• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,272 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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Water Upon the Rock

My every waking moment was devoted to those books over the next two days. I barely moved from my desk as I went through page after page, absorbing anything I could find, but my notes upon finishing the first book amounted to a single paragraph. A disappointment to be sure, but not unexpected. After all, the book was a general guide to magic; light and breezy, and meant for the common pony just starting out on their studies.

Putting the first book aside, I started on the second, a guide to alicorns and their history. That one had more material to work with, and I got an entire page of notes. Pleased, I moved on to the final book, which covered magic more in-depth than the first. Perhaps my excitement propelled me onwards, for before I knew it, I had finished that one as well.

And I had gotten nowhere.

Oh yes, the book had plenty to say about magic and how it fit into daily life. There was plenty about alicorns too, about how vital they were, their place in pony society, and how their greatest responsibility was to serve as an inspiration for us all. That was nice, but I didn’t care. I wanted to become one, and the books only repeated the well-known facts that if you weren't born as an alicorn, the only way to become one was to perform an extraordinary feat for the good of Equestria, and even then, only a princess can transform you. But what were the odds of me, an ordinary earth pony, ever doing such a thing? No, I wanted to find some rare and hidden spell that would transform me in an instant.

Putting the third book away, I told myself that this had been a temporary setback. I had read three books; there were hundreds, maybe even thousands more just like them. I just had to find the right ones.

***

Upon returning the books to the library, I wasted no time in heading back to the magic section and picking out the next three thickest books I could find. Despite getting a sore back after carrying them home, I didn’t mind. After all, I had triple the content to go through, and thus, triple the chances of finding the answers I sought. I couldn’t lose! I felt so good that I started up the fireplace and played a little jazz music while reading the books on the couch, Little Celestia standing beside me.

I went through the first book in record time, and then the second, and finally the third... and I got nowhere. There was nothing new to be found within the pages.

I began to get uneasy.

***

The next several trips to the library fell into a pattern: three books, a quick read, momentary panic upon finding nothing, then returning said books to the library and grabbing three more. I became a common sight to the library’s regulars, who probably saw me as the earth pony weirdo who loved unicorn Magic. Had we all been back at school, they probably would have called me bookworm, or, in the vein of Mangus Bluehorn, bookwart.

With each book my knowledge of magic, alicorns, and the pony species grew. I even found transformation spells, but they were only temporary, and for the highest-level unicorns. It wasn't until my twentieth trip that I realized something: If a pony like me had tried to change him or herself, why wasn’t it common knowledge? Had it been so disastrous that the event had been covered up and buried away deep within a vault somewhere, never again to see the light of day?

The thought intrigued me, so much so that it took several minutes for me to remember a critical fact: the library had a Restricted Section.

On my next trip to the library, I made my way to the front desk, put on a pleasant smile, and asked the librarian if I could visit the Restricted Section?

The librarian had seen me enough to add me to her list of harmless regulars who didn’t make a fuss, but the moment I asked the question, something in her seemed to change. I couldn’t quite put my hoof on it, but I wondered if she had put two and two together, and realized that I was up to something. Whatever she thought, she nodded and guided me down a flight of stairs. Despite its intimidating name, the Restricted Section is not off limits to ponies in general; the name refers to the fact that it holds Manehattan’s most treasured books, including rare manuscripts from ages past. Anyone was free to read them; the books just couldn’t leave the building.

The Restricted Section was housed in the basement, so as to protect the material in case of a fire or some other disaster that might befall the library above. The only way in and out was through a double door embedded within a wall of Plexiglas hard enough to resist a dozen earth ponies smashing it for hours on end. Once I was led through, I found myself inside a climate-controlled room where the books were chained to the walls and stacks, ensuring that they wouldn’t be carried out. And just to be safe, there were magical charms set around the doors to ensure that no one could try to sneak them out under their manes or coats. Not that I would do such a thing.

At least, not at that point.

After the librarian left, I spent most of the day going through the manuscripts, taking extra care with the older ones. The last thing I wanted was for a super-rare diary of an alicorn king to fall apart in my hooves, thus depriving Equestria of his most intimate thoughts, like his favorite ice cream flavor, or his favorite soap opera. While that didn’t happen, none of the manuscripts divulged anything new. Sure, they were fascinating to read, but aside from the novelty of holding original manuscripts that were thousands of years old, the information inside was still common knowledge, long copied into textbooks. Still, I kept looking. Whatever I needed was bound to be there.

Working my way through the room, I went through books about history, records of ancient leaders, and research on the galaxy. I went through mythology books, finding drawings of fabled beasts of old: Cerberus, Windigos, and evil dragon gods. Eventually, I made my way to the back of the room and found a manuscript from the time of the Unicorn-Dragon War. I hoped it would have something of use, guessing that during times of desperation against a great and powerful enemy, ponies would convert some of their own to use as magical backup.

As it turned out, I was right.

At the end of the book, there was a hastily-scribbled entry from the book’s anonymous author, describing how, in the aftermath of a battle that littered the fields with the corpses of unicorn soldiers, the royals were contemplating a desperate plan of action to replace them. But when I turned the page, it contained only a list of the unicorns who had been killed, with no further mention of the plan.

A plan to replace the fallen unicorns? As I looked upon the words, I grinned.

This was what I was looking for.

***

I didn’t know much about the Unicorn-Dragon War, but went in search of books to remedy that fault. Turns out there was only one on the shelves; the war had been so far in the past, most ponies didn’t even know about it (I didn’t until reading the manuscript). Grabbing the book, I took it home and began my research.

The Unicorn-Dragon war, as I learned, was the result of an event that had been forgotten, probably a misunderstanding between unicorns and an ancient dragon species called "Arch-dragons" that were far more powerful than their descendants today. However the war started, it set off a wave of conflict between the two species that lasted for almost a hundred years, with both sides enduring heavy losses. In the end, it was called off by a truce, with both sides agreeing to basically leave each other alone, and they’ve done so ever since.

While interesting, the book didn’t go into too much detail about battles or troops, other than to note that casualties in some of the bloodier conflicts numbered in the thousands, wiping out entire families of unicorns. There was no mention of an alicorn plan to convert troops, and that’s what made me suspicious. While the Canterlot archives probably had more detailed records, everything known about the war came from the manuscript I had read. Why wouldn’t they mention the alicorn’s plan?

It was something I pondered for a long while, until a possibility came to me, one I didn't want to contemplate: the information was being suppressed. But how could that be? Censorship is almost non-existent in Equestria, as the only reason information would be censored is if it could do great physical harm to the population at large.

If the alicorn plan had been censored, I needed to find out why.

When I returned upstairs, I went to the front desk and asked if there were any other rare books on the shelves. The librarian told me that yes, there was. When I asked to be guided there, she pointed to a thick door behind the reference desk and said I wouldn't get far, for the rest of the library's collection was stored in the Forbidden Section. Only scholars could enter, and not the general public.

Trying not to give away my sudden burst of panic, I asked why that was so. It turned out the section housed scrolls and manuscripts containing ancient magic that could be deadly if used improperly. Thus, only serious scholars are allowed inside, so as to avoid any pony from accidentally unleashing spells they aren’t ready to handle.

I turned on the charm, telling the librarian I knew that rules are rules, but they’re only in place to make sure no one does something dangerous. I just want to do some research on the Unicorn-Dragon wars. That’s all.

The librarian seemed to reconsider. I said nothing more, but kept my pleasant smile... even as the librarian frowned. She said no, that the rules were final, and had no exceptions. Furthermore, she warned me that if I were to try and charm her again, I'd be banned from the library for years and told me to leave. While my ability to charm others to my will is potent, it does have its limits. The Librarian was one of the rare ponies who possessed an exceptionally strong will, usually found in those who don't suffer fools or nonsense of any kind. Nothing I could say would cause the old mare to change her mind.

There’s a certain insult beings with hands like to give when they’re quite angry that involves a single finger. If I had hands, I would have made that gesture to the librarian as I left.

***

Even now, I’m not sure how I managed to get back home without breaking into a string of curses on the subway and the street. Taking a hot bath to calm my nerves, I closed by eyes as I sank into the near-scalding water and considered my options. On the bright side, I was positive that ponies had once been changed into another species. On the downside, any information regarding such a thing was locked up tighter than tartarus. The rules did make sense; it would be dangerous to let any pony go inside and run amok with the spells contained within. But what about those who only wanted to better themselves? I wasn’t some dictator-in-the-making who wanted to control time and space or overthrow the Royal Sisters. All I wanted was to make myself like them.

I tried to figure out how to continue onward, but my options were few. Traveling to Canterlot would likely yield the same result, for their Forbidden Section was likely to be bigger and even harder to enter. The only other option was to enroll in academics and spend the next decade working up to become a scholar, but no way in tartarus was I going to waste my life studying books.

There was one other option open to me: I had read of stores in Canterlot that held extremely rare magical items. One of them had gained quite a bit of infamy upon selling an alicorn amulet to Trixie Lunamoon decades ago. Who’s to say that other shops wouldn’t have some forbidden manuscript I could use? But there was a problem with such a path: After going through Manehattan’s stores, I had learned that if you wanted the very best things, you needed a lot of bits. True, I had enough to live off of for a year, but I would need even more if I wanted a chance of buying anything that I could actually use.

Having taken substantial time off from work, I headed back to the grocery store with a new plan in mind: save up enough bits to visit Canterlot and see what treasures were hidden within its alleyways. It was focused and achievable, but doubt began to creep in as the weeks went on. Like every pony in Equestria, I knew the story of Princess Twilight Sparkle, the most prized pupil of Celestia, but also one of the only ponies who had been granted the gift of transformation, much like Princess Cadence. My parents had been little when the transformation occurred, and told me that it had been an event unlike any other in Equestrian history.

Now, Twilight Sparkle has higher social standing than an ordinary pony like me. I could accept that. I also knew that she didn't get to sit around and relax, as being both the Princess of Friendship and one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony has kept her busy for all these years, dealing with one crisis and one problem after another. I wondered if, at times, Twilight Sparkle would envy my simple life. But while I didn’t envy Twilight's responsibilities, I envied her gifts. She had magic and flight at her command, and had the love and adoration of millions. After Celestia and Luna, she was the most admired pony in Equestria.

No one knew about me. Nobody knew about my wishes. And if you needed an alicorn to grant you the gift of becoming one of them, what chance did I have?

***

The months passed. I continued to save all the bits I could. Life went on as normal.

Then, one day, while mopping a spill in the freezer section of the grocery store, a thought struck me like lightning from a storm. Being such a highly public pony, Twilight Sparkle’s life is available to read from many sources, such as newspapers, book articles, interviews, and gossip, but one article I had read many years before always stuck with me. In it, normal ponies were interviewed about what they thought of Celestia’s star pupil, and one of them was a retired guard from Canterlot.

“Twilight?” he had said. “Great gal. Always polite, punctual, and easy to get along with, though she did act a bit strange one time. I was on duty in the Canterlot record hall at night, and saw her sneaking around with some of her friends. My guess is they were having fun, or maybe practicing for a play or something.”

The article never elaborated what Twilight had been doing, but the word, “sneaking” stuck out to me like blood on a white floor. Just what would she have been doing sneaking around? Had she been after something? A magical artifact? Some sort of spell? Whatever it was, it apparently worked, as she had become an alicorn not too long after.

My thoughts moved at breakneck speed: if Twilight Sparkle snuck around to find a forbidden item and succeeded, had that item helped her to become an alicorn? If she had bent or broken some rules to do so, was it possible for anyone to do the same?

Could I?

It was a tempting thought. I relished it for several seconds… and realized it was a fool's hope. Breaking rules, not to mention breaking into places to get what you wanted wasn’t right. I wasn’t that desperate.

Pushing the thought aside, I went back to my work.

But I soon learned that I couldn't get rid of the idea so easily. The thought came back to me again and again over the next few weeks, despite my efforts to ignore it. I wasn’t willing to break the law to get what I wanted. Completely out of the question. No way, no how.

But the idea tickled at me. It nagged. It refused to leave, trying to wear me down like water upon rock. One drip has no effect, but a million can carve away even the strongest mountain.

Would I do what Twilight had done?

As the months passed, it became harder to resist the thought. I was working towards the next step of my dream, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my odds weren’t good. After all, what were the odds that Canterlot’s stores and merchants would sell something that would allow me to become an alicorn? After the incident with Trixie Lunamoon, there had been an Equestria-wide crackdown on magical artifacts. Princess Celestia didn’t want a well-meaning pony getting to inadvertently wreak havoc on the general population by getting a death spell, or something similar. If the power to give a Unicorn alicorn-level magic existed, than something to give a pony both alicorn flight and magic was dangerous beyond all measure. Perhaps a manuscript did exist that gave those abilities to whomever was brave enough to seek it out... but not likely. Princess Celestia’s crackdown had included books as well.

It’s amazing how focusing on the negative can bring you down so quickly. Day after day, I began to realize how hopeless my quest was. It was as if I had a cancer of the mind, of a thought that had taken root and grew relentlessly. My productivity at work began to slip. My enthusiasm dropped; my fake smile vanished as days of cleaning and stocking and bagging blurred together into a horrible tedium. There were moments where I had to lean against the wall to steady myself for another long day of doing the same accursed work over and over again. Even my days off brought me no comfort. Back at Saddle Lanka, I would often find peace of mind walking among the trees and the grass. But not in Manehattan, not even at its enormous park.

My manager began to notice that I wasn’t doing too well. Being a pony whose focus wasn't just on earning as many bits as possible, he suggested that I take a three-day weekend to try and lighten up. He suggested trying out the entertainment district if I wanted to refresh my spirits. Instead, I spent those three days in my room, looking out the window, watching the city as it went about its business, unaware that I even existed. I would have liked to gone to the amusement park or the theater, but my manager didn’t understand that while I may escape my problems for a few days, they’d still be there when I came back.

My problem wasn’t boredom. It was knowing that my life’s dream might be unobtainable.

***

On my last night of that three day weekend, I couldn’t sleep. I spent it lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, aware that I was at a crossroads.

I had two choices available to me: give up on my dream and spend the rest of my life as a grocery store worker and occasional writer (provided I could actually get work as a writer), or go into academics and spend the next decade or two trying to work my way up. Both felt like dead ends. My answer wasn’t going to be found in giving up or spending countless years doing something I didn't want.

The answer to my problems lay inside the Forbidden Section.

A single door was all that stood between me and my dream.

Little Celestia's tiny eyes were watching me.

I looked back for a long time.

The thought came to me once again, but this time I didn’t push it away. Twilight Sparkle had wanted to become an alicorn and had snuck into someplace forbidden to get what she wanted.

I could do the same.

Little Celestia kept watching me, as if waiting to see what I was going to do. I didn’t have an answer for her.

I lay there late into the night, wondering how far I was willing to go to get what I wanted.

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