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"What do you mean 'she's gone?'"
"She left..." I mouthed.
It didn't take him long to find half of the note. He scooped it up, and then quickly located the second half as well. He pieced them together and scanned them. I approached the cupboard and took out a glass, holding it under the sink and then pouring myself a drink. I gulped it, hiding behind my action to avoid having to communicate with Mr. Orange's thug. But soon he had finished reading, and when he looked up, I could see anger and resentment burning in his eyes.
"She's gone back to her fucking father?" he snarled, screwing the bits of paper up. "Shit!" he then cursed, shaking his head from side to side. I remained silent, not knowing how he was going to react towards me. The letter had said some things that I hadn't wanted him to see. I kept my distance, ready to run to the other side of the kitchen should he attempt to attack me.
"How did this happen?" he growled. "You were supposed to be keeping an eye on her!"
"Hey, I was the one who told you not to leave her alone here!" I barked. "You were perfectly happy to leave her here when you wanted to show me the factory!"
"The factory..." he sighed in frustration. "So what, the little bitch doesn't want to work at the factory?"
"She just wanted to go home," I said.
"And what's this shit about being in danger? What did you tell her?"
"She must have worked that out herself!" I spat. "You don't have to be a genius to know that travelling with armed stallions isn't safe."
"Shit..." the stallion exclaimed again. "When did she leave?"
"I don't know," I said. "Between this morning and 16:00. I wasn't here."
"That's right - you weren't here," he said bitterly. "-And what the fuck is this about Canterlot? What deals were you making there?"
"Nothing," I said, shaking my head. "I went out for lunch with an old friend. It wasn't a deal, really."
"Whatever," the stallion shrugged. "Have you been to the station?"
"I only just got back and saw the note," I said.
He took a deep inhale of air and then rushed towards the door. I followed after him, although he was quicker than I was. I manoeuvred around the carriage and the drivers outside the door and gave chase towards the station, passing by the residents of Ponyville, who were shocked to see two clothed individuals frantically bolting through their town. At the station I saw no train, and I located the stallion after a quick search; he was standing on the platform, looking both ways. I approached cautiously, although kept my distance once again. I remembered my first meeting with him, and how he had threatened to drown me; he could easily push me onto the tracks.
"She's gone," he said darkly. "The Manehattan train left over an hour ago. We ain't catching up to her now."
"So she's going to arrive in Manehattan soon, and then go to her father..." I breathed. "What will that mean?"
"It means that my employer's business plan is compromised," he said, turning to me. "We have no choice - we're going to have to report this to him."
"We?" I questioned. The optimistic side of me had hoped that he'd go off on his own, and that I'd be able to board another train to Canterlot, and escape from Mr. Orange's wrath entirely until Mr. Dorimant had dealt with him, even without Farleigh by my side. Being taken to Mr. Orange was the last thing I wanted, and I instinctively started to back away from the stallion. He noticed, and moved towards me, his head low and his hoof moving to his side.
"If you try and run away, I'll shoot you where you stand, you piece of shit," he said. "We're going. Move."
I had no choice but to obey. I'd hoped that someone else had been around to hear him, but Ponyville's station had been unusually quiet, and there was nobody who would speak out in my defence. I walked quickly, although he pushed me forwards all the same, impatient as he was. Several times he bruised my back with his strikes. Outside the boutique we approached the carriage he had arrived in. The drivers remained still and silent, and after snarling something to them the thug opened a side door, pushing me into the carriage with great force. He climbed in after, sitting opposite me, just as before.
The drivers wasted no time in setting off, travelling far quicker than we had before. The stallion before me swayed slightly from side to side, his expression lifeless and cold. I attempted to speak but he silenced me by clearing his throat, and then he produced a gun from his side. I froze and he pointed it at me, although he retained his usual icy disposition. He said nothing, but kept the gun on me, ensuring that I wouldn't move.
"L-Listen!" I said timidly. "Can't we work this out? I didn't mean for her to escape!"
"We can get her back! We can force her to stay at the factory!" I argued. "Things don't have to end like this! Mr. Orange will vouch for me: I'm loyal!"
"Hey! Speak to me!" I wailed. "Come on!
I wished that I had learned his name. I couldn't get him to respond to me. I should have encouraged Farleigh to press him for his name!
"What were you even doing at the boutique, huh?" I suddenly challenged, growing desperate. "You told me that we had two days! Two days, you said! We still have until tomorrow! That means I can go and get her back! You weren't meant to see this! This is just a blip!"
"Can you get your fucking gun off me?" I panted. "Just...put it away!"
He moved, and I wondered what he was doing. I became stiff as a board, contemplating if I'd be able to push by him, open the door and roll out of the moving carriage without getting shot. He pulled out a pipe, which he lit and started puffing away at. All the while he kept the gun pointing at me, although he retained his silent demeanour. It was unnerving; it was as if he thrived upon making others squirm. For the duration of the journey he said absolutely nothing, instead merely chewing on his pipe and coughing occasionally.
We approached Manehattan; I could see from the size of the buildings that we were entering the wealthy part of the city. Several hours had passed and he still hadn't changed his attitude, or allowed a single expression to spite his face. Navigating the streets took a long time, and I once more debated pushing by him, for I couldn't imagine that he'd fire a shot in a busy city such as Manehattan. I couldn't pluck up the courage, however, and I remained sitting on the chair, contemplating what in Equestria might happen to me.
The carriage pulled into a small area outside a glass building; I thought at first that it was the Glass House, but as the doors opened and I got a better look, I could see that it was an office of some kind instead. He pushed me from the carriage and the drivers unshackled themselves from the apparatus. I hoped that they might say something, but they were clearly being paid to look the other way regarding dodgy dealings. I was pushed forwards, and his gun prodded into my back, the metallic cylinder making a painful indent into my hide. For the last time I contemplated fleeing, but I knew that he would shoot me before I would be able to make any form of escape.
The building inside was white and cold. Everything was polished precisely, and in the lobby were a series of white, pod-like chairs. There was a receptionist, although she appeared as little more than a cardboard cut-out to me, as she barely even acknowledged the stallion and his prisoner. Several other stallions passed us by, and I attempted to reach out to one, but the stallion behind my back pressed the gun against me with greater pressure, and I was forced to keep my mouth shut. He took me upstairs, to a long, white corridor that had barely seen a speck of dust. At the end of the corridor the walk through that passage felt far longer than it must have been we turned to the left, where I finally saw some colour - a green plant in a pot, which contrasted heavily with the independence of the otherwise white walls.
Outside the door I stopped, and so did he: the gold letting upon it told me that it was Mr. Orange's office. I hadn't expected him to work in a place so clean and tidy, but then again, he did attempt to portray himself as a respectable individual. Only those who knew him well knew otherwise. The stallion stepped forwards and knocked on the door. We received a grunt in response, and, with that, the door was pushed open, and I was taken through into Mr. Orange's lair.
"Gidrán," Mr. Orange said, looking up from behind his desk. "What have you brought him here for?" He paused for a moment. "Why do you have a gun on him? Put it away."
The stallion his name being 'Gidrán', apparently, which I had not expected reluctantly pulled his gun away from me, stepping back to close the door. He stood in front of it, blocking any escape from the office. The office itself was oddly small for a stallion as wealthy as Mr. Orange; it boasted only an impeccably tidy desk, two chairs against the right wall, a stand to hang clothing upon and a few filing cabinets. It was otherwise featureless.
"What has happened?" Mr. Orange asked bluntly. "Gidrán, speak."
"The girl has gone," Gidrán said, pointing an accusing hoof towards me. "-This fucker was in Canterlot earlier today and she took the opportunity to escape from the boutique. She boarded a train here several hours ago now with the intention of finding her father."
"I see," Mr. Orange said, having taken a few seconds to evaluate the information. "Did you check the Ponyville station?"
"Yes," Gidrán said.
"What about the Manehattan stations?"
"I came straight to you," he said. "She wouldn't have hung around at a station for long."
"Do we know if she has yet made contact with Cross?" Mr. Orange asked.
"I don't have that information," Gidrán said apologetically.
Mr. Orange sat up in his chair and folded his front legs. He clicked with his tongue, deep in thought, and started to hum a tune that I faintly recognised - it appeared to be a segment of the Symphony of Seven Paladins, although I couldn't have guessed which. At last he sat forwards in his chair, looking to me rather than Gidrán.
"Without Farleigh Cross, you're useless to me," he said, opening a draw on his side of the desk. I feared what he was about to do and quickly stepped forwards, which was enough to make Gidrán spring into action behind me. He grabbed me around the neck and pulled me back, perhaps predicting that I would harm Mr. Orange.
"Let me go!" I choked, and I saw Mr. Orange allow it through my struggling. Gidrán did as he was told and I shook myself, straightening out my jacket.
"I'm not useless to you," I panted, stepping towards Mr. Orange in a slower fashion. "You need me. I have a degree of control over Farleigh...and I'm loyal to you."
"Loyal to me?" Mr. Orange questioned, moving his head to the side to catch Gidrán's gaze. "What do you think, Mr. Reyes?" he asked snidely. "Is this stallion useful to me? Is he loyal?"
"He'll run out of your service the first chance that he gets," Gidrán said. His words stabbed at my back, and my heart sank.
Mr. Orange stroked at his chin, pondering over his next movement. "-So what should I do?" he asked himself aloud. "I could give him a chance to redeem his failure today, or I could have him shot."
"Shoot him," Gidrán said. "He'll only cause problems further down the line. You need loyal stallions on your side, boss, especially with what's coming for us. This guy was in Canterlot earlier today; he ain't loyal."
"Canterlot, you say?" Mr. Orange questioned, returning his gaze to me. "What were you doing in Canterlot?"
"I was eating with a friend," I said. I could feel my brow sweating, and I had no doubt that he could tell I was lying.
"Doesn't seem like the truth to me, boss," I heard Gidrán say. "He was planning something. The girl left a letter saying as much. Let me deal with this fucker. Then I can go and find the girl and bring her back. Even if she's staying with her daddy again, I don't think it'll be a problem to get her to come back to us with the right level of force."
Mr. Orange looked up to me, and then revealed his own weapon from inside the drawer: it was a smooth and sleek pistol, a bit longer than the one that Gidrán was carrying. He fingered it slowly, tapping the table with his free hoof.
"Am I to murder you here?" Mr. Orange asked me. "Or will you show me honesty?"
He pointed the gun towards me. "Last chance to tell me the truth," he said.
"...I was in Canterlot meeting with a stallion called Lusitano Dorimant," I said coldly. Mr. Orange moved his weapon away from me.
"He invited me to speak with him," I continued, "but he wouldn't say what it was about. I didn't want to ignore a message from such an important pony I've known about The Dorimant Family and their quality products throughout Canterlot for some time and so I travelled to Canterlot to meet with him."
"And what did he say to you?" Mr. Orange asked curiously. I knew that he could still kill me with one movement, and so by that point there was no use in withholding information.
"He said that he wanted revenge on you for killing someone close to him," I said. "He wanted me to join his side against you, but I said no. I was returning home to tell Farleigh that things might be getting dangerous due to an incoming war between you and Mr. Dorimant, but she was gone."
"Bullshit," Gidrán spat. "Boss, he's lying. The kid's letter said they perceived they were in danger before he went. He would have told Dorimant everything about you."
"That's not true!" I shouted, turning to Gidrán.
With that, Mr. Orange silenced us with a sharp whistle, which caused us both to stop in our tracks. "You listen to me," he said to me. "I need that girl back for more than just her dress-making talents. If she goes back to Friesian Cross it'll put him into a position of strength, which is something I cannot allow. So I ask you: what are you going to do about this?"
He was talking to the both of us by the end, but Gidrán did not speak. I cleared my throat, seeing little alternative: "I'll do my best to bring her back."
"You will," Mr. Orange said resolutely. "Gidrán will explain to you what will happen next. We may still be able to undo the damage that has been caused here."
I was ordered to wait outside while Mr. Orange and Gidrán discussed something. They knew that I wouldn't attempt to escape again; I would be stupid to even try. I stood out in the corridor, both ways appearing to lead to areas even more blank. My eyes caught a clock hanging on a wall further down the left corridor, although it was displaying the wrong time. I approached the clock, and carefully used a hoof to open up the glass panel. I knew roughly what time it would be now, and twisted the hands of the clock until they were at least more accurate than they had been prior to my involvement.
When Gidrán emerged from the room I felt hateful towards him, but at least I was being kept alive, which was the most important thing. I felt tempted to speak with Mr. Orange alone his company seemed somehow more welcoming than that of Gidrán but the stallion hurried me along, and I was forced to go with him.
Outside I climbed into the carriage on my own accord, while Gidrán said a few words to the drivers. He climbed into the carriage opposite me once more, letting out a deep sigh.
"Well, congratulations," he said. "You get to live a little bit longer."
"Where are we going?" I asked, ignoring his comment. "Mr. Orange mentioned that you'd give me an explanation."
"Don't get too comfortable," he uttered under his breath, and then he pointed out of the window with a hoof. "You're going to be taken to Mr. Cross' place to negotiate with the girl. I highly advise that you don't try and escape."
"How can I with you here?" I asked.
"I'm not going to be here," he said. "I'm getting dropped off at the station. I've been given a different task to do."
"Where are you going?"
"Canterlot, if you must know," he said, and my eyes widened in alarm. "Your story doesn't check out to me. I'm going to speak to Dorimant and his boys. And when I find out that you mean to betray the boss, I'm going to come back here to Manehattan and shoot you in the head."
"If you don't trust me, why don't you just kill me now?" I spat. Gidrán rolled his eyes.
"Apparently the boss is testing your loyalty," he said. "That's why he's letting you make up for losing the girl by bringing her back by yourself. Loyalty is everything to the boss."
"So what? This is some sort of test?" I asked, and Gidrán nodded, although he was clearly angry that I had been given a second chance.
At the station Gidrán climbed from the carriage, closing the door with a strong movement of his hoof. He expected me to stay inside, and as the carriage set into motion once again, I did sincerely debate on if I should leap out into the streets of Manehattan and make a run for it. But I assumed that the drivers would be armed, working for Mr. Orange as they did, and I didn't know where I would run to; they knew where I lived, after all.
Instead, my mind drifted to what I would do regarding Farleigh. We assumed that she had returned home; that had been her plan, and, unless something had blocked her path, I knew that nothing would have stopped her from enacting it. She had been genuinely concerned for her father, and, if she returned home, she would be able to clear his name - no longer would the news print stories of him murdering his own daughter and wife in a sinister plot. Instead, they would once more print that his wife burned in an unfortunate fire.
But, more than that, they would print how Farleigh was kidnapped by Mr. Orange and myself. I could see now how some disgusting media mogul would exaggerate the story. I could only hope that Farleigh would speak of me in the most positive of lights; I could feel the impending problems that I would face if she for some reason gave the response that she was forced to stay with me at the boutique. I would be called a foal-fiddler, and a sexual deviant of all persuasions, which I couldn't allow to happen. Now that I thought about it, Farleigh running away was the absolute worst possible scenario. Rather than trying to come up with a plan to save her, I should have forced her to go to the factory; then I would have been free from all of this.
But, of course, my emotions had gotten in the way, and my fondness of Farleigh Cross had clouded my judgement. I had chosen to be sympathetic towards her, when she wasn't mine to show sympathy to. Her appearance in my life should have meant nothing to me, but once again, investing in the life of another had caused me all kinds of grief. As the carriage made its way towards her home, I couldn't help but shed a tear for the futility of it all - I knew that attempting to convince Farleigh to return would be pointless, and if I came into contact with Mr. Cross, I had no idea what I would say. On top of it all, Gidrán had been sent to prove me the guilty culprit, and I half-expected that he would murder Mr. Dorimant after hearing what he needed to hear.
The idea of finding anywhere safe was thinning, as were the roads as we entered the rural part of Manehattan, nearing the home of Mr. Cross that I hadn't burned to the ground.