• Published 20th May 2017
  • 5,520 Views, 816 Comments

Brightly Lit - Penalt

The village of Brightly, British Columbia is a small, isolated place where everyone knows everyone, with a strong sense of community. A community that starts to include colourful little ponies.

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Chapter 37: Monster

It had been a town meeting like none other in Brightly history, and had stretched out to nearly three hours. After the thunderous declaration of solidarity, people had spent a good bit of time marvelling at the light show that had risen up among them, and had taken its appearance as a sign that they had made the right decision.

The only person in the room who still had any objection to what was being called, “The Pony Plan,” was Godwinson. Despite everything, the woman still maintained her objection on the grounds that the ponies were unnatural abominations that needed to be locked up for everyone’s safety.

At that point, even the most devoted members of her clique abandoned her and she was bluntly told to keep her mouth shut about the ponies until Monday. At which point she could scream her head off to the heavens if she wished. Realizing her support had melted away, the middle-aged woman had left the gathering, muttering under her breath.

“I’d say that went pretty well,” Montcalm declared, to the small group gathered around him as people milled around in the aftermath. “Everyone clear on the plan? The first reporters are due here tomorrow morning, right Cummins?”

“Yes, I said effective immediately,” the older reporter was saying into a satellite phone he had borrowed from Wilcox, and catching Montcalm’s eye he held up a hand to hold off the mayor for a moment. “Yes, I’m aware of the non-compete clause in my contract, and by immediately I mean, as of this moment. What? Oh, just send any paperwork to my lawyer. Goodbye.”

“How’d they take it?” Wilcox asked his older colleague, accepting back the bulky, but powerful phone.

“Mad as hell, and they tried to threaten me with the various exit clauses in my contract,” Cummins snorted derisively. “But all of that’s aimed at stopping me from working for a competitor, not going to work for a public relations firm.”

“What’s going on?” Foxfire asked, stepping out of the crowd of people. “And do you mind if Medevac and I hide out here for a while? I’ve never been touched by so many people at once in my life.”

“That include me?” Arnold asked by way of reply, kneeling down so he could look his unicorn in the eye. Foxfire didn’t say anything in return, just laid her head in the crook of the big man’s neck and hummed in contentment while Medevac looked on with a huge grin.

“Ahem,” Montcalm interjected, after a too short interval. “AS I was saying before I was interrupted, the first reporters should be here tomorrow, right?”

“Right,” Cummins answered, smiling as well. It was an odd smile, almost as if the man was using long-forgotten muscles. “The PMO issued a media alert that the Prime Minister is going to be in BC on Sunday. Everyone is assuming he’s going to show up here, so by this time tomorrow we should be up to our ears in reporters.”

“We?” asked Arnold from his hug with Foxfire. “What’s this ‘we’ all of a sudden?”

“Brian and I just quit our jobs and signed up with a new company,” Wilcox supplied from the side. “The Brightly Media Consortium.”

“The what?” Foxfire asked, lifting her head to look at both media men.

“It was the mayor’s idea,” Ben explained, coming up to stand with the others. “We set up our own media outlet to manage everything to do with the Power Ponies and any other Brightly pony. Where are they by the way? I was kinda hoping I could say ‘hi’ to Seeker again.”

“She’s over at the Hardings, with the rest of the kids,” Arnold replied. “Glad you’re still using her Power Pony name. The ponies can use all the privacy they can get.”

“Well, you all seem to have picked up pony names for when you’re all… hoovey,” Ben said with a grin. “So, it seems like the thing to do.”

“This way we still get to be in on the ground floor, and get our exclusives,” Wilcox commented, rolling his eyes at the younger man and trying to keep the conversation focused.

“Not too mention doing something decent for a change with the power of the media,” Cummins chimed in and Medevac could hear the harsh edge return to his voice, but this time it sounded like it was directed inward as opposed to those around him.

“Trudeau is up for re-election soon,” Montcalm stated, trying to take back direction of the scattered conversation. “The Prime Minister is a master of photo-ops and feel-good moments. With how… well, adorable, all of you are in pony form, he’s bound to recognize the optics of being seen with you in a positive light. With our own media people ready to manage those optics we can make sure he treats you right.”

“It will also make sure you don’t get ‘disappeared at some point,” John Vatten growled, looking very much like a bodyguard as he shielded the two ponies present from who people wanted to touch, or worse, pet them.

“Hey, it isn’t like this is the States,” Ben protested. “Canada would never do that.”

“Don’t kid yourself son,” Cummins sighed, that odd smile dropping from his face at last. “Our country has its fair share of dark secrets and goings on. Plus, we’re a country with a whole lot of room to be ‘disappeared’ into.”

“Do we need to be worried?” Medevac asked, seeing the nervous look in Foxfire’s eyes.

“No,” Cummins answered, his voice carrying the calm demeanor of a professional speaker. “Before maybe, but with John and I ready to manage things and spread the knowledge of you to the world, there’s no way the ‘Ponies of Brightly’ are going to just be swept under a rug somewhere.”

“Good, because I might be needing a little medical help for my patient,” Medevac commented. “My wings can tell me just about anything about anyone, but they can’t tell me what to do with what they tell me.”

“I may know—” Wilcox began, before he got cut off.

“Okay, that is enough!” Foxfire declared, eyes flaring as she rounded on the paramedic pony. “You’ve been dropping cryptic hints all day about me and my health. Out with it. What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing, absolutely nothing,” Medevac backpedaled, bumping into Vatten. “You just have a bit of a condition. Given time it will resolve itself.”

“What. Condition?” Foxfire growled, taking deliberate steps forward until she was nose to nose with Medevac. “Tell me. Now.” Tendrils of indigo flame were beginning to leak out of the corners of her eyes.

“You’re pregnant,” Medevac blurted out, unable to stand against the menacing promise in those dark, dark eyes. “Only just, but you’re pregnant.”

“I’m what?” Foxfire asked, her eyes blinking and rapidly shifting back to normal as the unicorn fell back on her haunches. “How?”

“When a Daddy Pony and a Mommy Pony love each other very much,” Ben joked, “and they hug and kiss in a certain way—”

“Ben!” yelled Montcalm. “Not the time.”

“Pregnant?” Arnold asked, with that look of fear and wonder almost all men get in that moment. “Are you sure?”

“The feathers never lie,” Medevac replied, splaying out her wings. “I’m 100% sure, but I don’t think even a blood test could pick it up yet. Chalk up another one to pony magic.”

“Wow,” Arnold said, the only reply he could think of. Until he saw the look of worry and deep concern on Foxfire’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I’m sterile,” Foxfire whispered, in a voice pitched so that only Arnold could hear. “I had surgery, I’m not supposed to be able to have kids anymore. Um, can we go somewhere and talk?”

“Yeah, sure,” Arnold said, before straightening up to address the sea of smiling faces around him. “Me and Foxfire. We want to just have a private talk about this. It’s something we really hadn’t expected.”

“Sure,” Vatten replied, and the tone of the group sobered quickly as they noticed the couple weren’t as joyful at the news as expected. “See you soon?”

“Yup,” Arnold answered, as he and the unicorn began to turn to leave; Arnold with a protective hand over Foxfire’s shoulder. “Talk to you in the morning.”

“Take care of yourselves,” Montcalm ordered more than said. “You’ve a lot of people counting on you for that.”

“Yes sir,” mare and man both replied at the same time. The two locked eyes for a moment and their faces were both touched by smiles that went all the way down to their bones, momentarily banishing the gloom around Foxfire.

“Anything I should know about, Medevac?” Montcalm questioned the medical mare, as the group watched the departing pair make their way out of the nearly empty hall.

“Nothing that I know about, sir,” Medevac responded, her brow furled in worry by how her fellow pony had taken the news. “As far as I can tell, Foxfire is in perfect health.”

“Okay, the rest of you know what you need to do,” Montcalm stated, taking charge of the situation. “Cummins and Wilcox, you’re with me. The rest of you head home, and I’ll be in touch in the morning.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Mayor,” Cummins interjected, gaining a raised eyebrow. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a few minutes to speak with Medevac here and then join you?”

“You work for me now,” Montcalm said, levelly. “So you call me ‘Sir.’ I wasn’t keen on bringing you in on this but I’m willing to give second chances, even third ones. Don’t make me regret my choice.”

“It’s okay, sir,” Medevac huffed, fluffing her wings as she folded them back along her sides. “May as well get this over with now.”

“Thank you,” Cummins said, looking around. “Is there someplace private we can go and talk?”

“What?” Medevac asked, with a derisive snort. “So you can knock me over the head, throw me in a dog cage and parade me in front of your morning news? I don’t think so.”

“No! Dear God, no,” Cummins protested, throwing up his hands placatingly, sensing that Medevac’s co-workers were more than ready to pound the stuffing out of him if he had any sort of dark intentions toward the red and white pegasus. “I just want someplace private to talk. Bring any of your friends if you want.”

Cummins turned to gesture toward the men behind him, and sure enough, each and every one of them looked ready to tear him limb from limb if he even sneezed the wrong way in Medevac’s presence. The paramedic waved them all of them off however.

“We’ll go over to the kitchen and chat, fair enough?” Medevac asked, to which Cummins, still looking at the firefighters a few steps away, gave a jerky nod. “Guys, if I yell, come running.”

“No problem,” John growled, with a smile of anticipation. “This guy gives you any trouble at all and he might not live to regret it.”

“C’mon,” commanded the small pony, leading the grateful reporter out of the main room of the hall and into the small, attached, commercial kitchen that was used for wedding receptions and similar functions.

“Look—” the reporter began, before he was cut off with a swipe of Medevac’s wing as she wheeled to face the man.

“No, you look,” Medevac shot back, her eyes blazing. “You’ve been blowing up my phone with messages. You’ve hounded my friends, you were trying to lay bare a secret that helped a lot of people do a lot of good. Yeah, someone in town did you dirty, and my boss is giving you a fresh shake because of it. You know what? My boss is an idiot.”

“But I—” Cummins began again, only to be cut off once more.

“Shut. Up. At least until I say you can speak,” Medevac ordered, giving a satisfied nod as Cummins shut his mouth with an almost audible “clop” sound. “The Montcalms have always been ‘gentlemen,’ done the gentlemanly thing, and always followed their own hearts. No matter what anyone else says. Darrell Montcalm, my boss, thinks you should be in on this. He thinks he— we need you, along with Wilcox. Who I would rather have ten times over than you.”

Medevac paused, more for breath than anything else and her glare dared the older man to try to say a word, just one word. But Brian Cummins was smart enough to know when it was time to stay quiet, and so he kept his mouth closed.

“So yeah, you get to run interference with the other TV reporters. You get to know the secrets, and my idiot boss is trusting you with enough information to destroy the lives of at least fifty people,” Medevac snarled, ears laid back against her head, tail low and her wings arched up and forward. “So because my boss is idiot enough to give you a chance just like he gave me once, I want to know what makes you worth trusting that much.”

Silence echoed off the stainless steel of the restaurant grade equipment in the room, and Cummins slowly reached into his back pocket. Medevac tensed, wings ready to lash out with deadly accuracy should the older man pull out anything that even remotely looked like a weapon. Cummins’ left hand found his pocket and with that same slow movement drew out his wallet and brought it forward.

Medevac’s ears lifted and her wings lowered as she realized the reporter wasn’t about to pull out a weapon at all. Using only the thumb and forefinger of his right hand he reached into the wallet, pulled free a piece of laminated plastic and placed it face up on the prep table beside the duo.

Still tensed, Medevac shot a glance at the laminated square and saw the faded image of a dark haired, pretty girl, maybe a year or two older than the Power Ponies looking back at her from the photo. Shifting her gaze back up, she just caught a look of tortured pain on Cummins’ face before he slid a mask of dispassionate professionalism back over his emotions.

“Who is that?” the mare demanded. “Who is she?”

“She is… she was, my daughter,” Cummins replied, his voice carrying the tones of a professional broadcaster. “She would be around your age by now.”

“What happened?” Medevac asked, dropping her aggressive posture, realizing this is why Cummins had asked for privacy.

“When she was fourteen,” Cummins began, pausing for a moment to steady himself. “When she was fourteen she told her mother and I that she was actually a boy. That she had been accidentally born into the wrong body and that she needed our permission to get a sex-change operation.”

“Oh, you did not do what I think you did, did you?” Medevac demanded, horror and rage rising within her.

“Not quite,” Cummins answered, ignoring Medevac’s return to her previous hostile posture. “We argued, we yelled at each other. She tried to make me understand, but I was too convinced that I knew what was right. That as her father I knew better and that she should obey me. A year later, when she saw that I was researching conversion therapy, she ran away from home.”

“You stupid, stupid, bastard,” Medevac breathed. It was a tale she’d heard far too often in the LGBT+ community. Of a child realizing their nature, of parents who couldn’t understand, and how a family broke under the strain.

“We searched for weeks,” Cummins continued, his voice still in that professional tone that showed nothing of the agony Medevac could see in the man’s eyes. “For two years we never gave up, we never stopped looking. Until we got the phone call that every parent hears in their nightmares.”

“How?” Medevac asked, hanging her head low in sympathy for a troubled soul, now passed.

“I don’t know,” Cummins said, eyes unfocusing as they lost track of the here and now. “The officer said the words, but I never heard them. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I had betrayed the trust my child had placed in me. I had abused the power I had over them. I had become a monster, and because of that, my… son, was dead.”

“My god,” Medevac said, her voice heartfelt.

“I’ve spent the past decade since then hunting down monsters like myself. People who abuse their position and their power over others,” Cummins continued a moment later, directing his gaze at the pony in front of him. “I rip their masks off and expose them to the world, and until I came to Brightly, I was very good at it.”

“This is a different sort of place,” Medevac riposted, her emotions a whirl of anger and pity. “There are no monsters here.”

“No, there aren’t,” Cummins agreed, nodding as his voice and face at last shed the mask he wore like armour. “But we both know that there are monsters out there. People who won’t see you or the other ponies as people, but as things to be used and exploited. Your mayor has hired me, a monster, to stop the other monsters.”

“What do you want from me?” Medevac gasped, realizing the tortuously skewed viewpoint and soul deep pain of the man in front of her.

“I want to use you,” the reporter said, and Medevac gulped as the man’s eyes on her grew bright. “I want to hold you up as an example.”

“What?” the paramedic asked, ears going straight up in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“I want to tell your story to the world,” Cummins explained, kneeling down to look the pony in the eyes. “I want to tell the world how you went from man to woman to mare. All over the world, people struggling with their gender have a very limited number of options to try to deal with it. I want you to help me show people that there’s a new option.”

“You can’t be expecting some sort of redemption out of this, can you?” Medevac stated, more than asked.

“No,” Cummins confirmed, closing his eyes for a moment as he continued. “For monsters like me, there can be no redemption. Not in this world anyway.”

“Okay then,” Medevac decided, drawing herself up. “I vowed to stand for and protect Life. If helping you keeps even one child from going through what yours did, it will be worth it.”

“I’m boooored,” Darter complained, as he lay on his back in the Harding rec room with his silver tipped wings splayed out to either side. The pegasus and his friends were surrounded by the remains of hours worth of snacks, board games and other activities. “Can’t we fire up the Xbox again or something?”

The assembled Power Ponies shared a look around the room that spoke volumes. Anytime Darter got bored, the universe flipped onto its side, Murphy stalked the land and the impossible became the probable.

“Zack,” Lynn responded, “you know full well that Romy and Billy’s hooves aren’t as good as your wings for working the controllers. It isn’t fair to them.”

“But Mooooom,” whined the pegasus, tilting his head back to look at his mother. “I’ll go easy on them. Honest.”

“Did I hear someone say that they were bored?” Ernie asked from where he was cleaning up the remains of a pizza. “You know, I have ways to fix boredom.”

“I knew he shouldn’t have said that,” Skylark half-whispered to the ponies, who giggled behind their hooves.

“That’s fine, Dad,” Darter interjected at high speed, flipping his body right-side up so fast he made some sheets of paper near him take wing. “I’m not bored, honest!”

“I’m pretty sure I heard the ‘B’ word come out of your mouth,” Ernie continued, doing his best not to grin. “There’s all kinds of things that need putting away.”

“Um…” Darter prevaricated, looking frantically around for something to distract his father with before he was assigned multiple chores. His eyes lit up as he spotted his leader. “Shield Maiden! Weren’t you and my dad looking up the words of that spell?”

The unicorn’s head swiveled over and she almost dropped the piece of pizza she was levitating. She managed to recover smoothly just before it could splat onto the Tsuro game board and ruin it with tomato sauce.

“We were, but I can’t say all the words or the spell will go off,” Shield Maiden replied, with a bit of an embarrassed look. “Sorry Mr. Harding.”

“It’s fine Ro— Shield Maiden,” Ernie replied, waving off the unicorn’s apology. “I’m still getting used to using your pony names when you are in pony form. I just wish I could make heads or tails of the words you and your mother quoted.”

“I thought you said it was in Latin, dear?” Lynn asked, holding up the paper on which she had written out the spell as she had heard it spoken by Jean Pedersen. “Why are you so interested in it?”

“Because it doesn’t make sense,” the lean farmer answered, with a trace of a growl in his voice. “Understanding the spell could help us understand the who and where it was produced. Plus, this spell. It makes no sense. It’s Latin, but it’s not. It’s like someone ran some latin through Google Translate.”

“But what about the book?” Iron Hoof and Seeker chimed in, with one voice from where they lay side by side on the carpeted floor.

“That’s a pretty good help, but it’s when you translate something that you really see the intent behind the original words,” Ernie explained, moderating his tone. “This is going from whatever this ‘Kanthaka’ speaks, to some sort of pseudo Latin, for lack of a better term.”

“That sounds familiar,” Lynn said, frowning in concentration as the five ponies in the room looked up at the adults in curiosity.

“Pseudo-Latin!” Ernie exclaimed, sharing a look across the room with his wife. “Fliccum Biccus!”

“Dresden! Ha!” Lynn responded, her tone equally joyous and her words just as confusing to the ponies.

“I’ll be right back,” Ernie said, charging off to his study. There were the sounds of drawers opening and closing, frantic movements of things across a floor, followed by the man’s return barely a minute later. Sitting himself back at the table in the rec room, Ernie opened up a large book titled, “Latin: For Correspondence Courses.”

“Correspondence Latin,” Lynn chuckled. “Who would have thought ponies from another world would use that.”

“It’s the intent that shaped the words. Just like Jean said about magic,” Ernie stated, as he pointed to his wife. “Okay Lynn, I need you to read out the words from the book, and I need you to do like we’ve heard Jean do it.”

“Why does Mrs. Harding have to sound like my mom?” Seeker asked, tilting her head and looking up toward Ernie. “You aren’t making fun of my mom are you?”

“Oh no, not even a tiny bit,” Ernie said, getting down and smiling to the small pony as he put a hand on her shoulder. “A lot of understanding Latin is how it’s said. So I need Mrs. Harding to sound like your mom so I can try to really understand the words.”

“Oh, okay,” Seeker replied, ducking her head and looking embarrassed. “Thorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Ernie reassured the small red and purple pony. “You were making sure I wasn’t being mean about your mother. Ready Lynn?”

“Just about,” Lynn Harding responded, taking a deep cleansing breath and a firm grip on the small crucifix on her necklace, in an echo how she had seen her friend prepare to do magic. “Ready.”

“Same here,” Ernie confirmed, the book beside him open to a list of words and conjugations. “Start whenever you’re ready.”

“In Nomine Sol,” Lynn began, her voice sounding more resonant and alive than ever before as the words flowed from her with a liquid grace.

“In Nomine Equus,” Lynn continued to chant, and Seeker’s head lifted up and focused on the woman as the pony’s senses detected a gathering of power around their host.

“Mannulus Terrae,” Lynn’s voice carried on, not becoming louder but growing with intensity instead.

Those words seemed to almost vibrate around the room. Ernie, his eyes and concentration fixed to his textbook, didn’t see the tongues of scarlet flame that began to lick their way up and down his wife’s red hair. The ponies did, but found themselves unable to move or say anything to interrupt the impossibility of what they were seeing.

“Mannulus Magi! Facti Sunt Nobis!” Lynn all but shouted the final words, her hair alive with flaming power and golden light spilling from the fist she held her cross in. Every pony’s vision whited out for a moment as a wave of chromatic energy burst forth to fill the room. When the ponies blinked the spots from their eyes a few moments later, they saw that they had been joined by a sixth pony.

Lynn Harding was gone, and in her place stood a graceful female pegasus, her shining silver wings a stark contrast to the gleaming metallic black of her body, mane and tail.

“You did it,” Shield Maiden breathed. “You cast the spell. You did magic Mrs. Harding.”

“I did?” Lynn asked, surprised for a moment until she took in the return of the body she had found herself in during the night of the dam crisis. “I guess I did. But how?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” came Ernie’s voice from within a large shifting pile of clothes. “People? A little help please?”

All six ponies rushed to Ernie’s aid, and within minutes the new pony was pulled free of his confining clothes. Ernie Harding had been transformed into a strongly muscled pegasus, and Lynn took in her husband’s slate grey body with appreciation. She noted with approval the savage air the small fangs of his muzzle lent him, and how like her, his wings were of a shining silver, with blood red tips on his pinions that only added to his warrior look.

The phone rang a minute later as Ernie made his first couple of attempts to stand, and Lynn went off to answer it, coming back a minute later. “That was Arnold. He and Foxfire are on their way back from the meeting and apparently have some news.”

“Good, because I have questions,” Ernie replied, flopping to the ground yet again.

“Just work on moving your legs first, Dad,” Darter advised. “Hey, what’s your pony name going to be?”

“Pony name?” Ernie asked, taking his son’s advice and concentrating on controlling his legs before he tried to use them to stand.

“It is traditional, my love,” Lynn said, drawing a blush from her husband as she nuzzled him affectionately. “So, what should we call ourselves?”

Author's Note:

So, this afterword is going to be a little long...

Brian Cummins has made for a good antagonist and a decent foil in the story, but we probably will only see him in passing from now on. His reasoning and motives grew organically as I've written him and the concept for him has always been that there is a reason he is the way he is.

Essentially, Cummins made a mistake. That being that he believed he knew what was best for his child, no matter what. Then he compounded that mistake with pride, and an unwillingness to even consider that he might be wrong. One mistake led to another, and another, and so on; and people suffered because of it.

It's a scenario I've seen played out numerous times over the course of my life, and I can understand Cummins, because I could have been him.

I was raised in a very intolerant, homophobic, religious cult and as such I *knew* that anything other than 'a man is a man' and 'a woman is a woman' was wrong, diseased and evil. Even after turning my back on that "faith" in my early 20s, I still carried a lot of those attitudes with me.

It took spending time with LGBTQ people as friends, fellow gamers, people at potlucks and camping events for me to fully understand that, in the words of Malcolm Reynolds, "We're all just folk."

We all have similar hopes, fears and dreams. We all want someone beside us in the dark and cold. We all want to find, to quote Freddy Mercury, "Somebody to love." And as long as that somebody gives you their informed consent, no one should be allowed to give you any grief about it.

It's a shame Brian Cummins couldn't have learned that in time...

One another note, I could use some name suggestions for Lynn and Ernie Harding's pony forms. Leave your suggestions, if you have any in the comments. Spoiler, regarding their future abilities: Lynn will be a windshaper with elemental control over small to medium strength winds and Ernie will be able to summon and control lightning.

Also, this chapter marks three years of writing from me. On July 20th, 2016, just after my 50th birthday, I published the first chapter of "The Bridle Path." Seventeen chapters later and I had a completed story, along with new friends, a new community and a new passion. Thank you all for walking this journey with me, and may the road continue to stretch on into the future.

If you want to drop me a line I can often be found hanging out on the Discord server run by Damaged. Here is a invite link to it. Just be aware, the entire server is considered NSFW and is very much restricted to 18 years of age or older

If you like this and other stories of mine, you can support me on Patreon for as little as a dollar a month. Patreon is probably one of the best things ever for keeping content creators like me in keyboards, coffee and chairs. Your support is what keeps me going.

A big shout out to the ongoing support through Patreon by:

Canary in the Coal Mine
Jamin P Rose

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