• 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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The Boiling Point

I fly across Manehattan as if in a dream, doing loops and twirls as if I weighed nothing at all. The photographers pursue me, but I easily outrace them. Soon they’re out of sight as I head towards Manehattan’s western side. There I find numerous abandoned factories and warehouses, victims of a recent downturn in manufacturing. Heading to one of the smaller buildings, I fly inside and take a look around. The place has plenty of rooms to hide in, along with a large manufacturing area where I can practice my new magic skills.

I clap my hooves. This is perfect!

Draping wood and pieces of cloth over the windows, I board up my hiding place. The next logical step would be to get some sleep and let my body rest, but I want to do magic! Should I try transformations? Divination? Teleporting? So many possibilities, but I can’t get ahead of myself. Best to start with the basics, like levitation and stunning blasts.

I’m practically bouncing as I gather up random objects and start lifting them with my magic. The process is much like what I did to escape from Medicomp: focus on what I want, hold that thought, and release. Pieces of wood are a cinch, and so are chairs, benches, and light appliances. But when I try lifting an engine, I find that there’s quite a difference between a two-by-four and a hunk of machinery my size. I concentrate harder, but only manage to make the thing wobble and shake. It’s only after a few attempts that I manage to lift it an inch off the ground, but it soon crashes back down, leaving me drenched in sweat.

This might be a little trickier than I imagined.

For the next hour I work on trying to lift that engine ever higher, my enthusiasm keeping me going no matter how many times it crashes to the floor, until I finally manage to lift it about a foot off the ground.

Yesterday I was an Earth pony, and now I can lift objects with nothing but the power of my mind!

After a short rest, I decide to try stunning blasts. There’s no doubt others are going to try and stop me, and I need to defend myself. My target is a piece of wood, with my imagination turning it into one of Mangus’ security guards… specifically, the one who tried to keep me from getting my horn.

I focus on a blast of energy that will knock him out and unleash it… only to have the wood wobble a little.

Oh dear.

I keep practicing, hitting the plank again and again, but it takes half an hour before I can knock it over. I was able to blast through a steel wall at Medicomp; a piece of wood shouldn't be a problem. Perhaps I'm pushing myself too hard. After all, I was on the verge of death only a few hours ago, and casting spells is emotionally exhausting. Perhaps I should rest and try again tomorrow.

I do a quick check to make sure the warehouse is properly boarded up before retreating into an old office on the lower floor, where I gather all the cushions I can find and arrange an impromptu bed. And as I lie down and drift off, I quietly give thanks to whatever force, being, or cosmic entity who guided me to this, the greatest day of my life.

***

When I wake, I sense that a long time has passed. With no clocks or windows around, I'm not sure how much, but peering through the floor to the ocean below shows water lit by mid-morning light. The effort of casting spells must have taken more out of me than I thought, but I feel fantastic and full of energy. In fact, that may have been the most restful night's sleep I've ever had. And if I’m still here, then that means the police don’t know where I am. Two pieces of great news, and it’s only the first few minutes of the day!

I leap to my hooves and stretch, delighted to find that my wings and horn are less sore than I feared. A check in a mirror shows some minor red spots around the stitches on the wings, but I otherwise look okay. Skipping up the stairs, I wonder what the outside world is like. No doubt news of me has leaked out by now. Are ponies afraid of me? Amazed? I need to find out.

Sneaking outside, I make my way along the abandoned waterfront and find a trashcan near one of the streets, where a newspaper half-pokes out from underneath the lid. Waiting until no one's in sight, I focus on the newspaper, visualizing it rushing towards me. Sure enough, it zips right out of the trash and into my waiting hooves. I have to stifle my giggles as I dash back to the warehouse. Me, actually doing magic!

Once inside, I open the paper. Sure enough, I dominate the front page, with the headline screaming: “Medicomp Spokespony becomes an Alicorn!” Beneath that are photos from security cameras, and a few blurry ones from the photographers I posed for. I sigh, grateful that they didn’t publish photos of me soaked with blood or screaming in agony.

Now, what does the article itself say? Let's see... Well, it's what I would expect: Silverspeak enters Medicomp, seems sane, but then proceeds to steal horn and wings, run past guards, and surgically attaches said horn and wings to himself, breaks out and goes missing. Nothing too sensational there, but the fallout from the act is surprising. Medicomp held an emergency press conference last night, telling the public that I have a mental imbalance, and because of that I may be a danger to both myself and others.

Flinching, I notice that there’s a public safety notice on the front page from the Manehattan police department, warning that I am not to be approached or engaged in any way, and that citizens should alert the police if I'm seen.

I put the paper aside. It seems like no matter what I do, everyone automatically assumes I'm going to use my powers to become some sort of tyrannical god or slavedriver like King Sombra. Has the thought crossed nobody's mind that I may just want to do good? Apparently not... but maybe they haven't had a chance to see that for themselves.

Wait... of course! I need to show them that I'm not to be feared, and to do so I need to head out and do some good. That's what my original plan was, after all. If I keep it up long enough and ignore all the naysayers, then everyone will see that there’s nothing scary about me. The authorities will no doubt swarm after me like bees to honey, but they’ll back down after public opinion turns in my favor.

But if any of that’s to happen, I need to head out there. After all, I won’t convince the public that I'm a good guy by hiding in the shadows.

***

I leave the warehouse a short time later and go through the nearby buildings in a search for clothing. I find an old coat and hat inside some lockers that’ll help disguise who I am. With my disguise ready, I fly to a nearby roof and test out my wings. A few practice flaps, and I soar into the concrete jungle of Manehattan, feeling like the Mysterious Mare-Do-Well on her first night fighting crime. Much like how Princess Celestia is there to watch over all of Equestria, I'm now here for all those who need my help. But unlike heroes in comic books and films, I don't have a fabled sixth sense that directs me towards crime. In fact, for the first hour of my flight, nothing happens at all as I cruise among the skies. It's actually quite boring until the silence is broken by a shriek of terror. I dart towards the sound. At last, someone I can help!

“Mommy!” A child's voice wails. “My balloon!”

Wait, a balloon? That's it? Well… heroes have start somewhere, I guess. I see a green balloon flying away to the sky. I could catch it easily enough with magic, but instead catch it with my teeth and head down to the street, where a young colt and his mother are watching. The colt claps, overjoyed at seeing his balloon returned.

“Oh, thank you,” the mother says as I touch down. “You have no idea how much he wanted-” she stops, looks me over, freezes. While my disguise helps hide me from a distance, even an ordinary pony can see through it up-close, and the mother realizes who I am. “You! Y...you're Silverspeak!”

I release the string, holding it with magic. “Indeed I am,” I say. “Now, here's your-”

The mother leaps in front of her child. “Get away from us!” She shrieks.

“Wait, I'm not trying to-”

Grabbing her colt, the mother runs.

“Hey, wait!” But the two have vanished into the crowd, leaving me with the balloon. Other ponies, having heard the commotion, recognize me, and they scramble back in fear.

Well, that didn't work out. I fly away and head towards the eastern side of Manehattan, hoping for better luck. Sure enough, it isn't long before I reach an intersection crammed with traffic and... I can't believe this... a little old mare unable to cross the street.

I swoop down; while I could land and ask the mare if she needs help across the street, using my magic will leave a bigger impression on passersby. I focus on lifting her up, and she does so. Like any old mare, she hollers as she's lifted over passing carriages. But while she's lighter than the engine at the factory, keeping my attention while both flying and floating her is harder than I thought. I falter and she almost falls, but I regain my hold, managing to get her safely across and down onto the sidewalk.

I did it! I swoop down, grinning ear to ear. “You all right, ma'am?”

“You did that?” she asks.

I nod, proud of myself.

The mare smacks me with her purse. “You almost gave me a heart attack! How am I going to get back over there before my grandson comes looking for me?!” Another smack, and she starts off down the street. “And don't bother asking if you can help!”

Nearby pedestrians look on. I fly off before they can identify me, grumbling as I do so. Still, can't get too upset. It's only my first day. More opportunities will present themselves.

I only go a few blocks before an unforeseen problem presents itself: I've been so caught up in everything that's happened that I’ve forgotten to eat. My apartment has food, but there are bound to be police officers there, just waiting for me to show myself. Going to the bank to get funds is also out of the question.

My stomach growls, impatient for food.

Hmm... there's a soup kitchen in the city's eastern quarter. My disguise would probably allow me to eat a meal before being recognized.

It doesn’t take long to reach the kitchen, which is already packed with ponies wanting shelter from the cold and the rain. Had I the ability, I'd materialize umbrellas or food for them, but I settle for joining them, making sure to tuck my wings away and pull the cap down tightly over my brow. Nobody pays me a second glance as I get inside and take a bowl of warm soup, bread, and an apple. Taking a seat in one of the booths, I eat fast, not wanting to stay longer than necessary. If someone recognizes me, things could get out of hoof really quickly.

The food's good; I'd love to get seconds, but I don't want to be greedy. So many others are less fortunate than I am, and I don't want to take away any-

“Come on, stop pulling my leg.”

“No really, I swear, it's the truth!”

I try to ignore the ponies in the next booth, despite how loud they are.

“No way you could know anything like that.”

“But I'm telling the truth! Things are bad out there! Real bad! The cops are combing every inch of this island looking for that Silverspeak fellow. My buddy Goldcuff says the cops came by the library last night to see if he’d come there, and Goldcuff said he overhead a few of the officers saying that the princesses are getting involved!”

I stop in mid-bite.

“Bull.”

“Hey, you think they're going to just sit around and do nothing if some nut-case is going around turning himself into one of them? There are rumors that they've sent out the Bearers to look for this guy, and that they're going to come out themselves!”

“I still say it's a lot of bull. No cop worth his salt-lick would slip information like that.”

“Well, Goldcuff's got a lot of friends still on the force. And this sort of thing just doesn't happen everyday you know. And then there are those Guardian nutjobs-”

“Guardians?”

“Yeah! That weirdo group coming out here tonight.”

“You suggesting we pack up and leave?”

“Heck yeah! No way this Silverspeak guy is going to go peacefully. He's going to go down fighting, and take half of Manehattan with him.”

The pony burps, and the stench of hard cider fills the air.

"I still say that's a load of bull."

I can barely keep from throwing up as I get out of the chair and head for the bathroom. Slamming the door shut, I leap through the window into an alley and take off, trying to put as much distance between me and the building as possible.

The princesses coming here!? No, no, that's not possible! But if they’ve dispatched the Bearers, then that means they think I'm a threat!

Celestia... Princess Celestia thinks I'm a threat!

I land on the nearest roof, grab my head, focus on my breathing. Calm down, Silverspeak! That pony was drunk. He was probably delusional, making things up to impress his friend, that's all. Yes, that’s it…he’s just some drunk trying to get his thrill of the day. Still, he's probably right about one thing: the cops are swarming all over the city. I have to get out of Manehattan and lay low for a while; any good deeds will have to wait.

***

When dawn breaks the following morning, I rush to get a copy of the daily paper, dreading what I'll find. My fears are justified, as the headlines scream about my…my rampage across Manehattan, attacking everyone I find, and even... breaking into the library?!

What in tartarus!?

I read about how I've been sighted all over Manehattan and attacked members of the public, including trying to lure a young colt away from his mother and tormented an old mare by threatening to drop her into traffic. I almost rip the paper to shreds, but I have to find out what’s going on with regards to another break-in at the library. Reading the article, I learn that someone broke in last night, blasting their way into the forbidden section, where they stole several books and escaped. And while the intruder hasn’t been identified, the police have concluded that it was me, and that I probably was the one who broke in the first time.

In light of that, and the “assaults” on the public, the police are warning ponies to stay inside after dark. Patrols are going to be stepped up, and Canterlot has issued a statement that, due to the severity of the problem, the capital has dispatched a special task force to deal with the issue.

There’s more, but I can’t read it, and toss the paper away, my breathing going so fast I have to spend several minutes to bring it down. This… This can’t be happening. How in Equestria could things go this badly?! All my efforts to do good are being misinterpreted, the papers are sensationalist propaganda, and now this impersonator… Even if I were to go before the public and give a statement and take questions, my words would be twisted and manipulated to turn all of Equestria against me.

I close my eyes and take deep, slow breaths. There has to be a way to fix this... Wait. If I can somehow reach the Royal Palace in Canterlot, I could talk to the only ones in all of Equestria who might understand me: there’s no way Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are swayed by tabloid headlines, sensationalist drivel, and the fears of the common folk. They'll see reason. They'll listen to me.

That’s it… I need to get to Canterlot and talk to the princesses. They’ll know what to do.

***

I spend the rest of the morning going through lockers and boxes throughout the warehouse district in search of food. There's not much, and I'll probably have to forage while en-route to Canterlot, but it's enough to keep me alive.

With my food gathered, I take a look outside. I could leave now, but there are too many eyes about, and a lone pony flying away from Manehattan would look suspicious in these paranoid times. I'll have to wait until night, when the storm will be at it's peak, and help cover my escape. That's still a ways off, so I'll have to make those hours productive. Practicing my magic - especially stunning blasts - should do the trick.

It doesn't take long to set up my targets and start firing, but reality is quick to remind me that enthusiasm and willpower are no substitutes for practice and skill. Unicorns have a lifetime to practice doing spells, and by the time they're my age, they can send them off without a second thought. Me? I'm at the level of a foal in school.

I keep firing, building up a sweat. But as I keep blasting chunks of wood into splinters, I discover a little trick that helps me focus: I pretend that I'm firing at Mangus, imagining that each successful shot sees him being knocked unconscious. It gets even easier when I pretend that he's laughing at me, imagining each shot blasting that smug, self-satisfied grin off his face. Seems emotions can help when it comes to casting spells.

A few hours after my practice started, and I can fire stunning blasts after only a few seconds of concentration. Not as fast or as skilled as I wanted, but it's better than the thirty seconds it took previously.

As mid-afternoon rolls around, I decide to take a break after blasting another chunk of moldy wood into dust. Pretending to shoot Mangus in the face isn’t exactly the most uplifting activity. Enjoyable, yes, but it leaves a sour feeling afterwards. While I should focus on being able to defend myself, I shouldn’t forget the reason I’m making this journey in the first place.

Going to the saddlebags, I open one and pull out little Celestia. She looks up at me with her ever-present smile, and I feel the tension falling away. If this miniature has that effect on me, I muse, then what will the real Celestia be like? Patient, I hope, and understanding. She'll understand why I've done all this. None of those ponies out there understand. But Celestia will.

She has to.

Looking down, I reach out and stroke Little Celestia's mane, allowing myself to pretend that this is the real Celestia, and that she's blessing me with a safe journey. Even now, I can imagine her warm, soothing voice-

Attention Silverspeak.”

It's the police! But that's impossible; how could they have found my hiding place?!

Attention Silverspeak. This is the Manehattan police department. Despite your recent actions and assaults, it has been brought to our attention that the royal sisters have arrived in Manehattan, and wish to speak with you to prevent any further violence or bloodshed. They are waiting in the main lobby of the Manehattan Library, and have ordered that if you come to the building unarmed and in peace, you will not be attacked or arrested.

The voice passes overhead, then repeats itself several blocks away in hopes that I'll hear it. I have, but it sounds too good to be true. The princesses themselves, here in Manehattan? And they...they want to talk to me?

No, no, that can't be true. This has to be a trick. The police want to lure me out into the open. Perhaps they’re sensing that if I flee Manehattan, they'll never catch me. Besides, my family and Beakbreaker know how much I adore Celestia. They could use that information to lure me into a trap.

Sorry, police, but your trap isn’t going to fool me.

***

As late afternoon rolls in, the storm grows darker. It'll be miserable going through all that rain at night, but I can deal with it if the storm will cover my escape. I continue practicing my magic, alternating between levitation and more stunning spells. I expected progress to be slow, but it's still disheartening to met with failure time and time again.

My efforts come to an abrupt end when a commotion reaches my ears. I head to the top of the warehouse and peer outside, where a large number of ponies heading through an intersection several blocks away. Even from here I can see banners and flags being waved. If I didn't know any better, I'd say there was a parade of some sort going on.

Logic dictates that I should remain hidden and not risk being spotted, but something about this crowd refuses to leave me alone, especially if these are the Guardians that drunk talked about.

Gathering up my clothes, I disguise myself and fly to the top of a nearby building. From up here I watch the crowds, not quite believing what I'm seeing. There are hordes of ponies making their way north to the business district. Exactly how many there are, I can’t tell, but it's a thousand, at least. From up here, they resemble a swarm of ants: unstoppable, focused, and shoving everything aside in their single-minded quest.

I follow the group, going from one rooftop to another. They make their way through intersection after intersection, ignoring carriages and the massive traffic jams they’re creating. They finally come to a stop before Medicomp HQ, and I'm not surprised. If these are the Guardians, it’s clear they want to send a message, and what better place to do so than at the building where I was created?

I hop to one of the nearby buildings and survey the plaza below. There are security guards everywhere, backed up by hundreds of police officers as ponies pour into the plaza, gathering before a large stage that’s been set up. There are reporters down there as well, no doubt drooling at the prospect of a clash of ideologies.

When the plaza is full, thousands of other ponies spread out to alleys, planters, fountains, anywhere they can stand. Nobody wants to be left out of this event, and even when the place is crammed beyond capacity, magical screens are projected over the streets leading to the plaza, so that those back there can watch what's going on.

Manehattan's great clock rings, and that’s apparently the start to whatever this event may be, for Coin Counter comes on stage. He looks exhausted, and a few years older since we last met.

“Thank you all for coming,” he says. “Before we begin, I would like to remind those of you who do not agree with my company's polices to please remain respectful and behaved during this debate. We will do our best to accommodate you, but I implore you to remain peaceful, regardless of how strongly you feel about the issues we will discuss here today.”

The crowd murmurs, but they're better behaved than I would have imagined.

“I would like to ask that the leader of this organization please come forward.”

There's movement near the front of the crowd, and a pony comes on stage. I squint, try to see who it is.

“Thank you for your kind greeting,” the leader says, and my heart nearly stops. I know that voice...it's the heckler from Saddle Lanka. “And I want to thank you all for coming here in Equestria's hour of need!”

The crowd cheers. The heckler waits several moments before speaking again, enjoying the attention.

“You know, a month ago, I faced the pony known as Silverspeak. I challenged him and pointed out the flaws in his arguments against everyone being able to get wings. In fact, when I told the truth, he got so angry, he tried to attack me! That proves he knew he was wrong, but was too proud and arrogant to admit it. And you all know how he turned out!”

More cheers.

“So I decided that all of us who love and treasure our beautiful country needed to come to the heart of those who want to tear our country apart!”

The crowd goes wild, cheering and screaming and waving their banners.

“Unlike the ponies who have no problem with seeing this great land fall apart, where the privileged, the wealthy, and the powerful become gods while the everyday folk are left behind, we won't stand idly by!”

The crowd roars.

“You've all heard what Medicomp's prized pony Silverspeak has done over the past few days! He claimed to be setting the way towards the future, but what has he really done? Gone out and attacked innocent ponies!”

I shake.

The heckler looks to the sky. “Silverspeak! Why does the leader of Equestria's brave new path go around and attack our children?! If you are leading us into the future, then why hide in the dark? Why dress in rags to disguise yourself?!”

The crowd roars.

“If you can hear me, then show yourself! Come down and meet me! Let us debate like civilized ponies, and settle our differences once and for all!” He chuckles. “But you might not want to! Look at all those who oppose you! Pegasus ponies! Unicorn ponies! Even your fellow earth ponies have come from all corners of Equestria to tell you how they feel!” He points to the crowd. “Tell me, do you think Silverspeak is right?!”

Thousands of voices answer as one. “NO!”

“Do you think he's a leader of a brave new world?!”

“NO!”

“Then you agree that we're here to send a message to Silverspeak, and to Medicomp! It's time for this charade to end! It's time for you to surrender to the will of Equestria!”

The crowd roars like thunder, their voices matching the building storm above.

“Face me, Silverspeak!” the heckler screams, spreading his legs. “Come out and face me!”

I chuckle. Does this idiot really think I'd be stupid enough to face him? Why engage in his little games when I can talk to the princesses, who are no doubt more reasonable, and have far more power to influence public opinion. If they were to approve of what I'm doing, not even the heckler would be able to change Equestria's mind. I’ll sit on the roof and let the heckler look to the skies, waiting for a challenge that won't come.

“Well then,” he says after a few moments. “I guess he's too much of a coward to come and face Equestria's collective judgment.” He chuckles. “No matter. We can still settle this without him. Isn't that right?”

Laughter.

Taking his seat, the heckler listens while Coin Counter comes forward and begins a talk about the virtues of the wings. Without me as his speechwriter, though, his words aren't quite as convincing as they could be.

I watch as Coin Counter talks, then a few of Medicomp's scientists. For the most part the Guardians of Tradition are quiet, though there are chuckles and the occasional boo as the company tries to explain that what I'm doing is a result of my own actions, and not the result of the implants themselves. But when several speakers from the crowd come forward, I realize something: Where are those who support Medicomp and the wings? Why don't they have crowds here? If a group this big was going to come to Manehattan, wouldn’t the opposition work to organize an equally large show of force?

Something doesn't feel right about this, and the longer the talks go on, it's clear that this is one-sided. Medicomp is trying their best, but there's just a dozen or so of them against thousands of protesters. And I know some of those ponies at Medicomp: they worked with me, helped me recuperate, and ate with me at the cafeteria. They don't deserve to be heckled like this.

I can't leave without doing something. It may be stupid going down into the hornet's nest where guards, cops, and thousands who don't like me await, but I have to try.

Flying down into an alley, I land among several of the protesters and shove my way through, ignoring their angry protests. Entering the plaza, I make my way towards the stage. No one seems to notice me as I push my way through the crowd. All eyes are now on the stage, where Coin Counter is trying to salvage something from this debacle.

“-please rest assured, we've learned from our mistakes, and we're going to make it so that no other pony can ever again get the wings and horn as Silverspeak did.”

The heckler isn't convinced. “Well, I'd hope so. But tell me, isn't it true that Medicomp's financial situation has become pretty dire?”

Coin Counter's confused at the sudden turn in topics. “I'm not at liberty to say.”

“Did you hear that, folks? He doesn't want to talk about the financial situation of his company! I'll tell you why: The good ponies of this land don't want to be associated with a company that's going to cut our society in half! It won't be long before Medicomp comes crashing down, thanks to good folks like you and me!”

The crowd laughs, cheers, drowns out Coin Counter's attempts to deny such claptrap.

“Besides, what kind of culture does a company have when one of its own employees resorts to theft? A company that does that doesn't sound very ethical to me at all!”

Coin Counter moves to speak, but he's stopped as someone else comes forward...Beakbreaker.

I freeze. I hadn’t expected to see her here, but that's not why I've stopped. The Beakbreaker before me is one I don't recognize. Her face is covered in deep-set wrinkles and thick bags beneath bloodshot eyes. Her mane is filthy and unkempt, and she seems to have aged even more than Coin Counter has. But worse is the absence of her sweet smile. There's no sign it was ever there, the skin around her jaw now shaped into a steady frown.

My heart tightens up. Sweet Celestia, what happened to her?

Did I turn her into that?

Beakbreaker goes to the podium, clears her throat. “My name is Beakbreaker,” she says, her voice drained and tired. “I'm the head of Medicomp's research and division department, and I'm the one who created the company's legs and wings.”

The crowd goes silent, curious as to where this is going.

“And why do you come to talk to us, Ms. Beakbreaker?” The heckler asks.

“Silverspeak's actions were not caused by any of Medicomp's products, including my wings” Beakbreaker says. “What he did was the result of an obsessed personality that wanted things beyond his reach.” She pauses. “I consider myself responsible for what he has done. I allowed him to get wings, and allowed him to focus on a dream of getting a horn as well.”

“So what you're saying is that you're the one responsible for the plague sweeping this great land?” the heckler asks.

My blood boils as I shove my way through the crowd.

“No, I didn't say that.”

“But you implied it, didn't you? If it hadn't been for you, he never would have become the freak that he is, and divided this country so radically, isn't that true?”

Beakbreaker hesitates, unsure of how to answer. “I... I suppose so, in a way.”

“You heard it! You heard it right here mares and gentlecolts! Oh, this great tragedy of ours has many players, but now blame should fall upon her, for Beakbreaker, more than anyone else, is the one responsible for what has happened to our great land!”

I can’t take it anymore. “That's a lie!”

The crowd around me spins, then gasps and backs away as I throw off my disguise.

From the stage, Beakbreaker and Coin Counter spot me, and their eyes go wide in shock. Even the heckler is momentarily taken back by my sudden appearance in the heart of his army.

The crowd parts before me as I head to the stage and climb up the stairs, glancing at the police and guards, both of whom are ready to leap forward.

The radio of a nearby cop squawks to life. I hear something about a confirmation that they’re inbound.

“Well well well, look who showed up,” the Heckler says with a chuckle. “The rat finally emerges from his hole.”

I look past him to Beakbreaker, who's backing up like the others, and for a moment I want nothing more than to talk to her, to forget about the heckler and all this madness. But several guards usher her away, and the opportunity is lost.

“Don't worry, officers,” the heckler says. “No need to arrest our friend here just yet. Let him speak. After all, this is a debate where both sides of an issue can be heard. Isn't that right?”

The crowd cheers. Though still nervous, they're eager to see their champion and hero go toe to toe with me.

If the crowd wants a verbal beatdown, I’ll be happy to indulge them.

I head to the podium and take the second microphone, looking out to a sea of thousands of faces, some afraid, some angry, some challenging, but all waiting to hear what I have to say. I turn on the charm.

“I hear this is a debate,” I say. “Is it true that all of you have come from all across Equestria to let your voices be heard?”

The crowd cheers.

I turn to the heckler. “Is it true that you're the one who organized this all?”

He nods, grins. “I sure did. But I'm humble enough to realize that I didn't do it all. I simply gathered everyone who wanted to speak up.”

“Tell me, how did you get everyone here?”

“Equestria's finest teleporters. Hundreds of them, all teleporting these fine folks here last night in the blink of an eye.”

“And you arrived here only last night? That’s impressive.”

The heckler chuckles. “Can't believe I'm saying this, but thank you.”

“Tell me: Did you tell anyone else about these Guardians of Tradition?”

The heckler shakes his head. “Couldn't let anyone try to sabotage our efforts, especially not before we came to this debate.”

“And when did you organize it? I don’t recall seeing any announcements in the paper.”

“I’m not surprised. We had it set up last night shortly after our arrival.”

Without realizing it, the heckler’s walked right into my trap.

“Tell me then...if this is a debate, then where are all those who support Medicomp? Where are their crowds? Where are their banners, their representatives who will come up here and debate with you?”

“Because they're cowards who don't want to be humiliated!” The heckler laughs, as does the crowd.

“Or is it because you didn't give them a chance to organize?” I say, having put two and two together. “You gather everyone up in secret and drop in unannounced the day before this ‘debate’. You don't even announce your intentions until you show up, so that they don't have the time to organize. That sounds rather suspicious.”

The heckler's smile fades.

The crowd fidgets.

“If your position is so strong, why not announce the debate earlier and give time for everyone to come out?" I ask, "and don’t pretend they aren’t out there. I saw them with my own eyes when I was touring the country. Their letters were printed in newspapers, they appeared in photos, and they were even at Saddle Lanka when you and I last met.”

I turn to the crowd before the heckler can answer. “I don't see a debate here. I see a fanatic trying to silence his opponents. I see a crowd willing to believe whatever they've been told. And just what have you been told? That I'm a monster on the prowl, looking for those I may devour? That I'm dangerous and deranged? What purpose would I gain in attacking anyone?” I use my magic to float the microphone before me as I walk across the stage. “I would gain nothing but enemies.”

The heckler breaks his silence. “Because you're one of the greatest threats our land has ever seen, that's why.”

“And how do you know that?”

“We've all read the reports. We know what you've done. You tried to get an innocent child! You even tried to kill an innocent old mare!”

“And you blindly believe what the papers tell you?” I shoot back. “Did the mother tell the paper about the balloon I was trying to return to her child? Or that I thought the old mare wanted to cross a street?”

The crowd murmurs to themselves.

“All right, in the name of playing fair, let's assume you were trying to help,” the heckler says. “I'll grant you that. If that's true, then what are you going to do with these powers of yours? Go around saving balloons for little children? Helping mares cross the street? Any one of us can do that.”

I smile. “A good point. But I want to show the world what can happen when you dream.” I turn to the crowd. “Only a few months ago, none of you would have paid me any attention. I’d be beneath your notice, someone you’d glance at the streets, then forget the moment we passed each other. And look where I am now. I have gone from being a nobody to being someone who matters. I have become more than what I was. If I can do that, then what’s to stop other ponies from doing the same? We can give everyone the chance to become more.”

“Perhaps that's true,” the heckler says. “But what's to stop you and everyone else from abusing that power?”

“Excuse me?”

“Who's going to protect us if you ever decide that you don't want to just go around doing good, and that you, and you alone, know what's best? Who’s going to protect us when you go try to overthrow the princesses? What's to stop you from doing that?”

“The princesses, I suppose,” I say.

A few ponies laugh, then quickly go silent.

“But when have I ever wanted to take over?” I say. “When have I ever said anything about leading a revolution?”

“Oh, you haven’t, but for someone who is supposed to be intelligent and smart, you’re awfully ignorant about history. The next would-be ruler always pretends to be on the side of the common pony, wanting to make their lives better, spreading their words across the country, installing their propaganda in the minds of innocent ponies. But they're always trying to gather power for themselves, no matter the cost. And when the time is right, they rise up and attack.”

I smile. “Prove it.”

The heckler smiles back. “I don't have to. Any good, honest pony can see what you're up to.”

“I can't prove to you that I don't want to become a king,” I say. “But no matter what I'd say, you'd just ignore it or brush it aside. After all, isn't that what your kind always does?”

“My 'kind' are those who want to preserve our way of life for our children, and our children's children,” the heckler says, taking a step towards me. “Unlike you, we live in the real world. We know what happens if ponies try to gather power for themselves and their followers.”

“So you’re saying that we should never give anyone any power, because the possibility rises that they can become a threat?”

“They’ll abuse it. They always do.”

“So for fear of a threat popping up anywhere at any time, you want to prevent anyone from ever getting power of any kind. That, my friend, is the definition of paranoia.”

The heckler growls. “I-”

I've had enough. I turn to the crowd. “Mares and Gentlecolts, this is the reason why there is so much fear about me. Uneducated, simple-minded fools who fear change, and hate those who try to bring it. It is ponies like him who want to keep Equestria in the past; if he had his way, technology, science, and anything that would improve our lives would be evil. He'd have us abandon all of it, despite the benefits to our daily lives.”

“That's a lie!” the heckler shouts.

“Is it?” I ask. “Where I look to the future, constantly trying to improve life for everyone, ponies like you scream and throw hissy-fits about how things ought to be! You hide under the security blanket of tradition, hissing at anything that comes too close!”

“We stand for what works and unites us! If the technology you love improves our lives, then fine, we'll have it! But if it threatens our children and everything we've worked so hard to build, then yes! We will scream and fight back!”

Despite all his yells and boasts, the heckler doesn't scare me. After all, who is he but some backwater hick? It's not him I need to convince. It's the public before me.

“How many of you out there have ever dreamed of something greater than yourself?” I ask. “How many of you dream of soaring into the sky when life demands that you stay on the ground? And how many of you dream of performing magic when nature says you never will? We are on the verge of making those dreams come true. We can let every one of you fly and cast magic. We can finally overcome the limitations that nature itself has set on us! That future is open for all of us, regardless of our social standing, if we just reach out and take it!” I pause to lower my voice. “Or you can take the alternate path.” I point to the heckler. “You can become paranoid like him, and work to convince everyone else that anyone wanting to follow their dreams is a tyrant in the making. You can work to poison their minds and make them think like you. You can work in the shadows to make sure that no one’s dreams come true.”

The heckler drops his microphone and leaps at me, screaming in anger.

Without even thinking, I fire off a stunning blast, knocking him off the stage.

The crowd gasps.

“Did you see that?!” the heckler screams, trying to get back to his hooves. “Did you see that?! He attacked me! He tried to kill me!”

“Au contraire…buddy,” I say. “You attacked me. I'm sure the cameras will prove that to be the case.” I turn to the crowd, beaming. “Mares and Gentlecolts, would he have reacted that way if I was lying? Surely a pony with nothing to hide would not become so enraged at mere words. Perhaps this is proof that ponies like him are the dangerous ones. They will do anything and everything to get what they want, including lying and attacking those who can stop them.”

“Are you speaking about him, Mr. Silverspeak, or yourself?”

I stop. That voice... it wasn't the heckler.

An older pony emerges from the crowd and heads towards the stage. Who's this? The mare I tried to help at the crosswalk? It's hard to see her among the others, but as she gets onto the stage I get a look at her face, and-

I freeze.

No...

I can't move as the librarian comes up and snatches the microphone from me.

“Shame on you,” she says. “Shame on you for lying to these ponies.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, trying to keep up a brave face.

The librarian ignores me, turns to the crowd. “Mares and Gentlecolts, Mr. Silverspeak is not being as truthful and honest as he portrays himself. I am the chief librarian at the Manehattan library, and I'm sure you all remember the first time it was broken into. The police were never able to catch the culprit, but I have proof that it was Silverspeak, and that he attempted to steal some of our most dangerous manuscripts.”

The crowd gasps.

I shake, sweating as the librarian's horn glows, and a screen appears in the air. Upon it is a still image of an air vent with a bright blue glow. My chest tightens as I recognize it: It's the air vent above the library's forbidden section.

I know what's coming, but it doesn't help when I appear on the screen, sneaking through the vent, and then dropping down.

“I had placed a magical field within this air vent as a precaution against anyone trying to sneak into the forbidden section, a field that had the power to see through any disguise or charm. Thus, it recorded Silverspeak breaking in.”

The crowd is silent.

The librarian sighs. “I suppose that, in the eyes of the law, I am guilty for not turning in this evidence sooner. But I remained silent because Silverspeak did not kill or injure anyone during his attempt, and seemed to be working on improving himself for the better. But in light of his recent actions, it has become clear to me now that all he cares about is getting what he wants, no matter the cost.”

I feel the weight of thousands of eyeballs staring at me.

To the other side of the stage, two ponies emerge... It’s my parents, looking more ashamed than I’ve ever seen them.

No... not here. Not now!

My father takes the librarian’s microphone. “None of you know me,” he says quietly, “But I’m Silverspeak’s father.”

There’s an audible gasp from many in the crowd.

“I originally came out here with my wife to assist my son in turning himself in to the police after telling me over the phone that he was indeed the one who broke into the library. But we were too late, and now we’re only trying to bring this to an end before any more harm is done.”

My mother holds up a small device of some kind.

“I was spoken to by Medicomp’s head of security, who informed me that a few days before my son transformed himself, he had a conversation with Beakbreaker. Having suspected that he would try something, the head of security put this recording device into the apartment my son shared with Beakbreaker, and taped this conversation.”

I can do nothing as Dad holds the microphone to the device and presses play. I can only stand there and feel my stomach drop as I hear myself yelling at Beakbreaker about how she's ruined everything. My own voice betrays me as I say how I manipulated everything at Medicomp for my own benefit.

Coin Counter listens, stunned.

The recording stops. My mother is too stunned to even cry. My father… he has the grim face of someone doing an act that’s incredibly painful, but must be done.

“In addition to that, my son wanted to acquire his horn by any means possible. While staying with us at his home, he…” Dad pauses, tries to gather himself. “…he resorted to drugging both of us, Beakbreaker, and his guard in order to acquire the horn without being detained.”

The crowd is utterly silent.

I stare at my father and my mother, and then to the crowd. And as I see their stunned faces, I know I've lost. Nothing I could ever say could win them back to my side.

The heckler calmly strolls onstage, taking the microphone from my father. “Well, folks," he says. "I think we all know what Silverspeak really is: a monster willing to commit theft, manipulate an entire company, and poison those he loves to get what he wants. Is he the type of pony we should listen to. Is he the kind of pony we should trust? No, and I'll tell you why."

He glares at me.

“He's trash.”

I back away. No longer is the crowd looking towards me with shocked curiosity or even fear, but now with disgust and contempt.

Someone boos, and then another. A vegetable gets thrown at me and hits the curtain.

I sense movement at opposite ends of the stage and spot the guards moving towards me. Cops are making their way towards the stage as well.

I crouch to take off, only for a magical force field to envelop me, stopping me in place. Furious, I spin and see that it's not Mangus' guards or the cops who have stopped me… but my own parents, their horns freezing their only child in place for the authorities to take away.

“So I’m the black sheep of the family now, am I?!” I scream. “Then so be it!”

I fire a stunning blast at my parents and knock them back, freeing me from their spell.

And then all tartarus breaks loose.

The guards rush me, fire spell after spell, as do the police. The crowd screams and breaks into a panic as I fire off a large shockwave to knock everyone back, anger and rage making it oh-so easy. The stage is smashed to pieces, giving me enough time to take to the skies. But the police give chase, pegasi officers right on my hooves. Without magic, they're forced to rely on stun guns, but my constant dodging and weaving makes it hard for them to aim.

Flipping onto my back, I fire off spell after spell, forcing them to dodge, my practice inside the warehouse paying off. I could fire off a carefully-aimed blast at full power and stop them for good, but I don't want to kill them. Hurt them, yes, but not take their lives. They’re ignorant fools who haven’t yet seen the light.

I accelerate, darting between buildings in an effort to lose the officers. But they’re experienced veterans, and are starting to close the gap, having their fair share of high-speed chases. Magic and speed alone isn’t enough to buy me victory here.

Wait…maybe I don’t need either. The Manehattan Library; if I can reach it, I can declare immunity by going to see the princesses. I still don’t believe they’re there, but it can buy me time to figure out my next move. Getting out of the library again will be difficult. if not impossible, as the police are likely to have every squad they can spare surrounding the place. But with the police closing in behind me, it’s the only shot I’ve got.

I spin and raced towards the center of Manehattan. It isn’t long before more officers pull up behind me, but I spot the library ahead. I swoop low, hearing shouts from below as officers call out my position to their comrades.

With a final burst of speed, I make my last turn and head to the front gates, which are surrounded by dozens of police vehicles and officers ready to move in. I slam to a stop before the entrance, and face the officers before me. “I am Silverspeak: I have heard the message of the princess, and come to speak with them.”

My pursuers land behind me, but I'm not attacked or tackled to the ground; the highest-ranking officer present has held up his hoof, indicating for everyone to stop. Glancing back, I see the officers restraining themselves, if only just. The glares shot at me are as potent as any bullet.

Spreading my wings, I do a full circle so that everyone present can see I’m not hiding anything. And once that’s done, I head up the steps and enter the building, paying no attention to the unicorn officers waiting to fire.

I enter the library, the doors closing behind me. It's dark inside, with only a few lights on to guide my way. I remain where I am for a few moments, listening for movement within the shadows. But there's only silence.

No one emerges to challenge me as I make my way into the heart of the library. Lighting flashes, briefly illuminating rain streaking down the windows. And as I walk, I notice something: there aren't any police officers in here. If the princesses are here, every hall, every room, and every stairwell would be manned by their security details.

Is this a trap? Maybe I should go back... But if I retreat, the officers waiting outside will pounce. Every window, door, and possible exit point is going to be covered.

There's no turning back. Not now.

I walk on.

It only takes a few minutes to reach the double doors leading to the lobby, and it's now decision time. Should I go inside, or try to escape? If I get a fast enough start, I can rocket through the windows and evade the police within the storm. Problem is, by running away, I give the media the chance to spread the news of what's happened tonight and further turn Equestria against me.

If the princesses are really inside the lobby, I can stop that.

Taking a deep breath, I push the doors open and walk inside.

***

The lobby is dark, deep shadows creating plenty of places to hide.

“Hello?” I call out.

There's no answer as I walk forward, every sense on high alert.

“Hello? Is there anyone-”

I freeze.

Two forms stand at the far end of the room, just barely visible within the shadows. They don't move, but there's the unmistakable outlines of long horns, massive wings, and giant, flowing manes.

It's them... Oh dear sweet Celestia, it's actually them!

I instinctively kneel, so shocked it takes a minute to find my voice. “Y…your highnesses…thank you for th…this opportunity to speak with you, and to discuss what has been happening here.”

The princesses remain silent.

“I know you are very busy, but I... I want to discuss everything I've done, especially the wings and the horns.

The princesses don't speak. Are they trying to make me uncomfortable?

I gulp. “Please, your Highnesses, if you are angry with me, say so. I will understand.”

They remain silent.

I sweat. What exactly am I supposed to do here? Beg and grovel? Try to explain everything before they talk?

“If you don't mind,” I say, backing towards the wall, trying to remember where the light switches are, “I would like to turn the lights on, so that it's not so dark in here." Reaching the wall, I feel around, touch the switches, and flick them. The room lights up, and I see the prin-

The princesses aren't before me. They're an elaborate set up constructed out of paper-mache, cardboard, and drapes, all set to perfectly resemble the outline of the royal sisters when viewed in the dark.

There's movement behind me.

“Sucker.”

Mangus' voice echoes in my ears as something hits me in the back, and everything goes dark.

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