68w, 1dLyra & Bon-Bon
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“How is it possible that this van has even less leg room than your cramped little Civic?” Audrey said.
“Better get comfortable. How far is it?” Nathan said. He leaned back, stretching as much as he could.
Lyra sat in the front seat of the van, where she had a good view of what Philadelphia had become. The sky had turned a sickly green color and was splotched with low-lying pink clouds. They drove through what had been a small neighborhood, though the line of driveways led to empty lots. At the end of the street was a tower made up of all those houses, now stacked haphazardly on top of one another. As they passed the main city, they could see entire blocks had floated up into the air and become islands.
Twilight was seated in the back between Paul and Monica. The other ponies were still at Lyra’s house. The van was big, but only big enough for the six humans plus one pony. Twilight had volunteered to come along – after all, she had done the most reading. On the Elements, as well as on humans.
“It took us about two hours to make this trip in the other direction. How is it looking?” she said.
“Oh, no problem,” Randall said. He slammed on the brakes as a swarm of levitating pies floated across the road ahead of them. He watched them go by with a completely expressionless face. After they had passed, he hit the gas again and they rumbled forward. “It’s just a great day for driving back and forth across three states.”
“You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”
It hadn’t taken them more than fifteen minutes after Audrey and Nathan arrived to load up the van and hit the road. Lyra was glad to finally be on the way – she hadn’t been able to see much of the corruption from home, and it was turning out worse than she had expected.
“So now I think it would be a good time for you to explain what exactly is going on,” Audrey said. She inspected the necklace she was holding, the one that Lyra had thrust into her hands before practically ordering everyone into the car. “This is what you tried to tell me before, right? About the unicorns?”
“I still can’t believe you didn’t mention any of that to me…” Nathan muttered.
“Not all of us are unicorns. ’Ponies’ is the more general term,” Twilight said.
“I get that you didn’t believe me before, since it really does sound crazy,” Lyra said. She craned her neck to look at Monica in the very back. “And humans aren’t very well informed on unicorns, either. That book you recommended was all wrong.”
“Yeah, I see that now... I thought they would at least be the size of a regular horse,” Monica said.
“And humans think that unicorns live out in the woods, too,” Lyra said. “Like animals or something.”
“Seriously?” Twilight said. She looked at Monica and tilted her head. “I mean, technically the library is built inside a tree… Ponyville’s not a big town by any standards, but we at least have houses.”
“What are you really, though?” Audrey said. “I’m still not clear on that part.”
“A human. Just like you,” Lyra said. “I came to Equestria when I was still very young. I’m not sure how. But I was adopted by the ponies who found me, and Princess Celestia turned me into a normal unicorn filly.”
“Just a normal unicorn…” Audrey shook her head in disbelief.
Twilight spoke up. “Well, relatively speaking, from the Equestrian point of view you’re all much stranger than – “
“So how is it that I found you wandering around in the middle of Iowa if you came from this magical land or whatever?”
“That's kind of a long story. The truth is, I always wanted to be a human. I think there was some part of me that remembered that I was born in this world,” Lyra said. “I had these dreams... Not to mention all of the books that I found about humans. I studied you for years.”
“No wonder you’re such an avid reader,” Monica said.
“The information we had was limited, though. The Princess removed most of what was left of humans after… well…” Lyra bit her lip. That was exactly what she wanted to avoid happening to this world.
“From my understanding, and this is all fairly new to me as well, humans did live in Equestria up until the point where Discord wiped them all out,” Twilight said.
“Wiped them all out. And that’s what we’re up against now. Good, no pressure then,” Paul said.
“Wait, so all of this that’s happening now – that caused humans to go extinct in your world?” Audrey said. “I get that this is insane, but how does it end up doing that?”
They drove over a long, deserted bridge as they left the city behind them. On either side you could see the river flowing – a thick brown that was probably more chocolate milk. The surface was covered in tiny ripples as the rain hit it. The road changed to a checkerboard pattern about halfway over, and once they had finished crossing they were greeted by trees with red-and-white peppermint trunks. A green metal sign told them “Welcome to New Jersey.”
Paul stared out the window at the bizarre landscape. “Thank goodness, it’s completely unharmed,” he said.
“I don't think it looked anything like this when we drove through the first time,” Lyra said.
“No, what I meant was…” His voice trailed off. “Geez. You really did grow up in some other world, didn’t you?”
“Getting back on subject, what Discord is doing goes far beyond just the chaos he’s causing on your world itself. He also drives ponies – and humans – against each other,” Twilight said. “He did that to me and my friends when we tried to stop him in Ponyville.”
“And he’s doing that to the humans here now. He wants to start conflicts between us, until we finish ourselves off,” Lyra said.
“Which he’d already started doing in New York,” Randall said, shaking his head. “Place was a madhouse.”
“Good thing we’re headed directly to the center of the whole thing,” Paul said. “I mean, it wasn’t nearly crazy enough out here already.”
Looking out at the world they were driving through, it was hard to believe this was the same human world she’d come to. Lyra was actually used to the human world by now, or at least as used to a place like this as you could get. And there was still this sick feeling that if she’d never come here, Discord never would have found out that humans were still around, and none of this would have happened in the first place…
“I was never actually supposed to find out I was a human. I just kept having these dreams about this world, even though I didn’t know what it was,” Lyra said. “And the Princess found out about the studies I’d been doing – “
“You mean the research project she assigned me?” Twilight said. “So all that time that I was reporting back to her on our findings, she was actually just interested in you?”
Lyra nodded. “She realized that I knew more about humans than I was supposed to. That’s why she gave me the choice to come back here, if I wanted. And of course I did.”
“You would actually choose Earth over the place where you came from?” Monica said. “I talked to the other ponies, and they made it sound like a pretty nice place. Over there.”
“I guess, but… Finding out I was human was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me,” Lyra said. “You wouldn’t really understand. Not until you’ve had to go your entire life with hooves…”
“How long had you been human before I met you?” Audrey said. “You were playing a harp. With fingers… How did you learn how to do that?”
“I’d only been a human for a few hours at that point,” Lyra said. “Besides, the first time I ever – “ She stopped. “Well, I mean, of course that was the first time I’d ever had hands… But it came naturally to me. I was meant to be human, after all.” She didn’t really want to go into detail about those early experiments. Not in front of humans, but especially not in front of Twilight.
“Freaky musical talent aside, you were pretty hopeless out in the human world,” Nathan said. “I always knew there was something different about you.”
“Well, yeah. Des Moines was so different from anything in Equestria.”
“If Equestria is anything like this…” Paul watched another car go past – flying upside down along the road.
Twilight shook her head. “This is all Discord’s work. Equestria is usually much more normal.” She thought for a moment, then added, “I haven’t seen much of what’s considered ‘normal’ for you humans, though.”
“But I’m really glad that I met you, Audrey,” Lyra said. “Even if our first meeting could have gone better...”
“Oh. That. Right… Unicorns don’t eat that kind of food, do they?” Audrey said. She gave an odd laugh. It sounded forced.
“You meet a visitor from another world, and you made possibly the worst first impression they could have gotten.” Nathan shook his head. “You’re lucky she even stayed around after that.”
“Wait, what are you talking about? What happened?” Twilight looked at Nathan, then back to Audrey.
“It’s nothing. Just… a cultural misunderstanding,” Lyra said. “That’s really all it was. But it’s the thought that counts. The important thing is that, when you talked to me, I really started to feel like I belonged here. I realized humans could be just as friendly as ponies. And that’s why now, I know that we can use the Elements to save our world.”
“Yeah, let’s just skip to what we’re trying to do right now,” Audrey said. “You still haven’t explained what we have to do with any of this.” She looked at the necklace again. The gemstone on it felt authentic, but it looked tacky. She had half expected it to be plastic when she first saw it.
“Discord can only be stopped by the power of Harmony," Lyra said. "And, as my closest human friends, I know that you’ll be able to help me.”
Monica reached up and put a hand on Audrey’s shoulder. “We’re new to all this too. But we were talking with the ponies at Lyra’s house – you do get used to them, after a while – and it’s really simple.”
“So what happens after we do… whatever it is we’re meant to do?” Audrey said. “I mean, all this doesn’t just vanish, does it?”
“Actually…” Twilight said. “It does. Everything in Equestria was set back to normal by the power of the Elements. They use a very powerful type of magic, which is why they can rival even Discord's power.”
“Oh, so that’ll just fix everything. After we’ve been having chocolate milk rain and magic ponies all over the place… I wonder if anything will really be back to normal.”
Lyra shifted her weight, folded her arms. “Well… yeah. It’ll have to be,” she said. “Look, we’ll worry about that later.”
“You’re sure we’ll be able to do this, Lyra?” Audrey said.
She hesitated a moment. “Of course. It’ll work.”
The trip back to New York didn’t seem to last nearly as long as it did the first time. It was oddly empty out here on the roads – there were patches where the road start to twist and turn, running up and down in random directions, or it would be covered in a layer of soap. Audrey claimed it had been like this all the way back to Ohio – which she clarified was a couple hundred miles away.
When they passed a car, it was usually heading the same direction as they were. Deeper into the cloud of chaos covering the human world. When Discord had come to Ponyville, Bon-Bon - most ponies, actually - had wanted to get out of town. And Lyra had agreed. Why would anybody be going towards it?
“The bridge into the city is coming up,” Randall said. “Get ready, everyone.”
Lyra was snapped back to the present, and looked up. The roads around them were still empty of traffic, but they could see something up ahead. Given what they’d just driven through, it could be anything.
“What is that, anyway?” Lyra leaned forward.
They were coming up closer to whatever it was. Dull green shapes on the road ahead. They stood out more than they usually would, against the road and metal bridge frame that had turned into a garish mix of bright colors and patterns.
“Wait. We need to turn around,” Nathan said suddenly. “There’s other ways into the city, right?”
“What’s the problem?” Lyra turned around.
Audrey had seen whatever it was now. “That’s… Randall, turn it around, right now.”
Randall squinted. “A blockade? You've got to be kidding...”
“You mean… the human military?” Lyra’s eyes widened. Sure enough, the green shapes were trucks, humans in green uniforms. It was hard to tell, but it seemed like they were carrying weapons that she recognized from photographs in her recent studies.
Randall was beginning to slow down. “There’s no way we’re getting past this. Any bright ideas?”
“Speed up." Twilight said it like an order.
He turned around for stare at her. “What?”
“You have to get in there. Discord’s probably using them to keep us out. Just keep going and don’t slow down.”
Lyra shook her head. “I’ve read about this. We can’t do that, Twilight, if they have the kind of weapons that the books said – “
“Just do it!”
Randall, probably in spite of his better judgment, slammed on the gas. The human soldiers in front of them were motioning at them to stop. Then, when they got closer, raised the black objects they held.
“What are you – “ Nathan started to say, but then they were all blinded by a momentary flash of white.
They were suddenly already partway across the bridge. There was a loud noise from behind them, some kind of rapid clattering noise on the pavement and even on the back of the van.
Randall spun around. “You crazy purple horse, what did you just do?”
“Whoa, eyes up front!” Audrey yelled.
The car swerved, but he steered it back on track. Randall glanced up at the rearview mirror and gave another burst of speed.
“Simple teleport magic.” Twilight winced. “We’re past the guards now. I knew it would be hard to transport something like this, but… ugh…” She rubbed her forehead with one hoof.
“They were shooting at us,” Audrey said in disbelief. She looked back at the line of trucks, growing smaller as they sped away from it. “We could’ve been killed! We could still get killed!”
“I was worried that would happen. How did Discord manage to get the human military out here?” Lyra said. She could feel her heart racing.
“This happens all the time in movies. Weird stuff is happening in the city, the military gets called in to help,” Paul said. “They were sent right to his door.”
“Great. The last thing we need is for Discord to have humans already starting to fight each other,” Lyra said. “Let's keep going. We need to find him.”
The city was coming into view. Lyra had only been to New York once, and Discord had already been here at that point, but it wasn’t hard to notice what had changed. Buildings were sticking out at odd, tilted angles. Most of them were still grey, while others had changed into whatever colors Discord had felt like – bright pink, green, blue, even a few with stripes or polka-dots.
Nathan watched a taxi go past, leaning sideways on two wheels and climbing up onto a wall. “So what’s Discord look like? How will we know when we find him?”
“Head for the center of the city. That’s where we found him last time,” Twilight said.
“That was around Times Square, wasn’t it?” Randall said. He looked around, but the street signs had changed to become unreadable squiggles and crude doodles. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve got no clue where we are.”
The bananas hanging above the road which may have been stoplights at one point were shaking slightly. A low rumble was coming closer. Eventually they could feel it shaking the van itself. Randall hit the brakes.
“That sounds big. Is it him?” he said.
“I don’t think so,” Lyra said. “Discord doesn’t usually – “
A massive green foot came down in front of them, striding across the intersection. Lyra leaned forward for a better look. It was a massive figure in some kind of green cloak, the same dusty green as the foot had been.
Everyone gaped at it in disbelief. There was a long silence as it walked past, and the vibrations from the footsteps died down. Whatever it was, it was headed across town now.
“Was that…” Nathan started to say.
“I think so, yeah,” Randall replied, nodding slowly.
“I really shouldn’t be as surprised as I am, given the situation…” Monica said. “How about we go the other way? We’ll avoid her.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Randall said. The van lurched to life again and turned the corner.
The pavement was cracked and the ride was getting bumpier as they went further into the city. There was no sign of that giant thing, whatever it had been. Every once in a while, they would have to drive around a piece of a building that had fallen off, or a car abandoned in the middle of the road.
“I don’t think she was moving too fast. Should be easy to avoid her,” Randall said. He sounded relieved.
“Why do you keep saying ‘she?’” Twilight said. “What was that, any – “
A whistle blared from behind them, and a train sped down the road they had just passed.
Nathan leaned towards the window, watching it pass between the buildings. “How are we supposed to avoid something like that?”
“Just keep going,” Lyra said. “And be careful. Discord could do anything.”
Randall shrugged, and hit the gas again. He was checking carefully around each corner now. “And if you decide to do any of that teleportation stuff again, warn me first, alright?”
"Got it. Sorry," Twilight said.
The van skidded down the road, but the way ahead was suddenly closed off when a skyscraper burst through the road and stretched above them. Randall swerved just in time to miss it, and headed around the corner.
“He’s blocking us off. Go that way!” Lyra pointed ahead.
“Where did that come from?” He glanced in the mirror, but another one smashed up through the street, then another one, blocking off all the exits. “Did I mention earlier that this is completely crazy? Because it's completely crazy.”
“We’re going where Discord wants us,” Twilight said. “This is it. He was never like this last time...”
“I knew we were up against something big, but that?” Nathan said. “You still haven't really explained this. What do these necklaces do, anyway?”
"That's complicated," Lyra said.
The ground was shaking, and all around them the city was shifting, moving itself to block off all escapes. Now entire buildings were being pulled down into the ground, clearing off an area as others sealed the last of the exits. Randall slammed on the brakes.
He slumped back in the chair, his hands still gripping the wheel with white knuckles. “What now?”
“Discord knows you’re here. If you’re going to face him, this is the time to do it,” Twilight said. She looked out the window, but everything was still now, and completely deserted. “Good luck.”
Lyra was the first one to swing open the door. She reached up and straightened the crown on her head. It didn’t feel like anything other than just dull metal. It was a wonder that it even fit a human. Just a non-magical human...
The side door slid open, and Audrey stepped out, followed one-by-one by the others. She stretched. “I’m still not clear on what’s going on here, and now I’m getting a really bad feeling about this.”
Lyra’s legs were shaking from the crazy ride through the city. Or maybe it was just nerves, it was hard to tell. She glanced around the clearing they had stopped in, and couldn’t help but feel like this place was eerily calm compared to the rest of New York. The buildings had stopped moving, but there was no way out. None of them had doors, just flat walls where they would have been.
“Lyra, is that you? I wondered if I’d be seeing you again.” The voice started off coming from nowhere again. “And… Oh, what’s this?” He sounded amused.
A bright flash right in front of them, and Discord was there, a snakelike body towering above the humans. He twisted around, reclining as he examined them. His eyes narrowed, then opened wide as a grin spread across his face.
“The Elements of - ?” He couldn’t hold it in anymore – he started to laugh. “I wondered what you would do when I gave you back your magic, Lyra, and you came up with this? It’s more than I ever expected! You manage to make yourself human again, and you get your little human hands on the Elements of Harmony? It’s too rich, Lyra, simply too rich.”
“What... What is that?” Audrey said. Despite everything they’d just driven through, now she looked genuinely shocked, as did the other humans.
“I apologize. Where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself. Discord, spirit of chaos and disharmony, as well as this world’s new ruler. You’re probably already familiar with the changes I’ve made.” He gestured around himself, though it was nothing more than a ruined city block.
“Lyra? Any bright ideas now?” Nathan muttered. Lyra turned her head slightly to see him, but his eyes hadn’t moved away from Discord.
“I’m sure that your old friends must have told you what happened, Lyra. Those Elements didn’t work for them, and they certainly won’t work for you. Not even Luna and Celestia could help the humans once I had them.”
Lyra still remembered what she had been told by the Princess. Humans were too chaotic already. Discord grew to incredible power by using them… What was she doing here? She’d just brought him more humans to play with…
Discord continued, obviously pleased with himself. “Ever since I’ve set up my new capital here, humans haven’t failed to advertise it for me. They’re coming in by the flock now. Surely you must know how fascinated humans are by the idea of the end of the world. They’re just begging for it to come, Lyra. I’m only doing what humans have been looking forward to for years now.”
Lyra had to say something, but what? She managed to force something out. “N-no. Humans aren’t just chaotic. We’re more than that.” She wasn’t sure where she was going, but she had to make something up. Stall until she could think of something better.
“Oh, I beg to differ. I’ve been through this all before. You’ve only just arrived, Lyra. You haven’t even scratched the surface of what your species has to offer. Did you enjoy the welcoming committee?”
It was coming to her now. She looked around at her friends. Audrey’s eyes met hers. The message was clear – what now? And then Lyra saw the necklace. The one she’d chosen to give to her.
“I’d only just gotten here when I met Audrey, and she was my first friend,” Lyra said. “She let me stay with her. Without her kindness, I would have been lost in this world.”
“What are you doing, Lyra?” Audrey whispered.
But Lyra kept going. “And then I met Nathan, and he gave me something – just a guitar, but it meant so much. I finally found what I was meant to do as a human. It’s one of the most generous gifts I’ve ever gotten.”
“You still owe me for that…” she heard him mutter.
Discord leaned back, and rested his head on the talons of his left claw. “This is all very fascinating. Do go on.”
She turned around, looking for her other friends. “And Randall welcomed me into his band. I got to perform music with real humans. And he even helped me find my parents. Even now... He's always shown some real loyalty. Even if he thought I was crazy.”
“You are crazy,” he said. But there was a grin on his face.
“You’re bringing me into this now, aren’t you?” Paul said.
“Of course,” Lyra said. Everything was just coming to her now. “Out of all the weird new things I experienced in the human world, that airplane was the strangest… But I wasn’t afraid, because you shared your laughter with me.”
“And now…” Monica’s voice sounded expectant.
“You helped me overcome one of the hardest challenges of all, Monica. All this time I’d been lying to everyone. But you… You convinced me that I had to be honest. To my family. To all of you. To myself. And I’m so much happier now that everyone knows the truth about me.”
Discord groaned. “How much longer is this going to go on? All this means nothing. Do you really think you humans can use the Elements of Harmony?”
“Of course we can. Magic has nothing to do with this… The important thing is that I realized that all these humans were the best friends I’d ever had, and that I belonged here in this world with them. I thought I’d never be a normal human, but thanks to them…” Lyra realized that she was probably feeling overconfident at this point, but might as well go all the way. “I know that we can accomplish anything.”
What happened next felt too fast to comprehend, and yet everything seemed to have slowed down. Lyra felt some kind of power flowing from her – it was almost like when she’d used magic as a unicorn, but of course she had no horn anymore. It was going to the crown on her head, focusing on the gemstone. She could see a purple light flowing out of it. And that was joined by even more beams coming from behind her – from each of the humans.
All that she really needed to understand could be seen on Discord’s face. His eyes had gone huge as soon as he realized what was happening. For a while there, Lyra had been thinking this was all a huge mistake, too, but now she knew better. She heard something that might have been him screaming, but it sounded very far away.
Lyra could still feel all that power rushing out of her. And, somehow, she could feel it coming from the others, too. The entire time she was very aware of their presence, that all of those powers had combined into one and was now rushing out, over the city, across the entire country, to places in this world she’d never seen.
At some point Lyra’s feet touched back down onto the street. She’d never realized that she had ever been lifted above it. Her senses came rushing back to her. Her surroundings changed from blurred colors into more defined forms. A city square, with a very odd statue in the center. The familiar smells of the human world – those smoky fumes from their cars and the faint smell of fried food from a nearby restaurant. It was all so quiet, but then -
“Now, seriously… What the hell just happened?” Paul said.