problems as it is; I don’t need no jail time.”

“But boss,” Charm said, stepping in front of me, “she’s an earth pony that can use magic!”

Dagger halted in his tracks. “Come again?”

“I took her to the hospital and while we were there, some government goons tried to corner us. When one of them went for me, she blasted him with magic. Then, when they nearly got us again, she teleported us halfway across the city!”

“You really saw this?”

“I’m sure of it!”

Dagger took off his hat to reveal a horn underneath it. It lit up with a dull glow and a screen of magic fell on me. I could see him scan me, top to bottom. I almost wanted to cross my legs to preserve my modesty, but the desire to find out what was going on was greater.

When the scanning hit my stomach, however, I doubled over on the ground in pain. “Leda!” I heard Charm cry. He rushed to my side as the scanning switched off. Again, the burning sensation rose up through my throat and forced its way out of my mouth.

Once the magic was gone, I managed to pull myself up with Charm’s help. I saw Dagger staring, well, daggers at me.

“That’s quite the magical punch your little friend is containing,” he told Charm. “That belly of hers has roughly enough magic to collapse a star.” He stepped toward me. “Mind explaining how you got it?”

“I don’t remember—”

“No, no, ‘course you don’t.”

He returned his hat to his head and started for the door. “Much as I hate to say it, Miss Oakwood, I’m interested enough in this case to take it pro bono.” He stuck out a hoof. “Cloaked Dagger, PI, is on your case.”

I smiled, took his hoof, and shook.

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