• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,271 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 Repository of Knowledge

I took my time in getting out of bed on my first full day in Manehattan. The pressure to start my mission was ever in my mind, but I needed time to settle in and create a stable base for myself. After all, you can’t devote yourself to a higher calling if you’re struggling to pay the bills. Besides, I had spent years planning my escape from Saddle Lanka. One more day of leisure wouldn't hurt.

Seeking to start the day on a high note, I had a decadent lunch at a nearby café that served the most delicious breakfast burritos. They reminded me of Dad's culinary creations, but any nostalgia I had passed quickly. That belonged in the past, and I needed to focus on my future.

Finishing breakfast, I embarked on the next stage of my plan: Exploring Manehattan, and seeing everything it had to offer. Purchasing an all-day pass for the subway, I circled around the city with my face pressed against the windows, looking out to all the buildings, plazas, and parks that passed me by. From the elevated tracks, I watched as thousands of ponies went about on the streets and in the sky as Pegasi ponies flew to and fro wherever they pleased. It was a magnificent sight, but of all the buildings and institutions in Manehattan, there was one I craved above all others, and it soon appeared at the edge of the city's park:

The Manehattan Library.

I still remember the thrill of seeing it for the first time. It was the oldest building in the city, and in a way, its heart. It was the exact spot where Manehattan had been established hundreds of years ago by a group of ponies who sought to turn the island into a paradise of culture and learning. While the dream of a thriving cultural center had come true, the planned universities had largely gone back to the mainland as buildings gobbled up all avaliable space on the island; now only the library remained, acting as the city's most treasured repository of pony knowledge and wisdom.

That knowledge beckoned to me, for this was where my mission would begin. Yet, when the subway came to a stop at the library station, I didn't get off. I wasn’t ready to go within those halls and study the many manuscripts within. I could have gone if I wanted to: You don't need to know magical passwords or join a club to get inside. I just wanted to wait until I was settled in before devoting my full attention to studying.

When the subway started off again, I watched the library get swallowed up by the nearby skyscrapers.

***

I eventually got off the subway at the eastern end of the island, wanting to take a look at some of the larger districts, both for my own personal pleasure and to mark out potential places of employment. I made my way into the city’s entertainment district, filled with theaters for both films and stage performances, art galleries, arcades filled with all the latest in electronic entertainment, and even an amusement park that took up a huge pier that stretched out into the sea. I could have spent my entire day lost among the distractions and amusements the Entertainment District had to offer, but I managed to restrain myself and stay for only an hour. I could always return here when I needed to relax and unwind, but I still had much to see and explore.

I next went to the Business District. There wasn’t much for the tourists to see, but for a job seeker, it was practically a smorgasbord of opportunity. All of Equestria’s major corporations are situated there, nestled among their various high-rises. Noting each company and what type of corporation they were, I made a list of the best candidates who would benefit from my services. After all, all good corporations need press releases, speeches, and spiels for the company meetings. I could have gone into the towers and put in my applications, but chose not to. For one thing, I still wanted to survey Manehattan further. Secondly, I didn’t have the proper attire and didn't want to mess up my first impressions. But that wouldn't be a problem, for the city's Shopping District was right next to the towers of business. If the library was the cultural heart of Manehattan, the Shopping District was the lifeblood that kept it afloat. Here were to be found all manner of goods that anypony could ever wish for: clothes, toys, electronics, food, books, vehicles, potions… all of it vying for my attention (and more importantly, my wallet). I didn’t intend to stay long, but the sheer volume of colors, ads, and display windows proved, I'm sorry to say, quite irresistible.

Caught up in the wonders of shops and consumer goods, I sampled a little bit of everything. I partook in food kiosks with small samples of cheese and crackers, looked over the numerous vehicles available for those who wanted them (mostly the rich who didn’t quite fancy walking), and even browsed the toy stores. Where I had simple wooden dragons to act out my daydreams, the little colts and fillies of today had plastic dragons with electronic roars and miniature pony knights that screamed, “Will you accept my friendship?!” when you pressed a button.

But of all the shops I visited, the ones that struck me the most were the clothing stores. Within their walls I found a near-infinite variety of things to try on: suits, jackets, ties, and pants. Anything and everything from business attire to casual was available to me, from gala dresses that glittered with diamonds embedded in the fabric, to trench coats the color of the darkest night (made from fake leather of course; who on Celestia’s good, green earth would wear the skin of a fellow sentient?). I didn’t buy anything, but I certainly had plenty to think about, especially what I would wear when the job hunt started.

Time flew by, and night was falling before I knew it. My planned exploration of Manehattan had gotten cut short on account of my own wandering attention. I chided myself upon boarding the subway and heading back to my apartment in the northwestern part of the island. But any anger I had towards myself for losing track of time was gone as the streetlights came on, blanketing the sidewalks with golden light. I was so intrigued with the sight that I got off the subway early and walked the rest of the way back to my apartment, relishing the chance to observe Manehattan’s nightlife. It was much busier than Saddle Lanka, for sure; nightclubs, outdoor cafes, and even a few ice skating rinks were available for those who came from colder climates and missed the comfort of home.

All the lights and activities amounted to sensory overload. I was tempted to enter some of those clubs and bars to take in as much as I wanted, to join with the crowds and see how settlers of the urban landscape defined fun. However, I decided against it. I needed to get enough rest to begin the search for employment.

***

When the sun rose on the horizon the following morning, I was already awake, my hoof hitting the alarm button on my clock as it went off. Breakfast was a quick affair, and then I was heading back to the shopping district to acquire the attire I would need for my job hunt. There were many styles I could have chosen to wear, but because I didn't want to be driven into bankruptcy by spending all my bits on the fanciest suits available, I settled on a simple black suit and blue tie. It wasn't as flashy as (faux) snakeskin or fine silk, but for now, it would do.

Having dressed as a pony who was important, it was now time to play the part.

My search for employment began by returning to the Business District and visiting corporations one after another, inquiring about their needs for writers and those talented in the ways of speech. When they inquired about my skills and resume, all I had to do was point out my cutie mark, and assure them that my gift of the silver tongue would serve them well. It should have been a simple affair, with quick results, and a new job to come to in the morning.

But it wasn’t.

All the secretaries and managers in charge of hiring told me, one after another, that they already had a pony on staff to handle speeches and press releases, and that my services weren’t needed. The first time it happened, I wasn’t upset. Such a thing was to be expected. Not every corporation or business had openings, to be sure. But on the fifth try, I was getting anxious. By the end of the day, I was a near nervous wreck, as not one single corporation was hiring.

My skill, the one thing I was so good at, simply wasn't needed.

Doing my best to stay calm, I changed tactics and used my gift of the silver tongue to subtly influence the secretaries and manages I spoke to, subtly edging my way into their good graces. Looking back, I wonder about the morality of such an act, but at the time I figured it would prove that I was good, thus impressing my targets enough to immediately offer me a job. But all my charm couldn't change the fact that no one was hiring ponies with my skills.

The second day of my job search started with a bit more desperation. Once again I dressed in my best and went through the city, going to every business that could possibly use a speech writer. After all, you didn't need to be a huge corporation to need someone on staff to handle all your speech-related needs. But as it turned out, nobody did. My search was as futile as before, and things had fallen into a disturbing pattern of businesses either not hiring, or having just hired someone before I showed up.

I made my way across the city for the next few days, going to any place I could think of, even places that had morally questionable business practices that I normally would have never considered. And yet, all of it was the same: I just wasn't needed.

A week into the job hunt found me on the verge of panic. I had covered the island from edge to edge, and there wasn't a single job to be found in my chosen field. With the prospect of losing all my bits and becoming homeless, I had to abandon my hopes of a cozy office and professional business cards and go to an employment agency. When interviewed by the pony on duty, I told him about my skill sets, and everything I was good at, making sure to turn on the charm once more, hoping I'd be high enough in his graces to get something good.

He ended up getting me a job at a grocery store, where I would stock shelves and clean up at closing time.

Whoopee.

I suppose I should have been grateful, but at the time I was crushed. The first few days of dressing in green aprons and putting boxes on shelves had me wearing smiles and working as efficiently as the perfectly happy employee, but on the inside I was fuming. My dreams of getting away from home and forging a new life for myself had led to a dead-end job that utilized none of the skills and talents I possessed. Instead of wowing CEO's and moving the masses to tears with the power of words, I put stuff away, swept up dirt, and cleaned up whatever mess had been created on isle five.

But after those first few days I had passed, I tried a new tactic: I told myself that it was just a job. It paid, and I kept telling myself that it was the money that mattered. The job was just the means to an end.

I needed to remain focused on my true goal.

Still, it was a daily grind to do work far below what I was capable of doing. But it was only for now, I kept telling myself.

I was biding my time.

***

The months passed. I worked day in and day out, going longer and harder than any other worker in the store, taking overtime, then double time, and on the rare occasion I could get it, triple time. With each paycheck I got, my bank account slowly began to build. Whatever I didn’t spend on rent and food went into savings. I lived a bare-bones life, buying no decorations, no entertainment, and nothing to bring color to my apartment. Every spare bit I earned went into the bank, adding towards my greater goal.

The holidays came and went. I sent cards and letters home, explaining to my parents that I was too busy at work to come and visit them, but I would do so the following year. To try and ease the pain of them not seeing their only child, I also sent photographs I took of myself at some of Manehattan’s famous landmarks to show them that I was making it on my own.

The seasons passed. Snow blanketed Manehattan, and I went to work in thick coats. Then spring came, and the trees in the streets and the park came alive with brilliant colors.

My hard work at the grocery store netted me a raise. My boss praised my diligence and hard work, and I nodded like the good little worker I was. I could have cared less about how well the store was doing, or how pretty the floors were. All that mattered were the checks.

A year and a half after arriving in Manehattan, the day finally came. I got my largest ever paycheck, the result of getting a raise for my diligence and hard work. And as those bits were put into the bank, I looked my statement over, and smiled. I finally had enough money to cover all my expenses for at least a year, should the need arise.

The time had finally arrived.

I was ready to start my mission.

***

It began on a cloudy day where the rain came down hard, as if determined to drench all of Manehattan and perhaps everyone to remain indoors. But on that day, not even nature itself could stop me.

Dressing in my thickest coat, I ventured into the streets and the downpour. I felt unusually calm as I got onto the subway; I pondered why as I rode towards the library. Perhaps I was walking down a path that had been determined for me by some cosmic force that was unknowable. The thought gave me comfort; If I was meant to walk this path, then my dreams were also meant to come true.

I arrived at the library and entered its quiet and solemn halls with a rapidly-beating heart. Candles and lamps cast a deep, warm glow upon the marble walls. Unseen fireplaces burned and cracked, filling the building with warmth to counter the cold outside.

Passing the front desk, I turned on the charm and inquired where I could find books on magic. The head librarian, well-used to such questions, pointed me towards the western wing. I smiled and thanked her. It was smart to make a good first impression, for if I needed to access any restricted knowledge, it would be most useful to be on good terms with the pony who held the key.

I had read about the magic section of the Manehattan library, and how it was the second-largest depository of magical knowledge in Equestria, surpassed only by Canterlot's archives, but they were more dedicated to scholarly knowledge. Manehattan's branch was more suited to the everyday needs of unicorns, and I believed it the moment I set hoof inside the halls. They were massive, taking up a full three stories and stretching on seemingly without end. The unicorns studying at the library that day must have wondered why an earth pony would be so giddy at seeing so many books on a subject he could never use. I ignored them and leapt right into the shelves, going down isle after isle; any and all magical subjects were covered there, from spells and charms, to using your magic in everyday life (need to spice up your love life? There’s magic for that!), to potions and brews that any pony could create. To my surprise, there was even as section dedicated to the study and understanding of earth pony magic. I ignored those, figuring them to be little more than philosophers struggling to come up with anything to suggest that we were special or unique (and as I later found out, that was mostly true; one book even theorized that the reason we grow food so well is that our... ahem... fertilizer was stronger than the other ponies).

Charms, potions, magic… it was paradise for practitioners of the sacred arts. But I cared for none of those things. I was only interested in two things: books on magic in general, and books on alicorns. And while I found them quickly enough, the hard part was deciding which ones to check out. Ultimately, I chose three of each, as that’s all my saddlebags could take. I could have read them at the library, but chose not to. I needed solitude for my studies, to be in a place where I had complete privacy.

Checking the books out, I left the library and headed back home, but not before making a stop at a small crafts store I had discovered during my walks. To mark the beginning of my mission, I wanted to get a little token, something to commemorate the beginning of a long journey.

Walking among the shelves, I pondered the little statues and figures I saw, looking for something that felt right. No ordinary trinket or cheap tourist toy would do. I needed something better, something that could stand the test of time and embody my desires and dreams, to remind me why I had chosen this path in the first place. But none of the things I saw called out to me. They didn’t have the special spark I was looking for, the extra little something that made them special.

And then I saw it.

It was on the back of a shelf, half-hidden behind a snow globe of Manehattan. Pushing it aside, I gazed into Princess Celestia’s eyes. Or rather, the eyes upon a tiny statue of her. It wasn’t very big, no larger than the size of my hoof. A charm was embedded within it, for the statue's wings occasionally flapped, and her long mane and tail flowed behind her like banners in a breeze.

But her expression… it was he expression that caught me. Celestia is revered by all ponies, and that filters down into the tributes we make with her likeness. Whoever had built this little statue had the same adoration of our leader, for Celestia’s expression was captured perfectly. It was warm and welcoming, and her lovely smile seemed to offer friendship, as corny as it sounded. As I looked into her little face, I couldn’t help but feel as if she was actually there, looking at me in miniature form. In that face was over a thousand years of knowledge and wisdom, and she was offering it to me if I wished for it. And for a few moments, it was as if I was a little colt again, eagerly rushing to the window and watching the morning sky, knowing that somewhere, Celestia was raising the sun just for me.

That Celestia was before me, the one I once revered and adored.

The pain we bear in childhood is often the greatest of our lives, and the hardest to let go. The Princess had let me down before... and yet, something compelled me to look at the statue, and to see beyond my disappointment.

I looked for a long time.

***

Ten bits later, and Princess Celestia was riding inside my saddlebags on the subway back home. It was just her and me upon the subway, and no one bothered me as I got off the train and headed back into my apartment.

The doors were closed. Candles were lit, and the books were spread out on the desk. I put little Celestia on a shelf above the desk, so she would remain the inspiration for why I undertook the greatest mission of my life.

With Celestia watching me, I began to read, and to discover how I could become an alicorn like her.

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