• 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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Four

* * Ω * *

“Penny?” Megan called out. “Are you awake? We’re almost there.”

When no answer came back, Megan chuckled after a quick glance into the back seat. Their close encounter with the Nebraska State Patrol had really rattled the pony, but thankfully, her granddaughter had provided some quiet ear-scratching and snuggling to calm him down. The treatment had been quite successful, and with such a peaceful setting, both pony and girl were curled up together in an adorable pose that really made Megan wish for a camera.

Of course, the day had been quite the emotional ride, and if there had been another adult in the car, Megan probably would have asked them to drive home so she could curl up with them and sleep as well. She had hoped that this trip to the state fair would be memorable for Penny, and it had succeeded far beyond her wildest expectations. She didn’t want her granddaughter to remember her as Grandma Megan, the slightly senile old woman who smelled like prune juice and babbled about magic ponies in a fantastic fantasy land. She wanted Penny to think of her as a fun and loving Grandma, who wanted nothing but the best for her family and who did everything she could to make them happy.

Megan chuckled to herself as she made the last turn towards the old family farm. Once this was all done and over with, there was a very good chance Penny wouldn’t remember anything besides her upcoming adventure with the ponies. There was always a part of Young Megan who constantly got confused about which world was the most real whenever Firefly flew her home or she rode the rainbow bridge back to the farm grounds.

Now there was a small part of Old Megan who was worried about what they would find in Dream Valley once they crossed over, but she had faith that the ponies of Equestria would do everything in their power to keep Penny safe, and that Penny would do the same for them. Since Rocky had been sent to specifically look for herself, Megan had to believe that the Equestrians were really after the Rainbow of Light and the power it had to defeat evil. Megan never had any magical abilities or special powers—except keeping a level head amidst a panic—so the only reason the ponies would want her is because of the Rainbow of Light. Thankfully, Penny was a calm, intelligent child, and she would be able to handle whatever Equestria had in store.

A deep scowl came as her headlights illuminated the bright For Sale sign that stood, proud and tall, next to the driveway to her farmhouse. The bold picture of the Realtor—with the smug grin and beady eyes of someone who made their living by cheating others—filled her with a deep disdain and disgust, and she refused to look at the accompanying sign that advertised an upcoming estate sale.

A glint of light in the distance dragged her away from her sour thoughts, and she quickly switched her headlights off and eased to a stop. The light had come from the direction of the house, but more importantly, the light had most definitely been a bright ruby red.

There was only one thing that Megan could think of that would be that color in that location at this hour of the night: the tail lights of a police cruiser.

It only took a few more moments of inching up the drive to confirm her suspicions. The silver outline of the Iowa State Patrol cruiser stood out against the light emanating from her farmhouse, and parked next to it was a white pickup with a horse trailer.

“Penny!” Megan hissed, a little harsher than she would have liked. “Wake up!”

“Huh? We’re back already?” Penny asked as two groans and a pair of yawns came from the back seat.

“Yes, but I need you to stay calm. The police are at the house.”

“They are?” Rocky dropped to the floorboards with a hard thud. “They didn’t see me, did they?!”

“No, I don’t think so. We can sneak around them to the barn, but I’m going to need you to hide us again, Rocky.”

“But I don’t know how I did that before!”

“Just do the same thing. Start wishing for us not to be found. Penny, you help him. Every little bit makes a difference.”

“Okay, Rocky. We do this together,” Penny said with far more courage than she should have. “We’re going to get you home. Ready? Don’t find us, don’t find us…”

“Don’t find us, don’t find us…” Rocky echoed Penny’s words.

Megan slid the Escape into reverse, and as the rush of magic swept past her, she drew in a deep breath of the power. Thankfully, the farm had several dirt tracks that led to every corner of her property, and the one she intended to use ran along the far side of the barn, and thus out of sight of the house. Once they made it there and activated the lasso portal, their immediate problems would be over.

The short trip had to be taken at an unbearably slow speed, due to the lack of light, the rough ‘road,’ and a desire to keep the crunching noises from the tires to a minimum. The less noise, the better, but it took all of Megan’s willpower to keep from punching the accelerator and making a mad dash for the barn.

After what felt like an hour but was probably closer to a minute, Megan parked the car on the far side of the barn. A collective sigh of relief was released by the occupants, car doors were opened, and the two humans slid out as quietly as they could.

“Make sure to shut that door softly, Penny,” Megan cautioned. “We’ll use the east entrance.”

“Rocky?” Penny called out to the frozen pony who had not moved from the floorboards. “It’s okay. We’re almost home.”

Rocky still didn’t move. “Home. It’s… it’s been so long, Penny. I know you and Megan said you’d get me home, but…” he hesitated. “I just can’t believe it.”

Penny started to reply, but then she stopped herself and smiled. “Okay. So don’t believe it. We’re just going into the barn, and we’re going to put you in a stall for the night. You’ve slept in stalls before, right?”

Rocky nodded thoughtfully, and he looked over the faded red slats of the structure. The pleasant smell of old straw and weathered wood ticked his nose, and he glanced up when he heard the soft hoot of an owl. “Stall. Master always put me in a stall at night. I can go to a stall.”

“Good. C’mon, let’s go. Once we're inside, we’ll get you the softest straw to lay on, and all the fresh water you can drink. That sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

Rocky nodded a bit more enthusiastically, and he slowly stood. “It does sound nice. I’ll go with you to the stall.”

“Atta boy. Here we go, watch your step getting out.”

“Okay, keep your voices down, and watch your feet,” Megan said once Rocky was out of the car. “Just around here.”

Compared to the drive, the walk into the barn was quick and silent. The large main door had been left ajar, making it easy for the three to slip in undetected. A large open area greeted them once in, and for a brief moment, Megan thought back over the many memories that had been made in this structure.

She shook her head to clear the nostalgia and moved to a far corner with the flashlight from Penny’s phone to light her way. There would be time for sentimentality later. Right now, she needed to take care of Rocky.

“So, where is the lasso, Grandma?” Penny eagerly whispered. “I bet you have it hidden in some super-secret compartment, or in something like one of those old pirate chests.”

“Nothing quite that grand,” Megan said, and she pulled what looked like an ordinary, oil-stained, dirt-smudged coil of rope from a dirty wood storage bin. “Often, the best place to hide something is in plain sight.”

“That’s the lasso?” Penny said, her expression clearly spelling out her profound disappointment. “Grandma, we don’t have time for this. Where is it, really?”

“You’re looking at it.” Megan's hand moved to her pocket for the briefest of moments before she began to tie a honda knot in one end of the rope with a grin. “Remember, I stopped going to Dream Valley, and there was no reason to let a perfectly good rope go to waste.”

The dubious look that Penny offered nearly tore her heart in half. It was the same look that everybody gave her when she insisted that her fantastic tales of talking ponies in a magical valley were true, the same disappointed dismissal that she had received dozens of times from friends and family alike.

It was the exact same expression that Penny’s mother had given to Megan just before declaring, with no uncertain words, that Dream Valley, the Rainbow of Light, and everything else pertaining to the ponies was nothing more than the overactive imaginations of an unstable mind.

But Megan had something this time that she had never had before, and she grinned as she pulled the knot tight. “Penny, I know this is hard to believe, but you have a talking pony standing next to you. If he is not enough evidence that everything I have ever said about Ponies is true, then nothing will convince you. You’ve got to trust me on this.”

Penny glanced down to Rocky, who returned the glance with his own look of trepidation and fear. Her hand gently scratched behind his left ear, and she grunted in determination.

“Okay, Grandma. I believe you. How do we open the portal?”

Megan nodded, and she began to swing the rope in front of her to create a loop. “You know, when I was your age, I could do all sorts of tricks. I even won first place in a stunt riding competition once by dancing through a lasso while riding my horse bareback. I’ll have to show you how to do it once we get done helping the ponies.”

Penny let out a gasp when the rope began to spark and surge with white bolts of energy, but Megan simply swung faster. With each successive revolution, the sparks grew in intensity, until finally, a blast of power surged inward and merged into a complete whole.

The sudden flash of light sent Rocky scrambling for cover, but Penny simply stared on in awe as a bright green meadow appeared inside the loop, with a perfectly blue sky above and a large golden sun shining down upon the new world. “Grandma! Is that…”

“Equestria,” Megan answered with a wince. “We need to hurry. I can’t do this for very long with my arthritis.”

“Rocky!” Penny stumbled over her own feet before flopping over the nearby straw bale and landing next to the trembling pony. “C’mon! Your home is right there! All you have to do is step through the portal, and you’ll be free!”

“No!” he shouted, his hooves covering his eyes. “The Circle! It’s trying to catch me again! It's not real!”

“Rocky?” Penny put her hand on his neck, and he uncovered one eye. “I promise you that this is the last Circle you’ll ever have to face. You can beat this one. I’ll be with you every step of the way. It’s time to go home.”

Rocky’s hooves moved from his eyes, and he glanced to her outstretched hand. He swallowed hard, and for a moment, it looked like he would make a run for the open barn door.

His hoof took her hand, and he nodded. “No more Circle. No more Masters. It’s time to go home.”

“Quickly!” Megan said with a cry of pain.

There was no hesitation in Rocky’s steps. With Penny by his side, he held his head high, and he jumped through the swirling energies of the portal.

* * Ω * *

He could not remember his name.

He had a name, of course, but years of walking in the Circle had bent his mind into circles of its own. It was something fresh and breezy, something that could be called out while laughing in the tall grass of a fragrant meadow.

It used to scurry around in his head, as a reminder of who he was and what he had once been. But over time, he had learned to force it down when it rose up to the back of his throat. He no longer spoke. When he spoke, people screamed. They threw things. Hard things. Speaking was pain. Conceal it. Hide it in the shadows. Every day, there were more shadows. Every bite of food, every swallow of water stole the light away from him. Stole his thoughts. Replaced them with shadows.

But he was no longer in the shadows.

He was home.

He stood, unmoving, and drank in the details of this world with wide eyes and twitching ears. He could see vibrant greens in the hills all around him, bright yellows in the flowers, and soft white clouds in a blue sky that seemed to stretch off into eternity. He could feel the pleasant warmth of the sun on his coat once again, the cool touch of a gentle, playful breeze that tickled and teased the hairs of his mane and tail. He could feel soft grass under his hooves again, instead of sharp rocks and unforgiving pavement. He could hear the cheerful songs of the meadowlarks and bluejays as they swooped and dove overhead.

And there was laughter. Not the forced guffaws of the parents who watched their children ride him with indifferent stares, nor the harsh screams of those children as they dug their heels into his sides. No, this was genuine laugher, drifting down from those airborne clouds as playful pegasi swept around and pushed them about.

It was no longer a distant memory from a time that had nearly been erased. It was here, it was now, and it was real.

“Lodestone,” he whispered, his eyes moving to focus on the small group of ponies that were moving towards him.

A soft hand touched his shoulder, and he turned to meet Penny’s excited expression. “What did you just say?”

“My name.” His gaze flicked to Megan, who was coiling up the rope and giving him the most pleased smile he had ever seen while the portal sparked and fizzed out of existence. “It’s not Rocky. It’s—”

“Lodestone!” a pony called out, and before anybody could react, the trio found themselves surrounded by a half dozen ponies of every color imaginable. A pink unicorn with a blonde and red streaked mane pushed to the front, took his face in her hooves, and studied him intently. “That was fast! Perfect! Why didn’t you come back through…” She released him and shook her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Quick, we don’t have a moment to waste. Megan, my name is Luster Dawn, and we are facing a crisis that only you can solve. I’m sure Lodestone explained everything, but if you have any questions, I can answer them on the way. Now let’s go!”

Penny let out a squeak as Luster Dawn’s magic hoisted her up and onto Lodestone’s back. “Wait a minute! I’m not…”

“Ready for this? Of course you are,” Luster interrupted, and the gaggle began to push and prod Lodestone into moving. “With you here, this’ll be a piece of cake. I promise.”

“Wait!” Lodestone protested. “I have no idea what’s going on! Where are we going? What are we doing? Who are you ponies?!”

“Always joking, aren’t you?” Luster Dawn replied. “It’s cute, but we don’t have time for it right now.”

“Grandma!” Penny called out, and she swiveled to face the real Megan. “Help!”

Megan shook her head with a grin, and her hand went into her pocket. “I think it’d be better if you go, dear. I’m too old to go running off on another adventure.”

“But I don’t know what to do!”

“I know! Isn’t that great?” Megan replied as she stepped up and placed something in Penny’s hands. “Go wild! Use your imagination! Be bold! You’ll never go wrong if you follow your heart.”

“What?” Penny glanced down to the object in her hand, and she gasped. “Grandma! Is this…”

“The Rainbow of Light,” Megan confirmed. “Use it well, dear, and be sure to tell me all about your journey when you get back!”

Penny hesitated for a brief moment, but then her grip tightened around the golden heart-shaped locket in her palm. “I will, Grandma. I’ll make you proud.”

“You always do. Now scoot!”

“But… but…” Lodestone protested weakly. “I don’t think I can…”

“You can, Lodestone,” Penny whispered into his ear. “Don’t you see? You’ve already won! You’re free from Master and the Circle. Now let’s show these ponies how strong and brave you really are.”

Lodestone drew in a deep breath, exhaled, and nodded with a frim grunt. “You’re right. Let’s do this. Together.”

“Together,” Penny echoed with a smile.

This statement brought out a cheer from the crowd, and before Megan could call out a farewell, the group was galloping off towards the distant hills.

All except for one. The lavender pony who remained couldn’t really be called a pony at all, since she was as tall as any Arabian that had ever been on Megan’s farm. The old woman chuckled as she studied the intricate gold accoutrements that this leggy pony was wearing, and after a moment, her eyes moved to meet the maniacal grin before her.

“You are not Queen Majesty,” Megan said with a playful huff.

“Oh my gosh, it is such an honor to meet you!” The winged unicorn nearly exploded with joy, but she somehow managed to keep her composure long enough to bow. “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, and on behalf of the Kingdom of Equestria, it is my singular honor to welcome you back, Megan Williams. I’m sorry that we were not able to extend a proper welcome, but as you saw, we have a bit of a crisis on our hooves. Thank you so, so much for coming back with the Rainbow of Light, and—” Twilight hesitated for a moment “—and who just rode off with Lodestone and the others?”

“My granddaughter, Penny. I assure you that she is more than equal to whatever task you have for her.” Megan grunted in pain, and her right hand moved to rub her left wrist. “Though I think I will have her create the portal next time. I’m going to be feeling this for a month.”

“Are you hurt?” Twilight Sparkle asked, her magic leaping to life and wrapping around Megan’s wrist.

“Just my arthritis, Your Majesty. Nothing to worry about. However,” Megan bobbed her eyebrows once. “I would like to know what’s happened here in Dream Valley since my last visit. How long has it been?”

“Oh, this isn’t Dream Valley,” Twilight Sparkle replied with an eager expression. “These are the Everfree Fields, just before White Tail Woods. Ponyville is just over that hill. You see…”

* * Ω * *

Equestria was everything Penny had dreamed it would be, and so much more.

The young girl glanced over the gaggle of ponies as they all walked slowly towards Sweet Apple Acres, chattering amongst themselves with their newest friend riding proudly on Lodestone’s back in the center of the herd, and was amazed at how much her life had changed in just a few short hours. She had learned their names, a little bit about their personalities, and most importantly, she had seen them work together as friends to defeat their foe. It had been a thrilling introduction to the world of her Grandmother’s stories, and she was eager to see what tomorrow’s adventure might be.

But first, she wanted to tell Grandma Megan everything that had happened, and to get some sleep. The combined excitement of everything that had happened that day had taken all of her energy, and the yawns from her new friends was proof enough that she was not alone in her feelings.

“Well, that was an adventure that I’d care not to repeat. Ever.” Luster Dawn rolled her shoulders and groaned. “I’m just glad you held on to the Rainbow of Light, Megan.”

“I’m not Megan,” Penny corrected for what felt like the hundredth time. “But I can’t wait to tell Grandma about what happened. I bet she was never as nervous or as scared as I was back there.”

“You coulda fooled us.” Emerald Spark, a green unicorn who was nervous even at the calmest of times, trotted closely to her side with the occasional brush of his side against her leg for reassurance. “You looked so calm, so sure. I just knew we’d pull it off, since you were so confident.”

“Really?” Penny asked.

“Yeah,” Luster Dawn added. “You stepped up and took care of business, just like in the old days. Princess Twilight will be happy to read over my report. Once she gets done with the sunset, that is,” she quickly amended.

“Wait a minute, Luster Dawn.” Penny shook her head. “You’re telling me that Princess Twilight Sparkle, right at this very moment, is making the sun set?”

“Yup!” Luster Dawn replied with pride, and she pointed to the distant horizon. “And once she gets done with that, the Princess will bring up the moon. She took over those duties when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna retired. It’s actually really cool to watch her do it.”

“Luna,” Lodestone murmured, his gaze on his own long and fading shadow as it slowly crawled up the last hill before Sweet Apple Acres with him. “Nightmare Moon…”

“I still can’t believe you don’t remember any of this.” Melody paused to blow an errant strand of green mane out of her face, stumbled as her orange hoof hit a rock, and recovered as she came up on Lodestone’s left. “Or any of us. You were only gone for, like, fifteen minutes at best. How could you have been stuck in Megan’s world for so long? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m not my grandma,” Penny repeated with a shake of her head, a small huff, and a playful smile. “And Lodestone was stuck in my world for… let’s just say it was for a long time.”

“Well, we can sort through the details with Princess Twilight soon enough,” Luster Dawn commented. “Though I can’t imagine why she wanted us to meet with her at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“It’s the closest civilized location to where Lodestone and Megan—er, Penny, entered our world from.” Blue Wave nudged her perpetually sliding glasses back up her nose and drifted up slightly on her wings to get a better look ahead. “And it looks like they’re waiting for us.”

“Grandma?” Penny hesitated and shaded her eyes to get a better view of the farm below, but she gasped once she saw Megan in a rocking chair, her hands folded gently in her lap and her head resting against the back of the chair with her eyes closed. “Oh, no! Lodestone, quick! We’ve got to get down there and help her!”

“What? Why?” he asked, as he and the others took off in a gallop.

“Grandma might be having a heart attack! All of the excitement of getting you home earlier today could've been more than she could handle!”

The group said nothing more as they thundered down the hill, across the bridge that marked the entrance to the property, and up to the porch. Megan didn’t respond to the noise, and that fact sent a wave of nervousness through the ponies.

“Maybe she died,” Emerald Spark offered in a fearful tone. Penny jumped off Lodestone's back and rushed to Megan’s side.

“I’m not dead, you silly ponies,” Megan replied, opening one eye and chuckling at Penny's startled reaction. “I’m just enjoying the sunset.”

“Grandma, you scared me.” Penny let out a sigh of relief, and she smiled when Megan’s other eye opened and met hers. “Are you okay?”

“Never better, my dear,” Megan said. “I’ve had a lot of time to relax and to think things over, and Princess Twilight Sparkle has told me all about what happened here in Equestria. She’s inside, talking with her friend Applejack and helping to make fresh apple fritters for everybody. And everypony,” she added with a wink. “In the meantime, I want to hear all about your adventure, Penny. What happened? What did you do?”

Penny looked like she might burst with pride. “Oh, Grandma! It was just like one of your stories, except it was really real! I couldn’t believe it! You’ll never believe what we did!”

“Try me,” Megan said with a deep smile.

* * Ω * *