• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Neon Night - II

The pain was all around me. I could feel my mind try to shut itself down, try to block out the pain. Maybe it was my magic or the speaker stallion’s magic, but I couldn’t do it. I was kept alert.

I don’t know how much time passed. Time was no longer a familiar sensation. For all I knew, it could have been five minutes or two weeks. I could feel my own mind drift and wander. It was like I was separate from the tortured being that I had once called myself.

My own body was a prison. I could escape, so I turned inward. I turned to strange dreams and lost memories that were not my own. I passed by them like I was watching a video on a screen.

They were Twilight’s, I realized.

Her doubts, her insecurities, and her fears. There was failure, loss, and hopelessness. Failure to live up to her friends and teacher. Loss of those close and dear to her, and one even closer that I could not discern. The hopelessness of it all as her friends drifted away and she was left on her own.

There were dark times for her, even before she assumed the mantle of protector and time traveler. It was almost funny that I had never thought about that. Classes taught in school of the famous Elements of Harmony had always painted their lives as carefree and wonderful.

I should have known better, but the idea had never occurred to me. Even if we weren’t taught about Twilight, I still doubted that Pinkie or Rarity received their titles without hardships of their own. But watching the memories, even knowing this, was like seeing the figures of my heroes tarnished and broken. Especially Twilight.

I watched through her eyes as she bade goodbye to Spike as he flew off to find a mate and start a horde of his own. As Owlowscious succumbed to old age. Ponyville grew, and she didn’t seem to like it. More customers came in to her library, but they were strangers. Nameless faces that didn’t care for those who had already been there.

I mean, how could all those ponies do that to me? I could give them a stack of books but not one thank you. Worse still, all they came in for now were cheap romance novellas or picture books for their little bratty foals. Nopony ever went in the history section anymore . . .

I shook my head and sighed. My mane was getting long again. I was going to have to cut it. The violet split ends would be a pain if Rarity dropped in for a visit and saw them. I put down the quill I had been using to write the latest checklist on the wooden desk by my bed. A single candle gave me light enough to write.

Princess Celestia had promised a new shipment from the Canterlot Archives for my research, and they would be here in a couple days. I was going to have my hooves full just trying to organize the whole thing.

“Spike!” I called. “Start a new checklist, I’m going to need—”

Oh. Right.

I sighed and rubbed my forehead below my horn. I needed to stop doing that. Fluttershy had told me it was a natural thing, and that I could use new pet for company or something. But how was I supposed to replace Spike? You can’t replace a friend.

At least there was this whole deal with Discord. The statue had gone missing, and now Princess Celestia, of course, expected me to find it. She kept worrying about him escaping, I guess, but it was probably just some thieves looking for an artifact. I laughed to myself. They could have at least picked a statue a little less ugly.

I looked down to what I had written so far for the books checklist. When I did, though, my vision almost seemed to go blurry. I shook my head, and all the words I had written had disappeared. In their place was: “WAKE UP!”

Bah!

My eyes fluttered open. The wires had shut off some time ago. I touched myself all over to make sure I was still there. Yep, still me. Still Tinker and still in Cloaked Dagger’s office awaiting the government’s officers to come take me. Joy.

But for a moment there . . . for a moment there I had scared myself. I wasn’t just reading Twilight’s thoughts; I had been Twilight. The way she had seen things, thought about the world, even her smelling was different! Unicorns didn’t seem to pick up as many smells as earth ponies, I guessed.

When I happened to glance down at myself, I realized the situation was far worse.

Where before I had only kept some of Twilight’s appearance, now all of me was a spitting image of her. My coat was exactly the same, my mane was the same shade, and even my eyes had adjusted every so slightly. I took a whiff of the charred air around me. Yep, smelled the same.

“What’s happening to me?” I wondered aloud, then slapped my hooves over my mouth with a startled cry. I even sounded like her. For all intents and purposes, I was Twilight Sparkle.

But . . . was I even Tinker anymore

I shook my head and tried to think. Remember . . . remember Leda Oakwood. Playing in the yard outside my family’s hotel. That stupid ball that would never inflate all the way . . . the mag train ride to Journey’s End and seeing the coast for the first time. My heart had leapt to my throat as I looked with wonder. And then, when I met Charm for the first time.

Charm . . . Charm! Yes, Charm! The memories came flooding back of him. The little friendship that we had grown and cultivated. He had always been the one to be there for me . . . oh, Charm, how could I forget?

Even now, he was in this city, and I was going to find him again. I promised myself that. As long as I could remember Charm, I was going to be okay.

It was all I could do to hang on to that thought, though. My mind rebelled at everything around me and wanted me to curl into a ball and never think again. The stresses, I realized, were killing it. So why wasn’t I being affected? Was Twilight’s sanity the only thing keeping me together?

Probably.

I stumbled to my feet, my hooves scrabbling for purchase on the carpet floor. My joints and muscles felt like they had been through a ringer, and I struggled just to stay upright. I leaned against Dagger’s desk and looked out the plate glass windows overlooking the stoic metropolis of Manehattan.

The sun dipped low over the jeweled skyscrapers and cast its glare across them. I had been out of it for hours, I realized. Though, at least, I was almost glad for it, if only because of the view. The pollution that settled around the upper tiers of the city turned into a muggy haze in the dying light, as if a bright orange sea had thrown itself on top of the buildings.

Maybe it wasn’t really that much in the grand scheme of things, but that moment felt special to me. For the first time in what seemed like a long time—though it had only been mere days—I had a moment of peace and silence.

Dagger’s metal desk felt cool against my back as I slid down onto my flank and closed my eyes for a second. I was seeing, hearing, and smelling the world in a different body, but it was a better one at that moment.

Then, of course, the door was knocked down.

A swarm of black suit agents scrambled through the door, practically falling over themselves to get to me. They raised rifles, submachine guns, and even a straight up machine gun in my direction. They kept together and surrounded me until I was cut off from any escape and staring down the barrels of something like two dozen weapons.

“You are under orders to come with us,” one of them barked. “The Head of the Department of Mythology would like to speak with you.”

“Then let him come down here and get me,” I said. “I don’t really feel like going anywhere with the likes of you.”

The pony snorted. “We are under orders to incapacitate you with weaponry if needed. We know of your regenerative powers.”

In response, the other agents cocked their weapons and pointed them closer to me. I didn’t get up and just looked at them with a small smile on my face. Tinker might now know how to get out of the situation, but Twilight did.

“Tell me,” I asked, “can I give the order to fire?”

They didn’t give me the chance. “Take her down!” the agent cried.

Lead filled the air as the guns spat round after round through the air and at me, just inches away from a few of them. The sound was deafening and was liable to take out my hearing if I hadn’t used a simple spell to block up my ears.

The one to stop the bullets was only a little more complex. I didn’t understood it too well, but what I got from the Twilight side was that it was something to do with the planet’s electromagnetic field in the air interacting with the bullets or something . . . I don’t know, and didn’t feel like asking. All I knew is that I had dozens of shiny bullets waiting patiently in every square inch of air around me.

The agents all took a few steps back. I smiled and turned the bullets around until they were pointing at my former assailants. Some tried to stand their ground, but the swarm was broken now. It was every pony for himself as they scrambled for the door.

I rolled my eyes and moved the bullets until they were pointing at the windows. I let them fly and glass shattered outward in a brilliant explosion of kinetic power. Little dusty bits of the windows fell around me like sharp little snowflakes.

Only one of the agents was in the room to watch me. He was the one who had spoken earlier.

We shared a look for a small eternity before I turned away, then took a running jump and leapt out of the building. Open wind swirled around me and I had to tuck my legs in and lower my head to keep from being battered too much.

The ground began to rise up to meet me, however, so I gave the city a once-over look before focusing on the sidewalk below the building. A moment later, and I was safe on the ground. There was a boom above my head and gust of wind that nearly swept me off my hooves. The extra kinetic energy from falling letting itself out, I supposed.

I was still in front of Cloaked Dagger’s building, so I trotted away before the agents could come back out and find me. I ran away from Griffintown and anything that it held. I ran back toward some nameless slums that coursed and pulsated along the edges of finer Manehattan society.

Wherever I ran, I could see shadows around me. Shadows of a time long gone to all but me and what part of Twilight occupied my mind. Ponyville, as it had once been, and the Elements of Harmony while they were still alive. Rarity wasn’t buried next to Blueblood in the gem fields north of Canterlot, but instead stood down a dark alley, beckoning me to enter the memory. I fought that thought of her until the alley was once again just gray brick and mortar.

My vision blurred and I didn’t know where I was going. I was on some side street with wooden buildings and small lanterns in paper sacks that lit the way. Very few cars came by, and most ponies chose to walk. I stopped under a small overhang and tried to catch my breath.

I realized, after a moment, that I was hyperventilating. My vision kept trying to switch between the verdant green fields of Ponyville and the dark bricks of Manehattan at night. The parts of my brain were fighting for control and my consciousness didn’t have a say in it.

The mood swings, the visions, the chase, the invincibility . . . it wore me down until I was almost no more. With a grunt, I pitched forward and collapsed, the flashing images finally going dark.

* * *

I woke up on soft linen sheets and a downy pillow that seemed to have been made out of pure clouds. Or, at least, what I assumed clouds felt like. My eyes blinked open and I looked down at myself. Still purple, but the visions were gone, which was definitely an improvement.

I looked around. The air smelled like blistery flowers on a warm summer’s day, even though the windows on the other side of the small room still showed the dark streets outside. The room itself wasn’t much: a wooden floor with a small stove in the middle that appeared to burn real wood.

The most striking thing about the hovel, however, was the light source. A dozen paper lanterns hung from the ceiling in every color and size. They cast their glows through holes poked in them that were shaped into little designs. I saw one that was a dragon, another that was a griffin, and even one that was a hydra.

They swung gently on their rope ties, buffeted by the wind coming from a small electric fan on an endtable.

“Oh good, you’re awake!”

I bolted upright in the bed and crawled away from the voice. When I turned to look, I didn’t exactly get what I was expecting. Maybe I had figured that it would be another agent of the government’s or Spike’s or something, but what I got was something else entirely.

There was a little colt grinning up at me from beneath a mop of blonde hair. His little green eyes watched me until I swung myself up until I was sitting like a civilized pony on the bed instead of being tangled in sheets.

“Who are you?” I asked with a yawn.

The orange little colt didn’t answer, but instead bolted away from me to somewhere else in whoever’s house this was, calling, “Dad, she’s awake!”

What took me for surprise the most, however, was my voice. I muttered my ABCs out loud a few times, my smile growing louder each time. My voice was my own again! It wasn’t much, but that a little bit of Tinker had returned was enough to make me happy, even if I didn’t know why it had happened.

The colt came back a moment later, a pegasus stallion in tow who I assumed to be his father. Daddy stomped over to me on light brown hooves and eyed me up with emerald orbs set deep in his head that was topped by a close-cropped mane of bright orange.

“So you woke up,” he said.

I gulped. “It seems so, yeah. T-Thank you for taking me in, whoever you are.”

The stallion grinned. “Oh, right, sorry. I’m Golden Flower, and this little one is Bristle Flower.” The colt stuck his tongue out at me. “And we found you on the side of the road, so we figured you might need a place to rest for a while.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” I said. “I was, ah, not in the best place at that moment.”

“You were babbling about all sorts of weird stuff!” Bristle squeaked.

“That’s enough,” Golden told him.

Undaunted, the colt continued, “You kept saying all these funny sounding names. Especially ‘Charm’! You said that one a lot.”

My face burned. Great, even a little kid knew about him. I sighed and got to my hooves. I was a little uneasy, and my stomach snarled, but it was better than back at the office.

Golden cocked his head when my stomach growled. “You could use something to eat,” he said.

“No, really, it’s fine—”

“Think nothing of it,” Golden said. “It’s all we can do to help a stranger.”

He helped me over to a small table that squatted low, almost touching the ground. Instead of chairs, we sat around it like we were some sort of new age ponies. That said, the carpet mats around it were soft and I wasn’t going to complain.

The kid, Bristle, slid a bowl of noodles in front of me and a ceramic cup filled with steaming tea. The smells of the two drifted up and erupted a hunger in my stomach that had lay dormant for so long. Come to think of it, I hadn’t eaten in what had seemed like forever.

I more or less buried my face in the bowl, not caring for the slurping noises I made as I shoved the food into my mouth in a few moments of total, sated bliss. When I raised my head up again, noodle juice dripping from my chin, to find Golden and Bristle staring at me, I just smiled.

They looked at each other, then began to eat as well, though at a more measured pace than I. While they ate, I wiped my mouth and took a sip of the tea. It was hot and soothing as it went down my throat; a far cry from the cheap pop back at Journey’s End.

Twilight’s stupid mane kept getting the in the way when I swung my head back and forth. She kept her bangs way too long; I missed my ponytail. I blew a few strands out of my face and smiled at the two.

“Thanks so much for the food,” I told them.

“No problem at all,” Golden said. “In times like these, ponies need to stick together as best we can.”

I nodded. “How have things been around these parts?”

“You don’t know?” Bristle asked, his eyes wide. “The government’s been all over the place! They’re all mean and don’t let you back talk them or nothing. Daddy says I’m not ‘posed to go near them.”

“And I’m right,” Golden said, wagging a hoof at him. “Those stallions are up to no good, and you know it.”

“Why have they been around so much?” I asked.

Golden shrugged. “Celestia knows. It’s just, in recent months, they’ve really stepped up their presence and haven’t left. After the big accident on the highway this morning, I don’t imagine they’ll be leaving anytime soon.”

I almost choked on my tea and had to force it down. There was a strong urge to look down at the leg that had been regrown, but I fought it.

“So I guess you’re not from around here, are you?” Golden asked.

“Not, uh, exactly,” I said. “I’m from pretty far away, actually. Just passing through.”

Golden nodded and sighed. “If I were you, I would get out as fast as you can. Stay too long and this city has a tendency to keep you trapped. If you’re lucky enough to get out, then go.”

“Is it really that bad?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so.” Golden sighed. “After Princess Celestia abdicated control of the city districts to the mayors, things in some places got better, like in Fillydelphia where my mom lived. But places like here, well, the government just cracked down when they became afraid that they couldn’t rule without the princess backing them up. It’s been this way ever since.”

“And nopony does anything to fight it?”

“How would we? Most of us are too poor or disorganized to do anything. The rest are just content with the security they get, even if they have to give up a few things to have it.” He sighed. “If my mother knew that I wasn’t doing anything, she’d be mad. She and her friends changed Fillydelphia almost by themselves, but times are different now. It’s just not possible anymore. Too many guards, too many guns, and not enough resistance.”

It was silent at the table for a few minutes while they ate in silence before Golden clapped his hooves and stood up. “Enough of this sad talk, though,” he said. “Would you like to stay the night?”

I smiled and shook my head. “You two have been wonderful to me,” I said, “but I really have to be going. I thank you so much for your hospitality.”

I got up and Golden led me to the sliding door with Bristle in tow. He creaked open the door to reveal the wet streets outside bathed in inky darkness. “Are you sure?” he asked one more time.

“Positive. But I won’t forget somepony giving me a helping hoof. If there’s anything I can do . . .”

Golden held up a hoof. “Helping a stranger get back on her hooves is its own reward. Like I said, we need to watch out for each other. Hope you have a nice night.”

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