• 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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Consequences

-ne‏!

Oh Celestia, please, not that! I can't see! I can't see! I try to scream, but I can't. I can't see, I can't move! Oh Celestia, am I going to be a living statue?! Awake and aware of what's going on, but unable to move?! Please, no! Anything but that!

Wait... Wait. I'm breathing. Air's going into my nose. I can blink. I can move my eyes. I can't... I can't feel the rest of my body, but I can breathe and I can see, even if it's only darkness.

Is this... is this all in my mind? A hallucination? A dream? A nightmare?

I try to move,‭ ‬to call,‭ ‬to do anything,‭ ‬but I can't. I can't move, not even to flex. I can only remain perfectly still, unable to do anything but wait and think.

Wait... the bridge. Beakbreaker! Is she alright?! Is she-

Wait,‭ ‬what's that‭? Is that a light‭? It is! It's coming from above me, getting brighter and brighter. The light's revealing curved walls surrounding me, tall ones one of perfectly polished black stone. I can't see the ceiling,‭ ‬giving the impression that I'm at the very bottom of a well.

The light keeps coming down, and then comes to a stop beside me. It's coming from a lantern, one carried by a pegasus wearing a doctor's lab coat. She looks me over, scribbling notes. I want to ask where I am, to beg her for information about Beakbreaker, but my mouth is still petrified. I can only watch her as she takes her notes. When she's satisfied, the doctor goes to another statue across from me.

Wait... that statue is Mangus. Though his eyes and nose are moving, the rest of him is a statue like me. Unlike me, his leg is still missing, and his jaw is still broken. His eyes are darting back and forth, probably as confused as I am. He regards the doctor for only the briefest of moments before he spots me. Like me, he can't talk, but there's no mistaking the murderous rage in his eyes.

The doctor finally finishes her inspection, scribbling one last note on her paper. Leaving the lantern where it is, she flies upwards, leaving Mangus and me alone once more.

***

I have no idea how long Mangus and I are left alone down here. With no way to tell the time,‭ ‬it could be an hour,‭ ‬a few minutes, or even days. But it can't be that long: whoever brought us here can't possibly be leaving us to suffer or go mad. No one is that cruel or uncivilized. And if that doctor came down here, that meant we're not supposed to die.

With nothing else to do,‭ ‬all I can do is wait. Whoever put us here will come back.‭ ‬

They have to.

Beakbreaker... Please let her be okay.

***

At last, I sense movement above me. Looking up as high as I can, I see the doctor coming down once again, carrying another lantern with her. She sets it down on the other side of the well, and then stands aside, as if to make room for someone else.

Four ponies fly down and land on the floor, dressed in dark purple armor with a webbed frill upon their helmets, and a blue cat eye on their breastplates. Are they the ones in charge of this place? Guards? Jailors? Interrogators? Wait... I've seen these guards before, in pictures and newspaper articles. They're not brutes or torturers, but royal guards, ones who serve...

No... It can't be.‭ ‬She actually can't be...

A large shadow falls across the floor as the guards snap to attention, and the cloaked form of Princess Luna lands beside her guards with a beat of her giant wings.

I... I can't breathe. P...Princess Luna's standing before me. Not a picture, not a facade of paper mache and cardboard, but real flesh and blood. I've seen pictures of her before, but to see before me... it's unreal. It's like a dream. ‬

Luna looks to Mangus,‭ ‬and then her cyan eyes meet my own.‭ If I could shudder,‭ ‬I would.‭

The Princess of the Night is looking at me.‭

Luna holds my gaze for a moment longer,‭ ‬then turns to the doctor. The two talk for a while, but I can't hear anything they say. The doctor nods,‭ ‬and Luna's horn glows. Bright, blue magic envelops my head, and feeling flows back to my mouth and ears. I take a deep breath, never so glad in all my life at being able to move my head or hear.

Turning to Mangus,‭ ‬Luna performs the same spell.‭ ‬As soon as Mangus' shattered jaw is exposed,‭ another spell envelops it, healing the damage instantly. But there's no gratitude from Mangus on his recovery.

“‬You‭!” ‬he howls at me.‭ “‬When I get out of here,‭ ‬I'm going to rip your-‭”

“Silence.‏” ‎Luna says.‭ ‬It isn't a yell,‭ ‬but the power in her voice cows even Mangus.‭ “‬Neither of you are going anywhere.”

“Where are we‏?!” ‎Mangus demands.

‏“‎You are in a cell designed to hold the most dangerous of magical beings,‭” ‬Luna says.‭ “‬The two of you have inflicted extreme damage upon Manehattan,‭ ‬and must be confined here for your own safety,‭ ‬and the safety of others.‭”

Mangus tries to struggle, but he remains immobile.

‏“‎Both of you have been accused of attempting to destroy Manehattan," Luna says. "I am here to determine the truth of what happened.‭ ‬Before we begin,‭ ‬is there anything either of you wish to say‭?”

“I do,‭” ‬Mangus says, using his most polite voice. “‬Others may try to portray me as a vicious killer.‭ I admit,‭ ‬I did kill ponies to get their horns, but I only did it to stop him.‭” He glares at me.‭ “‬He was planning to kill everyone in the city,‭ ‬so I had to take drastic measures to stop him‭!”

In a way, it's surprising that Mangus can come up with a lie that quickly. But he's lied to authority figures all his life. But it's not working on Luna' she shows no signs of believing him as she turns to me.

“‬Silverspeak,‭ ‬do have you anything to say‭?”

I wish my first meeting with the Princess of the Night would take place anywhere else but here, and that we could be meeting as friends, not as interrogator and prisoner. But that's not to be. All I can do is tell the truth.

“Mangus is lying,‏” I say.

“Don't listen to him,‏ ‎princess‭! ‬He's trying to manipulate you!” Mangus gives a crazed smile. "He's done it before! He'll do everything he can to trick you!"

The Princess is like a statue herself, unaffected and unmoved by Mangus' plea. “‬There are many ways to reveal the truth,‭ ‬Mangus Bluehorn.‭ I will perform a memory spell on both of you,‭ ‬which will allow my sister and myself to see who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds.”

Mangus‭' ‬smile vanishes.‭

‏“‎You will not lose any of your memories,‭ ‬nor will they be altered in any way,‭” ‬Luna says.‭ “‬This will simply create a copy for us to review.‭” ‬She turns to Mangus,‭ ‬who sweats profusely.‭ ‬He's on the verge of panic,‭ ‬knowing that all his lies and charm are helpless against such a spell.

‏“‎No‭!” ‬he screams as Luna's horn touches his forehead.‭ “‬No,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬no‭!”

Luna closes her eyes ‬and blue magic passes from her horn into Mangus‭' ‬head.‭ ‬His screams are cut off as he twitches.‭ It's like his brain is being scrambled,‭ ‬the circuits misfiring,‭ ‬making it impossible for him to concentrate.‭ ‬The process lasts nearly a minute,‭ ‬and when Luna pulls away,‭ ‬a glowing ball of green energy slips from Mangus‭' ‬head.

Mangus‭' ‬face goes limp,‭ ‬exhausted.

One of the guards holds up a large crystal.‭ Luna directs the ball towards it,‭ ‬where it vanishes inside,‭ ‬causing the crystal to glow a bright green.

Luna turns to me.‭

I gulp.‭ “‬Will it hurt‭?” ‬I ask.

‏“‎Only if you resist,‭” ‬Luna tells me.

I could plead and beg for her not to do this.‭ ‬I could even try my charm,‭ ‬but that would only delay the inevitable.‭ Thus, I surrender, breathe in deeply, and close my eyes.

I feel Luna's horn touch my forehead,‭ ‬and a surge of energy passes into me... Oh Celestia, it feels like there's something‭ ‬slithering through my brain.‭ I start to shake my head, but then remember Luna's words and do my best to remain still.‭ It's not easy,‭ ‬but Luna finally pulls her horn away, taking the slithering feeling with her.‭

Panting,‭ ‬I open my eyes and see a green ball of energy floating before me.‭ That ball...that has all my memories and thoughts‭? Before I can watch it any longer, the ball's put into a crystal, and both crystals are put into a container that's sealed shut.

‏“‎My sister and I will review these memories,‭” ‬Luna says. “‬Because this may take several days,‭ ‬I shall petrify you both.‭”

“What‏?!” ‎Mangus shrieks.

‏“‎The process is painless,‭ ‬and you will not be aware of anything,‭” ‬Luna assures us.‭ “‬It will be as if only a second has passed.‭”

“You can't do this‏!” ‎Mangus yells.‭ “‬You can't‭! ‬I'll-‭”

He's cut off as his mouth is frozen in place,‭ ‬and then the rest of him,‭ ‬turning him into a statue once again.

Luna turns to me,‭ ‬her horn lighting up.

“‬Princess‭?" I gulp. "Is... Is Beakbreaker safe‭?”

Luna pauses.‭ “‬I am not familiar with whom you speak.‭”

“She's a Zebra,‏” ‎I stammer.‭ “‬I... I was with her on the Manehattan bridge.‭ ‬She was injured.‭ ‬I was trying to heal her when the Bearers arrived.”

“Why do you ask‏?”

“She's... a friend.‏”

Luna regards me for a moment.‭ “‬I will inquire into her medical condition.‭”

Before I can say anything more,‭ ‬Luna's horn lights up,‭ ‬and everything go-

***

-es black.

I blink.‭ ‬Luna and the guards stand before me,‭ ‬but the container is gone,‭ ‬as is the doctor.‭ ‬Has it really been several days already? It doesn't feel like it. Mangus is blinking, as disoriented as I am. The thought that both of us were statues for days is... unnerving.

‏“‎My sister and I have reviewed your memories,‭” Luna says.‭ “‬And we now have a complete understanding of everything that happened.‭” ‬She glares at Mangus, not bothering to hide her disgust. “‬Mangus Bluehorn,‭ ‬we know that you started the attack on Manehattan.‭”

Mangus sweats.

‏“‎Because of your actions,‭ ‬hundreds of ponies have died.‭ An equal number have lost their horns and will be crippled for life. Worse still, you carried out that attack only for your own glory.”

Mangus is on the verge of panicking.‭ “‬Your spell was wrong‭!” ‬He yells.‭ “‬It... It was Silverspeak‭! He implanted false memories into my mind‭!”

“Do not lie,‏” ‎Luna says,‭ ‬the tone in her voice warning him not to press his luck.

‏“‎I'm not‭! ‬It's his fault‭!” ‬Mangus yells.‭ “‬It was all Silverspeak's fault‭! ‬He made me do it‭! ‬He-‭”

Silence‏!” ‎Luna bellows.‭ ‬The walls shake,‭ ‬and Mangus instantly cowers,‭ ‬realizing that he's facing a power far greater than his own.‭ Luna calms herself,‭ ‬and her voice returns to normal.‭ “‬Silverspeak shall face the consequences of his actions momentarily,‭ ‬but your moment of judgment has come.‭”

“You can't judge me,‏” ‎Mangus says.‭ “‬Only the courts can. I demand a trial‭!”

“Normally,‏ ‎you would be granted one. ‬But because of the nature of your threat,‭ ‬and that the magic you wield is a danger to all of Equestria,‭ ‬my sister and I must act to prevent further damage.‭ ‬Do you have anything to say before I announce our judgment‭?”

It's clear that Mangus can't win this,‭ ‬and he knows it.‭ Will he beg for mercy‭? I wonder if he'll break down and cry‭; ‬perhaps if he realizes the horror of what he's done ‬and actually repents,‭ ‬the Sisters might show him mercy.

But Mangus does none of those things.‭ Fear and terror gives way to anger and defiance. “‬I regret nothing," he hisses. "I was only claiming what was rightfully mine! I was meant for great things,‭ ‬and no one is going to stop me! I'll get out of this! I'll show you! I'll show everyone! I'll be the greatest unicorn Equestria has ever seen!”

Luna regards Mangus for a moment before shaking her head.‭ “‬No,‭ ‬you won't.‭ Mangus Bluehorn,‭ ‬for your premeditated destruction of property,‭ ‬and the mutilation and murder of innocent ponies,‭ ‬it is the decision of the Royal Sisters that you shall be permanently stripped of your wings and horn ‬and spend the rest of your life in the Canterlot dungeons.‭ While you will never again know freedom,‭ ‬we hope that you may one day regret your crimes,‭ ‬and that you will begin the path to repentance and redemption.‭”

It's silent in the dungeon. Mangus is so shocked that he can't even speak.‭ ‬For a long moment he just stares at Luna.‭ ‬Then he shakes,‭ ‬and his face contorts into what hatred would look like if it had physical form.‭ ‬

Mangus screams, a sound of utter fear, hatred, and impotent rage.

Luna's horn lights up,‭ ‬and Mangus‭' ‬mouth turns gray as he's silenced once again.

Luna turns to her protectors.‭ “‬Guards,‭ ‬leave us.‭”

The oldest guard glances at me.‭ “‬Ma'am‭?”

“I assure you Captain,‏ ‎I am capable of defending myself.‭”

The guards glance at each other,‭ ‬but defer to their princess and fly upwards, leaving the three of us alone.

Luna walks to me.‭ “‬My sister and I have reviewed your memories,‭ ‬Silverspeak,‭ ‬and have seen the crimes you have committed,‭ ‬including trespassing and assault.‭ Do you deny this‭?”

I shake my head. If they've seen everything,‭ ‬then there's no point in lying.‭

‏“‎Your crimes may be less serious than Mangus‭'‬,‭ ‬but there are consequences for what you have done.‭”

I shake.

‏“‎Silverspeak,‭ ‬for the crimes you have committed,‭ ‬it is the decision of the Royal Sisters that you have your wings and horn removed,‭ ‬upon which they shall be destroyed.‭ And for your actions of trespassing,‭ ‬assaulting other ponies and law enforcement officials,‭ ‬and drugging others in a way that could lead to harm,‭ ‬you will spend the next twenty years in the Canterlot dungeons.‭”

A numbness far greater than any I've ever known hits me.‭ Twenty... years? She... she said twenty years?

I shake.

Twenty... years? No. No, no, no, that can't be true. I... I can't be locked up that long. There... there has to have been a mistake! I didn't kill anyone! I didn't try to hurt any... no. No, I did. I hurt those guards who tried to stop me on the stage. I hurt my family when I drugged them. I... I...

I'm going to prison. Twenty years... two decades of my life, gone.

I close my eyes,‭ ‬trying to keep the tears from slipping down my cheeks.‭

I fail.‭

I sob.

‏“‎However...‭”

I open my eyes,‭ ‬confused.‭

“‬There are many who would say you are a monster. You have manipulated other ponies,‭ ‬Silverspeak.‭ You have lied to make others do what you want.‭ You poisoned your own family.‭ ‬You have caused mass riots,‭ ‬and assaulted members of the public.‭”

I bite down,‭ ‬almost shouting at her to not rub it in any more.‭

“‬And yet... when you could have let a security guard be crushed to protect your identity,‭ ‬you chose to save him.‭ You could have used your only friend solely for your own benefit,‭ ‬yet came to her aid when she needed it.‭ And when you got your powers,‭ ‬you used them to help others:‭ You tried to comfort a child,‭ and ‬to help an old mare across the street.‭ You could have killed police officers and security guards,‭ ‬but chose to spare their lives.‭”

A tiny spark of hope rises in me.‭

“You were willing to give up everything to save Beakbreaker.‏ And when an entire city was in danger,‭ ‬you risked your own life to save others.‭ ‬You even saved an entire hospital full of injured ponies when you could have gone after Mangus.‭” ‬Luna steps in close.‭ “‬My sister and I saw that you never wanted to conquer and dominate,‭ ‬but only to improve yourself.‭ These are not the actions of a monster.‭”

I can't speak.

‏“‎Because of the mercy you have given,‭ ‬my sister and I will give you mercy in turn.‭ ‬Instead of twenty years in the Canterlot dungeons,‭ ‬you will only spend two.‭ ‬Furthermore,‭ ‬we also noticed your gift of the spoken and written word.‭ ‬Such a talent should not be wasted.‭ ‬Therefore,‭ ‬upon completion of your sentence,‭ ‬if you should desire it,‭ ‬you will be offered the position of official speech-writer for the royal court.‭”

I can only stare at Princess Luna in shock.‭ This... This has to be a dream.‭ It can't be real.‭ ‬But it is.‭ I can't stop myself from smiling in relief,‭ ‬nor can I stop the tears from sliding down my cheeks.‭

But I don't want to.

Luna's magic comes to life, and I can feel my body again as stone retreats, ‬until I'm once again fully flesh and blood...save for the top of my head,‭ ‬where my horn remains solid and unusable.‭ I take a step,‭ ‬only to nearly crumple from the pain in my rear leg and my exposed ribs.‭ Luna casts her magic upon both, and the pain vanishes instantly. Glancing back,‭ ‬I'm shocked to find that my side and leg has healed completely.

Luna doesn't waste any time in lighting her horn,‭ ‬and we all rise upwards.‭ I'm caught off guard at the realization that Luna herself is giving me a ride.‭ But before I can enjoy it, we arrive at the top of the shaft, and at a heavy set of steel doors. They open as Luna directs magic into them,‭ ‬and I'm momentarily blinded as we emerge into a bright room with white walls.‭ Luna's guards are present,‭ ‬and mortified at seeing me freed from my stone imprisonment.

‏“‎He won't cause any trouble,‭” ‬Luna assures the guards as I'm set on the floor.‭ ‬She sneaks a look at me that says,‭ Isn't that right‭?

I nod.

‏“‎Arrange for Mangus Bluehorn to be transported to Canterlot at once,‭” ‬Luna says, indicating Mangus, who has been set down beside me.

The captain nods and ‬indicates for the unicorn guards to take Mangus.‭ Walking beside him, they use their magic to lift his stone form off the floor as they follow Luna and myself out of the room and through a long cellblock barred by several heavily fortified checkpoints. When we reach the main gates,‭ ‬the guards brace themselves as they open the doors.‭ ‬It only takes me a moment to realize why,‭ ‬as countless flashes hit us,‭ ‬along with a barrage of questions from reporters,‭ ‬all desperate for a scoop of seeing Princess Luna escorting the most infamous prisoners in Equestria,‭ ‬and without chains or other manner of restraint.‭

We reach a massive,‭ ‬heavily armored carriage.‭ As several guards get into position on it,‭ ‬I look back to see that Mangus is being carried to another,‭ ‬less impressive carriage.‭ I watch as he goes‭; I should feel pity for him. Going to jail for life is something I wouldn't wish towards anyone... and yet, for him, it feels just. All the preening,‭ ‬privileges,‭ ‬and encouragement Mangus was given as a youth, and all the hopes that he would becomes Saddle Lanka's next superstar were for nothing.

Saddle Lanka's greatest hope is now a murder and a criminal.

Mangus‭' ‬hate-filled eyes glare at me as he's levitated into the carriage and strapped into place. He, who fancied himself the greatest thing under Celestia's sun, is now being carted away like so much trash as I get to ride with Princess Luna. I will be shown mercy he will never receive, and a life that he will never know.

Those eyes are still glaring at me as the carriage doors are closed and locked.

Luna gets into her carriage,‭ ‬and I follow,‭ ‬the doors closing behind me.‭ I watch through the windows as we ride away from the police station, the crowds parting before us.

Mangus‭' ‬carriage leaves a moment later,‭ ‬heading down the road in the opposite direction until it's lost from sight.

‎***

It's quiet inside the carriage as we ride through Manehattan's streets. Mangus is already fading from my mind as I lean back against my seat. Never in a million years did I ever think I'd be riding with one of the Royal Sisters. I almost pinch myself to be sure that this isn't a dream.‭ And there's no guards here, no advisors, and no distractions. I have the rare opportunity to ask her anything I want.

‏“‎Where are we going‭?” ‬I ask,‭ ‬figuring to start off small. Best not to get on her nerves.

‏“‎The Medicomp tower,‭” ‬Luna says.

‏“‎The tower's still intact‭?” ‬I could have sworn it was destroyed during my duel with Mangus.

‏“‎It was damaged,‭ ‬but not destroyed.‭ It's CEO managed to put out several fires that threatened to bring it down.‭”

“Coin Counter... he's alive?”

Luna nods.

‏“‎And my parents?"

‏“‎They're fine.‭ ‬As is your friend Beakbreaker.‭”

My heart skips a beat.‭ “‬Is she-‭”

“Her wounds have been healed. She will need therapy and counseling,‭ ‬but she will live.‭”

I sigh,‭ ‬sinking into the cushions.‭ “‬Did she...mention me‭?”

“She did.‏”

"I offered her the chance to see your memories of her,‭ ‬and she accepted.‭”

I struggle not to hyperventilate.‭ “‬What did she say‭?”

It's a moment before Luna answers.‭ “‬She said nothing.‭”

“What‏?”

“She watched your memories,‏ ‎then left the hospital.‭”

“She didn't seem angry‏?”

Luna shakes her head.‭ “‬She seemed overwhelmed.‭”

Oh no... I had hoped that Beakbreaker would want to see me,‭ ‬but she just needs time to adjust and recover from everything that's happened.‭ Yes,‭ yes, ‬that's it... She just needs time to heal.‭ She'll feel better once a few days have passed.

Luna and I ride in silence for a while.

‏“‎Princess... If you don't mind me asking,‭ ‬why didn't you and Celestia involve yourselves in all this‭? ‬The wings and the legs,‭ ‬I mean.‭”

“We were aware of what was happening,‏ ‎but my sister and I believe that ordinary ponies have the right to choose for themselves how society should evolve.‭ ‬We will only intervene to stop immediate threats.‭”

It crosses my mind that ponies being able to magically augment themselves seems like a big enough threat,‭ ‬but decide not to bring it up.‭ “‬But why send the Bearers‭? Why not come yourself‭? Surely, you and Celestia would be able to resolve the situation more effectively?” It occurs to me that I,‭ ‬an ordinary pony,‭ ‬have no right to ask such questions of the Princess.‭ But she shows no sign of being offended.‭

“‬We have our reasons for not wanting to solve every problem by ourselves," Luna says. "But I decided to journey with Twilight and her friends to Manehattan.‭ However,‭ ‬I had to stop in Saddle Lanka first‭; ‬word had only just reached us of a creature being discovered beneath your parent's home.‭”

The creature‭! In the chaos of everything that's happened over the past week,‭ ‬I had forgotten about it.‭ “‬What happened‭?”

Luna pulls her cloak back,‭ ‬revealing numerous gashes in her hide,‭ ‬along with a massive slice on her neck.‭ ‬All have been healed,‭ ‬but if they will leave scars,‭ ‬I cannot tell.

I gulp. “‎What was it‭?”

“‎I cannot say.‭ A creature of the world before my sister and I came to this land.‭ There are many deep places where monsters and other nightmares still exist,‭ ‬Silverspeak,‭ ‬and it would be for the best if they remain there.‭ The one beneath your home will not harm anyone again.”

Luna pulls her cloak back into place.‭ “‬By the time I arrived at Manehattan,‭ ‬Twilight and the others had already broken through the dome and stopped you both.‭ We had hoped to persuade you to come with us without the use of violence,‭ ‬but were forced to end the situation immediately.‭”

“So that's why they hit us both‏?”

Luna nods.‭

I shiver. Knowing that I was seen by the Bearers as a threat... it's a chilling thought.

The carriage turns a corner, and I catch a glimpse of the Medicomp plaza through the window.

‏“‎One other question,‭” ‬I ask.‭ “‬The spell Mangus was using... Why keep such a dangerous spell? Why not destroy it‭?”

“Because to forget about the mistakes of the past is to repeat them again,‏” ‎Luna says.‭ “‬If we were to forget that such spells exist,‭ ‬we would also forget the consequences of using them.‭ ‬And some spells,‭ ‬I fear,‭ ‬we may one day need to use again.‭ ‬But after what happened due to you and Mangus,‭ ‬all the spells in the library will be moved to Canterlot,‭ ‬where we may keep a closer watch on them.‭”

“Mangus will remember them.‏ And if he gets the chance, he'll use them again. He'll want revenge on you.”

Luna nods.‭ “‬We will have to modify his memory,‭ ‬so as to remove the spell he used.‭”

Wait... “‬Princess‭? ‬If there is a spell that can erase or modify memory,‭ ‬could you possibly use it on me‭? To remove the memory of everything I've done‭? Could that be substituted for prison time‭?”

Luna shakes her head.‭ “‬To deny you your experiences ‬would deny you the chance to learn from them.‭”

I understand where Luna's coming from, but I can't hide my disappointment. If I could have most of my memory wiped to avoid going to prison, I'd do so.

“‬What we will do to Mangus is an exception,‭ ‬not the rule," Luna says. "To take someone's memory,‭ ‬their personality,‭ ‬and modify it ‬is to change their very essence,‭ ‬their soul.‭ And that is something my sister and I never want to do.‭”

She goes silent,‭ ‬and it's clear that nothing I can say or do will cause her to change her mind.‭

The carriage comes to a stop,‭ ‬and the doors are unlatched.‭ Luna emerges,‭ ‬and I follow her into the Medicomp plaza. There's rubble and chunks of buildings everywhere,‭ ‬and clean-up crews are already hard at work, carting away chunks of marble and granite. Above us, pegasus ponies hold their unicorn brethren aloft as they use magic to stabilize the damaged towers, and earth ponies work on scaffolding to do their own repairs.

Luna's guards clear the way as we make our way towards the Medicomp tower.‭ Of all the buildings in the plaza, it took the most damage, with large chunks missing from the sides and upper levels. But it will stand. Already another stage has been erected outside the doors, where Coin Counter talks at a podium. He has numerous stitches, but he's not letting his injuries stop him as he address the reporters, describing how everyone at Medicomp will pick themselves up and rebuild.

It isn't long before the first reporter notices us.‭ In seconds, all eyes are on her and me, Coin Counter and his speech already forgotten.‭ The photographers and reporters clearly weren't expecting to be in the company of royalty.‭ Coin Counter is no different, awed as Luna approaches the stage.‭

“‬Your... Your Majesty.‭”

“Greetings,‏” ‎Luna says.‭ “‬We would like to have a word with you in private.‭”

Coin Counter almost faints,‭ but ‬quickly recovers.‭ He grabs the microphone.‭ “‬Thank you all for your time, but I'm afraid I'm needed elsewhere.”

Luna's guards hurry us along, not wanting to leave their Princess out in the open. The reporters yell questions,‭ ‬but we head towards the tower,‭ ‬leaving them behind.

‏***

The lobby of Medicomp is empty.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬the guards remain close to Luna,‭ ‬their eyes scanning every spot where attackers could potentially be hiding.‭ ‬Coin Counter tries to pick up his pace, but a wounded leg slows him down. Noticing, Luna slows her pace.

“‎Pardon me,‭ ‬your Majesty," Coin Counter says, "but might I ask why you've come here?"

“We're here to have Silverspeak's horn and wings removed.‏”

“Oh.‏” Coin Counter's surprised at the blunt answer,‭ ‬but I'm not.‭ ‬I had hoped that the removal would come later, so that I could have time to prepare myself... but it's not to be.

‏“‎Can it be done‭?” ‬Luna asks.

“‬Well, yes,‭ ‬but it'll take time," Coin Counter says, snapping his hoof as he tries to remember everything he'll need. "I need to gather equipment and supplies,‭ ‬and call in some of our surgeons.‭”

“Then we shall wait.‏”

“Very well.‏ There's a lounge you can stay in.‭ ‬It's on the fiftieth floor.‭” ‬Coin Counter heads to a private elevator and‭ ‬swipes his card.‭ “‬This is the only elevator that still works.‭ ‬It'll take you right there.‭”

"Thank you, Coin Counter." Luna gives him a nod as she enters, along with her guards and myself. One of the guards presses a button, and Coin Counter heads off as the doors close.

Without having to stop for other guests, the elevator quickly reaches the fiftieth floor, where the doors open to reveal a lounge with numerous beanbag chairs. I take a seat in one, and Luna in another while the guards automatically post themselves by the doors.

It's peaceful and quiet up here. There's no sign that there was such a titanic struggle a week ago. Ponies are flying about outside, and I can hear the hustle and bustle of carriages, cars, and trains down below. Manehattan is already back to normal. Life goes on.

I try to relax, breathing deeply, trying to psyche myself up for what's coming. But I don't think I can... how does one prepare themselves to lose a lifelong dream that finally came true?

How do you accept the fact that you will never get another chance to make it happen?

“‎Princess,‭” ‬I ask,‭ “‬Is removing my horns and wings really necessary‭?”

Luna looks out the windows. “‬Yes.‭”

“Can't you train me‏ to use them?”

Luna turns to me. “Silverspeak, we do not want to remove your wings and horn out of vengeance or punishment. Many others before you have wanted to become alicorns, or to gain the ability to use magic. But all of them failed. Do you know why?"

There are countless possible reasons why such attempts failed, but I can't think of a common thread among them all, so I remain silent.

"‬Like you, others sought to use magic or the technology of their time. But there are no short paths to transforming yourself. If you try, the body and spirit will reject the changes. Horns and wings will fail, as yours will."

I glance at my wings.‭ “‬But I used extra-strength steroids to attach these.‭”

Luna nods. "Yes, you did. And they may last for a while. But inevitably, they will fail." She softens her voice. "Have you read about how Twilight Sparkle was once a unicorn and became an alicorn?"

I nod. Who hasn't?

"That only happened because she had earned the right to do so. She had performed great acts of selflessness to aid our world and those who live in it. Like a seed sprouting into a tree, she had slowly grown ready for such a transformation." Standing, Luna comes to me. "Anyone can become a unicorn, Silverspeak, or an alicorn. But such a gift cannot be given through surgery or magic. It must be earned. There is no other way."

‏I sit in my chair.

I say nothing.

"Even if we were to let you keep your implants, they would still fail," Luna says quietly. "Perhaps not for a long time, but they will still fail."

"But... the wings..."

"Are not part of who you are. They, too, must be earned."

I lean back in my chair. Numbness washes over me.

All those years, all my struggles... it was all for nothing.

I cover my face and struggle not to cry.

The elevator opens as Coin Counter enters.

‏“‎Are we ready to proceed‭?” ‬Luna asks.

‏“‎Almost.‭ ‬All the equipment's been delivered,‭ ‬and the surgeons are getting ready,‭ ‬but it's still going to take time.‭”

“Then why did you come here‏?”

Coin Counter's cheeks turn red. “‬Well... word's spread that you've come to the tower,‭ ‬and now we have some reporters in the lobby who'd like to get a statement.‭” He quickly raises his hooves.‭ “‬I'm not asking you to endorse Medicomp. But perhaps some reassurances on why you're here may stop some rumors from spreading around.”

Luna nods.‭ “‬A valid observation.‭ ‬Very well,‭ ‬I will go.‭” ‬She rises.‭ “‬Captain,‭ ‬please secure the lobby.‭”

The captain of the guards quickly gathers four of the others and disappears down the elevator.‭

Luna turns to me. "You may stay here if you want, Silverspeak."

I shake my head. "No. No, I'll come." I need a distraction, anything to take my mind off my wings, my horn, and a dead dream.

"Are you sure?" Luna asks softly.

"Yes," I say, my words choked. "Yes, I am."

When the elevator comes back up,‭ ‬Luna,‭ ‬Coin Counter, and I get on and head down to the lobby. I had figured there would be a few reporters, maybe twenty or thirty. But there's at least a hundred all jammed together. Upon seeing us, they call out with hundreds of questions.

Luna heads to the podium, unfazed by the attention.‭ “‬Citizens of Manehattan,‭” ‬she says.‭ “‬I wish to assure all of you that the threat to Manehattan has passed.‭ The perpetrators have been taken into custody,‭ ‬and justice shall be served to ensure that this will not happen again.‭”

“Then why is one of them here‏?” ‎a reporter shouts.

Luna glances at me.‭ “‬Silverspeak has come here willingly to ensure that he cannot harm anyone else.‭”

More questions are shouted,‭ ‬but I don't pay much attention.‭ ‬The endless barrage of questions, the flash of cameras, the sight of so many ponies trying to get a statement from Luna does nothing to distract me from the expanding, all-consuming nothingness inside me.

Coin Counter hangs back, not wanting to intrude upon Luna's talk. Maybe he can give me the distraction I seek.

“‎How are you doing?" I ask, unsure what else to say.

"I'm... surviving." Coin Counter rubs the top of his hornless head.

"Any chance they can-"

"Get a new one? Maybe. We'll be working double-time to research replacement horns, and Canterlot sent some of their best spell-casters to help those who lost them. I'll still be able to cast magic, just... not as well as before." Coin Counter's face darkens. "I never should have hired Mangus. Never should have had anything to do with him. I panicked after that break-in, but keeping him on was a mistake. You wouldn't believe all the complaints I got.‭”

“Then why wasn't he fired‏?”

“‎I wanted to,‭ ‬but the board overruled me every time I brought it up.‭ But never again.‭ We're going to start doing mental evaluations and background checks on everyone from now on.‭ References,‭ ‬personal connections,‭ ‬the works.‭ Doesn't matter if you're a janitor,‭ ‬a scientist,‭ ‬or even a secretary.‭” He breathes to calm himself. "Whatever happened to that miscreant, anyway?"

‏“‎He's being taken to Canterlot,‭” ‬I say.‭ “‬To spend the rest of his life in its dungeons.‭”

Coin Counter would have preferred to hear that Mangus was being executed, but he's still pleased. “‬Good.‭”

Our talk is interrupted when I hear a reporter shouting my name. “‎Mr.‭ ‬Silverspeak‭! ‬Is it true that you were trying to eliminate Mangus Bluehorn as a competitor‭?!”

The rest of the crowd turns to me.‭ I'm not sure if I should answer.‭ I look to the princess for guidance, but all she does is step back from the podium. It seems she wants me to answer for myself.‭

I walk to the podium.‭ “‬No,‭” ‬I say.‭ “‬I was not.‭”

“Then why did you fight him‏?”

“Because he was killing ponies. ‎I had to stop him.‭”

“So you could take his powers‏?”

I feel a surge of anger,‭ ‬but it mellows.‭ I'm not in the mood for explaining myself,‭ ‬or trying to reason with these ponies, who will no doubt try to twist my words.‭ “‬No.‭”

Another reporter speaks up.‭ “‬From what the Princess has told us,‭ ‬you are here to undergo procedures to ensure you can't hurt anyone else.‭ Are you undergoing those willingly‭?”

“‬The Princesses have decided that my horn and wings shall be removed.‭ I have accepted their decision.‭”

That surprises the crowd,‭ ‬but not the reporter.‭ “‬But if you set out to become an Alicorn,‭ ‬then you succeeded.‭ Are you really going to give it up that easily‭?”

Every eye in the area focuses on me,‭ ‬and for the longest moment,‭ ‬I wonder what to say.

‏“‎I did succeed at getting what I wanted... but maybe we're not ready for it.” I take the microphone and look to the crowd.‭ "‬I'm just one pony. So was Mangus.‭ ‬Look at what the two of us did.‭ ‬There are no doubt many others throughout Equestria who want to become alicorns,‭ ‬or something they're not... but we shouldn't try to force these things." I glance at Luna for the briefest moment. "Gaining the ability to use magic, or to fly, should be earned, not forced."

“Then are you saying we should destroy this technology‏?”

The reporters watch,‭ ‬wondering what I'll say.‭

‏“‎I don't know,‭” ‬I say at last.‭ “‬What Medicomp... and Beakbreaker... have created has the potential ‬to do great good,‭ ‬or great evil.‭ ‬It's like dynamite:‭ ‬in the past,‭ ‬it was used to blow up other ponies during wars.‭ ‬Now it's used to create tunnels and destroy landslides.‭ ‬This technology has the potential to do so much good.‭ ‬Crippled ponies can walk again.‭ ‬Pegasus ponies can fly once more.‭ ‬It's only when ponies like Mangus and myself use it to turn ourselves into something we're not‭ ‬that it hurts others.‭ ‬The tool isn't what's evil.‭ ‬What matters is how we use it.‭”

I catch movement in the corner of my eye.‭ Coin Counter has walked up to Luna,‭ ‬and whispers something in her ear.‭ She comes to the podium,‭ ‬and I step aside.‭ “I will answer more questions at a later time,‏” ‎Luna says.‭ “‬But now we must leave.‭ ‬Thank you all for your time and your patience.‭”

The reporters still shout questions as the three of us head to the elevator. The doors close,‭ ‬and things go quiet as we ascend.‭

I breathe deeply, trying to steady myself for what's to come.

‏“‎I want to thank you for what you said down there,‭” ‬Coin Counter says.‭ “‬I almost expected you to say we should destroy everything.‭ ‬The public certainly wants to,‭ ‬to make sure this doesn't happen again.‭ ‬But what you said might change their minds.‭”

“It was the least I could do,‏” ‎I say.‭ “And I wanted you to know... ‬Before all this happened, I loved working here.‭ You... You were the best boss I could ask for.‭”

Coin Counter's surprised to hear that.‭ “‬You were one of the best employees an employer could ask for.‭”

He extends his hoof.

It doesn't feel right to shake his hoof, not after everything that's happened. I haven't earned it... but if Coin Counter is willing to forgive, it would be rude for me to reject it.

Taking his hoof, I shake.

The elevator finally comes to a stop,‭ ‬and the doors open.

We've arrived.

‏***

I step into the familiar hall of the surgical complex.‭ It's still damaged,‭ and repair crews are hard at work as Coin Counter leads us down the hall to the operating room. The doors open into the preparation room,‭ ‬where several ponies have dressed themselves in surgical scrubs.‭ They pause upon spotting me.‭ I don't blame them. As I walk inside, I keep my expression resigned and my posture slumped to indicate that I have no interest in fighting back.‭

The surgeons stand beside a gurney and wait for me to get on.‭ Luna and the others wait as well.‭ But I stand where I am, suddenly uncertain.

That these are the final minutes I'll ever have my wings and horn.

For one of the longest moments of my life,‭ ‬I hesitate,‭ ‬unsure.‭ Part of me wants to run and keep what I have,‭ ‬while the other part wants to get it over with.‭ Princess Luna herself has told me that this has to happen.‭ I can't defy her,‭ ‬no matter how badly I want to.‭ These wings and horn have brought nothing but suffering. That, and I also made a promise: Beakbreaker was returned to me.

It's time to hold up my end of the bargain.

I climb onto the gurney.‭ ‬The surgeons go to work,‭ ‬sticking needles and tubes into my body.‭ I remain still,‭ ‬allowing them to do their work,‭ ‬not even wincing at the pain of needles piercing my veins.

When everything is ready,‭ ‬the gurney is wheeled through the double doors into the operating theater,‭ ‬and I can't help but notice the irony of where we are.‭ This is the theater where Beakbreaker turned me into a pegasus pony.‭ This is where my dream came true.

This is where my dream will end.

The table is wheeled beneath the operating lights ‬and clamped into place.‭ As the surgeons gather their scalpels,‭ ‬thread,‭ ‬and scissors,‭ ‬I breathe deeply,‭ ‬keeping myself calm and centered.‭ I stretch my wings,‭ ‬looking at them one last time. I'll always be able to fly again in my dreams,‭ ‬but I want to remember this moment.

Stretching up,‭ ‬I touch my horn.‭

A surgeon walks beside me,‭ ‬a rubber mask in hand.

I hold my horn for a moment longer... and then let go.

The mask goes over my snout,‭ ‬and the familiar smell of rubber comes rushing back.‭ I close my eyes and take several deep breaths.‭ I hear the hiss of gas canisters being opened,‭ ‬and I feel myself getting drowsy.‭

Then everything falls away as darkness takes me.

‏***

I wake.‭

I'm surrounded by a wet warmth.‭ ‬I'm floating inside a recovery tube,‭ ‬with a breathing mask over my snout.‭

There's an ache on my shoulders.‭ ‬

Turning my head,‭ ‬I look,‭ ‬see that they're bare.

The wings are gone.

I reach up and touch my forehead.‭

Where my horn once was,‭ ‬now there's only stitches and tender skin.

I float there,‭ ‬feeling an emptiness I've never known.‭ ‬But through the gel,‭ ‬I notice something.‭ Pushing myself to the edge of my tube,‭ ‬I peer through and spot another tube nearby.‭ It too,‭ ‬is full of gel,‭ ‬my horn and my wings floating inside.

I try to turn away,‭ ‬not wanting to look.‭ But I can't.‭

I watch them‬.

I watch them for a long time.

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