• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,295 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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If Twilight Sparkle Did It, So Could I

When my extended weekend was over, I headed back to work and continued on as usual. For my next visits to the library, I browsed the books ponies would read in everyday life: entertainment, cooking, history, and studies about the spiritual. The librarian kept giving me her glare of suspicion, but as my visits went on, those glares gradually faded away to polite nods. She probably figured my desire to get into the Forbidden Section had been a desire born of passion that had cooled down and faded away.

That was exactly what I wanted her to think.

The librarian had no idea that my frequent visits were spent studying the building. I spent hours mentally mapping all the air ducts, hallways, and doors. I purposefully stayed late to watch as the night guard began his rounds. He never found it odd that I was on a different floor at closing time, nor did he ever suspect that I timed and worked out the path he took.

The months passed. The librarian never suspected a thing, and neither did her staff or the guard. And why would they? No one had ever broken into the library before.

***

Five months passed before I gathered all the information I needed. By that time I knew the library like the back of my hoof. Next came acquiring the necessary gear and equipment for my plan, using all the extra bits I had earned from extra shifts at work.

The first order of business was to get appropriate attire. I needed clothes that would make it harder to see me and to disguise my identity. With normal clothing stores out of the question, I went to a costume shop that carried all manner of costumes. They weren’t cheap Nightmare Night outfits, but clothing made from the Rare Games clothing and fashion line, known for taking every costume and outfit seriously, no matter how over-the-top it is.

I browsed the shelves until I found the armed forces and uniform sections. To be honest, I didn’t expect to find something I could use, but as I browsed the spy gear, I came across honest-to-goodness sneaking suits made of a rubber-like material. They were dark blue in color and came complete with masks to hide the face. Though it was embarrassing to purchase a skin-tight suit, I shoved the feelings of shame aside. All the outfit had to do was disguise me.

Thankfully, getting the rest of my equipment was less embarrassing. A camping store had night vision goggles and climbing and rappelling gear, and a hardware store had cutting tools. I wasn’t planning on carrying any weapons, but the more I thought about it, I realized it would be idiotic to not have a way to defend myself. Thus, I decided to go with smoke grenades that would cover my escape if I needed to flee. Because such weapons were only available to the police and military, I had to resort to buying small canisters and making them in my apartment.

With my smoke grenades and sneaking gear, I was set. All I needed was the right time to set things in motion. Fate smiled upon me, for as I tinkered with the last of my smoke grenades one night, the news talked about a heavy storm due to hit Manehattan the end of the week. It was almost as if the storm was the answer to an unspoken prayer, and I was all too happy to seize it.

***

As the weather forecasters had predicted, the storm arrived right on schedule, covering the sky like a dark blanket. The wind blew everyone indoors long before the rain arrived, leaving the streets of Manehattan all but abandoned. It was the perfect night to curl up by the fire while sipping hot chocolate and watching your favorite television show.

But for me, it was the night when I would finally get what I so dearly craved.

I didn’t go when the library closed, for I wanted to wait until that special moment where the guard, convinced that no one was going to sneak in, would spend the rest of his shift trying to stay awake. After eating a quick dinner, I laid out my gear on the bed, double and triple-checking to make sure everything was in order. The cutting tool was sharp and fluid, the suit was clean, and the batteries in the goggles were at full power.

When I had finished going over my gear, I still had a few hours to go. With nothing else to occupy me, I mentally reviewed my plan: I would take the subway to the library, sneak behind it, make my way to the roof, go in through the vents, head into the basement, enter the Forbidden Section, read through whatever was contained within, and then sneak back out and return home enlightened.

It was a simple plan. Nothing complicated or fancy. Yet, as I kept reviewing it, I noticed that my legs were starting to shake. Then came the heavy feeling of unease. I initially ignored it, chalking it up to nervousness, and who could blame me? Breaking into a building is bound to get on anyone’s nerves. But I realized that it wasn’t just nervousness. It was the sensation that something was very wrong. It was like knowing that something painful and unpleasant is coming, and that you couldn’t escape it, no matter how hard you tried.

At the time, I didn’t know what was causing it, but in hindsight, I understand that it was my conscience. My parents had taught me that stealing was always wrong, no matter what the motivations. In any other situation, I wouldn’t have even thought about breaking into the library, but this was different. I wasn’t a thief out to steal diamonds or jewels, or some priceless treasure from Equestria’s past. I was after knowledge, and the right to become more than a lowly earth pony condemned to a mundane life.

If you want to fulfill your destiny, sometimes you have to bend the rules. And by night’s end, I knew I would finally have the secrets I was looking for... but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was making a terrible mistake.

At last, the hour arrived. My gear went into the saddlebags. I put on a raincoat, left the apartment, and went through the heavy rain to the subway. With no one out at that time of night, I had the train to myself.

The minutes ticked away as I looked out the rain-streaked windows, trying to slow my frantic heart.

The library was dark when I arrived. With no one to see me, I made my way into the alley behind it and crept beneath an overhang. My raincoat was discarded as I slipped into my sneaking suit... actually, squeezing in would have been more appropriate, for it turned out that the suit was tighter than it looked. But, at last, the zipper was pulled up, and I took a deep breath, feeling the suit move with me like a second skin. A belt came next, then the cutting tool, smoke grenades, and night vision goggles.

When all my equipment was in place, I pulled the mask and goggles on, reassuring myself that everything was going to be fine. Never mind that I was breaking and entering. Never mind that I’d be in serious trouble if I was caught. I shoved those thoughts aside, focusing on seeing myself getting back into my apartment, newfound knowledge and secrets guiding me toward my dream.

Through the rumble of thunder, I heard the gong of the distant bell tower, informing the ponies who worked the graveyard shift that another hour had passed.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, counted to three, reminded myself why I was doing this, and sprinted from the shadows.

Scrambling onto a dumpster, I grabbed hold of a drainage pipe and pulled myself up to the roof. Had it been a movie, I would have effortlessly scrambled up and vaulted onto the roof with ease, but it wasn’t long before my muscles began to tire, and by the time I reached the roof, I was panting, cursing my stupidity in not working out to build strength and endurance before embarking on the most dangerous day of my life. I was already tired, and I wasn’t even in the building yet!

Taking only a moment to catch my breath, I pressed myself low against the roof and went to one of the larger air vents, cursing upon finding the cover to be bolted down. I could get through, but cutting the bolts would leave irrefutable evidence that somebody had broken into the library. It might not be noticed for a week, a month, or even a year, but eventually it would be noticed.

The thought alone almost made me panic. In movies and books, spies and thieves took care to leave no trace that they had ever been behind enemy lines, and neither could I. But if I ran, I would be giving up. I would never work up the guts to try again.

Biting my lip, I took the cutting tool and tore through the bolts. With the cover loose, I slipped inside and pulled it back into place, plunging me into complete darkness, which was broken by the night vision goggles, illuminating everything around me in bright green. I was above a large fan, and before me was a small duct.

Getting on my belly, I slid inside.

***

The sound of the fan faded to a distant hum as I went down the vent, my sneaking suit allowing me to almost glide over the metal. However, the vent began to tighten the further down I went, forcing me to put my front legs before me in order to continue onward. The tightness almost gave me a panic attack, for if it had become any tighter, I’d be stuck and either starve in the vent, or yell for help and be cut out by the police.

I could have gone back. The vent hadn’t become so tight as to make it impossible. But I had already gone that far. I had to keep going. I wiped the sweat from my brow and continued on.

Passing a small vent cover, I peered out to the library’s fifth floor. All was dark and silent. The guard was nowhere to be seen. He was probably on another floor or inside the security room. The guard was an older pony, most likely a retired police officer who wanted a quiet job that paid the bills. If fate smiled on me, he would have gotten a little too tired and dozed off. That would certainly have made things easier.

Still, I had to be careful. Regardless of age, all the guard had to do was raise the alarm, and the police would come running. Thus, as slowly and quietly as I could, I worked my way through the library’s vents for over an hour. My progress was slow and steady, but such careful and deliberate movements took their toll. By the time I reached the second floor, my muscles were sore. I should have stayed still for a while and rested, but feeling bolder at having gone so far without being heard, I kept going, wanting to reach my destination as quickly as possible.

When I reached the first floor, I was giddy. I was only a single floor away from my goal, and with no sign of the guard, I figured that he had indeed fallen asleep, leaving me to crawl about at my leisure.

Letting my guard down for a moment, I picked up the pace, going a little faster then normal. However, the movement caused one of my grenades to hit the vent with a loud bang.

I heard the sound of hooves galloping into the room below me. Through a small vent cover, I saw the guard as he ran into the lobby, flashlight swinging about. He was very much awake, and age had done nothing to slow him down.

The guard said nothing as he swept his beam around. When it came to the vent cover, I went as flat as I could manage, and remained still as the guard cautiously walked over, looking the shelves over, eyes alert and focused behind his glasses.

Feeling that I would be safer further back, I eased myself into the vent, away from the cover, and out of sight.

The guard shot his head toward the vent.

I froze.

I didn’t see him, but I heard the guard as he walked to the vent, the light peering up into the cover. It remained there for only a minute, but to me it felt like hours. I could easily imagine that he was waiting for me to move, or that he was going to go and get a ladder to peer inside.

The light shifted.

My heart was pounding so hard I could have sworn it would hit the walls. I didn’t dare breathe, or even blink.

The light finally descended, and I heard the guard moving on, muttering something about rats.

I didn't move for a good ten minutes, wanting to make sure the guard truly was gone. Even then, I wanted to leave. I wanted to turn around and just get out of there, go home, and pretend this whole thing had never happened. But I was so close. Just one more floor, and I’d reach my destination.

Shaking as hard as I was, it was hard to move once more, and it was even harder to stay quiet. I couldn’t see out of the vent, but it was as if I could sense the guard nearby, just waiting for me to make a mistake.

***

Eventually the vent curved and headed into the basement. I followed it, but without the concentration that had gotten me that far. While I had accumulated a thorough knowledge of the library’s vent systems, the ducts leading to the Forbidden Section were unknown to me.

Wiping the sweat away from my brow once again, I continued downward, relying more on my goggles than ever before. Unlike the upper floors, where a few lights had been left on, there was no illumination in the basement. To make things worse, the vents tightened just a little more, making movement even more difficult. If I was spotted, there would be no fast way out. I’d be trapped.

It was getting harder to control the shaking in my limbs. I was sweating so hard that the perspiration entered the goggles and dripped into my eyes. Yet, I kept going. I kept telling myself that it was only a little further now. If the guard had heard me, he would have summoned the police by then, rather than let me get into the Forbidden Section... that is, unless he had a sadistic sense of humor, and wanted me to reach it before springing his trap.

Such thoughts almost made me miss that something had changed. It wasn’t anything visible, but I noticed the air had changed, as if something invisible was permeating it.

It felt like magic.

I was close.

Turning a corner, I wondered how I was going to recognize my destination. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry, for there was a shimmering field of energy further down the duct. Caught by surprise, I froze, unsure of what the field was doing there. After several minutes of silence, I cautiously crept forward, ready to scramble back if the field did anything.

It didn’t.

Not as worried now, I came quite close to the field and removed the goggles. In the darkness of the vent the field's bright blue glow was almost blinding. I figured it was a security field of some kind, meant to protect the end of the duct somewhere beyond it. I would have panicked, had I not felt something rough under my belly... a vent cover.

Popping the cover off, I peered into the hallway below me.

It was the hallway leading to the Forbidden Section.

Popping the goggles back on, I looked around. There were no obvious security measures I could see. There weren’t any alarms set in the walls or the torchholders. Taking hold of the vent cover, I lowered myself out, then dropped to the floor, tensing up as I hit, ready to spring back up should an alarm sound.

All was quiet.

Behind me was a set of stairs leading up to the reference desk. Before me was a thick set of wooden doors carved with all manner of magical symbols.

I couldn’t believe it. I had actually made it. I had doubted myself and my abilities, but I had actually made it! I struggled to keep myself from laughing, instead allowing myself a single, relieved chuckle. I, an ordinary pony, had actually managed to sneak into the library and make it all the way into the Forbidden Section without being seen! Wondering if perhaps being stealthy was a secret talent I possessed, I checked my watch, found that it was three in the morning. I still had several hours until the staff came in for the day.

Rising from the floor, I looked the doors over, checking for signs of traps or locks. There were none. In my excitement, I only devoted a few seconds to wondering why that was so. With such valuable materials inside, surely the library would have devoted more supplies and equipment to protecting the place. And the doors didn’t show any signs of being locked, not even magically. Heck, there were only some gruesome gargoyles, probably the work of some zealous woodcarver trying to warn off anyone trying to sneak inside, or to give them second thoughts.

It didn't work on me. I had come too far, and no silly carved monstrosities were going to stop me.

Ready to claim what was rightfully mine, I put my hooves to the doors, and pushed.

In retrospect, I was making so many mistakes it wasn’t even funny. I should have been cautious, and taken my time to examine the doors more closely. Instead, I blindly charged ahead, convinced that I was so clever in overcoming all obstacles in my path.

I had just shoved the doors open when I heard a loud click.

With a thunderous wail, an alarm sounded. Red lights flashed around me, briefly illuminating the forbidden section beyond the doors, filled with books and manuscripts that I would never get the chance to read. There was no time to charge inside and grab a book or snatch a scroll. Every instinct was screaming at me to get out, and I was all too happy to comply. The guard upstairs had no doubt been alerted and I had ten, maybe fifteen minutes to get out before the police arrived.

As I ran into the hall, I realized I had made a serious mistake. In dropping out of the vent, I had failed to realize that the floor was too far below to jump back up. Panic threatened to overwhelm me, but I realized I could use the torchholders to boost myself up. Panic gave me desperate strength as I grabbed one and leapt to the vent, only to miss and fall back to the floor. I managed to grab hold on my second try and scrambled inside, leaving the Forbidden Section behind.

It had been a mistake to come here. That was the thought that kept coming back to me as I shot through the vents. I should have stayed home, but it was too late for regrets. All that was left was to try and escape.

Adrenaline gave me extra strength as I made my way back towards the roof. All soreness was forgotten, along with any attempt to be quiet. To tartarus with being stealthy; I just wanted to get out. With any luck, I would make it to the roof and then scramble down, grab my clothes, and take off into the night.

But the alarms weren’t loud enough to mask my scrambling, for the ducts banged and shook violently, and when I reached the third floor I saw a light shining into the vent.

“You, in the vent!” someone shouted. “Stop!”

If I had been going quickly before, I was like the rabbit fleeing a snake that snuck into its burrow. I wasn't going to stop for anyone or anything, much less a guard who didn't have any way to get to me.

At least, that’s what I thought, for it turned out that the library had failsafe systems in place of a fire. All the floors had heavy bulkheads that would collapse and seal the floors off from one another, and that included the vents as well. Just as I had gotten out of an intersection, a thick slab of steel fell down behind me, and far ahead at the next.

I was trapped.

“The police are on their way!” the guard called out. “There’s no escape! Give yourself up, and you won’t be harmed!”

Through the panic, I somehow pondered how unfair it was that Twilight Sparkle never had to deal with anything like this. As Celestia’s star pupil, all she had to worry about was getting a very stern talking to. I would likely get a cell all to myself for the next few years and a big red mark on my permanent record.

Desperation, often our greatest enemy, can nevertheless come through in times of need. That desperation let me spot a nearby vent cover and punch it off. I heard the guard coming, but I already had a smoke grenade ready for him. Having never tested them before, I was about to find out if they even worked. Plucking the pin, I tossed the grenade to the floor below. I heard the guard shriek, convinced he was about to be blown to pieces. There was a bang, and an enormous cloud of smoke quickly rose.

Elated that my grenade had worked, I yanked myself out of the vent and dropped onto a shelf, knocking it over and sending a hurricane of books flying into the air. Getting up, I ran for everything I was worth.

But the grenade, while potent, hadn’t been enough to stop the guard, and he ran after me. Grabbing another grenade, I threw it ahead and ran into the resulting smoke, making a sharp left behind a shelf. As I had hoped, the guard ran past me, convinced he was still on my hooves. I waited five seconds, and then took off down the shelves, hoping to find a fire escape. The library had several, but it’s one thing to find one in the daytime. It’s another to try and find one in the dead of night, with smoke all around you.

I was still trying to figure out where to go when the guard tackled me.

“I knew there was someone in here!” he growled. “No rat makes a sound that big.”

He reached for a stun stick, and in a panic I bucked as hard as I could. The guard was thrown through the air and smashed into one of the shelves. He tried to stand, but his wobbling legs failed to support him. But the impact had stunned the guard so much that he didn’t notice the shelf toppling behind him. In seconds, he’d be crushed underneath several hundred pounds of solid wood.

I could have left him there. I could have run, for I could already hear the sound of sirens in the distance. If I had taken off, I could have gotten enough time to be far away before the police arrived... but I couldn’t leave the guard there to be crushed. He wasn’t evil, or trying to stop me out of spite. He was just an old pony trying to do his job.

No secret, no matter how tempting, is worth a life.

I ran forward and yanked the guard clear as the shelf crashed to the ground, the wood fracturing on impact. Leaving the guard behind, I ran down the shelves until I found a fire escape. Shoving the door open, I ran down the stairs until I hit the wet pavement of the alley. Dashing to the darkened alcove, I grabbed my gear and then sprinted out into the night, running for everything I was worth, trying to put as much distance between me and the library as possible.

The next hour was a blur. Even now I’m not sure how I managed to cover the several miles between the library and my apartment building. All I remember is running through alleys, sprinting across streets, and taking every shortcut I knew. The police sirens faded after several minutes, and soon I heard nothing but the falling rain, my hooves pounding the streets, and the heavy pounding of my heart.

It was such a relief to finally see my apartment building in the distance, and even more so when I reached the tenant entrance. But realizing that it would be suspicious coming in dressed as a spy, I ducked behind a dumpster and practically tore off the sneaking suit as I changed back into my coat. Only then did I get inside and head up to my apartment, locking the door and shoving everything against it that wasn’t nailed down.

Only then, finally convinced that I was safe, did I collapse to the carpet, so exhausted I couldn't even lift my legs. A unicorn and pegasus would have collapsed of a heart attack halfway through the mad dash I had just gone through; only the strength of being an earth pony had gotten me this far, but that strength was now gone.

As I lay there in the darkness, I knew that I had managed to make it back without being seen. In my frantic run, I had gone through areas of the city where almost everypony would be fast asleep, and unaware of a single, solitary pony running in the streets below. The odds of anyone having seen me were next to nothing.

I had managed to escape. I had gotten away.

Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that all this was going to come back and bite me so very, very hard.

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