• Published 27th Oct 2020
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Ride the Pony - Five Dollars - Irrespective



Want to ride a "real" My Little Pony? It'll only cost you five dollars. No refunds.

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Three

* * Ω * *

“Well, this is inconvenient,” Megan muttered.

Rocky trembled slightly as he read the Road Closed sign for the hundredth time, despite having Penny’s comforting touch on his shoulder. “Does this mean I can’t go home?”

“We’ll still get you home.” Megan put the car in reverse and glanced over her shoulder. “But I was trying to avoid taking the interstate. Looks like we don’t have a choice.”

“Interstate,” Rocky repeated. He had heard that word before from Master, but he was having trouble remembering what it meant. “Is that… it’s a really big road, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Problem is, big roads have lots of cars on them, and more cars mean there will be more police to avoid,” Megan replied. “Thankfully, it’s dark now, so if you stay under the blanket, we can keep you hidden.”

“Okay.” Rocky grabbed the blanket and threw it over himself. “I will stay under the blanket.”

“You don’t have to hide yet, silly.” Penny pulled the blanket up with a laugh, then hung it on his shoulders. “Besides, you haven’t finished your sandwich yet. Do you like it?”

Rocky nodded, and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. “I like it, Penny. Thank you. It’s much better than hay. I like the soda pop, too.”

“I’m glad you do,” she said with a grin.

“How long will it take to get to your house?” Rocky asked. “Is it far away?”

“Well, my house is in the opposite direction,” Penny said. “My mom and I live in Kansas. Do you know where that is?”

Rocky shook his head. “Master never spoke much about where we were. The carnivals and the fairs all look the same to me, so it didn’t matter.”

“Here, I’ll show you.” Penny pulled out her phone and tapped the screen, which flared to life with light and sent Rocky cowering on the floorboards. “It’s okay, Rocky. It’s just a phone.”

“Phone?” he repeated.

“Yeah. Everybody has one. They’re harmless. Look, this one has a built-in map that’ll tell you where anything is, and how to get there. This blue dot thing? That’s us. We’re on this road, see? Now, Grandma is going to go to this big yellow line here, which represents the interstate. Grandma’s farm is way over here in Iowa. Looks like it’ll take us about three hours to get there. Now, my house is down—” Penny paused as her finger flicked across the screen to move the map “—right about… here! Manhattan, Kansas. You’d like it there.”

Rocky continued to stare at the phone, his eyes wide in wonder. “Can all phones show maps on them?”

“Most of them. The really old ones might not be able to.”

“I thought phones were for taking pictures,” he said in a soft and thoughtful tone. “Or for talking to other people. Master would yell at people on his phone.”

Megan scoffed in the front seat. “That doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

“What else can phones do?” he asked.

“They can do all sorts of stuff. I can look up information on the internet, or send messages to my friends, or even play games if I want to.”

Rocky closed his eyes and thought backward. “We don’t have phones. We write letters to each other, or we go visit each other's houses.”

“But you all live in Dream Valley together, so it’s really easy for you to meet up with your friends.”

“No. I mean, yes.” Rocky shook his head, and it took him a moment to pull a distant memory free from the Circle in his head. “I… I don’t live in Dream Valley. Or maybe I do, but it’s not called Dream Valley anymore. I have some friends that live nearby, but some have moved far away, and I write letters to them sometimes, just to stay in touch.”

“Really?” Megan asked. “That’s interesting. When I went to Equestria, the ponies had to stay together to stay safe. If you have long-distance friends, then a lot of the evils that were once there must have been defeated.”

“Evils?” Rocky asked.

“Yeah,” Penny eagerly said. “Bad guys, who wanted to hurt ponies. When Grandma was about my age, she went to Equestria all the time to help keep the ponies safe. There were all sorts of evils that caused problems back then.”

“Like who?” Rocky asked.

“Go ahead and tell him, Penny,” Megan said with a grin. “Maybe he’ll hear a familiar name, and that will help jog his memories.”

Penny let out a small squeal of delight. “Grandma was awesome! She’s told me all about all of the villains she’s beaten over the years. The worst one was a nasty witch named Hydia, who tried to destroy Flutter Valley.”

“Flutter Valley,” Rocky repeated. “That sounds familiar. How did she destroy it?”

“Oh, it was awful!” Penny exclaimed. “Her and her two daughters created this horrible monster called the Smooze. It ate everything in sight, and left behind a barren wasteland. Anybody who touched it would lose all of their good feelings and become angry and mean.”

“I think you’ve got the stories mixed up,” Megan interjected with a chuckle. “The Smooze didn’t destroy Flutter Valley. Hydia had Queen Bumble and her bees steal the sun stone for Flutter Valley.”

“Oh, yeah. The bees thought the darkness would be good for their kingdom, right?”

“Yes. When that plan failed, Hydia created the Smooze in an attempt to get revenge.”

“Smooze,” Rocky murmured. “Is that some kind of slime monster?”

“Yeah,” Penny said with a grin at having hit on something familiar to him. “Do you remember that?”

Rocky tried to remember something more about the Smooze, but the Circle was too strong, and he couldn’t get to the memories. “I can’t remember. I know I’ve heard the name, but I don’t know why I know it.”

“It’s okay.” Penny patted his shoulder and gave him a comforting smile. “You don’t have to remember everything right now. It’ll come back to you.”

Rocky hoped she was right, but he was worried that the Circle had stolen away the memories for good. “What else did Megan do?”

“Well, she saved them,” Penny said with pride. “Grandma tried to use the Rainbow of Light on it, but that didn’t work. But then the flutter ponies came, and they used their magic to banish the Smooze back to the volcano where it had been made.”

“I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve,” Megan chuckled.

“Oh! And then, there was this really nasty bad guy called Tirek,” Penny went on, her momentum unaffected by her Grandmother’s comment. “Now he was really bad! He lived in this horrible place called the Midnight Castle, and one day, he decided he wanted to make it nighttime all the time, so he kidnapped ponies and turned them into his slaves with his magic.”

Rocky put his hooves on his head and began to push inward. All of this information sounded so familiar, but he couldn’t get his brain to make the connections. “Tirek,” he murmured. “Everlasting Night.”

Penny tried to let him think, but the excitement was too much for her, and she had to ask after just a few seconds. “Do you know who Tirek is?”

“He… he wanted pony magic,” Rocky slowly said. “He stole it all. He wasn’t trying to bring about a night that never ended. That was somepony else. Somepony important…”

“Somebody else tried to take away the sun?” Penny asked. “Who?”

“A Nightmare,” Rocky softly said. “She was… jealous of somepony. She fought, and lost. She became the Mare in the Moon.”

“Now that sounds cool,” Penny said. “What do you think, Grandma? Do you think Tirek lived, somehow, and tried again?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Megan said. “Rocky said ‘she,’ and Tirek was a ‘he.’ Besides, I don’t know how Tirek could have survived that blast from the Rainbow of Light. This had to be someone else, someone with more power than even Queen Majesty had.”

Penny gasped. “You don’t think that—”

“That Majesty was responsible? Not in a thousand years. She was the sweetest, most gentle pony I ever met. I don’t see why she would do such a thing.”

“Can you remember anything else, Rocky?” Penny asked, but he shook his head.

“No. The only other thing I can remember is that it was a legend to me. It wasn’t a real story.”

“We’ll have to ask your friends about it when we get to Dream Valley,” Penny said eagerly. “I bet you’ll remember all of these things once you get home.”

“How was Tirek defeated?”

“You’re going to love this.” Penny took a quick drink, then sat back in her seat and cleared her throat. “Tirek was the reason Grandma met the ponies. See, there was a pegasus pony named Firefly, and when the ponies were attacked and Scorpan kidnapped two of them, she was the one who went to find help.”

“Scorpan? Who is that?”

“Start at the beginning, dear,” Megan gently offered. “You’re telling him everything that happened in the middle.”

“Right. Okay. So, once upon a time…”

* * Ω * *

“...and then Catrina joined them! She had on a pink dress, and Rep was wearing a tuxedo, with a top hat and cane, too.” Penny let out a laugh. “Catrina couldn’t go down the stairs at first, since Rep was standing on the hem of her dress, but Grandma said they were a lovely couple, and all the ponies made sure to tell her how beautiful she looked.”

“What happened after that?” Rocky asked.

“Well, they all became friends. Catrina let all the Bushwoolies go, and they all kinda lived happily ever after, I guess.”

“More or less,” Megan added with a chuckle. “You left out a few details, but that’s mostly what happened.”

“I’d love to meet Catrina when we get to Dream Valley,” Penny said. “And Firefly, and Applejack, and Minty, and all of the other ponies you’ve told me about. Do you think it will be hard to find them?”

Megan didn’t reply for a few moments, and a soft, thoughtful frown pulled on the corners of her mouth. “My sweet child, I would love to introduce you to all of them, but I would be very, very surprised if any of them are still alive. If they are, they would be even older than I am, and they may not remember me.”

“Of course they would remember you!” Penny exclaimed. “How could they ever forget?”

“Time, my dear. Since I haven’t been back to Dream Valley since my early teenage years, there is a very good chance that they have forgotten me. Rocky has already shown us that many things are different now in Equestria, and when we get there, I may find a world that is just as foreign to me as this world is to him.”

Penny seemed to accept this news, but her eyes went to the floor for a moment in thought. “Grandma? Why did you stop visiting the ponies?”

Megan drew in a long, deep breath, and her eyes went to something far beyond the road in front of her. For several long and anxious moments, she said nothing, and Penny began to worry that she’d somehow made her upset. “You know, I’ve been asking myself that same question ever since we met Rocky,” she finally said. “I suppose the simplest answer is that I stopped believing.”

“What?” Penny glanced to Rocky. “How could you stop believing?”

“It wasn’t something that happened overnight,” Megan began in a thoughtful tone. “I loved the ponies, and at one time, I thought I would live there when I was grown up.

“But then the recession hit, and my parents were forced to sell my horse, the bull, and the south forty just to keep the farm out of foreclosure. My brother, my sister and I had to work extra hard to make up for the lost income and over time, I just... forgot. Even after the economy settled down, there were other things that became more important: trying to fit in, preparing for college. Boys.” She cleared her throat, but a wry grin came as well. “If it wasn't for boys, you wouldn't be here. Besides, I thought if the ponies really needed me, they would come get me. Firefly had found me once, after all, so she could do it again.

“Adulthood can be a cruel thing, Penny. Far too often, it strips away fanciful whimsy and innocent belief, and leaves nothing but the dry bones of cynical realism in its place. As I started a family and raised your mother, the adventures in Dream Valley became nothing more than entertaining bedtime stories. I forgot about the Locket, and the Rainbow of Light became a quick way to end the story when your mom started to fall asleep. The magic got buried in the minutiae of life, and I never noticed it slipping away.”

“I still don’t understand,” Penny said.

“That’s because you’re still young, and I hope you never forget,” Megan said. “But there’s a figurative Circle lurking in the background of all of our lives, just like the one that trapped Rocky. Sometimes the Circle is obvious, like the one that holds Rocky’s old master hostage. The only thing he can see is money, and that greed will keep him trapped forever, most likely. But often, it’s a bunch of little things that can pull you away. I became trapped by worldly cares and troubles, and the same could happen to you. It all depends on what you decide is important to you, day by day.”

Penny nodded, but in a thoughtful way.

Megan drew in a long breath, and her bony fingers stretched out straight for a moment before wrapping around the steering wheel again. “Rocky, we’re almost to the interstate. You’d better get under the blanket.”

Rocky started to comply with the instruction, but he hesitated when the blanket touched his ears. “Penny? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, and she gave him a grin. “Just thinking.”

“You won’t forget me once I go home, will you?”

“I could never forget you.” She reached up and scratched under his jaw. “And I won’t let the Circle trap me or you.”

“I won’t forget you, either.”

* * Ω * *

“Rocky? Are you okay?” Penny asked.

“Yes,” he said, with a soft nicker when he felt her gentle touch through the blanket. “We are on the interstate now, right?”

“Right.”

“The interstate feels strange.”

“It does?” Penny said with a laugh. “Why’s that?”

“It’s not bumpy and loud, like it is in Master’s trailer,” he said.

“That’s because you’re in a car. Horse trailers are just large boxes on wheels. Cars have padded seats, and stuff in the doors to keep the noise down, and better suspension.”

“Cars are nice. I don’t think we have cars in Dream Valley.” Rocky shuffled a bit, and the blanket slid off his head. “I think we had carriages, but those…”

“Rocky?” Penny twisted to follow Rocky’s gaze out the window. “What is it?”

“What is that?” he asked, his nose pointing to something outside.

“That?” Penny glanced around. “Those are just buildings. We’re in Omaha now, aren’t we Grandma?”

“We are,” Megan confirmed.

“They’re so big,” Rocky said in a breathless wonder. “How did they make those buildings so tall? I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“Rocky, I need you to keep your head down.” Megan cautioned. “There’s a lot of cars, and somebody could see you.”

Rocky tried to do what Megan said, but it was very difficult for him to look away from the colorful things that were passing by. He had never seen towers that were tall enough to block out the stars before, with bright lights that make it look like the sun was still shining on them. There were large green signs that passed by overhead, some with blue shields and others with white ones, and all of them had numbers on them and arrows that pointed in every direction imaginable. Just beyond those, along the sides of the road, there were large paintings that confused and excited him. They seemed to be everywhere, and his mind whirled as he tried to figure out what they were and why they were there. One had an oversized lizard thing on it, with large white letters saying fifteen minutes could save him fifteen percent on his car insurance. One went by that showed two pictures of the same Master, but one had no hair on his head and the other one did. Another one showed a smiling woman with a toothbrush. The next one said if a person had been bitten by a dog, they should call him for help.

“Penny?” he softly asked as another sign for something called a McRib caught his attention. “What are those?”

“They’re called billboards. They’re trying to get people to buy stuff. You’ve never seen one before?”

“I could never see outside when I was in the trailer,” Rocky said, his eyes following a billboard covered with cows who said he should eat more chicken.

“Some of them can be kinda funny, but I think most people just ignore them,” Penny remarked.

“Coors.” Rocky pointed to another sign that passed by. “I know that one. It’s called beer, right? People would drink it while they watched their kids ride me. I never knew your world could be so colorful.”

“Rocky, get your head down please,” Megan ordered. “People are starting to stare.”

“What’s that thing?” Rocky pointed to a black car with a set of flashing lights that was sitting in a gap in the wall that ran along the interstate. Both Penny and Megan gasped when they caught sight of it, and Penny roughly shoved Rocky down to the floor.

“That’s the police!” she harshly whispered. “They’re looking for you!”

“Everybody stay calm,” Megan ordered as the red and blue lights swung out into the road and began to chase them. “Penny, make sure Rocky stays down, and don’t say anything unless the trooper asks you a question. Don’t act nervous, okay? That will just make the trooper suspicious.”

“I won’t say anything,” Penny said. It was going to be hard to act natural, though, since her recently eaten sandwich was trying to come back up.

The car became deathly silent as the trooper’s cruiser pulled up behind them, and Megan gently began to ease towards the shoulder. From his quasi-hidden position, Rocky began to shiver, and a whispered chant drifted out of the blanket.

“Please don’t find us, please don’t find us, please don’t find us…”

A sudden surge of power crashed over Penny, and she gasped a little as she felt the wave physically push her back in her seat. It was the same feeling she had experienced when Rocky had dug in his heels at the fair and the grass had suddenly sprouted out of the ground, and her fears gave way to curiosity. Could Rocky’s magic keep him hidden, too?

The answer came as the trooper swerved around their car and took off down the interstate at a rapid velocity. Penny cheered a bit as the flashing lights faded away, and as Rocky’s head emerged from under the blanket, Megan surreptitiously pulled a small pill from somewhere and swallowed it.

“Rocky, that was amazing!” Penny cheered, and she hugged the pony’s neck tightly. “How’d you do that?”

“Do what?” he asked.

“Whatever you did to get the trooper to go past us! I thought he was going to pull us over for sure, but then he left us alone once you started to chant. You’re not a unicorn, so how did that happen?”

“I don’t know,” Rocky said, his gaze going to the undersides of his front hooves. “I just really, really wanted to not be found. So I started to wish, and the rest of it just… happened.”

“Grandma? What do you think?”

Megan drew in a long breath, released it, and then took another one. “I’m not sure what happened, but it’s clear that Rocky has some sort of inner magic that he can use. It could have something to do with his cutie mark.”

“My what?” Rocky asked.

“The symbol on your flank,” Penny explained. “All ponies have one thing that they are unnaturally skilled at, or one thing that they can do better than anything else. For example, Firefly was so fast she had two lightning bolts for her cutie mark. Applejack was a farmer, so she had five apples for hers.”

Megan glanced back and considered Rocky’s odd mark of a rock with a nail in it as Penny brushed the hairs down around it to make it more clear. “If you were sent here to locate me, then your talent must be to find things,” Megan added thoughtfully. “And apparently, you can also keep people from finding things, too.”

“Grandma?” Penny asked as Megan grew quiet and thoughtful. “What is it?”

“I’m just thinking of what this all means, dear,” Megan said with a small grin. “If Rocky, as an earth pony, can use magic that powerful, then the magic of Dream Valley has grown stronger in my absence. I wonder what else has changed.

“But when we get back, we have to be cautious. If the magic of Dream Valley has grown stronger and they still sent for me, then the enemies of the Ponies must be stronger, too. I don’t want you to get hurt, Penny. I could never forgive myself if something happened.”

“I’ll be careful, Grandma,” Penny promised, and she hugged Rocky again. “And together, we’ll protect the Ponies, just like you always did. Don’t worry, Rocky. Grandma will save the day.”

* * Ω * *