• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,297 Views, 1,588 Comments

The Monster Below - Greenback



An earth pony seeks to transform himself into an Alicorn, but how far is he willing to go to get what he wants?

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Celestia's Abomination

Our trip through Equestria started off well enough; we rode through its many cities and towns, pegasi messengers flying ahead to spread word of our arrival. Once we got there, we would set up a meeting in the biggest hall, gym, or stage available and hold a question and answer session for the locals. Truth be told, I felt more like a circus animal than the representative of a major company, strutting across the stages and going down the isles while stretching and flexing my wings, even letting them touch them if they wished. Following that was a demonstration of my flight abilities, proving that we now had the power to let earth ponies fly.

I had thought our PR campaign would be easy, and that all of Equestria would quickly embrace this technology. But alas, real life wasn't like my fantasy.

Just like in Manehattan, towns and settlements were split fifty-fifty on if my wings were a good thing, or if Medicomp was messing with something that shouldn't be trifled with. I wasn't openly heckled, but it was hard to ignore scowling faces when I was doing my tricks, making me feel like a foal's magician trying to impress an adult audience and failing miserably.

As we continued through Equestria, things began to change. Hecklers began to pop up, booing and raising a fuss. There were few at first, and were quickly ushered out from the venues, but they began to grow in number. Soon the booing turned to yells, and then protests that what Medicomp was doing was wrong. Then came the vegetables and fruit thrown at me, and I got unwanted practice at dodging them.

I was baffled. So too, were Beakbreaker, Coin Counter, and the other higher-ups who had come on the trip. This shouldn't have happened: Almost no one opposed wing implants for crippled pegasi, but there was no such enthusiasm for us. The higher-ups were concerned about the investment, but they could stay on the sidelines. I didn't have that luxury, as I had overtaken Beakbreaker as the public face of Medicomp. I kept telling myself that the ponies who objected to me getting wings were only angry about it as a matter of principle, and not actually angry at me. After all, I was just a spokespony. But spokespony or not, it became harder to ignore the protests, heckling, and spite directed my way.

It didn’t help that I saw Mangus grinning after each performance, like he was a king and I his jester, playing the fool for his amusement.

***

There were two destinations on the trip I feared going to. The first was Canterlot, where I would present the wings to Equestira's upper class, and to the princesses themselves. The thought scared me out of my wits; not because I was afraid Celestia and Luna would boo and hurl tomatoes at me, but because I didn't know what they thought of the wings. If they were wavering, any mistake on my part could have drastic consequences.

The thought of Celestia scowling at my stupidity scared me half to death.

Canterlot was still a few months away, but my spirits were still frayed as we headed to the other destination I feared: Cloudsdale. I was heading into their capital, the beating heart of their race. What would they think of me? Would they see me as an abomination? Someone foolishly trying to force his way into their ranks? That's what the Cloudsdale Times had been saying, letters and editorials portraying me as a fool and disrespectful of the proud legacy of the pegasi. I brought my concerns up with Coin Counter, but he assured me that this was necessary, for we needed to prove to the pegasi that Medicomp's wings were just as good as the ones nature gave them.

Coin Counter was right, but his words did nothing to soothe my fears.

When the day arrived, and our train came to a stop beneath Cloudsdale, our traveling group headed up the city. Various spells were cast to allow non-pegasi ponies walk on the clouds for the duration of our stay, and we were guided to the city's famed stadium. Normally reserved for sporting events and various competitions, we had been granted use of it for our presentation.

Beakbreaker had a blast during the walk to the stadium, astonished at being able to stroll over the puffy clouds without fear of falling through. I wished I could have shared her enjoyment, but it was impossible for me to ignore the suspicious looks I got from passing pegasi. There were few friendly faces, and many glares sent my way, making it feel like everyone was on edge.

All it would take to set things off was a single mishap, mistake, or misspoken word.

My fears were momentarily forgotten when we reached the stadium. I had seen it in pictures and movies, but nothing compared to standing outside its polished marble walls and gaze upon the many statues, precious gems, and banners billowing in the mid-morning breeze. It was so big that I felt tiny while walking inside, even moreso at seeing all the seats filled to capacity. There were thousands of ponies gathered together to see our show, but when I scanned the crowds, I found an unsteady mixture of curiosity, excitement, and anger.

Coin Counter, sensing the animosity in the air, quickly began his presentation, giving a speech that focused on how the company's wings could help those who had lost their own. I was backstage during it all, trying to build up my nerve to head out. Beakbreaker had to take a cloth and wipe the sweat from me, giving constant assurances that I was going to be fine. From anyone else, the assurances would have been empty, but hearing them from Beakbreaker gave me the boost I needed to head onstage. They gave me the strength to start my routine as thousands of ponies watched me perform tricks, spins, and loops. But even as I flew about, I could tell most of the crowd weren't happy at seeing an earth pony trying to impress them.

Things only got worse as the exhibition went on. Being under the gaze of so many unfriendly ponies was like flying through toxic soup, and I could handle it for only so long. As the presentation finally, mercifully drew to a close, I tried not to just give up and fly away as fast as I could.

I heard the shout a split second before something hit me in the face, and my vision went red. I momentarily lost control as I panicked, thinking that someone had thrown a knife into my eyes. But I could still see, though it was painful to do so. Liquid hit my tongue, and I tasted tomato.

More jeers, and more vegetables were thrown at me. Most hit, and I struggled to stay afloat. The hecklers below laughed, yelling at me to get out of Cloudsdale. Then others joined in, and yells quickly filled the air, drowning out Coin Counter's pleas for calm. Whether the yells were directed towards me or the hecklers, I couldn't tell, but it was like the entire stadium had finally given up the facade of a friendly place and turned against me.

The stress instinct took over, kicking me into fight or flight mode. Muscles were primed for a life or death struggle, and my stomach was emptied, freeing my body from devoting precious energy to digesting food. Unfortunately, it chose to have me throw up over the hecklers, who were drenched in a waterfall of vomit.

Not hanging around to hear their outraged howls, I took off, zooming out of the stadium and back towards solid ground, leaving Cloudsdale far behind.

***

Needless to say, the vomit waterfall incident didn't go over well in the Cloudsdale press, and neither did my sudden departure. While Coin Counter defended me as best he could (saying that the incident came from the unfriendly reception we had received), there were too many proud ponies in Cloudsdale who don't take insults - even accidental ones - lightly. When we got our hooves on a special edition of the Cloudsdale Times, there were a full five pages devoted to letters from the editor. Beakbreaker and the others cautioned me not to read them, but I did anyway, wanting to learn why so many didn't like me.

Of all the letters, most said the wings were a good idea, but that I was a pathetic choice to show off the wings. Why have an earth pony fly, the letters asked, when Medicomp could have gotten an injured pegasi and given him or her wings instead?

As the train made its way down the tracks that night, I remained in the lounge car, looking out to the nighttime sky above, fruitlessly searching for an inner calm. I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I didn't hear Beakbreaker walk inside.

“Hey, you okay?”

I wasn't, but nodded, not wanting to get into a discussion about what happened.

“You don't look okay," Beakbreaker said.

“I'm just tired, that's all," I told her. "Getting up so early so many times wears you down, you know?”

She wasn't fooled. “I'm a doctor. I know illness when I see it, either of the body, or of the mind." I expected a lecture, but she gave none, instead putting a hoof on my shoulder. “When you want to talk, I'll be here to listen.”

Then, giving me a pat, she left.

I knew Beakbreaker wanted to help me, and I appreciated her offer, but felt that she couldn't help me. I had achieved my dream... or, at least, a modified version of it, and thought all of Equestria would have been amazed at my achievement. But instead, Equestria was divided, bickering on whether I was a good thing, an ill omen, or a mistake that should have never taken to the sky. Nothing was going as I had hoped, and my dream was becoming a nightmare, but I couldn't figure out why. Was it the wings? The idea of anyone being able to get wings? Or, as I feared, did the problem lay with me?

I remained in the lounge car long into the night, staring out at the night sky and wondering what I was doing wrong.

***

After the fiasco at Cloudsdale, Coin Counter decided that the best course of action was to head to familiar territory, and diverted the train to Saddle Lanka, saying I deserved a short break after all I had done. I realized he was trying to make up for what had happened, and was grateful for the effort. If nothing else, a few days at home with my parents, and out of the public eye, would rejuvenate the soul.

With the engines going at full speed, we reached Saddle Lanka in short order, arriving at the station just as a light rain fell from the cloud-covered sky, forcing everyone to take an umbrella as they disembarked. It was an odd experience having my hooves touch the stone platform; just a few years ago, I had been eager to leave Saddle Lanka. I had been a nobody back then, and now I was the most famous... or infamous... pony in Equestria.

Strange how so much can change in such a short time…

Mangus led the way as the others got off the train. His return to Saddle Lanka was more joyous then my own, for he had nothing but pleasant memories for this place, most of them no doubt involving me. As Coin Counter sent his aides off to arrange lodging at the local hotels, I told him that he didn’t have to worry about lodging for myself, as I already had a place to stay. And with that, I started off towards my parent’s house. Beakbreaker jogged after me; though I wanted time to myself, I was fine with her coming along. In fact, I welcomed it. Her presence would help me relax and unwind.

My peace would be difficult to find, though, for it wasn't long before Mangus and two of his guards followed me. Though this was my hometown, I knew Coin Counter wasn't going to take any chances with my safety, and had dispatched Mangus to make sure I didn't come to harm. He kept his distance (no doubt aware that complaints from me would see him removed), and I did my best to ignore the three of them.

Beside me, Beakbreaker whistled as we went among the trees. “So this is where you grew up?”

I nodded, used to the towering trees and thick greenery. But for Beakbreaker, who came from the arid fields of the savannas, enormous forests and blue-green mountains were things out of myths and fairy tales.

We headed down a small path until we reached my childhood home. It hadn’t changed much since the last time I saw it; the lawn was still well kept, and there was a new coat of paint on the walls, but it was identical to the way it was years ago. The two of us walked to the porch, where Beakbreaker waited as I knocked on the door. The knob turned a few moments later, and my dad came out.

“Yes, can I-” He stopped. “Silverspeak?!”

I smiled. “Hi, Dad.”

Dad was so shocked at seeing me that it took him a few moments to get himself back together. Once he did, he got a smile equal to mine and turned back inside. “Honey! Come see who's landed on our doorstep!”

My mother rushed out, and practically squealed with joy at seeing me, wasting no time in fulfilling the time-honored tradition of mothers trying to crush their children to death beneath a loving embrace.

“Oh, my little stallion has come home!” Loosening her grip at seeing my struggles to breathe, she asked, “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?”

“Medicomp's tour took a little side trip,” I wheezed. “Wanted to see how you two were doing.”

“Really? We read about the tour in the paper, but it said you were coming by next month.”

I was surprised that Saddle Lanka’s newspaper had talked about the tour. “Really? What else did the paper say?”

My mother looked beside me and gave that pleasant smile all parents give when trying to change the topic. “Beakbreaker!”

Beakbreaker trotted up to the door. “Hello Mrs. Brassbloom. Hello Mr. Goldplate; it’s good to see you again!”

Mom grabbed Beakbreaker in the same embrace she had given me, only slightly less crushing. Beakbreaker was surprised, but went along with it, getting considerably more out of it than I had. It occurred to me that she hadn't seen her family in years, and that could have been the first time she'd been embraced since leaving them.

Looking behind Beakbreaker, my mother spotted Mangus and his goons. While she and my dad were somewhat knowledgeable about what Mangus had done to me in grade school, they had still believed that he wasn't a bad pony, just one who needed to be straightened out a bit. They probably hoped that the passing years had done exactly that.

“Well, Mangus Bluehorn,” my mother said. “You've certainly grown.”

Mangus put on his most charming smile as he wiped his hair back. “Indeed I have,” he boasted. “And definitely for the better!”

Mom wasn’t quite convinced, and from the looks of things, neither was Dad. “I see... Well, Silverspeak, Beakbreaker, I imagine you're tired. Why don't you come in and get a drink?”

We started inside. So did Mangus and the guards, but I held up my hoof. “No thanks, you two,” I said. “We'll be fine.”

“We're your guards,” Mangus pointed out.

“And you can guard the lawn," I said. "Plenty of room to see incoming threats from there.” Closing the door before he could answer, I slipped the locks in place and joined my parents in the kitchen, where Dad was already making some treats and preparing tea. Once it was done, we took our spots at the table; I looked around while sipping. “Place doesn’t look any different since I was last here,” I said.

“We're thinking of getting some new wallpaper,” Dad said. "Give the house a new color scheme."

“How about my room?”

“Oh, we've kept it right the way it is,” Mom said. “In case... you know... you ever came home.”

From the way she said it, Mom hadn’t quite adjusted to having her little baby not living at home anymore.

“My parents are doing the same,” Beakbreaker said. “They say they’re keeping my hut the same way it’s been, when the time comes for me to return home.” She chuckled. “I don't think they believe their child has grown up.”

Mom chuckled. “Oh, I know that feeling well.”

Beakbreaker slipped a glance at me and winked. She had come to my rescue, realizing how awkward things had been. I winked back, grateful for the save.

“Well, son,” Dad said as he finished his cup. “I understand you've gotten some wings.”

I had known this moment would come eventually, but I wasn't sure how my parents would take it. While I had written the occasional letter to them since the whole wing fiasco had started, they had never directly commented on my new appendages, or made any mention of all the hullabaloo that surrounded it. I could endure other ponies mocking me, but the only opinions I truly cared about, even above the princesses, were those of my parents. Above all others, I hoped they would be proud of my efforts to better myself.

I was going to find out if that was true or not.

“Yes I have,” I said, raising my chest. “Would you like to see them?”

Dad nodded.

I stepped away from the table, took hold of my coat, and yanked it off, spreading my wings as far as they would go.

For a long moment my parents were at a loss for words. I studied their faces, trying to discern if they were happy or sad, but couldn't tell which it was.

My mother left the table and came over, stretching her hoof out. “May I?” I nodded, and she stroked my right wing, hooves going through the feathers. “They feel so...real. How'd you do it?”

“You'll have to ask Beakbreaker that,” I said. “She's the one who made them, not me.”

“Making them was difficult,” Beakbreaker said, “but I won’t bore you with all the details.” She went to my wings, pointing out the scars where they had been joined with flesh. “The big deal - so to speak - is that we can attach wings to anyone, regardless of species. In fact, the two of you could get wings too, if you wanted.”

My mom blushed. “Oh, thank you dearie, but... we'll wait to see how they work out after a year or so.”

Was she tactfully saying no, or telling the truth? I couldn’t tell.

Dad come over and put his hooves between my feathers as well. I flexed my wings so that he could see all the muscles and intricate details up close and personal.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“These are amazing,” he said, impressed. “Never thought I'd see the day Equestria would get anything like this.”

“Never thought you'd see your son become a pegasi, either?”

He chuckled. “No, can't say I did.”

***

The reunion with my parents went as well as I could have hoped, but it was cut short when Mangus pounded on the door. When Dad opened it, he found my annoyed guard holding a note that had just been delivered from Coin Counter via one of the pegasi on staff. Opening it, I read that despite what he had said earlier, Coin Counter wanted to do a brief presentation that evening to Saddle Lanka, having only just learned that there was a convention of prestigious unicorns from all throughout Equestria meeting in town. And these weren’t just any ordinary unicorns, but ones from high society. If we could impress them regarding the wings, then they’d go and tell everyone how magnificent they were. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and couldn’t be passed up.

I wasn’t happy. Barely an hour into relaxing at home, and already I was being called back to do another show. Beakbreaker and my parents said that I should say no. I had come to Saddle Lanka to relax and recuperate, not perform before crowds of hecklers. I was tempted to agree with them, but Coin Counter was right: we needed the support of those who's influence couldn't be understated. It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. Besides, if I could impress them, then perhaps that might help other ponies accept me, and all it required was an hour of my time.

Handing the note back to Mangus, I told him I’d be there. Beakbreaker and my parents were surprised, but I assured them it would be easy. Besides, it was only for an hour; what was the worst that could happen in the span of sixty minutes?

As Mangus headed back into town, I outflew him to the performing arts area. Normally we’d do the presentation inside a convention hall, but with Saddle Lanka’s only gymnasium already full with tables and booths for the convention, we would have to perform on one of its outdoor stages. As lights and a podium were set up, I only hoped that we wouldn’t get rain; clouds were coming in, and it looked like the next few days were going to be stormy ones.

When the show was about to start, I wondered just how many ponies would come, considering how this had been thrown together in the span of an afternoon. But word travels fast, and the news that Saddle Lanka's most famous son had returned home brought almost everyone out. When all was said and done, I peered out from behind the curtains and saw over a thousand Unicorns before the stage (with my parents in the front row). And not only that, but there were also ponies setting up microphones and audio equipment near the stage. Not only was I going to be performing in front of a thousand high-class Unicorns, but I also had to put on my best show for the radio to broadcast to all corners of Equestria. I could do it, of that I had no doubt, but the problem with a live broadcast was that if something went wrong, there were no retakes.

Anything and everything could happen.

***

Everything started off well. I walked out onto the stage as Coin Counter began his talk (tweaking the dialogue so it catered to unicorns), noting how my wings allowed me to surpass so many barriers that separated earth ponies from greatness. Imagine, then, what would happen once they were available to everyone, unicorns included. While I performed my tricks and maneuvers, Coin Counter pointed out that with wings, unicorns would be both masters of magic and the sky.

With a sly smile, Coin Counter pointed out that pre-orders for the wings were conveniently available after the show, which got a good laugh from many in the audience.

To my delight, everything went smoothly. Compared to Cloudsdale, there were no hecklers, hooligans, or those out looking to disrupt things. On my last flyover, I made extra sure to swoop past my parents, who were in awe at seeing their son doing the impossible. As I flew towards the stage, I caught a glimpse of Mangus, who seemed particularly unhappy. No doubt he thought it should have been him on stage being admired, instead of the runt he had constantly heckled back in school.

Sucks to be you, I thought as I landed.

In hindsight, I wish I could have realized the trouble I was heading into. But being so caught up in the moment, I had no idea how badly things were going to go.

The question and answer session began, as it usually did, with Coin Counter being asked how much the wings would cost, how durable they were, and other oft-repeated inquiries. But while most of those came from the high-class ponies, things changed when the natives of Saddle Lanka asked about the moral and ethical aspects of the wings themselves. Coin Counter stressed that the company wasn't trying to change the ways of nature, but rather, to allow ponies to fulfill their dreams of flight, no matter what species they were.

As the questions kept coming, I realized that I should have warned Coin Counter that Saddle Lanka was one of the more conservative unicorn communities, priding itself on a proud and rich tradition of magical excellence. Anything that deviated from that tradition was shunned, and while there were some within the audience who liked the idea of being able to fly, most of them (especially the older, more influential unicorns) saw it as a threat to their way of life, and the purity of the unicorn race.

As the end of the presentation arrived, Coin Counter said we had time for one last question. A unicorn at the very back of the crowd sent a magical flash of light into the sky.

“Yes, the stallion in the back.”

The unicorn came trotting up to the stage. He was about my age, slightly more muscular, and had the intense, focused gaze of someone with high intelligence. Taking a microphone, he said, “I've got a question for Mr. Silverspeak.”

There was something about his voice that put me on alert, a smugness born from self-righteousness. Nevertheless, I took the microphone from Coin Counter. “Yes, go ahead,” I said, taking care to keep my voice neutral.

“Well, what I'd like to know, Mr. Silverspeak, is what it’s like to be a freak?”

Coin Counter moved to take the microphone back, but I held up a hoof. “I'm not sure I understand what you mean,” I said.

“You're a freak. You defy nature and everything Celestia stands for. You're out there happily slapping wings on your back, and ignoring the consequences of doing so.”

“And what are those consequences?” I asked.

“You're going to have every deviant out there wanting to follow your example and defy nature, that's what! You know how many ponies look up to you? They see you as some sort of rebel who defied Celestia and went against everything she stands for.”

“Have you heard any of the other interviews I've given?” I asked, noticing that the radio operators had every microphone turned in my direction. “Haven't you noticed that I look up to her as a role model?”

The pony laughed. “You can fool a lot of ponies, buddy, but I-”

An angry chill went through me. So many times in childhood, bullies had mockingly called me their buddy, and as a result, I felt a rush of anger whenever I heard that word, especially when some punk used it as an insult.

“I'm not your buddy, 'buddy',” I snarled.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, I'm not your buddy.” I was having trouble keeping my temper in check, and could see Coin Counter starting to panic, no doubt fearing that I was going to lash out and create a PR nightmare. But I didn't care; I wanted to know why so many ponies didn't like what I was doing, and this unicorn was the embodiment of every pony who had mocked me up to that point. “And, quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if you're one of those backwater fanatics who hates change: uneducated, too proud to admit your own faults, and frothing at the mouth whenever you see something you don't like. Isn't that right, ‘buddy’?”

No one spoke.

My parents looked like they were going to faint.

The unicorn laughed. “I'm a hard working Unicorn, just like my family, and their family before them. And if you're so smart, then you'd know that most of Equestria doesn't like what you're doing. Doesn't surprise me, seeing as you probably live in a comfy little bubble where you're only told what you want to hear, but the average pony out there sees these wings as the beginning of Equestria's downfall.”

“Mind explaining that rather large gap in logic?”

“If you start with wings, then what's to stop you from going to horns? What's to stop ponies from becoming alicorns? If that happened, then nopony would be special or unique. But even without horns, everyone would be pegasus ponies! It’d be a swarm, disrupting the natural order of things! And not to be boastful or anything, but if any kind of pony should take over as the dominant species, it should be the unicorns! We have the most power to change things, isn't that right?!”

The crowd cheered.

“But we're humble, too. We know our place. You don't. And if this little scheme of yours succeeds, and everypony out there destroys the natural order, it'd be anarchy. You'd be remembered as the one who started it all. But that's not going to happen: We're going to stop you.”

“And how do you figure that?!” I demanded. “You going to get your little unicorn buddies and stab me through the eye in an alley somewhere?!”

“Naw, nothing that crude. All we've got to do is convince Equestria that you're a freak. Mighty Silverspeak, the one who seeks to destroy a way of life that everyone else has enjoyed for over a thousand years. But hey, buck that! It's all about you, right? Go ahead and ignore your role and your place in things. In liberal Manehattan you may be a pariah, but out here with the rest of us hard-working ponies, you're an abomination! You're scum! You're-”

That was my breaking point. Anger shoved aside rational thought as I dropped the microphone and leapt at the stallion, aiming to buck that smug face of his until his bones were liquified goo. But a magical force grabbed hold of me before I could hit him and yanked me behind the curtains, where both Mangus and Coin Counter held me.

Beakbreaker ran up to me. “Silverspeak!”

I didn't notice her, fighting against the magic with everything I had. I didn’t care that I couldn’t escape. I just wanted to fight, to thrash and kick.

Beakbreaker grabbed my face. “Silverspeak, stop! It's okay! You’re-”

I lashed out and kicked her in the face, knocking Beakbreaker to the stage.

It took me a moment to realize what I had done. Seeing Beakbreaker lying on the floor snapped me out of my anger, and I went limp, horrified at the blood that was trickling from her nose.

Sensing that I wasn’t going to fight anymore, Coin Counter released his magical hold on me; when Mangus didn’t, Coin Counter slapped him, and I fell to the floor, scrambled over to Beakbreaker.

“Beakbreaker!”

Beakbreaker sat up, hooves going to her nose.

“Beakbreaker, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to… Oh Celestia, I’m sorry!”

Wiping the blood away, Beakbreaker stared at me, scarcely believing what had just happened.

***

We didn’t hang around to see the aftermath of my leap, rushing from the stage before things really got out of hoof. Beakbreaker was taken to the train to get some medical treatment, while Mangus and his guards ushered us away. My parents quickly caught up, offering the house as a hiding spot. We took advantage of their offer and snuck away into the approaching night. When we got to the house, Mangus and the others put up spells of invisible energy to encircle the surrounding area, making it impossible for anyone to get close without setting off a magical alarm. Only when locks were thrown across the door did Coin Counter finally break his stunned silence.

“This was a mistake,” Coin Counter said. “I'm sorry, Silverspeak. We shouldn't have done this.”

“We were going to meet one of those hecklers sooner or later,” I told him. “Better now then in Canterlot.”

Coin Counter shook his head. “We can say that you were provoked, but to have a fight break out… I never thought that would happen.”

Mangus grinned at me, looking mighty pleased with himself.

“That doesn't matter now,” my mom said, bringing me a mug of tea. “What's done is done, and there's no use going over what could have been.” She thought for a moment. “If you’re smart, you’ll all stay out of sight for the next few days and give this all time to cool down.”

I could tell from Coin Counter's expression that he wasn't convinced. Once a big event hits the newswire, the only thing you can do is wait for another big story to come along and make everyone forget about you. Nor could we take off, which would make it seem like we were running away. For the moment, we were stuck.

“All right,” Coin Counter said. “I’ll get to work with our PR boys. Silverspeak, I think it’d be best if you stayed here until we figure out what to do.”

“Gladly… that is, if my parents are okay with it.”

“I’m not going to let my baby head out there after tonight,” Mom said. “Not when the crowd might tear him apart.” Dad nodded in agreement, not wanting to risk his son being mocked, or worse.

Relieved, Coin Counter headed for the door. “Mangus, you and the others keep a close eye on this house. Don't let anyone in who isn't family, or part of our group, understand?”

Mangus nodded. “Of course.” He glanced my way with a big grin. “Nobody's coming or going without me knowing.”

“Good," Coin Counter said. "Hopefully we can nip this thing in the bud before it gets out of hoof.”

I quickly got up and went to the door as Coin Counter went to the door. “Sir?”

“Yes?”

“Could you… could you let Beakbreaker know I want to talk with her as soon as she’s feeling better?”

Coin Counter nodded. “I will. I promise.” Then, opening the door, he slipped out into the night.

***

Nobody felt much like talking, or trying to lighten the mood. Not even one of Dad's five-star meals lifted our spirits. Finally giving up, we retired to our rooms, and to our own thoughts. Mangus and his guards got the guest room, while I headed upstairs to my old room. Entering it was like going through a time machine; while most of my stuff had been put in storage, my room looked almost exactly like when I had left it. The bright blue walls were untouched, save for a fine covering of dust, dust that covered a few pieces of childhood memorabilia still on the shelves. It was tempting to look through my old things, but I decided to save that for another time as I shook the dust from the bed's comforter. It was surreal to lay in my old bed again; I almost felt like a child again, not having to worry about paying bills and dealing with life's inevitable disappointments. All I had back then were my dreams, and it seemed as if nothing could stop me from fulfilling them.

Oh, how times had changed.

As had happened so many times before, I stared at the ceiling as the night went on, unable to sleep, the events of the day rushing back to me again and again. Worst of all of them were seeing Beakbreaker lying on the floor with a cracked nose. That memory stung far more then anything the heckler had said to me.

As midnight came and went, I got out of bed and headed downstairs as quietly as I could, hoping that my mom’s old remedy of warm milk would help me sleep. Reaching the kitchen, I poured myself a glass, heated it up, and started to drink it.

I was halfway through when someone entered the kitchen.

“Late night refrigerator raid?”

Not being in the mood to talk with Mangus, I drank faster.

“You know, I never thought I'd see the day when you attacked someone, especially an innocent pony who only wanted to ask you a question.”

“Back off Mangus,” I said. “I'm not interested in anything you have to say.”

“Oh, I think you will be after I-”

I almost slammed the glass on the counter. “May I remind you that you're a guest in my parent's home? You bother any of us, and we can throw you out.”

Mangus positioned himself between me and the doorway. “Such a temper! What did I do to deserve such treatment?”

I started for the exit, fully intending to shove Mangus aside, but he shoved me first. “I've been wondering, Silverspeak: what drove you become so violent? The same drive to get those wings?”

“That's none of your business.”

“Oh, but it is.”

I tried to shove past Mangus again, but instead of pushing back, he grabbed me with his magic. I was about to shout out when Mangus’ horn flashed again, and my mouth suddenly clamped shut.

Mangus’ smug smile gave way to an angry snarl. “Why you?” he growled. “Why does a wimpy earth pony become so famous?”

I thrashed, trying to force my mouth open, which felt like it was glued shut with cement. The harder I tried, the more I sweated, but not from the exertion. Mangus had me at his mercy; he could have sliced off my skin with a kitchen knife and I wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

“It's not fair,” Mangus growled, “I should be the one in your place: Mangus Bluehorn, one of the most talented unicorns of his generation, who ends up working as a security guard. And you, a good-for-nothing earth pony, get all the fame.” He yanked me in close. “Why?! Why do you get everything, and I get nothing?!” He drew in close. "But I shouldn't complain," he whispered, "not really... not after what the Manehattan librarian told me."

I froze.

“It's interesting, really. Here I was, thinking I’d be stuck at the library for the rest of my career. And the one day, out of the blue, the head librarian tells me Medicomp is looking for a new security team. Guess she was impressed with my performance, as she puts in a word for me. And then, boom! The boys and I get hired to protect Medicomp.” He smiled. “But you want to know something really interesting? Before I left, she told me that the pony who went after the Forbidden Section was at Medicomp, and possibly might go after the wings. Why... it’s like she knew exactly who it was.”

I couldn’t stop the color draining from my face.

“So I was told to watch that pony. See how they acted and make sure they didn’t become a danger. And if that happened… to take appropriate measures.”

He stepped in close. “All this time, I’ve been just waiting for a reason to act. Any at all. And make no mistake, Silverfreak, if you prove yourself to be a danger to everyone around you, I will take you down. After all, you proved today that you're happy to attack those who don’t like you.”

He dropped me to the floor, and walked out of the kitchen.

“Have a nice night.”

I lay there for several minutes, my heart pounding wildly. The librarian had recommended Mangus' group of goons to guard the Medicomp building. She knew I worked there. She probably figured I was the one who had tried to steal those wings. And if she knew I had broken into the library, then she must have told Mangus to keep an eye on me...

Mangus knew I had broken into the library.

Panic overwhelmed me until it felt like my heart was going to stop. I could no longer control my frantic breathing, or the sweat falling onto the tiled floor.

He knows! I thought. Oh Celestia, Mangus knows! He knows what I did!

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