The Monster Below

by Greenback

First published

An earth pony seeks to transform himself into an Alicorn, but how far is he willing to go to get what he wants?

*If you'd like to purchase a physical copy of this story, click here*

One of Equestria's greatest traits is tolerance. Every pony, whether Unicorn, Pegasus, or Earth, is accepted for who they are, and have their own parts to play in keeping Equestria running.

But what if an Earth pony decided he didn't want to play his assigned part? What if he wanted to rise above everyone else and become an Alicorn? Such a thing is possible... but the path to fulfilling one's dreams is never simple. Risks must be taken. Sacrifices must be made. And the question is always asked: How far would you go to get what you wanted? And would you be willing to pay a terrible price to get it?

The Life Before My Eyes

View Online

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

—Edgar Allan Poe

***

It's been said that when you're about to die, your life flashes before you. Good and bad alike are shown, and nothing is hidden. Like so many other ponies, I dismissed it as wishful thinking, nothing more than a literary device for books and movies. Now, however, I'm not so sure; as the needles descend toward my forehead, I realize that I probably won’t survive this.

Fear makes me tremble, but the cuffs around my limbs hold me in place as the mechanical arm descends, the needles glinting in the glare of lights above the table. I try to be brave, to be defiant in the face of pain, and to keep panic from taking control. But it’s so very hard; before panic comes fear, and that fear momentarily takes hold. I instinctively buck, but the cuffs are too strong to break. I can’t even move my head, for the braces screwed into it keep me completely immobile. It has to, lest the machine makes a mistake and destroy my brain.

I struggle, but I can’t break free. I can’t run away. I can’t call for help. I can’t do anything but watch as the needles get closer, closer, ever closer.

Then they hit.

The thick needles go through skin, muscle, and bone. I bite down as the plungers come down with a soft hiss, a cocktail of chemicals being pumped into me. With no pain receptors, my brain can’t feel the pain, but I do feel the thick goop sloshing just under my skull, moving, spreading…

…Growing.

The needles are yanked free, and I sweat. The pain is nothing compared to the fear. The needles were nothing.

What’s coming is even worse.

The mechanical arm moves away, and, in its place, a new arm comes down. At the tip is a small circular saw. It starts to spin, sounding like the drill of a demented dentist, only louder.

It’s coming for me.

I sweat. I shake. I try to hold back the fear… and I fail.

Oh Celestia, please, not that! I don’t want this! Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!

The fear flees. Panic takes over. Rational thought and logic is replaced with animal instinct, and my body thrashes, adrenaline giving my limbs and muscles strength. The screws on the cuffs creak as every muscle in my body reaches its limit, then goes past it as I fight to get away… but that's not enough. The cuffs are too strong.

The drill descends. I try to twist my head, but the clamps hold me in place like an obscene lover. For all its strength, it can't force me to watch. I squeeze my eyes shut. Perhaps it's the old childhood instinct of hiding in the dark, believing that the monsters can't get you when you're under the covers of your warm bed. But all the darkness in the world can’t protect me as the drill hits my head and begins to cut, taking its time, in no hurry to finish the job, ignoring the pain of the one it operates on.

Oh Celestia, it hurts! It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!

I scream. I scream and scream and scream.

And then things go dark. Sounds fade away. The pain dims. I still feel blood pouring down my face, but it's fading away, all of it.

The realization hits me: this is it.

Through the fear, and before oblivion, a single thought breaks through, perhaps the last thought I'll ever have.

How did it come to this?

Black Sheep

View Online

My long journey to the operating table began in the town of Saddle Lanka, a small community nestled among the northeast side of the unicorn Range. It isn't much to look at: lots of trees, a few lakes, and towering cliffs that seem to stretch on forever. To the casual gaze, there's little to distinguish it from any other town, and the community likes it that way. Why? Because Saddle Lanka is known for two things. First are its crystal caves, which are among the largest you’ll find in all of Equestria, second only to the Crystal Empire. Many have craved these crystals over the centuries, from neighboring pony tribes, griffons, and even dragons, all eager to claim the crystals for their own. But any invading armies faces Saddle Lanka's other claim to fame: it's home to some of the greatest Unicorns ever born. Over the centuries, every pony born there has been a unicorn, including the famed Starswirl the Bearded, the greatest conjurer of the pre-classical era. For centuries, Saddle Lanka's unicorns have aspired to be as great as he, and to bring glory to the place of their birth. Some have been famous, most have been unknown, but all built Saddle Lanka’s reputation of producing the most talented, pure-blooded unicorns the land has ever seen.

Then I came along.

I’m told that when I first opened my eyes at the hospital, I looked confused. That's probably because my parents were. They were many things that moment: sad, despairing, confused, and stunned. Why? It wasn't because I was deformed; I was an ordinary, teal-colored pony with silver hair. Nor was I too large nor small. Everyone in the room, in the hospital, and the community outside had horns.

I didn't.

***

Before I even left the hospital, I had caused a stir. News travels fast, and soon, all of Saddle Lanka was faced with the unthinkable: an earth pony had been born. The unbroken streak of unicorns had been shattered. Centuries of a proud tradition, ended in a single day.

There were no jeers or cruel words after I was brought home. There were whispers behind closed doors and curious glances behind drawn curtains, but my parents did their best to ignore it, focusing exclusively on me, their only child, and working to ensure that I had a good childhood.

My first real memories came just before I started school, and realizing, for the first time, that I was different from the other colts and fillies. I still remember being enchanted by the sparkles emerging from the horns on their foreheads and trying to do the same, only to feel nothing. Panicked, I ran to my parents, and begged them to help me make sparkles. My parents, Celestia bless them, had no doubt dreaded the day when they would explain to me why I was different. They did their best, telling me that there were many different kinds of ponies in Equestria.

First among all ponies, they explained, were the unicorns. Blessed with horns, they were able to wield magic, casting spells to change things as they saw fit and to grant them powerful abilities ranging from teleportation and levitation, just to name a few. But they also used that magic to defend Equestria from the many threats that came to us over the centuries.

Next came the pegasi. Being the fastest and swiftest, they possessed the gift of flight; their home was in the sky, where they ferried goods, supplies, and messages from one end of the land to another, as well as controlling the weather, ensuring that Equestria always got the right amount of sunshine, rain, and snow. Without them, the seasons would be a random mess.

Then, there were the alicorns, the rarest of all ponies. They were able to fly and wield magic at once. Such gifts were only to be found among those who had ruled Equestria for centuries. It was here that I first heard of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza (also known as Cadance. Much easier to pronounce), the Princess of Love, and her baby, Flurry Heart. There were princesses who could spread love? That blew my young mind.

Princess Luna was next, and she was the one who raised and lowered the moon, bringing us the starry night. I thought that was amazing, as I always loved looking upon the moon and the stars at night. Even more amazing was learning that one of Luna’s duties was to work through the dreams of ponies while they slept, helping them to conquer their fears. Though I hadn’t seen her in my dreams, the thought of meeting her there was exciting.

And then there was the last alicorn. She was the biggest and most awesome one of them all... Princess Celestia. Not only did she raise and lower the sun each day, but she also ruled over all of Equestria. My parents beamed as they described her to me, about how she was the greatest princess, one who was so wise and caring and loving, who ensured that we all could live in peace and harmony.

Awestruck, I asked if Celestia worked to help me live in peace and harmony too. My parents said that yes, she did. When the sun woke me each morning, that was Celestia raising it into place for me, as she did for all ponies. And if the land ever came under attack, she would help keep me safe.

In retrospect, I believe it’s this moment that set my life in motion and began events none of us could comprehend, much less my parents, who had no idea that their simple answers would lead to so much misery. But how could they have known? Maybe it's better that they didn’t, and I hope they never will.

With the unicorns, pegasi, and alicorns described to me, my parents discussed the final type: the earth ponies, the most seemingly useless of them all. They don’t have magic, they can’t fly, and they certainly don’t have the powers of a goddess. But my parents assured me that earth ponies had their own gifts. Being born from the earth, they were stronger and hardier than the others, able to run longer, hit harder, and last the longest when all of the others would have dropped from exhaustion. They could also interact with the earth to grow the richest, most nutritious food, and have special bonds with animals that other ponies couldn’t. My parents even said that, in a way, earth ponies are the most important of all, and the most special; unicorns and pegasi may have more obvious powers, but without us, food couldn't be grown, and pony society would fall apart.

Even as a colt, I realized that was a joke. I mean, come on, we were the most special? Unicorns can cast spells and perform incredible feats of magic. Pegasi can fly. Fly! And alicorns? They were divinity itself. And what do earth ponies do? Stay on the ground and grow food.

Whoop-de-shoobie-doo.

While the discussion had opened my eyes to how many other types of ponies there were, it made me realize how unlucky I was to be born as an earth pony. And when school started, that misfortune wasted no time in raising its head.

When I trotted through the school halls, the others would stare at me. Whispers and shadowed glances were common, and I couldn’t escape them, no matter where I went. Classes were even worse. General Education was fine, for all ponies went through it, being taught the basics of life, but magical classes…Well, there was no real point in me going to them. Without a horn, I couldn’t learn magic. My teachers didn’t know what to do with me, figuring I would be better off spending my time elsewhere. Thus, I spent many hours wandering through Saddle Lanka, exploring the woods and the town, and even managing to get some small jobs. It was never anything too complicated; where my fellow students got to practice their magic, I practiced working in the day-to-day world, either by cleaning floors, taking out the trash, or even giving the corner shop a fresh coat of paint.

Boring? Of course. Tedious? Perhaps. But it was through these odd jobs that I finally found my cutie mark.

Growing up, my parents long wondered what name to give me. I was the one who solved the problem, for I was a talker. I would babble on for hours, saying nonsense, mimicking everyone around me. While they didn't appreciate it all the time --it’s hard to get some sleep when your baby won't stay quiet in the late hours of the night--it soon became clear that I would be a motor-mouth. Within a year, I was able to mimic the words of others. While every other baby in Saddle Lanka was gurgling in their diapers, I was conversing with the family parrot for hours on end, two beings exchanging nonsense and mimicking each other.

Thus, seeing my penchant for talking, my parents decided to call me Silverspeak. Silver for my hair and mane, and speak for... well, it was obvious.

When I went to work, it quickly became clear that all those hours of talking and babbling paid off, as I could get any job I wanted and even convince my employers into giving me a few more bits than they initially offered. I had the gift of the silver tongue: able to charm the birds from the trees and bend others to my will, given enough time. My parents even found it difficult to resist if I set my mind to it. And by building up my social skills, I only got better.

It wasn't long before my cutie mark graced my flank: an old-fashioned microphone. I had gained my talent and cutie mark before anyone else in school. It should have been amazing.

It wasn't.

Being raised with high opinions of themselves, my fellow students were disgusted that I, an ordinary earth pony, had gotten my cutie mark before them. I had been teased before, but now it became a torrent. It was the result of angry ponies wanting to vent their frustration. The adults did what they could and managed to stop most of the bullying, but there was one individual they couldn't stop.

In Saddle Lanka, all fillies are told from birth that they’re part of a special heritage with the greatest unicorn blood in Equestria flowing through their veins. They’re born to do great things, to rise and be the greatest, so it's no surprise that the praise goes to their heads. And there's always one pony every generation who overflows with raw talent, who learns the fastest, who does the things no one else can manage. And out of everyone in school, none had more potential then Mangus Bluehorn.

Among us all, Mangus was big, even for one so young. He stood taller than all of us, his coat was a light blue, and his mane and tail were the color of tarnished gold. Mangus may have been talented, handsome, and possessed the most potential of us all, but he was also a bully. He had been raised being told that he would be the best of us all, even surpassing his parents, and everypony believed it. And as is the case with so many of his kind, it went to his head. He couldn't fail. His parents and teachers did what they could to make it easy for him. Everyone wanted to have a hand in making the next Starswirl. They wanted it so badly that when Mangus started to bully me, they only made a half-hearted attempt to stop him. The desire to create the next superstar was stronger than the desire for discipline and fairness.

Even now, I still remember the first time we met. I was on the edges of the school's field during lunch, relaxing in the shade of the school's tallest tree and looking toward the grassy plains beyond Saddle Lanka, wondering what Princess Celestia was doing in Canterlot. Then I heard him coming. I turned and saw Mangus with a few of his goons. In those last moments of peace I would ever know at school, I was hoping I'd get a new friend.

A minute later I was dangling upside down near the tree's branches, screaming in terror as Mangus and his goons laughed, asking me why I didn't just levitate myself back to the ground. I was rescued by one of the teachers, but that was the beginning of my long nightmare. Day after day, week after week, I was hounded by Mangus. Being the only earth pony for miles around, I was an easy target.

“Hey, Silversqueak!” he would shout. “C’mere! I need someone to be target practice!”

I tried to ignore him, but when you're stuck in school with a bully five days a week, twelve months a year, and for twelve years it’s nearly impossible. And with no way to defend myself, I frequently found myself being raised into the air, fighting against an invisible force I was helpless to stop. Not that I didn't try. I kicked and thrashed, and upon being stranded in a tree or on a roof, I would do everything I could do to get down. But sometimes Mangus would gather his little gang, who would use their own magic to just pin me in place. And as time went on, their magic grew more powerful. It wasn't long before Mangus could keep me pinned for hours with a casual wave of his horn. Another wave and he would make my limbs dance uncontrollably. Yet another wave and I would throw up whatever I had eaten for breakfast or lunch.

Saddle Lanka's most talented unicorn learned more about magic from tormenting me then he did from studying books.

There were a few times where I fought back. I would squeal on him every time he bullied me, and it was always annoying for him when an adult would order him to stop. One time, after his entire gang teamed up on me, I was able to get close enough and buck him in the face with my hind hooves. It was so satisfying to hear the crack of his jawbones fracturing. He couldn't have done the same, for as a unicorn, he didn't have the raw strength I was developing. But in the long run, it didn't work. While most of the adults in our community realized what a terror Mangus was, his parents, and the more influential ponies, didn't want Mangus's potential career to be ruined or sidelined because of disciplinary issues, and certainly not by sending him to a reform camp where troubled ponies were helped. And when I attacked him, I was suspended for a month. Never mind I was defending myself. Never mind that he had been picking on me for years, and the adults didn't do anything to stop him. I was punished, and he was allowed to go free.

School was Tartarus. If I had the chance, I would have tossed Mangus into the real thing without hesitation. But life outside the school, while better, wasn't what I wanted. I could endure the bullying, but there was one thing I couldn't handle.

I was alone.

In all of Saddle Lanka, I was the only one of my kind. Most had come to accept me, if somewhat reluctantly, but my parents… they couldn't. They loved me; I have no doubt of that. I was their son, but not the one they wanted. Despite all the smiles, all the kind words, and all the birthday parties, I could always sense their disappointment. They had so dearly wanted a child they could train in the ways of magic, and that dream had been taken from them.

No matter how hard they tried to hide their feelings, I knew I was their greatest disappointment.

***

I spent more time away from home as the years passed, going anywhere I could to gain solitude. The Crystal Gardens within the mountains became a favorite spot. Of all Saddle Lanka's sights, the gardens are the most beautiful: giant caverns deep within the mountains, filled with crystals of all sizes and colors, nestled among waterfalls that plunge deep into the earth, to depths no one has ever explored. I would walk onto the grassy platforms and sit among the crystals, hoping that their energy would magically grant me a horn, a spark of magic, anything.

They never did.

At night, I would walk onto the bluffs and look to the sky, watching for Princess Luna, hoping to catch a glimpse of her among the stars. I would pray that she would enter my dreams and give me comfort.

She never did.

Yet, during those troubled years, there was one ray of hope, a light that kept me going. That light was Princess Celestia. In a way, she was my angel, my shining beacon of hope in a world where I felt so alone. I became an early riser, watching as the sun came up in hopes of getting a glimpse of her. I never did, but I kept trying, day after day. Sensing how much I adored her, my mother suggested to me that I could write her a letter.

I asked what I could talk to her about, and was told to tell her how I felt. So I did exactly that, writing the most passionate letter any young pony ever wrote to a princess, telling her who I was, and how I appreciated her raising the sun not only for me, but for all ponies everywhere. And yet… it didn’t feel complete. Something was missing. I had written a passionate letter, not a heartfelt one.

The note was crunched up and tossed in the trash. I took another piece of parchment and wrote about how I was so unhappy living in a place where I felt like an outcast. The ponies in Saddle Lanka accepted me, but they did not respect me, nor love me. I asked her if she could help me. She was the wisest pony alive. Anything she wrote would do, really. A kind word, some encouragement, but I told Celestia about how I felt so useless, about how I wanted to be needed, to be accepted for who I really was, rather than despised for what I should have been. I asked her for her wisdom, to tell me what to do, or to at least guide me down the path.

She, more then anyone, would understand.

My hooves shook as I sealed the letter and took it to the post office. I was so happy trotting back home; the greatest being in Equestria was going to help me! And for weeks afterwards, I went to the mailbox, eager to find an envelope inside bearing the royal seal.

It never came.

Celestia never wrote back.

From Small Beginnings...

View Online

The years passed, and life continued much as it had all my life: going to school, trying to escape Mangus, and keeping to myself. I eventually stopped rising for the sun, nor did I bother looking for Luna. But I didn’t become an outcast who hated everyone and everything. For all my problems, I still had parents that cared, and after a while, the stares and whispers faded as I grew up.

Still, I wasn’t content or at peace in Saddle Lanka. I longed for the day when I could leave and find my own place in the world beyond its borders.

At long last, that day finally came when I graduated from school. It was a joyous occasion, perhaps one of the happiest days of my life. My parents were proud of seeing their only child complete his studies and officially become a grown pony. By that time, they had managed to get over their disappointment in me being an earth pony, and had finally accepted me for who I was. As I walked across the stage to take my diploma, I beamed in seeing them among the crowd of adoring parents. I could feel their love and pride as I finally took that scroll of parchment, which was my reward for so many years of term papers, homework, and science-fair projects with those flimsy folding displays. Granted, I had to carry it with my mouth where everyone else magically carried their diplomas, but I didn’t care. I had graduated.

I was done.

At the party afterward, my fellow classmates and I gathered and talked, planning our futures and dreaming of all the wonderful things we were going to accomplish. Most would stay in Saddle Lanka to continue their magical studies; a few would go to Canterlot, having been accepted for the universities of higher learning. I could have gone too, if I wanted, for the universities of Canterlot offered studies in things other than magic. But even if they offered me all the bits in Equestria, I wouldn’t have gone. Why?

Because Mangus would be there.

I wasn’t surprised to see Mangus making himself the center of attention at the party, guzzling down most of the beverages and gorging himself on snacks and food, boasting that he was going to go out and the best student Canterlot had ever seen. It was no surprise, really, that Mangus had been accepted, but he hadn’t earned it. While his magical talents were undeniable, Mangus was, at best, a mediocre student, content to let others do most of the work for him when it came to studies and homework. And sure enough, his teachers, in their idiotic quest to make him the next Star Swirl, had pulled strings to ensure he got accepted.

As Mangus continued boasting, I chuckled at the thought of him going to the university. If he was going to be the best student ever, Mangus would have to upstage Star Swirl and Twilight Sparkle, who were generally regarded as the greatest unicorns Canterlot had ever seen. While his raw talent was roughly equal to theirs, he had none of the persistence or discipline they had.

I giggled at the thought. Such a pity I wouldn’t be there to see him fall. Let the moron find out that life isn’t so easy when nobody’s there to worship you and put you on a pedestal.

I kept to the sidelines of the party, content to be by myself. By the next day, I’d be far away from all the ponies in the room, never to return. I didn’t hold any ill will toward most of them; I just had no interest in getting close to those who had futures brighter than my own. As the sun went down, I figured it was time to take my leave and slip away from my unicorn classmates forever, especially Mangus. I remember hoping the next time I ever heard from him would be an article in the obituaries.

But, alas, fate has a sick sense of humor.

“Hey, Silversqueak!” he called out. “Where do you think you’re going?”

I tried to run. But he was well used to that, and cast his magic, dragging me back inside and dangling me before him like a pony would dangle a small animal. “I’m gonna miss you, buddy!” He scuffed my hair. “Say, why don’t you come along with me? We can be roommates! I mean, we’ve been together all these years? What’s another six?”

I wasn’t going to dignify the troglodyte with a response. When he sensed that, Mangus pulled me close in a disgusting mockery of a hug. The crowd roared with laughter, most thinking it was just a game –– either that, or they were slightly drunk, I’m not sure which. Mangus’s goons thought it was especially hilarious when Mangus pulled me in extra close. “Come here, schmooky wookie!”

Then, before everyone, Mangus kissed me. It wasn’t the loving, consensual kiss a couple who have only the most tender affections for each other. It was forced. It was a violation. It was Mangus invading my private space in a way he had never done before. The crowd laughed at the sight, cheering and laughing.

The laughter stopped when Mangus screamed and dropped me, blood trickling from his lips.

All those years of torment had been bad enough, but this had been the last straw, so I had bitten him as hard as I could, slicing his lip wide open. I don’t know how much he bled, for I immediately headed for the door. Everyone was so shocked that no one tried to stop me, not even Mangus’s goons.

I trotted out, smiling all the while. All those years of Mangus tormenting me, and I got the last laugh. He yelled something after me, but I didn’t listen. I loved the thought that the last thing I would ever hear from Mangus was his angry, incoherent shouts.

No sound, before or since, has ever been sweeter.

***

As night fell, I wasted no time in packing my things. In truth, I had been gathering my belongings for a few days, deciding what I would take with me and what I would leave behind. Mainly some clothes, my bits, a few books, and some family photos. Everything else would remain behind. Stuffing my saddlebags, I got into bed and tried to sleep. It was a futile endeavor; all those years of waiting, and come dawn, I would be leaving Saddle Lanka for good. I would have a better chance of fighting an evil dragon god than I would getting a lick of sleep.

The night sky darkened, then began to light up. And when the sun arose, I was there to greet it, pulling on my saddlebags and heading into the kitchen to eat breakfast. My parents were there as well. I had told them of my plan to leave first thing in the morning; I had hoped such a thing would let them emotionally prepare, but my mother, ever the more affectionate of the two, was trying her hardest to hold back tears as I entered the dining room. Even Dad, who had made me my favorite type of breakfast burritos, was having trouble staying focused. We tried to eat, but my parents weren’t very interested in their own food. After all, their precious colt was heading out on his own. How could they eat breakfast over that?

Needless to say, it was the most awkward breakfast one could imagine.

When mid-morning came, I took leave of my childhood home and started down the path to the train station, my parents right behind me. We made it to the station with time to spare, and thus, giving us time to say our goodbyes. But no parting between parent and child is ever easy, especially when they leave home and travel into the wide world. It wasn’t a scary world, though. I assured my parents that Equestria was safe enough. After all, the princesses ensured that we were safe and protected from any threats. And if that failed, the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony would be sent in to end the problem. I told them to relax, and that I’d be perfectly fine. And besides, there were plenty of jobs in Manehattan. I’d be on my hooves soon enough.

It didn’t help. My mom had become a blubbering wreck. Even my dad, normally quiet and reserved, was struggling. Like any good parents, they wanted me to stay close so that our family would remain together, but I wanted to head out and make my own destiny –– to find a place where I wouldn’t stick out because of the lack of a horn upon my head.

All too soon, the train’s engine started up. We exchanged our hugs and goodbyes over the hiss of steam. My mother tried to say something, but she was too worked up, and couldn’t get the words out. But Dad, however, managed to compose himself long enough to speak.

“Silverspeak,” he said, “I know you’re eager to go, and I can’t blame you. But before you do, I want you to share something with you… something my father told me.”

I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, and Dad saw it. “It’s not long,” he assured me. “Just a little something to remember wherever you go. When I was about to head out into the world, I was nervous and worried about who I was going to be. My dad assured me that it was normal. We’re seeds, he told me. We start out little, but we’re meant to grow and become mighty trees. And that’s for every pony –– unicorn, pegasi, and earth alike. Magic or not, everyone can become great.”

The engine hissed once more, now fully warmed up.

“You were meant for great things, son. Never forget that.”

The conductor shouted his last call

Mom and Dad wrapped their legs around me and gave one last hug. Anxious as I was to get going, I enjoyed it... and then the moment was over. My parents released me, and I got onto the train. Taking my seat, I leaned out the window and waved to my parents, shouting goodbye, wishing them well as they became smaller and smaller.

And then the station faded among the trees, and they were gone.

I looked back longer than I thought I would. Perhaps it was a sudden dose of nostalgia overtaking me, but I watched Saddle Lanka for a long time, watching as the only home I had ever known faded into the forests at the base of the mountains. It was only as we got out of sight that I leaned back inside the train, and sat down in my chair.

I contemplated my dad’s words for a long while, but they eventually faded away as the reality and excitement of my situation hit me in full. My childhood was behind me, and I had never felt so giddy, or so excited.

My new life awaited me.

***

I spent most of the ride with my face practically pasted to the window, marveling at the scenery beyond me. I was no stranger to the lands beyond Saddle Lanka, having read about and seen it on TV. But it’s one thing to see a place on a screen, and something else to see it with your own eyes.

The wonders came almost immediately; we passed beneath Cloudsdale, which was lit in the rays of the setting sun. Even better was riding past the many rainbow waterfalls and how beautiful they were. The following morning sent us past Canterlot. We weren’t close enough to get a good look, but even from far away, I could just barely make out some of the towers in the mountains, but not if the princesses were present.

The Foal Mountain came next, followed by Neighagra Falls, and a trip underneath the Hollow Shades Mountain. And when we emerged the next morning, going with the rising of the sun, I looked out toward the coast and the rays shining out toward the Celestial Sea. Far beyond it lay the land of the griffons, but I didn’t care about them. I was at the front of the train, leaning out through the windows, for ahead of us was the Bucklyn Bridge, as long and tall as I had seen in pictures, the twin horseshoe towers stretching high above us. And as we reached the edge of the bridge, I finally saw it: Manehattan.

I still remember the awe I felt at that moment. I had gone from a small community to a big city for the very first time. Saddle Lanka’s buildings were three stories tall at their highest. Manehattan’s were ten times as tall, and some were even bigger. As the train crossed the bridge, the towers only got bigger until there was nothing but skyscrapers of steel and glass lit in the rays of the rising sun.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Even as the train pulled into the station, I got off and continued to gaze about, as if ensnared by a spell. But towers were not the only things Manehattan had to offer. As I looked around, a form flashed before my vision and then another. It took me a few moments to realize that they were pegasi, all flying about and darting between the towers, heading to and fro on errands, or simply flying out to enjoy the morning. I had seen pegasi before, for they were usually the ones who took our mail, being the swiftest ponies in all of Equestria –– though that was debatable; one grey pegasi with slightly crossed eyes occasionally mixed up what mail went where.

The pegasi may have had dominion over Manehattan’s skies, but the streets were the realm of those who had no wings. And there were thousands of them in all manner of shapes, sizes, colors, and hues, creating a rainbow-colored river that flowed across the pavement. Those who weren’t hurrying to their destinations were chatting with each other and with unicorns, not as outcasts, but as equals.

I couldn’t stop grinning as I got off the platform, and took my first steps into Manehattan’s streets.

***

I had no destination in mind as I walked through Manhattan, marveling at so many new sights, sounds, and smells. With so many ponies around, I felt like a pebble within an avalanche, just a tiny piece of something much larger than myself. Caught up in the excitement of seeing a new city, I barely noticed as the sun reached its peak and then then dipped below the horizon several hours later, the orange sky darkening with the onset of night. Only when the streetlights came on did I realize that I was, technically, homeless.

My exploration turned into a nearly frantic search for lodging. Manehattan plenty of places to stay, and I could always rent a hotel room for the night, but fate smiled on me that day, for I came across a towering apartment building, and a sign that read, “Rooms for Rent.”

I went inside and talked to the manager. Like all apartments in Manehattan, the first month was free, provided you put down a small deposit at first, which only cost me a small fraction of the bits I had saved up throughout the years. And just like that, I was given a key to my room. I took the elevator to the fiftieth floor, emerged into a posh, well-painted hallway, and found room 825.

I was home.

My place wasn’t much: a living room with plenty of space to stretch out, a tiny kitchen that would have given my father fits over how little space there was to store food and seasonings, a bedroom just big enough to hold a single bed, and a tiny bathroom. It was a small place, but it was just the right size for someone like me. But the real marvel came only after the moon had started into the sky. From my position halfway up the skyscraper, I had a bird’s eye view of lights coming on as ponies began their nightly activities in the nearby towers and the streets below. I was like a leaf within a forest of golden light, surrounded on all sides by the warm glow of artificial light.

I stayed at my window for a good hour, for I had never seen so many lights.

It was easy to unpack everything, and within ten minutes I had everything all set up in my new home. With no appliances or televisions, there wasn’t much for me to do, but I didn’t mind. I was still riding high on the excitement of a new home. Sleep didn’t come until late at night, for I laid upon my bed and looked out the window to the city beyond, and all the possibilities it held.

For that day, and the first few days afterward, I was in a position that few ponies had: I could wake up in the morning and forge a completely new life for myself. I had no ties to the past, no responsibilities to hold me down. I could do anything I wanted. Anything at all.

The endless possibilities would have overwhelmed any other pony, but not me. I knew exactly what I had come here to do. My dream was not to leave the prideful residents of Saddle Lanka… no, my dreams were far grander. And as I finally got to sleep and enjoyed the rest of those about to fulfill their dreams, I knew I was the seed my father had spoken of. But I was about to take hold and spread my roots.

And once that was accomplished, no force on heaven or earth would stop me.

The Repository of Knowledge

View Online

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.

Water Upon the Rock

View Online

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.

If Twilight Sparkle Did It, So Could I

View Online

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.

Restoring The Balance

View Online

I was too tired to reach the bedroom, so I instead passed out on the floor. The next thing I knew, someone was pounding on my door. I almost shrieked, thinking that the police had somehow found me, and for a split-second I was tempted to leap from the window and let the pavement save me from being taken by the police. Thankfully, saner action prevailed, and I glanced through the door’s peephole to see that the unseen pounder was one of my coworkers from the grocery store.

Brushing my hair back, I opened the door.

“Silverspeak, where have you been? You were supposed to come in four hours ago!”

In the chaos of escaping the police and getting home, I had forgotten that I was supposed to go to work the following day.

“Sorry,” I said. “Late night party.”

“You too? Well, you'd better get down to the store lickity-split.”

I wanted nothing more then to go back to sleep. “Can't someone else come in?”

“No. We’re short-handed enough as it is. I'll tell the boss you'll be there in an hour.”

Pressed for time as I was, I could only take a few minutes to shower, followed by throwing every shampoo and conditioner into my hair and skin to make both as presentable as possible. But even in my clean uniform, there was no hiding the fact that I was in no way presentable for working among the public, and my boss wasn’t happy. Assuring him that I wouldn’t go to any more late-night parties, I headed out onto the floor, but curiosity compelled me to ask why we were short-handed.

“You mean you haven't heard?” my boss asked me. “Something happened at the library last night. Some of your coworkers saw things and are apparently giving details to the police. I don't know all the details yet, but whatever happened was big.” He chuckled. “Boy, if someone tried to steal something from there, he's screwed if they catch him. From what I've heard, pretty much the entire police force is out looking for him.”

Whistling, my boss went back to work, unaware of how close I came to having a heart attack.

***

I tried to ignore what my boss said, figuring that he was just blowing things out of proportion, as he was apt to do. I kept telling myself that as I went home, reassuring myself that there was nothing to worry about, and that when I woke up, everything would be fine.

Waking up the next morning, I had no idea I was beginning the worst day of my life (at that point). It began with me heading to the lobby to get the morning paper, and almost fainting upon getting it. The entire front page was running a special on an attempted break-in in the library's Forbidden Section. The article reminded the reader that the Forbidden Section held the most dangerous and powerful manuscripts outside of Canterlot. The writer helpfully pointed out that only a madpony, or someone bent on conquest, would be insane enough to break in.

I came close to a heart attack several times as I went through the articles, reading statements from the police, the librarian, and what few eyewitnesses there were. They all agreed that an earth pony had snuck into the library, but no one had any idea who it was, as his or her face had been disguised. A few late-night partygoers had seen a pony running through the streets in a black suit, but no one had seen where the pony had gone.

The police, the article continued, were searching for the guilty pony, but noted that the thief had stopped to save the library's guard from being crushed, and thus, he or she was likely not a menace to the public at large. Still, they needed to find out who had done it, and security was now being tightened, and additional magical protections were being permanently installed to ensure that no one could sneak into the Forbidden Section again.

After reading the paper, I was sorely tempted to cut loose and shriek in utter terror, but I didn’t have time for that. Time itself was running against me; I needed to get rid of any evidence that could point to me, and fast. Desperation guided me as I raced back to my apartment, locked the doors, closed the curtains, and began to destroy any evidence linking me to the library.

With the speed of a pony possessed, I got my night vision goggles and took them apart, reducing everything to tiny shreds of plastic, metal, and shattered glass. Then came the smoke grenades. I turned on the fan for the stove top and punctured a corner of each can, letting the smoke get sucked away. Within half an hour all the grenades were empty, and I then used the cutting tool to tear them into thin slivers of scrap metal.

Tossing a few logs into the fireplace, I started a fire; the sneaking suit was cut into hundreds of tiny pieces and tossed into the flames, where they burned away to ash, along with the belt. My face paint went next, then the poncho, and the saddlebags. I couldn't leave any trace of what I had done. No hoofprints, no traces of DNA, nothing. And when all was turned to ash, all that remained was the cutting tool. Demolishing it was out of the question, so after I unscrewed all the parts, I dumped them into a bag with the remains of the goggles and grenades, and then headed to one of the more remote piers, where, after making sure no one was watching, I emptied the bag into the water and watched the pieces of metal sink from sight, the turbulent waters washing them away.

All evidence of my transgression was gone. Everything I had worn and used was either burned away or committed to the deep. Only then did my shaking stop, and my heart slow down to a normal beat. As the storm raged outside, I took a hot shower, letting the near-scalding water relax me, imagining it to be washing away my mistakes, letting them flow into the drain as if they had never existed.

As I dried myself off and combed my mane, I felt good. With any luck, I would go about my daily life and no one would ever suspect me of being the thief.

Then I realized that there was someone who could: the Librarian.

My knees gave out, and only a fast grab of the counter kept me from falling. With all the time I had spent in the library going through books on magic and alicorns, it wouldn’t take a genius to add two and two together and put up a good case that I was the thief. It wasn't long before my shaking came back, accompanied by a racing heart and fast, panicked gasps as my mind put all sorts of horrible situations together. She would tell the police about me, they'd come interview me and I'd crack and go to jail. Or worse, she'd suspect that I was the perpetrator, but without any proof she'd have to see what I would do. If I stayed away and never came back that would look suspicious, but if I came back, she'd figure that I was only doing so to try and draw suspicion away from me by acting innocent and dumb, and she'd realize that it really was me who had done it, and then she'd tell the police and everything would be so screwed up.

The rest of my afternoon was spent trying to figure a way out, yet finding none. It all kept coming down to the librarian. Eventually, I'd have to deal with her one way or another. Killing her and dumping the body was out of the question. I wasn't that desperate. I just had to show her that I wasn't the pony who had broken in.

But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how.

***

Fear and dread have a way of helping you see solutions you hadn’t thought of before. As the sun continued to set, I realized that the most logical course of action was to play the dumb innocent, guilty of wanting forbidden knowledge, yet never acting on it. It wouldn't ease my conscience, but it might get me off the librarian's hit list.

Thus, with a plan formulated, I finally felt a small spark of hope welling up within me. I gathered up my library books, figuring that returning them would prove I wasn’t the perpetrator. After all, a thief never returns to the scene of the crime so soon after a botched job. As I headed to the library the following morning, I went over my possible responses to the librarian's inevitable questions and accusations. My main theme would be that, yes, I did want to get in. But I wasn't desperate and stupid enough to want to do something illegal.

With renewed confidence, I got off the subway and entered the library, having to pass by two guards at the doors. But they weren’t mindless brutes from some rent-a-guard company, but Royal Guards from Canterlot. The princesses had apparently heard about the break-in and weren’t taking any chances about the perpetrator trying again.

Gulping, I headed past the guards, who didn’t give me a second look. Neither did anyone else, including unicorns casting spells into new ducts that were too tiny for a pony to creep through.

Reaching the front desk, I found several librarians hard at work, but the main mare wasn't there. The others recognized me from my constant visits, and gave me a suspicious look as I came up.

“I’d like to return these,” I said, putting my two cooking books on the counter.

The librarian on duty looked me over. Her co-workers did the same. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“Funny how you come by here today,” she said. “After that break-in and all.”

Realizing where this was going, I decided to adapt my chosen attitude. “And that means?”

“You really wanted to get into the Forbidden Section a few months ago.”

“I did. But because I don't want to spend a decade studying a degree I don't want, I guess that's never going to happen now.” I looked at the doors leading to the Forbidden Section, now heavily reinforced with numerous magical locks. “And from the looks of things, I couldn't get in even if I wanted to.”

“Is that so?”

I decided to be a little aggressive. “Look, I'm not stupid enough to try and break in. I don't want a criminal record. No book is worth that.”

I could tell that the librarian was offended by my aggression, but it had worked. I could see her realizing that I wasn't lying. Granted, she wasn't aware that I had worked my charm on her, and that she had fallen for it, but that didn't matter. The seed had been planted. In time it would grow, and if I kept visiting, they would realize that no criminal would constantly hang out at the place they tried to break into.

She turned to check the books in, and I turned to leave.

“Hey, you!”

I froze as the main security guard walked up. After the hit he had endured, I never counted on him coming back to work so soon, and never expected to meet him. My confidence wavered as he walked up, clearly on edge.

“What are you doing here?”

“Easy Goldcuff,” the mare behind the desk said. “He's just returning his books.”

Goldcuff looked me over, his eyes piercing my own. I looked back, trying to muster as much bravado as I could, but his gaze was piercing.

Did he recognize me?

“Can I go?” I asked.

Goldcuff eyed me for a moment longer, and then nodded. “Sorry, sir. Just... just been kinda jumpy since the break-in. Old instincts die hard, you know? Everyone I see is a threat. It'll... it'll go away in time.” He shook his head. “I swear, I'm getting too old for this. First a break-in, then the bugger almost kills me, then saves me. I... I just don't know what to make of it anymore.”

Not knowing what to say, I stayed quiet.

Goldcuff moved away. “Carry on then.”

I nodded as Goldcuff headed back to his rounds. He had been right next to his attacker, and hadn't even recognized me. That was good. Very good.

I took a step forward, then froze.

The head librarian was right in front of me.

Where she had come from, I didn't know. One moment Goldcuff had been standing before me, and then it was the librarian. I was so surprised, I didn't know what to do. I immediately shifted into excuse mode, ready to explain to her why I was there.

But she didn't ask a question. In fact, she didn't say anything. She just stared at me. And to this day I can still feel her gaze. It was like watching the blank, emotionless face of a statue. But those eyes... it seemed like she was reading me and knew my darkest secrets.

She knew.

All my carefully planned excuses and challenges were forgotten. My nerve fled me, and I didn't want to be in the same room with her, much less try and talk. It would be like trying to lie to a mind reader. My heart was pounding as I walked around her and headed to the door, fighting the urge to run out and get as far away as possible.

As I left, I glanced into a mirror. The librarian was watched me as I left.

Even in the reflection of a mirror, her eyes met mine.

***

She knew. There was no doubt in my mind when I got back to my apartment. Somehow, impossibly, she knew I had done it. I couldn't explain how. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw her emotionless face, waiting for me to crack and spill everything. She was like an angel who was waiting for a damned soul to break down and confess under her unbearable gaze.

I paced in my apartment, trying to hold back the fear that was threatening to overtake me. She couldn't prove anything. She had no direct evidence of what I had done. There was no security footage, no magical images showing what I had done. She couldn't prove anything. But... what if she could? What if she secretly had recorded me? What if she was playing a waiting game to see if I would rack before going to to the police? But... but she was bluffing. That was it. She didn’t have any evidence. Sooner or later, she’d give up. I tried to keep that thought ever present as I headed to bed. But sleep wouldn’t come. I lay in bed, trying to calm my mind, but it refused to stop going over my fears and doubts like a record on repeat.

Exhausted, yet unable to sleep, the long hours went by like molasses creeping down an icy slope in the dead of winter.

The sun’s rays eventually crept through the window. I barely noticed it. Yet, somehow, among the blurry haze that was my mind, I realized that the best way to stop the librarian was the same method I had originally planned: act as if I had nothing to do with the break-in, and were annoyed that you had been accused of doing so.

The librarian’s bluff wouldn’t get to me.

***

Despite being exhausted, I managed to head into work and put on my usual cheerful demeanor and helped customers find what they were looking for, all while listening to mares and colts gossiping about the break-in. No one could remember the last time such a thing had happened, and many were afraid that there was some dangerous criminal at work, eager to use magic to overthrow the princesses and take over. Some whispered that it had been a rogue changeling. Our more elderly customers were sure it was King Sombra, Tirek, Nightmare Moon, or even the Pony of Shadows.

“I don't know who it was, or what they wanted,” I reassured an old mare. “But I'm sure everything's going to be all right.

“No it won't!” she yapped. “You'll see! This is proof! Proof that Equestria's going downhill! It's those griffons! I always knew they were up to no good! They're trying to take over and steal our jobs! You know they are! Admit it!”

The next few days followed the same pattern. I went back to the library and checked out two more books. I wasn't going to read them, but the act of checking them out would show the librarian I wasn’t afraid. After all, would a criminal really keep going back to the scene of the crime?

Eventually, the hullabaloo about the break-in died down. Ponies went back to life as usual, and the headlines turned to other matters. Yet, the police continued to search for their culprit despite the lack of leads. It was an order from the princesses, they explained. Such a break-in was a serious matter, and until they caught the culprit, they would continue their search.

I chuckled upon reading that. What leads did they have to go on? Nothing. And what could the librarian do about me? Nothing. After all, with all the complaints the library was getting regarding security, she'd want the culprit to be caught so things could go back to normal. If she had evidence, she would have turned it in by then.

I should have felt safe.

But I didn't.

Despite my bravado, and my constant upbeat thoughts about how I had gotten away scott-free, I couldn't forget the librarian's gaze. When I brushed my teeth, walked about, and even in my dreams, I saw her gaze watching me, silently accusing me.

She knew.

I began to feel her eyes on me as the weeks passed. Then a month. Then two months. And still the police continued their search. Every possible lead was being followed. Every possible route was being calculated and tracked.

I began to think that their search was getting rather ridiculous. I mean, what were the odds that the thief was going to break in again? Yet, they kept looking. They kept up with their damn investigation. They wouldn't go away. They wouldn't leave the matter alone.

Why couldn't they leave it alone?

***

At one point, I realized that someone was watching me at work. I was sure of it. I could never prove it, but I felt their gazes. Yet, every time I looked, there was either no one there, or a guest searching for something.

During my breaks, I would stay in the break room and look through a tiny hole I carved in the wall, on the hunt for whoever was hunting me. It was the librarian. I knew it was. She was spying on me and trying to make me crack.

I had to stay vigilant.

***

I was being watched on the streets. It was harder going out in public. I couldn't escape the librarian's gaze. The police remained vigilant, never stopping or harassing me, but I saw them watching me.

I bought my first lock. It wasn't much, just a simple deadbolt that I installed on the inside of my door. I realized that if I propped a chair underneath the handle, that would make it even harder to get in.

But if one chair worked, why not get another lock to add to it?

They might have watched me from the outside, but they couldn't get to me in my apartment. Not with all the locks and bolts and props bracing it shut. But this would make them redouble their efforts. I was sure of it. I needed to be more careful. Every week or so, there was another headline about the police investigation, and how it was still ongoing. About how those guards from Canterlot were still guarding the library, and would remain there until the thief was caught.

Soon, it wasn't safe to go outside anymore. Too much of a risk. I would dash to work in the morning, hide in the break room, and then run home and lock myself inside the apartment.

The months passed.

I could still feel the police and that accursed librarian watching me. I didn't go anywhere anymore. The only reason I still went to work was to get bits to pay the rent and to get more locks. The only way to stay safe was to wait it out. I would show them all.

They wouldn't get me.

***

Looking back, I'm amazed I didn't have a mental breakdown. I came close, though. I just couldn't see it. But as philosophy books are fond of pointing out, life prefers balance. Tip too far to one extreme, and there will be a strong corrective action to restore balance.

My own corrective force came one morning when I was barricaded inside my room and thinking about how I couldn't trust my parents. They had called a few times, but I had grown suspicious of them. What if they were in league with the librarian and out to teach me a lesson by waiting until I cracked? ‘Shame on you, son,’ they'd tell me when visiting me in jail. ‘Why did you do such a bad thing?’

No, I couldn’t trust them anymore. I would have to communicate through a third party. Someone I could hire to take their messages and give my own in return.

That was the point when I cracked. It was as if someone had slapped me on the face. I was going to cut myself off from my parents. The ones who loved and cared for me, and supported me when no one would.

It was as if I had come out of a long nightmare. I looked around my apartment, and almost didn’t recognize it. All the locks, all the braces, the barricaded doors, and my escape plans. I realized how many conspiracy theories I had, and realized that it was only a matter of time until I believed that the entire city was after me, and that suicide was the only way out.

The realization hit me hard. So I did what most other ponies would do upon realizing they were guiding themselves to self-destruction: I drank. I went to the cabinet and pulled out the only bottle of cider I had (extra-strong) and drank it all.

Through the acidic bite of the cider, everything became clear to me. It wasn’t the librarian who was driving me to destruction. It was my conscience. Without even realizing it, my guilt over what I had done was tearing me apart. In the quest to become more than who I was, I had betrayed one of the biggest lessons my parents had ever given me. The only way to stop the guilt was to resolve it. But how?

The answer came to me when the bottle dropped to the floor. There was a way…but it didn’t involve going to the police. No way in tartarus was I going to do that. It was much simpler.

Whenever I did something wrong as a child, my parents would make me think about what I had done. They believed that the only way to truly correct a mistake was to find out why you had done it, solve that, and then realize that continuing to act as you had done would only bring more pain. I knew why I had broken into the library. I knew the reasoning behind it, and had realized the pain it had caused.

I had to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

Going into my room, I took little Celestia and put her on the floor. If I could have done it and gotten away scott-free, I would have done the process with the real Celestia, but the miniature of her would work well in her place. Lying before her, and as her calm eyes followed mine, I made a vow. I said that from that day forth, I would never again commit any illegal acts to attain my goals. No breaking into buildings, no sneaking into places where I didn’t belong, no stealing, no assault, nothing. It had taken the library fiasco for me to realize how wrong that was.

With little Celestia watching, I finished my vow. The lesson had been learned, and I would not repeat the same mistake twice.

And just like that, it was done.

***

I didn’t leave my apartment for the rest of the day. But when night fell, I went to the door, pulled the sofa away, and undid all the locks, something I hadn’t done in quite a while. I left my home and went outside. I stood and waited. I smelled the fresh air, heard the sound of traffic, and ponies laughing somewhere in the distance.

I could no longer feel anyone watching me.

It felt wonderful.

***

It took a little while, but I could go through my days without looking every which way at every step, and I could sleep at night without fear of someone breaking in. I was even able to go into the library again and check out books like normal. When I saw the librarian, she still watched me, but I no longer feared her. I would nod, and then continue on my way.

On some level, I think, I had made my peace with what had happened, and was no longer afraid. If the police were going to catch me, then so be it. But two weeks after my paranoia had snapped, the newspaper announced that the librarian had officially asked Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to lift the guard, and that the new security features in place would protect the library. And, amazingly enough, her request was granted. The guards left. The library returned to normal. And even the police declared the case to be closed, though unsolved as they had found no leads after months of searching. They had to admit that the trail was cold.

Life was back to normal. Balance had once again been restored.

And me? I was content to enjoy my simple life. I went out again to the movies, walked the piers at night, and enjoyed shopping for new clothes and various vanity items I was interested in. I even got a promotion at work, and an increased paycheck.

For the time being, turning into an alicorn left my mind. I had been serious upon making my vows, and upon realizing that I probably wasn't going to become one via legal means, I was okay with dropping the matter for a while.

But destiny has a funny way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

***

When I came home from work one day, there was an expensive-looking envelope in the mail. Curious, I opened it and found a letter from one of the companies I had first applied to when I arrived in Manehattan. Turns out one of their staff writers had quit and they wanted me to come in for an interview.

I wasted no time in pulling on my finest clothes and taking off across the city to the business in question. The secretary, no doubt impressed by such quick devotion, managed to schedule a job interview and on the same day, no less. I was more excited then nervous, and easily breezed through the questions the company’s CEO sent my way. With a healthy sprinkling of my charm I was able to convince him that I was a good fit for the company, and within an hour I was officially hired on as a professional writer.

With my new job in place, I was set up for full time work, which meant I had to leave my grocery store job. My manager was sad to lose me, but he understood my desire to move on to bigger and better things, and told me that if I ever needed a job again, I knew where to go. After getting my final check ––plus a nice bonus as a farewell gift––I decided to treat myself. So, on the day before I started, I went to the amusement park to have some fun for the first time since the library fiasco. It had the rejuvenating effect I needed, and when I awoke on my first day of work, I was all but bouncing about as I entered the company’s skyscraper.

I settled into a new routine. Though there was no set schedule of things to do, I had plenty to keep me busy. As one of many writers on staff, my job was to craft speeches, notes, memos, proposals, and anything else the company’s employees needed. I wrote press releases, newsletters, and company memos for upper management too busy or too lazy to do it themselves.

Things were slow at first. But then I started getting thank you letters from the higher ups, praising my work for how it saved them time, and also moved readers and listeners as well. I overheard a few of my coworkers talking about how the daily memos and newsletters actually had warmth in them, rather than the cold and artificial style so favored by managers.

The money started to come in too. It wasn't as much as I was used to, but it was enough to cover all my expenses, plus have a little left over. I even began to branch out and place my name in the classifieds as a writer for hire, and started getting outside work. There was no job I wouldn't take, no paper I wouldn't write (except for homework and essays that students wanted me to compose in their names).

Business was steady, and life was good. And, more importantly, I was more content then I had been at the grocery store. I was finally using my talents and skills. And like all dreamers, when life is good, and everything is going your way, I once more let the alicorn dream fall by the wayside. I told myself I would eventually pick it up again when the time was right.

Then the letter came.

It was another ordinary day of work when I opened my business mail. There was nothing too exciting: a few memos, a few reports and an invitation to the company picnic. But among them was a letter from an individual wanting my help in writing some business proposals. It was freelance work, nothing I couldn’t handle. She was a doctor and medical researcher, and I figured working for someone in that field would prove most interesting.

Beakbreaker

View Online

Three days after receiving the letter, I walked into a restaurant on the outskirts of Manehattan’s upper class district; fancy, yet not so expensive so as the bill wouldn’t cost me a paycheck to cover. Sitting in a booth near the window, I watched the street for my client, having arranged a dinner get-together so we could learn more about each other. All I knew was that she was a recent graduate from Manehattan’s top medical university, and that her name was Beakbreaker. I had told her to look for the teal colored pony in a casual business suit, and beyond that, all I could do was wait.

My wait was short, for ten minutes after I arrived, so did Beakbreaker. I had expected a pony, but got a zebra instead, the very first I had ever seen face to face. She didn't look like the tribal zebras I had seen in books: with her lab coat and taped glasses, she looked like someone more at home reading books in a library than performing tribal magic around campfires.

She trotted to the booth. “So, Mister. Silverspeak, I presume?”

I offered a hoof. “The one and only.”

She shook it while taking a seat. “You have no idea how pleased I am to meet you! I hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”

“Oh no, not at all," I assured her, hiding my surprise that I'd be working with a zebra.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m dressed like this,” she said. “Just got out of the lab. Been working on something all day, and I’m afraid I’ll have to head back fairly soon, so this is going to be pretty short. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh no,” I said. “Not at all. So, I understand you're in need of a writer.”

Beakbreaker chuckled. “You could say that. I need someone to help write some proposals."

"Don't medical students have to write them?" I asked as a waiter brought us water.

"Yes, but they never were my specialty. Now, your classified said you were skilled in all types of writing. What experience do you have?”

"I’ve been writing for corporations for a few months,” I told her. “Memos, speeches for the CEO’s, that sort of thing. But my real talent is in the power of words.” I showed her my flank, and the cutie mark of an old-fashioned microphone. “It's also called the gift of the silver tongue: I have the ability to charm others, whether by speech or word. Now, what kind of proposal do you need?"

Beakbreaker gave a nervous chuckle and stirred her glass. “Oh, how do I explain this?"

“Take your time,” I assured her. “I’m in no rush.”

“Well, you see, I... can't exactly tell you. It's... a secret.”

“It'd be hard to write a business proposal without knowing what I'm supposed to be writing about,” I joked.

“Yes, I know,” Beakbreaker said. “But this sort of thing... well, it has the potential to change the field of medicine forever. But my professors and I don't want to risk it getting out before we're ready to unveil it to the public.”

That intrigued me; my first freelance writing assignment, and it was to be about a secretive medical project? How could I resist? “If you can't tell me what it is in public,” I said, “can you tell me in private?”

“I can do better then that. Meet me at my apartment this Saturday at nine AM sharp, and I'll show you.”

A clock chimed. Beakbreaker gulped down the last of her drink. “Sorry to drink and run, but I gotta get going,” Beakbreaker said. “Thanks for coming out though; I really, really appreciate it.”

“The pleasure's all mine.”

Grinning, Beakbreaker finished her drink and trotted out of the restaurant, looking quite pleased with herself.

***

I spent the rest of the week wondering what was so secretive that Beakbreaker didn't want to talk about in public? My curiosity concocted all manner of things, and I eagerly left my apartment on Sunday morning, wanting to get my answers.

Beakbreaker's apartment was located on Manehattan's south side, where most of the island's less affluent residents live. But a visitor won't find mounds of garbage, crumbling apartments, and the stench of unwashed bodies, for many businesses employ the poor them to clean up trash, paint buildings and pave the streets, while also providing cheap housing. The apartment I wanted was among them, and Beakbreaker opened the door seconds after I knocked, a large bag hanging from her side.

“Sorry I'm late,” she said, dropping the bag. “Was a little late finishing up the day job.”

I peered into the bag and found it full of garbage. “You're a trash picker?”

“Yes. But only to pay the bills. And when I'm not here, I spend my time in the lab." Tossing on her lab coat, Beakbreaker locked the door behind her. "Now, come. We have a lot of ground to cover!”

I let Beakbreaker lead the way through the streets to the subway. It was a long ride, and I fidgeted, wanting to pass the time. I figured getting to know my client better was the way to go.

“So Beakbreaker,” I said. “How did you get your name?”

“It's a long story, believe me” she said.

“I've got time.”

“Well, you ever feel like you don’t belong? That you were born with others like you, yet you weren’t one of them?”

Oh, if you only knew, I thought.

“Well, I was the only zebra interested in medical science in my tribe... you know much about zebras?”

I shook my head.

“We don't place much importance on technical things,” Beakbreaker explained. “We prefer to live close to the earth; we believe it has a spirit, and that we work with it in daily life. My parents are shamans and wanted me to follow in their hoofsteps." She chuckled. "But whenever my parents tried to teach me about the magic of the earth, I’d be reading about anatomy and how to cure diseases with plants and herbs. And as I got older, I began to experiment with making concoctions and crafting limbs out of wood for zebras who got into accidents. But it wasn't easy... I blew up a lot of potions, and even burned down a hut or two.”

“And that's how you got your name?”

She nodded, quite proud of herself. “I'm still amazed the others tolerated it all. But they saw my potential, and encouraged me to keep going. I studied under the tribe's doctor, and when I came of age I went to Manehattan to study medicine and technology”

“And here you are.”

Beakbreaker sighed. "It's been a long path, but if I can pull this project off, it will be all worth it.”

***

The subway came to a stop a few minutes later, and we disembarked to find ourselves before Manehattan's University of Science and Medicine. If someone wants to go into the field, there's no better place to go, and ponies, zebras, griffons, and many other species come here to become doctors, nurses, surgeons, and researchers. I let Beakbreaker take the lead as we headed inside a lobby adorned with statues of ponies engaged in various fields of medicine and science, making our way through hordes of students, professors and doctors dashing about.

Leading me towards the back of the lobby, Beakbreaker took me into an elevator, inserted a key, and we descended five stories underground. When the doors opened, we emerged into a clean, sterile hallway of stainless steel.

“Why the security?” I asked Beakbreaker.

“The university's most sensitive data is down here,” she explained. “Along with all its most important experiments.” Making a left turn, she went to a heavily reinforced door, entered her key, and did a retina scan. Only then did the door open, granting us access to a laboratory stocked with all manner of equipment. There was an older pony inside, and he hurried over.

“Beakbreaker! You're late!”

“Sorry, Glasseye. Day job got off to a late start.”

“Always with the excuses! They aren't going to tolerate those at whatever office ends up taking you.” He turned to me, his left eye moving slightly irregularly. “Silverspeak, I presume?”

I nodded.

The pony stretched out his hoof. “I am Glasseye, head of the science division here at the university. I trust you've heard about me?”

I shook my head. “Can't say that I have.”

Judging from Glasseye's scowl, I might as well have told him his mother was a scum-sucking cave eel. “You mean Beakbreaker hasn't told you about me?”

“She hasn't because she's been so busy,” I quickly said. “She's been trying so hard to set up this proposal that she hasn't had time to do anything else.”

Glasseye considered my answer, then nodded. “Well, I suppose that's an acceptable answer. After all, the university is putting most of it's time and effort into this project. It only makes sense that Beakbreaker here would want to keep it moving.”

Beakbreaker said nothing, but looked like she wanted to kiss me.

Glasseye walked towards a table, and a cloth-covered container atop it. "You are an author, are you not?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And how many proposals have you written?”

“None so far. This is my first.”

Stopping, Glasseye spun to Beakbreaker. "This was the best you could do?!” he hissed.

“No one else would take the job!” Beakbreaker said. “They wanted to know what it was before agreeing to it!”

“We need someone established! We..." Biting his lip, Glasseye turned to me. "I apologize, Silverspeak, but this is a very important project. If you're the only we can get, then I suppose you'll have to do. Now, what do you know about this project?”

“Nothing.”

“Good.” Reaching into a drawer, Glasseye pulled out a lengthy piece of paper and set it before me. “The project we are working on is being held in the strictest confidence, and everyone working on it has to sign this contract. If you are to continue, you will have to do the same.”

I looked at the contract, annoyed that Beakbreaker hadn't mentioned anything about signing one. It seemed pretty straightforward, nothing too out of the ordinary, and with no secret clauses that allowed the University to take my home and everything I owned should I squawk to the press. Instead, there would be a rather hefty fee, more then enough to wipe out my entire bank account. Still, my curiosity wanted to find out what was inside that container. I signed.

“Well, everything seems to be in order,” Glasseye said after seeing my signature. “Beakbreaker?”

Heavy locks fell into place as Beakbreaker swung the door closed, sealing us in, and shutting everyone else out. Once satisfied that we weren't going to be disturbed, Beakbreaker went to the table and pulled the cloth off the container.

“Behold,” Glasseye said with pride, “the next great advancement in medical technology!”

I hadn't been sure what to expect from the container, but was caught off guard by what was inside... and how ordinary it was.

It was a leg. A pony leg, to be precise, suspended within a thick, blue gel.

“That's it?” I said. “You got me all the way down here, made me sign a contract, and swear me to secrecy over a leg?”

“Ah, but this is no ordinary leg,” Beakbreaker said, beaming.

“It's a leg removed from some famous pony, and you're trying to clone him?”

Beakbreaker shook her head. “No, not at all. This leg didn't come from anyone.”

It took me a few moments to realize what she was saying. “Wait... then if it didn't come from a pony, then where did it-”

“Here.” Beakbreaker indicated the lab. “This leg was grown here from scratch.”

The resulting silence lasted for several seconds. I couldn't speak, at a loss for words.

“Well, Mr. Silverspeak?” Glasseye asked. “What do you think?”

I drew closer to the container. Without thinking, I pushed the lid off and reached inside. Beakbreaker moved to stop me, but Glasseye held her back as I pulled the leg from the viscous liquid, wanting to feel it for myself. It looked real, complete with fine fuzz on the skin and solid muscle beneath. But the leg was cold, making it feel dead. I could only hold it for a few moments before getting uncomfortable, and put it back into the container.

"How... how did you make that?" I asked.

“Six years of all-nighters and several thousand gallons of coffee,” Beakbreaker said.

“But that's impossible. You can't just grow body parts in a lab.”

"You're half right," Glasseye said, walking over to peer at the leg. "The leg has muscles, bones, and skin, but no nerves. It's little more than meat at this point, and not what we need.”

“Which is where you come in,” Beakbreaker said. “If we're going to perfect the process, we need additional funding, and for you to write a proposal for us.”

Glasseye started yapping on about technical details and exactly what they needed, but I ignored him, focused only on the leg. I couldn't fathom how it had been grown in a lab: pony science was nowhere near capable of doing something like this, yet here it was. My mind spun as I realized the possibilities: if Beakbreaker could get her funding, and if further research was successful, than crippled ponies could be walking within a decade, no longer hindered by accidents, age, or disease.

Beakbreaker hadn't been lying when saying that this could be the biggest medical breakthrough of the past one hundred years. It would be the breakthrough to end all breakthroughs.

“...I had hoped to make the presentation myself, but I've been called to Canterlot on official university business,” Glasseye continued, unaware that I hadn't been listening. “Thus, it is Beakbreaker who will have to make the presentation. And you, Mr. Silverspeak, will be the one to ensure we get our funding.”

The presentation was the last thing on my mind. “How long will this leg last?” I asked. “Does it ever need to be infused with magic?”

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Silverspeak, but we don't have-”

“Nope,” Beakbreaker interrupted. “Never. It looks like the leg of an adult, but when we create a perfected version, the muscles and nerves will be that of a young adult at the peak of health. The whole thing should be able to go for at least eighty years.”

I stared at her, my eyes almost as wide as our dinner plates. An artificially grown leg that never needed magic? It sounds insane, but for a few moments it felt like Beakbreaker was laughing in the face of physics and all that seemed possible.

It occurred to me that with a steady flow of funding, and enough time, there might be no limit as to what she could accomplish.

While I had been nothing but amazed, Beakbreaker had interpreted my distant, blank gaze as disbelief, an expression she had apparently seen far too many times. “You don't believe me, do you?” she said. “Well, can't say I'm surprised.”

“Surprised?” I said. “Of course I am! Who wouldn't be! This is... amazing! You've created an actual leg!” I reached into the goo and yanked the leg back out. “This is going to change the medical industry forever! Possibly even the world! And if you're going to change the world, then I want to be a part of it!”

I was surprised to see Beakbreaker's lips and cheeks were quivering. I thought she was going to cry, and didn't know why she would. Later on, Beakbreaker would explain how so many ponies and scientists laughed at her theories about what could be accomplished regarding limbs, seeing her as a joker who's head was stuck in the clouds. Even Glasseye hadn't believed her when they first met. But at that moment, I became the first pony who took her seriously.

Breathing deep, she smiled and extended a hoof. “Partners?”

I took her hoof in mine, all too happy to do so. “Partners.”

***

The moment I returned home, I wasted no time in writing out the proposal, scrawling out paragraph after paragraph. Before I knew it, I had written ten pages that gushed about the benefits of artificially grown limbs for use in the handicapped. But, passionate as it was, the paper was too long for a oral proposal, and I had to start over, limiting myself to just three pages. But it was a joy to write, as I was all but consumed by the feeling of working on something that was going to change the world.

Before the sun dipped below the horizon, I had finished a proposal that would stir the hearts of even the most hardened corporate executive. It was some of my best work, yet there was still a twinge of doubt that those same executives would accept it. Ponies, for all our tolerance and acceptance of new things, do have our limits. To be precise, science that disrupts the natural order of things. An artificial leg made of wood and metal would be easily accepted, but limbs grown in a lab could be seen as a sacrilege against nature itself. It was no wonder Beakbreaker had tried to keep her work secret, for if anyone learned about the leg had been completed, her work might have been stopped before it began.

In the coming days, I revised and tweaked the proposal while Glasseye scouted out companies that could be interested in the leg and had a few million bits to spare for research and equipment. He finally found a potential partner with Medicomp, the largest medical corporation in Manehattan. They had a reputation for being open to new ideas, especially if they benefited the greater good. A meeting was scheduled, and after a few more revisions, I delivered the proposal to Beakbreaker at her apartment.

“Here it is,” I told her. “My best work yet.”

“That's fantastic!” Beakbreaker said. “Then we have no chance of failing!” But beneath the cheerful demeanor, I saw a zebra who was frightened out of her wits, and wondering if she even had a chance at pulling this off.

“You all right?" I asked. "You don't look so good.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Just focus on giving the speech, and you'll be fine,” I assured her. Then, deciding that she could use a little boost to her self-esteem, I turned on the charm. “If you focus on how much you believe in this project, the board will sense it. Couple that with the fact that you've got lab-grown limbs, and they'll be begging you to take their money."

The charm worked. Beakbreaker breathed easier, and her posture improved in the blink of an eye. “You know what? I think you're right.” She looked the proposal over with a confident smile. “Well, I'd better start on memorizing this! Thanks for bringing it by!”

As I headed back to the subway, I felt... well, surprisingly good, more so then in a very long time. I had always used my gift of the silver tongue to make things easier for myself, but that had been the first time I used it to help someone.

I still remember how good it felt.

***

With the proposal written, I went back to my speeches, memos, and press releases at work. Nowhere near as exciting as medical proposals that could change the face of pony society forever, but I still had bills to pay.

On the day of Beakbreaker's presentation, I was eager upon heading in for work. I wouldn't know how the presentation went for another day or two, but the thought that my words could jumpstart a medical revolution was intoxicating. It was certainly fun to imagine a room filled with executives leaning forward in their seats, eager to catch every masterfully placed word, weeping at the expertly constructed sentences that would move them to emotional depths they'd never experienced before.

Of course, I had no way of knowing how the presentation would really go. I could write the finest speech ponykind had ever heard, but if Beakbreaker stumbled, yammered on, or got choked up from fear, then all the words in the world would mean nothing. But that wasn't up to me. I could only trust that she was going to do her best.

As the workday came to an end, I hurried out of the building, and found Beakbreaker waiting for me. “So,” I asked, hoping for the best, “how'd it go?”

Beakbreaker had the face of a poker player. I couldn't tell if she had muted joy or melancholy sorrow. “Well, I gave the presentation,” she said quietly, “But I kept stumbling. I was just so nervous, but then I remembered what you had told me, and managed to get through the rest of it.”

I nodded. “And?”

She paused, trying to figure the best way to break the news. “Well, after hearing it, they didn't seem quite convinced about actually making body parts.”

My heart sank.

“But...” a smile came across her face, “...some of the more senior members of the board thought it had potential. So they were able to overrule the others, and gave me the grant!”

“What? That's great!”

Beakbreaker nodded. “Now we've got all the bits we need... but there's a catch. The company wants results a year from now.” Her smile, beaming and radiant, dimmed. “It took me almost six to make that first leg, and now I've got to do the whole thing again in a fraction of that time. And if I can't do it, then we'll lose funding, and the project's as good as dead."

“You can do it though, right?” I asked as Beakbreaker slumped onto a nearby bench.

Beakbreaker was silent for a long moment. “I really don't know. I just don't. And there's something else: If the project dies, Medicomp can legally take all my work and continue development themselves, and there's nothing I can do about it.”

It was as if all the joy Beakbreaker had ever felt slipped away. “This... this is my life's work,” she whispered. “I can't lose it... I..." She tried to speak, but the words died in her throat, and she struggled not to cry.

I wanted to comfort Beakbreaker, to assure her that she'd get through this, but I didn't know how... until an idea struck me. “You said with some help you might be able to finish a second leg,” I said. “Why not ask around for that help? I could write proposals and send them to the best scientists in Equestria to see if they can help."

Beakbreaker looked up, damp hooves pulling away from her eyes. “You... you mean it?”

“Why not? If you were able to grow a leg by yourself, imagine what you could do with a team of the finest minds in Equestria.”

Thinking quickly, Beakbreaker pondered my proposal. It wasn't long before her smile came back. "Yes... yes! If you could write well enough to convince Medicomp to give us a try, then it should work for the scientists!" She beamed once more and jumped to her hooves. "Okay! We'll do it! When can you send out those letters?"

"Tomorrow. Now, there is the problem of knowing who to write to: I don't know any other scientists who could-"

"I'll write up a list and send it to your apartment later tonight," Beakbreaker said, her mind going a mile a minute. "Be sure to mention that we got funding to go ahead; most scientists won't jump on something unless it's being funded by a well-known organization. That'll show that we're serious and not just a bunch of crazies!" She jumped up and down. "Oh my gosh, we're actually doing this! Oh!" She reached into a pocket of her coat and pulled out a small bag of bits. "Here. You've earned these. And I'll gladly pay you for writing those letters."

I took the bits, glad for them, but they were the last thing on my mind. The thought of Beakbreaker succeeding, and changing the face of medicine as we knew it, was more important than bits.

“Oh my, I'd better head back and get started! Can't waste a second! I'll talk to you later!

Turning, Beakbreaker dashed off. I couldn't blame her for running with the vigor of the possessed. We had taken the first steps towards her dream, and if we pulled this next one off, it would come so much closer to coming true.

***

The following year was one of those where you're constantly busy, yet wonder where the time went when the new year rolls around. For me, that year was spent writing all manner of documents for my day job, and, more importantly, for Beakbreaker, including the letters to scientists and doctors asking if they would be interested in helping Beakbreaker. Most weren't for one reason or another, but a few were intrigued, and after learning what was going on, threw themselves into the project with vigor equal to Beakbreaker.

Within two months, Beakbreaker's team had grown to five ponies, including Glasseye. Though she was the youngest, Beakbreaker was the leader, for she not only had worked the longest and the hardest to make it come true, but had more drive than everyone else combined. Glasseye wasn't happy at all with that arrangement, and voiced his displeasure to anyone who listened. Being the head of science, he believed that it was his right to lead such an important project, wanting to bring glory to the university, rather then just a single graduate. Privately, I thought he was more interested in bringing glory to himself, but kept silent, instead letting things play out as they would.

Despite working for her, I rarely saw Beakbreaker during the year. Being the only non-scientist granted access to the lab (on Beakbreaker's orders), I went down every now and then to see how things were going, and Beakbreaker was always hard at work. I learned from Glasseye that it was common for her to spend all night at the lab, sometimes only grabbing a few hours of sleep, or sometimes none at all. She could go weeks without seeing Celestia's sun, so much so that she began to turn slightly pale.

Still, even with the money, equipment, and scientists she needed, Beakbreaker's work was not a fast-paced venture, for she needed time to manage the complex process of tissue and muscle growth, while trying to speed up the process without causing any mistakes or issues in the leg. Progress was steady: the bones were grown first, and once they had set, the muscles came next, along with nerves and sinew.

Inch by inch, month by month, Beakbreaker's leg began to take shape.

Those who entered the lab began to sense that something miraculous was happening. It was like watching an alchemist turn water into gold. I must admit to feeling a rush of pride at seeing the leg. Though it was Beakbreaker's baby, I felt like the father.

Finally, at long last, Beakbreaker sent word on a cold day in late winter: the leg was ready.

Throwing on my cold-weather gear, I wasted no time in running to the lab, my heart pounding as I passed through the checkpoints and heavily sealed doors, finding the leg propped on a table, connected to life-support equipment and surrounded by awestruck scientists and doctors, eager to touch the limb and feel the life within it. Even Glasseye seemed humbled at the miracle before him.

Beakbreaker herself stood off to the side, beaming with pride at seeing so many individuals crowding around her work. Considering how many of them would have laughed at her ideas a few years earlier, it must have been oh-so satisfying to see them won over. She walked over at spotting me, exhausted, yet full of excitement.

“Silverspeak,” she said. “Can you write a letter to Medicomp? Let them know that the leg is ready, and we're prepared to present it.”

I wasted no time in doing so, and the reply was just as fast. A date and time was set for the presentation, and before we all knew it, the big day arrived. Normally, only Beakbreaker and her immediate coworkers would have gone to the meeting, but she insisted that I come along as well, noting that even without contributing a single bit or hour of time in the lab, I had done so much for the project, and figured that this presentation belonged to me as it did for everyone else. Honored by such a request, I dressed in my finest clothes and met up with her and the others as we entered the towering skyscraper of Manehattan's largest medical corporation.

The leg was carried by Glasseye, sealed within a medical grade carrying case. We got many curious gazes as we checked in, passed through the lobby, and entered the elevator that would take us to the top floor. Even without knowing what we were carrying, it was as if the random passerby sensed the importance of our mission.

Reaching the top floor, we went through elegant halls filled with lush carpeting and the finest furniture, and once we entered the meeting room, I saw why Beakbreaker had been so nervous coming here for the first time: the was a single, U-shaped table in the room, so that anyone asking for a grant would feel like they were in a courtroom standing before a panel of judges. The fifteen older ponies at the table had the looks and lack of smiles that judges would have. A few were interested in what we had to say, but the others had their doubts, apparently figuring this was all a hoax or a waste of time.

Beakbreaker took her place before the board members, tired and worn out from her year of hard labor, but there was no fear this time, no doubt or worry that things would go wrong.

“Thank you all for allowing me to come here today,” Beakbreaker said, reciting the words I had written for her. “But I also want to thank you for being present on what may be one of the most important days in medical history. Many have doubted my proposal and what I can accomplish. But thanks to your generosity, my dream is now one step closer to reality, and I'm here to share it with you."

Glasseye walked forward and set the case down.

“Mares and gentlecolts,” Beakbreaker said, grinning ear to ear. “Allow me to present the world's first completely organic replacement limb.”

Glasseye's horn glowed, and the leg was lifted from the case, held up for all to see. Even now, I can still see the shock and amazement on the board member's faces.

“The limb you see before you is no fake, nor well made prosthesis,” Beakbreaker continued, knowing that she had the audience in her hooves. “It is a pony leg that grown in a lab. There is no metal, wood, or steel within it, just bone, blood, muscle, and nerves. Nothing you wouldn't find in nature.”

Taking the leg, Beakbreaker pulled out a needle and pricked the skin. The leg twitched. Another prick, and it thrashed. “As you can see, it has nerves and is capable of feeling pain.” She put the needle away and stroked the leg. I could see the hairs flattening against skin. “It also has the capacity to feel pleasurable touch. You can't get that with a metal leg.”

Beakbreaker nodded to Glasseye, who levitated the leg and slowly passed it around the table, allowing the board members to touch it for themselves.

“This leg is alive, but no brain controls it. Yet, when connected with a patient's nervous system, it can be rewired to act as if it had always been there. The leg we have is grey, but we have the ability to color the fur to any tone imaginable. Once attached, even the patient won't be able to tell the difference between their new leg, and the one they lost.”

When the leg had completed it's rounds around the table, and the excited executives all got a chance to touch it, Beakbreaker moved in for the kill. “Now, think of what this leg represents. It is the first of it's kind, but it still has room for improvement. It took almost a year to create, but with further research and development, we can cut that time in half, or even half again. Within a few years, we can create legs for ponies who have lost their own. The crippled could walk again. The infirm could gallop through forests and grasslands. The elderly could gain new vitality with legs stronger then what they had before. Crude prosthetics would be a relic consigned to the history books. No longer would ponies be bound to wheelchairs for life or unable to get around on their own. We are at the brink of something extraordinary.”

She smiled, and delivered the punch line. “And that is why I am asking you for your help in making that dream a reality.”

***

By the end of the day, Beakbreaker had gotten all the bits she could ever want, and the finest medical equipment bits could buy. And not only that, but she would no longer have to work in the dark confines of the university, but in one of Medicomp's state of the art laboratories within the tower, and with her current staff and any others she needed.

I was happy for Beakbreaker, but no one could match her ecstasy at being accepted. No, that's not the right word. She was beyond ecstasy. Her dreams were coming true, and I have never seen anyone, pony or otherwise, be so caught up in the embrace of happiness that it seemed like they would burst.

There was so much to do, so much data to transfer and equipment to take to the labs, but Beakbreaker, having almost worked herself to death during the past year, wanted to take a few days off to relax, and on the night of having her leg accepted by Medicomp, Beakbreaker invited me out to dinner, and a celebration of a victory that had been hard won. As the sun set, and the rays of gold and orange lit up the sky, I found myself with Beakbreaker in a fancy restaurant atop a tall tower, giving us both a gorgeous view of the city skyline.

We didn't talk business most of that evening, mainly sharing drinks as Beakbreaker delighted herself by relaying story after story of some moment that had made her so frustrated and upset during that year in the labs. And despite knowing next to nothing about science in general, I went along, glad just to see Beakbreaker laughing.

The hours passed. The other diners began to drift away, until the two of us were the only ones inside the restaurant, sipping away at our latest bottles of cider.

“Wow,” Beakbreaker said. “Amazing how time flies, doesn't it? I suppose I'd better head home... it'll be nice to actually sleep in for once.” She rose from the booth, slightly intoxicated, but not enough to ruin her eye-hoof coordination. “Oh, before I forget...” She rummaged around and pulled another bag of bits from her coat. "Here Double your fee. I'd say you earned it."

"Oh, thank you!" I said. The bits would be enough to pay my rent for two months. "But still, don't forget who gave the speech."

Smiling, Beakbreaker started towards the door. But she stopped halfway to it and seemed lost in thought, the effects of the cider fading away. “Listen, Silverspeak,” she said. “I... I really don't know how to thank you for everything you've done.”

“It's all right,” I told her. “I'm just glad I could help make a dream come true."

“No, I mean it," Beakbreaker said. Any joking or gentle mockery was gone. "I mean, without you, we probably wouldn't be here right now. I'd probably be stuck in a grocery store pharmacy, drinking myself into a stupor every night.”

She stepped in close, and for a moment I wondered if Beakbreaker was going to kiss me. But she didn't, her eyes peering into mine, as if trying to discover my deepest desires.

“I don't know how I can ever repay you,” she said. “But If you ever need a favor, or anything medical related, then it's yours, no questions asked.”

I was caught off guard by her offer. "Thank you," I said with a smile. "If I ever lose a leg...Celestia forbid that ever happens...then I know who to come to.”

“And I'll perform the surgery myself,” Beakbreaker said. “Free of charge.” She took my hoof and gave it a quick kiss. “Good night, Silverspeak. I had a great time.” Then, after leaving her share of the bill on the table, she waltzed out of the restaurant, tired, but happy.

I watched her go, not as happy as Beakbreaker was, but still content at knowing that I was fulfilling my purpose, and, more importantly, that all was right with the world, and all was as it should be.

Letting the Cat out of the Bag

View Online

Though Beakbreaker had decided to take a few days off from work, she changed her mind the following morning and jumped right back in to finish the transfer from the University to the tower, bidding farewell to the place she had worked at for six long years. Glasseye was sad to see her go, but not out of personal affection. He didn't voice it, but it was obvious that he was upset about not being involved in Beakbreaker's ongoing research. As the head of the University's science division, he had to continue working on campus with new students, a fact he grumbled about on our last meeting.

Beakbreaker, on the other hoof, was excited to settle in. I came by one day to see how she was doing, and found her admiring Manehattan's skyline from her new office.

“So,” Beakbreaker asked from behind her fancy desk. “What do you think?”

“Makes my cubicle look pathetic.”

Beakbreaker laughed. “Don't feel bad. I won't be spending too much time here anyway; got way too many things to work on in the lab. Speaking of which, I don't think you've seen it yet. Want a tour?”

Before I knew it, the two of us were inside Beakbreaker's lab. It was an enormous and stocked with all the best equipment bits could buy, most of which I couldn't make heads or tails of.

“Isn't it great?!" Beakbreaker squeed. "All this stuff, just for us!” She went to the closest electrical doohickey and rubbed her hoof over it. “If I had this equipment six years ago, that leg would have been ready in half the time. Just imagine what we can do now!”

“So, how long do you think it'll be before you can get those legs going?” I asked.

Beakbreaker indicated an observation window, and hundreds of identical legs in cold storage. “We could start production right away, but we're working to reduce the growing time. Thanks to having an actual staff, I can try out dozens of different techniques and method until we cut growth time in half.”

“I hope they're paying you well."

“Oh, more than plenty! Enough for me to move out of that dinky apartment and into something better.” Leaving the labs, Beakbreaker took me to a fancy apartment right next to her office. “With this I can both live and work in the same place.”

“So you'll never step outside again?” I joked.

A chuckle. “I'll be spending a lot of time here, that's for sure. So much research to do, tests to run, and oh sweet Celestia, the paperwork! I had no idea there would be so much!” She looked at me. “You know, Silverspeak, I could use someone to handle my mail and official correspondence, as well as type up my findings and make them presentable. I know you talked about not being able to walk away from your day job, but the offer still stands. You interested?”

“I don't know,” I told her. “I mean, I only just got there in the last year. It would seem a bit rude to have worked for the job so long, only to leave that quickly. I'm not sure I can--”

“I can offer you twenty bits an hour.”

“When do I start?” I asked.

***

Was it cheap of me to be swayed by the promise of increased bits? Perhaps, but with my current salary of twelve bits an hour, it was a no-brainer. Besides, being able to work with medical research that would change the world was an opportunity too good to pass up.

Saying goodbye to my previous employers, I started work at the Medicomp tower. While I didn’t get an apartment of my own, I did get an office right next to Beakbreaker’s, with an equally nice view of the Manehattan skyline. I didn't have time to enjoy the view though, for work piled up as Beakbreaker gave me a constant stream of data to summarize and compile as she continued her study and research on the legs. And as she had hoped, increased funding, staff, and equipment paid handsomely in dividends. In two months, she was able to figure out how to cut the growth time of the legs in half. While the board of directives wanted to make a leg ready within thirty days, she convinced them that six months was the shortest they could go, as any shorter and the leg would be too weak to use.

With the growth process finalized, it was time to begin clinical trials. In a way, this was the scariest part of the whole process, for if the legs didn't work, or the patient's body rejected them, then all of Beakbreaker's hard work would be for nothing. Indeed, Beakbreaker told me that the risk of rejection was the thing that kept her awake at night. But knowing the risk allowed her to work on a solution. While her staff was busy on the legs, Beakbreaker had begun working on a goo-like substance that would hopefully prevent rejection. When she first showed it to me, it didn't seem like much, just a thick, amber-colored liquid. But beneath the simple exterior was trillions of naked cells and nerve endings that, when applied to flesh, would instantly act as a bridge, so to speak, remaking themselves as the patient's cells to create seamless integration. Essentially, living glue that would trick the body into accepting the limbs.

But even with the goop and fully grown legs, there was no guarantee that they would work. We had to do testing on a live patient, and as it turned out, one of the board members had a crippled brother who would be the perfect test subject. He was brought to Beakbreaker's office, where I transcribed the resulting conversation. He was a pitiful sight walking through the door; he had been in a carriage crash several months before that crushed his front legs, which had been replaced by crude, metal prosthetics.

“Hello Mr. Greenhorn,” Beakbreaker said. “My name is Beakbreaker. My employers explained our proposal to you?”

“Not really,” Greenhorn said. He was tired and weary, not just in body, but in his voice and spirit. “Only that you might be able to help me.”

"We can. Mr. Greenhorn, for the past several years we've been working on creating natural replacement legs for ponies such as yourself, who have lost them in accidents," Beakbreaker said. "We are about to commence clinical trials, and were looking for someone to test them. Would you be interested in being the first?”

As Beakbreaker's words sank in, Greenhorn got the biggest smile I'd ever seen.

***

As Celestia's sun began to set, Greenhorn was rolled into the lab's operating room. I normally wouldn't be allowed inside, but Beakbreaker insisted I come along. The surgical room was shaped like a pit, with observers looking down on an operating table. I took my seat, as did Coin Counter, the board of directors, and other medical personnel. Beakbreaker went into the operating pit and dressed in surgical scrubs.

“Good evening, everyone. Tonight's operation is the first of its kind, for we will be performing the first transplant of our lab-grown legs onto a patient, who lost his own in an accident. If everything goes well, he'll be the first to come in with metal legs and walk out with the real thing." She washed her hooves. "Okay then, let's get started."

Greenhorn was wheeled in, breathing deeply. Nervous, yet excited. And as he was put on the operating table, I glanced out a nearby window. The sun had almost set; tonight would decide if Beakbreaker's dream would continue, or come crashing to a halt if the legs were rejected. I hoped for her sake that it would be the former.

Once Greenhorn was anesthetized Beakbreaker and her assistants went to work, removing the prosthetic legs and then the the caps covering the healed stumps where Greenhorn's legs had originally been. It was unpleasant watching those stumps be cut open to reveal raw flesh, but it was a necessary step, as an assistant then took a jar of the bonding goo and smeared it onto the wound, where it began to vanish.

“The goop is currently being absorbing into Greenhorn's body,” Beakbreaker explained. “Even as I speak, it's copying his genetic code, and, in essence, turning itself into cells identical to his own.”

Another assistant brought out a container with two legs that matched Greenhorn's coat and color. Every eye in the room was focused on Beakbreaker as she took the legs and carefully pressed them against Greenhorn's stumps so that bones and muscles were aligned. Unicorn assistants worked quickly to sew the legs in place with several spools of medical-grade string.

And then, just like that, it was done.

Beakbreaker took a moment to wipe her brow before continuing with her explanation. “With the legs attached, the goop is now working on binding itself to the tissue from both Greenhorn and the legs. All we can do for now is give it time to work.”

There were no cheers from the audience, but the air was charged with a cautious excitement. Even to my untrained eyes, everything seemed to have gone well, but there were still countless things that could go awry.

Beakbreaker's dream had taken a big step forward, but it still had many more to go.

***

Greenhorn was kept in a medically induced coma for a month, magically immobilized so he didn't move and disrupt the delicate process of merging flesh with flesh. Beakbreaker checked him several times a day to see how he was coming along, each time fearing that the new leg would show signs of necrosis. I saw that stress weighing on her as she tried to attend to her other duties, and kept reassuring her that even if things didn't work out, she could take what had been learned and apply it to the next effort. It didn't do much to cheer her, and I can't blame her. She was chasing her life's dream; anyone would be stressed out at wondering if it would work.

When the month had passed and the legs showed no signs of decaying, Beakbreaker decided that it was time to take the next step. With a team of the company's most skilled nurses, she had Greenhorn brought out of his coma. He was confused at first, but after it was explained why he was immobilized and the importance of not thrashing, he relaxed and agreed to move only when he was instructed to do so.

The magic holding Greenhorn lowered him to the bed and dissipated. Beakbreaker later told me that the ten seconds after she asked him to try moving his legs were the longest of her life. Everyone held their breath as Greenhorn looked at his legs, hesitated, and tried to move them.

His efforts were rewarded with legs twitching ever so slightly.

Beakbreaker said that everyone in the room - herself included - abandoned their professional demeanor and burst into cheers.

The surgery had worked.

For the next few days Greenhorn was the center of attention for everyone in the building. No expense was spared in giving him the best physical therapy available as he worked on building up his strength. Beakbreaker came to check on him every two days, taking a multitude of tests to measure his progress and delighting at the results. As she explained to Coin Counter and the board of directors, Greenhorn's body had accepted the legs, and it wouldn't be long until they were fully integrated. That day came sooner then expected: Two months after the surgery, Greenhorn was running through the rehabilitation center's obstacle course, jumping and landing with ease, his limbs acting better then Beakbreaker had dared hoped. And that excitement doubled when Greenhorn proclaimed that the legs were better then his old ones.

That was all Beakbreaker, Coin Counter, and the board of directors needed to hear.

***

Once more I was given the task of writing a speech, but it was my most important one yet, as it would be given to the world at large to announce what had happened to Greenhorn. It was a challenge, especially as everyone kept telling me to make it as great as possible, because Greenhorn's unveiling would become a moment for the history books, and my speech might be remembered by future generations for signaling the beginning of a new era of medicine.

No pressure.

I finished the speech two days later, and Coin Counter wasted no time in making calls, sending out letters, and setting up the most important press conference in the company's history. When the day arrived, a huge stage was set up on the front steps of the Medicomp building and constructed so that everyone in attendance would get a perfect view of what was to come. The board was present, as was Beakbreaker, who got me a seat on the side of the stage, where I would get a great view of not only the event, but the reactions of the reporters and attendees, none of whom had any idea what was coming. There were over two hundred of them and they kept coming as curious pedestrians wandered in.

Seated as I was on the sidelines, I couldn't give Beakbreaker any assurances as she strode onstage in her finest lab coat, flanked by eager executives, and led by Coin Counter, who headed to the podium, cleared his throat, and gave the biggest speech of his career.

“Mares and Gentlecolts, thank you for joining us here today, a day that will go down in history as the dawn of a new era, not only for ponies, but for science, medicine, and life itself. Over the past year and a half, we have been working on the most important medical breakthrough we have ever undertaken, and we're here to unveil it to you all.”

My heart pounded.

“Imagine a world where there is no more injury... or rather, imagine a world where the injured, the weak, and the elderly are no longer forced to shuffle around in wheelchairs or on crude prosthetics. Imagine a world where the crippled can not only walk away, but run, jump, and swim like the rest of us.” Coin Counter grinned. "Today, that dream becomes a reality. Today, Medicomp proudly presents the world's first lab-grown replacement legs!”

A curtain parted, and Greenhorn walked out to the stage's edge and posed for the reporters, only a few of whom noticed the stitches still in place on his front legs.

“Less than a year ago, Greenhorn here was crippled in an accident that took his front legs,” Coin Counter said. “And yet, here he stands, his legs returned, legs that were grown in our laboratories.

The faces of every pony present went wide in shock, and for a second I feared that we were going to be laughed at, and accused of pulling a fast one. And then the silence was broken with the bang of dozens of cameras flashing at once. The air was filled with shouts and yells as reporters hurled questions at Coin Counter, who was momentarily caught off guard by the bombardment but quickly regained his composure.

“To answer your many questions, I would like to introduce the creator of this incredible technology, Doctor Beakbreaker.” Gesturing for Beakbreaker to come up, Coin Counter stepped aside to let his prized researcher bask in the audience's attention. She had never been before a crowd as large as this, but I was proud to see how well she handled herself. She was in her element, and easily answered the questions shot her way like bullets from a gun. And as she did, I focused on the audience, wanting to gaze on their astonished faces. I wasn't disappointed.

Everyone knew this was a game-changer, if not a miracle.

***

All of us at Medicomp expected the public to be astonished by our announcement. We knew there would be debate, opinions, and perhaps some protests at how the company shouldn't tamper with nature. But we weren't prepared for the reaction we got. To say the public was astonished is an understatement. A more appropriate term is that their minds were blown.

The morning after the press conference, Manehattan was alive with all the gossip, rumors, and talk imaginable. The conference dominated the news, with editors and reporters describing it as the biggest medical story of the century. Photos were printed of Greenhorn, the Medicomp laboratories, and Beakbreaker and her assistants working on the legs. Later reports would confirm that it was one of the best-selling days in newspaper history, joining the Changeling attack on Canterlot, Twilight Sparkle becoming a princess, and Tirek's assault, to name a few. Because I had the day off, I walked through Manehattan to get an idea of how the public was taking the news. I didn't have to go far, for every conversation I overheard revolved around the legs. From the financial district to the entertainment district, every pony, regardless of their opinion, was awestruck.

A month after the press conference, Medicomp announced that they were ready to accept reservations from those who needed the procedure. By the end of the first day, the company had received hundreds of orders from the elderly, infirm, and injured alike. Within a week that number jumped into the thousands.

Beakbreaker had probably expected herself to become well known after the announcement, and sure enough, found herself the most famous individual in all of Manehattan. However, that fame soon swamped her, for every patient getting legs requested her to do the surgery. While she was eager to do so, Beakbreaker was just one zebra, and her days became a clogged morass of meetings, operations, follow-ups, and logistics. My own workload exploded as I took all her messages, notes, and tried to organize them all in a coherent way.

The first week of surgeries went by quickly, and thirty patients getting new limbs from the stock we had on hoof. Medicomp would have gladly taken more, but demand outpaced supply, and the legs in storage quickly ran out. New batches were started immediately, but it would be another six months before they grew to maturity. In the meantime, there were countless physical therapy sessions and follow-ups to ensure everything went smoothly for patients, but even after hiring dozens of new therapists and doctors, Medicomp struggled to keep up with it all.

I don't know how Beakbreaker managed to keep up with it all, but she somehow did. She went to more physical therapy sessions than I could count, and she never failed to see a patient leaving the tower with their new legs, often embracing her in the tightest hug of gratitude imaginable. She said that to see patients leave with their bodies whole and restored, and their spirits so full of hope and joy were the most rewarding moments of her life. Indeed, those were long, exhausting days for us all. But they were rewarding ones, and in the passion of doing something new, every discomfort or long shift at work was easily ignored.

***

If anyone was to follow my life up to this point, they would no doubt be wondering if I had given any thought at using Beakbreaker's talents to try and turn myself into an alicorn. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't. The thought first came to me when Beakbreaker had described the technology to me at her university, but I had shoved it aside, as I did throughout Beakbreaker's move to Medicomp, her research, and the surgeries. I didn't want to go through the pain of disappointment once again, of working so hard only to see your dreams crushed. Hope was a luxury I didn't want to give myself, and I had more important things to do. I was helping to ensure that this new technology could benefit millions, perhaps countless more long after I was gone. It was easy to concentrate all my actions on making that come true.

Yet, as time went on, the thoughts came back. I had seen the labs and equipment. Beakbreaker had the best staff in Equestria to help her produce any medical miracle she wanted, and enough funding to form and manage her own company a dozen times over. The question was obvious: Why couldn't all those resources be used to create alicorns?

If Beakbreaker could create legs, why not horns and wings?

It would have been easy to hurl myself back into the chase once again, but rather than leap in head-first and hope for the best, I decided it would be better to take a single step and test the waters. If something happened, I would pull back, and no harm would be done.

I waited for my chance. I got it a month later at the end of another long workday, when Beakbreaker trudged into her office late one night, plopping down a pile of papers and notes for me to go through. She barely managed even that, being so exhausted she could barely stand on her hooves.

“Long day?” I asked.

She nodded. “You don't know the half of it.” She collapsed into a chair. "Success is great, except when it overwhelms you.”

It was as if a lightbulb had been lit in my head. Sensing my chance, I turned on the charm and handed her a cup of tea. "Then I guess that leaves out doing horns and wings. If you invented those, you'd have no free time at all.”

Beakbreaker gave a nervous chuckle. “I could count on exhaustion taking a decade off my life.”

I chuckled. “So, did you think about actually doing it?”

“Doing what?”

“Actually doing horns and wings.”

“Good Celestia, no.” She took a gulp of her tea. "It took me six years to get to legs. I don't want to think about how long it would take to make wings and horns, or if they're even doable.”

“But are they?”

She eyed me. “You're awfully curious.”

“Can you blame me?" I asked, backing down. "Just look at how successful the legs turned out. Wings and horns seem like a logical next step.”

Beakbreaker considered it. “I suppose so... but even with all the funding and all the staff I have, I still couldn't do them, especially not horns."

My heart sank. “Why?”

“Because horns are different then legs and wings. Those two are organic with bones, muscles, and tissue. But horns... they're a complex mix of chemicals, materials, and specialized organic matter that channels magic. No one has ever managed to duplicate that in a lab." She took another gulp of tea. "Maybe one day we'll be able to make horns, but that's a long way off. Fifty, a hundred years minimum. We just don't have the technology to do it." One last sip, and her mug was emptied. "Do I have anything going on tomorrow?"

Trying to put on a normal face, I checked her schedule. "No, nothing."

“Thank Celestia. I could use the sleep.”

Trying (and failing) to toss the cup into the trash, Beakbreaker staggered out of the office towards her apartment, unaware that, without any fault of her own, my hopes had been crushed once again.

The Summer Festival

View Online

I had endured many setbacks in seeking to make my own dream come true, but that didn't make the latest any easier to bear. Books hadn't worked. Neither had magic, arcane secrets, and now, science.

It seemed like the Universe was determined to crush my dreams.

I was in a foul mood the following day. When the company mail was delivered, I gave it only the briefest look, but I wasn't so down-in-the-dumps that I didn't notice a letter addressed to me. Opening it, I was surprised to find that I had been invited to the first day of the upcoming Summer Festival, with my ticket to be paid by Medicomp. Because of the enormous success of the limb replacement program, the company had decided to celebrate with an all-expenses paid trip to the festival for all its employees and up to three guests each.

The invitation was enough of a shock to snap me out of my funk. Perhaps the Universe, having dashed my hopes yet again, had decided to give me a consolation prize, and I figured that the best thing I could was to enjoy it and take my mind off my dream for a while. But who to share it with? Beakbreaker was an obvious choice; I liked the idea of spending the day with her away from the leg and everything medical related. My parents were another logical choice for my other guests. I hadn't seen them since moving out to Manehattan, and what better way to be reacquainted then by going to one of the biggest festivals of the year?

Letters were sent and received. Times were confirmed, and on the warm, clear morning of the festival's start, I was waiting at the train station as a train pulled in. Doors were shoved open by passengers eager to disembark. I tried to spot my parents in the ensuing rush, but they spotted me first, rushing forward, ecstatic at seeing me again and doing any loving parent would do at reuniting with their child: they attempted to crush every bone in my body from hugging me so hard.

“Oh, my little boy has gotten so big!” Mom cooed.

I struggled for air. “Mom! I haven't gotten that big!”

“Yes you have! You must have grown several inches since we last saw you!” She let me go, and I gulped down as much as I could. “Oh, I bet you have so much to tell us! And your apartment! I can't wait to see that!”

“We can talk about all that later,” Dad said. “We have a festival to get to, remember?”

“Oh, right!” Making sure her saddlebags were secure, Mom turned to me. “Well, lead the way!”

Our greeting was interrupted by a distant explosion. But it was nothing to worry about, only fireworks going off to signal that the Festival was officially underway.

“Better hurry,” Dad said. “Don't want to stuck behind all those crowds!”

I led my parents through Manehattan, taking every shortcut I knew in an effort to get there as soon as possible. But alas, there were already thousands of excited ponies lined up at the festival's gates when we arrived. Thankfully, the festival organizers had planned for such crowds, and the numerous ticket-takers ensured we got through with a minimum of fuss.

My parents marveled at the festival before them, and I couldn't blame them. Of all the festivals ponies have throughout the year, the summer one is the biggest after the Winter festival, and no expense is spared. Rides of all kinds are set up, countless food booths are erected, and farmers come to sell the freshest farm food imaginable, and that's before the dance competitions, cider-drinking contests, pegasi races, and so much more.

I spotted many ponies from Medicomp as we headed through the crowds towards the rendezvous point with Beakbreaker, and the sight of executives and board members riding roller coasters and yelling, “Wheeeeeeee!” is something you only see once in a lifetime. I was especially surprised to see Beakbreaker out in the open at our arranged meetup point, an ice cream cone in hoof. Considering her fame, I would have expected her to be swarmed by all the nearby ponies, but she had changed her attire and let her hair fall down. A close inspection would reveal who she really was, but the disguise was enough to fool the casual observer.

Taking a lick, she spotted me and trotted over. “Silverspeak! Glad you made it!” She looked to my parents. "Ah, and are these your parents?"

"Indeed we are!" Mom came forward and eagerly shook Beakbreaker's hoof. "So delighted to meet you, Ms. Beakbreaker! We've heard so much about you! Saddle Lanka just can't stop talking about those legs you've made."

“Saddle Lanka?”

“My hometown,” I said.

Beakbreaker blushed. “Well fame is nice and all, but I'm happy to just get a day as a normal zebra.” She finished off her ice cream. “Speaking of which, we'd better get going if we want to catch the rides without waiting two hours in line. How about we start with the Sonic Rainboom? I've heard it's one of the most popular rides.”

“Of course it is!" Dad said. "Who wouldn't like going that fast? Come on, I'll take the lead."

Dad did so, and we all trotted off after him.

***

I had worried that I wouldn't be able to relax and enjoy myself at the festival, but with so much to see and do, it was easy to forget about my woes when I was spun about on the Sonic Rainboom, or many of the other rides, whooping and hollering with Beakbreaker and especially my parents, who had more of a stomach for the fast rides than myself. Before I had been born, my parents were daredevils of a sort, getting incredible thrills from roller coasters, bungee jumping, and skydiving, among other things. And while they had slowed down after I was born, they had recently taken to getting back into their old hobbies, and were outpacing Beakbreaker and myself, going from ride to ride with abandon

Lunch came and went, and after filling our bellies with the finest peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we could find, we headed back out. Beakbreaker and I wanted to look at the booths, while mom and Dad wanted more rides. We all agreed to take two hours to go at our own pace, and then meet up. Thus, as my parents went off to find the next ride that would get their blood pumping, Beakbreaker and I wandered around the booths. Looking back, I should have worked to keep everyone together so we could enjoy the rest of the day as a family. In hindsight, that was probably the last true day of happiness I ever had. Oh, there were others, and moments where my joy would go higher than I thought possible, but that was the last day where I felt so carefree. I was blessed with a job I enjoyed, a family that loved me, and everything was as perfect as I could hope for... But destiny has a way of showing up when you least expect it, and in the most innocent of guises. And thus it came into my life once more, nudging it in such a way that there was no turning back.

***

As the afternoon went on, and the sun inched closer to the horizon, Beakbreaker stopped to get an ice drink at a booth. Not being thirsty, I hung back. I watched several colts dashing down the path while wearing Wonderbolts costumes, and glanced back the way they came, my eyes falling across a huge corral decorated with Wonderbolt banners, lighting bolts, and streamers. There were dozens of ponies inside and lining up to do so, all wanting to talk to members of the Wonderbolts who had come to the festival. I knew who they were (who doesn't?), but had never been interested in the group. Yet, curiosity overtook me, and I walked to the corral. It was like being in a trance: I didn't even know what I was looking for or what I would find inside.

“...and wham! We flew past that dragon and lured it away from Ponyville! Aw, it was amazing! You should have seen it!”

I turned and saw one of the Wonderbolts sitting before a bunch of colts and fillies, eagerly retelling an old war story. He was just past middle-age, his coat pale blue, and his dark blue hair permanently stuck backwards from flying through the wind. Yet, despite being past his physical prime, he had the boundless enthusiasm of a far younger pony.

“We must have shown that dragon a thing or two, because there hasn't been any dragon incursions since then. And why? Because they're afraid to mess with the Wonderbolts, that's why!”

The young ones cheered, and subsequently rushed to get autographs as their parents and nannies then pulled them away, leaving the Wonderbolt a moment to take a nearby pie and eat a big mouthful.

“How long ago was that?” I asked, walking up.

“Hmm? Twenty years. Dragon incursion near Yakyakistan. You really should have seen it!" Gulping down another mouthful of pie, he wiped his hoof clean before extending it. “Name's Soarin.”

I shook. “Silverspeak.”

“So, what brings you over here Silverspeak? Come to marvel at the show? Talk with your favorite flier? Get an autograph? 'Cause we're happy to do all three!”

“Curiosity, mainly.”

“Ah. So, you know much about the Wonderbolts?”

“Not much,” I admitted. “Only that you're the greatest fliers in all of Equestria.”

Soarin beamed. “Heck yes we are! Just wait until you see the show tonight! Everyone's going to be there!... oh, well, almost all of us. Captain Rainbow Dash won't be, I'm afraid. She's over in Canterlot for some royal business. You'll have to wait until next year to see one of her sonic rainbooms; they really are something else!"

A timer buzzed next to Soarin. “Huh, looks like somepony else will have to wait until next year, too.”

“What do you mean?”

“I take guests up into the air to fly around with them, but if they don't make it a half hour after the reservation time, it's dropped.” He took a pencil and scratched a name off a list. “Hey, you got anything going on in the next hour? My next flight isn't scheduled for another hour and a half. Plenty of time to take someone up... want to give it a try?”

It felt like my heart stopped. “You... you're serious?”

Soarin grinned. “Oh yeah.”

“I'd love to, but it'd be..." I flexed my bare shoulders. "Difficult."

“Not a problem. We have Earth ponies come through here every now and then, and we've got ways to give them temporary wings.” He made a quick scribble on his list. “So... you interested?”

It's possible for an earth pony to magically gain the power of flight for a short time. There are even business dedicated to making that happen, but I had never gone to them. I wanted wings that were permanent, not temporary ones that would leave the bitter aftertaste of seeing a dream come true for only a few minutes. But this was the chance to go flying with a Wonderbolt, a rare opportunity by any standard.

"Well," I said. "Oh, why not?"

Soarin grinned. “Then let's get you set up!” He indicated for a nearby unicorn to come over. “Now stay still. This should only take a second.”

I froze every muscle I had, not daring to even breathe as the unicorn concentrated and cast his spell. I felt a warmth rush over my back. It wasn't uncomfortable, but I jumped a little, as I had never felt anything like it before.

“There we go,” Soarin said. “All done! Take a look!”

Trying to slow my pounding heart, I turned and almost fainted. Perched on my back were two large butterfly wings.

For several moments I couldn't think, much less speak. I had wings! I moved my shoulders, and the wings moved in tandem, so much lighter than I would have expected, yet they felt far stronger than their delicate appearance.

Soarin chuckled at my astonishment. “Never had wings before?"

I shook my head, unable to look away from those wings.

"Ready to try them out?”

"Oh yes.," I said.

Stretching his own wings, Soarin jumped into the air, hovering a foot above the ground. "Okay, then! Now, flap your wings slowly and steadily. Don't go too fast or you'll shoot off into the sky."

Simple instructions, but my heart was pounding a mile a minute as I focused on moving my wings, unsure if it was a mental thing, or if I had to move my muscles. As it turned out, it was both. The wings beat as I concentrated, willing myself to rise, hoping I wouldn't take off as Soarin had warned.

My hooves rose off the grass as I rose a foot off the ground, and then two, and finally, three. I couldn't help myself: I all but cried out in delight. I was flying!

“Nice!” Soarin said. “All right, let's try going a bit higher." A few flaps of his wings, and Soarin headed fifteen feet off the ground.

Focusing, I beat my wings a little harder, and rose up to meet him.

“You're pretty good at this!" Soarin indicated the far side of the field. “Now let's fly over there in a straight line. And don't worry; I'll catch you if you stumble."

Breathing deep, I set off, going slowly as I did what Soarin instructed. It was surprisingly easy, and we were soon flying off at leisurely pace, as if out for a carefree Sunday flight. We reached the other side without any problems, and Soarin then flew a little higher, stopping a few yards above me.

"Come on up!"

I did so, perhaps with a little too much confidence, as I went fast and overtook Soarin. I panicked for a moment, flailing, unsure of how to slow down. But Soarin was next to me in an instant, and grabbed hold.

“Careful there,” he joked. “You gotta learn to hover before you can soar!”

Embarrassed, I nodded, and was much more careful as we did several more laps around the field. When Soarin was satisfied I had had gotten the hang of it, he flew beside me. "So, how's it feel?"

"Wonderful!" I said.

“Great! Now we can try the main course: flying around the festival!"

My confidence was shaken for a moment. I had mastered a field that was only a few yards in diameter, and Soarin wanted me to do a few miles? But he was more experienced, and I figured he knew what he was talking about. Gulping, I beat my wings and slowly started off.

"Remember, this isn't a race," Soarin said. "Just relax and enjoy it!”

Even now, that flight is so clear to me. Soarin and I flew high above the outer perimeter of the park, going over the crowds and rides below. I relished it, ecstatic at feeling the breeze blowing through my mane and tail. All my fears of falling were gone as we went around the park again and again, no longer bound by gravity. I could have gone anywhere I wanted, even to the very top of the clouds to see all of Equestria spread before me. For thirty blissful minutes, I was like the birds in the sky.

I was free.

But, alas, all good things must come to an end. I felt my shoulders getting heavier, and flying was becoming more difficult.

Soarin quickly pulled up besides me. “Your wings feeling heavy?”

I nodded.

“That's because the magic's wearing off. Time to head in!”

I didn't want to do so. I wanted to keep flying, but I also didn't want to plunge to the ground like a rock as my wings faded out. Thus, reluctantly, I followed Soarin back to the corral, and my wings faded away a minute later, leaving my shoulders bare once more.

“That was fun!” Soarin said. “I hope you liked it!”

“I... I never imagined I would ever get to fly,” I stuttered. “Thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

Soarin smiled. “You're welcome, Silverspeak. This is the best part about being a Wonderbolt: being able to share the joy of flying with everyone else.” He offered his hoof. “Why don't you come back next year? I'll be happy to fly with you again!”

I shook. “I'd love that.”

“Oh, don't forget this!” He went over to a nearby photographer, took a photo, handed to me. “A little memento! Though I doubt you'll forget this anytime soon.”

The photo showed Soarin and me flying through the sky. Chance, or perhaps something greater, had made the photographer capture my face in a moment of pure bliss, grinning ear to ear.

Soarin was right. I wasn't going to forget the flight anytime soon.

***

With my photo in hoof, I reunited with Beakbreaker, quickly explaining why I had been gone for so long. I had feared that she would be upset, but she assured me it was no big deal. She had seen me flying with Soarin overhead, and said that if given the chance, she would have done the same thing.

Relieved, I went with her to the park's entrance, where my parents were waiting. As I expected, they were shocked that I was able to fly with one of the Wonderbolts, Dad telling me that the waiting list was always filled in moments after being open for reservations. Jokingly asking if they could borrow some of my luck, my parents and I left to get some dinner. Beakbreaker, unfortunately, had to return to Medicomp to begin the next round of tests. Though disappointed at not being able to have dinner with the most famous doctor in Equestria, my parents understood, and said they were looking forward to when we could all do dinner together.

I took my parents to my apartment, where Dad put his cooking skills to work and made dinner. There was the usual socializing, the sharing of stories around the fireplace, talking about how life was for all of us, and how things continued on as they always had back in Saddle Lanka. And when the weariness and fatigue of a day well-spent caught up with us, we all retired to bed.

But I didn't sleep.

That night was almost like a repeat of night before I broke into the library. But instead of agonizing over a moral choice, my mind was instead swimming with possibilities. Magic was beyond my reach, but as today had shown me, flight wasn't.

Beakbreaker had said she couldn't make Unicorn horns... but she hadn't said that wings were impossible.

Perhaps instead of a magical horn, I could get wings.

The Magic of the Rainbow

View Online

Author's Note: This was a gag chapter for April Fools day. If you want to read the next cannon chapter, please move on to "The Second Miracle."

***

At first I wasn't sure how to approach Beakbreaker regarding wings: could having her transplant a pair from a recently deceased donor work? Perhaps, but that felt too gruesome. It was better, I figured, to encourage her to create the wings, and then ask for a pair of my own when they were ready.

Precisely one week after my flight with Soarin, and after my parents had headed back to Saddle Lanka, I cleaned myself up, brushed my teeth, and put on my finest work clothes. I was dressed to impress, and there was no way Beakbreaker could fail to be moved by my words. But just to be on the safe side, I tucked Little Celestia into one of my pockets, hoping she would bring me luck.

Reaching into my pocket, I stroked her and dreamed of the day when I would meet her at last. And if I couldn't become an alicorn, at least I could fly alongside my princess in Equestria's skies.

It only took me a few minutes to reach the subway, and in less than fifteen minutes I walked into Beakbreaker's office, where she was eating breakfast. She was still dressed in her bathrobe and quite relaxed as she ate leisurely spoonfuls of her oatmeal.

Look who's here,” she said. “Everyone's favorite secretary! How are you doing today, Silverspeak?”

Focusing on giving Beakbreaker a good impression, I returned her smile. “Ready to work, earn bits, and pay my way.”

On a Sunday? You know we're not supposed to start work for another two hours.”

Oh, I just woke up early," I said. "Thought I'd come in. You never know what action is going to happen here. And who knows? I might come in and find legs hopping around on their own.”

Licking the last of the oatmeal from her bowl, Beakbreaker put it down and wiped her lips. "Well, there won't be anything like that today... but I do have a surprise for you." She stood. "Let's talk in my office."

Surprised, I followed Beakbreaker, wondering what wonders she was about to reveal to me, unaware that in less than a year, I would be dying upon a table in the operating center as a result of our conversation.

***

Once inside her office, Beakbreaker closed the doors and pulled the blinds before setting up charms to ensure that no one could listen in on our conversation. “Sorry for the secrecy,” she said, “but what we're about to discuss is beyond top secret. In fact, you'll be the first pony I've brought it up with.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “A few weeks ago, you brought up the subjects of horns and wings...”

I struggled not to show my surprise, much less the sudden lump in my throat.

“...and ever since then, I've been thinking about it. I think you were on to something. If we can let ponies walk again, what's to stop us from helping them fly, or cast magic?”

“So... you're going to try making them?”

She nodded.

On the outside, I was excited, but calm. On the inside, I was jumping for joy.

“It's going to take time,” Beakbreaker told me, “but not as much as I thought. You see, I can use the research from the legs and apply that to the wings and horns. There's not much of a difference; it's really a matter of just putting all the pieces in place.”

“How long do you think that'll take?” I asked eagerly. “I mean, doing both of them.”

Beakbreaker pondered the thought, her forehead scrunching up as her brain contemplated the question. “Well, it's difficult to say. Could be months, could be decades. No real way to tell."

“Need me to write some proposals?” I asked. If the process was going to take that long, why not start it now? Heck, I could have a proposal for the board by sundown, and charm them into giving us funding by breakfast tomorrow.

“Actually, just one,” Beakbreaker said, sensing my excitement. “I'm going to need a specialist for this project. I'm thinking of bringing Glasseye back. Didn't feel right to leave him at the university. If there's anyone who can help make wings and horns a reality, it's him."

I nodded, but more out of reflex than following her words. The whole situation was too good to be true. My dream, all but dead only weeks ago, was alive again, and taking a giant step towards coming true.

At long last, things were looking up.

***

The letter was quickly composed and sent out, and within two days Glasseye walked into my office on his way to see Beakbreaker.

“I felt she would keep you on,” he said, looking over my workspace. “The letter I received was too well-written for her to have composed it." Glasseye's face hardened slightly. "You're most fortunate, you know. Getting to be so close to the action with all this research and development."

I almost said that most of my time was spent at my desk scribbling words onto paper, but decided against it. Glasseye didn't pursue the matter any further, for Beakbreaker exited her office, perhaps having heard the two of us talking. Or perhaps she recognized Glasseye's tone and wanted to save me from one of his put-downs, much as I had once saved her.

“Glasseye!” She shook his hoof. “It's wonderful to see you again!”

“The same to you. Now, shall we get down to business."

“Yes, of course. Come in, come in, I've got some plans I want to discuss with you."

The two went into Beakbreaker's office and shut the door behind them, absolute silence following a moment later as charms were activated. They stayed inside for almost two hours, but their meeting had been fruitful, for Glasseye was most pleased with himself, and Beakbreaker was once again ecstatic when they came out.

***

Beakbreaker invited me to dinner that night in her apartment, and I was happy to join her. Being ever busy in the lab, Beakbreaker's cooking skills weren't the greatest, and I had to smile while eating some dishes that were... not delicious, to put it mildly. But our conversations were pleasant enough, and I had the feeling she was saving an important question until the very end, which, sure enough, she was.

“Hey, Silverspeak, you ever hear the saying, 'Great minds think alike'?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it turns out we weren't the first to contemplate making wings and horns. Glasseye has been working on them himself for the past few months, figuring that he should throw his own hat into the limb-replacement ring.”

I wasn't surprised. Glasseye seemed the type to compete with his former student for a chance at medical glory. “How far along is he?”

Beakbreaker chuckled. “Without a team of his own, it'll be years before he gets anywhere. But he does have plans written up for a prototype of both wings and horns. I took a look and I think he might be onto something.”

“So you're going to join forces?” I guessed.

“Bingo. Two great minds equals results at a much faster rate.”

“As long as the two of you can get along,” I said. “I don't think he'd be too keen on you being the project leader.”

“Actually, we did talk about that, and he was fine with me being in charge.” Beakbreaker was surprised at the admission. "I never imagined he'd be so... generous. Anyway, he's going to bring in his plans tomorrow, and if everything works, we can get started on those prototypes by the end of the week.”

Beakbreaker didn't know it, but I had brought along Little Celestia in one of my jacket pockets. Seeing as she had been with me during the first streak of good news, I figured that I'd bring her again in hopes of scoring a second win, and she had pulled through again. “That's great! Now, how do I fit into all this?”

“Oh, I think you know,” Beakbreaker said with a sly grin. “We'll need a proposal for the executives, but at this stage in the game I think we have a one hundred percent chance of getting it accepted. You think you can have it ready by tomorrow?”

“Easily.”

Beakbreaker grinned. “Perfect.” She took hold of her glass and raised it for a toast. “To the next step in medical evolution.”

I raised my own glass, and the two of us clinked to a most worthy toast indeed.

***

Where Beakbreaker's previous research had lasted years, her newest project went faster than any of us could have hoped. As Beakbreaker predicted, Coin Counter and the board of directors were more than happy to throw more money and supplies our way. Glasseye, having taken an extended leave from the university, soon became a regular sight at Medicomp. As before, my position as secretary had me writing up reports of each day's work, giving me a unique perspective at seeing Beakbreaker's progress. I made it a habit to bring Little Celestia into work, and she was soon a constant fixture on my desk. Time and time again, she seemed to work her magic, and I wondered if there really was a charm on the statue that had been forgotten when I had purchased it. With the rapid advances in the lab, I allowed myself to entertain the thought that she was actively playing a part.

The months passed quickly. Before I knew it, Winter was settling in. Hearth's Warming Eve came by.

Little did I know that I would be receiving the greatest gift of my life on that blessed day.

***

“Silverspeak, would you like to see them?”

“Of course!" I said. "I'd love to!”

Beaming, Beakbreaker brought me into the lab, where Glasseye was rolling out two tanks for my viewing pleasure. Months of work had resulted in a fully functional set of wings, and a normal sized unicorn horn, and both were before me, submerged in goo.

“They're beautiful,” I said, pressing my eyes against the tanks. The wings were firm, the individual feathers perfectly lined and in place. The horn itself was perfectly formed, the spiral indistinguishable from the ones used by spellcasters all over the world.

“Indeed they are,” Glasseye said. “Worthy specimens of the best science has to offer. Why, they're even ready to be tested on a patient, if we wished.”

Beakbreaker chuckled. “Don't be silly, Glasseye, don't be silly. There's still so much work to do before we reach that stage.”

“Balderdash. If we wanted, we could sew them on somepony within the hour and they'd be ready to go.” He eyed me. “Indeed, good Silverspeak here could become a Pegasus right now if he wanted to. And who knows? Perhaps the horn would work on him as well!”

There are moments in our lives where we're given a golden opportunity, when destiny itself speaks to us. Of that, I have no doubt. And to hear the words coming from Glasseye, I knew this was one of those golden moments. It was as if destiny itself had whispered the words into his mind, prompting him to say what I had so longed to hear.

This was my chance, and I took it.

“Why not?”

Beakbreaker was surprised to hear me speak up so suddenly. “Sorry?”

“Why not?” I asked again. “I'd be willing to try.”

“What? Have these sewn onto you? Don't be silly.”

My legs were shaking as I gathered my courage. “Beakbreaker, do you remember that moment we had at the restaurant? When you said you owed me one? This is what I want.” I gulped. “I want to try these wings. And that horn, too.”

Beakbreaker stared at me for the longest moment, no doubt wondering if I was playing some kind of joke. “Silverspeak, you... you can't be serious.”

“I am. I want this.”

She gave a nervous laugh. “But... but you're an earth pony! You can't have wings or a horn!”

“Why not?”

Beakbreaker scrambled for an answer. “Because... because it's not-”

“Natural? I know, and I don't care.”

“But-”

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” I said. “The chance to become more than what I am! To defy fate, to give it the hoof and say, 'Screw you for making me an earth pony.'”

Glasseye grinned and nodded his approval. “Well said.”

“Don't tell me you're taking his side!” Beakbreaker said.

“Why shouldn't I? This is a grand chance. How many other ponies would like to become alicorns? Why, if we pull this off, we can make the dreams of thousands come true! And if you do owe Silverspeak a favor, what better way to grant it then by making his own dream come true?”

For a long moment, Beakbreaker was caught in a quandary, unsure whether to go forward or refuse my request. I was ready with all the possible reasons why this was a logical step, but listing them out wasn't necessary, as Beakbreaker sighed.

"All right," she said. "I'm probably going to regret this... but I'll do it."

***

There are no words to describe the thrill of having your dream come true, so I'm not even going to try. But I will say that for the rest of that afternoon, I was the happiest pony in the world, an ever-present grin on my face as Beakbreaker and Glasseye took my medical data, made measurements, and prepared the surgical center for surgery. And then, just like that, the moment finally came. I was cleaned, washed, scrubbed, and ready for the surgery that would change my life. Beakbreaker and Glasseye dressed in their medical scrubs, and I donned one of those dinky hospital gowns. I'd normally be repulsed at having to wear the thing, but I endured it as a badge of honor as I entered the surgical room, grinning even more as I saw the table waiting for me.

Even better, Little Celestia stood on a stand by the table. I had asked Beakbreaker if it could be brought in, saying it was a good luck charm. When I woke from surgery, the first thing I wanted to see the princess who had inspired by lifelong quest.

Getting onto the table, I relaxed as Beakbreaker applied the straps that would keep me from moving. Even the slightest twitch or accidental movement could have disastrous consequences, especially when needles and fluids were being injected into my brain.

“Ready?” Beakbreaker asked.

It was a silly question. “You bet.”

“All right then. Here we go. Glasseye? Could you please put him under?”

Glasseye nodded. “It would be my honor.” He turned to me, his horn glowing. But I wasn't looking at him. I was so excited, images of my new alicorn status washing over me like the world's greatest daydream. But as I was waiting to be put under, something made me glance at Glasseye, and I noticed something strange about him.

His smile... it didn't look right.

“Hey,” I joked. "You look way too happy at putting me under.”

He nodded. “Why shouldn't I be? After all, this is the conclusion of so much work. It's been such a long time, and I'm finally here!”

“Glasseye,” Beakbreaker said. “You can do the monologues after we're done, okay?”

Glasseye ignored her. “You have no idea how much work went into this. And not just that horn and those wings, but the legs as well. All those years of pushing Beakbreaker, nudging her in the right direction. I was so lucky to even find her, for she made this so much easier then it could have been."

I gave a chuckle, unsure where this was going. “Okay...”

“But even then, she didn't have the talent needed to actually pull this off,” Glasseye said, speaking as if Beakbreaker wasn't only a few feet away. “I had to do most of the work and convince her that it was actually her doing. ”

Beakbreaker stared at Glasseye. “Professor? What are you-”

“I could have done it myself, but who would listen to the efforts of an old pony with delusions of grandeur? And what self-respecting professor would spend a lifetime worshiping the laws of science, only to suddenly turn against them in the quest to play god? No, it was so much easier to turn a young, bullheaded student into my agent, who could then get more funding so I could complete my work.”

Beakbreaker's face lost all of its color.

“The two of you taking off to Medicomp... I hadn't planned for that. All seemed lost. I wanted to just charge up there and take what was rightfully mine. But I bid my time. I knew you Silverspeak. I knew you wanted to become an alicorn. It was so obvious. I can't fathom how Beakbreaker didn't see it, but I guess that's because she's a stupid zebra who can't see six inches beyond her own muzzle. It was only a matter of time before you would try to manipulate her into making horns and wings, so I continued my own work, waiting for the right time to strike.” He raised his hooves. “And now, here we are. All is as I planned.” He chuckled. “Well... perhaps not me. After all, the real Glasseye wouldn't follow such dark paths in his advanced age, would he?”

Beakbreaker was backing away from the table. “What are you-”

“Oh shut up, you stupid zebra,” Glasseye said. “You've been useful in getting me in here, and in perfecting the technology I began, but your services are no longer required.”

Glasseye's horn glowed.

“Goodbye my dear.”

A bolt of green magic shot from Glasseye's horn and hit Beakbreaker in the head. She was thrown across the room and smashed into a wall, where she collapsed in a heap.

I couldn't move. Not from the straps, but from the sudden, absolute terror that gripped me.

“Well then,” Glasseye said. “That was fun.” He turned his attention back to me. “But now it's down to business. And I suppose there's no longer any need for this.”

His horn lit up, glowing brightly. But not only his horn, for Glasseye was glowing as well.

Beakbreaker's professor changed. His skin fell away, as did his clothes. Strange shapes appeared on his back, and his aged body transformed into something black and rotten His horn... his horn was twisting itself, warping until it became like a cancerous growth.

I couldn't believe it. It just couldn't be true, wasn't even possible. But it was.

“You!?”

Queen Chrysalis, the leader of the Changelings, grinned like a devil out of the darkest pits of Tartarus. “Oh dear,” she taunted. “It looks like somepony discovered my secret. How unfortunate! And such a shame too... that is, if that certain somepony were to raise the alarm.”

I struggled against the straps, suddenly aware that I was couldn't move.

Chrysalis' horn lit up, and the surgical machine came to life. “You will provide all the data I need to grow my own horn that will amplify my power beyond imagining! And since you've been so useful, I'll let your dream come true... such a shame it will hurt beyond anything you can imagine!”

She laughed. I screamed. And as the surgical units began to move, I suddenly wondered if the old tales of your life flashing before your eyes was true after all.

That was only a minute ago.

***

In the span of a single minute, I've gone through my entire life. All those years, gone past in what feels like an instant, and it's so unfair. All that straining, all that struggling, searching and yearning, and my dreams are never to be.

And now, here in the darkness, it ends.

Everything slips away... my strength, my will, my vision, everything... I finally yield to the blackness and allow it to take me.

I slip away.

I fall...

... deeper...

... into...

... the...

NO!

Wait... that voice... What was that?

This shall not stand!

Who... who is that? A god? A deity even mightier than Celestia?

The power of that voice calls me back to the world of the living. I open my eyes, trying to clear the blood dripping from the horn on my head. But there's no joy at its presence. I look to Chrysalis; was she the one who brought me back? Does she want to torment me even further? Does her bloodlust demand my suffering? No, it can't be... she's baffled.

What could confuse her so much that-

YOUR WICKEDNESS ENDS HERE, INTERLOPER!

That voice. It's beside me. Calling up all my strength, I turn and gaze upon... Wait. There's nobody besides the bed. Nobody except-

YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES, QUEEN CHRYSALIS!" little Celestia screams.

I stare at the tiny statue.

What the fu-

Little Celestia leaps from the stand and explodes with a dazzling burst of light, momentarily blinding me. When it fades, Little Celestia is gone, replaced by the real Celestia.

“Prin... Princess Celestia?!” I gasp.

“You!” Queen Chrysalis roars. “If I defeated you once, I can defeat you again!” Reaching behind her back, Chrysalis yanks out a baseball bat.

Celestia yanked out her own bat. “Bring it on, sucka!”

With a mighty leap, the two jump into the air and collide, flailing away at each other with their baseball bats.

“It's clear this fight will not be decided by our skill with baseball bats,” Chrysalis growls a minute later, "but through our skill in the most time-honored tradition of warfare.”

“Indeed.”

The two slam their hooves together.

“One two three four, I declare a thumb war!” They both shout.

Nothing happens.

“Oh, wait, we don't have thumbs,” Queen Chrysalis says.

With a giant whack, Celestia hits Chrysalis on the head. A huge bump appears, along with little birdies that fly around her skull. Another hit smashes Chrysalis through the wall, leaving a cartoon outline of the wicked queen that wouldn't be out of place on a Saturday morning cartoon show.

Princess Celestia runs to me. “Silverspeak! Are you alright?”

“Princess? But how... why... what?!”

Celestia undoes the straps holding me down. “There's no time to explain. I'll-”

Celestia is knocked aside as Chrysalis karate-kicks her in the jaw, and then rips the horn from my head.

“Ow!” I say.

Chrysalis tosses me a band-aid. “At last! I now have a horn powerful enough to complete my destiny, and let me rule over Equestria forever!" She smashes my horn onto her own, rising up as both glow, filling the room with green energy. Before my eyes, the wicked changeling queen transformers, gaining enormous muscles until she's the size of a bus, and packing enough power to punch through an entire building in one blow.

“Curses!” Celestia shouts.

“Ha!” Chrysalis roars, her voice thick with the dark energy of imploding stars. “You haven't even seen my final form!”

An explosion of green light shoots the princess and myself into the wall. A horrifying growl fills my ears as the light fades, and we both see Queen Chrysalis in her final, terrible form.

“Fear and cower before me, fools!” a water bucket says on the floor, “for your new ruler is about to take over for all time!”

The water bucket flies out the wall and into the sky beyond.

Celestia grabs me. “Quick, Silverspeak, eat this cake! It shall give you the strength and fury of ten million ninjas!” She rams a ten-foot tall cake down my throat. But instead of giving me the fury of ten million ninjas, it gives me diabetes. "Now, we must hurry, for prophecy has foretold that you, Silverspeak, will defeat Chrysalis once and for all to save us from certain destruction!”

“What in the hay are you talking about?!” I ask.

“There's no time to explain!” Celestia throws me on her back and spreads her wings, only to stop and gaze upon their brilliant shine. “Holy me, I never realized how pretty my wings are! Let's fly to the castle!”

We rocket out of the building, and I hang on for dear life as Celestia shoots over the Equestrian countryside at ten million miles an hour, reaching Canterlot in approximately 1.05 seconds. Smashing through a wall of the royal castle, we land in the throne room, where Princess Luna is waiting, along with the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, all decked out in military wear, and carrying a hundred fifty thousand machine guns each.

“Luna!” Celestia shouts. “I have him!”

“Verily, I say our chances of victory have been doubled, sister!” Luna shouts.

“Can someone tell me what's going on?!” I plead.

Before anyone can answer, a flash of lightning destroys the roof. The sky above has darkened to the color of blood, signaling the end of the world. Bucket-Chrysalis has used her terrible magic to become a hundred million miles tall, and now smashes through Equestria, destroying all in her path.

“Ahahahahaha!” she roars. “Victory is mine!”

“Quick, thine sister!” Luna says. “To battle!” Launching herself into the sky, Luna summons the Royal Equestrian Army, which attacks the bucket with everything they've got. But Bucket-Chrysalis' appetite for destruction is insatiable, and it's clear that the volley of bullets and rockets and machine guns and tanks and rockets and knives and pencils and thumbtacks won't stop her.

“Quickly!” Celestia says. “To Pinkie Pie's War Train!”

Pinkie Pie leads the way as we run to the War Train: It's bright pink, blue, and purple, and despite being only two cars long, is packed with enough firepower and destruction to make even the mighty Chrysalis tremble. Gunning the engine, Pinkie sends the train on it's path of death and despair.

“CHOO CHOO, MOTHER BUCKER!” she screams.

Unfortunately, the train goes on a closed track that loops endlessly, sending the war train on an endless circle to nowhere.

“What's the point of this thing?!” I shout.

Bucket-Chrysalis wipes out Manehattan with a single stomp. The Wonderbolts fly in on their battle zeppelin, firing magical rays of sunshine that does absolutely nothing. Bucket-Chrysalis lashes out and destroys the zeppelin in a single swipe. Soarin, the only surviving member of the Wonderbolts, hurls pie after pie to no effect. Not even the boysenberry ones can hurt our immortal foe.

“DJ PON 3!” Celestia shouts, grabbing a PokéBall. “I choose you!” She hurls the PokéBall, and the famed DJ hops out, bass cannon in hand.

“Everyone stand back!” Pon 3 shouts. “I got this!” She turns her bass cannon to full power and fires, the wubs smashing into Bucket-Chrysalis. But even though metal is dented, the power of wubs is not enough to defeat the most terrifying enemy Equestria has ever seen.

“Silverspeak!” Celestia shouts. “Your hour has finally come! You must defeat Chrysalis!”

“I don't even... Fine! Forget it! What do I do?!”

“Pinkie Pie!”

Pinkie hands me a muffin crafted with the utmost care and love, baked in her ovens using only the finest ingredients and supplies until it became the warm, soft morsel in my hoof. Also, it has rat poison in it.

Leaping from the train, I run to Celestia, who turns into a motorcycle. I jump onto her back, and she drives up a magical rainbow that has suddenly appeared out of nowhere for no reason at all. We drive up higher and higher into Equestria's sky, stopping for nothing and nopony, except for a brief bathroom break, and a detour at 7-11 to get some pre-made sandwiches and lottery tickets. We also take a brief nap because we're sleepy. But eventually we finally burst through the stratosphere and into the cold, heartless void of space, driving towards the very top of Bucket-Chrysalis.

“Haha!” Bucket-Chrysalis shouts. “Victory is mine! Also, I can yell in space for some reason!”

“Now, Silverspeak!” Motorcycle-Celestia shouts. “Finish her!”

As we leap from the rainbow, I toss poisoned muffin into the bucket, where it sinks into the water within.

“No!” Bucket-Chrysalis screams. “This cannot be!”

The bucket trembles, shakes, then implode upon itself as we plunge back towards the earth far below, accelerating to mach 25, leaving a sonic boom in our wake as Bucket-Chrysalis explodes, producing the biggest fireball the world has ever seen. Naturally, we look awesome in front of it as we shoot down, casually ignoring the incredible heart that sears our backs into a blackened mess that will permanently leave us without feeling as our nerve endings are burned away into nothingness, making it really hard to enjoy a back massage.

We fall and fall and fall... and then everything goes white.

***

When I can see again, I'm surprised to find myself no longer upon motorcycle-Celestia, or even on Equestria. I'm somewhere...strange. It's ethereal, almost like a hallway made from the elements of the cosmos themselves. It's warm here, and quiet. Peaceful, even.

I look around. There's nobody in sight. “Hello?”

A form emerges from the wispy clouds ahead. It's Celestia.

I bow.

“Oh, Silverspeak, there's no need to bow. Here, we are equals.”

The Princess of the Sun is treating me like an equal? “But your highness, what do you mean? What is this place?”

“Few have ever been here,” Celestia says. “The last one was Twilight Sparkle, my prized student. She walked the path you do now.”

As if on cue, screens appear before us. I look at them and gasp. They show...me! Me, at all stages of my life!

“I've been watching you, Silverspeak, for such a long time. Watching you learn and advance on your quest to understand friendship.”

“But I've never studied friendsh-”

Celestia points to the screens. “Look at all you've learned, and all your accomplishments.”

I gaze with awe at the screens, seeing myself disappoint my parents by being born without a horn, being bullied by Mangus, failing to get a good job, failing in my quest to find a way to turn into an Alicorn, failing to get anything from the library, and failing to break in undetected. There are also many poignant scenes of me taking showers, snoring in bed, and brushing my teeth. Also, that one time I lost my keys and spent two hours hunting for them.

“You've come so far, and done so much,” Celestia says, beaming with pride. “And now it is time... time to fulfill your destiny.”

“Destiny?”

Taking a deep breath, Celestia starts to sing. “You've come such a long, long way, and I've watched you from that very first day! To see how you grow, to see what you might do, to see what you've been through, and all the ways you've made me proud of you...

Never having been one to get any enjoyment out of musicals, I look around and scratch my nose.

...It's time now for a new change to come, you've grown up and your new life has begun. To go where you will go, to see what you will see...

What time is it? I hope I set the TV to record the latest episode of Spongebob Squaresaddles.

...To find what you will be, for it's time for you to fulfill your destiny!” Celestia beams at me. “Are you ready, Silverspeak?”

“Uhhh... sure, I guess.”

Celestia closes her eyes and floats into the ether. Then, to my astonishment, so do I! We float up into a bright light above us, and I feel something magical happening to me. It's like the surgery at Medicomp, but without any pain, and without the sting of betrayal. I'm hesitant, but give in to the sensation. Celestia knows what she's doing, and this feels natural, like it was always meant to be, like this is the reason I was born.

I feel something upon my forehead, and then my back. I twist around and look, and...oh sweet Celestia! Wings! I have wings! And not only that, but a horn as well! Gifts given to me by the ruler of Equestria herself!

An Alicorn! I'm an Alicorn! Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes-

The light flashes, and suddenly we're back in the Canterlot throne room. It's filled with hundreds of ponies. But... why are they here? Why am I standing beside Princess Celestia, Luna, and Twilight? And why...

...why in heaven's name am I wearing a dress, a tiara, and golden horseshoes?!

“Mares and Gentlecolts,” Princess Celestia says, “I proudly present to you, Princess Silverspeak!”

WHAT?!

I can barely hear the thunderous applause as I frantically turn to Celestia. “But your highness! I'm not a princess!”

Celestia beams. “Yes you are, Silverspeak! You're an Alicorn Princess!”

“But I'm a guy!”

She laughs. “Oh Silverspeak, you crack me up!”

The crowd continues to applaud, cheering the arrival of their newest princess.

***

In the end, things turn out alright. Despite the fact that everyone now refers to me as a princess, and that I have to wear a dress at royal occasions, life's pretty good, actually. My parents moved to Canterlot, now the proud parents of a princess, something no other family in Saddle Lanka can boast of. I got my own tower in the royal castle, my own royal guards (I make them wear clown costumes) and because I'm part of the royal family, the other princesses treat me as a beloved sibling. And it's hard to stay upset with Celestia now technically being my sister. How cool is that? But even better is the raw, cosmic power that flows through me. Where Celestia controls the sun, Luna the moon, Cadence love, and Twilight harmony, I use my incredible power to control the consistency of dirt.

Still, I can't complain. I mean, I got my dream after all. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. Well, except for having to wear that dress. And for having to marry Snails.

THE END

The Second Miracle

View Online

The day after the festival ended, I saw my parents to the train station, promising that I would come and visit during Hearth's Warming Eve. After all, they had come to visit me, so it was only fair for me to do the same at the next major holiday. And as the train headed off down the tracks, I waved goodbye, pondering what that visit would be like. Would I still be Silverspeak the Earth pony? Or would my parents see their son carrying wings upon his back? Only time would tell.

With my parents heading home, I turned my attention to the new challenge of getting wings. While offering more possibilities then my previous endeavors, I faced the problem of convincing Beakbreaker to look into making them, as she probably wouldn't be keen to embark on such a lengthy project so soon after her last one. If I was going to convince her, I needed evidence to prove that it would be a worthy endeavor. It'd be difficult, but if the need arose, I could use my charm on Beakbreaker, and...persuade her to take the challenge. It was an uncomfortable thought, but if I wanted to get any closer to my dreams, I might have had no choice.

I hoped it wouldn't come to that.

***

I spent the next few weeks preparing my pitch for Beakbreaker, and was ready to go when she invited me to have lunch with her at the company cafeteria. We were both late, but when I saw that no one else was around, I knew the time was perfect for me to make my move.

“So,” I asked. “How's the newest batch of legs coming along?”

“Very well," Beakbreaker said. "Another week, and then I'll be doing so many surgeries to attach them."

"Then what?"

"Oh, keep repeating the process, I suppose."

"Have you thought about doing research on anything else?" I made the most charming face I could. "Like wings, perhaps?”

“Oh, sweet Celestia, we're not back to that, are we? Silverspeak, I told you, I can't do wings.”

“I remember you saying you couldn't do horns. You didn't say wings were impossible.”

“If I didn't know better, I'd say you were obsessed with them."

"Well, I want you to succeed," I said. "When I was preparing all those proposals and speeches, I did a lot of reading on Equestrian scientists, and I noticed something: when they managed something giant, something that defines their whole career, they usually stop. They figure they've proven themselves, or they're too afraid to try something else and fail. I don't want that to happen to you.”

"That's a long way from happening," Beakbreaker told me. "Besides, there's still so much work to do: the legs have to be tweaked and perfected, we need to streamline the growth process, and finalize therapies for post-op work.”

The debate had begun, and I quickly realized that Beakbreaker wasn't going to be easily persuaded. I could have used all my memorized reasons for creating the wings, but I didn't have time. The lunch period was ending, and I didn't want to drag out the process of persuading Beakbreaker over several weeks or months. With a heavy heart, I realized that my best strategy was to play my trump card early, and overwhelm Beakbreaker's defenses before she could mount them.

Telling myself that it was for a good cause, I turned on the charm.

“Those are valid reasons to keep going,” I said. “But you have so much potential and talent. If you keep pushing yourself, I really think you could become the most famous scientific mind Equestria has ever seen.”

“Oh Silverspeak, don't be silly. I––”

“Think about it,” I said. “If you could manage wings, then you could bring hope to all the pegasus ponies out there. You could make their worst nightmare a thing of the past. If they lost their wings, they wouldn't be grounded for the rest of their lives. The nightmare of an entire race would be gone!”

Beakbreaker said nothing, but she inched forward in her chair, intrigued.

I had hooked her.

“I remember what you said about the horns, and how it's impossible to make them. But what if you manage to find a way while working on the wings? If you could manage that, and perfect a method for creating naturally grown horns, then you would have single-handily created legs, wings, and horns for all ponies. Can you imagine how incredible that would be? You would usher in a new era; you would single-hoofidly make prosthetics obsolete. You'd be the greatest medical scientist Equestria has ever seen!”

I paused to let my words sink in, then hit with the killing blow. “You've already started the process. Why not take it all the way to the end?”

A strange thing happened: I had thought I would need to use my charm throughout the conversation, but halfway through, I found I didn't need to. The thought of Beakbreaker pulling off both wings and horns was tremendously exciting. True, I wanted those wings and horns for myself, but at the same time, that technology would make Beakbreaker famous, and help so many other ponies. It would be a win-win-win situation for everyone, and benefit everyone for ages to come.

But if I played my cards right, I'd be the first to reap the rewards.

“That's... that's a lot to contemplate,” Beakbreaker finally said. “I'll... I'll have to think about it.”

I nodded, taking care to neither be disappointed or happy. I had done my part, and planted the seed of an idea.

All I could do was wait to see if it would grow.

***

Nothing more was said about the wings for several days. I wasn't anxious at first, figuring that Beakbreaker was just taking her time. But after a week, I got concerned. Whenever I passed by her at work, she gave no clue or indication of what she was thinking. It was tempting to ask about what she thought of my idea, but I remained silent, figuring it would be counter-productive to show that I was anxious.

My waiting paid off when she came to my office two weeks later and knocked on the door. “May I come in?” When I nodded, she pulled up a chair and sat down. “I've been thinking about what you've said,” she told me. “And while I don't like the idea of spending several years in the lab, I think you're onto something.”

I pretended to be surprised. “Oh?”

“The past few days, I've been going over my data, and what literature there is about wings, looking to see if they're feasible... I think they might be.”

It took most of my willpower not to leap up and cheer.

“Now, that was on my own time. If we're going to go any further on this, we need to set up a meeting with the higher-ups and get both approval and funding. You think you can write a proposal?”

I pulled one from my drawer. “Already done.”

Beakbreaker was surprised. “Really?”

“Things were a bit slow this week, so I decided I might as well write one up in case something like this happened.” I explained.

Beakbreaker took the proposal, looked it over, and nodded as she read. “Only a few things I'd change, but this is actually pretty good... do I have anything scheduled for this afternoon?”

I checked. “No.”

“See if you can schedule a get-together with the CEO's. Might as well work to get the ball rolling.”

Scribbling a few suggestions on the proposal, Beakbreaker left me to my work, and I went like a madpony, quickly sending out notes to the CEO's and adding the suggested changes to the proposal. It seemed destiny was on my side that day, for I had scheduled the meeting for later that afternoon. When it came around, Beakbreaker appeared in her finest medical wear, took the revised proposal, and headed up to our corporate overlords upstairs.

Was I nervous? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't, but I highly doubted Medicomp would turn down an opportunity to make even more bits, and especially if the opportunity was coming from their most famous scientist. Still, there was a gnawing sensation I couldn't get rid off, the feeling that something wasn't quite right. Perhaps it was my conscience, reminding me that I was treading a very fine line. It was one thing to make a suggestion, but something else to quietly steer an entire company to make what I wanted. And just how would Beakbreaker react if she discovered that I was influencing her just to make my dreams a reality?

I didn't have time to finish that thought, for Beakbreaker came back into my office, having spent just an hour upstairs, and looking mighty pleased with herself. “Congratulations Silverspeak,” She said. “Thanks to you, we now officially have the go-ahead to start research on wings.

I grinned.

***

With the company backing her up, it was easy for Beakbreaker to jump from working on legs to working on wings. There was still work to be done on her original project, but Beakbreaker turned it over to her assistants, and by the end of the week, work was officially underway on creating replacement wings. Much like before, life settled into an entirely predictable pattern: Beakbreaker all but retreated into the world of the laboratory while I was once again plunged into the heart-pounding life of writing reports and summaries for CEO's. In one of my earliest notes to the higher-ups, Beakbreaker said that due to the more delicate nature of wings over legs, she had no idea how long research and development would take, emphasizing that it could be anywhere from a few years, to even a decade before they got results. She wasn't kidding; for five months she labored away in her lab, working day and night, leaving only to sleep and perform the next round of leg replacement surgery when the next batch was ready. Her entire waking world was confined to the laboratory; she even took her meals and restroom breaks in there.

Being mostly limited to my office, I didn't see Beakbreaker all that much during those months. The few times I did, she always had a look of excitement on her face; even on days when things didn't go as planned, she wasn't going to let a few setbacks stop her, no matter the cost. I was pleased to see her working with such vigor, but I wondered how it would affect her health. Coin Counter and the other higher-ups didn't help: unlike the legs, in which they largely stayed upstairs and let Beakbreaker do her work, they began to come down to the lab to check up on how things were going. They were smart enough to not make uninformed suggestions, but they were eager for results, and wanted an even more successful repeat of the legs, which continued to sell at a phenomenal rate.

As we drew close to the one year mark for the project, I noticed that Beakbreaker's mood was improving. She had the look of a pony who could see the end of a long journey ahead, and the daily reports revealed why: there were marked improvements in muscles, nerves, and especially in having feathers grow in correctly. We were finally given a timeline for the first prototype. While Beakbreaker didn't have a confirmed date, she was able to say that it would be sometime within the next two months.

That date came sooner than I thought.

As one long day came to an end, I was preparing to head home when Beakbreaker entered, giddy and looking about. “Is anyone else around?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“Perfect. Follow me.”

I didn't know what was going on, but I had the sense that something big awaited me within the lab. Thus, I eagerly followed Beakbreaker inside. And as it turned out, I was right.

Lying upon a table before me was a large container of blue gel, and within, a pair of wings.

“The first prototype,” Beakbreaker said proudly.

I walked up, awestruck. Just a year before, the dream of wings was just a dream, the fantasies of a pony who wanted to be more then he was. And now, here they were.

I ran my hoof over the container, peering longingly at the wings within. Much like the legs that had preceded them, they looked perfect. "So, what's left to do?” I asked. “Putting real muscles in?”

Beakbreaker grinned. “Oh no. Everything's in. Nerves, sinew, muscles, blood vessels, they're all there. All we need is a pony who's lost their wings, and we can proceed to the testing phase.”

I almost volunteered myself for the procedure right then and there, but managed to stop myself even as I opened my mouth to speak. I had been fortunate to get Beakbreaker to work on the wings at all, and proposing myself as the test subject would be going too far. Besides, these were prototypes; despite their apparent perfection, there could have been flaws or mistakes that needed to be ironed out. I didn't want to take to the skies, only for them to fail mid-flight.

Biting my tongue, I remained quiet. I would have to bide my time once again.

***

As could be expected, the Medicomp higher-ups were ecstatic when Beakbreaker showed them the prototype. Months of waiting, investing and being not a little-too-patient had finally yielded results, and the call went out among the staff for any pegasi who had lost their wings. One of Beakbreaker's fellow scientists had a neighbor who had been forced to undergo amputation after colliding with a tree and mangling her wings beyond repair. She came in a few days later, all too eager to try these new wings out. I couldn't blame her; while I envied pegasi and unicorns for their abilities, the loss of their gifts could be devastating. To lose a horn or wings was, in some ways, worse than death. Unicorn horns could grow back, but it was a process that could take years, sometimes decades. Pegasi have it worse, as their wings can't grow back. While they could get magical replacements, they were temporary at best, and the metal prosthesis available are crude and cumbersome.

The chance of getting new wings was something no crippled pegasi could pass up.

With the patient chosen,it was time to proceed to the all-important surgical attachment. With the surgical room filled, and the patient put to sleep, Beakbreaker went to work. But unlike the legs, this was so much harder, due to the more complex and intricate network of nerves, tissue, and sinew that needed to be put in place. Not only did she have to rip out the patient's atrophied wing muscles, she then had to insert the new ones and ensure that they were correctly lined and attached to the surrounding muscles and bones, lest they be ripped out mid-flight.

Attaching legs was fairly simple, and with practice Beakbreaker had shortened the procedure to two hours. But with wings, it took five hours. And for those of us in the audience, it was nerve wracking knowing that a single mistake or slipped scalpel could ruin everything. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Beakbreaker, who had to work all that time without a break, relying on her assistants for everything, including wiping the sweat from her eyes. But before I knew it, the five hours were gone, and Beakbreaker was finishing the final stitch, and collapsed into a chair as the patient was wheeled away. She had done her part, and all we could do was wait and see if the patient's body would accept the wings.

After spending the week in a medically induced coma to let her body heal, the patient was finally awoken. Beakbreaker and the higher-ups all feared the worst, but the universe was in a good mood that day. When the patient awoke and tried her wings, they moved perfectly. Any visitor to Medicomp that day would have heard the celebrations taking place throughout the tower.

As could be expected, the patient was eager to get going and jump back into the sky after being grounded for so many years. While she was warned that a full recovery could take a long time, she wasted no time in physical therapy, and was spending her days in the tower's gym, doing her utmost to work her new muscles to full strength. I was there to watch, eager to see how fast she would progress, and see the results of my hard work. She had no idea, of course, but it was because of me that the patient had gotten this far. I was going to watch every step of her progress, knowing that, given time, it would be me down on that track. I was there to see every inch of progress, every additional second of air time. I never missed a session.

Because of that, I was there the day everything fell apart.

None of us saw it coming. The patient, making great strides, had gone from jogging around the track, to steadily cruising for a few minutes at a time, all within two months. She still had a long way to go, but at the rate she was going, anything seemed possible. But on that day, she was too eager and too confident, wanting to rush ahead, safety limits cast aside.

After completing a few laps at slow speeds, she took a short break, trotting around the gym. From my place at the observation deck, I watched as she continued on, and then ran, going faster and faster. From so high up, I could see the mischievous grin on her face as she leapt and spread her wings, pounding them as fast as they could go. In seconds, she was going faster then she had ever managed before. For a few moments, she was as free as she had been years before, ready to take to the skies.

Then it happened. Her grin vanished. Her wings stiffened, and then locked up, sending her crashing to the floor, where she grabbed her back and howled in agony.

When the news came back from surgery a few hours later, it was the worst possible outcome. The stress of the shoulders being forced to go full blast so suddenly had torn the implanted muscles to shreds, leaving the patient with a bare back, her precious, ruined wings removed once again.

Everyone was devastated. The patient, the therapists, the CEO's, but most of all, Beakbreaker. After all her successes, this was her first real failure, and to have it happen on a patient made it so much harder. But that only redoubled her efforts to make the muscles stronger. She went back into her lab and didn't come out for three days, not even to sleep or eat. On the fourth, she emerged, barely able to stand as she told me to write an update for Coin Counter. The next batch of muscles had been pumped full of steroids and growth hormones, making them at least twenty percent stronger then before, and less likely to tear themselves apart.

With the message passed to me, she collapsed to the floor and passed out. I had to carry her to her apartment, where she slept for almost two days. And while she did, her fellow scientists checked the muscles, and confirmed that they were stronger than before. It wasn't long before the patient had her second surgery, and when she woke a week later, found her new wings working as well as the last. It was back to physical therapy for her, but there was no brashness this time. She was slower and more cautious, eager to avoid a repeat of her past impatience.

For six long months, the patient worked to regain her strength. Her pace was slow, but her progress was undeniable. At the two month mark, she was cruising for short distances. At three months, she could hover for almost five minutes instead of one, and at four months she could cruise for ten minutes instead of two. All the while, Beakbreaker and I watched, anxious at her progress. Beakbreaker feared that the muscles could fail at any moment, and the process would have to start again. But it was much more personal for me: if the muscles failed, so would my dream. All my efforts, persuasion, and work to ensure that things went the way I wanted, would have been for nothing.

Finally, almost a year after the surgery, the day finally arrived for our patient to do her final test and see if she had fully healed. The observation room was packed, and I was barely able to peer out the window as the patient started her tests, measuring her hovering capabilities, flight speed, maneuverability, and all the other attributes that pegasi use in flight. For three long hours I watched, constantly holding my breath, hoping against hope that everything was going to turn out all right.

At the end of the tests, the patient finished up her hour of laps around the gym, and wiped herself off with a towel, not having worked that hard since before her accident.

Her therapists, after giving her a mug of water, asked the all-important question: How did she feel?

The patient thought for a long moment, and then burst into a grin, saying that it was like her accident had never happened.

Within an hour, I was writing a new speech for Coin Counter to announce Medicomp's next miracle.

***

Medicomp has been the leading medical innovator in Equestria for the past several decades, making an enormous breakthrough once every ten years or so, but never before had they announced two within a few years of each other. The company, and the public, were thrilled beyond words. The firestorm of excitement, having tapered down after the legs, now roared back, blazing like an inferno. Within a week, orders for wings had skyrocketed beyond Medicomp's wildest dreams, until the waiting list was almost ten years long. They even got some orders from griffons and other similar species.

I watched it all, in that lovely position of being anonymous, able to walk around without anyone recognizing who I was, something Beakbreaker and the CEO's couldn't enjoy. No one knew that I was one of those responsible for this second miracle, letting me wander the streets and listen to conversations in restaurants, bars, and stores. Almost everyone was in favor of these changes, especially after seeing long-crippled relatives literally flying out of depression or lethargy that had consumed them, body and soul.

Not only was approval for the wings high, but there was the sense that change was in the air. If Medicomp had created legs and wings, then what was next? It was an exciting time for society, and for me. It was wonderful to watch pegasi get their wings back, and flying away from Medicomp to enjoy a life that had been taken from them, never failing to whoop in sheer joy, or to spin and do loop-de-loops as they sailed into the wild blue yonder. I smiled every time it happened, and with so many ponies getting wings, and with no reports of injuries or failed muscles coming in, I had every reason to be pleased.

It seemed that the time had finally come to ask Beakbreaker the big question.

***

The day finally came. I couldn't have asked for a prettier one, for it was an unnaturally beautiful day for Manehattan, and it felt like there was something beautiful in the air. I wasn't even nervous as I headed to work. Years of working and biding my time were about to pay off. I was on top of the world, and nothing was going to stop me.

At least, that’s what I thought.

The first sign of trouble was seeing so many police officers at the front of the Medicomp building. “Excuse me,” I asked the closest officer, “what's going on here?”

“You work here?”

“Yes.” I showed him my company badge.

“There was a break-in last night; group of unicorns tried to get into the labs. We think they were after those fancy new wings.”

I couldn't stop my panic, but I was able to get under control quickly. “Did they get in?!”

“No. Security devices detected them, and they fled like jackrabbits.”

Relieved, I suddenly remembered that Beakbreaker had almost certainly been in the tower. “Was anyone hurt?”

“No.”

Relieved that my employer was safe, I wanted to go in and ask if she knew anything. “Can I go in?”

The officer shook his head. “Sorry, but nobody’s allowed in until we’ve finished our investigation.”

“You have any idea how long that’ll take?”

“We should be done by the end of the day, so hopefully you can go back to work tomorrow. I suggest you go and enjoy your day off.” One of the other officers came over, and the two walked away, working on some new part of their investigation.

Had I known what was coming, I would have been in a foul mood, but I was just relieved that the wings hadn’t been stolen. But then I began to wonder what the thieves had been thinking. Breaking into a library by yourself was one thing, but breaking into the headquarters of a giant corporation with much higher security, and with more then one pony? That was practically begging to be caught. And even if the burglars had gotten away, it made no sense. Why would they be that crazy?

Perhaps, I realized with a chill, someone shared my dream of becoming an alicorn.

A Wish for Wings

View Online

When I arrived at work the next day, I was greeted by two security guards in the lobby. They were the type that had never cracked a smile in their lives, and glared at me as I presented my identification. Satisfied that I was who I said I was, they let me through. I had to pass past several other pairs of guards before reaching the laboratories. No sooner had I stepped out than two more guards came up and demanded to see my identification. If the two at the gates were rays of sunshine, these two were worse. They reminded me of punks and bullies from school, the types who hated the world,and desired power and control above all else, especially over their fellow ponies.

Trying to push the thought aside, I showed my badge, and the guards reluctantly let me go, freeing me to be hounded by suspicious looks all the way to my office. It was a relief to finally head inside and lock the door. No sooner had I done so than there was loud pounding on the other side. Not wanting to show my ID again, I ignored it.

“Silverspeak? You in there?”

At the sound of Beakbreaker's voice, I quickly let her in. I wasn't ready for how red her face was, seemingly cooking from the inside in anger. "Glad someone managed to get in here."

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Beakbreaker stormed in and locked the door behind her, taking out a small crystal. I recognized it as an anti-listening charm. When it was on the table and glowing, Beakbreaker cut lose. “Sweet Celestia, Silverspeak, these guards are a nightmare! The CEO's hired them yesterday, and already they're swarming around the building like rats! They went into the lab and went through all my equipment!”

“Hate to be a killjoy,” I said, “but what if they were just making sure everything was in place?”

“They were, but you should have seen them do it! They were shoving everything aside, not caring if it was breakable or not! And you know what's worse?! They took all my documents! Not only scientific ones, but they took my journals and notes! And they shoved me out when I tried to stop them! Shoved me!” Beakbreaker's face contorted and I wouldn't have been surprised to see steam shooting out her ears. “And you know what's worse then that?! They said all the equipment and data, all my notes and journals, didn’t belong to me, but to the company! And when I complained to their leader, he said that there was nothing I could do. Their orders come from Coin Counter! He can do whatever the tartarus he wants, and I can't stop him!”

“Their leader is here?” I asked. “Who is it?”

“I don't know,” Beakbreaker said. “I didn't catch his name, but he had this stupid grin on his face the whole time, like he was enjoying bullying me around.” She growled in frustration. “I wanted to punch him in the face!”

Trying to defuse the situation, I asked, “Did he say how long they were going to be here?”

Beakbreaker buried her face in her hooves. “They said it's a permanent arrangement. The higher-ups are so freaked out about the break-in that they've gone paranoid overnight. Now they're throwing all their bits into security, and they're going to keep these guys on full time.”

The thought of these brutes becoming a permanent fixture at work made my stomach queasy.

“How am I supposed to work around such uncultured ingrates?!” Beakbreaker said.

“We'll find a way to make it work,” I said. “Remember that break-in at the library?”

“Yes.”

“They eventually called off the search for whoever did it. Coin Counter and the others can't stay paranoid forever. Eventually they'll snap out of it, and things will die down.”

“I hope so. Because if this has to go on for years, I might loose my-”

There was a loud knock at the door.

“Not now!” Beakbreaker called out.

A key was inserted into the lock, and the door swung open.

“What in tartarus do you think you're doing?!” Beakbreaker barked. “This is a private conversation!”

A pony stepped into the room, and in a heartbeat I knew he was the leader of our new security guards. Not from his flashy tactical uniform, but because there was only one pony I knew who would become the leader of legalized thugs. I had hoped never to see Mangus Bluehorn again, but there he was, standing before me. He hadn't changed much since graduation. He was a bit more muscular, but that sneer was still the same.

“I said, this is a private conversation!” Beakbreaker said again. “What makes you think you can just barge in here?”

“Security, Ms. Beakbreaker,” Mangus said. “New rule from the top: No doors are to be closed or locked, and no anti-listening charms, artifacts, or devices of any kind are to be kept inside the building at any time.” He snatched the charm off the cabinet, putting it inside his pocket.

“That's my property!”

“Relax, you'll get it when you leave. But if I see it again, it's mine. There are no private conversations in this building any more. Consider everything you say company property.”

“Including what I do inside my own apartment?!”

“The company's apartment. And yes, that's no longer private either.”

“That's insane!” Beakbreaker said. “You can't get away with this! I'm going up to the CEO's right now, and-”

Another magical shove, and Beakbreaker was shoved into her chair.

I stormed forward. Surprised, Mangus spun to me. He had been so focused on Beakbreaker that he had failed to see me. He was caught off guard at another pony in the room, but only for a moment. His eyes narrowed, realizing there was something familiar about me. It took him a moment to remember who I was, and once he did, that sneer came back, and it was like he and I were still colts on the playground.

“Well, well, well,” he chuckled. “Look who we have here.”

“What are you doing here, Mangus?” I asked. Then, deciding to get back at him for coming into my life again, I twisted the knife a little. "Aren't you supposed to be at Canterlot University?”

Mangus' grin faded. "It wasn't for me," he said, rubbing his hair. "I... I didn't fit in.”

I didn't buy it. There was no way to know exactly what had happened, but it was easy to guess: Being on his own, Mangus had bombed horribly, not able to count on idiotic, fame-obsessed adults to do all his work for him, and had flunked out. Oh, what I would have given to see that. But as it was, all I could do was fantasize, and enjoy seeing Mangus trying to make himself look noble, and failing miserably.

“Besides, the University was boring anyway. All those books and scrolls; who needs 'em when you can just go out there and practice in a practical way?” He flashed his badge. “Used my connections to get into a private security company. Me and the boys now get to keep the peace. And now here we are, helping to protect the most valuable medical tech in all of Equestria. How's that for rising through the ranks?” He grinned. “And what are you doing here?”

“He's my secretary,” Beakbreaker said proudly.

Mangus didn't bother to hide his chuckle. “A secretary? You?”

“He's done far more then you can ever imagine,” Beakbreaker said. “In a way, these wings and legs wouldn't even be here without him. Tell me, what have you ever contributed to Equestrian society that didn't require a badge?”

Mangus glared at Beakbreaker. He was never one to accept defeat or being upstaged in any way, and tried to come up with a comeback.

“Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see the CEO's to tell them about your job performance.”

Getting up, Beakbreaker left the room, bumping into Mangus and almost knocking him down. He started to curse, but Beakbreaker was gone before he could do anything.

Figuring that I should come along and provide some feedback of my own, I got up to follow her out. Mangus blocked my path.

“Hey Silversqueak, where do you think you're going?”

“Back off Mangus,” I said. Pushing him aside, I headed to the door, which suddenly slammed shut, the lock falling into place.

“Oh, but we have so many things to catch up on.”

Mangus' horn lit up, and I was dragged up against the wall, and pinned in place.

“Let me go!” I shouted, thrashing for all my might against Mangus' magic.

“You and I have some unfinished business,” he growled. “Remember that kiss? You drew blood. I can bring charges against you for that.”

“You're a rent-a-cop,” I shot back, “not a police officer.”

“No, but I have friends in the force. Lots of 'em. Can you say that?”

“No, but I can tell the police that when I bit you, it was in self-defense. You were forcing sexual acts upon me without my consent. And I'd be willing to submit to a memory charm to prove it. You think your cop buddies will side with you against charges of sexual assault?”

Mangus had subtly drawn his hoof back for an old-fashioned beating, but paused. If I submitted to a memory spell, he'd be forced, by law, to submit to one as well, so that nothing would be hidden regarding that moment in time. Coupled with his non-stop bullying of me throughout childhood, no jury in all of Equestria would side with him. Everything was tilted in my favor, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it, no matter how many friends he did or didn't have on the force... if he even had any.

Growling, Mangus lowered me to the floor. “I won't forget this.”

“Neither will I.”

I stormed out of the office, angry, but pleased. Mangus had come back into my life, and where I worked, no less. He would no doubt try to retaliate for the insult I had given him, but that was what pleased me, for I had bested him. Not with magic or physical force, but with reason and wit, two forces he lacked, and will never have.

***

Beakbreaker's pleas to the CEO's were passionate and fiery, and for once she didn't need me to write a speech, all but yelling that the company was overreacting and that putting Mangus and his bullies in charge of security was only going to tear morale to pieces. I backed her up, telling Coin Counter and the others that Mangus and his underlings were bullies. Giving them badges and the power of law enforcement was like giving a flamethrower to a pyromaniac and expecting him to guard an oil-soaked forest. I did use my talent to influence my words, but I quickly learned that when it came to protecting their money, corporate leaders have a will that is all but unbreakable.

In the end, Beakbreaker and I couldn't convince Coin Counter and the others to fire Mangus and his group, but we did get a consolation prize: Mangus and his underlings would be warned that if they caused morale problems among the staff, their paychecks would be cut in half. If morale continued to drop, they would be fired. And to everyone's relief, it worked. The guards, previously smug and secure, were forced to be polite and unobtrusive as they went about their daily rounds.

Mangus, in particular, was miserable at having to behave himself. And though he didn't do anything to me or Beakbreaker, he made sure to give me the look of death every time we crossed paths, as if silently warning me that he'd pay me back for spoiling his fun. He would, eventually, but at the time I just smiled at him and went on my way. Break-in or not, there was still work to be done.

The months passed. After a while, we no longer noticed the guards. They tried to assert their authority every now and then, but a reprimand (and a halved paycheck), put a stop to their little rebellions. Better still was getting a raise for my efforts in helping to make Beakbreaker's work life easier, and better yet was the day I got a memo announcing that Beakbreaker was to be honored at the Equestrian Medical Awards, a prestigious ceremony that takes place every five years to honor the best and brightest the medical field has to offer. But what I didn't expect was for her to come into my office and tell me that she was allowed to invite one guest to the ceremony, and that she wanted that guest to be me. Surprised (and a little flustered), I accepted.

What Beakbreaker didn't know was that while I was honored to go, I was also excited. Perhaps that would finally be my opportunity to ask for wings.

***

The night of the ceremony arrived, and I found myself at Beakbreaker's apartment, dressed in my finest suit. She emerged with an elegant business dress, not the type you'd see at the red carpet for a movie premiere, but still very pretty.

“Well,” she asked, “how do I look?”

“Like you're about to win a lifetime achievement award,” I said.

Beakbreaker grinned. “That'd be a treat.” Locking her door, she headed for the elevator. “Come on, we got ourselves a ride to catch.”

I wasn't sure what she meant by ride, but upon exiting the tower, I was surprised to find a carriage waiting for us (rented and paid for, I learned later, by Coin Counter for his prized researcher). I climbed in after Beakbreaker, momentarily gobsmacked at the elegance around me. I had never ridden in a carriage before, much less one with thick, elegant seats and luxurious carpeting. It was fit for a celebrity, and as we arrived at the Manehattan Opera House, Beakbreaker was treated like one, swarmed by reporters, her peers, and patients desperate to thank her for their new lease on life, or to someone in their family.

Beakbreaker was just as surprised as I was at the overwhelming reception, and it took us almost ten minutes to make our way through the crowds and inside, where we took our assigned seats. As the other guests arrived, Beakbreaker chatted with those around us, but I was left to myself, having nothing in common to chat about with the ponies around me. I didn't mind, though. It left me with plenty of time to think about how I was going to ask the big question.

The show finally began. Despite the fancy lights and the prestige of sitting among the brightest minds Equestria had to offer, I found the whole event to be pretty boring. Most of my time was spent trying to stay awake as one award after another was handed out for various categories I had no interest in, or couldn't even understand (ordinary ponies aren't likely to get excited over the best plasma-based circulation cure?). Only when the ending finally came did things get exciting, as the Equestrian Board of Medical Directors announced that it was time to give out the award for greatest achievement to Equestrian society. Everyone was on edge, eager to find out who would have bragging rights for the next five years.

I watched Beakbreaker as she clutched the armrests of her chair, not daring to imagine that she could possibly win. And when the envelope was opened and her name announced, Beakbreaker almost fell out of her seat, and was practically in tears as she staggered to the stage, too overcome with surprise to speak. She tried, but all she could get out where happy sobs. Was it embarrassing? Not at all. There was no doubt among anyone that she had earned this, and I was proud to see her up there, holding the biggest award someone in her field could earn.

It was a moment she will treasure until her dying day.

Once the ceremony was complete, and all the awards given out, a concert was put on for the recipients and attendees. As the winner of the highest award, Beakbreaker was given the honor of sitting in the theater's pristine booth, and as her guest, I went with her. We had a spectacular view of the stage below us, and felt like royalty as the musicians came onstage and began to play, led by famed cellist Octavia.

Beakbreaker and I sat there for a long time, listening to the concert below. I could have asked her there, but decided not to. It wouldn’t be appropriate to interrupt her night of bliss. This was her moment to shine, and I let it remain that way, watching the concert below, enjoying the music.

It came a surprise when I felt Beakbreaker’s hoof touch mine. I looked over, only to see her watching the players below. Had she touched my hoof by accident? It didn't look like it, not by the way she had angled it, or that she was focusing on keeping it there.

I wasn't sure what to do. Unlike most of my classmates back in school, I had never gone on dates or flirted with other ponies. The world of romance was uncharted territory to me. But I figured that for a simple gesture like the one Beakbreaker was giving me, the best thing to do was to go along. So as we both watched the musicians play, I let her hoof remain where it was.

After a while, I touched it back as well.

***

When the concert came to an end, Beakbreaker headed out onto one of the building's patios, desiring to get a glimpse of Manehattan at night. We had a lovely view, surrounded by the golden glow of lit glass and countless streetlights shining up from below.

“Very pretty,” I said.

"The award, or the city?"

"Oh, uh... both."

Beakbreaker held her award out. "Want to hold it?"

“No, that's okay," I said. "I––”

She practically shoved the award in my face. “I insist. This is as much your award as it is mine.”

Not wanting to get into an argument, I took the award and looked it over. “I don't follow you.”

Smiling, Beakbreaker twirled, her front legs outstretched. “Just look at all this! Three years ago, I was picking up trash to pay the bills, and you were working at a grocery store. And now here we are, recipients of the highest honor science can give. I may have done the research, but it was you who paved the way. You helped me get here.”

I blushed. I had heard her compliments many times, but this time I didn't try to correct her, accepting it without complaint.

Beakbreaker stepped closer to me, lowered her voice. “My offer still stands, you know.” She took my hoof in hers. “I want you to be happy, Silverspeak. Tell me what your heart desires, and I'll do everything in my power to make it come true.”

I was caught off guard by how she had come on to me like that, but delighted. This was my opportunity, and I'd be an idiot to turn it down. “Well... there is something...”

“Yes?”

I almost told her, but something stopped me. A gut feeling that this wasn't something to be spoken aloud in public. Though we were away from others, there was still the chance we could be overheard. “Actually, could we do it somewhere private?”

Her eyebrows arched up.

“It's nothing illegal. I just don't feel comfortable talking about in public.”

Beakbreaker thought for a moment. “I know where we can go. Follow me.”

I followed Beakbreaker out of the concert hall, our progress momentarily slowed by a few of her colleagues giving a few last minute congratulations. It was almost midnight by the time we got back to the Medicomp tower, and the only ones still awake were the guards. We headed up to Beakbreaker's apartment, which she then locked, lighting a fire to dispel the cold. And when the apartment was nice and warm, she activated her returned anti-listening charm as we sat on the black-leather sofa.

"So,” Beakbreaker asked, “What's on your mind?”

With no reason to hesitate or delay my dream any longer, I dove right in. “Well, it's something that...well, that no one's ever done before. You're the most qualified to pull it off, especially after all we've been through. I wouldn't dream of asking anyone else."

Intrigued, Beakbreaker listened closely.

I took a deep breath. “Beakbreaker... I'd like you to––”

“Hold on a second,” Beakbreaker said. "This doesn't have anything to do with sex, does it?”

I stopped. “What?”

“Are you... you know... asking me to do something––”

I shook my hooves. "No, no, no! Nothing like that!"

She breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. I was afraid you were going to ask me to do something… well, out of the ordinary.”

I shook my head. “It's nothing like that.”

A smile. "Well, then, what is it?"

I took another deep breath. This was it.

There was no turning back.

“Beakbreaker... I'd like you to turn me into a pegasi.”

For almost a minute, Beakbreaker sat on the couch, so caught by surprise that she had no idea to react, much less process what I said.

"You... what?"

"I want you to give me wings," I said, keeping my tone humble and respectful.

Beakbreaker chuckled nervously. “Silverspeak, I... wow... you're serious?”

I nodded.

“But... well, what you're asking is... it's never been done before. No pony's ever been surgically turned into another species.”

“Twilight Sparkle became an Alicorn.”

“Yes, she did. But that was special, and it was Princess Celestia who made it happen. That, and it involved magic, not scalpels, needles, and thread.”

Long before out talk, when I had still been planning and articulating my arguments, I knew that no matter what I said or how I said it, Beakbreaker would still be caught off guard by my request, and in denial that she could even pull it off. Thus, I decided that going the emotional route was my best course of action.

“Beakbreaker, I mean this in the best possible way, but you don't know what it's like to be an outcast among your own kind, like I was.”

“Actually, yes, I do. I was the only one in my tribe who was interested in science, remember?"

“But you were among others like you,” I said. “Saddle Lanka, where I was born, has been the birthplace of the greatest unicorns who ever lived. I was the first earth pony born there. I was an outcast before I even left the hospital. I had to grow up seeing everyone else use magic, doing anything they wanted, things I could never do. I can't become a unicorn, but this is my best chance to be something better, to defy fate for making me a nobody."

“But you're not a nobody,” Beakbreaker said. “Just look at all you've accomplished. And you did it without any magic or without wings.”

I hadn't thought of that. "Maybe... but that isn't what I want. Ever since I was little, I've wondered if I was a mistake. If I was... well, this is my chance to fix it."

I could have used my charm to sway Beakbreaker, but it was unneeded. Years of pent-up anger and frustration had been given a voice, and she realized that I wasn't pulling her leg. Never had she seen me more serious, and the passion was stronger than any charm I could have used.

It was silent in the apartment, the two of us looking at each other as the fire crackled, Beakbreaker at a loss for words. “This... this is something I need to think about for a while," Beakbreaker said after a long silence. "Perhaps we should talk about it tomorrow. Would noon in the park near the lake work for you?"

I nodded. And, without wanting to sour the moment, I thanked her for a wonderful night, and asked if she needed anything before I left. When she said no, I bid her a good evening, and headed back to my apartment. Was I excited? Yes. Was I frightened about what the following day would bring?

Absolutely.

***

When noon rolled around on the next day, I made my way through Manehattan's biggest park, feeling oddly calm. Beakbreaker was already sitting besides the lake when I arrived, tossing bread crumbs to the birds. She was neither smiling nor frowning when she spotted me, and made room for me on her bench. I sat beside her, looking out to the trees and the lake.

"So," I said, "did you think about what I said?"

Beakbreaker nodded.

“And?”

She sighed. “To tell the truth, Silverspeak, there's no logical reason to say no what you want. But emotionally... well, that's harder. This just doesn't feel right. I was up all night thinking about what you asked, and I couldn't shake the feeling that this isn't a good idea.”

“Why?”

She tossed more crumbs. “To be honest, I don't know. Maybe because it's never been done before. We'd be heading into uncharted waters, and, for all we know, a hurricane.”

“But we'll never know unless we try.”

She nodded. “But tell me, Silverspeak: if I give you these wings, what will you do with them?”

“Fly around, obviously,” I said, giddy at the thought. “Enjoy the freedom of the skies. Go wherever I want. Save money on train tickets, that sort of thing.”

“But what are you going to do for a living?”

“Keep working for you as a secretary.” I chuckled. “Besides, I'll save a lot of time by flying to work instead of taking the subway.”

Beakbreaker wasn’t amused at my joke. “Is that what you really want to do for the rest of your life? Write reports and speeches? If you were given such a great gift, you’d be wasting it if all you did was sit behind a desk.”

I flinched. “No. I mean, I'd find something. When I first got to Manehattan, I didn't know what I was going to do. And yet, look at me now.”

“You can't always count on the past to predict the future.”

A bird hopped near my hoof, hoping I would have some food for it.

“Besides, it's not just like you can get wings and keep going through your life,” Beakbreaker continued. “You're going to cause a ruckus. You'll be talked about for decades to come, maybe centuries. You'll be the trend-setter, the first pony to defy nature itself and become a completely different species. You'll never have another normal day in your life. Is that what you want?”

I was no fool. I knew that getting wings would make me famous, and bring with it attention I might not want. But things must be sacrificed if we want to achieve our dreams, and if I had to come under public scrutiny, than so be it.

“I'll deal with it," I said. "And if I have to be famous to make my dream come true, than I'll do it."

“You still haven't answered my question," Beakbreaker said. "Are your wings going to be toys, or something you'll use to help make the world a better place?"

"Of course I'll use them," I said. "And if I get them, it will show other ponies that they can change, too." I turned on the charm. "Besides, you could say fate has finally guided me to you, the one individual who could help me achieve my dreams... maybe it's no coincidence that we met."

Beakbreaker tossed the last of her breadcrumbs onto the ground, was silent for a long while.

“You really want to do this.” she said at last.

I nodded. “More then anything.”

She closed her eyes and tilted her face towards the sky. I got the impression she was trying to figure out the best way to say something uncomfortable.

“Every instinct I have says to walk away from this,” she said. “But… I made a promise, and I intend to keep it. If this is what you truly want… then I’ll do it.”

I almost leapt from the bench, wanting to dance and cavort and jump around the lake in ecstasy. But I managed to contain myself, not wanting to cause a scene and make a fool of myself before the other ponies. Instead, I gave Beakbreaker the biggest grin I ever had.

She was going to make my dream come true.

***

Thanks to the wings being fully researched and developed, I didn't have to wait for technology to catch up with my dream. Had Beakbreaker not agreed to do the surgery as a favor, I could have paid for it myself if I wanted to. And finally, there were no legal situations to keep the surgery from proceeding. But Beakbreaker still insisted that we talk the situation over with those in charge, mostly to ensure that there would be no misunderstandings or liability issues.

As Beakbreaker and I entered the boardroom a few days later, I was fully prepared to use my charm on Coin Counter and everyone on the board of directors. After coming this far, I wasn't going to let a bunch of older bureaucrats stop me on the verge of a long awaited victory. Beakbreaker was the first to speak, telling everyone present that she had a proposal for the company. No doubt thinking that this was going to be about lab-grown horns, Coin Counter and the directors leaned forward in their seats, eager to hear what their star employee was suggesting.

They weren't expecting the proposal of attaching wings to an earth pony.

The room went silent. Then that silence was broken by a barrage of questions. How could such a thing be done? What were the dangers? Could the company even allow such an experiment to take place?

Sensing that my talent was needed, I stepped forward. Beakbreaker explained that I was the one who volunteered for the surgery, and was willing to accept all the risks. While Coin Counter and the directors knew who I was, they were shocked that a lowly secretary was the one who would be the subject of such a monumental procedure.

“Him?” one of the CEO's said. “You can't be serious.”

“I am,” I said.

“Why would you want wings?”

“Simple,” I said, turning on the charm. “To fly.”

"But... you're an earth pony. Earth ponies can't fly."

"I'm aware of that," I said, increasing the charm. "But let me ask you all something: Imagine being unable to use your magic, or being unable to fly. Now imagine being in that position for the rest of your lives. Imagine seeing pegasi flying about without a care in the world, or seeing unicorns conjuring wondrous things, and never being able to join them. That is what life is like for me. Other earth ponies can accept that, but I can't. This is my chance to be better, to be more than what I am.”

My charm had worked, for I could tell that Coin Counter and the directors were hooked. But they weren't convinced about my idea just yet.

“Perhaps we can try this,” I offered. “I get the wings and try them for a year.” I looked to Beakbreaker. “A year is long enough to see if wings would work, correct?” When she nodded, I turned back to the directors. "If nothing happens at the end of that year, and my wings work, then you will know the procedure is safe, and can offer the service to other earth ponies.”

The directors seemed convinced. They probably figured that if this worked, there would be multitudes of earth ponies who would line up to get wings, which meant more money for Medicomp. But there's always one voice that goes against the crowd, and it came from Coin Counter.

“Silverspeak, I can't put myself in your hooves, and I can't imagine what life is like for someone with no magical abilities. But while the technology exists to do this, what you're suggesting goes against the order Equestria has followed for centuries. There will be doubt and outrage among the public, most likely a very large part of it. It could cost all of us a great deal, both personally and professionally. Do you understand?”

I nodded, trying to judge how hard it would be to persuade Coin Counter. Yet, he had an honesty about him, and none of the hostility or skepticism the directors had. It felt wrong to hit him with the metaphorical sledgehammer, so I opted for honesty and an emotional appeal.

"All I'm asking for is the chance to try," I said. "And if this works, we can make not only my dream come true, but the dreams of so many others."

All eyes turned to Coin Counter, who was deep in thought.

I waited, my heart anxiously beating in my breast.

“Medicomp was formed to help ponies achieve their dreams," Coin Counter said at last. "And if this can help further that mission, then we'll do it.”

***

Arrangements were made. Forms were created, signed, then duplicated and triplicated. I underwent a checkup, and then counseling to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting into. I understood why it was done, but was amused nonetheless. Did Coin Counter and the other directors really think I had just jumped into this without any forethought? I knew the risks I was taking. I was told that my body might reject the wings, or that I might not be able to handle the stress of becoming so famous once I was revealed to the world. But I wasn't intimidated.

I was ready for this.

***

The day finally arrived. I woke with the sun, eagerly picking up a small bag that held everything I would need for my upcoming stay in the tower's hospital. Because of how long my recuperation might take, I had informed my landlord that I would be out for at least two, maybe three months, and arranged to have my rent automatically paid every month via the bank. When asked what was going on, I smiled and cheerfully said that I was going on a vacation.

My walk to the subway station was almost like a dream. I felt so light that it was as if I could float away without needing wings at all. Getting onto the train, I watched as buildings passed me by, realizing that this was the last time I'd ride the subway as an earth pony, and perhaps the last time I'd ride it at all. After all, why ride when you could fly?

I shivered with excitement.

Reaching the Medicomp tower, I checked in and headed up, my enthusiasm a shield to all the scowling faces of the guards. Not even Mangus' smug grin fazed me. Arriving in the lab, I found Beakbreaker waiting for me.

Prepping for surgery was quick. Giving my bag to one of Beakbreaker's assistants, I took a quick shower to clean up, and followed Beakbreaker into a prep room, where a mobile operating table awaited me. I climbed on and lay down, my stomach warming the thick padding beneath me. Behind the table, Beakbreaker changed into her medical scrubs.

"When we enter the operating theater, I'll do a quick introduction for the directors and everyone else. You'll be put to sleep, and the next thing you know, you'll be waking up in recovery, and head off to rehab.”

I nodded as a sterile cover was placed over my back, feeling quite calm. Giddy, even, as Beakbreaker and an assistant put on face masks and gripped the table's handles.

"Ready?" Beakbreaker asked.

I had been ready for almost twenty years.

"Let's make history,” I said.

The double doors leading to the operating theater swung open as I was wheeled through. I had always been in the stands during previous surgical procedures, but to be a patient in one was quite different. The lights made it difficult to see the ponies above me, but I could tell there were a lot of them.

“Mares and gentlecolts,” Beakbreaker said, reciting the words I had written for her. “Twice before, this room has played host to some of the greatest miracles science has to offer. Today will mark the third, and perhaps the most glorious of all... allowing a pony to change his species.”

I heard the excited whispers from the crowd, but was focused on staying calm. I wanted the surgery to start before any delays came up and forced us to abandon it. For almost twenty years, I had waited for this moment, and couldn't bear the thought of anything going wrong in the last few minutes.

“While my assistant brings in the wings and muscles, I will put the patient to sleep.” Beakbreaker walked up to me, anesthesia mask in hoof. “Count backwards from twenty,” she told me. “Nice, deep breaths.”

The rubber went over my mouth. Flinching at the smell, I began to count. “Twenty...nineteen...eighteen...”

I could already hear Beakbreaker's assistants pulling something into the room, but I paid them no heed. My eyelids became heavy, and it felt as if my strength was leaving me. I didn't fight it. I welcomed it, knowing what awaited me on the other side.

Then I drifted away, and everything went dark.

***

I can't recall what it was like to be in a coma, because I don't really remember. What I do remember is vague, a brief sense of being in darkness for a long time, like how a nap feels over in an a second, while a full night's sleep feels like a minute, at most. But the darkness that embraced me felt longer than that, with me unable to tell how long it went on.

Later, when I was in a contemplative mood, I wondered if that's what death is like.

Eventually, I felt things coming back bit by bit. I had been told what to expect before the surgery, and thus, it wasn't a complete shock when I finally woke and found a breathing mask over my mouth, air being pumped in and out of me with a mechanical hiss. Opening my eyes, I found them pressed against something thick and wet: stasis fluid. When limb-transplant patients are put into a medical coma, they are placed inside tubes filled with special gel to prevent bedsores that would arise from lying in a bed day after day, week after week.

Beyond the gel, I could see forms moving quickly, looking very excited. Many other forms came up close to the gel, looking at me. I looked back, curious as to who they were, or what they were doing. Then I remembered. After the surgery, I was going to be put into a medically induced coma. I was going to be in one of those tubes. And on my back would be...

Moving very slowly, I turned my head, excited and afraid of what I might or might not find. I didn't see anything at first, and blinked, trying to make my eyes focus through the liquid. But when they did, I looked again, and found two forms upon my back.

I froze.

Beyond my tube, my blurry spectators had stopped, waiting to see what would happen.

I shifted my back and felt something strange beneath my skin; giant slabs of meat would be the best way to describe it, located just under my shoulders. I tried moving my shoulders, and the forms moved, and then stretched through the liquid.

I didn't care that I was being watched, or that my emotions were up for all to see. I tried to cry, unable to do so from the liquid pressing against my eyes, for I saw feathers attached to those long, narrow, muscular limbs stretching forth from my back.

I had wings.

The Next Wonder Of The World

View Online

I scarcely noticed the ponies outside the tube as they flipped knobs, pressed buttons, and drained the stasis fluid, leaving me dangling in a harness, barely able to look away from my wings even as I shivered at the bitter cold. Several ponies in lab coats took hold and guided me onto a walkway, where the harness and breathing mask was removed. Drowsy and cold, I tried to stand, but collapsed, my legs weak and unable to support myself.

The lab ponies parted as Beakbreaker came forward, relieved to see me. “You're weak,” she said, putting a hoof on my shoulder. “That's perfectly normal.”

My teeth chattered uncontrollably. “Is... it... normal to... to... to feel like a p... p... popsicle?”

Beakbreaker chuckled. “Glad to see your sense of humor is still intact.” Taking a thick blanket from one of her assistants, she wrapped it around me as I was taken to the showers, where the last of the stasis fluid was washed away with luxuriously hot water. Then came a quick dunk in a Jacuzzi, where jets of hot water blasted into my weakened muscles, and then I was helped to an examination room, where Beakbreaker did a physical, and injected me with all manner of needles. I would have freaked out at being poked so many times, had my attention not been on my wings. When all was said and done, and Beakbreaker decided I was in good health aside from slightly atrophied muscles, I was helped to the cafeteria, where Beakbreaker instructed me to eat as much as I wanted, so as to get my strength back up. Though I still had the aftertaste of chemicals and drugs in my mouth, I was all too happy to comply, wolfing down huge portions of whatever was put in front of me, oblivious to the other ponies in the room. The other patients didn't give me a second glance, figuring I was one of them, but the medical personnel knew the significance of my wings, and couldn't take their eyes off me.

“So,” I asked Beakbreaker, my voice sore from my long-dormant vocal cords, “how long was I out?”

“Two months.”

I paused, fork halfway to my mouth. “You're serious?”

“Your body has muscles where there wasn’t any before. It took a long time for the new nerves and attachments to grow in. We were going to wake you up after a month, but it seemed like your body was rejecting the muscles, so I had more growth hormones injected, along with steroids to see if they would help.”

“And did they?” I asked.

“By all appearances, yes. Coin Counter and the others will be happy to hear that; they came by frequently to watch you.” Beakbreaker chuckled. “In fact, a lot of ponies did. You were quite an attraction. And if I may say... you're cute when you're asleep.”

I blushed. “Cute?”

“Oh yes. Did you know you curl up when you sleep? You looked so sweet and innocent in there, especially when you turned upside down.”

My cheeks turned a bright red.

“Oh, don't worry. A lot of ponies do that when they're under. But you're definitely the cutest one I've seen.”

“You were watching me?"

“Of course. I needed to keep a watch on your vitals.”

“Couldn't the assistants do that?”

“Well, yes... but I wanted to watch over you specifically. After all, you're not just a patient. You're... ”

She trailed off. I was curious to hear her answer, but my stomach growled again, and I silenced it by finishing my salad, and starting to slurp up a smoothie. “So, when do we work these out?” I flexed my wings, but the soreness made me stop.

“Not for a few days. You need to get your strength back.”

“Oh, we can do that as we go, right?”

Beakbreaker chuckled. “You'll need every ounce of strength you can muster to deal with your wings; it's probably going to be several months before you can even fly on your own.”

I didn't believe her. “I'll cut that time in half.”

“You remember what happened to that one mare who was too impatient to wait, don't you?”

Realizing that Beakbreaker probably knew what she was talking about, I backed down. “Well, I guess you're right about that.”

Beakbreaker gave me a warm smile. “Don't worry Silverspeak. You'll fly. And I'll be there to help you all along the way.” She reached out, touching her hoof to mine. “I promise.”

I hadn't expected Beakbreaker to touch me like that, and wasn't sure how to react, especially with the way she looked at me. Was it with compassion, a professional friendliness, or something else? I couldn't tell.

“Well, I'm looking forward to it,” I said. “But I guess I got a lot of smoothies to go through before I get there.”

Beakbreaker chuckled as I finished my smoothie and began another one. I didn't care if it was going to take thousands of smoothies to get up in the air, or if it would take hundreds of hours of weightlifting, or anything else Beakbreaker was going to toss my way. I'd do whatever it took.

Those two beautiful wings upon my back were all that mattered.

***

I was as patient as could be expected while regaining my strength. Though my muscle loss wasn't as severe as a pony who had been lying in bed for months, I had to do a lot of walking and weight lifting to get myself back in shape, and was eager to get working in the tower's gym. And with Beakbreaker as my therapist, I began my regimen, spending a month building up my overall strength, mixing between light weights with many repetitions, and heavy weights with fewer lifts.

Finally, the day came when I was ready to start working with my wings. It had been tricky getting used to having new limbs on my back, especially learning how to fold them up, take showers, and sleep with them, but I was ready for them to send me into the sky. But as I quickly learned, Beakbreaker had been right in saying that I'd need all my strength to use my wings. Because my new muscles had never been used, I started with the lightest weights possible. I scoffed, figuring that my new appendages could handle one pound dumbbells. By the end of my first session, my muscles were so sore that I couldn't lift them.

Things were going to be tougher then I thought.

Thus began my quest to master flight. I spent most of my time in the gym working on my back and wing muscles, trying to increase my strength just a little more each day, and experiencing soreness I never could have imagined. Several days Beakbreaker and I had to skip exercising because I was too sore to do anything but walk. On those days I rested, doing little but reading and doing laps on the gym's track. When she wasn't busy in the lab or with other patients, Beakbreaker would try to spend time with me, usually reading books with me, joining me for a few laps, or helping me wash when my limbs were too sore to clean my back, something I was supremely grateful for. And when I was rested up, I would hit the gym harder than before, forcing myself through the pain of muscles being pushed to their limits, hissing as I performed one more exercise, one more set, and one more repetition through the sensation of fire beneath my skin. The work paid off: In five months I went from being able to do only ten wing push-ups to forty. My shoulder muscles went from lifting thirty pounds to seventy, and fat gave way to muscle as I got in the best shape of my life.

Seven months after we started, with Beakbreaker standing beside me, and several aides ready to catch me, I flexed my wings atop a table. Taking deep breaths, I began to flap. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, and when I was beating as quickly as I could, I yelled and jumped.

I didn't fall.

Opening my eyes, I saw my hooves dangling above the floor, my wings beating smoothly and efficiently. But the sensation lasted only a few seconds before my muscles got sore, and I dropped to the floor. Beakbreaker and the others rushed forward, but I said I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine. I was ecstatic, for all my hard work had paid off.

I, an earth pony, had hovered.

Progress was quick as I threw myself into my workouts like never before. My hover time increased from five seconds to ten, then twenty, and then a minute, and then five. With Beakbreaker satisfied that my progress was good enough, we tried flight, which was handled by running down the track, then leaping over a foam pit and flapping my wings. I thought it'd be easy, but hovering was one thing, and flying another. My first attempt ended with me embedded in foam, my hind legs kicking like a rabbit stuck in a hole.

I kept at it. On each jump, I went a little further than before. I began to fly for short distances; nowhere near what I hoped, but Beakbreaker pointed out that for a pony who had only just changed from earth to pegasi, I was doing well.

The day finally came when I crossed the pit with the help of my wings, and immediately rushed into advanced flight. But like my first attempts at hovering and flying, I failed miserably: turning, adjusting my altitude, and keeping a steady speed was diabolically difficult, and after a week of continuously crashing into the floor, I asked Beakbreaker why this was so much harder then everything that had come before. She theorized that pegasi ponies are used to three dimensional thinking, rather then the two dimensional ones that earth and unicorn ponies have. Their brains can handle constant input and adjustments, and make fixes almost instantly, but my brain had to rewire itself to learn all that from scratch.

I kept trying. Over and over again I kept trying to do the simplest of maneuvers, but it was so hard to focus on not only flapping my wings, but adjusting my speed, plotting a course, and keeping track of where everything was. Failure after failure bombarded me, and my days ended with me drenched in sweat, with muscles locking up after being pushed past the breaking point. But no matter how many scrapes I got, or how many bloody noises I obtained, I refused to give up. This was my dream, and I would have rather died than quit after coming so far. But my refusal to quit had been born from Beakbreaker asking what I would do with my wings. Unknown to her, I put many hours of thought into the matter, and decided that I would be a model to others, an inspiration to Equestria's young. In my mind's eye, I saw myself flying over Equestria, doing good deeds wherever I went, inspiring others to rise above their limitations.

I would be a hero from a comic book, the one who would inspire the next generation to pursue their own dreams, no matter how impossible they seemed.

As the months passed, I began to see progress. I could stay in the air longer and my flight was looking more natural, and after another five months, I was finally able to navigate the gym's obstacle course successfully. I was nowhere near Wonderbolt material, but I could (barely) pass as a pegasi to a casual observer.

Delighted, Beakbreaker said I was ready for the next stage of my training: open-air flight.

***

It was a beautiful morning when Beakbreaker and I left the tower, the first time I had done so in over a year. Though the gym had plenty of windows and views of the outside world, it was strange to breathe fresh air and be in the open once again. But we didn't linger, heading to Manehattan's docks, where Coin Counter and Medicomp's CEO's were waiting on an enormous yacht. As soon as we climbed aboard, the craft headed out into the open sea, until Manehattan was a blip on the horizon. Once it had vanished, the yacht came to a stop, and our plan was reviewed.

Because Medicomp didn't want their spokespony to die a very messy death, they wanted me to practice my first open-air flights over open water instead of the unyielding earth. It'd be safer... in theory at least. Slamming into water at breakneck speeds would break my neck and liquify what was left of me, and for that reason two pegasi ponies had come along to catch me in case of an accident, with three unicorns to cushion the blow should I somehow slip through the pegasi's grasp.

I was nervous, yet giddy as everyone took their positions. Everyone on the yacht was there because of me, and the best protection possible was being provided to keep me safe. Who wouldn't want to feel like a VIP for a day?

When everyone was ready, Beakbreaker came up to me. “Remember Silverspeak, take it slow and steady," she reminded me. "Enjoy the flight, but don't go overboard.”

“I got this,” I told her. “No need to get nervous.”

“I just don't want you to get hurt, that's all.”

“Don't worry,” I told her, spreading my wings. “I won't.”

She didn't reply, looking almost like my mother whenever I had done dumb things as a colt.

Sprinting, I beat my wings and leapt from the boat, my wings catching the wind and sending me up, the pegasi ponies staying close, but leaving me room for maneuvering and dashing about. I started the routine Beakbreaker and I had agreed on, duplicating the exercises from the gym: a few long loops, then a fast one. A quick spin to ensure I could keep my balance, and then a steep dive, only to pull up at the last second. I pulled them all off it off with no problems, and a flyby of the yacht showed Beakbreaker and the CEO's nodding, delighted at my progress.

With the main test over, I was now free to try any moves I wanted (within reason, of course), and decided to practice on speed. I started to loop around the cruiser, my organs sloshing from one side of my body to the other as the g-forces kicked in. But I didn't care about the nausea, for the sensation of speed was intoxicating: I was flying out in the open, as free as a bird, able to go anywhere I wanted, and without worrying about magic wings wearing out.

The sky was mine, and I was relishing it.

The faster I went, the more giddy I became, doing even faster loops, delighting in getting sporadic glimpses of Beakbreaker and the CEO's, who all looked very pleased that I was doing so well. But why stop there when I could really impress them? Breaking away, I headed up to the sky and did a vertical loop, only to realize that perhaps that wasn't such a good idea; reaching the top of the loop, I stopped beating my wings so as to head downwards, only to have a horrible instant of weightlessness as I looked down to the ocean quickly rising up towards me. Having never gone so high before, I panicked, flapping hard as I started to fall. The pegasi ponies shot in, but I managed to recover, and indicated that I was all right.

Shaking my head, I realized that a failed move wasn't going to impress the CEO's. If I was going to show off to the public what a winged earth pony could do, I'd have to know a few tricks. I tried the loop again, and had that horrible sensation of weightlessness as I reached the peak, but this time I was ready, and made a smooth dive until I was level with the horizon.

Elated, I did three more loops, each one faster then the last, and though I couldn't see the faces of the ponies below, I easily visualized them looking up at me, gobsmacked and in complete awe of how unquestionably awesome I was. Why, perhaps with a few more years of practice, maybe I'd become a member of the Wonderbolts, and the first earth... or rather, former earth pony to do so.

Getting an idea, I checked my muscles. I was getting tired, but could hold out for one last trick before calling it a day, and I was going to make it the best one yet.

Taking a deep breath, I flew towards the clouds above, my wings flapping for everything they were worth, and I went faster and faster, until it was like I could actually touch the white fluffiness. Beyond them lay a cloudless sky, and the sun. I was going to see it.

Or at least, I thought I would, because it seemed as if my head was suddenly light and weightless. My vision went fuzzy.

The next thing I knew, I was falling, my legs dangling before me, and my wings billowing uselessly at my side. Blinking, I tried to figure out what was going on, only to realize I was falling towards the sea at breakneck speed. I panicked and tried to beat my wings, but realized that I was going too fast; there was no way to pull up in time before hitting.

Then the Pegasus ponies were swooping in, and caught me, beating their own wings to slow us all down. But even their combined efforts couldn't bring us up fast enough, and we were spared a hard landing when a huge, transparent cushion appeared beneath us, which was submerged as we hit, but slowed us down enough that we only got wet, and were magically lifted to the deck, where I collapsed in a heap.

“Silverspeak!” Beakbreaker shouted, running over as I fell to my knees on shaking legs. “Are you okay?!”

“What happened?” I asked.

“You fainted. Went higher then you should have, and your body couldn't get enough oxygen.” She cursed something in her native tongue. "I should have remembered that!

Coin Counter came over. “Is that something you can fix?”

Beakbreaker shook her head. “It could be avoided temporarily with an oxygen spell, but his body will have to get used to flying at high altitudes.”

The CEO nodded, looked at me. “When you next go up, Silverspeak, please be more careful."

It took a few moments before I was able to gather my thoughts. “Don't worry... I don't think I'll be flying again today.”

***

Aside from nearly scaring the CEO's to death by seeing their prized investment plunging from the sky like a rock, the flight had been a success. Now knowing that I could fly on my own, Beakbreaker repeated the same exercise several times over the next few weeks, each flight getting better and better. I was even able to go a little higher each time, my body acclimating itself to greater heights.

Fewer CEO's went on the subsequent cruises, but Coin Counter was always there, eagerly watching as I worked, and congratulating me on doing well when I came down for a landing. He was there again on my last flight, wearing a big smile as he handed me a glass of water.

“What's got you so happy?” I asked.

"I think you're ready," he said.

“For what?”

“To make your public debut."

I had known that I would eventually have to be revealed to the world at large. I had pondered the thought myself over the past several flights, wondering when Medicomp would want to show off their latest achievement to the world. Now the moment had come, and with it, a momentary hesitation. Going public was a big step, and not to be taken lightly... but I had been preparing myself for over a year. I had taken all these flights, worked myself sore more times than I could count, and even learned some tricks to prove my newfound abilities. Continuing to practice would gain me little.

"Well?" Coin Counter asked me. "What do you think? You ready to dazzle Equestria?"

“I don't think I'm ready,” I told him. She was stunned, but I quickly added, “I know I'm ready.”

Chuckling, Coin Counter wiped sweat from his brow. “That's exactly what I had hoped to hear.”

***

In no time at all, preparations were underway as Medicomp prepared what was to be its biggest press conference ever. And when the big day arrived, I found myself backstage, endlessly adjusting my tie and endlessly fidgeting as I tried to compose myself. This was my big public debut, and I didn't want to screw it up.

“Stop worrying so much,” Beakbreaker teased. “You look fine.”

“You sure? Because I'm not sure this is my best tie. Maybe there's another one around here I can borrow.”

Rolling her eyes, Beakbreaker adjusted her glasses and looked me over. “You look fine. You have nothing to worry about.”

I knew Beakbreaker was right, but the confidence from my test flights was gone, replaced with a growing unease. “Sorry. It's just... well, I've never been the subject of a press conference." I peeked towards the curtain, listening to the reporters setting up beyond it. “You got any tips for being in the spotlight?”

“Be yourself. Put on a nice smile, and be relaxed. Picture yourself as the embodiment of... what's the word? Awesomeness.”

“Awesomeness? Really?”

She nodded. “It's helped me."

An aide came up. “Thirty seconds, Ms. Beakbreaker.”

“Thank you.” Starting towards the stage, Beakbreaker paused, putting a hoof under my chin. “This is your moment to shine, Silverspeak. If this is truly what you were meant to do, then everything will be fine.”

Coin Counter walked out from behind the curtain. Beakbreaker smiled, adjusted my tie, and followed after him as Coin Counter went on stage and began his speech. “Mares and Gentlecolts, thank you for joining us today...”

Heading to my designated spot behind the curtain, I breathed deeply to calm myself. It wasn't easy with the sound of hundreds of cameras going off, which would become a hurricane of noise when I walked out. Coin Counter continued to talk, reciting my carefully written speech to build anticipation to a fever pitch, but it wasn't needed. Medicomp had produced two miracles; the press expected a third one, and they would get it.

As I tried to calm my pounding heart, a thought came to me. In some ways, this was the end. The moments I spent behind the stage were the last I'd ever have as an unknown pony. Once I headed out onto that runway, I'd be a celebrity. Every move I made in public would be watched and scrutinized, and returning to my old life would be impossible.

This walk would be a one-way trip.

“...I present to you, the next wonder of Medicomp's technology. Where we can now give legs to those who have lost them, and wings to those who once had them, we can now give the gift of flight to ponies who have always wanted it.”

It was too late to run. But I wasn't going to. I wasn't going to let the fear get to me. This was my once-in-a-lifetime chance to make something of myself, and I'd be a fool to flee from it.

“Mares and Gentlecolts, I give to you, the first earth pony given artificial wings!”

The curtain parted, and I was assaulted by a literal wall of lights, momentarily blinding me. Instinct kicked in, and I almost retreated. But I I didn't. I walked onto that runway, trying to ignore the fear as I put one hoof in front of another, taking that one-way trip out of my old life.

The lights kept flashing. I adopted the most handsome, dashing face I could, pretending that I was a model at a fashion show, the pride and envy of everyone in attendance, hoping it would distract me from wanting to throw up. But it got easier with each step. Being the focus of this much attention was something I had never felt before. The air was charged with energy, and I could feel the astonishment of those around me.

“The stallion you see before you was born an earth pony," Coin Counter said. "He had no magic, and no flight abilities of any kind, yet he had a dream: to rise above the earth, and to fly among the skies. Fate said he would never do so, but we have now allowed him to fulfill that dream, and the dreams of other earth ponies who wish to soar like their pegasus brethren.”

The cameras continued to flash as photographs were taken. But I was no longer afraid. It felt so good, so right, so...intoxicating to be looked at like this. History was being made, and I was the one doing it. This was my reward, my victory after so much work and effort, and I was going to enjoy it for all it was worth.

I stretched out my wings and turned around, letting them be photographed from all angles, including the scars where they had been attached. And then I leapt, hovering in midair. There was a gasp from the audience as I flew through the air, doing a few quick tricks that I had practiced relentlessly when flying over the ocean. It only lasted a few seconds, but it had the desired effect of wowing the crowd. They knew the world would never be the same, and they had a front-row seat to watching it all happen.

Unable to resist, I raised my front legs high, as if beckoning to them like the princesses. And as I wanted, they went nuts, shouting out questions, snapping photographs like no tomorrow, and acting like worshipers before an angel who had descended from the heavens.

I grinned. No, it wasn't like seeing an angel. It was like seeing a god.

***

As evening fell, I stood in the gym, looking out the windows to the city below. From so high up, it was peaceful and tranquil from so high up, with life going on as normal. But it was an illusion. Editors, writers, and reporters were no doubt churning out as many copies of tomorrow's papers as they could. And when I woke up the following morning, one of those papers lay outside my room, the headline announcing the medical miracle of the century: Medicomp letting ponies change their race, and beneath that, a photo of myself on the walkway.

As a pony who had never gotten any media attention before, it was a huge shock to see myself, and to read about myself in the articles. And when I peered out the window, I saw huge crowds gathered around the base of the tower.

There was a knock at the door. Opening it, I found Coin Counter and Beakbreaker standing there. “Morning, Silverspeak,” Coin Counter said. “I trust you've seen the papers?”

I nodded.

“Wonderful. In fact, we've got a public question and answer session scheduled for this afternoon, and I as hoping you'd join us.”

In reality, I had to go to the session. After all, why set one up, then have the star not show? I at least appreciated Coin Counter being polite about it, rather then ordering me to go. After all, I still was a Medicomp employee, despite my newfound status. “Of course I can come,” I said.

When the session was held that afternoon, I was amazed at how many ponies showed up. There must have been hundreds of them, if not at least a thousand, all of whom wanted to get a glimpse of me. Even behind the line of security guards and the tables, I was a little nervous, now knowing what movie stars felt like when their own fans go nuts. As Coin Counter and Beakbreaker took their places, I looked over the crowd, wondering if there were any familiar faces, for I'd be happy to take questions from them over anyone else. But there were none that I could see... save one.

At the very back of the crowd, I could just make out the unmistakable face of the head librarian.

My stomach tightened. Why was she there? A few seconds of frantic thought, and I concluded that she was just curious to see an earth pony who had gotten wings.

Yes, that had to be it.

The session then began, and for the next hour Coin Counter, Beakbreaker, and myself talked with the crowd, giving details about the operation, my recovery and training, and how it had taken a lot of work to get where I was. Then came questions from the audience, almost all of which were directed towards me. And as difficult as it was to keep up with the barrage of questions, I was flattered, and quickly got sucked up into the role of the suddenly famous, delighted at the audience giving me their undivided attention with each word I spoke.

Still, I would occasionally glance towards the librarian. She didn't move; she just watched me, her gaze piercing even from so far away. Whenever I saw that look, I quickly turned away. I had no desire to engage in paranoia about what she was up to; I had been down that path before, and had no desire to repeat it.

At last, the session came to an end, with the announcement that Medicomp wanted me to try the wings out for a year, and if they still worked, then the company would open the procedure up to everyone who wanted a pair. Only then did the the librarian leave, but not before giving me one final glance.

***

For the next month, life rushed ahead at break-neck speed. Every day saw me waking up early from my new apartment in the tower (my old one was out of the question, as I'd be mobbed trying to go in and out every day) and attending any number of events. Talk shows, get-togethers, and public demonstrations sucked up my time, and it was common for me to not come back to the Medicomp tower late at night, collapse on the bed, and pass out, only to wake up early the next morning and do it all over again.

Still, I was having the time of my life, for I was the talk of the town. Every magazine, book, periodical, and media pony wanted to interview me, take photos, or both. Whenever I ventured outside, mobs of ponies would swarm around me, eager to see my wings for themselves. Yet, I didn't mind the attention. I was happy to pose for photos and give autographs, and soon I was amassing a collection of books, articles, fan letters, and everything related to my newfound fame. The public wanted to get all it could of Silverspeak, the next wonder of the world, the pony who defied nature and forged his own path.

But there was something I couldn't collect and display on a shelf, but was equally as important to me, if not more. Whenever I talked with other Earth ponies, there were inevitably several who told me that they shared the dream I had. They said I gave them hope for flight, and if I could get wings, then they could, too. To hear that made me feel... well, like a superhero. Many a day ended with me grinning ear to ear, feeling on top of the world, never tiring of hearing how I was giving hope and inspiration to so many.

Basking in the glow of my admirers, I thought the good times would never end.

***

It's hard to believe how the worst things can begin so simply and so casually. While going through some fan mail one night, I came across one from a pony who didn't approve of what I was doing. Surprised, I rationalized it away, thinking that not every pony was going to be happy with what I was doing. After all, not every pony had been happy with the legs and wings, so why should this be any different? I didn’t think about the letter for the next few days, and had forgotten about it while visiting a talk show one day, going through my usual topics and discussions. And when we got to taking audience questions, I went through the usual ones, thinking that there was no question that could surprise me at that point.

Then one pony, a unicorn, raised his hoof. “Pardon me for going against the grain,” he asked, “but don't you think changing your race is dangerous?”

“Perhaps," I said, "but who's to say that Earth ponies shouldn't get the same abilities as our airborne brethren?”

“But what if every earth pony out there went to get wings?”

“Then Medicomp would be financially fit for the next thousand years.” After the laughter from the audience died down, I kept talking. “I don't think that's going to be a problem. Earth ponies would still have their talents. They'd still have their connection to the earth, they'd grow food, and they'd be the strongest and most durable ponies. They'd just be able to fly.”

“But won't the balance of life be shattered? We'd have too many pegasus ponies flying around.”

“Well, then we'd probably have lots of farmers who could fly," I said. “In fact, now that I think of it, wouldn't it be an improvement in some ways? Earth ponies are traditionally the strongest, so we'd have earth ponies who can not only fly, but be stronger then normal pegasus ponies. They'd be able to accomplish twice as much.”

The studio went silent.

“Are you suggesting,” the unicorn asked, “that pegasus ponies would become obsolete?”

I quickly realized that something had gone horribly wrong. “No, no, not at all,” I stammered. “I mean... not exactly. Just because I'm technically a pegasus pony now doesn't mean I can manipulate the weather. I can't sit on clouds or fly fast enough to transfer rain water to another part of Equestria. Earth ponies can't do any of those things, and I doubt they ever will.”

The audience remained silent.

The host, realizing that things were getting out of hand, quickly cut to a commercial break.

***

The talk show became a huge fiasco in the papers over the next few days. Headlines screamed about how I had denounced the pegasus race, saying that it was going to be obsolete once everypony could get wings. The tabloids were even worse, saying that I had gleefully relished describing how the Earth ponies were going to overthrow the princesses and take over Canterlot, and that I had gotten into a fistfight with the audience (Medicomp's lawyers were quick to have that retracted). Coin Counter quickly held a press conference to assure the public that that wasn't the case at all, and I even went before the microphone to explain my position, but in the damage had been done. I had figured ponies were smart, but I was shocked at how the majority of ponies seemed to believe the headlines over what I said, judging by letters to the editors, along with volumes of mail sent to Medicomp, and to me.

I waited for the controversy to die down, but it didn't. It seemed that not all of Manehattan was behind Medicomp, and that the talk show incident gave them permission to come out of hiding. More articles and opinion pieces began to be published denouncing the company for interfering with what shouldn't be messed with. The more I read, the more I was shocked. I had thought the ability to get wings would delight everyone. I couldn't fathom why there was so much negativity.

Needing to recharge from going out in public so much, I stayed in the tower for a few days, trying to forget about the public and the talk show fiasco by reading books, relaxing, and sharing meals with Beakbreaker in her apartment, but it didn't work. It certainly didn't help that whenever I saw Mangus, he snickered at me, no doubt enjoying seeing me make a fool of myself.

Finally giving up on my books one evening, I focused on reading the letters sent to me, wanting to see why ponies were so upset. Maybe I could figure out why and offer an appropriate answer. Half the letters I got supported me, saying that I had clearly been made to look like an idiot by the press, but the other half mainly ranted about how I was a racist, how I hated pegasus ponies, how I wanted to blow up Cloudsdale, and other nonsense.

When Beakbreaker came in, she saw my bloodshot eyes and immediately took the latest letter out of my hooves. “You shouldn't read so much into these,” she said, putting a hoof on my shoulder. “It'll drive you crazy.”

“I just don't understand,” I said. “I thought everyone would be happy to see wings like these.”

“Many are.”

“But not everyone. I just don't understand why”

Beakbreaker thought for a moment. “Maybe because they're afraid,” she said. “They’re afraid that the ability to get wings is going to throw the world into chaos. And as some of them might tell you, change isn't always good.”

I groaned.

Beakbreaker put her other hoof on my shoulders. “Don't stress out so much. We just have to show them that you're still you. You're not a monster.”

I couldn't not stress out over what was happening, but I nodded in agreement. At that moment, I was just relieved that Beakbreaker was there, and, more importantly, that she was on my side.

***

Coin Counter called an emergency meeting the following day, with Beakbreaker and myself attending. The public relations situation, though not dire, was inching that way, and immediate action had to be taken to mend it. The floor was opened to suggestions, and many came out, but one of the fellow CEO's suggested that perhaps we could have a publicity tour throughout all of Equestria, going from city to city to let all ponies see me and realize that I wasn't a monster.

Everyone present agreed that it was a good idea, myself included. Not only because I could help work towards making things better, but I was also looking forward to the idea of traveling outside of Manehattan for a while. Hopefully one of the stops would be Saddle Lanka, for outside of a few letters, I hadn't met my parents since the Summer Festival, and this would be a good time to do so.

Besides, what better way to show them how far their son had gone than by showing off his wings?

Arrangements were made, and a train was chartered. While most of Medicomp's management would remain in Manehattan, Coin Counter would come with us, as well as Mangus and several of his guards to provide security. I was not at all happy with that; I could accept the need for security, but I would have taken anyone over Mangus and his brutes. Still, the day of our departure finally arrived. With all our things packed, Coin Counter, Beakbreaker, and myself got into the official carriage, and were driven to the station, where our special train awaited, complete with larger-then-normal cars more elegant then your ordinary passenger train; Medicomp wanted to make a big impression with this trip, and were pulling out all the stops. When we boarded, the doors were closed, and Medicomp's private train set off across the Bucklyn Bridge, and began our tour of Equestria.

Everyone else on the train was excited, myself included. Sitting in the lounge car, I watched as the bridge passed by, and the water below us sparkled under the sun. Everything seemed fresh and ready for us; beyond the bridge lay all of Equestria, and countless other ponies who could be persuaded to see that this wasn't the work of an evil company, and that it could help improve lives, like how it had improved mine. I was convinced we could persuade them to accept the idea. All we had to do... what I had to do... was win them over.

And really, how hard could that be?

Celestia's Abomination

View Online

Our trip through Equestria started off well enough; we rode through its many cities and towns, pegasi messengers flying ahead to spread word of our arrival. Once we got there, we would set up a meeting in the biggest hall, gym, or stage available and hold a question and answer session for the locals. Truth be told, I felt more like a circus animal than the representative of a major company, strutting across the stages and going down the isles while stretching and flexing my wings, even letting them touch them if they wished. Following that was a demonstration of my flight abilities, proving that we now had the power to let earth ponies fly.

I had thought our PR campaign would be easy, and that all of Equestria would quickly embrace this technology. But alas, real life wasn't like my fantasy.

Just like in Manehattan, towns and settlements were split fifty-fifty on if my wings were a good thing, or if Medicomp was messing with something that shouldn't be trifled with. I wasn't openly heckled, but it was hard to ignore scowling faces when I was doing my tricks, making me feel like a foal's magician trying to impress an adult audience and failing miserably.

As we continued through Equestria, things began to change. Hecklers began to pop up, booing and raising a fuss. There were few at first, and were quickly ushered out from the venues, but they began to grow in number. Soon the booing turned to yells, and then protests that what Medicomp was doing was wrong. Then came the vegetables and fruit thrown at me, and I got unwanted practice at dodging them.

I was baffled. So too, were Beakbreaker, Coin Counter, and the other higher-ups who had come on the trip. This shouldn't have happened: Almost no one opposed wing implants for crippled pegasi, but there was no such enthusiasm for us. The higher-ups were concerned about the investment, but they could stay on the sidelines. I didn't have that luxury, as I had overtaken Beakbreaker as the public face of Medicomp. I kept telling myself that the ponies who objected to me getting wings were only angry about it as a matter of principle, and not actually angry at me. After all, I was just a spokespony. But spokespony or not, it became harder to ignore the protests, heckling, and spite directed my way.

It didn’t help that I saw Mangus grinning after each performance, like he was a king and I his jester, playing the fool for his amusement.

***

There were two destinations on the trip I feared going to. The first was Canterlot, where I would present the wings to Equestira's upper class, and to the princesses themselves. The thought scared me out of my wits; not because I was afraid Celestia and Luna would boo and hurl tomatoes at me, but because I didn't know what they thought of the wings. If they were wavering, any mistake on my part could have drastic consequences.

The thought of Celestia scowling at my stupidity scared me half to death.

Canterlot was still a few months away, but my spirits were still frayed as we headed to the other destination I feared: Cloudsdale. I was heading into their capital, the beating heart of their race. What would they think of me? Would they see me as an abomination? Someone foolishly trying to force his way into their ranks? That's what the Cloudsdale Times had been saying, letters and editorials portraying me as a fool and disrespectful of the proud legacy of the pegasi. I brought my concerns up with Coin Counter, but he assured me that this was necessary, for we needed to prove to the pegasi that Medicomp's wings were just as good as the ones nature gave them.

Coin Counter was right, but his words did nothing to soothe my fears.

When the day arrived, and our train came to a stop beneath Cloudsdale, our traveling group headed up the city. Various spells were cast to allow non-pegasi ponies walk on the clouds for the duration of our stay, and we were guided to the city's famed stadium. Normally reserved for sporting events and various competitions, we had been granted use of it for our presentation.

Beakbreaker had a blast during the walk to the stadium, astonished at being able to stroll over the puffy clouds without fear of falling through. I wished I could have shared her enjoyment, but it was impossible for me to ignore the suspicious looks I got from passing pegasi. There were few friendly faces, and many glares sent my way, making it feel like everyone was on edge.

All it would take to set things off was a single mishap, mistake, or misspoken word.

My fears were momentarily forgotten when we reached the stadium. I had seen it in pictures and movies, but nothing compared to standing outside its polished marble walls and gaze upon the many statues, precious gems, and banners billowing in the mid-morning breeze. It was so big that I felt tiny while walking inside, even moreso at seeing all the seats filled to capacity. There were thousands of ponies gathered together to see our show, but when I scanned the crowds, I found an unsteady mixture of curiosity, excitement, and anger.

Coin Counter, sensing the animosity in the air, quickly began his presentation, giving a speech that focused on how the company's wings could help those who had lost their own. I was backstage during it all, trying to build up my nerve to head out. Beakbreaker had to take a cloth and wipe the sweat from me, giving constant assurances that I was going to be fine. From anyone else, the assurances would have been empty, but hearing them from Beakbreaker gave me the boost I needed to head onstage. They gave me the strength to start my routine as thousands of ponies watched me perform tricks, spins, and loops. But even as I flew about, I could tell most of the crowd weren't happy at seeing an earth pony trying to impress them.

Things only got worse as the exhibition went on. Being under the gaze of so many unfriendly ponies was like flying through toxic soup, and I could handle it for only so long. As the presentation finally, mercifully drew to a close, I tried not to just give up and fly away as fast as I could.

I heard the shout a split second before something hit me in the face, and my vision went red. I momentarily lost control as I panicked, thinking that someone had thrown a knife into my eyes. But I could still see, though it was painful to do so. Liquid hit my tongue, and I tasted tomato.

More jeers, and more vegetables were thrown at me. Most hit, and I struggled to stay afloat. The hecklers below laughed, yelling at me to get out of Cloudsdale. Then others joined in, and yells quickly filled the air, drowning out Coin Counter's pleas for calm. Whether the yells were directed towards me or the hecklers, I couldn't tell, but it was like the entire stadium had finally given up the facade of a friendly place and turned against me.

The stress instinct took over, kicking me into fight or flight mode. Muscles were primed for a life or death struggle, and my stomach was emptied, freeing my body from devoting precious energy to digesting food. Unfortunately, it chose to have me throw up over the hecklers, who were drenched in a waterfall of vomit.

Not hanging around to hear their outraged howls, I took off, zooming out of the stadium and back towards solid ground, leaving Cloudsdale far behind.

***

Needless to say, the vomit waterfall incident didn't go over well in the Cloudsdale press, and neither did my sudden departure. While Coin Counter defended me as best he could (saying that the incident came from the unfriendly reception we had received), there were too many proud ponies in Cloudsdale who don't take insults - even accidental ones - lightly. When we got our hooves on a special edition of the Cloudsdale Times, there were a full five pages devoted to letters from the editor. Beakbreaker and the others cautioned me not to read them, but I did anyway, wanting to learn why so many didn't like me.

Of all the letters, most said the wings were a good idea, but that I was a pathetic choice to show off the wings. Why have an earth pony fly, the letters asked, when Medicomp could have gotten an injured pegasi and given him or her wings instead?

As the train made its way down the tracks that night, I remained in the lounge car, looking out to the nighttime sky above, fruitlessly searching for an inner calm. I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I didn't hear Beakbreaker walk inside.

“Hey, you okay?”

I wasn't, but nodded, not wanting to get into a discussion about what happened.

“You don't look okay," Beakbreaker said.

“I'm just tired, that's all," I told her. "Getting up so early so many times wears you down, you know?”

She wasn't fooled. “I'm a doctor. I know illness when I see it, either of the body, or of the mind." I expected a lecture, but she gave none, instead putting a hoof on my shoulder. “When you want to talk, I'll be here to listen.”

Then, giving me a pat, she left.

I knew Beakbreaker wanted to help me, and I appreciated her offer, but felt that she couldn't help me. I had achieved my dream... or, at least, a modified version of it, and thought all of Equestria would have been amazed at my achievement. But instead, Equestria was divided, bickering on whether I was a good thing, an ill omen, or a mistake that should have never taken to the sky. Nothing was going as I had hoped, and my dream was becoming a nightmare, but I couldn't figure out why. Was it the wings? The idea of anyone being able to get wings? Or, as I feared, did the problem lay with me?

I remained in the lounge car long into the night, staring out at the night sky and wondering what I was doing wrong.

***

After the fiasco at Cloudsdale, Coin Counter decided that the best course of action was to head to familiar territory, and diverted the train to Saddle Lanka, saying I deserved a short break after all I had done. I realized he was trying to make up for what had happened, and was grateful for the effort. If nothing else, a few days at home with my parents, and out of the public eye, would rejuvenate the soul.

With the engines going at full speed, we reached Saddle Lanka in short order, arriving at the station just as a light rain fell from the cloud-covered sky, forcing everyone to take an umbrella as they disembarked. It was an odd experience having my hooves touch the stone platform; just a few years ago, I had been eager to leave Saddle Lanka. I had been a nobody back then, and now I was the most famous... or infamous... pony in Equestria.

Strange how so much can change in such a short time…

Mangus led the way as the others got off the train. His return to Saddle Lanka was more joyous then my own, for he had nothing but pleasant memories for this place, most of them no doubt involving me. As Coin Counter sent his aides off to arrange lodging at the local hotels, I told him that he didn’t have to worry about lodging for myself, as I already had a place to stay. And with that, I started off towards my parent’s house. Beakbreaker jogged after me; though I wanted time to myself, I was fine with her coming along. In fact, I welcomed it. Her presence would help me relax and unwind.

My peace would be difficult to find, though, for it wasn't long before Mangus and two of his guards followed me. Though this was my hometown, I knew Coin Counter wasn't going to take any chances with my safety, and had dispatched Mangus to make sure I didn't come to harm. He kept his distance (no doubt aware that complaints from me would see him removed), and I did my best to ignore the three of them.

Beside me, Beakbreaker whistled as we went among the trees. “So this is where you grew up?”

I nodded, used to the towering trees and thick greenery. But for Beakbreaker, who came from the arid fields of the savannas, enormous forests and blue-green mountains were things out of myths and fairy tales.

We headed down a small path until we reached my childhood home. It hadn’t changed much since the last time I saw it; the lawn was still well kept, and there was a new coat of paint on the walls, but it was identical to the way it was years ago. The two of us walked to the porch, where Beakbreaker waited as I knocked on the door. The knob turned a few moments later, and my dad came out.

“Yes, can I-” He stopped. “Silverspeak?!”

I smiled. “Hi, Dad.”

Dad was so shocked at seeing me that it took him a few moments to get himself back together. Once he did, he got a smile equal to mine and turned back inside. “Honey! Come see who's landed on our doorstep!”

My mother rushed out, and practically squealed with joy at seeing me, wasting no time in fulfilling the time-honored tradition of mothers trying to crush their children to death beneath a loving embrace.

“Oh, my little stallion has come home!” Loosening her grip at seeing my struggles to breathe, she asked, “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?”

“Medicomp's tour took a little side trip,” I wheezed. “Wanted to see how you two were doing.”

“Really? We read about the tour in the paper, but it said you were coming by next month.”

I was surprised that Saddle Lanka’s newspaper had talked about the tour. “Really? What else did the paper say?”

My mother looked beside me and gave that pleasant smile all parents give when trying to change the topic. “Beakbreaker!”

Beakbreaker trotted up to the door. “Hello Mrs. Brassbloom. Hello Mr. Goldplate; it’s good to see you again!”

Mom grabbed Beakbreaker in the same embrace she had given me, only slightly less crushing. Beakbreaker was surprised, but went along with it, getting considerably more out of it than I had. It occurred to me that she hadn't seen her family in years, and that could have been the first time she'd been embraced since leaving them.

Looking behind Beakbreaker, my mother spotted Mangus and his goons. While she and my dad were somewhat knowledgeable about what Mangus had done to me in grade school, they had still believed that he wasn't a bad pony, just one who needed to be straightened out a bit. They probably hoped that the passing years had done exactly that.

“Well, Mangus Bluehorn,” my mother said. “You've certainly grown.”

Mangus put on his most charming smile as he wiped his hair back. “Indeed I have,” he boasted. “And definitely for the better!”

Mom wasn’t quite convinced, and from the looks of things, neither was Dad. “I see... Well, Silverspeak, Beakbreaker, I imagine you're tired. Why don't you come in and get a drink?”

We started inside. So did Mangus and the guards, but I held up my hoof. “No thanks, you two,” I said. “We'll be fine.”

“We're your guards,” Mangus pointed out.

“And you can guard the lawn," I said. "Plenty of room to see incoming threats from there.” Closing the door before he could answer, I slipped the locks in place and joined my parents in the kitchen, where Dad was already making some treats and preparing tea. Once it was done, we took our spots at the table; I looked around while sipping. “Place doesn’t look any different since I was last here,” I said.

“We're thinking of getting some new wallpaper,” Dad said. "Give the house a new color scheme."

“How about my room?”

“Oh, we've kept it right the way it is,” Mom said. “In case... you know... you ever came home.”

From the way she said it, Mom hadn’t quite adjusted to having her little baby not living at home anymore.

“My parents are doing the same,” Beakbreaker said. “They say they’re keeping my hut the same way it’s been, when the time comes for me to return home.” She chuckled. “I don't think they believe their child has grown up.”

Mom chuckled. “Oh, I know that feeling well.”

Beakbreaker slipped a glance at me and winked. She had come to my rescue, realizing how awkward things had been. I winked back, grateful for the save.

“Well, son,” Dad said as he finished his cup. “I understand you've gotten some wings.”

I had known this moment would come eventually, but I wasn't sure how my parents would take it. While I had written the occasional letter to them since the whole wing fiasco had started, they had never directly commented on my new appendages, or made any mention of all the hullabaloo that surrounded it. I could endure other ponies mocking me, but the only opinions I truly cared about, even above the princesses, were those of my parents. Above all others, I hoped they would be proud of my efforts to better myself.

I was going to find out if that was true or not.

“Yes I have,” I said, raising my chest. “Would you like to see them?”

Dad nodded.

I stepped away from the table, took hold of my coat, and yanked it off, spreading my wings as far as they would go.

For a long moment my parents were at a loss for words. I studied their faces, trying to discern if they were happy or sad, but couldn't tell which it was.

My mother left the table and came over, stretching her hoof out. “May I?” I nodded, and she stroked my right wing, hooves going through the feathers. “They feel so...real. How'd you do it?”

“You'll have to ask Beakbreaker that,” I said. “She's the one who made them, not me.”

“Making them was difficult,” Beakbreaker said, “but I won’t bore you with all the details.” She went to my wings, pointing out the scars where they had been joined with flesh. “The big deal - so to speak - is that we can attach wings to anyone, regardless of species. In fact, the two of you could get wings too, if you wanted.”

My mom blushed. “Oh, thank you dearie, but... we'll wait to see how they work out after a year or so.”

Was she tactfully saying no, or telling the truth? I couldn’t tell.

Dad come over and put his hooves between my feathers as well. I flexed my wings so that he could see all the muscles and intricate details up close and personal.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“These are amazing,” he said, impressed. “Never thought I'd see the day Equestria would get anything like this.”

“Never thought you'd see your son become a pegasi, either?”

He chuckled. “No, can't say I did.”

***

The reunion with my parents went as well as I could have hoped, but it was cut short when Mangus pounded on the door. When Dad opened it, he found my annoyed guard holding a note that had just been delivered from Coin Counter via one of the pegasi on staff. Opening it, I read that despite what he had said earlier, Coin Counter wanted to do a brief presentation that evening to Saddle Lanka, having only just learned that there was a convention of prestigious unicorns from all throughout Equestria meeting in town. And these weren’t just any ordinary unicorns, but ones from high society. If we could impress them regarding the wings, then they’d go and tell everyone how magnificent they were. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and couldn’t be passed up.

I wasn’t happy. Barely an hour into relaxing at home, and already I was being called back to do another show. Beakbreaker and my parents said that I should say no. I had come to Saddle Lanka to relax and recuperate, not perform before crowds of hecklers. I was tempted to agree with them, but Coin Counter was right: we needed the support of those who's influence couldn't be understated. It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. Besides, if I could impress them, then perhaps that might help other ponies accept me, and all it required was an hour of my time.

Handing the note back to Mangus, I told him I’d be there. Beakbreaker and my parents were surprised, but I assured them it would be easy. Besides, it was only for an hour; what was the worst that could happen in the span of sixty minutes?

As Mangus headed back into town, I outflew him to the performing arts area. Normally we’d do the presentation inside a convention hall, but with Saddle Lanka’s only gymnasium already full with tables and booths for the convention, we would have to perform on one of its outdoor stages. As lights and a podium were set up, I only hoped that we wouldn’t get rain; clouds were coming in, and it looked like the next few days were going to be stormy ones.

When the show was about to start, I wondered just how many ponies would come, considering how this had been thrown together in the span of an afternoon. But word travels fast, and the news that Saddle Lanka's most famous son had returned home brought almost everyone out. When all was said and done, I peered out from behind the curtains and saw over a thousand Unicorns before the stage (with my parents in the front row). And not only that, but there were also ponies setting up microphones and audio equipment near the stage. Not only was I going to be performing in front of a thousand high-class Unicorns, but I also had to put on my best show for the radio to broadcast to all corners of Equestria. I could do it, of that I had no doubt, but the problem with a live broadcast was that if something went wrong, there were no retakes.

Anything and everything could happen.

***

Everything started off well. I walked out onto the stage as Coin Counter began his talk (tweaking the dialogue so it catered to unicorns), noting how my wings allowed me to surpass so many barriers that separated earth ponies from greatness. Imagine, then, what would happen once they were available to everyone, unicorns included. While I performed my tricks and maneuvers, Coin Counter pointed out that with wings, unicorns would be both masters of magic and the sky.

With a sly smile, Coin Counter pointed out that pre-orders for the wings were conveniently available after the show, which got a good laugh from many in the audience.

To my delight, everything went smoothly. Compared to Cloudsdale, there were no hecklers, hooligans, or those out looking to disrupt things. On my last flyover, I made extra sure to swoop past my parents, who were in awe at seeing their son doing the impossible. As I flew towards the stage, I caught a glimpse of Mangus, who seemed particularly unhappy. No doubt he thought it should have been him on stage being admired, instead of the runt he had constantly heckled back in school.

Sucks to be you, I thought as I landed.

In hindsight, I wish I could have realized the trouble I was heading into. But being so caught up in the moment, I had no idea how badly things were going to go.

The question and answer session began, as it usually did, with Coin Counter being asked how much the wings would cost, how durable they were, and other oft-repeated inquiries. But while most of those came from the high-class ponies, things changed when the natives of Saddle Lanka asked about the moral and ethical aspects of the wings themselves. Coin Counter stressed that the company wasn't trying to change the ways of nature, but rather, to allow ponies to fulfill their dreams of flight, no matter what species they were.

As the questions kept coming, I realized that I should have warned Coin Counter that Saddle Lanka was one of the more conservative unicorn communities, priding itself on a proud and rich tradition of magical excellence. Anything that deviated from that tradition was shunned, and while there were some within the audience who liked the idea of being able to fly, most of them (especially the older, more influential unicorns) saw it as a threat to their way of life, and the purity of the unicorn race.

As the end of the presentation arrived, Coin Counter said we had time for one last question. A unicorn at the very back of the crowd sent a magical flash of light into the sky.

“Yes, the stallion in the back.”

The unicorn came trotting up to the stage. He was about my age, slightly more muscular, and had the intense, focused gaze of someone with high intelligence. Taking a microphone, he said, “I've got a question for Mr. Silverspeak.”

There was something about his voice that put me on alert, a smugness born from self-righteousness. Nevertheless, I took the microphone from Coin Counter. “Yes, go ahead,” I said, taking care to keep my voice neutral.

“Well, what I'd like to know, Mr. Silverspeak, is what it’s like to be a freak?”

Coin Counter moved to take the microphone back, but I held up a hoof. “I'm not sure I understand what you mean,” I said.

“You're a freak. You defy nature and everything Celestia stands for. You're out there happily slapping wings on your back, and ignoring the consequences of doing so.”

“And what are those consequences?” I asked.

“You're going to have every deviant out there wanting to follow your example and defy nature, that's what! You know how many ponies look up to you? They see you as some sort of rebel who defied Celestia and went against everything she stands for.”

“Have you heard any of the other interviews I've given?” I asked, noticing that the radio operators had every microphone turned in my direction. “Haven't you noticed that I look up to her as a role model?”

The pony laughed. “You can fool a lot of ponies, buddy, but I-”

An angry chill went through me. So many times in childhood, bullies had mockingly called me their buddy, and as a result, I felt a rush of anger whenever I heard that word, especially when some punk used it as an insult.

“I'm not your buddy, 'buddy',” I snarled.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, I'm not your buddy.” I was having trouble keeping my temper in check, and could see Coin Counter starting to panic, no doubt fearing that I was going to lash out and create a PR nightmare. But I didn't care; I wanted to know why so many ponies didn't like what I was doing, and this unicorn was the embodiment of every pony who had mocked me up to that point. “And, quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if you're one of those backwater fanatics who hates change: uneducated, too proud to admit your own faults, and frothing at the mouth whenever you see something you don't like. Isn't that right, ‘buddy’?”

No one spoke.

My parents looked like they were going to faint.

The unicorn laughed. “I'm a hard working Unicorn, just like my family, and their family before them. And if you're so smart, then you'd know that most of Equestria doesn't like what you're doing. Doesn't surprise me, seeing as you probably live in a comfy little bubble where you're only told what you want to hear, but the average pony out there sees these wings as the beginning of Equestria's downfall.”

“Mind explaining that rather large gap in logic?”

“If you start with wings, then what's to stop you from going to horns? What's to stop ponies from becoming alicorns? If that happened, then nopony would be special or unique. But even without horns, everyone would be pegasus ponies! It’d be a swarm, disrupting the natural order of things! And not to be boastful or anything, but if any kind of pony should take over as the dominant species, it should be the unicorns! We have the most power to change things, isn't that right?!”

The crowd cheered.

“But we're humble, too. We know our place. You don't. And if this little scheme of yours succeeds, and everypony out there destroys the natural order, it'd be anarchy. You'd be remembered as the one who started it all. But that's not going to happen: We're going to stop you.”

“And how do you figure that?!” I demanded. “You going to get your little unicorn buddies and stab me through the eye in an alley somewhere?!”

“Naw, nothing that crude. All we've got to do is convince Equestria that you're a freak. Mighty Silverspeak, the one who seeks to destroy a way of life that everyone else has enjoyed for over a thousand years. But hey, buck that! It's all about you, right? Go ahead and ignore your role and your place in things. In liberal Manehattan you may be a pariah, but out here with the rest of us hard-working ponies, you're an abomination! You're scum! You're-”

That was my breaking point. Anger shoved aside rational thought as I dropped the microphone and leapt at the stallion, aiming to buck that smug face of his until his bones were liquified goo. But a magical force grabbed hold of me before I could hit him and yanked me behind the curtains, where both Mangus and Coin Counter held me.

Beakbreaker ran up to me. “Silverspeak!”

I didn't notice her, fighting against the magic with everything I had. I didn’t care that I couldn’t escape. I just wanted to fight, to thrash and kick.

Beakbreaker grabbed my face. “Silverspeak, stop! It's okay! You’re-”

I lashed out and kicked her in the face, knocking Beakbreaker to the stage.

It took me a moment to realize what I had done. Seeing Beakbreaker lying on the floor snapped me out of my anger, and I went limp, horrified at the blood that was trickling from her nose.

Sensing that I wasn’t going to fight anymore, Coin Counter released his magical hold on me; when Mangus didn’t, Coin Counter slapped him, and I fell to the floor, scrambled over to Beakbreaker.

“Beakbreaker!”

Beakbreaker sat up, hooves going to her nose.

“Beakbreaker, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to… Oh Celestia, I’m sorry!”

Wiping the blood away, Beakbreaker stared at me, scarcely believing what had just happened.

***

We didn’t hang around to see the aftermath of my leap, rushing from the stage before things really got out of hoof. Beakbreaker was taken to the train to get some medical treatment, while Mangus and his guards ushered us away. My parents quickly caught up, offering the house as a hiding spot. We took advantage of their offer and snuck away into the approaching night. When we got to the house, Mangus and the others put up spells of invisible energy to encircle the surrounding area, making it impossible for anyone to get close without setting off a magical alarm. Only when locks were thrown across the door did Coin Counter finally break his stunned silence.

“This was a mistake,” Coin Counter said. “I'm sorry, Silverspeak. We shouldn't have done this.”

“We were going to meet one of those hecklers sooner or later,” I told him. “Better now then in Canterlot.”

Coin Counter shook his head. “We can say that you were provoked, but to have a fight break out… I never thought that would happen.”

Mangus grinned at me, looking mighty pleased with himself.

“That doesn't matter now,” my mom said, bringing me a mug of tea. “What's done is done, and there's no use going over what could have been.” She thought for a moment. “If you’re smart, you’ll all stay out of sight for the next few days and give this all time to cool down.”

I could tell from Coin Counter's expression that he wasn't convinced. Once a big event hits the newswire, the only thing you can do is wait for another big story to come along and make everyone forget about you. Nor could we take off, which would make it seem like we were running away. For the moment, we were stuck.

“All right,” Coin Counter said. “I’ll get to work with our PR boys. Silverspeak, I think it’d be best if you stayed here until we figure out what to do.”

“Gladly… that is, if my parents are okay with it.”

“I’m not going to let my baby head out there after tonight,” Mom said. “Not when the crowd might tear him apart.” Dad nodded in agreement, not wanting to risk his son being mocked, or worse.

Relieved, Coin Counter headed for the door. “Mangus, you and the others keep a close eye on this house. Don't let anyone in who isn't family, or part of our group, understand?”

Mangus nodded. “Of course.” He glanced my way with a big grin. “Nobody's coming or going without me knowing.”

“Good," Coin Counter said. "Hopefully we can nip this thing in the bud before it gets out of hoof.”

I quickly got up and went to the door as Coin Counter went to the door. “Sir?”

“Yes?”

“Could you… could you let Beakbreaker know I want to talk with her as soon as she’s feeling better?”

Coin Counter nodded. “I will. I promise.” Then, opening the door, he slipped out into the night.

***

Nobody felt much like talking, or trying to lighten the mood. Not even one of Dad's five-star meals lifted our spirits. Finally giving up, we retired to our rooms, and to our own thoughts. Mangus and his guards got the guest room, while I headed upstairs to my old room. Entering it was like going through a time machine; while most of my stuff had been put in storage, my room looked almost exactly like when I had left it. The bright blue walls were untouched, save for a fine covering of dust, dust that covered a few pieces of childhood memorabilia still on the shelves. It was tempting to look through my old things, but I decided to save that for another time as I shook the dust from the bed's comforter. It was surreal to lay in my old bed again; I almost felt like a child again, not having to worry about paying bills and dealing with life's inevitable disappointments. All I had back then were my dreams, and it seemed as if nothing could stop me from fulfilling them.

Oh, how times had changed.

As had happened so many times before, I stared at the ceiling as the night went on, unable to sleep, the events of the day rushing back to me again and again. Worst of all of them were seeing Beakbreaker lying on the floor with a cracked nose. That memory stung far more then anything the heckler had said to me.

As midnight came and went, I got out of bed and headed downstairs as quietly as I could, hoping that my mom’s old remedy of warm milk would help me sleep. Reaching the kitchen, I poured myself a glass, heated it up, and started to drink it.

I was halfway through when someone entered the kitchen.

“Late night refrigerator raid?”

Not being in the mood to talk with Mangus, I drank faster.

“You know, I never thought I'd see the day when you attacked someone, especially an innocent pony who only wanted to ask you a question.”

“Back off Mangus,” I said. “I'm not interested in anything you have to say.”

“Oh, I think you will be after I-”

I almost slammed the glass on the counter. “May I remind you that you're a guest in my parent's home? You bother any of us, and we can throw you out.”

Mangus positioned himself between me and the doorway. “Such a temper! What did I do to deserve such treatment?”

I started for the exit, fully intending to shove Mangus aside, but he shoved me first. “I've been wondering, Silverspeak: what drove you become so violent? The same drive to get those wings?”

“That's none of your business.”

“Oh, but it is.”

I tried to shove past Mangus again, but instead of pushing back, he grabbed me with his magic. I was about to shout out when Mangus’ horn flashed again, and my mouth suddenly clamped shut.

Mangus’ smug smile gave way to an angry snarl. “Why you?” he growled. “Why does a wimpy earth pony become so famous?”

I thrashed, trying to force my mouth open, which felt like it was glued shut with cement. The harder I tried, the more I sweated, but not from the exertion. Mangus had me at his mercy; he could have sliced off my skin with a kitchen knife and I wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

“It's not fair,” Mangus growled, “I should be the one in your place: Mangus Bluehorn, one of the most talented unicorns of his generation, who ends up working as a security guard. And you, a good-for-nothing earth pony, get all the fame.” He yanked me in close. “Why?! Why do you get everything, and I get nothing?!” He drew in close. "But I shouldn't complain," he whispered, "not really... not after what the Manehattan librarian told me."

I froze.

“It's interesting, really. Here I was, thinking I’d be stuck at the library for the rest of my career. And the one day, out of the blue, the head librarian tells me Medicomp is looking for a new security team. Guess she was impressed with my performance, as she puts in a word for me. And then, boom! The boys and I get hired to protect Medicomp.” He smiled. “But you want to know something really interesting? Before I left, she told me that the pony who went after the Forbidden Section was at Medicomp, and possibly might go after the wings. Why... it’s like she knew exactly who it was.”

I couldn’t stop the color draining from my face.

“So I was told to watch that pony. See how they acted and make sure they didn’t become a danger. And if that happened… to take appropriate measures.”

He stepped in close. “All this time, I’ve been just waiting for a reason to act. Any at all. And make no mistake, Silverfreak, if you prove yourself to be a danger to everyone around you, I will take you down. After all, you proved today that you're happy to attack those who don’t like you.”

He dropped me to the floor, and walked out of the kitchen.

“Have a nice night.”

I lay there for several minutes, my heart pounding wildly. The librarian had recommended Mangus' group of goons to guard the Medicomp building. She knew I worked there. She probably figured I was the one who had tried to steal those wings. And if she knew I had broken into the library, then she must have told Mangus to keep an eye on me...

Mangus knew I had broken into the library.

Panic overwhelmed me until it felt like my heart was going to stop. I could no longer control my frantic breathing, or the sweat falling onto the tiled floor.

He knows! I thought. Oh Celestia, Mangus knows! He knows what I did!

Books, Scrolls, And Hidden Places

View Online

Sleep didn't come that night. I lay in bed, thoughts racing through my mind. My little secret was still a secret, but for how long? What if Mangus went to Coin Counter and spilled the beans? What if he told my parents, and they pretended to be calm so I'd be at ease when the cops came? The night dragged on as I tried to figure out how to escape my impossible situation. Sooner or later, Mangus would reveal my secret. Knowing him, I couldn't bribe Mangus or convince him not to squeal. Every option I considered kept coming back to the only course of action I could take:

I had to kill Mangus Bluehorn.

Of course, I wasn't actually going to do it. Breaking into a building was one thing, but killing a pony to silence him was going too far. But what was I to do? I couldn't run away, nor could I say that he was lying, for the librarian could come forward and present whatever evidence she had... which meant that I'd have to kill her too. But I couldn't do that, either. I didn't want to go from being a celebrity to becoming a murderer. And if I had to silence the librarian to keep from squealing, then who would I have to kill to keep the identity of her murderer from leaking out? Would I have to go around killing ponies left and right until all of Equestria was buried under a mound of corpses?

It was four in the morning when I realized there really was only one way to stop Mangus. If I wanted to beat him, I had to go to the police and confess to what I had done at the library, depriving him the satisfaction of turning me in. Considering how long it had been since the break-in, and that no one had been hurt, perhaps the authorities would be lenient on me. Dawn was a few hours off, and there was still time to sneak back into town, take a train, and go to Manehatan. A short stay with Equestria’s legal system, and I would be free of Mangus and the librarian forever.

I almost got out of bed when another thought hit me: Ponies revere those who gave their all to help Equestria, putting them onto pedestals, so to speak. Ponies on pedestals are special. They can't be touched. They're idols, and ponies tend to forget or forgive any mistakes idols did when they were younger.

That was it. That was my answer. I had to elevate myself to the status of a pony that everyone looked up to. If I could become famous for helping the poor, the destitute, and the helpless, who would dare try to prosecute me? Only problem was, how was going to elevate myself to such lofty heights? Oh sure, I could donate to charities, spend time in soup kitchens, and build houses for the homeless, but every famous pony does that. I needed something more, and as the first rays of the sun began to creep over the horizon, I began to connect the threads. I had already gained fame by becoming a quasi-pegasi, but if I could somehow get a horn, I could elevate myself to alicorn status. I could be free to fly wherever I wanted to go, and to use my magic to impress others. Raise a house? How about five at once? Soup kitchens? I could magically create liquid mana to keep ponies from ever going hungry again. I could become a hero, and then no pony, not Mangus, not the librarian, could ever hope to stop me.

That was it. It was so simple. If I got a horn, then I could turn the tide of public opinion, and elevate myself beyond the reach of the law. It was so simple, so perfect.

All I had to do was find a horn.

***

I finally got to sleep, waking up around lunchtime and feeling much better. Breakfast was still laid out for me when I came down, and a search revealed that I had the house to myself. A peek out the windows revealed a shimmering, nearly transparent force field, most likely laid down as protection against hecklers.

Taking advance of the peace and quiet, I headed to the small library on the second floor, finding the shelves full of thrillers, books on gardening, cooking, and the history of Equestria, among other topics, including some of my favorite childhood books. It was tempting to go through them again, but I focused on books talking about Equestria's history, hoping to find inspiration on where I was to find a horn. Sadly, nothing fit the bill. I even tried a few of my old fairytales, where the hero would gain magic to perform heroic deeds, researching to see if they held any basis in historical fact, a search that ended in disappointment.

I was about to leave the library when I noticed a thick box nestled into a corner. Curious, I opened the lid, coughing at the dust that billowed out. Waving it away, I found several old books inside, the titles upon the spine written in a language I didn't understand. Pulling one out, I opened it, only to see the pages fall out, disintegrating as they hit the floor. Whatever those books were, they were old, possibly older then my parents and their parents before them.

There was one title that didn't seem as fragile as the others. The book was bare and unlabeled, save for the initials, “QQ” in the bottom right of the cover. Aside from its obvious age, there was little to distinguish the book from the others, but something about it caught my attention. Cracking it open, I found that it was written in Equestria's common tongue, instead of the older, fancier languages I couldn't decipher.

Retreating back to my room, I closed the door and locked it, not wanting to be disturbed as I opened to the title page and found the words: Here within lies the recorded words and thoughts of Quiverquill, scribe and scholar of Saddle Lanka. written within.

Quiverquill... the name seemed familiar. It was only after a few minutes that I remembered him: he was my dad's grandfather, to be precise. I didn't know much about him, except that he was looked upon as a kooky pony, always searching for some lost civilization or treasure, or whatever it was that caught his attention at any particular moment, and that he had vanished when my father was still an infant.

It was interesting to think that I was holding the journal of a pony who was long gone: who knew what my grandfather had to say? As it turned out, quite a bit. Quiverquill wrote at length about treasures and cities that had been lost to time, buried under mountains or at the bottom of the sea, and detailed his expeditions to find them. Yet, all ended in failure, even when he was convinced that every tiny artifact, treasure, or item he found was concrete proof that whatever he was looking for existed.

As a whole, it was interesting reading, but there really wasn't anything was relevant to me... until I got to the last page.

November the 15th: It's unbelievable! Absolutely preposterous! I can barely keep my focus right now, thanks to the ruffians from Canterlot! They came over to my house this morning and destroyed all my research on the horn! I tried to stop them, but several of their guards had magic far more powerful than mine, and held me in place while all my maps, notes, books, and journals regarding the horn were burned to ash, then tossed to the winds. I fought as hard as I could, but they were forced to use a sleeping spell, and when I came to, I found a note apologizing for the sudden intrusion, but that the orders had come from the sisters themselves, saying that it was a matter of safety that the horn not be found. The royal decree from the sisters themselves was there, along with a large bag of bits as an apology for what they had done, but I don't care. Years of work, gone! Reduced to ash because the Princesses apparently are a superstitious and cowardly lot! Thankfully, they didn't destroy this journal, most likely because I have made sure to keep all references to the horn out of it. And if I'm really lucky, not all may be lost. I have yet to check the hiding place in the second story bedroom. Hopefully, it’s still there!

Second story bedroom? From what I knew, our house hadn't been refurbished or touched for decades, perhaps longer. At most, we got new coats of paint, some spells to strengthen the old frames, but that was it. And my bedroom was the only one on the second floor.

My legs felt unnaturally light as I searched my room, looking for a spot where a book could be hidden, but two hours of searching revealed nothing. I was on the verge of giving up when I got a thought: If I wanted to hide a book to find later, I'd do so in the wall, preferably somewhere out-of-the-way, where it'd be inconvenient to track it down. The room's walls and floors were too obvious, but I had yet to check the closet.

Opening the closet, I went inside and turned on the light. The room - if I could call it that - was small and cramped with dressers, boxes, and shelves, but I didn't let that deter me as I yanked, tugged, and pulled them out, tapping the walls in hopes of hearing an echo. An hour of sweat, grime, and tapping brought me nothing, except the need for a shower.

With the walls being duds, I turned my attention to the floor, tapping away. I reached the furthest, darkest corner when a tap on the floor yielded firm wood, but also the sound of a very slight echo beneath it.

I tapped again, and the echo returned.

Grabbing a hammer, I tore away at the floor, breaking into a small, dark, and dirty hole beneath the frames.

There was a cloth-covered object inside, covered with dirt, dust, and grime.

I gave a little shriek of joy as I yanked the object out and brought it to my desk. Unwrapping the fabric, I found a book similar to Quiverquill's journal. The wrap had protected it, but the pages still held the unmistakable smell of mildew. I'd have to be much more careful reading that book, for fear of having it fall apart.

That’s when there was a knock at the door, and my mom called in, saying that Beakbreaker wanted to see me downstairs.

I almost refused, thinking she wouldn't have come over to see the pony who had hit in the nose. Yes, it had been an accident, but I had no idea how she would react to such an act. But ignoring her and trying to pretend the event had never happened would only make things worse.

Putting the book away, I shoved all the cabinets and shelves back into place, wiped the sweat and grime away, combed my hair, took a deep breath, and headed downstairs. Beakbreaker was in the lobby, two large baskets draped across her back.

“Beakbreaker?” I said, unsure how to proceed. Deciding that caution was the best course of action, I kept my tone sympathetic. “You… uh… You feeling better?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I am." She guested to the baskets. "You busy today?”

I was eager to read Quiverquill’s book, but needing to soothe any hurt feelings between Beakbreaker and me came first. "No, I didn’t have anything in mind.”

“Well, I’d love to go around and see more of Saddle Lanka’s scenery, but I could use a guide.” She popped one of the baskets open, revealing food and a thick blanket. “I thought we could have a picnic while we're out.”

The book called to me like a siren, but I ignored it. “Really? Well… I don’t mind. But getting away from Mangus will be a problem.”

“I doubt it. The last I saw, he was sleeping like a log." Beakbreaker gave a sly smile. "He should probably check his coffee to make sure nothing was slipped into it.”

***

After making sure we had everything, the two of us passed through the barrier surrounding the house and headed into the forests. Unlike the fabled Everfree Forest near Ponyville, the forests of Saddle Lanka are quite tame and with few dangers, so the two of us were free to walk about at our leisure. I enjoyed taking Beakbreaker to the many sites I had frequented as a child, from my old swimming hole to a large outcropping on the side of the mountains that gave a good view of the vast forests. I even took her to the Crystal Caves, which she was gobsmacked at seeing the massive crystals thrusting from the walls, especially in the waterfall chamber.

As noon came around, I took her to a large hill at the edge of the forest, giving us a nearly limitless view of the plains stretching out to the horizon. Long one of my favorite childhood spots for imagining what lay beyond that horizon, Beakbreaker soon had her checkered blanket spread out, and the two of us ate lunch, watching scattered clouds pass through the bright, blue sky.

As I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I noticed something: For the first time in a long while, I had forgotten about the wings, about Medicomp and the protesters. It was just me and Beakbreaker enjoying ourselves.

It felt really good.

“So,” I asked Beakbreaker, “Uhhh… How’s your nose feeling?”

“Well, it itches every now and then, but that’s it.”

I hesitated, unsure on what to say. “Listen, Beakbreaker, I-”

She held up a hoof. “You didn’t mean to hit me. It was an accident, nothing more."

It was a relief to know that Beakbreaker was in a forgiving mood. "It had just been a rough couple of days," I said. "It won't happen again."

Beakbreaker nodded. “A lot of ponies saw your outburst as proof that adding the wings did something to your brain. Made Coin Counter think of canceling the trip."

“What?”

“I overheard him talking to some of his advisers," Beakbreaker said. "With all the heckling we’ve been getting, he’s seriously considering scrapping the whole thing.”

That didn't sound like Coin Counter. While he was one of the best bosses anyone could ask for, he was still a businesspony, and wanted to make money. Giving up on a tour less then halfway through meant things must have been going worse then I expected.

“You think he’s going to do it?” I asked.

Beakbreaker shrugged. “Who knows? I doubt it, but I heard him talking about going to Canterlot and then calling it a day.”

My heart skipped a beat. “You’re serious?”

“Well, it makes sense. If we make a great impression with the princesses and get their approval, that would silence all the critics out there.”

“Unless we make a catastrophic impression instead.”

Beakbreaker nodded. “But if anyone can impress the princesses, it’s you.”

Could I? My talent was useful against most ponies, but the princesses had the strongest wills in Equestria. There was no way I could bend them to my will, and it would be futile to even try.

Noticing my blank look, Beakbreaker said, “Still, Coin Counter hasn’t made up his mind yet. And if he were to try and schedule it, it would probably take a while. And I… Well, I wouldn’t mind staying here a bit longer.” She looked around, admiring the view. “It’s just so peaceful.”

Closing her eyes, Beakbreaker gave the loveliest smile, her hair billowing in a soft breeze. I was content to just sit and watch her.

Oh Celestia, I wish I could see that smile now, after everything that happened...

***

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Saddle Lanka (taking care to stay away from ponies that might recognize us), reaching the path to the house well after dark.

“I’ll catch up with you later,” Beakbreaker said. “Need to go check in with Coin Counter and catch up on everything.” But as she started off, I thought about what she said and raised my hoof.

“Hey, Beakbreaker! You want a change of scenery? Maybe stay at my parent's place?”

She stopped. "Really?”

“Yeah. My folks have a guest room you can use.” I didn’t tell her that Mangus would have to be kicked out, but I figured she wouldn't care.

“All right!” Beakbreaker said. “I’ll be back as soon as I can!” As she headed back to town, I trotted through the forest, eventually coming back to my parent’s house, lit up with candles in the twilight. Mangus was on the porch, and wasn’t happy to see me.

“Where the hay have you been?! Do you have any idea what-”

I went inside the house, locking the door behind me. My parents were waiting near the dinner table, and I briefly felt like I was a young colt again, and about to be scolded for staying out too late.

“Where were you?!” Mom asked. “Your father and I were getting so worried! Don’t you know the entire town is out to get you?!”

“Dear,” Dad said, “you’re exaggerating.”

“Well… Maybe a little, but there’s still a lot of ponies out there who aren’t happy to see you, Silverspeak. This isn’t the time to be running about!”

“I wasn’t running about,” I said. “I was out showing Beakbreaker around.”

Mom was surprised. “You mean that the two of you were actually out and about all day?”

“Well, yes.”

Mom got a huge smile. “Well, that's good! Where is she, by the way?”

“On her way over. I hope the two of you don’t mind, but I suggested she could stay with us overnight in the guest room.”

“Oh! Well, we don’t mind at all, but I’m afraid Mangus has the guest room.”

Dad glanced at Mom. “He could sleep outside.”

“True… but no. That would be rude. But there’s no reason we have to turn Beakbreaker away.” Mom smiled at me. “Why don’t we have her stay with you, in your room?”

“Wait, with me?”

“Of course! It’d be like a sleepover! I’d better go get some blankets and extra pillows!”

She trotted out of the room, leaving Dad and me behind.

“Well, she seems awfully excited,” I said.

Dad nodded. “Why wouldn’t she be? Beakbreaker’s a star, and a rare one at that. She’s polite, charming, and not a boastful braggart.”

I noticed that while Dad was praising Beakbreaker, he seemed uncomfortable about something, as if there was an embarrassing thought he couldn’t put words too. “Is there something else Mom’s interested in?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t recall her ever getting that excited when I had a slumber party.”

Dad’s awkward silence remained.

“Dad?”

Taking a deep breath, Dad reached besides the couch and pulled out a bunch of newspapers. “Take a look at these.”

I did. They were covering my journey all the way from my reveal in Manehattan, to arriving in Saddle Lanka.

"Look closer. Look at all the pictures.”

I did. Most of them were similar, showing me either heading down a stage, flying, or answering questions from the audience. Nothing out of the ordinary. But when I took a closer look, I noticed something else. In each photo, Beakbreaker was never far from me, and was always watching me with a smile, but there was something about it I couldn't put my hoof on.

“Don’t you realize it, Silverspeak?” Dad asked. “She likes you.”

“Well, we're friends. We've been working together for-”

“I know, I know, but I don't mean like that. I mean, she... you know, likes you.”

It took me a moment to realize what he was saying.

“Silverspeak, she follows you around like a loyal bloodhound. Your mother and I thought you would have noticed by now.”

I didn’t have an answer for him. I hadn’t even thought of Beakbreaker as any more then a friend. To think that she was interested in me…

“Have you thought about if... well, if the two of you would make a good match?”

“What? No, I-”

“Your mother's been wondering why you haven't found a special somepony yet.” Dad gave a sly grin. “She's been dropping hints that how wonderful it would be to have grandkids.”

I stared at Dad, shocked at the thought of Beakbreaker trying to come onto me, perhaps for months, or even a year, and that I had been blind to it. Part of me dismissed such a crazy notion; the two of us were business partners, and friends at most, the kind of friends who went out for doughnuts and enjoyed spending time together, not the kind who wanted something more.

There was a knock at the door. I went over and opened it, found Beakbreaker standing there.

“Hello!” she chirped. “Can I come in?”

I watched her for a moment. Outwardly, nothing had changed, but it was like I was looking at her for the first time.

“Oh, uhh... Of course." I stood aside. But no sooner had Beakbreaker entered than Mangus stormed inside, closing the door behind him, ticked off at having been shut outside. His gaze implied that he would make sure it wouldn't happen again.

Mom came in, blankets and pillows slung over her back, which she then transferred to Beakbreaker. “Here you go, Beakbreaker. We'll be getting a cold front here for the next few days, so these should help." Then, to Mangus, "Mangus, here are your blankets.”

I noticed that Mom had given Mangus the thinnest blankets in the house.

“Now, if any of you need something during the night, the toilet's down the hall, and there's snacks and drinks in the kitchen downstairs. Silverspeak, why don't you show Beakbreaker your room? It's been a long day, and I'm sure the two of you are pooped.”

Beakbreaker eagerly headed up the stairs. I started after her, glancing at my parents and their sheepish grins. Mom indicated for me to go after Beakbreaker, and to possibly do more if I could help it.

It dawned on me that Beakbreaker might have interpreted my overnight invitation in a way I had never imagined.

I found Beakbreaker waiting for me at the top of the stairs, and led her to my room, nervous about what was going to happen inside. But there were no romantic overtones, as Beakbreaker whistled upon entering. “Oh, what I wouldn't have given to have a place like this when I was little.”

“You mean you didn't have a room of your own?”

“We had tents and yurts. Never stayed in one place too long.”

Going to a spot next to the bed, I cleared away a spot for Beakbreaker to sleep, trying to keep my mind off what Dad had told me.

“Well, what embarrassing childhood mementos do we have here?”

I turned and saw her going through some of the boxes I had pushed aside. “Uhhh, nothing! Just a lot of-”

“Wow. Never knew anyone who had such a large Celestia collection.” Beakbreaker pulled out several books, posters, and little figures of Celestia I had displayed throughout my room. “You were really into her, weren't you?”

I blushed, silently berating myself for not having put away my things when I had the chance.

“Nothing to be ashamed of,” Beakbreaker assured me. “After all, she is the Princess.”

“I thought she was so cool,” I confessed. Other young ponies decorated their rooms with Wonderbolt memorabilia, or trinkets commemorating their favorite stars, cartoon shows, and books. I decorated my room with memorabilia about the princess who guided the big ball of burning gas in the center of our solar system.

“What about Luna?”

“Oh, I thought she was cool, too. But Celestia... There was just something about her that spoke to me. Like she was the perfect big sister that you look up to.”

Beakbreaker chuckled as she took a clay figure of the princess.

“Oh my gosh!” I said, “I remember that!” I took the figure in my hooves. “I made this for art class back in kindergarten. The teacher told us to make something we really liked.” The figure was crude, barely more then a fat blob with four stumps for legs and outlandish colors to indicate a mane and tail. But I could still see all the spots where a young pony had done the best he could, wanting to pay tribute to something he adored.

“Let's take it with us,” Beakbreaker said.

“What?”

“Let's take it with us! If we're going to Canterlot, you can show this to Celestia."

My cheeks turned redder than a boiled beet. “No! I mean, it's so old. I can't imagine she'd want to see it. Besides, she probably already gets so many of them daily from other children, I-”

Beakbreaker snatched the figure out of my hooves. “Okay then. I'll take it to her!”

“But I-”

“Think about it. If you admired her so much as a colt, then that made you want to be like her. And look where you've ended up.”

I wanted to argue, but realized it was futile. No way was I going to be able to change Beakbreaker's mind, especially if she could get a giggle at my expense.

Yawning, Beakbreaker put the figure back in the box, then set the blankets and pillows on the floor. I realized that, being a guest in the house, it wasn't proper for her to sleep on the hard floor, and that it was rude to even consider having her do such a thing.

“You can have the bed,” I said. “I'll take the floor.”

Beakbreaker shook her head. “That's okay. Believe me, I'm used to it; spent a lot of time on the floor at my dorm, and on the floor back when I was a filly.”

“Doesn't mean you still have to do it now.”

She chuckled. “True, but it's your house, and I'm your guest.”

“My parent's house, technically.”

“It's the thought counts. And I really don't mind sleeping on the floor.”

“You're sure?”

Beakbreaker crawled between the blankets. “Yes.”

“Well... okay. Just let me know if you change your mind”

Nodding, Beakbreaker settled down, but not quite so much that she went to sleep. She looked up at me for a moment, and I back at her, feeling as if I should say something... Or perhaps ask a certain question.

From the way she watched me, it seemed she was waiting for me to do so.

It was so strange; I could charm and bend others to my will, influence an entire corporation on what path to take, and charm birds from the trees, yet I couldn't find the courage to ask Beakbreaker if she had feelings for me.

The moment passed. Beakbreaker yawned and lay her head down to sleep. Getting into bed, I pulled the covers over myself and did the same.

“Goodnight Silverspeak,” Beakbreaker said. I couldn’t tell if she was disappointed or not.

“Goodnight.”

***

I heard the sound of movement sometime during the night. Waking, I listened, and realized it was Beakbreaker. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw Beakbreaker stirring on the floor, turning over and over in an attempt to find a comfortable position.

“Can't sleep?” I asked.

She nodded.

Without thinking, I shifted myself to the side of the bed and pulled the comforter back, inviting her in. After a moment, Beakbreaker did so. It was only when she pulled her side of the comforter up, and I felt her body heat starting to accumulate, did I realize that I had let her sleep with me. While an innocent gesture on my part, I realized she might misinterpret it.

A snore interrupted my thoughts. Beakbreaker had gone back to sleep, romantic interludes not on her mind.

As I settled down to sleep once more, I felt Beakbreaker's hoof touch mine.

Unlike most of my classmates back in school, I had never gone on dates or flirted with other ponies. The world of romance was completely unknown to me, along with all it’s rules, gestures, and flirting techniques. Feeling Beakbreaker's hoof touch mine, even if it had been an instinctive gesture from a sleeping brain, made me envious of those who had experience in dating: It was flattering to think that another pony found me attractive, but I didn't know if I wanted to return the favor. Oh, I liked Beakbreaker as an individual; if anyone were to ask me to a party or social gathering, I would have politely declined. But if Beakbreaker asked me, I'd go along with her. After all, she had given me the chance to follow my dreams, and I owed her so much. Besides, she was charming, and had become quite friendly with me. And whenever she had been close to me, I felt calmer, as if her mere presence was enough to dispel my worries and fears.

And then there was her smile…that beautiful, relaxing smile of hers...

I shook my head. Yes, I liked Beakbreaker as a friend, but I had to keep my priorities in mind. I had wings, but not a horn. If I could somehow get my hooves on one, and get it attached, then my lifelong dream would be fulfilled. Getting into a romantic relationship with another pony would only delay that dream from coming true. Perhaps, after that dream came true, I could pursue a relationship.

I lay in bed, feeling Beakbreaker’s hoof next to mine.

After a while, I reached out and touched it with mine as well.

***

The sleep I had during that night was among the best I ever had, and when I awoke the following morning, I felt ready to leap out of bed and face the day. Beakbreaker was still asleep, her mane lit by the morning light streaming through the window, filtered from clouds moving in, suggesting that we were going to get a storm later in the day.

I slowly slipped out of bed, thinking to go down and prepare breakfast. After all, what kind of host doesn't bring a guest breakfast in bed? I was almost to the door when I glanced at my desk and saw Quiverquill's book. In all that had happened the day before, I had completely forgotten about it, but its pages seemed to call to me.

Beakbreaker snorted, rolling under the sheets. If we were going to spend the day together, I wouldn't get a chance to read through the book. I could spare a few minutes to read through it before she woke up.

What harm could that do?

Pulling up a chair, I took the book and began to read. I had hoped to find a complete copy of Quiverquill’s now-destroyed notes, but was disappointed to find that it was a grab-bag of quickly scribbled fragments, most likely copied in a great hurry. But the more I read, the more a complete picture began to emerge of what Quiverquill had originally researched about. One note near the back caught my attention.

Though it has long persisted in rumor and speculation, I have finally found proof that the legend of the Cursed King is, in fact, true! Ponies have pointed out that there is no truth to the legend, and that researchers and scholars like myself were only wasting our time studying it. But I can now explain why there is no proof: all the evidence has been destroyed!

From what I can tell, the subjects of the Cursed King hated him so much, and yet feared his power so greatly, that they took all manner of steps to ensure that his very existence was erased from history, presumably by destroying his manuscripts and scrolls, along with any visual representation of him. Considering how their civilization itself died out shortly afterwards, it appeared that they would have succeeded.

There was a hastily scribbled drawing of a scroll on the next page.

I found this scroll inside a hidden cave within the Blue Mountains; it is a letter from one of the last living citizens of this long-lost kingdom, who apparently decided that Equestria needed to remember the King's evil deeds, so that they would never repeat those mistakes the King did. I have yet to translate it beyond the first few lines, as the language is fiendishly difficult to decipher, but it gives directions to-

Unfortunately, time and exposure to mildew had rendered the next few pages completely unreadable, and the paper heavily damaged. I had to skip ahead several pages to find the next readable portion of text.

-outrunning the guards, my dead friend had also taken with him, in great secrecy, several tapestries the King had made of himself. But while there, I also found a written history of the King's deeds, which is far too detailed and comprehensive to be a forgery. I intend to copy it fully into this book, but for now, a short summary shall suffice:

Long ago, there was a kingdom on the northern borders of the Blue Mountains. Although not as large or powerful as neighboring kingdoms, it was blessed with an abundance of natural resources that were much envied. To protect itself, the kingdom's ruler, a unicorn of superb magical talent, used all of his skills and magic to enclose his kingdom within a magical dome to protect the kingdom from those who wished to invade and take it all for themselves. And for a time, it was good. But then the King began to change. He grew to see himself as a god. He began to demand tribute, and, eventually, sacrifices. Any who protested had their brains wiped clean and turned into mindless slaves. When that failed to cower his subjects, he then used his magic to enslave their very essences to him, so that he would use their energy to live forever, grow stronger, and eventually conquer all of Equestria itself.

That was the turning point. The king's guards fought back and defeated him. They forcibly removed his horn, and, as punishment for his misdeeds, took him deep beneath the mountains and entombed him, so that he would never again see the lands he so desired to rule. Spells were cast, cursing him to live forever in never-ending silence, so that he could never call for help or speak another blasphemous word. They buried his horn next to him, so that the means of his conquest would always be within reach, yet forever beyond his grasp. And so they left him there, where no one would ever find him.

Such spells are nonsense, of course. No one knows of any such incantations, but it seems that the rest of the text is true. I must try to find out more!

The next several pages were too damaged to read. Only the final page in the book was eligible, containing a single entry.

I have found it! The way into the mountains! A map has led me to the precise location, which, astonishingly enough, is right underneath Saddle Lanka! But I don't want to arouse suspicion, so I have, in great secrecy, begun to dig to this passage from the basement of my home. With any luck, I shall finally break through, and find the Cursed King myself!

Beakbreaker stirred, pushing the comforter aside. I quickly snapped the book closed and pushed it into a drawer.

“Morning,” Beakbreaker said, stretching so hard that I head her joints crack. She slipped out of bed and looked at me. “Well, what's got you so cheerful this morning?”

“Oh, I don't know,” I said. “Just feels like something big is coming.”

“Is it good?”

I smiled. “Oh yes.”

Darkness

View Online

As Beakbreaker headed down to Breakfast, I closed the door, went to my closet, and yanked out everything that could be used for caving. Problem was, I didn't know a thing about caving, or what equipment to bring. All my previous experiences with caves had been in ones with safety rails, paths, and guides. Still, I figured it couldn't be too hard, and started by gathering an old, but powerful flashlight, and all the batteries I had. Other supplies were necessary, but that required searching other areas of the house.

Heading down to breakfast, I ate with the others, nodding as Beakbreaker and my parents talked to give the impression that I was listening, when I was actually figuring out where to secure my other supplies. Once the meal was over, I raided closets and the garage (making sure nobody was in sight), gathering quite a bit of rope, plenty of batteries, the family's toughest pair of saddlebags, a sturdy chisel, several glowsticks, and all the flares my parents had.

With everything gathered, I retreated to my room and stuffed the saddlebags until everything was ready. Now all I had to do was get in some quick reading about exploring caves (something a trip to the local library would accomplish), and then figure out the best way to slip into the tunnels without attracting any attention. That would take place at night, when I could do my work and return before anyone else awoke.

But there was one problem: Quiverquill hadn't indicated how long his tunnel was, or how long someone would have to travel to find the Cursed King. Without knowing how long I'd be gone, there was the risk of not making it back before anyone discovered I was missing. A second reading of his books revealed nothing new.

It wasn't long before I realized something else. In all the times my parents had told me about Quiverquill, they never revealed how he died, or what happened to him. So I asked Mom if she knew. Turns out, she didn't. Neither did Dad.

One day, Mom said, Quiverquill had just disappeared, and no trace of him was ever found.

***

It couldn't have been a coincidence that Quiverquill's last written words were about him heading into a tunnel beneath Saddle Lanka, and his mysterious disappearance. I wanted to get the horn of the Cursed King, but I wasn't going to risk my life to do so.

I was pondering the thought in my room when Beakbreaker knocked at the door. “Hey,” she said, “you okay? You look a little gloomy.”

“Just thinking some things over,” I told her.

Beakbreaker took a seat next to me on the bed. “Do you have anything you want to talk about? Anything I can help you with?”

Could I tell Beakbreaker what I was really thinking? She had given me wings, but only with great reluctance. How would she take the news of going after a cursed horn deep beneath the mountains? And what of Mangus? Or the break-in? How would she handle knowing that her staff writer was an attempted thief? No, I couldn't tell her everything. But I could test the waters and see how open she was to the idea of horns.

“Well... I've got an idea on why this tour isn't working out,” I told her. “I think it's because everyone thinks I'm being selfish, using these wings only for my own gain. But I think... I think if I got a horn-”

Beakbreaker flinched.

“-if I got the ability to cast magic, then I could show everyone that I'm not just in it for myself. I'd be like Celestia; I could go anywhere, do anything, and help out anyone I come across. Then they'd realize that I'm not selfish.”

Beakbreaker was quiet, and I could tell she was trying to figure out how to break the news gently. “You know what I told you about horns, right?”

I nodded. “But what if I were to actually get one? Do you think it could be surgically attached?”

Beakbreaker eyed me again. “I don't know. But even if you got one, ponies will still doubt you. You think that heckler would suddenly become your biggest fan overnight if you could cast magic?”

“No. But he'd probably shut his mouth if he saw me going around and doing good. And it would be easier with a horn instead of wings.”

“You can still do good without magic. If that's what you're meant to do, then that opportunity will come. We just have to wait for when the moment is right. Trying to rush it is dangerous, you know?”

“Did I get these wings by just sitting around and twiddling my hooves?” I asked.

“That's not what I meant.”

I sighed. “I know. But I don't want to sit around and wait for things to happen.”

“When the opportunity comes, it'll be worth it. I know it. And you won't have to wait alone.”

Beakbreaker put her hoof on mine.

“I'll be with you every step of the way.”

So that was it. Even if I had a horn, she wouldn't attach it. Maybe with time, and some gentle pressure, I figured I could convince her to give it a shot. And in case logic didn't work... Well, I could use my charming voice to strongly suggest that it might be worth a shot.

The moment was interrupted by a shout from the first floor. “Silverspeak! Beakbreaker! Message for you!”

I got off the bed. “Well, who knows?” I joked, figuring some levity would lighten the mood. “Maybe that's my moment.”

We went down and found a mail pony with a letter for us. I took it, recognizing Coin Counter's writing style as I read the letter's contents aloud.

“Dear Silverspeak and Beakbreaker: Please be forewarned that we will be departing Saddle Lanka tomorrow evening at six PM sharp.”

“Well, looks like we're back on the road once again,” Beakbreaker said. “Wonder if he made up his mind on where we're going.”

Calmly putting the letter down, I excused myself and headed to the bathroom, where I grabbed a paper bag and hyperventilated into it. If we were leaving tomorrow, then there was no time to go to the library, or get more supplies, or anything of the sort. And if we left Saddle Lanka without the horn in my possession, then I might not have gotten another chance to come back before Mangus' year was up.

I had no choice: I had to act, and fast. But waiting until everyone was asleep would take too long, and leave me with six, maybe seven hours at most to get into the tunnels and back. Beakbreaker would probably want to sleep in my room again, and would hear me coming and going, and if Mangus came in during the night and found that I was gone, I'd be in even more trouble.

The bag kept expanding and collapsing. I couldn't see a way out. But I refused to give in to the fear. I had already faced worst-case scenarios and made it through them. This was no different. I just had to come up with a plan.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, that plan came to me. It was a desperate one, but it was logical, efficient, and, most important, doable in what little time I had.

***

As the afternoon came to an end, I went to my parents and said that, because this was going to be my last night here for a long time, I wanted to cook a special dinner for everyone. They thought it was a wonderful idea. Thus, with my most cheerful face, I went to work, gathering the ingredients for a hearty tomato soup I had learned to make while still working at the grocery store. When they were assembled, I began to cook.

Curious at what I was doing, Beakbreaker came in and volunteered to help, having never really cooked a meal before, due to her demanding schedule (or being too tired from said schedule). She was eager to learn, and I showed her how to blend all the ingredients together, along with cooking the tomatoes and vegetables.

As Beakbreaker put everything into the mixing pot, I made sure my parents weren't watching as I took a particular set of herbs from the cupboard. When I was little, my mom would sometimes give me a special herb drink to help me sleep on nights when I had occasional insomnia. While I hadn't used it much since then, I had never forgotten the brew, and had learned one night that an overdose could, if you weren't careful, knock someone out for an entire day.

Or, instead of a single individual, an entire group.

Handing the herbs to Beakbreaker, I asked her to slip them into the liquid. She did so.

When the soup was done, everyone gathered around the table, including Mangus and his fellow guards. Playing the part of the generous host, I poured a hearty portion of the soup into everyone's bowl, beaming as they slurped it up. There was the usual dinner talk, with chit-chat from Mom and Dad about what all of us would be doing back in Manehattan. I gave some general, non-specific answers, keeping a close eye on everyone as they ate.

Mom yawned. Then Mangus did the same. Then I did as well. Soon, everyone was yawning, and eyelids began to drop.

“I had no idea I was so wiped out,” Mom joked.

I nodded. It wasn't long before Mom and Dad excused themselves from the table and headed upstairs. Mangus' coworkers headed towards the guest room, only making it halfway before plopping on a couch and passing out. Mangus fought the hardest. Even as he wobbled and tried to reach the couch, he was confused, no doubt wondering why he was so tired.

He turned and glared at me, but before he could make any accusations, he collapsed to the floor and passed out.

“Boy, I guess a...” Beakbreaker yawned, “...lazy day really does take a lot out of you, huh?”

I nodded, slipping one of her arms over my shoulder as I helped her upstairs. Once in my room, I half-lifted, half-dragged her into bed, then tucked her in.

“Aren't you... tired?” she asked.

I struggled to talk through a particularly long yawn. “Yeah. Just need to-”

Beakbreaker had already closed her eyes and was snoring away.

Watching for a few moments to make sure Beakbreaker was well and truly asleep, I then checked on my parents and found them equally passed out. I bolted downstairs, made sure Mangus and his goons were asleep, and ran to the kitchen, where I grabbed several herbs from the cabinet and brewed myself a hot mug of tea, which I gulped down as fast as I could.

My yawning lessened, then stopped, and the fatigue passed.

Relieved, I looked out the windows. I still had two hours before night fell. If all went well, everyone in the house would sleep for at least twelve hours, possibly more.

This was my chance, and I couldn't afford to waste a moment.

Heading back to my room, I gathered my equipment and saddlebags, shaking as I strapped it to my body. I started for the door, but stopped. I had to get going, but I took a few moments to look over Beakbreaker once more, watching her peaceful face as she slept. Fluffing up her pillow, I turned off the light as I checked on my parents, watching them for a few moments too. It wasn't comfortable to think about, but in case something happened to me, I wanted to have the mental image of Beakbreaker and my parents to remain with me, to make them the last ponies I saw before descending into the darkness below.

Turning the light off, I took a deep breath and headed downstairs.

***

When I had been a little colt, my parents had told me not to go down into the basement, saying it was old, dangerous, and no place for the young. My desire to go down there only became stronger, requiring a lock to be placed on the handle. But the lock was gone when I went to the door, giving me access to the basement for the first time in my life.

The stairs behind the door were old, rotting wood creaking beneath me as I walked down, finding myself in a chamber made from ancient bricks, the walls stocked with old boxes and chests. As a young colt, such a place would have driven my imagination into overdrive. No one had been down here for years; who knew what treasures and secrets lay inside?

I searched for a hidden passage, a door, anything to indicate where Quiverquill's tunnel was. It was only by chance that my light shone across the wall, revealing less faded than the ones around me. Perhaps there was something behind that section of wall...something that others had wanted to seal away.

I kicked the wall, hitting the bricks again and gain, and then harder as cracks appeared. Within moments the whole thing collapsed. Stepping over the rubble, I walked inside what appeared to be Quiverquill's old study. The stone walls were cold and colorless with long-dead lanterns screwed into them. Cobwebs and dust blanketed the place, and the air was stale and foul with the smell of rotting wood from the empty bookshelves.

It should have been a thrill to be standing in the ancient study of my ancestor, but I was more focused on finding his tunnel. A quick search revealed no secret passages, trap doors, or anything of the sort. Did the individual who had built that hidden wall come in here and do the same to Quiverqill's tunnel? I pressed bricks, moved shelves and chairs aside, but found nothing.

Then, realizing that it really couldn't be that simple, I took hold of the biggest shelf and pulled it back. And just like in the adventure movies of old, there was a gaping hole behind the shelf, just large enough for someone to sneak through.

Gleeful at having foiled those who had tried to seal this place up, I peered through the hole, my light shining down a deep, rocky tunnel. If there was an end, my light failed to illuminate it.

Somewhere beyond that tunnel was the horn I sought.

All I had to do was go inside and claim it.

My glee at finding the passage gave way to the most intense unease I had ever felt. I had no maps, no guides, no signs, or any idea of where I was going. I wasn't even a cave explorer; I was a glorified secretary about to set off into an ancient tunnel that hadn't been explored for at least a hundred years. If something happened down there, no one would come to save me. I'd be alone in the darkness, and eventually, my lights would go out one by one until nothing was left.

Behind me and up the stairs was the house, warmth, and life. Down here there was only cold and darkness. I could turn back. I could go to my family where it was safe and comfortable. No one would ever know what I did. The fallen bricks would be explained away as the result of age. My presence here would remain a secret. But if I ran, Mangus would be free to carry out his plan, whatever it was.

I had no choice.

Taking a deep breath, I mustered all of my courage and stepped into the tunnel.

***

The ground was bumpy and strewn with rocks, making my passage slower than I wanted, forcing me to focus on one step at a time. I theorized that in his haste, Quiverquill had taken off into this very tunnel when he found it, and had possibly tripped or fallen, breaking his legs in the process. Not wanting to encounter the same fate, I had to go slowly and steadily.

The passage soon sloped downwards, which meant I was descending beneath the mountain, just like Quiverquill had described. That gave me some confidence.

That confidence faltered when I realized how quiet it was. Unlike all the portrayals of caves in movies, it was silent. There was no sound of water dripping, no rocks falling or gusts of spooky wind blowing through the passage.

It was silent.

I continued on, focusing on my breathing, keeping it calm and steady.

I tried to guess how far I had gone. A mile? Two miles? I couldn't tell.

The light flashed across something ahead of me. Was it the King? My hopes surged, then faded as I came across something very unexpected: a massive stone door that formed a perfect seal against the tunnel. It had been there a long time, judging from the cobwebs that draped it like grotesque curtains. Through there were many locks in place, it only took a few moments to undo them, including an enormous latch of steel that held the whole thing closed.

Grabbing hold of a chain, I slowly pulled it open, stone grinding against stone as it moved.

Making sure that the door remained open, I slipped past and continued down the passage.

I kept walking until the passage went down at a sharp angle, forcing me to be extra-cautious as I descended, inch by inch, until I came across another slope going in the opposite direction. As I headed downwards, I realized that I was going down a series of switchbacks. That was reason to be hopeful: switchbacks don't happen naturally, which meant that ponies had carved these passages. And if they had carved them, then that meant I was on the right track, for these were too well-formed to be Quiverquill's work.

The switchbacks finally stopped, and I was glad to rest my legs for a minute. The air was slightly colder than above, and staler as well.

Nobody had been down here for a long time.

With my legs recovered, I continued on.

***

Without any way of checking the time (I cursed myself for not bringing along a watch), I had no idea how long I had been in the tunnels. Judging from a quick estimate of my walking speed and how many steps I had taken, it had to have been no more than an hour. That was good; I was making great progress.

The light from my flashlight revealed scrape marks in the walls, perhaps the remains of some explosions or blasts that had been used to create the passage. I was still on the right track. I even began to relax a little.

Then the passage stopped.

For a moment, I feared I had reached a dead end. Looking around, I saw that wasn't true, as there was a hole in the floor before me; had I kept going, I would have fallen through, as it was just big enough for a single pony to enter. Kneeling, I peered below, my flashlight unable to illuminate the bottom.

Taking a glowstick from my saddlebag, I cracked it, casting a red glow as I tossed it down the hole, where it landed fifty feet below. I could fly down there and back up with my wings, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Thus, I took a long safety rope from the saddlebags and clipped one end to a nearby rocky outcropping. A tug ensured it was tight, and I slid down to the chamber below.

No sooner had my hooves touched stone then I shivered. It was far colder down here then in the tunnel above. Grumbling at not having brought a sweater, I looked around to get my bearings. Unlike the passages above, this chamber had been carved by nature, and not by hands or hooves. The walls were smooth from being run down with water, numerous stalagmites and stalactites thrusting from both the floor and ceiling, giving me the impression that I was inside the mouth of some gigantic creature.

Trying to ignore the thought, I looked back up and noticed something curious: Quite a few of the stalactites were concentrated around the hole, which would make getting past them quite difficult, if not impossible for a pony who didn't have a rope, wings, or magic to get through.

I wondered why that was.

Leaving the rope and glowstick where they were, I explored the chamber, finding another passage that had been carved.

I headed in, shivering against the cold.

The passage was steeper than before, and rougher as well, as if both the walls and floor had been made in a hurry. And it only got worse the further I went, until I had to practically tippy-hoof to avoid tripping, sending rocks tumbling ahead. Each one made me jump, sending a rush of cold through my veins as adrenaline surged through me.

All the while, I kept wondering how long this was going to go on.

The end of this passage had to be nearby.

***

I had managed to stay calm during my journey because of the carved tunnels, the holes, and the little signs that assured me that the tunnels and passages were meant to lead somewhere. Knowing that others had come before me gave me reassurance. If the ponies of long ago had gone this way and returned, then so could I.

I had nothing to fear.

That's when the passage stopped. Or rather, the carved one, because beyond it was another natural cavern, with several tunnels of various shapes and sizes, some natural, some carved, and all trailing off in different directions. Some were small enough only for a single pony to go through, while others were tall enough to accommodate a house.

It dawned on me that whoever had designed and built these passages wasn't an idiot: if they had entombed their king down here, then they wouldn't want others to come down and free him. Thus, it would make sense to create traps, or other things to throw a would-be rescuer off course. One of the passages before me was the correct one, but there was no way of knowing which it was. Choose correctly, and I would find the horn. Choose wrong, and I would end up going down a tunnel that went on for miles, or dropped into a bottomless pit, or worse.

I had no idea which tunnel to take.

Don't panic, I thought, biting my lip. Don't panic! There has to be a way to figure it out. There always is. Think! Think, think, think!

It eventually dawned on me that if I were carving tunnels throughout this place, I'd want to take my captive down a tunnel that would be the hardest to access, so naturally, the tiny one that was barely large enough for me to squeeze through... except that's what I'd plan on someone to think.

Lighting another glowstick, I dropped it and headed down the next largest tunnel, praying it was the right one. It was naturally carved, for the walls were smooth, and the teeth of the earth were too close together to have been left by anyone wishing a steady, easy passage.

I had gone just far enough that the entrance was out of sight when I heard some rocks falling from behind me.

Stopping, I turned around, shined my light down the passage.

There was nothing there.

“Hello?”

My voice echoed down the tunnel and into the darkness beyond.

There was no reply.

It was dumb to call out. After all, the place was empty. Perhaps I just wanted to hear my own voice, but I figured that a rock had tumbled loose. Not something that happened infrequently in these sort of passages.

But still, having gone so long in complete silence made hearing the rock jarring. My mind swirled, coming up with all sorts of frenzied ideas about what horrors lay within the earth, waiting to snack on any unfortunate ponies who were stupid enough to come down here on their own with no training.

I picked up my pace.

It wasn't long before the tunnel began to close in. The ceiling dropped ever so slightly. My mind realized that I was inside a cramped tunnel far under the earth with no fast way to get out.

Despite the cold, sweat dripped down my forehead. I tried to ignore it, focusing on the horn, that beautiful horn that would be the answer to all my problems. I just had to focus on that, and I could get through anything. Anything at all.

I kept walking into the darkness, my heart pounding.

***

For what seemed like hours, I went down that passage, the slope becoming ever steeper. And still it went, giving no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Was I going down the wrong passage? Perhaps this wasn't a planned tunnel at all, but something nature had made without caring where it went, and I was on a trip to nowhere.

The slope got even steeper, and I had to lean myself against the wall to brace myself. A few pebbles and rocks went down the slope, and I tried to make my way down. But it was too steep, and every instinct I had was yelling at me to turn back. Maybe another passage would yield better results.

Then it happened. I stepped down on a single pebble, slipped. I panicked and tried to regain my footing, but fell. I was quickly sent tumbling down the passage, the tumbling eventually turning into a roll as I lost control, falling faster and faster.

I cried out in fear, lashing out at anything to grab onto. But the tunnel was a blur as I slid down, hitting the walls and stone teeth, being spun about until I couldn't tell which way was up or down.

I saw a large pillar before me, and spun in a desperate attempt to avoid it, but I wasn't fast enough. I slammed into it, and the flashlight was knocked from my harness, where it fell into a small side tunnel and plunged from sight.

The tunnel was cast into darkness.

I yelled in pure terror, panicking as I struggled to get into my saddlebags, but a jolt sent all my glowsticks flying out as well, lost forever within the darkness. It was only pure luck that allowed me to grab a flare, and I slammed the tip into the ground, igniting it. The bright light momentarily blinded me, but it allowed me to see ahead.

It let me see the enormous hole I was sliding towards.

“No!” I shouted, pressing my hooves into the rock so hard that they began to heat up. “Oh no, no, no, no!”

I fell into the hole, plunging down into darkness. I screamed, thrashing, trying to get my wings to work so that I could fly up from this bottomless pit and escape.

Then it ended, though not in solid ground, but in water; terribly cold water that sucked the air from my lungs and caused my muscles to momentarily lock up, sending me deep into its icy embrace. Only the most frantic thrashing I could muster got them going again, and I surfaced, shrieking at the feeling of my skin going numb.

What little light I had began to fade. In my sudden shock from the cold, I had dropped the flare, which was now sinking into the water, the light now a dim pinprick. Without thinking, I took a deep breath and dove into the water. Without my flashlight and glowsticks, I only had three flares left to light my way, but each only burned for about ten minutes. I couldn't afford to lose even a single one.

I pursued the flare, swimming ever deeper into the pit. Finally reaching the flare, I grabbed it and started back up. But I had failed to realize just how deep I had gone. I couldn't see the surface above me, or the bottom of the pit below, if there even was one. I was suspended in ice water, too far below to reach the surface before running out of air.

Things have a way of spiraling out of control when you’re in danger. Even more so if you realize that you have less than a minute of air in your lungs, and that when it runs out, your death will be cold and painful. But worst of all is knowing that it's coming, and that there's nothing you can do about it. When you face a moment like that, you'll take any chance of escape, no matter how dangerous it may be. So when I saw a hole in the wall, my panicked brain latched onto it, figuring there might be an air bubble inside.

I grabbed the hole and pulled myself inside, the light showing that the passage went on seemingly without end, but there was no turning back. I dragged myself along the outcroppings, the walls closing in, scraping against my skin until it was impossible to turn around.

My lungs tightened up. Pressure began to build. I pulled myself along faster and harder, using up more of my energy. It felt like my lungs were now a vacuum devoid of air.

I had seconds left, and still there was only darkness.

The fear closed in, and my mind began to give in to it, the urge to scream building. I was going to die down there, crammed inside that tiny passage, unable to even turn around. I was never going to see my parents again. I was never going to see Beakbreaker again, or the sun, or light, or-

The passage curved upwards.

I shot upwards, my body giving off a final surge of adrenaline in a desperate attempt to reach safety that might not even be there.

I kicked with everything I had, and my head finally broke through water and into air. I let out the longest scream I had ever given in my life, gulping down all the air I could as I collapsed onto solid ground, breathing so long and so hard that my lungs felt like they were going to burst.

***

I lay there for several minutes, scarcely able to believe I was still alive. I only moved again when my flare sputtered. Glancing into my saddlebags, I took stock of my supplies. I had lost all the glowsticks and a few of the flares, leaving only three left, including the one I now held.

The clock was ticking down to when I would lose all my light.

I swung the flare around, finding myself inside a small room. But this wasn't a natural chamber, for the walls were perfectly smooth and featureless, the ceiling so low that I almost bumped into it when I stood. Then I realized that there was no way out of this chamber. That there wasn't meant to be one, for a giant stone cube sat the end of the room, large enough to enclose a good sized pony.

For a moment I stood there, unable to believe what I was seeing. I looked the cube over, saw that it was perfectly smooth, cut in such a way that magic had obviously been used to make it. The only mark in it was a pair of tiny holes at eye level.

When reading Quiverquill's notes, I had figured that the tomb of the king would have held a coffin, sarcophagus, or a crypt of some kind, but the cube itself was connected to the floor, and to the wall itself. If you were going to entomb someone and make them part of the mountain, then this was the way to do it.

I had almost died in the process, but I was finally standing in the tomb of the Cursed King. By some twist of fate, luck, or perhaps destiny itself, I had made it. But another sputter from the flare reminded me that time was not on my side. Putting aside my excitement for later, I looked around for the horn, but there was no box, smaller cube, or other container where the horn was located. Was that part of the myth a bust? Had I come down here for nothing?

Then I looked towards the ceiling, and saw that the myth had been only partially telling the truth: the horn had been entombed with the king, but not next to him, as there was a horn-shaped groove of transparent rock set into the ceiling.

There was something inside.

All the struggles and near-drowning were forgotten as I yanked out the chisel and hacked away at the rock for what seemed like hours. I was too excited to notice the fatigue in my muscles. Nothing was going to stop me from getting that horn, not after all I had gone through.

A final hit, and the stone fell apart. And there it was, plain for all to see.

The horn was a foot long, smooth, and dark grey in color. And to me, it was more beautiful than words could ever describe.

Like a worshiper before a holy idol, I took the horn and placed it inside one of the bags, tucking the padding around it. After all this, I didn't want the means of my salvation to break on the return journey. When it was secured, the bag was latched shut, and I took the flare once more.

Yet, as I started towards the water, curiosity made me look back towards the holes in the cube. Walking to the holes, I peered in, saw that they went deep into the cube, angled upwards. Following their line of vision, I realized that they were looking towards where the horn had been. It appeared that when the king had been placed inside the cube, he would only be able to look at the horn that had brought him so much, and that it would be the last thing he’d ever see before his captors left, leaving the chamber in never-ending darkness.

Something drew me to those holes. Almost as if in a trance, I peered inside.

I saw only darkness.

I slowly placed an ear to the holes and listened.

Nothing.

Was the king really inside? Was he still alive, even after all this time?

Was he watching me, unable to speak, or to make any noise?

I looked into those holes, wondered what I would see if I brought the flare up.

The flare sputtered again.

I almost lifted the flare and looked inside. But I couldn't waste any more time.

Turning away, I headed towards the water, and the cube was reclaimed by the darkness once again.

***

Reaching the water, I spent the next ten minutes inhaling and exhaling as deeply as I could, wanting to get as much air into my lungs as possible before swimming out. I got quite light-headed, but with a final, deep breath, I plunged into the tiny hole and swam for all I was worth. The ice water tried to chill the air right out of me, but the extra oxygen allowed me to swim through the cramped tunnel without my lungs aching. There was little fear this time, for if I had made it this far, even while panicked, then I could make my way back.

Reaching the main shaft, I started upwards. It was harder than before, but finally the water above me shimmered, and I broke the surface, feeling dizzy, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

The flare illuminated the shaft around me, which was lined with numerous rocky spikes that pointed downwards, making it extremely difficult for someone to get out. But with my wings, that wouldn't be a problem.

The flare sputtered once more, then died. I dropped it, pulled out another one, and lit it.

Just as the flare sputtered to life, I heard movement above me. I looked up as a few pebbles fell into the water.

“Hello?”

Silence.

“Is there anyone up there?” I called out, wondering if someone had heard me leaving the house and followed after me, and was waiting to see if I would surface.

Silence.

“Beakbreaker?”

There was no reply.

Gulping, I figured it had to be another rockfall. After all, the tunnels and passages were old. They couldn’t be expected to stay intact forever. Grabbing the closest spikes, I pulled myself out of the water and beat my wings, flying up into the tunnel. Coming to a stop, I saw some of the pebbles, but there was no one around, or any sign that there had been.

I started back the way I came, but it was slow going up the steep passage, forcing me to pull myself along by grabbing one pillar after another. But at long last I reached the tunnel's exit and my prior glowstick. Though it was dead, it at least showed me I was on the right track. I galloped into the large chamber, jubilant at my luck; a climb up to the main passage, then the switchbacks, the door, and I would be home free!

I skidded to a stop, the flare dropping from my mouth.

The safety rope was lying on the ground.

It had been ripped to pieces.

I wracked my brain, trying to remember if Quiverquill had mentioned reading about anything living far behind the surface of the earth. But there had been nothing, no notes, no-

There was movement inside a nearby passage.

My heart almost stopped as I grabbed the flare and jumped up, my wings beating. I reached the hole, grabbing on and squeezed myself inside, but not before the sharp tip of a stony spike sliced into my hindquarters. I cried out, feeling blood tricking down my leg,

Something entered the chamber beneath me.

I ran down the passage, the flare lighting the way. That light was everything: my salvation, my guide, and possibly the only thing keeping whatever was behind me at bay. After all, creatures who favor the dark fear the light.

The flare sputtered.

“No!”

I thrashing through my bags for the last flare, barely holding on as I lit it. I threw the dying flare behind me to try and blind my unseen pursuer for a few seconds longer, then took off down the passage, running like I had never run before.

I don't remember much of what happened next, only that it felt like I was running for days, ignoring the pain in my legs as I slipped on rocks and pebbles. The slope had helped me on my way down, but now worked against me, making me work twice as hard to head upwards, until at last it evened out, and I saw the first switchback.

I just had to get to the top of the switchbacks, then the door, and I'd be home free.

I stopped for a moment, and only a moment, to try and rest my legs for the final burst. And I listened, peering into the darkness of the tunnel behind me. But I heard and saw nothing. Maybe my pursuer had given up the chase.

Then I heard it. Scraping sounds, far in the distance.

It was the sound of something coming down the tunnel.

I took off up the slope, running up the steep passage, then turning to go up the next slope. As I feared, my legs began to tighten up by the third slope, my muscles starting to wear out. But stopping wasn't an option, and I kept going, focusing every ounce of my willpower to ignore the horrific burning in my legs.

Something started up the switchbacks below.

Up and up I went, the switchbacks never ending. For what felt like hours I kept going, even when my legs threatened to give out. But I didn't stop. To stop was to die, or worse.

All the while, I heard the echo of scraping sounds below, steadily getting closer.

I reached the final switchback and emerged into the final tunnel. I cried out in agony as I tried to walk, my muscles so tight I could barely move them. I fought to keep going, putting one leg in front of another. I was so close!

That's when the flare sputtered, gave a final burst of light, and faded out.

The passage around me vanished, and I was plunged into darkness. Instinctively, I felt through my bags for another light, but my flares, and all sources of illumination were gone.

I was in total darkness, unable to see my own hoof if it were an inch in front of me.

Then I heard it. Far below.

Giggling.

I bolted. My legs screamed in protest, but fear was greater than the pain, and I was running upwards in complete darkness.

I tripped, smashing my face into the ground. Tasting blood, I scrambled to my hooves and kept running.

Something entered the tunnel.

I'll never know how long I ran in those tunnels, stumbling blindly in the darkness, hearing scratches not far behind me. I was scared out of my mind, terrified that this nightmare would never end, that this tunnel was endless. But it wasn't, for I hit something and fell onto my back, screaming. But then I realized I had hit the door, and the final obstacle to me getting out alive.

Dragging myself through, I shoved myself against the door. Close it, throw the latch down, and the passage would be sealed behind a foot of solid stone.

Something hit the door from the other side, almost knocking it open.

I shrieked and shoved back. But slowly, inch by inch, the door was pushed towards me.

Roaring, I braced my legs and thrust back with every ounce of panicked strength I had. The power of earth ponies came to my aid, and legs strong enough to shatter the bones of attacking enemies finally shoved the door back.

Something moved on the other side of the door. I felt a rush of wind.

Cold, bony fingers grabbed my front leg in a death-grip, sharp claws scraping flesh.

I screamed and smashed the door against flesh. There was an unearthly howl, and the hand let go as the door finally slammed shut. Like a maniac, I felt around, grabbed more beams, chains, and locks, throwing them into place and sealing the door.

Whatever was on the other side hit the door, claws digging into stone like a cat clawing at a door, but with the speed of ravenous hunger.

I backed away, panting.

The scratches finally stopped. Things finally went quiet.

I collapsed to the ground, too exhausted to move.

***

After what felt like hours, I finally felt strong enough to stand, and pressed my ear against the door, listening for any movement.

I heard nothing.

I was safe.

Leaving the door behind, I wandered towards the stairs, and then up to the house, where light streamed down from above. The inside of my parent's house had never seemed more welcoming as I left the basement and stepped onto the carpet. It was quiet, and I crept into the living room, where I found Mangus still snoring on the floor. Beyond the window, a heavy rain was falling on the forest, thick clouds blocking the sun.

I looked to the closest clock, saw that it was ten thirty. I had gone into the basement around five thirty in the evening, and from what I could tell, everyone was still asleep.

Trudging up the stairs, aching with every step, I peeked into my room and found Beakbreaker still asleep. From the smile on her face, she had enjoyed pleasant dreams during the night.

Going to the bathroom, I wet a towel and wiped myself clean of dirt and blood, trying to make myself presentable. A shower would have been best, but I didn't want to risk waking anyone up, not when I wanted to do nothing more than rest my sore and aching body. After cleaning myself off, I put a thick bandage across the slice on my flank, and went back to my room, dumped the saddlebags inside a cabinet and hid them beneath some clothes. Then, and only then, did I finally get into my soft, warm bed, and lay my head upon the pillow.

Against all odds, I had retrieved the horn. I had the key to my dreams, and the power to end Mangus' threat once and for all.

My dreams were about to come true, and my problems would be at an end.

Finally relaxing, I closed my eyes and passed out.

The Talk

View Online

“Silverspeak.”

I groaned.

“Silverspeak, wake up.”

I blinked my eyes to find Beakbreaker standing beside the bed. It was so wonderful to see her; I smiled.

She wasn't smiling.

“Your parents are downstairs. They want to talk to you.”

She left.

I turned towards the clock and saw that it was noon. I had only been asleep for an hour and a half. Every part of me wanted nothing more than to return to peaceful oblivion and remain there as long as possible. But the look on Beakbreaker's face... I had seen her angry, furious, and sad, but this was something different.

It worried me.

A storm had come in while I had slept, and the sound of pouring rain hitting the windows followed me as I wearily got out of bed, almost crying at the pain in my legs. My muscles were so sore that I could barely move them. Taking a few unsteady steps, I was relieved to find I could still walk, at least.

Limping to the door, I slowly made my way down the stairs and to the living room. Mom and Dad were sitting in their respective chairs, with Beakbreaker on one end of the sofa. Mangus was there too.

None of them were smiling.

“Silverspeak,” Dad said. “Take a seat.”

Wincing, I made my way to the sofa and sat down between Beakbreaker and Mangus. I couldn't tell what the former was thinking, but the latter glared at me with eyes that could pierce steel.

“What's going on?” I asked, struggling not to yawn.

“Silverspeak," Dad said. "Did you do anything last night?”

I was suddenly awake. “What are you talking about?”

“When your mother and I woke up this morning, we found the basement door open. We went down and found part of the wall had collapsed.”

My jaw tightened.

“How did that happen?”

“I... I couldn't sleep,” I said, thinking fast, “so I decided to look around a bit. I went down into the basement, found that a part of the wall had fallen down, and I went in to explore.”

“Did anything happen?”

I shook my head.

My mother stiffened.

“Silverspeak,” Dad said, “did anything happen down there?”

“No.”

“Then why did we find blood on the floor? Or on the carpet outside the basement door, where it went up the stairs to the bathroom?” He saw my flank, did a double-take at seeing the bandage, and the tips of the slash that were still visible. “And how did you get that?!”

“There was a sharp stone coming from the wall,” I said as quickly as I could, cursing myself for my stupidity at not cleaning up after exiting the basement. “I accidentally cut myself on it.”

“Silverspeak," Mom said, "your father and I slept in until eleven. We haven't done that since both of us were teenagers coming back from an all-night party.”

“Well you were probably very tired," I said. "That happens every now and then.”

“But not from a day of taking things easy.”

“Maybe you've caught something.” I glanced at Beakbreaker, hoping a joke could lighten the mood. “Maybe you all caught Saddle Arabia sleeping disease, or something.”

No one laughed.

Mom took a deep breath. “When I went to brew some tea after waking up, I noticed that some of my herbs had been used. Your father doesn't make tea, and Beakbreaker says she didn't make any either. Neither did Mangus or the other guards.”

She said nothing more, but it was obvious what she was implying.

This was no time to take chances. Turning on my charm, I said, “Well, that's actually quite explainable. I put some of your herbs and spices into the soup last night, thinking it might add to the flavor. But how was I supposed to know they were ingredients to a sleeping tea?”

A bit of color seemed to fade from Mom's face. “I never said they were.”

My heart almost stopped. “Did I say sleeping tea? I mean, I thought they were flavor enhancers. I was mistaken, I didn't read the labels correctly, I-”

My backpedaling didn't fool anyone.

“You took all the necessary ingredients to make a sleeping tea,” Mom said. “The very same one I taught you to make when you were little.”

Everyone stared at me, and I could practically feel the air change as they put two and two together, realized the truth.

“You... You drugged us?” Dad whispered.

My charm goes a long way, but it can't cover up a blatant lie, or when an obvious truth is exposed.

“You drugged us.” Mangus growled.

“No.” My voice was tiny. “I didn't.”

“Don't lie to me!” Mangus said.

“But I didn't...”

Stop lying!” Mangus shouted. “You tried to kill me!”

“I wasn't trying to kill or drug anyone! How was I going to know the soup would put everyone to sleep?! And besides, I ate it! You all saw how tired I was!”

“But if you were so tired,” Dad said, “then how come you weren't able to sleep last night?”

I had no answer to that.

Mangus shook his head. “Sweet Celestia, you're pathetic! Even when the truth comes out, you keep lying!” He hit his hooves together. “Well, when I'm through with you, you'll-”

“Mangus,” Dad said. “That's enough!”

“Your son tried to kill me!”

“No combination of herbs in this house can kill anyone,” Mom said.

“Doesn't matter. This little creep needs to be taught a lesson!”

“If there will be any repercussions to this, it will be done by us, not you.”

Mangus' horn lit up, and he shoved my parents back against the wall. “Too bad!”

He turned to me, reared back for a punch, only to be magically blasted over the couch and into the wall.

“Mangus Bluehorn!” My mother roared, her horn glowing in tandem with my father's. “You are never again welcome in our home. You will leave this house immediately and never return!”

The door was magically opened, and Mangus was thrown out like trash, the door slamming shut and locking itself behind him. But my parents didn't stop there; all the blinds in the house were yanked shut, and spells were shot into the walls and windows, sealing the house completely, so that not even a magic user like Mangus could break in or eavesdrop.

The act done, my parents calmed down, took a moment to gather themselves.

I remained where I was, not knowing what to do. I had never seen my parents act towards another pony as they did.

When they opened their eyes once more, my parents came to the couch, stood before me.

“Silverspeak, please tell us the truth,” Mom said. “We're angry, but if you tell us why you did what you did, then we can at least understand.”

They watched me, waiting for an answer. So too, did Beakbreaker.

I thought about giving them a lie, telling them something they would want to hear. But if they could be made to understand, and if I could sway them to my side, they'd be potent allies against he inevitable confrontation with Mangus.

Knowing what I had to do, I got off the couch, started for the stairs.

“Silversp-”

I held up a hoof, indicating for everyone to stay where they were. Going upstairs, I gathered my saddlebags, then came back down and dumped them on the floor. The others watched, confused, as I took a deep breath, and pulled out the horn, setting it on the floor for everyone to see.

My parents and Beakbreaker gasped.

“Where did you get this?” Dad asked.

“Beneath the mountains,” I told him.

“What?”

“I went down there last night,” I said, my heart pounding. “I went down because I found Quiverquill's private diary. He talked of a lost civilization and the horn of it's king. I wanted that horn, so I... I drugged you all because I couldn't risk anyone waking up and finding me gone.”

No one said a word.

“I followed a tunnel Quiverquill had carved, and made my way into a labyrinth, eventually finding the horn. But on the way back, I was attacked by something. It chased me, and that's how I got this.” I yanked the bandage off, revealed how big my slice really was. “I got out and sealed the passageway. That was two hours ago." I sat on the sofa, feeling drained. “That's the truth.”

For the longest minute of my life, no one spoke. No one said anything. They just stared at that horn, and at me.

I waited.

“You... You were willing to risk the lives of your own family for... a horn?” Dad said.

“No. I had no idea that thing was down there-”

“But it could have made it's way up. It could have killed us.”

Dad was going down the path of shaming me for what could have happened, instead of what did happen. I had to stop him. “Yes, it could have. But I stopped it. I-”

“You almost killed this family, Silverspeak! And for what? A stupid horn?! Sweet Celestia, how could you be so stupid?! You-”

“Did you not hear a word I just said?! I didn't know it was there, okay Dad?! I didn't! I didn't know!”

Mom looked as if she was on the verge of breaking into tears. “Why? Why would you do something like this?”

“Mom, I-”

“Why? Please, tell me, why?!”

I couldn't bear to look at her. I turned to Beakbreaker, seeking support, comfort, anything. But instead, I only found a face as confused as everyone else.

“Because of you,” I said.

Mom was baffled. “Us? But how do you-”

“Do you remember Mom, what you thought of me when I was little?” I turned to Dad. “Do you, Dad? Do you remember how you thought I was a freak? How you were ashamed of me? That I wasn't the precious little unicorn you always wanted?”

Mom shook her head. “Silversp-”

“Well, I do. My earliest memories are of both of you looking down into my crib and looking so disappointed. I wasn't going to be your precious little spellcaster who you could teach. I wasn't going to carry on the family bloodline. I was a pathetic Earth pony! You didn't want me!”

“Yes we did!” Dad said. “We did want you!”

“That's a lie!”

“No it isn't! It-”

“Yes it is! And you know it!”

Dad tried to speak, but hung his head. “All right, I admit it... We were disappointed that you weren't a unicorn. Ever since we were married, your mother and I wanted nothing more than to have a child who we could teach, and pass on everything we had learned. And when you were born, it... You're right son. I'm not going to lie. We were disappointed.”

My chest tightened up.

“But that changed. We changed, too. We knew you wanted to be something more, but I never thought you'd go so far as to actually change your species. It's...it's...”

“It's something unnatural,” Mom said. “Something that just shouldn't be.”

I bit my lip. “How long have you felt like this?”

“Ever since we saw the first newspaper reports. When you showed us the wings, I wasn't sure whether to change my mind, but after the incident with the heckler, and now the horn... I think it's time.”

“For what?”

Mom and Dad looked at each other.

“Silverspeak...” Mom said, “you need to give up those wings.”

“No.” I shook my head. “Never.”

“You don't have to impress us. Changing your species won't make us love you any more.”

“What makes you think I'm trying to impress you?” I said. “You think I'm doing this for you? No, I'm doing this for myself. I'm sick and tired of being a nobody!”

“But you're not a nobody!”

“I am! I always have been! Neither of you know what it's like, being the only pony in school who can't do magic, or being the only pony in an entire city who's different than every else, and who can never, ever change that.” I pointed to the horn. “With that, I'm finally going to be someone! Someone important, someone who can actually do something that matters!”

“But is it really what you want?”

“Yes!”

“But what has this bought you? Have these wings made you happy?”

I couldn't answer him.

“You need to give this up, Silverspeak. This... obsession of yours has brought nothing but bad things.”

“You don't know that.”

“You're right. I don't. But I do know the entire country is divided; half thinks you're the next big thing, the other half thinks you're a walking blasphemy against nature itself. You may be safe in here, but you have no such protection outside. And what's worse, you're turning into something you're not.”

“That's not true.”

Dad sighed, shaking his head. “Oh, son, how could you be so stupid? You-”

Before I was even aware of what I was doing, I had shot to within an inch of Dad's face. “Don't you dare call me that!” I yelled. “Do you hear me, Dad?! Do you?!

Dad looked at me as if he was seeing a stranger.

Mom took a step back.

“Silverspeak,” Dad said quietly, choosing his words very carefully. “There's something ponies used to say when they first came to Equestria-”

“Oh for Celestia's sake, not another one of your idiotic stories!”

“This isn't a story. It's a saying, and one you need to hear. Ponies of old used to say that deep within each of us, far below our skin and our bones, is a creature. As we grow, we feed it with our choices. We can feed it compassion, tolerance, and a willingness to change. But we can also feed it anger, intolerance, and selfishness. When we grow up, that force steers us: it can be a good creature... or a monster.”

I shook my head. “I don't have some creature within me, Dad. Neither do you. It's a stupid fairytale.”

“One that rings with truth.”

“The truth is that I am going to be someone, and none of your old stories is going to stop me.” I looked to Mom. “You both should be proud of me. I've already gone beyond what I was. And with that horn, I'll finally be what you always wanted me to be. I'll be able to cast magi! You can finally teach me, just like you always wanted to. Isn't that what you want?”

Mom looked at me for a long moment. “No,” she said. “I don't want that.”

She reached out and touched my chin.

“I just want my son.”

I shook my head. “I am your son.”

I took a step back.

“I'm just going to be the one you've always wanted.”

Beakbreaker finally spoke. “Silverspeak...”

I turned, heart sinking, for Beakbreaker's tone had already revealed what she was going to say.

“Maybe... Maybe your parents are right. I mean, maybe we could...”

I didn't hear what she said, furious at how this had all gone so wrong. First my parents, and now Beakbreaker... they weren't going to take my side. Had I been more rested, my charm, in combination with logic and reason, would have been enough to sway Mom, Dad, and Beakbreaker to my side. But I was exhausted, and any chance of swaying them was gone.

Mom looked utterly defeated. And as I looked to Dad, I expected him to be the same way. But instead, he was looking at the horn, then to me. He sighed.

“I'm sorry Silverspeak, but this has gone on far enough. I know you'll hate me for this, but you'll thank me later.”

His horn glowed, and the horn I had struggled so hard to get rose into the air. Dad closed his eyes, concentrated, and his own horn began to throw off sparks, and in an instant, I realized what he was going to do. While horns are quite durable, they are not unbreakable. An experienced spell-caster can, with enough force, break one.

One snap, and the horn would be useless forever.

Mom was still too shocked at the events of the past few minutes to magically restrain me, and Beakbreaker was too far away to grab me. Dad was focusing all his attention on the horn.

It was a big mistake.

“NO!”

My muscles, exhausted and worn, were forced into desperate action as I tackled my father into a planter. The horn fell from his grasp, and I grabbed it before he could recover. I ran to the door and kicked it open, running outside. I heard Mangus yell at me, but I ignored him, trying to get as far away before any of them used their magic to yank me back. But I was in no shape to run for more than a few seconds without destroying my legs.

Beating my wings, I took to the sky, soaring away as fast as I could, ignoring the ice-cold rain that pelted me. I had to get away from them all, and hide the horn somewhere safe, someplace where they couldn't find it.

Down below, Beakbreaker and my parents ran out of the house and started after me. I couldn't hear their yells over the rain, but I wouldn't have listened to them anyway. They wouldn't understand. If they refused to see reason, then they wouldn't help me even if I told them about Mangus. And if I told them about the library, they'd eventually tell the police if I didn't turn myself in. I had to figure out another way, some other method of getting that horn on without Beakbreaker, and to keep her and my parents from interfering. No doubt they would go to Coin Counter, and possibly the authorities to stop me, so I would have to move fast, and get all the power I could, and then no one could stop me.

I beat my wings harder, trying to gain both altitude and distance.

That's when it happened.

It was minor at first, just a slight pain in my right shoulder that lasted for a second. But then the pain came again, and so much stronger than before, coming from where the wing muscles had been fused to my back. I gasped and wobbled, trying to work my way through it.

Then the pain practically exploded, and my entire right shoulder was in agony. The muscles cramped, tightening until they locked up completely, and I swore I could feel the wet squelch of muscles ripping away from bone.

I fell, tumbling head over heels as I frantically flapped my left wing, trying to regain control, biting down hard on the horn, desperate to protect the treasure I had risked my life to get.

Looking down, I saw that it was not my fate to end up as a bloody smear on the grass, for I was plunging towards a lake nestled between the trees, one that I had swum in frequently as a colt. It had been a place of refuge then, where I could be free and pretend I was swimming into a sunken city in the clear, blue water.

But now the water was grey and murky, and I was speeding towards it.

I made one last, frantic effort to pull up, and my left wing strained with all its might... until it too, cramped, and I shrieked in agony, now free-falling with nothing to hold me up.

The water shot towards me, and I heard Beakbreaker scream my name.

There was a horrible feeling of slamming into an immovable wetness, and everything went dark.

Intervention

View Online

When I felt myself waking up, everything hurt. My legs, back, and wings felt as if they had been beaten for hours with a baseball bat. For a moment I thought I was dead, but realized I wasn't. The dead don't feel pain.

With a groan, I opened my eyes. I was surprised to find myself in Beakbreaker's bedroom, and was even more surprised to be in her bed. I tried to remember how I got there, but the only memory I had was hitting the water. After that... nothing.

Then I realized I didn't have the horn. A panicked glance revealed that it wasn't in the room. I tried to get out of bed, desperate to find my treasure, but my legs were stiff and sore, and there was a sharp, stabbing pain from my back. Reaching behind me, I felt several tubes connected to the skin between my wings, needless embedded deep within my muscles.

I freaked out, as any pony would, and tried to yank the tubes and needles out. I would have, if the door hadn't opened and Beakbreaker rushed in. From the deep bags under her eyes, it appeared that she hadn't slept in days, but was alert at hearing my panic.

“Beakbreaker! What's going on?! Why am I-”

She hurried over and grabbed my hooves, pulling them away from my back. "You're safe," she said, holding my hooves tightly. I tried to yank away, but she refused to let go,. It had a calming effect, and the desire to rip the tubes away finally faded. When Beakbreaker saw that I was calm once more, she looked me over. “Are you feeling any pain?”

“There are needles in my back," I groaned. "And it feels like I've been beaten with a bat.”

“You fractured a few bones when you hit the water," Beakbreaker said. "You're lucky you didn't break anything. You're also lucky we got to you so quickly; another minute or two and you would have drowned.” She reached behind me and checked the tubes.

“How long have I been out?”

“Three days.” Beakbreaker frowned. “Flex your wings.”

I tried, stopped as a sharp, knife-like pain hit me.

Beakbreaker didn't say anything, but there was no mistaking the worried look on her face.

“Beakbreaker, why are we back here?"

Beakbreaker sat on the bed. “When you were pulled from the lake, we took you back to your parent's house, where I looked you over. But without the proper medical equipment, I couldn't do anything, so we had to take you back to the train.”

It took me a moment to realize why she'd do that instead of taking me to the hospital: The train had a car stocked with medical equipment, so a pony could be treated onboard if there was an emergency while we were miles away from the closest town.

“When we got you onto the train, I did a complete diagnostic scan. X-rays, blood samples, the works.”

“And?”

Beakbreaker grabbed the tubes and yanked them out. I almost cried out from the pain.

“Sorry," she said. "Best to get them all out at once.”

I nodded, tears streaking down my cheeks. “You were saying?”

“Your bones will heal, and although you tore a few muscles, they'll heal up in a few days.”

“But what about my wings? What happened to them?”

Beakbreaker hesitated.

My stomach sank.

Taking a deep breath, Beakbreaker said, "According to the x-rays, the muscles we implanted onto your shoulders are... Well, they're falling apart.”

“What?”

“I took a sample of the muscles and ran a complete diagnostic, checking it out for every condition we know of. I can't figure out why, but they're dying; it's almost as if your body is rejecting them.”

“But that's impossible!" I said. "I've had them for months now!”

“Yes, and if there was a flaw, we should have found it sooner. But maybe the breakdown was very slow, and only just reached a critical level, like how a disease can fester for months, maybe even years, without being detected.”

I should have panicked, but felt oddly calm. Now that I knew what was happening, we could focus on finding a cure. “So, what do we do now?”

“Silverspeak, I don't know how to phrase this gently, so I'm going to be blunt: your wing muscles are already too broken down to heal themselves, and I don't think surgery will do anything either. And we can't leave them alone because when they'll die, necrosis will set in and release toxins into your bloodstream. In essence, your wings will poison you.” Beakbreaker shook her head. “There's only one thing we can do... We have to remove your wings.”

The shock of hearing that was so great that my mind went numb. “No... No, we'll find a way to fix it. You always do.”

“You think I haven't tried, Silverspeak? While you were out, I've put every antibiotic, every steroid, and growth hormone I know into the muscle sample, but nothing works. At best, I can slow down the process, but the outcome is going to be the same no matter what we do.”

“Then I can get a new set of wings. You can remove these and put a new set in.”

Beakbreaker shook her head. “The muscles are genetically identical to the ones you have now. And even with all the chemicals we put in, your body will still reject them. It's like getting a limb transplant: the body sees the new limb as a foreign body and attacks it. You can slow the process with drugs, but it's going to reject the limb no matter what.”

It was a struggle not to panic; everything was happening too quickly. “But why? Why now?”

“I wish I knew, Silverspeak. I really do. But we have to act before it gets worse. I can schedule the operation for later this afternoon.”

I shook my head. “No.”

“Silverspeak, I-”

“I heard what you said, but I'm not going to give up so easily.”

“I didn't say anything about giving up. We need to do this to save your life.”

“You said you could slow the process down with drugs. I'll take them, along with anything else you can give me. We buy some time to come up with a plan.”

“Silverspeak, you don't understand-”

“No, you don't understand!” I snapped. “These wings are everything to me! You're talking about destroying my dream!”

“To save your life! If you keep those wings, you'll die!”

“I'm willing to take that chance.”

“But I'm not! I can't let you throw away your life like this!”

“It's my choice, not yours. And doesn't the medical code state that all patients have the right to make their own choices?”

Beakbreaker hesitated.

“Well?”

Beakbreaker nodded. “Yes, it does. But-”

“Then I'll keep my wings, and that's that.”

It hurt to get out of bed, but I managed to wobble to the bathroom, needing to see the wings for myself, and to get away from Beakbreaker. I understood what she was saying. I know she meant well, but she didn't understand how valuable the wings were to me. To lose them would almost be more than I could bear.

Reaching the bathroom, I turned on the light and looked into the mirror. My wings were the same as they had always been. They weren't discolored or showing signs of breaking down. I tried stretching them, but only got a few inches before pain shot through me, forcing me to stop.

Only then did I notice black splotches around my shoulders.

Leaving the bathroom, I found Beakbreaker looking out the window to the city below. She looked like a pony lost at sea, adrift without a course or knowing where she was even going.

I went to her. “Beakbreaker... I know you mean well, but this is too important to me. But we'll get through this. We'll find a a way to make things better."

“Can you do me at least one favor?” Beakbreaker asked, her eyes still fixed to the buildings and streets below. “Can you at least think things over?”

It was a fair proposition; perhaps clearing my head and thinking things over might reveal an unexpected solution. “I will.”

Beakbreaker sighed. “Thanks.”

Wanting to get a start on clearing my mind, and to find my treasure, I headed to the door. I almost left when I realized something. “Beakbreaker, do my parents know what's wrong with my wings?”

She nodded. “You can probably guess what they want you to do.”

“What about Coin Counter? Does he know?”

Another nod. “So does the company.”

I grimaced. So much for keeping things a secret. But there was one last thing I wanted to know, perhaps more than anything else. “What about the horn? Where is it?”

The mention of my treasure made Beakbreaker uncomfortable. “It's in a safe place,” she said. “You were still clutching it when we dragged from the lake. Your father wanted to destroy it right then and there, but I managed to convince him not to. Pointed out that we might still be able to use it somehow.”

“Where is it?”

“It's safe. That's all you need to know.”

I almost pressed the issue, but decided against it. I didn't want to make an already volatile situation worse by making Beakbreaker angry, or more upset than she already was. So, without another word, I left.

***

Going to Medicomp's gym, I walked around the track, letting my thoughts wander where they would. A few ponies walked in; they recognized me but kept their distance, perhaps sensing that I wasn't in the mood to talk. Or perhaps it was because they noticed the black splotches, and didn't want to risk getting infected by any diseases I might have.

I had walked for an hour when another pony came in. Spotting me, he walked over, matching my pace. “Figured I'd find you here,” Coin Counter said. “You always did seem to like going around the track.”

I nodded.

“You feel any better?”

I shook my head. “Beakbreaker told you what happened?”

Coin Counter nodded.

“You think I should have the wings removed?”

Coin Counter took a moment to think. “The health and safety of our employees comes before everything else," he said, "and we don't want you to die. If there is no way to save them without harming you... then yes, they should be removed."

His honesty was refreshing, if sobering. “Does the public know anything?"

“We got a lot of press attention when the tour was canceled, and it's hard to get an unconscious celebrity off a train and back to Medicomp headquarters without being seen. The tabloids had a field day; some said you were dead, or that you'd been infected with some sort of parasitic disease, or that your wings are poisoning you.

My head drooped. “Great.”

We walked a while longer.

“If you don't mind me pointing it out, sir, you seem awfully calm about all this,” I said.

Coin Counter's smile was grim. “There's been a lot of panic at the top. We've had a lot of meetings while you were out, trying to figure out what to do. If we go public with what's happening with the wings, that'll undermine confidence in the company. If we stay quiet, we'll be accused to trying to cover things up.” He sighed. “No easy answers to be found.”

“What would happen if you did go public?”

“Sales of our limbs would plunge. Consumer confidence would do the same. If our customers see what happened to you, they'd fear that the same would happen to them eventually. The public panics, stock prices plunge, profits drip to nothing, and Medicomp might go out of business.” His smile grew even darker. “Best case scenario: sales eventually bounce back after a long PR campaign and extensive testing to figure out what's wrong and how to keep it from happening."

"And has this happened to anyone else?"

Coin Counter shook his head. "Daily checkups on pegasi show no problems. It seems you're the only one affected."

I didn't think it was possible to feel any worse, but was proven wrong.

"In the meantime, we can still focus on our other products," Coin Counter said, trying to distract me. "We have those automated surgical units that are about to go out. And we can even do research on the horn Beakbreaker brought in.”

My ears went up.

“I'm not sure what we can do with it, since we can't do horns, but we might still get something out of-”

“Where is it?" I asked. "The horn, that is?"

“Locked away in our labs. Don't want to risk anything damaging or contaminating it." Before I could press for specifics, Coin Counter's watch beeped. “Well, looks like the board of directors has called another meeting. I'll talk to you later.”

Wanting to offer more encouragement, but knowing that he was needed, Coin Counter had to settle on giving a supporting - if uncertain- glance my way as he hurried out, leaving me to my thoughts.

***

As the afternoon went on, I grappled with my thoughts, a multitude of which tried to dominate my attention. The wings, the horn, the company... all jumbled together in a mass of uncertainty, fear, and confusion.

I spent hours walking around that track, trying to decide what to do. Keep my wings or get rid of them? Go after the horn, or leave it? For the latter, I decided to leave it be for the time being. The wings were a more pressing concern, and I weighed the pros and cons of keeping them or letting Beakbreaker remove them, as well as the long-term consequences. It wasn't easy, but eventually I made my decision: I would keep my wings.

There were risks. That I could not deny. But my wings were part of a dream, and I would not give it up. I could take any and all drugs to keep the decay in check, which would give me time to find a cure. Medicomp would no spare no expense in putting its finest doctors and chemists to work searching for a cure. But it wasn't just my selfish desires that prompted my choice: if Beakbreaker's wings, or her limbs were found to be defective at a basic, fundamental level, then her reputation would take a huge hit, or be destroyed. All those years of studying, working, and research would be for nothing.

I wouldn't let that happen.

***

As the sun began to set, I returned to Beakbreaker's apartment. She was waiting for me, lost in her own thoughts, and more nervous than I thought she'd be.

“Have you thought about what I said?” she asked.

I nodded.

“And?”

I knew she wouldn't like my answer, but I still gave it. “I'm going to keep the wings.”

Beakbreaker's face sagged, and for a moment I thought she was actually going to cry. But she pulled herself together. “As a doctor, I have to respect your wishes," she said, "even after informing you what will happen.”

I went to Beakbreaker, putting a hoof beneath her chin. “Beakbreaker, I know you're worried, but this is my choice. I'm not going to give up on this, not yet. And look at it this way: if we do find a cure, you can use it on other ponies who might have this problem in the future.”

I wasn't sure how Beakbreaker was going to react. She didn't raise a fuss, throw a temper-tantrum, or do anything out of character. Instead, she remained quiet.

Looking out the window, I watched as the sun disappeared below the horizon. Normally I would be up for dinner, but I wasn't hungry. I was tired and wanted to rest, giving my body every chance to fight off the infection raging beneath my skin.

“Maybe the best thing we can do is get a good night's sleep, and have clearer heads in the morning,” I said.

Beakbreaker gave an emotionless nod.

Going into the kitchen, I gulped down a few pain pills and went to the sofa, but Beakbreaker told me to take her bed again. Grateful for her generosity, I went to her room and slid between the sheets, glad that the matter was settled. Things had been set in motion, and hopefully morning would reveal a solution to the wings.

Turning out the lights, I closed my eyes.

***

Sleep was deep and restful, and I would have dozed well past the rising of the sun if something hadn't woken me in the middle of the night.

I don't know what cause me to stir. Perhaps a sixth sense warning me that something was nearby. Blinking, I looked around, the darkness momentarily disorienting me. I thought I was back beneath the mountains, trapped in the dark with something foul and vile. But then I saw the lights of Manehattan beyond the window and remembered that I was safe. Nothing could harm me in the Medicomp tower.

Still, the numerous shadows gave an intruder plenty of places to hide. I studied the room, looking for movement and listening for breathing or clothing brushing against furniture. I detected neither, and decided that I had heard Beakbreaker going to the bathroom.

Laying my head back upon the pillow, I closed my eyes.

That's when I heard hoofsteps.

They were coming into the room.

There were whispers. I couldn't make out what was being said, except that it was two ponies who sounded cautious, probably trying not to wake me.

They got closer. Another few seconds, and they'd reach me.

I never gave them the chance, leaping from the bed, my every muscle exploding in sudden movement. And for a second it caught my stalkers off guard, but they recovered quickly, for I heard a voice say, “Now!”

A blast of magical energy hit me, and it was like I had been covered with invisible cement, for my body went perfectly still. I couldn't move, nor could I open my mouth or move my vocal cords, rendering me silent. Floating above the bed, my eyes darted about, saw the ponies emerge from the shadows.

Mangus grinned as he held me effortlessly in place. Beside him, Beakbreaker watched, barely able to match my gaze.

“Like a fish to a string,” Mangus said.

“I'm sorry Silverspeak,” Beakbreaker said. Unlike Mangus, she wasn't enjoying the situation. “A doctor must respect the wishes of his or her patients... unless their lives are in immediate, life-threatening danger.”

I stared at her, unable to make a sound.

Anxious to get going, Beakbreaker left the room. Mangus followed, floating me between the two of them. I could only watch her as we went to the elevator, and then to the surgical wing. Once there, we went into the prep room, where Beakbreaker quickly changed into surgical scrubs. Her assistants were already waiting for us, avoiding my gaze.

Mangus lowered me face-down onto the gurney, and the assistants were quick to slip leather straps onto me, tightening them down so I didn't have a chance of slipping away once the magic wore off. And while they could move my limbs with ease, I couldn't even twitch.

“You know, Doc,” Mangus said, “You could get your medical license revoked for this. Operating on someone without their consent, and all.”

“If I do, then so be it.”

Mangus was surprised. “You're willing to give up your entire career for one guy?”

A tug from Beakbreaker, and the last strap was tightened down. “Yes.”

The assistants wheeled me into the operating room. Mangus and Beakbreaker followed, the former keeping his magic active as the gurney was locked into place and equipment brought forward: knives, surgical scissors, and trays large enough to hold muscles.

The anesthesia machine was turned on, and Beakbreaker walked to my face, the black mask in hoof. “I'm sorry Silverspeak,” she whispered, “but please believe me when I say that this is for your own good.”

I wanted to scream, to yell at her to stop, but remained silent as the mask went over my mouth. And as the chemicals entered my lungs, the anesthesia began to drag me into sleep. But unlike my first surgical procedure, I didn't go quietly. I fought with everything I had, knowing that once I fell asleep, I would be helpless to stop Beakbreaker.

But it was a fight I couldn't win.

In seconds, everything went dark and silent.

***

Unlike the first surgery, in which there had been peaceful nothingness, I dreamed. But my dreams were nightmares filled with me running down dark, rocky passages that had no exits, and walls that I kept hitting, cutting my sides and my skin. And all the while I was chased by the unseen monstrosity that had nearly taken my life. Now it attacked again, its long fingers slicing at my back, leaving deep scratches besides the gashes from sharp stones. And no matter how hard I ran, no matter how great my terror, I couldn't outrun the thing.

With a great leap, the abomination leapt onto my back, digging deep as it yanked back, tearing tendrils and snapping nerves as my wings were ripped out, leaving gaping holes in my shoulders.

I slipped and fell on my own blood, sliding seemingly forever, barely managing to turn and see the thing standing before me, hoisting my wings up high, bathing in blood flowing from the stumps and laughing, its demonic, wordless voice cruel beyond imagining, delighting in my misery.

I screamed. I cried, and I tried to claw my way back, to grab my wings as they melted before me.

And then the thing lunged, its mouth opening wide.

That's when I woke with a scream. Or, rather, I tried to scream, for there was something in my mouth. For an instant I thought I had woken from one nightmare into another, but realized that wasn't true. The walls around me were white and smelled of sanitizing fluid. I was lying on my stomach in an elevated hospital bed, unable to move due to straps that held me down tightly.

Fear grabbed hold and I bucked, trying to break free as I yelled for help. At least, I tried to, for I realized that there was a muzzle over my mouth; I had seen such a device when first touring the building. The doctors who showed it to me hoped they never had to use it, for it had been designed to silence patients who wouldn't stop screaming or making a racket.

I thrashed and struggled, fighting like a wild animal who had known freedom his whole life, only to have it taken from him in an instant and without just cause. Had Beakbreaker put me here? Did she believe me to be some lunatic who would break free and kill everyone if given the chance?

I thrashed, determined to break free and demanding to know why she had done this, only to stop.

My back... it felt raw.

Shaking, I was just able to twist my head far enough to get a glimpse at my back.

I nearly fainted from what I saw.

My back was bare, save for stitches on my shoulders.

My wings were gone.

I Destroyed Your Dream

View Online

It wasn't long before Beakbreaker came into the holding room, accompanied by Mangus and three orderlies. She was calm and professional as she came to me and said that my muzzle would be removed if I remained calm and didn't lash out.

I made no move to indicate that I heard her.

Beakbreaker asked me if I understood what she was saying. When I didn't answer, Mangus said that this was all a waste of time, and that I clearly wasn't going to cooperate. But Beakbreaker ignored him, instructing the orderlies to remove the muzzle. Mangus protested, but Beakbreaker said that we would get nowhere by treating me like a caged animal.

The orderlies worked fast, using their magic to remove the muzzle.

I remained still, making no move to bite them.

Coming in just outside of my biting range, Beakbreaker asked me several questions, wanting to know if I was in any pain, and if I understood what had happened.

I didn't answer her.

Mangus butted in once more, saying that I was throwing a silent tantrum, and wasn't interested in talking. But Beakbreaker refused to give up, saying that I would probably feel better in familiar surroundings. She told the orderlies to move the bed to her apartment.

I was wheeled down the halls, gawked at by startled ponies seeing me pushed along like a wild beast in a cage. Their shock was greater at seeing my empty back. I was no longer a pegasus pony, but an all-too common earth pony.

A nobody.

We reached Beakbreaker's apartment, and after some quick shuffling of the furniture, she had my bed put before the window overlooking Manehattan. Once it was in place, she asked me if I wanted anything.

I said nothing.

Realizing that Mangus was probably right about the tantrum, she said that she would leave me to myself for a little while but would come back soon. She left with the orderlies, who locked the door behind them.

I was left to watch as Manehattan went about its day, watching pegasus ponies fly through the skies, free to go wherever they wished.

***

Night fell, and Beakbreaker returned, accompanied by two unicorn orderlies. “Hello, Silverspeak. I hope you're feeling a little better.”

I said nothing.

Beakbreaker put some food containers on the table. “I brought you some food. Figured you're probably hungry.” Opening one, she came over and showed me the sandwich inside.

I didn't even look.

“Silverspeak, please, you have to eat. You haven't had any solid food since we left Saddle Lanka. I don't want to put a feeding tube in you, but I'll have to if you don't cooperate. You need nutrients. And if you want to stay silent... well, you can.”

She put the sandwich back on the table, then started to undo my straps. The orderlies rushed forward, but Beakbreaker indicated for them to stay back as she undid the last strap, then went to the table.

For a few minutes, I remained still. Then I eased myself off the bed, went to the table, and started to eat, taking slow, methodical bites.

The orderlies remained where they were, never taking their eyes off me.

Beakbreaker tried to eat her sandwich, but didn't have an appetite. “Silverspeak... I know you're angry at me, and I accept that. You have every right to be, but please understand: I was only trying to help you.”

I kept eating.

“I judged that, based on the results of my tests, your life was in immediate danger from being infected by dead tissues. I figured that no matter what I said, you'd refuse to have them removed, even if they were minutes away from fatally poisoning you,”

I took another bite.

“Time was running out, and I didn't know what to do, so I went to Mangus and asked him to help me. I thought he wouldn't, considering the whole drugging fiasco, but he was actually really eager. He wanted to just storm in and take you, but I persuaded him to wait until you sleeping.” She gave a nervous chuckle. “Well, I know we won't be able to sneak up on you to do pranks anytime soon.”

I swallowed a mouthful of the sandwich.

“You're also wondering why we strapped you down like we did. The truth is, I just didn't know how you'd react to finding your wings gone, if you would be logical, or violent. I didn't know, and erred on the side of caution. And please believe me, if there had been any other way to avoid it, any at all, I would have taken it. I would have given anything, anything to make this easier for you.”

I remained silent.

“You're probably wondering why I would risk so much for my secretary. Well, the reason is...”

Beakbreaker paused, tried to find the words, sweating all the while. “The reason is because... you're my friend. My only real one, actually.”

She got out of her seat and got close to me. The orderlies flinched, but Beakbreaker indicated for them to remain where they were.

“Silverspeak... Ever since you got those wings, I watched you agonize over them. I was so worried about you, especially when it seemed like it just wasn't working out. I had hoped you'd realize it too, but you didn't. And then there were your parents... They came to me after the presentation in Saddle Lanka and asked me if the wings were doing anything to you, personality-wise. I told them yes, I thought they were.”

I stopped eating.

“And then all this happened: The horn, attacking your father, refusing to see reason; you were becoming obsessed. I've heard of this happening with other ponies, Silverspeak. My colleagues, they've see ponies destroy themselves going after dreams they can't fulfill. They become so obsessed that they forget about their families, their jobs, everything.”

She stopped, wiping sweat away.

“Yes, I took your wings, but only to save your life. The Silverspeak I know is kind and polite, doesn't attack others, and doesn't risk his life over such trivial things. I know that perhaps you'd rather die without those wings, but I... I couldn't let that happen. Not after all this.”

She took another step closer to me.

“Ever since we met, you've encouraged me on. You were the one who helped me whenever bad things came. Now I want to help you. I want you to see that you can have a good life without wings. I know you don't believe me, but it's true. And when we were in Saddle Lanka, I tried to find out a way to tell you, but I never got the chance. But now... Well, now seems as good a time as any.”

She reached out and took my hoof in hers.

The orderlies took a step forward.

Beakbreaker looked me right in the eyes. “Silverspeak... for so long I've considered you a friend, but now... Well, now I want to take the next step. It's like back in school, when young ponies would tell their boyfriends that they 'like them, like them.' Silverspeak, I... I like you, like you. And your parents, when they realized it, suggested to me that I could show you what kind of life you might have if... if the two of us were... together.”

She stopped, bit her lip, and waited for me to say something.

I didn't.

Beakbreaker sweated. She started to shake. “Please, Silverspeak, say something.”

I didn't.

“Please... I know my career is probably shot. I might lose my medical license for operating on you. And if your wings went, then the others will probably go. And if that happens...well, I won't have anything left. I'll be a nothing. But I'll have you. We can work our way through this. Please.”

“You destroyed it,” I whispered.

“What?”

“You destroyed my dream,” I said.

“I don't want to destroy anyone's dream,” Beakbreaker said quickly. “I didn't want to destroy yours, either, but-”

“Liar.” I got out of the chair, shaking so badly I had to grab it to steady myself. “You rotten, stinking, little liar.”

The orderlies tensed, ready to tackle me.

My heart was racing. I had never felt so angry before. “All those years, all that effort, wasted by a pathetic whelp who gave up too easily. I don't see what I ever saw in you in the first place.”

Beakbreaker took a step back. “What?”

“Wake up Beakbreaker!” I snapped. “Do you really think I helped you out of the generosity of my heart? That I cared about your dreams, or only had your best intentions in mind?! No! I used you, and you were too stupid to realize it!”

Beakbreaker went pale.

“I told you what you wanted to hear, whispered suggestions, gave you ideas, and you fell for them, hook line and sinker!” I couldn't stop, the words coming out faster and faster. “I even manipulated Medicomp itself, through those brain-dead CEO's who can only think of the almighty bit, and can't see five feet in front of themselves! All of it was to get those wings! To get a horn! And now, because you had a panic attack, it's all ruined! You hear me?! Ruined! Years of work, gone, and it's all because of you!

Beakbreaker was silent. So too, were the orderlies, who couldn't believe what they were hearing.

“All that time... all that kindness... your friendship...” Beakbreaker whispered. “It was all... a lie?”

I turned away.

“Tell me that's not true,” Beakbreaker said, her voice shaking. “Please, tell me it's not true!”

I remained silent.

“Tell me!” Beakbreaker begged, tears falling to the floor. “Tell me! Please, tell me!

“I... I don't know,” I finally said. “I don't know.”

“You don't know if you're telling the truth or not?!”

I spun. “I said I don't know!” I closed my eyes, took a deep breath. “Maybe you did act to save my life. Fine. It's done. And maybe you did save my life. But I'm not giving up. I'm going to get another set of wings. I have enough bits to buy them, and Medicomp will want me back. So I'll get them, make sure this doesn't happen again, and everyone will be happy.”

Beakbreaker wiped away her tears. “You can't.”

“What? You going to stop me? Strap me back down and keep me locked up in your apartment for the rest of my life?”

She shook her head. “While you were out, I told the CEO's about what was happening, and how bad your shoulder tissues were. I told them we should stop selling the wings until we figure out what's wrong. They agreed; the company's going to announce it to the public tomorrow.”

“So I'll wait. I'll get another pair when they're better.”

Beakbreaker sniffed. “No, Silverspeak. I also told them that the wings aren't compatible with anyone who isn't a pegasi.”

My heart froze. “You... You don't know that!”

“I checked. I used some of your DNA with a sample of the wings, did the same for another earth pony, then exposed the DNA of a pegasus pony to another sample. The pegasus wings are doing fine, but the earth pony sample rejected the muscles. Your sample did too. I told the CEO's that, based on those results, and what happened to you, they should stop selling the wings to non-pegasi... Permanently.”

She sniffed again. “They agreed.”

The color drained from my face.

“I'm sorry, Silverspeak, but I couldn't let others undergo what you have. And I knew you'd try to get wings again. I... I had to protect you from yourself. It was simply for your own good.”

Something snapped inside me.

Wiping the last of her tears away, Beakbreaker said, “Now, we can work this out-”

“Get out.” I whispered.

“Silverspeak, we're both mad, but we-”

“Get out.”

She took my hoof. “Please, we can-”

GET OUT!” I screamed.

Beakbreaker was so caught off guard that she fell to the floor. So did the orderlies. But their shock was nothing compared to Beakbreaker's, who stared at me in terror. Never had I raised my voice against her, or screamed with the unfiltered fury of a soul who's only purpose in life had been taken away.

And in that moment, seeing the hatred in my eyes, she realized that everything I had said earlier was the truth.

Beakbreaker scrambled backwards. She only got out one anguished sob before running from the room. The orderlies, shocked at seeing Medicomp's spokespony have such a meltdown, went with her.

Pain shot from my now-empty shoulders. Furious, I reared back, grabbed the stitches where my beautiful wings had once been and ripped them out, roaring at the pain until I was screaming. Blood splashed against the walls as I bucked, smashing the table and sending food flying across the room. I kicked, thrashed, and screamed incoherently, no longer feeling anything but pure, unfiltered rage at the unfairness of it all.

Finally, I stopped. The room lay in tatters, the table, sofa, and chairs demolished, with the chandelier half-broken, and holes embedded in the walls. I spun, looking for something else I could destroy, something precious and beautiful that I could tear apart. But there was nothing left.

I had destroyed it all.

For a long moment I stood there, running on nothing but adrenaline, which then seeped away, leaving me drained and feeling more empty than I had ever felt, and more alone than I had ever been.


I collapsed to the ground, sobbing, wishing that everything would just go away.

Countdown

View Online

Four days ago, I lay on the floor in Beakbreaker's apartment, sobbing at what I thought was a dead dream. I didn't want to believe it, thinking there had to be a way to bring it back, but I couldn’t do it there. I had spent countless hours at Medicomp's headquarters trying to fulfill my dream, but I couldn't stand to spend another minute there.

I ran from the apartment, down the stairs, and out the lobby, ignoring the shocked ponies around me. It was early evening outside, and there were crowds eagerly heading towards Manehattan's entertainment district to enjoy the nightlife. None of them were expecting to see a celebrity running past with bleeding shoulders, and many shouted in surprise as I knocked them out of my way.

I reached my old apartment building a few hours later. The landlord was caught off guard by the gates slamming shut, but was even more surprised to see me, as we hadn't talked in over a year. His confusion grew even bigger as he saw the blood across my back, but I demanded a key before he could ask any questions. Once I got it, I ran up to my old place; it hadn't changed since I had last been there, except for the thin layer of dust and cobwebs that draped the furniture and my belongings.

Slamming the door shut, I locked it, needing to barricade myself away from the world. I shoved the sofa, chairs, and anything heavy against the door, then closed the blinds and drew the curtains over the windows before stapling them shut.

I wanted to work, to come up with a new plan to restore what had been taken from me. But my heart wasn't in it. Instead, I took a hot shower, washing away all the sweat, grime, and blood, and wishing it could wash away the worst day of my life.

***

Three days ago, I woke at noon. Sixteen hours of sleep had helped to heal my body, but had done nothing to dull the sting of losing the wings. I didn’t even have the will to get up. What was the point? Was I just supposed to stroll into work with a smile on my face and a spring in my step? Screw Medicomp. Screw everything. I just wanted to lie in bed and never leave.

But fate wouldn't let me off the hook so easily.

It took me a few moments to realize that I hadn't woken from an alarm, but from the sounds of a mass commotion outside. I tried to ignore it, finally gave up, and looked outside the windows.

There was a crowd of ponies gathered around the base of the tower, a mix of curious onlookers and what looked like reporters. There were several pegasus ponies circling the tower, and I made the mistake of meeting the gaze of the closest one, who shouted out, “There he is!”

The other pegasus ponies swarmed towards my window. I yanked the curtains back into place as the photographers yelled questions, demanding to know why I didn't have wings anymore, and why I had fled Medicomp. I would have ignored them, but I wasn't in the mood to deal with anyone, much less loudmouth reporters. Grabbing a trashcan, I threw the window open and chucked old garbage onto the closest photographers, slamming the window shut as they yelled in surprise and disgust.

I retreated to the living room. That surge of anger had jolted my system, and I figured the best thing to do was to pull myself out of my funk and come up with a plan of action, something to get me going. I took a sheet of paper and a pen, scribbled down ideas on where I could go from there... or rather, I tried to, because I couldn't get a single idea. Nothing came to mind, as if my mind was refusing to work with me.

The shouting from outside died down, but then moved to outside my door, with the reporters pounding away, demanding to get a scoop. How they got in, I didn't know (they probably paid one of the neighbors to let them come in through the window), but they didn't take the hint to bugger off. Pulling the barricade away, I yanked the door open, and was greeted by a blast of flashing light bulbs.

“Mr. Silverspeak, why did you-”

“Buck off!” I shouted, slamming the door. But they still didn't get the hint, pounding away until the landlord and a few police officers (who had probably been called from angry neighbors who couldn't stand the noise) arrived and escorted them out. The landlord knocked, asking if I was okay, but I didn't answer. They all finally left, and I finally had silence once more.

Sleep didn't come that night. Every time I shifted, my scabbed shoulders would ache, and when I did manage to doze off, I would feel my wings and eagerly wake up, only to find that they were still gone. I was livid; I knew it was the phantom limb effect, but it seemed that in my darkest hour, even my brain was turning against me, as if mocking me for what I once had.

***

Anyone who entered my apartment two days ago would have found me with ragged skin, bloodshot eyes, and an exhausted face. When noon came, there was the knock at the door, and something slid underneath it. I found it was a copy of the morning's paper, along with a large envelope. Ignoring the envelope, I took the paper and read it over, dreading what I might find. And sure enough, the front page headline was about how Medicomp's spokespony had been seen fleeing from the company building with bloody shoulders and missing wings, complete with a blurry photo snapped by a visiting tourist who had just happened to see me running. Then came reports that I had been found at an old apartment building, where brave and heroic reporters had risked their lives to get a statement from me, only to be viciously attacked (a statement corroborated with a photo of me tossing tomatoes onto them, and angrily yelling at the camera from inside the building).

Wondering if I could sue the paper into oblivion for misinterpreting what had happened, I continued on. Rumors were flying that I had gone psychotic from some drugs Medicomp was illegally giving me, or that the pressure of being a celebrity had caused me to snap and lose my mind, or possibly both, or that even the wings had driven me mad. Unable to get a response from me, the press had turned to Medicomp for answers, demanding explanations as to what was going on. Coin Counter had given a press conference on the tower's steps, admitting that yes, I had a problem with my wings, but they were the result of an undetected infection, and not a problem that was inherent in all the implants. But should any patient, current or former, wish to come in to have their transplants checked, they were welcome to do so, free of charge.

The report included several questions from those in attendance; one reporter had asked if it was possible that Beakbreaker was the one responsible for what happened, and Coin Counter had immediately said no, that her work had been checked again and again, and found no problems at all. But when asked about what she was doing about all this, Coin Counter said Beakbreaker was currently on leave due to personal issues, and refused to elaborate any further.

There was more to the article, but I didn't want to read anymore. Things were spiraling out of control, and I needed to focus, not obsess over what the world thought of me.

I had just tossed the paper away when I remembered the envelope. A quick glance revealed that it had the Medicomp logo on it. My stomach felt like it was going to fall out as I tore it open and took out a single sheet of paper. An official document less than a page long was never a good sign.

I was right.

Dear Mr. Silverspeak, the letter began. This letter is to inform you that you are hereby called before a board meeting of Medicomp management with regard to the incident involving your wings, and information given during an altercation with Beakbreaker. During this meeting, we will inform you of our right to bring legal action against you due to damage of company property, drugging of three company employees, and emotional harassment (including manipulation and lying) of both management and our employees.

Should you not appear at the scheduled date and time, we will consider your employment with us to be terminated, and utilize additional legal means to obtain restitution for our grievances.

The meeting was scheduled to take place two days later. Just enough time to let my mind run rampant about what the company was going to do. It certainly couldn't be a coincidence that whoever had written that letter had made the term, “legal action” as vague as possible. They wanted me to squirm, so that I'd be a nervous, whimpering wreck when the date came, especially at the thought of facing the police, no matter what I did.

I dropped the letter and ran to the bathroom, where I threw up.

***

One day ago, I awoke feeling even worse then the day before, with a throbbing headache and an equally aching stomach. I should have spent the day resting, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I read the morning paper, hoping that it would have some good news for once.

It didn’t. Despite his press conference, Coin Counter hadn't alleviated Medicomp's woes. Its stock and income had dropped drastically overnight as stockholders jumped ship, not wanting to be associated with a company whose spokespony had lost his mind, and started a panic among customers who feared that their limbs were infected, and might kill them, or drive them mad.

Stocks weren't Medicomp's only woes. There were reports of rallies all across Equestria, with communities and towns celebrating me losing my wings. Interview after interview had them saying nature was finally punishing me for my pride and self-righteousness.

I had my first real glimpse of happiness in days at the thought of meeting those ponies and caving their faces in.

Rallies, protests, Medicomp facing ruin, and the letter... It was as if the whole world had gone crazy. But what plunged me into a full-on depression was knowing that it was all my fault. I had been the one to push Medicomp into getting wings; I had set everything in motion. Worse still was the realization that I couldn't fix it. I couldn't talk my way out of this situation like I had the others. No matter how many press conferences I attended, or how many public apologies I gave, nothing would get better. The letter from Medicomp had basically informed me that my career there was over. The company was going to inevitably announce that I had been let go, and reveal what an emotionally manipulative pony I had been all along. They were going to publicly shame me as a warning to others. Oh, I had enough bits in my bank account to keep up the rent on the apartment for a good long while, but nobody would hire me after such an revelation.

Then there was Mangus. He was no doubt he was waiting for me to be publicly dismissed from Medicomp before twisting the knife and revealing what I had done in the library. That, more than anything else, would destroy any chance I had at ever getting my life back together.

I needed help, and there was only one place I could go. It was the last place I wanted to call, especially after all that happened, but I didn’t have anyone else to turn to.

Taking the phone, I dialed a number and waited.

The line clicked.

Hello?

I closed my eyes. “Mom?”

Mom was silent for a moment. “Silverspeak?

“Mom, is Dad there?”

Yes, let me get him.” There was a pause. “He's here.

“Mom... You've been reading the paper, haven't you?”

Yes, we have.

“Then you know what's happened.”

A pause. “Yes.

“Mom... Dad... I... I need your help.”

Silverspeak, come back to us. Stay here until things calm down. We'll-

“No Mom,” I said. “I can't.”

Yes you can. You need to recover from what's happened. Try to-

“Mom, they're going to fire me,” I said, almost choking on the words. “I got a letter from the company. They're going to press charges on me for what happened.”

Charges? Silverspeak, what are you talking about? You haven’t done anything illegal.

I could just visualize my mom and dad looking at each other, wondering what in Equestria I was talking about. And I could imagine the horror and disbelief they would feel when word got out of what I had done, and that I was the library’s thief. I couldn't bear to have them learn it that way. And if I was going to get their help, I needed to tell them everything.

I took a deep breath. “Do you remember the library incident? When someone tried to get into the forbidden section?”

Yes, but what does that have to do with this?

I gathered all the courage I had. “Mom, Dad… That was me. I was the one who did it.”

There was no reply.

“I broke in because I wanted to find any spells I could use to become an alicorn. I thought I got out without being spotted, but I was. Mangus is planning to reveal that after I'm fired, and when he does the cops are going to come after me.” I stopped for a moment, trying to slow my pounding heart, wiped away the sweat pouring down my face. “I... I wanted you both to find out from me, not the press. But now I need your help. Please.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Mom? Dad?”

Silverspeak... your father wants to speak to you.

The phone was passed. “Silverspeak?

“Dad?”

Silverspeak, listen very carefully. If you want to make things right, there's only one thing you can do.

“What?”

You need to accept responsibility for what you've done. You need to go to the authorities and turn yourself in. Your mother and I are going to take the next train to Manehattan so we can be there with you, but if you want to get through this, you have to come clean.

“What? No, I can't do that! I broke into a public library! I tried to steal priceless books! Do you know what they're going to do to me?!”

The truth is going to come out. It's not a question of if, but when. The sooner you do this, the better it'll be for everyone.”

“No Dad, no. I can't! I just can't! I can't go to jail!”

This is the only way, Silverspeak. We all have to eventually face our mistakes, no matter how painful it is. Now yes, you will go to jail, but you'll be out within a few years, probably less. And when that's done, you can go back to your life and start over again.

I shook my head. “No. No, I won't go! I won't!”

My father sighed. “Silverspeak, I know you're frightened right now, but this will look better if you reveal it yourself, rather than Mangus. It'll reflect well on you, and the judge will take note of it.

“No!” I said. “I'll find another way! I'll-”

Silverspeak.” My dad's tone said he wouldn't he swayed by pleading or begging. “What I'm about to say hurts me far more than you will ever know, but I care for you too much to throw your life away like this. If you don't accept responsibility and turn yourself in, then I will go to the police and tell them myself. I know you may hate me for it for the rest of my life, but so be it. I won't let Mangus smear your name. Do you understand me? Silverspeak? I said, do you under-

I slammed the phone onto the hook with such force that the unit was ripped from the wall.

My own father, willing to betray me and put me in jail. I never would have thought he'd be capable of doing such a thing. My call to the only ponies who could help me had only made things worse.

Beakbreaker had betrayed me. Medicomp, the world, and my parents had turned against me, and I felt like a condemned inmate watching the clock, knowing that his final judgment was fast approaching, and that there was nothing he could do about it.

I backed against the wall, clutched myself as tightly as I could, trying not to have an emotional breakdown.

I had lost everything.

I didn't know what to do.

***

A storm began to gather over Manehattan. It had been building over the past few days, but it was only that evening that it began to make landfall, the dark, roiling clouds blocking out the sky. And as day turned to night, it grew so dark that even the soft, golden glow of Manehattan’s skyscrapers failed to penetrate it. Rain began streaking down the windows.

I ignored the rain, too focused on my own misery to care. I felt empty, like I would never feel happiness ever again. But as the rain came down harder, I began to watch it. With all the water coming down, it occurred to me that the city would be clean in the morning, the dirt and grime all washed away.

And then, just like that, it was like a switch had been flicked.

While ponies would grumble at being forced inside by its presence, the rain had its part to play in the grand scheme of things. The water gave life to the earth, but to do so, it had to wash away everything covering the soil. Perhaps, I thought, life was like that. Even in the midst of chaos, there can be blessings if you know where to look. When everything you care about is gone, when your dreams are dead and washed away like so much trash, everything seems to come into focus. You realize how petty and pointless so many things are in the grand scheme of things. And in that moment, you realize what truly matters in life.

The whole world was against me. Fine. I could live with that. Medicomp was against me. I didn't care. My parents were going to turn me over to the police if I didn't do so first. I understood that they were only doing what they believed to be right.

They all thought I was the problem. But they were wrong. They were the problem. Every pony in Medicomp was the problem. All the ponies on the streets, my parents, and all the ponies in those towns and cities that celebrated the loss of my wings were the problem, not me. They were all idiots, weak-willed whelps who didn’t have the vision I did. They didn't have dreams like I did. My dreams had changed the world, and they were frightened. They were trying to destroy me.

I smiled. Let them try. Let all of Medicomp's lawyers try to bury me. Let Mangus spill his secrets to the world at large and see what good that did. Heck, let my parents try to stop me from fulfilling my purpose.

I chuckled. Idiots, all of them. And the more I thought about it, the funnier it seemed. They had all done me a favor and didn't even realize it. In taking everything away, my enemies had made me realize what truly mattered... my dream.

All my fears and worries were washed away like dirt in the rain. And in an instant, everything was now so clear to me. There would be no more running, no more cowering, and no more fear. There was only one path before me now, one that would have terrified me years ago, but now was easy to follow. I could do what others told me to do and obey their pitiful little rules, even as they tore me apart. Or I could forge my own path, and make my dream a reality.

In all their folly, Medicomp, my parents, Mangus, and all those who celebrated my downfall had forgotten one important thing: When you take everything away from someone, you’ve just made a dangerous enemy.

After all, who fights harder than someone who has nothing to lose?

***

I was calm upon waking this morning. Clouds still blocked the sun and sent rain down upon Manehattan, water streaking down the towers and my window as I took a pair of empty saddlebags and left my apartment, beginning the final leg of a journey that had started so many years ago, when my parents first told me about alicorns.

There were no ponies outside as I left the tower, and few in the subway. I had a car to myself, watching rain streak past the windows as I was carried along. It occurred to me that this trip was similar to my break-in at the library. But unlike last time, there was no doubt or worries that I was making a terrible mistake.

When the subway stopped, I disembarked and made my way to Medicomp's headquarters. The guards in the lobby were surprised to see me, as was the secretary at the main desk.

“Can I help you, Mr. Silverspeak?" she asked. "Your meeting with Coin Counter isn't scheduled until noon. Should I let them know you arrived early?”

I gave her a reassuring smile. “No. I'm just gathering my things.” Walking past her, I headed up the stairs, noticing a guard pulling out his walkie-talkie as he went behind a pillar. No doubt the guards had been placed on alert to watch out for me. It would make my task more difficult, but not impossible.

A security camera followed me as I turned a corner. I gave it a pleasant smile as I entered the elevator and headed up, reviewing everything I knew about the tower's security system, and, more importantly, the fastest routes to the rooms I needed.

Half an hour ago, I made my way to the surgical floor. I was aware of the security cameras following me as I strolled around, glancing inside the main operating amphitheater. It didn't have what I was looking for. The second one did.

It was difficult suppressing my smile as I headed back to the elevator.

I arrived at my office. There, I packed what few belongs I kept on my desk and in my cabinets. Little Celestia was last; her eyes met mine as I put her in the bag. Long ago, I had made a vow that I wouldn’t do anything illegal to obtain my dream. But I was wiser now, more knowledgeable about how the world worked, and that vow needed to be broken.

It was still hard to avoid Little Celestia's gaze as I put her in the bag, buckled it shut, and took a deep breath. It had been easy going so far.

Now came the hard part.

***

Taking the elevator once more, I got off at the secure storage depot. It was one of the few areas in the tower I had never visited, leaving me in the dark as I headed down the steel hallway. This was the riskiest part of my plan, where even a small screwup could have disastrous consequences.

There was a thick, plexiglass door at the end of the hall, through which I could see an airlock. Before the door were two of Mangus' cronies.

“Can we help you?” one of the guards asked, amused at my presence.

“I'm here for my horn.”

“Sorry, don't know what you're talking about.” He smirked, as did the other guard.

“The horn I retrieved in Saddle Lanka," I said. "It is my property, and you have no right to keep it from me."

The guards looked at each other and chuckled. “Alright buddy, if you say so.”

I tried to keep my blood from boiling over as the guards unlocked the door. I followed them inside, and the three of us passed through the airlock, and then into a massive room filled with earthquake-proof shelves, each holding countless safes and secure containers.

Going to a list mounted near the door, I searched for the most recent addition to Medicomp's collection of rare and valuable goods. I found it at the top, listing one safe as holding a horn of historical and medical significance. Going to the crate with the corresponding number, I pulled it from the shelf, set it down, and opened it.

The horn of the Cursed King was inside, nestled among thick padding.

Smiling, I tenderly lifted the horn and took off my saddlebags.

“Whoa, buddy,” the main guard said. “Where do you think you're taking that? That's company property.”

“No,” I said. “It's mine.”

“Medicomp says otherwise.” The guard took out several pieces of paper. “Captain Bluehorn told us you might be coming through here, so he dug out your contract with the company.” He gave an exaggerated cough and began to read, adopting the voice of an emotionless lawyer. “Article six, subsection ten: Any medically-related property created or acquired by an employee during business hours automatically becomes property of Medicomp, who is free to use it however they wish.” He put the papers away. “Now put it back.”

It would have been so satisfying to buck the guard and his dimwitted partner into unconsciousness, but I wasn’t in the mood to hurt anyone. Instead, I activated my charm.

“Tell your captain to check his records: Coin Counter allowed me to go on leave during the trip to rest and recover. The horn was acquired during that time, ergo, it is still my property. If you try to stop me, I'll bring it up with Coin Counter himself and bring legal action against you and your partner for theft of my property. Is that understood?”

Like all of Mangus' thugs, the guards had a massive ego, the result of believing they was superior to everyone else. But like all the rest, they were bullies, and their pitiful minds was easily swayed by wills greater then their own.

The first guard went pale, the grin vanishing from his face. “Uh... Yeah. Yeah, it is."

I opened the saddlebag and put the horn next to little Celestia, who looked at it. With the smile painted on her face, it looked like she approved of what I was doing.

Buckling the bag shut, I slung it onto my back. “Oh, and for your own knowledge, I’m not, and never will be, your buddy. Considering your level of intelligence, I’m surprised you even have any.”

I left the room, the other guard getting out of my way. Outside, I took a moment to congratulate myself. I had one treasure in my possession, and only needed one more. I glanced back to grin at the guards, wanting to rub it in their faces. But they weren’t looking at me.

They were speaking into some walkie-talkies.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to guess what was going to happen next. Alarms would be sounded, and guards dispatched to intercept me.

I needed to move fast.

***

Not wanting to ride in an elevator that could be disabled, I took the stairs down to the cold storage area. Here was housed the company's most prized possessions, and the greatest medical miracles of our era, ones that I had helped create. Making my way past the enormous storage rooms for legs, I came to the storage area for wings, which was sealed down tightly. Two more of Mangus' guards at the doors.

“May we help you, Mr. Silverspeak?” one of them asked. They were tense and on alert, and I realized they had been warned to keep an eye out for me.

“I'm here to gain a pair of replacement wings,” I said. “Beakbreaker and I have decided to do further experiments to see if she can reattach them, but on our own personal time. Now let me through, or she and I will report your actions to Medicomp management.”

“We have orders not to let anyone pass.”

I focused all the anger I had towards the guards, remembering how they had tormented and annoyed all of us at Medicomp, letting the two become the focus of that anger. “I see. But if you don’t let me pass this moment, I will personally tell Beakbreaker which two incompetents delayed her research, and thus, made it so that she failed to find a cure to the problem inherent in every wing and limb Medicomp ever sold. Without that research, Medicomp loses its most prized products. Lawsuits happen. The company is abandoned by its customers and stockholders, and goes out of business, all because two idiots refused to let me get Beakbreaker’s wings. Do I make myself clear?

Without a word, the guards backed away and unlocked the door.

Hurrying through the door, I went through another airlock and entered the wing storage room, shivering at the freezer-level temperature. Doing my best to ignore it, I hurried among the thousands of containers lying in neatly stacked rows, each triple-sealed to protect the precious wings inside from damage. I checked all the labels I could find, looking for a pair that was teal in color.

I almost made it to the back of the room before finally finding the pair I wanted. Undoing the container’s seals, I peered in and beheld a pair of wings identical to my old ones, safely sealed within sterile plastic bags, and nestled among thick slabs of ice. Opening my saddlebags, I took the wings, put them inside.

There was only one thing left to do.

I had just started back towards the door when it opened. I thought the guards had come in to escort me out, but it wasn’t the guards who had entered.

It was Coin Counter, flanked by two heavily armed guards.

“Silverspeak? What in heaven’s name are you doing?”

I had hoped to avoid confronting Coin Counter, but that was no longer possible. “I’m taking what’s rightfully mine.”

Coin Counter shook his head as he stepped away from his guards. “No, Silverspeak. Those wings aren’t yours. Neither is that horn. I can’t let you have them.”

“I’m more then happy to financially compensate you for them.”

Once more, Coin Counter shook his head. “Silverspeak, you’re a good pony. Please, don’t make me do something we’ll both regret.”

“It’s a bit late for that," I said. "Besides, what do you care? I got that letter you sent me, but it was just a formality, wasn’t it? You and your board of directors had already decided to fire me.”

“You’re sick, Silverspeak,” Coin Counter took another step towards me. “You’re obsessed. You need help. If you stop right now, I promise I’ll help you any way I can.”

“Are you only saying that because you want your precious wings back?”

“Do you remember what I’ve always believed? That the ponies here at Medicomp are more important than bits? I still believe that. You’re not a doctor or a scientist, but you’re still a bright pony with a great future ahead of him. But if you keep this up, you’ll be throwing it all away.”

I took a step back. “That future is already gone.”

“No, it isn’t. I can help you rebuild it, if you let me. I can-”

A crate fell to my side. I spun and saw one of the guards only a few feet away. In a flash, I realized that while Coin Counter had been talking, the guards had been circling around to my sides.

Coin Counter had been distracting me, keeping my attention focused while the guards worked their way into position to attack.

Liar!

The guards shot magic from their horns. I ducked; the magic blast from the first guard went over my head, knocking the second guard out. The first then leapt, trying to buck me into unconsciousness.

“Don’t hurt him!” Coin Counter shouted.

He needn’t have bothered. As the guard came down, I smashed my hind legs into his stomach, and rolled, sending him flying into the shelves. I leapt up and saw Coin Counter grabbing my saddlebags, trying to run for the door. But I faster and yanked them free, knocking Coin Counter to the ground. I was so enraged at his trickery that I reared back to hit him... and yet, I didn't. Or rather, I couldn't.

Coin Counter had always been reasonable with me, always wanting to make sure I was well-off, even when I was just a lowly spokespony. And like my parents, he was only doing what he thought was best.

Fuming, I yanked the saddlebags on and took off, leaving Coin Counter on the floor.

***

Leaping through the airlock, I ran down the hall, reviewing the fastest way to get to the operating level. The central staircase was too obvious, and the elevators were too slow, so I’d have to take one of the secondary fire escape stairwells. I sped up, but it wasn't long before an alarm sounded.

Attention all security personnel,” Coin Counter's voice emerged from nearby speakers. “We’ve had a break-in; Silverspeak has stolen a pair of wings and an item of great importance from the secure storage room.” He hesitated, and when he spoke again there was a sadness in his voice I had never heard before. “Initiate building lockdown, and apprehend him.

The cat was out of the bag. In a way, it was a relief. No need to sneak around, lie, or talk my way past guards. There was just me and my goal, now so close I could feel it.

Turning another corner, I reached the stairwell. Kicking the door open, I ran down the stairs, my destination several floors below. But the security system was fast, and I heard doors being thrown open far beneath me, and guards storming in from above. I went faster, leaping down the stairs as fast as I could. One or two guards I could handle, but not several at once.

Two guards burst through a door on the floor below, aiming tasers as they spotted me. But the thing about having nothing to lose is that you’re more willing to take risks then you normally would. I leapt and tackled them. Not having the time to knock them out, I instead kicked their tasers down the stairs and took off again.

More guards charged into the stairwell as I reached my floor and ran off. Luckily, none had reached the operating areas, giving me a few seconds of breathing room as I dashed to the second amphitheater and ran inside, yanked the doors shut, and smashing the control panel to pieces, locking them firmly in place. Once that was done, I ran through the preparation room and into the auditorium.

And there it was: a massive piece of machinery almost three times my size. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the knobs, levers, and buttons, or to the mechanical arms that jutted forth, all powered by several crystals. To anyone else, it was something ugly and hideous, but to me it was beautiful. It was the surgical unit Coin Counter had mentioned to me, the one that was self-sufficient and able to go to any corner of Equestria, where it could be used in place of a hospital in case of an emergency.

It was the machine that would finally make my dream a reality.

Surgery

View Online

Five minutes ago, I ran to the machine’s control panel and prayed that the designers had made it as idiot-proof as possible. To my relief, it was, for all the buttons and controls were labeled. A press of one button caused massive crystals inside the machine to power up. A display came to life and showed an absurd array of programs to choose from.

There was a bang outside the amphitheater. Coin Counter and dozens of guards were working to get past the locked gates. At the rate they were hitting them with magic, it wouldn't take long.

Running to the amphitheater's control panel, I hit several buttons and activated the lockdown procedure, designed to be used when a patient was carrying an unknown disease, toxin, or parasite. Heavy doors slammed down across the exits, observation windows, and air vents. Five inches of steel and airtight plexiglass separated me from the idiots trying to deny me what was rightfully mine.

Tossing off my saddlebags, I went to the control panel and searched through the surgical procedures until I finally found what I was looking for: wing and horn transplants. The first was to be expected, but the latter was a surprise. Medicomp had apparently expected to eventually get horns and had created a program for when that happened.

I was going to be the first test subject.

I was sweating as I entered in the commands to do the wings first, and then the horn. I shook as I entered in the code for local anesthesia (general was out of the question; I had to get out immediately after the procedures were done), and selected the option for maximum-strength steroids and symbiotic fluid. And as I placed the wings and horn inside the machine’s designated chambers, I could feel my heart slamming against my ribs.

This was it. All those years of effort were finally about to come to fruition. All I had to endure was five minutes of surgery.

Just five short minutes.

The guards were still attacking the doors as I pressed the start button and got onto the table, settling into the designated grooves. Cuffs came out of the table and closed around my limbs, securing me in place. I gulped and closed my eyes as a needle came down and injected the anesthesia. Then the table flipped, the back panel opening to give the mechanical arms access to my shoulders.

A miniature buzz saw whirred to life. I closed my eyes, focusing on my breathing as I felt pressure upon my upper back, and the feeling of skin being sliced open and peeled backwards. Wet and heavy wing muscles came down on each shoulder blade, followed by ice-cold goop. That was Beakbreaker’s symbiotic fluid, designed to let lab-grown muscles attach themselves to natural tissue. With the muscles in place, rapid-fire needles attached everything to my bones, going with speed and precision that only magic could provide. At last, my skin was moved back into place and sewn shut.

There was so much joy at feeling the wings draped across my back. I wanted so flap them so badly, but I didn't. They had to settle and secure themselves, lest they rip themselves away once again.

The first set of doors was blown open and Coin Counter ran inside, only to find his path blocked by the second set of doors. I could barely hear him shout, but whether it was to me or to the guards, I didn't know.

I didn't care.

As the last stitches were secured, the table rotated itself so that I was on my back. I breathed deeply, giddy with excitement. I was halfway there.

That's when I first noticed the pain.

Confused, I wondered how the anesthesia could wear off so fast. Twisting my head, I looked to the various windows that allowed me to see the various chemicals and liquids inside the machine. One large bottle caught my eye; I recognized it from other surgeries I witnessed, for it was the bottle that contained anesthesia. And in what may have been the most horrifying moment of my life, I realized that - in my mad dash to activate the machine - I had failed to check how much anesthesia was inside.

I had used the last of it to attach the wings.

A headset unfolded and pressed itself against my skull, thick screws tightening themselves into position to keep my head from moving. Above me, the medical arms adjusted themselves, getting the correct instruments and equipment attached. Additional cuffs slid out, locking themselves around me so that I was immobilized.

At that point I was still in shock, which quickly gave way to the realization that I was about to undergo surgery without any anesthesia. I tried to find the emergency shut-off switch, but it was mounted near the control panel, meant for whoever was controlling the machine.

There was no way for me to stop it.

The program kicked in, and the needles began their descent.

I breathed deeply, trying to convince myself that I was brave. I had to focus on the end result, not the process. Just keep thinking about that horn. Keep visualizing it on my head. Keep thinking of that, and I would get through.

Just a few minutes of agonizing pain, and my dream would finally come true.

The needles continued down.

I closed my eyes and visualized myself leaping from the table with a horn and seeing all of Equestria clapping for me in awe of my achievement. Even the princesses were there, congratulating me for doing such a good job. Princess Celestia, in particular, put a hoof under my chin, smiling as she told me how proud she is.

A mechanical whine forced me back to reality.

I opened my eyes to see the needles just above my head.

I'm not afraid, I told myself, sweating more than I ever had in my life. I'm not afraid!

But even as I encouraged myself, something occurred to me: It's been said that when you're about to die, your life flashes before you. Good and bad alike are shown, and nothing is hidden. Like so many other ponies, I dismissed it as wishful thinking, nothing more than a literary device for books and movies. But as the needles descended towards my forehead, I had a sudden moment of clarity: There had been previous operations to transfer horns from one unicorn to another, but out of hundreds of attempts, less than a handful had succeeded. The majority ended with traumatic blood loss, nerve damage, and irreversible damage to the brain. Half of those surgeries had ended with the patient's death, which is why they were so rare. And now I was about to undergo a procedure twice as complicated and twice as risky, and would involve giving a horn to an Earth pony, something that had never been done before.

My odds of getting through the surgery alive or undamaged were practically non-existent.

Any bravado I had built vanished as I realized that I probably wasn’t going to survive.

The cuffs around my limbs held me in place as the mechanical arm descended, the needles glinting in the glare of lights above the table. I tried to be brave, to be defiant in the face of pain, to deny panic and not let it take control. But before panic came fear, and that fear momentarily took hold. I instinctively bucked, but the cuffs were too strong to break. I couldn't even move my head, for the braces screwed into it kept me completely immobile. It had to, lest the machine make a mistake and destroy my brain.

I couldn't run away. I couldn't call for help, for there was nothing anyone could do. I couldn't do anything but watch as the needles got closer, closer, ever closer.

And then they hit.

The thick needles went through skin. The white-hot pain made me shriek as warm blood trickled down my face, forcing me to blink to keep it out of my eyes. It helped distract me from the horrible sensation of sharp metal piercing muscle, bone, and then the soft, squishy tissue beneath. I bit down, squeezing my eyes shut as the plungers came down with a soft hiss and pumped a chemical cocktail into my brain. There was no pain, but I felt the thick goop sloshing under my skull, moving, spreading, and growing.

Then the needles were yanked free. Blood flowed, mixing with sweat. The pain was awful, but the fear was worse, because I knew what was coming next.

The needles retracted, and the mechanical arm moved away. In its place a new arm came down. At the tip was a huge drill specially designed to cut through bone. The blades glistened as the drill came to life, giving the high pitched squeal of a dentist's drill, but far louder.

There was no anesthesia, no drugs to numb the pain that was coming.

I sweated. I shook. I tried to hold back the fear... and I failed.

Oh Celestia, please, not that! I thought, any ideas of glory, or fulfilling my dream long gone. I don’t want this! Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!

Blind panic took over. Rational thought and logic was replaced with animal instincts, and my body thrashed, adrenaline giving my limbs and muscles increased strength. The screws on the cuffs creaked as every muscle in my body thrust to their limits, then went past them as I fought to get away, but it wasn't enough. The cuffs were too strong, and the braces were screwed in too tightly.

I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to watch, like a child hoping the monsters couldn't get you if you hid under the covers of your warm bed. But all the darkness in the world couldn't protect me as the drill finally hit and began to cut, the blade in no hurry to finish its job.

I couldn't hold it back any longer. I screamed. I screamed as skin was sliced away, revealing muscle and flesh below, and then the white of my skull. I screamed as blood gushed from my skull and coated my face before pouring onto the table.

There were no thoughts, no pleas, no desire to escape.

There was only pain.

I heard Coin Counter screaming at the guards to get in inside, even as he tried firing spell after spell at the door, but it was for naught. Even magic couldn't get through the barriers.

Nothing could save me from the drill that finally finished cutting, pausing only for a pair of pincers to yank out a chunk of my skull and drop it to the table, where it bounced off and hit the floor before the drill continued downwards.

That was the breaking point. My body and soul, couldn't take anymore. I was losing too much blood, and the pain overwhelmed me. My brain shut down, no longer wanting to bear witness to the nightmare.

Things went dark. Sounds faded away. The pain dimmed. But I could still feel the blood, the weakness, and the sensation of fading away into nothingness.

The realization hit me: This was it. And through the fear, and before oblivion, a single thought broke through.

How did it come to this?

***

That was a moment ago. And now I've learned that the stories were true; you do see your life flashing before you as you die. All of it, both good and bad. And I just finished.

There's nothing left. Nothing but oblivion before me, and a single sliver connecting me to life, but I don't know how long it will hold... and I don't want it to.

It's so clear to me now: I thought I could do it. I thought I could get a horn. I've sacrificed so much to get it, but what have I gotten in return? Nothing but pain and suffering, a cycle that repeats over and over no matter what I do. And if I live, what awaits me? Even if I survive the surgery, I’ll have to face the legal consequences of trying to get the horn and wings, which will lead to ruin, bankruptcy, and prison time. I'll come out a broken pony with nothing left, abandoned by all, and with my beloved wings and horn taken from me. I'll live the rest of my life knowing that I achieved my dream, only to see it taken from me.

My entire purpose , my only reason for living, will have been for nothing.

Death sounds better.

Death is closing in. I can feel the darkness taking me, embracing me like a warm blanket that will keep me safe. There'll be no more pain, no more struggling, no more misery or suffering. Only endless, dreamless rest. And in light of the alternative, I want nothing more than to surrender to it and fall away forever.

I feel myself drifting away from life. Part of me wants to go, part of me wants to stay... but why? Everyone will keep telling me that my dreams were never to be. They'll berate me, put me down, call me evil. And if I die, they will see what they did to me.

I'm fading away.

I don't try to stop myself.

Let them suffer. Let them all weep as they realize the magnitude of their folly and stupidity. It was because of them that my dreams were never to be.

Dreams...

Wait... Wait, this isn't... This isn't right.

It can't end like this. It can't.

It's not fair.

How many other ponies follow their dreams, only to give up and quit? I didn't. Even when I experienced failure, I didn't give up. Is this to be my reward for all my efforts? Oblivion?

No... it’s not fair. It's not fair! It can't end like this, not after everything I've sacrificed! It can't!

I'm not going to die here! I'm not going to let it end like this, not here, and not now!

I blink. I'm back in the auditorium. I'm soaked with blood, and my nerves are frayed, but I'm alive. I can still feel the pain, and it’s terrible beyond anything I've ever endured, but I don’t care, even as the drill continues to cut into me.

“Come on!” I yell at the machine. “Come on!

The drill finally cuts through and retracts, leaving a hole for blood to pour out. Above, a mechanical arm descends, the horn held within its grasp. That beautiful horn is pressed through the hole and onto my goop-covered brain. Sensors scan the gap between the horn and my skull, and determine that there's a gap that must be filled. A liquid is poured on, and a small nozzle fires a concentrated blast of heat to harden it. It feels like my head is on fire, and I roar in defiance.

“Do it!” I scream.

The goo hardens, and more gets spread on top to create a smooth, seamless bond between horn and skull; that too, is hardened. I feel the steroid-infused symbiotic goop bonding the horn to my brain, building new tissue and nerves, bringing forth the searing pain of birth.

DO IT!

One final jolt of pain slams through my skull, and I scream.

Something hot shoots from my head and hits the fire sensors. With a bang, the sprinklers go off and water pours down, drenching me and everything in the room.

Everything goes silent.

The drill retracts, as do the needles and the arms. Motors whir, and the table tilts upwards, displaying me to the ponies behind the door. Through the blood in my eyes, I see them freeze. Even Coin Counter has stopped, barely able to believe what he's seeing.

The screws upon my head loosen, and the headset retracts. The cuffs around my body release themselves. I slide off the table and collapse to the floor. The pooled blood drains off and slides down my back as I lie upon the tiles.

I'm tired. Oh, sweet Celestia, I'm so tired. I don't want to get up. I want to sleep.

There's feeling from my back. I can feel my wings. They’re stretched out on the floor besides me, water sliding off the wings. And my head… there’s an unfamiliar heaviness there.

I open my eyes. Everything's fuzzy and hard to see. I struggle to rise, fighting to gain every inch until I stand upon my front legs, water washing the last of the blood away like rain in early spring.

I stagger to the closest mirror. I have to see them, have to see for myself that it worked. Wiping the water from my eyes, I see myself in the mirror. I look as exhausted as I feel. I shouldn't even be standing after what’s happened. But in the reflection I see that a pair of wings lies upon my back...

...and a horn lying upon my head.

I stare at my reflection.

I giggle.

I start to laugh.

I did it... I actually did it.

All the years of struggling, all the pain, fear, and misery are instantly forgotten as I finally see my dream come true.

I'm an alicorn.

I laugh, and all fatigue vanishes as I leap back. It worked! It worked, it worked, it worked! Oh Celestia, I want to do is dance and sing and jump and shout for joy, and show the world what I've become. And I will! A whole world waits for me outside; the only question is, how do I get out of here? The place is still sealed shut... But an alicorn wouldn’t be barricaded inside a room. Would Princess Celestia let herself be trapped by mere doors? Never!

I have no idea how to shoot magic, but from what I remember during my research trips to the library, unicorns have to concentrate on what they want and focus their willpower to achieve it. I imagine a blast of energy coming from my horn. It's so much harder than I imagined, and I have to focus all my thoughts towards making a magical blast, seeing it grow stronger in my mind’s eye. When I think it’s strong enough, I let go, and a blast of vibrant green energy shoots out and hits the wall, leaving a dent.

I jump, clapping my hooves in delight. It's not much, but it's the result of magic. My magic!

I send out another blast, and the dent begins to crack. Then I hold the magic for almost a minute before letting go, releasing a massive blast that blows away the entire wall. I run to the resulting hole and look out to the city below. Even with the rainfall, a large crowd has gathered below; apparently, word of what was really happening must have spread, for there are a few photographers flying about, and they dart towards the hole. And even in the glow of the building's lights, I can see them recognize me, unable to believe what they're seeing.

I stand on my hind legs, spread my wings, and give the biggest smile of my life as I pose for them. It takes them a moment to realize they've been given the photo opportunity of a lifetime, and snap photo after photo. But as gratifying as it is to pose for them, I have far too many things to do besides hang around here.

Ducking back inside, I grab my saddlebags and strap them on. Looking back to the guards and Coin Counter, I grin and wave. I don't have any animosity towards any of them. How could I after what's happened?

I flex my wings. They feel strong enough to support my weight. With a sprint, I leap through the hole, catch the wind, and fly. There's a jolt of pain, but hey, I can handle that.

I soar above Manehattan, whooping and screaming, letting the world hear my joy, letting it feel my bliss.

My dream, at long last, has finally come true.

The Boiling Point

View Online

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

I clap my hooves. This is perfect!

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

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

This might be a little trickier than I imagined.

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

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

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

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

Oh dear.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, I'm not trying to-”

Grabbing her colt, the mother runs.

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

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

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

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

“You did that?” she asks.

I nod, proud of myself.

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

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

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

My stomach growls, impatient for food.

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

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

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

“Come on, stop pulling my leg.”

“No really, I swear, it's the truth!”

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

“No way you could know anything like that.”

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

I stop in mid-bite.

“Bull.”

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

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

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

“Guardians?”

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

“You suggesting we pack up and leave?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

What in tartarus!?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has to.

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

Attention Silverspeak.”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More cheers.

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

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

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

The crowd roars.

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

I shake.

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

The crowd roars.

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

Thousands of voices answer as one. “NO!”

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

“NO!”

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

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

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

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

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

Laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I turn her into that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I didn't say that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd cheers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The heckler's smile fades.

The crowd fidgets.

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

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

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

“And how do you know that?”

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

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

The crowd murmurs to themselves.

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

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

“The princesses, I suppose,” I say.

A few ponies laugh, then quickly go silent.

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

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

I smile. “Prove it.”

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

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

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

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

“They’ll abuse it. They always do.”

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

The heckler growls. “I-”

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

“That's a lie!” the heckler shouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd gasps.

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

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

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

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

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

I freeze.

No...

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

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

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

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

The crowd gasps.

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

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

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

The crowd is silent.

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

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

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

No... not here. Not now!

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

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

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

My mother holds up a small device of some kind.

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

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

Coin Counter listens, stunned.

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

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

The crowd is utterly silent.

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

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

He glares at me.

“He's trash.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then all tartarus breaks loose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's no turning back. Not now.

I walk on.

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

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

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

***

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

“Hello?” I call out.

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

“Hello? Is there anyone-”

I freeze.

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

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

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

The princesses remain silent.

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

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

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

They remain silent.

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

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

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

There's movement behind me.

“Sucker.”

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

A Life for a Dream

View Online

“-it's a risk bringing him here.”

“Did you even hear what I said? Once we're done, he'll be as helpless as a kitten, and you can parade him around in a cage, or whatever it is you want.”

Those voices... I don't recognize the first, but there's no mistaking Mangus.

“He needs to be locked up, not brought into a lab!”

I keep my eyes shut, pretending to be unconscious. But it's difficult: my neck's throbbing; it's almost like a harpoon went in it. But worst is feeling straps around me, and the sensation of movement. I'm on a gurney, and almost certainly in Medicomp's surgical center.

There's only one reason I'd be brought here.

“How do you think Silverspeak would react if he woke up inside a cell?” That's Coin Counter. “He'd be like a wild animal, lashing at anyone who gets too close with magic he can't control”

“He's right.”

That sad, resigned voice belongs to Beakbreaker.

“And how do you figure that?” the unseen officer asks.

“Silverspeak believes that his life revolves around those wings and the horn. If he was in a cell and believed that they were going to be taken from him...”

“Are you saying he'd try to kill us?”

“You think?” Mangus says. “He attacked his own parents, for crying out loud! If you've gone that far, there's only one step after that.”

The gurney shudders as it hits something. I hear two doors opening.

“Alright. Just get it done, and quickly,” the officer says. “The public's clamoring to see him behind bars."

Even with my eyes closed, I can sense the grin on Mangus' face. “Believe me, they're not the only ones.”

Snapping my eyes open, I hurl myself to the side. The gurney goes with me, knocking everyone over. My horn glows before I even hit the ground, readying a shockwave to blast the others back and undo the straps around me. But I can't! My horn won't work! But why? What... Wait. There's a horn around it. No! Not a magic inhibitor!

Mangus fires, hitting me with a blast. I shriek, almost passing out again.

“Crafty little devil!” Mangus growls. “He was awake the whole time!” He grabs my gurney and yanks it back up, letting me see where we are. My blood runs cold: We're inside Medicomp's main surgical auditorium, where I first got my wings only a few days ago. Stationed around the automated surgical device are a dozen of Mangus' guards, all dressed in full combat gear. Their horns are pointed right at me, ready to fire at a moment's notice.

“You try anything, anything at all,” Mangus says, “and you'll be hit so hard that even the doc won't be able to put you back together.”

The officer impatiently glances at his watch. “Enough with the chitchat! We've wasted enough time as it is!”

Ponies dress themselves in surgical outfits. Beakbreaker isn't among them. She's standing to the side, along with Coin Counter. Both watch me. They're not angry or sad. They pity me.

It's the pity you save for someone who had so much potential, only to waste it all.

One of the surgical ponies readies the anesthesia.

“I have been brought here against my will!” I say. “I demand to know why!”

Mangus groans. “Oh, come on...”

“Am I under arrest?” I ask.

The officer walks up. “You are.”

I breathe deeply. “What are the charges against me?”

The officer pulls out a scroll. "you are charged with multiple counts of assault, resisting arrest, theft of Medicomp property, and harassment and assault of Medicomp employees.”

Mangus whistles. “Wow. Pretty serious, huh? I don't know much about sentencing guidelines, but that's gotta be... What? Ten, twenty years at least?”

I struggle against the straps, but they refuse to yield.

The officer takes a quick step back. “I'm bringing the others in.”

“No need,” Mangus says. “I've got all my best guards here.”

The officer glares at Mangus. “I'm not going to take any chances.” He opens the doors and fifteen SWAT officers enter, surrounding my gurney, their horns at the ready. If those are intended to intimidate me, it's not necessary. Their scowls do that well enough, as these as the toughest officers the police department have to offer. Each is highly trained and well-practiced in the use of offensive magic, called out only for the most dire of situations.

They look like they want to beat me to a pulp.

“All right, let's get going,” the officer says.

The pony with the anesthesia looks to Beakbreaker. So do I. No words pass between us, but I plead with her not to let them do this. She's my last chance.

Beakbreaker watches me for a few moments... then turns to the surgical pony.

She nods.

No!

The pony comes over to me, anesthesia mask held out.

I struggle, fighting to get away. If that thing goes on, I'm finished!

The mask comes closer.

No, no, no!

It can't end like this! It ca-

The surgeon's knocked away with a blast of thunder, the anesthesia falling from his hooves, the tank and hose soaked in his blood.

What?!

The SWAT ponies spin, only to fall as well.

What's going on?!

Spells shoot over me, knocking officers off their hooves. They shout, trying to fight back, but quickly fall.

Mangus charges onto the floor, firing at the officers, his own guards joining him. He blasts them apart until only the officer in charge remains... and then he's blasted across the room.

"Mangus?!" Coin Counter shrieks. "What are you-”

Mangus blasts his boss with a spell, smashing him into the wall.

Beakbreaker screams.

Mangus turns to his guards, delighted at his handiwork. “All right boys; get out there and bring me some nice, warm bodies.”

The guards storm out, locking the doors behind them.

It isn't long before the sounds of battle can be heard.

Coin Counter tries to stand. “Mangus... What...”

“It's nothing personal, boss,” Mangus says cheerfully, as if all this were a get-together for afternoon tea. “I'm just fulfilling my dreams.”

The sudden assault has left me numb. But with the officers now unconscious or dead, Mangus could do anything he wants to me without the law holding him in check.

It would be smart not to provoke him.

The shouts and sounds of combat beyond the room fade away.

Mangus takes off his saddlebags and strolls to my gurney. “In fact, it's thanks to Silverspeak that I'm even here. In my darkest hour, when my life was falling apart, he showed me what I had to do to make my dreams come true.”

“What do you mean?” I can't help myself; I have to find out what insanity is behind that twisted logic.

“I had just flunked out of Canterlot University. I went there expecting to be welcomed as a king, the others in awe of how skilled and powerful I was. So imagine my surprise when they value grades and books over talent. All those stupid classes about history and mathematics and theories! I was the one with all the talent and power, but the professors didn't care!” Mangus growls, grinding his hooves together. “They said I was too proud and too arrogant, but what did they know? They were just jealous, that's what! They couldn't see greatness if it was three feet in front of them!”

I quietly strain my legs against the straps.

“So there I was. My dreams of being famous, of carrying on the proud unicorn bloodline, were dashed. I was forced to become a stupid security guard. I had hit rock bottom... and then you came in.” He taps me on the stomach. “When I got a job patrolling the library, I learned from the librarian that you were the one who had broken in! And you know what? It gave me something to hold onto: turning you in and watching you squirm!

"After learning that you had gone to Medicomp, I got some of my old school buddies and we staged a break-in. We weren’t going to steal anything; it was all so Medicomp would panic and hire additional security. And they fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.”

Coin Counter can't believe what he's hearing.

“Eventually, the time came to reveal your little secret, but you screwed things up by getting those wings. And I admit, after seeing them, I was thinking of getting a pair of my own. But I decided to wait a year to see how you did with those wings. If they lasted that long, I'd spill the beans about what you did, you'd get arrested, and I'd get a pair for myself.

“But then I saw how far you were willing to go to get that horn. Poisoning me and your own family, revealing that you had been manipulating an entire company to get what you want... I never thought you had it in you. And I realized that if I was going to show everyone that I, Mangus Bluehorn, was the greatest unicorn Equestria's ever seen, I'd have to do whatever it took, no matter who I hurt.”

I stop struggling, fearing where this is going.

“I broke into the library and got into the Forbidden Section.” He chuckles. “I took so many books and scrolls, and blasted everyone who tried to stop me. And what do you know? I found a spell that'll let me get what I want.”

Mangus leans in close. “And I have you to thank for it.”

There's a beep from Mangus' radio. He brings it up. “You got them?”

“Yep. We're bringing them up now boss.”

“Mangus...” Coin Counter struggles to rise, his anger momentarily stopping his pain. “You'll pay for this...”

Mangus grins. “Who's going to stop me? You? The police?” By this time tomorrow, not even the entire Equestrian armed forces will be able to stop me.”

The doors open and the guards enter, dragging crates that are all-too familiar. And behind them... Oh Celestia...

Behind the guards, floating on a bed of magic, are dozens of still-bleeding corpses.

Mangus grins, pleased. “Perfect. Let's get to work.”

Beakbreaker, who had been hiding near the back of the room, speaks up for the first time. “Mangus, What are you doing?!”

“Beakbreaker? Oh, silly me, I forgot you were here. I'm just ensuring my buddies get to share my dreams.”

The surgical unit whirs to life as the guards open a crate and attach a pair of wings to the arms.

“Make sure the anesthetic is topped off,” Mangus says, “and triple the steroid dose on the symbiotic fluid.”

Realizing what Mangus is doing, Beakbreaker rushes forward. “Mangus, you can't do this! Even with a triple dose of steroids, it takes time for your bodies and the muscles to bond! They'll be ripped off the first time you fly!”

Mangus considers Beakbreaker's points. “She's right, boys. Make the steroid dose five times as strong.”

“No, you can't! You'll kill yourselves!” Beakbreaker starts towards the machine, then stops as Mangus blocks her path. She and I are both helpless to intervene as Mangus' goons make the final adjustments to the machine, then strap themselves in, and have the wings attached one after another. With each successful operation, they leap off, eager to test their new wings. They get the hang of flying faster than I did, and soon the room is full of guards hovering about. They all have the same glee I did, the same joy at having the gift of flight. But there's a darkness to their smiles, a malevolence I never had.

Mangus watches all the while, smiling at seeing his guards emerging from the machine as alicorns. When the last guard leaps off, he claps his hooves. “All right boys. Go make sure there's no one else here to bother us, then go to the roof and get some flying practice.”

“What if the press shows up?” a guard asks.

“Make sure they can't call the cops.”

The guard grins and joins his fellows marching out.

Now it's just me, Beakbreaker, Coin Counter, and Mangus.

Mangus’ horn glows, grabs a tranquilizer dart from the shelves and jabs Beakbreaker in the neck. It's not enough to knock her out, but she slumps to the floor, unable to stand.

The syringe gets turned to Coin Counter, and then to me. I struggle, but can't do anything as it pierces my chest. The stinging is intense, but fades as I join Beakbreaker in a stupor.

Now that his opposition has been eliminated, Mangus takes off his tactical gear and tosses it aside. He eyes the surgical unit like a worshiper standing before the altar of his god. Rummaging through the crates, he takes out a pair of blue wings, attaches them to the unit's arms before attaching himself to the operating table.

As the machine powers up, Mangus gives me a smile. “This is for you, Silverspeak!”

The anesthesia is injected, and Mangus closes his eyes. I can only watch as the machine flips him over and starts to cut him open. Mangus keeps smiling; he's like a king at his coronation, ecstatic as his brand-new wings are attached. Syringes inject the muscles with steroids, making them grow before my eyes.

I fight, trying to rouse my sluggish body. I have to stop him, have to power the machine down before it's too late. But then the machine powers down, and the time for stopping Mangus is past.

With the final stitches and staples in place, the machine flips Mangus over and releases him. He gets off the machine, takes a few moments to orient himself before looking at his wings. He's like me and his fellow guards, in awe of actually having the means to fly. He flaps his wings up and down several times, then spins, slicing them through the air like scissor blades. He grins, delighted.

Celestia help us... My childhood tormentor is now an alicorn.

Grinning ear to ear, Mangus folds his wings and goes to his saddlebags, where he pulls out an ancient book, the blue leather cover faded and cracked.

“Tell me, Silverspeak, did you ever read about the great Dragon and Pony War?" Mangus asks. "It's forgotten history to most ponies. But near the end of the war, our ancestors had spells they used when things were at their most desperate.”

The book creaks as it's opened.

“This book has those spells, including one that was used to end the war. It transfers the magical essence of one pony to another, enhancing their own powers. All you need is the right words, a little piece of the pony sacrificing themselves for you, and boom! You're twice as powerful as you were before.”

Coin Counter groans, fighting with all his might to throw off the tranquilizer.

“Oh look!” Mangus says. “A volunteer!”

Mangus plants his hooves hard on Coin Counter’s back and activates his horn, a blood-red glow enveloping Coin Counter’s head. He shouts in pain, and for a moment it looks like Mangus is going to tear my boss' head off, but there's a crack at the base of his horn, and then the sound of tearing.

Coin Counter thrashes, screaming as his horn is ripped from his skull.

Oh Celestia! I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to hold down the bile in my throat. In order to help cast spells, unicorn horns are packed full of nerves; from what I've read, ripping a horn out is quite possibly the most painful thing a unicorn can ever experience. The shock is so great that some never recover; older ponies sometimes die from the pain alone.

Mangus rummages around in his bag. Dreading what I might see, I open my eyes and watch as he pulls out a small beaker.

”Step one, take the horn. Step two, take the blood.” Mangus grabs Coin Counter, tilting his head so that blood spills into the beaker. When it’s full, Mangus lets go, steps back, and puts the severed horn on the floor.

“Step three: absorb the pony's magical essence.”

Mangus pours blood over the horn, ignoring Coin Counter's pained whimpers. When the blood has been poured out, Mangus reads a spell from his book. The words are harsh and guttural, scraping his vocal cords as he speaks.

Nothing happens.

I try to wiggle. While my mind feels clearer, my body is still sluggish. I can only hope that the spell Mangus is using is obsolete, or maybe a fake, and that no library would dare store a spell so dangerous.

Smoke rises from the blood.

No...

The horn melts into the blood, reduced to a thick, bubbling paste.

Tossing the book aside, Mangus lowers his head and touches his horn to the liquid, which oozes upwards and envelops it.

It shouldn't be possible, but... Celestia help me, Mangus' horn is growing.

Mangus sweats, grinding his teeth, then lets out a sigh as the last of the liquid vanishes. His horn is now a few millimeters longer then it was only a few moments before.

Reaching up, Mangus touches his horn and giggles. Not wasting any time, he turns, and my heart pounds. Is he coming for me next? No...he's looking to all the dead bodies at the entrance.

My heart almost stops.

All of them have horns.

***

The officers are lucky to be dead. That spares them from feeling anything as Mangus rips off their horns one by one, the smell of smoke and burning bone choking the air as he repeats his spell again and again, until his horn is a full two inches longer.

I can only watch as Mangus gets one horn after another. Soon, everyone's horn has been taken, except for one...my own.

“Oh Silverspeak, you have no idea how amazing this feels! The power, the strength!” Mangus fires off a blast that easily tears through the reinforced walls, leaving a smoking hole behind. “Imagine what it'd be like if I got the horns of twenty ponies, or thirty! No, a hundred...a thousand."

“You're insane,” I say, unable to stay silent. "You're insane!"

Mangus chuckles. He strolls over, circles the gurney. “But perhaps I don't need a thousand.” He touches my horn. “After all, why get the horns of commoners when I could get the horn of a king?”

I gulp.

“Oh, afraid of being a nobody again? I thought you'd be used to that by now. You were born to be a nobody, Silverspeak. But me... I was meant for greatness. I'm going to show everyone who the real star of Medicomp is.” He leans in close. “But before that can happen, they have to be shown the error of their ways, for supporting you over the purity of my bloodline.”

I notice movement behind Mangus. Beakbreaker is fighting to get up. I don't know if Zebras are hardier than ponies, but she manages to stand; she wobbles, and her coordination is rough, but she's able to grab a heavy jar, one that could crush bone if brought down hard enough.

I turn my attention back to Mangus, I match his gaze. “And you think they're just going to sit down and let you have their way with them?"

"Of course not. But with all the horns I'm going to get, I'll be powerful enough to take on Celestia herself! Everyone needs to be reminded about what really matters: power, and not stupid little letters on a piece of parchment. History remembers those who go out there and take what is rightfully theirs, not those who got straight A's in scientific theory.”

“Is that what your parents taught you? What everyone at school told you? They were setting you up Mangus.” I turn on the charm. “They were setting you up to fail. Real life doesn't work that way. Nothing is handed to you. You have to work at it.”

Mangus says nothing, but I can tell he's listening.

Beakbreaker struggles to stay silent as she creeps closer.

“Maybe if you went back to school with that mindset, you'd do so much better. You might even get to the top of the class if you apply yourself.”

Mangus considers what I've said.

Did I get through to him?

Mangus grins. “Nice try, Silversqueak, but your inspirational speech isn't going to work on me.”

No!

“Besides, why go back to that university and the stupid professors anyway?” He fires off a magical blast, destroying a massive chunk of the roof. Chairs, slabs of concrete, rebars, and cabinets rain down from the higher levels, but he effortlessly casts the rubble aside. “By this time tomorrow, I'll be stronger than I ever dreamed possible! Why waste years of going through books and doing homework when I get what I've always wanted, right here, and right now!”

“The princesses will stop you!” I say. “If they're coming for me, they'll see how dangerous you are. You think you can take them on by yourself?”

“No... at least, not yet.” He taps my horn. “But I know what can even the odds.”

Beakbreaker gets close enough, rearing back to smash the jar into Mangus’ head.

Yes!

Mangus spins and catches the jar with his magic.

No!

Mangus chuckles. “Oh please. You really thought I couldn't hear a doped-up Zebra trying to sneak up behind me?” He hurls the jar into Beakbreaker’s throat and she staggers back, wheezing for air.

I struggle against my straps. “No!”

Mangus turns, curious. “Was that concern I just heard? But I thought you didn't care about Beakbreaker. She's just a tool right? Just something to be used up and thrown away.”

I shake my head. “No.”

“I have a recording that says otherwise.”

“I know what I said!”

“Then you were lying?”

“I... No, I...”

Through her gasps, Beakbreaker turns to me, confused.

Mangus eyes me, then Beakbreaker, and then me again.

He grins.

“Silverspeak, have you ever heard about how when things are at their worst, a pony will finally reveal who they really are? Why don't we find out if that's true? Let's play a little game of truth and lies.” He circles my gurney. “Is Beakbreaker a tool to you, or is she more than that? A friend? A business partner? A lover?”

Beakbreaker's eyes watch my own.

“Well?” Mangus asks. “What is it?”

“Friend,” I say.

Mangus grins. “Really?” He leans in close. “You're lying,”

“I'm not!”

“Anyone can say that someone's their friend. But words are nothing. Actions are what counts.”

Mangus steps away from the gurney, using his magic to yank Beakbreaker into the air. She struggles, but can't break free.

“It's time for you to decide what you truly want in life," Mangus says. "On one hoof, you have your horn, the wings, and your dream. And on the other, you have Beakbreaker. You're going to have to choose between them.”

“No! No, I-”

“Choose your dreams,” Mangus says, “and I'll spare your horn and your wings. But in return, I'll take Beakbreaker's life.”

Beakbreaker's eyes widen, and she tries to scream, but another blast of magic silences her.

“On the other hoof, if you choose Beakbreaker, I’ll take your horn, but spare your lives. You'll still go to prison, but, having proven that you care more about Beakbreaker, she may be there for you when you get out.”

“You... You can't do this!” I stammer.

“Just what kind of pony are you, Silverspeak? What's more important to you? Your dreams? Or Beakbreaker's life?”

Mangus grins.

“Choose.”

***

I can't think. My mind is a blank as I stare at the sight before me. I... I can't make up my mind! I can't let Beakbreaker die; even after everything she's done, she only acted to save my life. If Mangus kills her, Beakbreaker's frightened face will haunt my dreams forever, but I'd still have my horn, and my wings. I could use them to honor her sacrifice, to help others and defeat any threats our land faces. By sacrificing one life, I could use my powers to help thousands later on.

“I won't wait forever,” Mangus says.

Beakbreaker silently pleads with me, begging me to save her.

What about my hopes and dreams? When will I ever get another chance to get a horn? To cast magic? To make a difference? Is it not better to live hard and die young doing what you love, than to choose a long and toilsome life as a nobody, knowing that you gave up your chance of happiness?

A scalpel is magically picked up.

Beakbreaker thrashes so hard that she momentarily breaks free, forcing Mangus to focus on immobilizing her again.

My dream is my reason for living. I... I can't give that up. I can't throw it all away, not after all this. How many ponies can say that they achieved everything they ever wanted to do? I can. And if that dream is to be bought at the cost of one life...

“Time's up. What's it going to be?”

I look at Beakbreaker, then to Mangus. I need more time. I try to speak, but the words die in my throat.

Mangus chuckles. “Very well...your dreams, then.” He turns to Beakbreaker.

I want to call out, to beg her for forgiveness-

Beakbreaker let out an ear-splitting scream…

…and then time seems to stop.

I don’t know if it’s some sort of chemical, or if fear is forcing my thoughts into some sort of hyper-mode, but I can see everything with perfect clarity. Beakbreaker and Mangus are not quite frozen, moving so slowly that I can see the blood pulsing through Beakbreaker’s veins.

I see the surgical unit behind them, individual raindrops falling from the hole in the ceiling, one falling onto the tip of the scalpel.

I see Mangus’ discarded bags in the corner, along with my own. One has opened from being tossed onto the floor, spilling my things. And among the books, meager food supplies, and clothes is little Celestia.

I stare at her.

Celestia…what would she do if she were in my position? What would her choice be, if she was forced to choose between sacrificing someone she loved, perhaps all of Equestria, or keeping her power?

Would she be willing to give up everything she had for everyone else?

I try to convince myself that I don't know the answer, but deep down I know that Celestia would never deliberately let someone die. That's not what she stands for, especially if those she wanted to save were her friends.

Friends...

It’d be one thing if it was a random pony before me in Mangus' grip. But the life dangling above the floor is someone who gave me the chance to get everything I ever wanted. She believed in me, and liked me for who I was. The horn can't give me the happiness she could. The wings haven't comforted me or been there when I needed help. And it felt good to be needed, to help Beakbreaker achieve her own dreams as well.

Beakbreaker is my friend...the first real friend I've ever had. And if things went further, if we got into a relationship like she wanted to, we could possibly spend the rest of our lives together.

Beakbreaker…she's made me happy. The horn, and the wings...

…they haven't.

Mangus chuckles as tears stream down Beakbreaker's face, dripping onto the floor. “Guess you were nothing to him after all.”

He yanks her head back, and swings the scalpel.

“WAIT!”

The tip of the blade stops just short of cutting into flesh. Mangus turns to me, angry at being interrupted.

“My horn!” I shout.

Mangus stares at me. “What?”

“Take it! Leave her alone!”

For a long moment, Mangus can't speak. He didn't expect this, and can't seem to make up his mind whether to be surprised, disappointed, or both. “You're serious?” he asks at last. “You're actually willing to sacrifice everything for...her?”

I look to Beakbreaker, gazing into her eyes. “Yes.”

Beakbreaker stares back, as shocked as Mangus.

“Well, this is a surprise... but a deal's a deal.”

Both the scalpel and Beakbreaker fall to the floor.

“But saving her life is going to cost you,” Mangus says as he jumps onto my gurney, his horn glowing. “And it's going to hurt.”

I feel an invisible force grab my horn like a vice, and start pulling on it. It's slow, but begins to build. It'll only take a few seconds before skin and nerves begin to tear, and bone will break away.

I fight. I struggle against the straps, but they're too tight! I can't break free! Oh buck, it hurts It hurts it hurts it hu-

Mangus falls off the gurney as Beakbreaker tackles him. They hit the floor, Beakbreaker leaping onto Mangus and beating him with everything she's got, punching him in the face again and again, yelling curses in her native tongue.

But it's not enough.

Mangus blasts Beakbreaker against the wall. She collapses and tries to get back up, but Mangus is there in a heartbeat, smashing his hooves onto her leg. Bones break with a sickening crunch, and he smashes down on her other leg with the same results.

Beakbreaker screams.

“Boss? We've got more horns for you on the roof.”

Mangus listens to the radio. He looks to the hole in the ceiling, then Beakbreaker, and heads for the door... only to spin and give a fast kick to Beakbreaker's gut, knocking the wind from her.

Magic shoots from his horn onto the buckles of my straps, tightening them down even further.

“I'll deal with both of you when I get back,” Mangus growls. Then, without another word, he blasts the doors apart and leaves.

***

Beakbreaker's agonized sobs fill the air as I fight against my bindings, straining my muscles to the limit.

“Beakbreaker, hold on!” But my efforts just aren't enough! These straps are too strong, and I can't even-

My stomach churns as the gurney tilts, then crashes to the floor. Coin Counter crawls away from the gurney's legs and slices away at the straps with a scalpel, trying to ignore the blood pouring from the hole in his head. When my front leg is freed, I join him, and together we manage to tear the straps away.

Falling off the gurney, I run to Beakbreaker, almost vomiting at seeing spiked bone shards pressing up from under her skin. Yet, Beakbreaker doesn't seem to notice them. She's going into shock.

“Hang on Beakbreaker!” I say, heart hammering. I spin, trying to figure out what to do. I have to help her! Wait! The surgical unit! It can help her!

“The hospital," Coin Counter wheezes, his eyes dulled from pain. "You have to get her to a hospital; the bones might have shredded veins in her legs.” He grabs a syringe off a nearby shelf and injects Beakbreaker. She relaxes, slumping to the ground.

“Hurry." Coin Counter injects himself, almost passing out from relief.

"We can treat her here!" I look to the surgical unit. "It can-"

"If Mangus comes back, we're all dead." Coin Counter's breathing deeply, trying his hardest to stay awake. "You have to get her far away from here."

"What about you?"

Coin Counter grabs some bandages from a shelf and presses them onto his head as hard as he can. White turns red in seconds. "You can't carry both of us.'

I want to prove him wrong, but Coin Counter's right. I can't carry both him and Beakbreaker. As much as I hate to do it, I'll have to leave him here.

Reaching down, I carefully scoop Beakbreaker into my legs and hold her tightly, trying to keep her legs still. She's quiet, shock keeping her mute. I start towards the doors, then stop.

“Coin Counter?”

He looks to me.

“I never wanted any of this to happen. I never wanted to hurt anyone.”

Coin Counter eyes me for a moment. “What's done is done,” he says. “Now go.”

I run from the room.

***

Cold wind blows through the hall. Lightning flashes through broken windows, and a torrent of freezing rain pelts me as I reach a crumbling hole in the wall. The storm has finally arrived over Manehattan, and drenches the city with a downpour heavier than anything I've ever seen. I spread my wings and leap into the deluge, flying away from the Medicomp tower as fast as I can go.

It's hard to see in the rain. I keep blinking, trying to clear my eyes. I think I can see the lights of the hospital in the distance, and I fly towards it, trying to keep Beakbreaker steady. She shivers in my arms, but doesn’t say anything, still lost in her drug-induced stupor.

If I hadn’t yelled at Mangus to take my horn, she’d be dead by now.

I shove the thought aside and fly faster.

I finally reach the hospital several minutes later. Landing at the main entrance, I run inside to an empty lobby and rush t the main desk. A nurse looks up, no doubt used to seeing breathless ponies running in for help.

“Please, I need help!” I gasp. “My friend, she has two broken legs!”

The nurse takes one look at Beakbreaker and hits a button as fast as she can. "The doctors and nurses will be here shortly." She hurries out from behind the desk. "What happe-"

She stops. She's seen my face.

She realizes who I am.

The nurse rushes for a panic button.

“Please!” I say. “I don't want to hurt you, or anyone else. I just want her to get treated!”

The nurse hesitates, her hoof wavering over the button.

“If you're going to press that,” I say, “please... Please wait until she's safe.”

The nurse wavers... then pulls her hoof back.

Nearby doors open. A doctor and pair of nurses run out, a gurney between them. When they reach me, I lay Beakbreaker down and step back, leaving her in the care of trained professionals who know what they're doing.

I keep my gaze on Beakbreaker's face as long as I can, watching as she's wheeled back through the doors. Then they close, and she's gone.

I turn to the nurse. “Could you send several ambulances to the Medicomp tower? Mangus Bluehorn and several security guards attacked police officers and the company's CEO. They need help." I rush back out the doors without waiting for her answer. I can't risk making a scene or causing anyone to panic just by being there.

The rain drenches me as I run into a nearby alley and hide behind a dumpster. I need a moment to think, to try and calm my nerves. Even if something happens to me, at least Beakbreaker is safe. Her fate now lies in the hooves of those who have been trained to heal. I can do nothing more for her.

But what do I do now? Coin Counter... I need to get to back to him. Make sure he's not-

My thoughts are interrupted by a bright flash. I instinctively turn away, as a thunderous roar echoes through the air.

An enormous pillar of red energy shoots into the sky, blossoming like a flower as it spreads out into a massive dome.

What in the world?!

Wait... I recognize this spell. I once read about how, when the Changelings invaded Canterlot decades ago, Princess Celestia erected a force field around the city to protect it. This looks like the exact same thing.

The rain stops falling as the barrier passes far overhead. Flying to the closest rooftop, I watch as it crosses over the Manehattan bridge and slams into the ocean, encircling and encasing the city.

Ponies come out of nearby buildings to look up at the sky, confused as to what's going on. Nobody notices me; Everyone's attention is focused on the dome.

The confusion is interrupted by a distant explosion.

I turn and see a rising cloud of smoke near the...

...the Medicomp tower.

Oh no.

There's another explosion. Pegasi ponies fly from there area by the dozens, shooting past us as fast as they can. I can barely make out their faces, but all of them are terrified.

Another explosion, and a distant building wobbles, then vanishes, replaced by a billowing cloud of smoke and ash. More ponies fly past us. Some help others with missing legs and wings.

Screams fill the air.

Oh Celestia...oh no, no, no!

More ponies flee as police fly overhead, along with several members of the Equestrian army from the division that's stationed in the city. They reach the explosions in record time, and I can just faintly see magical blasts being hurled back and forth between them and their unseen opponents.

The blasts quickly stop, and both the police and soldiers vanish.

My legs shake.

Hundreds of ponies are fleeing into the hospital, and hundreds more shoot past it, trying to get as far away from the chaos as possible. More soldiers go the opposite way, heading towards the Medicomp tower with all the speed they can muster.

I join those flying away from the chaos. So great is everyone's desire to flee that they don't notice Manehattan's most wanted among their midst. I don't care even if they did recognize me. Out of everyone here, I'm the only one who knows what's coming. Mangus and his goons are going to take everyone and everything near the tower, and then spread out, taking the horns of everyone in every street and ever block. Eventually, they'll become too powerful, and no one will be able to stop them.

When Manehattan falls, they'll spread to Equestria.

I fly on. Where can I hide? The sewers... yes, those should work. There's miles of them beneath the streets. Plenty of places for ponies to hide. There might even be a way to sneak out of the city; maybe there's a line that heads into the ocean. I hope isn't, I'm screwed. Mangus will search every inch of this island for horns he can take, and he'll covet mine above all others. If he finds me, he'll take the horn himself, laughing as he rips it away.

But that won't happen. I'll get out of here. I won't have to die at his hooves, my last thoughts being how I could have stopped...

I stop. Ponies shoot past me, fleeing from the chaos engulfing the Medicomp tower.

My chaos.

Celestia... I created this. My dreams have turned into a nightmare, a nightmare that's dragging everyone into it. It's taken my parents, Medicomp, Beakbreaker, and now even Mangus. And he's going to go after everyone he can.

And it will be my fault.

More ponies rush past me, screaming in fear.

I look towards the Medicomp tower. All the ponies fleeing past me will eventually fall to Mangus. No matter what they do, or where they go, he'll find them. He'll take their horns, their lives, everything.

I... I can’t let that happen

I won’t.

No more running. No more blaming others. No more trying to hide.

It's time to make things right.

Every instinct yells at me to run as I turn towards the Medicomp tower. My heart pounds as I race towards the chaos, and it isn't long before screams assail my ears.

I want to run. Death lies before me. If I go in fighting, I'm not going to come back out. But I can't run away. This is my responsibility. No matter what happens, and no matter the cost, I'm going to stop Mangus Bluehorn.

It's time to end this nightmare.

Icarus: Part I

View Online

Tartarus, it's said, is a place of horror and despair, where fear, fire, and smoke clogs the air no matter where you go. If it's really like that, then the scene before me is straight out of the infernal realm.

Screams echo through the towers surrounding Medicomp as I fly into the smoke, coughing as I burst into the Medicomp plaza. It's a war zone: the tower and surrounding buildings are engulfed in flames, some of which have collapsed, crushing panicked, screaming ponies. Those still running around are being attacked by Mangus' goons, who fire wildly as they swoop down to rip horns from the ponies beneath them, laughing as they have the time of their lives.

I frantically look for Mangus, but there's no sign of him; either he's hiding, or watching from high up as his goons do all the dirty work.

Laughter drifts through the air. I spot Mangus flying up from the crowd, dangling a poor soul with his magic.

Wait... I know that pony. It's the heckler, and he's fighting with all his might against Mangus' spell.

Mangus laughs. “That was an impressive speech you gave earlier!” He leans in close. “Please tell me it was a joke. Come on, I gotta hear those words.”

The heckler fires a blast at Mangus, who raises a magical shield to block the spell. A smash to the face knocks the heckler senseless.

“Let me give you some advice: Real conquerors don't parade around in public or make speeches. They hide, work behind the scenes, and strike when the time is right.”

The heckler fights with all his strength, but can't break free of the spell holding him aloft.

“You have any kids? A wife? Husband?”

“A boy,” the heckler growls, glaring at Mangus. “And when I'm done, I'll tell him how you fell like so many before you!”

Mangus jams his horn into the heckler's throat and slices half of it away.

“No, you won't.”

Wracked with pain, the heckler grabs his throat, blood gushing over his hooves. Even from this far away, I can see the confusion and fear in his eyes. Then Mangus lets go, and the heckler plunges into the crowd below, vanishing from sight.

I charge, hooves outstretched. It's only at the last second that Mangus notices me, but he's too late as I bash him from the sky and into the demolished stage below. He hits hard, and I'm right behind him, ready to end this before he can recover. But Mangus is faster than I thought, fires off a barrage of blasts. It's only by some miracle that I manage to veer clear and land on the opposite end of the stage.

“Well well well, lookie here everyone!" Mangus says. "We've got a little colt who lost his mommy!”

His goons fly down.

“You lost, little colt?”

They all laugh, and it's like I'm a child again, trapped in the schoolyard as Mangus and his goons corner me against a wall. But that was long ago.

I'm not a helpless little colt anymore.

“You aren't going to harm anyone ever again.” I say.

“Oh, serious are we? Whatcha gonna do, Silversqueak? Tear my horn off?” Mangus recoils in mock horror. “Oh mommy, please protect me from the scary earth pony!”

I hurl a blast at Mangus, wanting to wipe that smug grin off his face. He sees the blast coming, and has to drop the act to throw up his shield, blocking the blow.

The smile vanishes from Mangus' face.

“You all keep getting horns,” Mangus tells his guards. “But leave Silverspeak to me. He's mine.”

The guards retreat, but stop and hover a short distance away, eager to watch what they believe will be a curb-stomp battle.

I tense, ready to spring. Mangus does the same, and for a long moment we glare at each other, silently daring each other to make the first move.

“You can't win,” Mangus says. He points towards my horn. “And that's mine.”

“Nothing you can say will make me give it to you,” I say.

Mangus grins. “Who says I'm going to ask?”

His legs tighten.

“I'm going to take it.”

Mangus sprints across the stage. I do the same, and we hit.

Howling, I unleash a barrage of blows to Mangus' face. But he blocks each one; I swing faster, and though Mangus blocks me, he's forced back a few steps.

Mangus lashes out with a kick, and I fall, rolling to the side as he smashes his legs down, trying to break my neck the way he broke Beakbreaker's legs. Leaping back up, I eye him, my mind racing faster than I thought possible. As an earth pony, I'm stronger than Mangus, and can take more blows then he can, not to mention having more stamina. If I can dodge his blows, I can let him wear himself out before striking. But Mangus has the advantage of actual combat experience, brought on by years of schoolyard fights and brawls. And as a unicorn, he's had a lifetime of practicing and perfecting his magical skills, where I've had only a few days to do so. No doubt he also knows many combat spells, and with his abilities enhanced, he could potentially take me out with a single shot.

For the first time in our lives, we're evenly matched... and I'm relishing the chance for some payback.

Mangus charges. I roll to the side and fire off a blast, only to see it deflected with that shield of his. I leap, trying to tackle him, but he fires a shockwave and blasts me into the air. Spinning, I furiously flap my wings to stabilize myself.

Mangus laughs. “That the best you can do, Silversqueak?!”

I fire again, but into the ground this time. The resulting eruption catapults Mangus into the air. He cries out in surprise, flapping his wings. By the time he comes to a stop, he's not laughing anymore. He's shocked.

I'm no longer a toy he can kick around.

I charge; Mangus veers up to fly over me, but I easily adjust my angle and ram him, punching away at his face. Mangus tries to fight back, but he's never fought while in the air before. I have the advantage, and I press it hard.

“Guys!” Mangus shouts. “Help!”

Someone hits us, and I'm ripped away from Mangus. I twist, seeing one of Mangus' goons. I bash him in the face, and he's knocked out cold after two of my hardest hits. I tear free as he collapses onto a rooftop, and turn to spot Mangus, who now has the rest of his guards with him. He points towards me, and they charge. On one hoof, it's gratifying to see that Mangus is a coward who has others fight for him.

On the other hoof, I now have to deal with all his guards at once.

Blasts shoot past me, and I flee for my life, firing back at them as I go. The guards dodge, but they're still new to flying, and they loose track of where they're going. A few bounce off the sides of buildings and get the wind knocked out of them. One guard dodges a shot and smashes head-first into a building, falling to the ground like a ragdoll.

I look back. Mangus is firing on the crowd; I have to get back to him, but how?! I can't fight him with all these guards on my tail, and can't compete with their firepower!

Wait... maybe I don't need firepower.

I break away and fly upwards. The guards follow, and we do a loop high above the plaza. Reaching the peak, I give a quick burst and shoot down towards the ground. As I hope, the guards try the same, only to veer and swerve as their faces turn green, and most of them vomit. And as I start to level, I shoot straight up. A sharp pain tears into my wing muscles, but they hold.

I hear screams and look back to see Mangus' goons falling from the sky, wings ripped from their backs. I had only intended for them to get so sick that they would give up the chase, but I feel no sorrow as they fall. They would have killed me if given the chance.

With the guards taken care of, I look around for Mangus, only to see him shooting towards me, roaring in fury at seeing his friends falling to their deaths. I can't get out of the way as he blasts me through the windows of a nearby skyscraper. It feels like hammers are smashing into me as I hit chairs, desks, and walls before finally skidding to a stop.

The pain... oh Celestia, it hurts!

The windows shatter as Mangus flies inside, firing a massive beam that tears the floor apart. Instinct screams at me to get out of the way, and I roll, missing his beam by inches. But the pain is horrific; my fur is half-melted and the skin beneath is badly burnt.

“What's the matter?!” Mangus yells. “Can't take the heat?!”

I'm blasted into a nearby office.

“You should have thought of that when you killed my boys!”

Biting down to silence a scream, I roll off my burnt side and scramble out of the office, emerging into a room littered with cubicles. I hide inside one, trying to remember how to cast a healing spell.

I hear Mangus walking into the room. “You know Silverspeak, none of this had to happen. You could have let me take your horn. But no, you had to fight! You had to goad me on! Everything that happens here tonight is your fault!”

I try to ignore him as I finally get a green mist to emanate from my horn. It envelops my burnt flesh, and I try to hold back a sigh as the pain vanishes.

Mangus passes my hiding spot. “Come out and fight! Or are you just going to hide?”

He fires, destroying a nearby cubicle.

“I'm in no rush. I've got all night. It's not like anyone's going to get into the city, or out. And what would they do? Oh, wait, let me guess... they'd be like you. They'd go running and crying to Princess Celestia for help. After all, isn't that what you did all those years ago in that letter you wrote?”

I freeze.

How does he-

“I had started snooping through your mail, looking for something I could use against you. So when I saw you heading towards the post office one day, I followed you. And guess what I levitated out of the mail slot? A letter to the princess herself!” Mangus clears his throat and does a mocking impression of my voice. “Dear Princess Celestia: My name is Silverspeak and I'm a useless little pony who's only good at whining all the time. I'm so pathetic and everyone else is so special, so please make me better than everyone else!”

If there's only one thing I hate about Mangus Bluehorn more than anything else, it's when he does that sing-song voice of his, as I heard it countless times as a child. My vision goes red, and I leap from the cubicle, magically hurling a desk into Mangus' back, turning his happy voice into a startled shriek. I leap onto his back and grab onto his horn, trying to tear it off. If my letter had reached Celestia, then everything could have been different! She could have helped me, and everything would have been different! Everything would have changed!

But Mangus...stupid, idiotic Mangus screwed everything up!

With a roar, I kick Mangus away with all the strength my legs can muster. He flies through a window and plunges from sight. I leap after him as he plunges towards a crowded street far below, but I'm forced to break off as he fires a barrage of blasts. By the time I dodge them, he's pulled out of his fall and gone into a controlled dive, coming to a stop above the street.

“Nice try!” he shouts, firing a blast. I'm forced to veer away, coming so close to Mangus that our wings touch. He turns and gives chase as I fly to the top of the closest towers and beyond, shooting over Manehattan's skyscrapers. Mangus follows behind like a hawk in pursuit of dinner, firing a shot every now and then, but he's not trying to hit me... He's toying with me.

“Let's play a game, Silverspeak! For every minute you refuse to surrender, I'll blow a building to pieces! How does that sound?!”

I flip over and fire off a shot. He dodges, then fires his largest blast yet, hurling it towards the Manehattan Public Library. The blast hits the western wing, which erupts in a thunderous explosion, the heat scorching my wingtips as I fight to rise above it. Somewhere inside that explosion is the remains of thousands of books and priceless manuscripts, all blown to pieces in one careless blast.

“That's one!” Mangus shouts. “What's next?”

I spin, head towards the park. Maybe I can lose him in there, and-

Several blasts shoot ahead, destroying a baseball field. The park's exquisite gardens erupt into flames as fires break out.

“That's two!”

Celestia, I have to stop this maniac! I flip back over and fire off blasts as fast as I can, trying to overwhelm Mangus with sheer numbers. But that shield of his blocks all of them, and he just keeps coming.

“Oh look! Third time's going to be the charm!”

I look ahead, and my heart leaps to my throat. The hospital lies before us, and I can see forms moving around inside; the place has been filled since I dropped Beakbreaker off, almost certainly with the wounded from Mangus' rampage.

If he hits the building with one of his blasts...

“I can just see tomorrow's headline!” Mangus calls out. “Silverspeak refuses to surrender, causes hospital to be blown up.” His horn glows as he charges another blast. “What a story that'll make!”

No! Oh sweet heavens, no! I rocket towards him, and the two of us collide, falling onto the closest rooftop. Mangus leaps up, but I'm faster, punching him in the face with a frantic barrage. But he raises that shield and bashes me with it, knocking me flat on my back. He leaps onto me, his horn pointed right at my eye.

“You're awfully eager to protect that place,” he says with a chuckle. “Why? After all, you don't know anyone in there. Unless... Unless there's someone very special to you inside...”

No.

“Someone you want to save.”

No, no, no!

Mangus grins. “I think Beakbreaker could use a guest to cheer her up, don't you think?”

I scream and fire off a blast, but Mangus is ready and smashes his hooves into my face. My vision goes white and an incredible pain shoots through my skull until it feels like it's going to burst

Slowly, far-too slowly, the pain fades. My vision clears and finally comes back into focus. I keep my hooves up, ready in case Mangus is waiting to hit me again.

He's gone.

Leaping up, I shoot towards the hospital as fast as my wings will carry me.

Oh please, Celestia, don't let me be too late!

***

As I touch down, I find the hospital entrance surrounded by demolished ambulances and smoking craters. Nobody's in sight, and as I creep to the doors, slowly open them, and slip inside.

To my surprise, the hospital lobby is intact. There's no sign of violence, no blood upon the walls or ponies with their horns missing. It's as if everyone just got up and left. I want to call out to see if anyone's here, but decide to stay silent. No doubt I'm walking into a trap, but if I can delay Mangus knowing I'm here, the better my chances are.

I make for the stairs, only to find that the handle has been welded shut; the metal's still warm, and it'd be impossible to get through without raising a ruckus. I head down the hall, hoping to find another set of stairs.

No sooner do I step inside then the lights snap out, plunging the hall into darkness.

Come into my web, said the spider to the fly...

I jump. Is he... no. No, Mangus' voice came through the hospital's intercom system.

Mares and Gentlecolts, please remain calm. Whether you live or die depends on what actions our guest, Mr. Silverspeak, takes in the next few minutes.

Oh no, not more mind games. I have no intention of going through those again, especially if someone's life is at stake. I take off down the darkened hall, relying on flashes of lightning to guide me.

Mares and gentlecolts, here's your question for the day: What is the value of life? What's one life worth vs. several hundred? No doubt you all value your lives, and the lives of your loved ones who are sick and injured. Tell me, what would all of you do to save them? Would you give up your own life? Would you be willing to take the life of the sick and injured stranger in the room besides you?

I reach the next staircase, find it unlocked. But it only goes up a single floor before I find the stairs have been demolished. Mangus is herding me somewhere: my only hope is that I'm moving faster than he expected. I break out onto the second floor as Mangus' voice comes over the speakers once again.

Thought things over? Good...not that your choices would matter to me, because I'm now addressing you, Silverspeak. I know you're willing to deceive, fight, and do anything necessary to save the one you care for...but what happens when your decisions affect hundreds?

I stop, dreading where this is going.

I'm in the security room now, and I can see your every move. I'm on the fifth floor, the same one where Beakbreaker is. When I say so, a-"

Fifth floor! I aim up and fire a heavy blast into the ceiling. When the smoke clears, there are holes stretching up into the floors above.

Hey, you can't do that!

Mangus' outraged yell is abruptly cut off as I shoot up through the holes, landing on the fifth floor. No doubt he's running for Beakbreaker's room. I run too, blasting equipment aside. I have to reach her before he does, but where is she?!

"Silverspeak!"

"Beakbreaker?!" I spin towards a nearby door and kick it open. “Beakbreaker! Are you-”

Mangus is already inside, has Beakbreaker hovering beside her.

“Too slow,” Mangus chuckles.

Buck!

Before I can fire, Mangus magically hovers Beakbreaker between him and me, having her act as a living shield. I can't get to him without tearing through her.

“You're clever Silverspeak, I'll give you that. But it's over. I win. Now, here's how this is all going to go down. You back off, inject yourself with a tranquilizer, and lie on the ground. After that, I'll-”

Buck you!” I fire at the ceiling. It explodes, and a massive operating table crashes through.

Caught by surprise, Mangus drops Beakbreaker to shove the table aside. And as he does, it's so easy to focus and fire a killing blast.

Mangus sees my blast, but can only partially raise his shield. He blocks most of the spell, but it still grazes his side. He screams in agony, now missing a large chunk of skin, revealing burned muscle beneath.

His screams and tears of pain are the sweetest things I've ever heard.

Mangus stares at the wound in shock, unable to believe he's actually been hurt by me, his childhood punching bag. Then he turns to me, enraged beyond anything I've ever seen.

“You want to fight?! I'll give you a fight!

I grab Beakbreaker and run for my life as Mangus fires. A massive beam of blood-red energy destroys the door as I slam it shut, slicing through the building as if the walls were made of paper. The heat is so intense that anything near it erupts into flame, and in seconds the entire floor is on fire. I run for the staircase, Beakbreaker clinging to my back as Mangus' beams slices into the walls, ceiling, and floor. He's gone crazy, firing at random, slicing into the building without care of where or who he's hitting, and a huge chunk of the hospital falls away. Terrified screams echo from nearby rooms; if the ponies in them are like Beakbreaker, then they'll be helpless to move.

They're going to be burned alive.

I grab a nearby sprinkler system and yank on the handle. The sprinklers in the ceiling erupt, but the damage Mangus has inflicted limits their effectiveness. I need to do more!

I close my eyes, imagining a massive beam of cold, wet water bursting from my horn like a fire hose. I do everything I can to see it come forth, and let go. Water blasts from my horn, and I aim it into the walls, into anything that's ablaze. Smoke and steam fill the room, but I can hear the fires going out.

The floor shakes, and I hear Mangus' roars growing louder. Kicking the stairwell door open, I run inside, only to skid to a stop; the beam has torn the staircase away from the walls.

An explosion rocks the building. Beakbreaker screams.

Clutching Beakbreaker. I leap into the stairwell and fly upwards. But as we near the top, the entire top of the stairwell explodes and comes crashing down.

Beakbreaker screams so loudly my ears hurt.

I ram the closest door and emerge into one of the upper floors. Ponies have run from their rooms, fearing the worst from the explosions down below.

“Out!” I yell. “Everybody out!”

We're all knocked down as the floor erupts. Mangus blasts his way through and kicks me into the wall. I lose my grip on Beakbreaker, and she hits the floor.

“Silverspeak!” she shouts, trying to get to me. “Silverspeak, get up!”

I try. But Mangus grabs Beakbreaker, then smashes through the nearest window and escapes into the open sky.

No!

I run and leap through the window, giving chase as Mangus flies to the hospital's roof. But he's ready for me, and fires. The blast is easy to dodge; Mangus must be so crazed from the pain that he's losing control of himself.

Wait. What's that sound?

I turn, and my heart skips a beat. Mangus wasn't aiming at me: he was aiming at a skyscraper next to the hospital. The upper half has been severed, and it's starting to fall.

Mangus takes off into the sky, yanking Beakbreaker after him. If I try to stop the building, Mangus will kill Beakbreaker. But if I go after him, then everyone in the hospital will be crushed. Already I can hear them screaming as those near the windows realize what's happening.

Every instinct tells me to go after Mangus... But I can't leave these ponies to die.

I shoot towards the hospital as the building starts to tilt, charging my magic, visualizing a huge force field emerging. And as the skyscraper falls, I fire. Green energy shoots from my horn and envelops the building. But it keeps coming... Oh Celestia, it's so heavy!

The building bears down on me. I'm knocked to my back, and I have a front-row seat to an entire skyscraper coming down to crush me. I shout, my head feeling like it's going to tear itself apart, but I force myself to throw all my strength into the horn.

Something wet trickles down my cheeks. Blood. I'm bleeding from my eyes and nose.

I can't do it... I'm not strong enough to hold up an entire building... But maybe I don't have to! I can't stop the building from coming down, but I can turn it aside.

Shrieking from the pain, I try to force the structure aside. There's no time to see if anyone is on the streets below, and I can only pray there aren't, because I can't hold the building up any longer.

I let go. The building falls onto the street and implodes upon itself, ash and dust flying up like soot from a volcano.

I collapse, gasping for air, my head throbbing with pain. Blood continues to dribble onto the rooftop. I wipe it away as I go to the edge and look down. Oh, thank Celestia, it looks like no one was hit; police officers are trying to keep ponies away from the ruins. They probably saw it coming down and tried to get everyone away so that nobody else would be killed in the hospital's collapse. The hospital is saved.

But where's Mangus?

Looking to the sky, I spot him flying towards the dome, taking Beakbreaker with him, no doubt hoping to escape.

Like Tartarus he will!

My wings beat, and I take off after him.

***

Mangus has a huge lead on me as he shoots higher and higher, reaching the very top of the dome. He fires a stream of magic, and a hole appears. I speed up, but as soon as Mangus and Beakbreaker head through, he fires his magic and starts to seal it up.

I fire several blasts. Forced to break off, Mangus can't seal the hole, and I shoot through the dome into the storm beyond. I'm instantly drenched from the heavy rain, and the howling winds threaten to blow me away like a leaf in a hurricane.

Mangus flies up into the massive clouds. I follow him.

Everything goes dark. I can't see anything ahead of me until a flash of lightning momentarily lights my way. Mangus and Beakbreaker are straight ahead, but everything goes dark once more. Blind, I keep going forward until a barrage of flashes lights the way.

Mangus and Beakbreaker are gone.

No!

I speed up, bursting into a gap between the clouds. But there's no sign of Mangus. He could be above me, below me, or shooting back towards Manehattan, where I'd have no chance of finding him... or Beakbreaker... again.

I try to clear the rain from my eyes. I have to-

Something hits me, and my back feels like it's been doused with acid. I scream and nearly fall, only just managing to regain control.

A nearby cloud briefly lights up, and I spot Mangus below me. Beakbreaker's floating beside him, encased inside a magical sphere that's she can't break. But she's not taking her captivity lightly, struggling, kicking, and smashing against the sphere's walls for all she's worth.

Mangus fires, and I do the same as I charge him. Our blasts hit and explode in a burst of color as I ram into his gut, sending us tumbling through the storm. I hit him, and he hits me, the two of us spinning and twirling until I can't tell which way is up or down.

I hit Mangus again and again, the way he used to hit me. The memory of each schoolyard taunt, every prank, and every beating fuels my blows. I want to see his snout broken and his face caved in. Celestia help me, he's not going to hurt Beakbreaker ever again!

Mangus thrusts his head forward, his horn cutting into my chest. I shriek, grabbing the wound as he jabs again, this time narrowly missing my left eye as he slices my cheek open. Then he sinks his teeth into my neck, trying to tear into my jugular vein. I scream, feeling hot blood flowing down my fur.

And then Mangus is kicked away, taking a chunk of my skin with him. Beakbreaker managed to get close enough to kick him away, buying me a few precious seconds... but those are cut short as Mangus orients himself and unleashes his most powerful barrage yet, trying to vaporize me with overwhelming power.

I take off through the clouds, trying to outrace Mangus and get some breathing room. But he's right on me, the blasts getting closer as Mangus narrows his aim.

And then there's pain, horrific pain. I scream and nearly pass out from the pain as I fall.

A flash of lightning reveals ribs exposed to the open air.

Screaming, I throw my wings open, managing to stop my plunge. I shoot upwards, trying to get away from those blasts, trying not to faint from the pain. But Mangus won't give up. He's still on me, closing the gap, and I can't outrun him or dodge him forever.

Wait. There's one last trick I can try. It's a long shot, but it's my only chance!

Biting down, I fly straight up as fast as I can. The clouds become darker, and my eyes sting as water and wind alike lash at them as I emerge into a massive vortex that resembles the center of a tornado. We're in the heart of the storm, and several miles above is the clear night sky.

I fly higher and higher. The blasts stop, and I risk a backwards glance. Mangus is chasing me, sporting a grin that looks almost demonic.

“I'm coming for you!” he shouts.

I force my aching wings to go faster.

I'm gonna get you!

Come on, come on!

I take the deepest breath I can as the air thins. No sooner do I close my mouth than it feels like my skin is starting to freeze.

A yank on my tail stops my ascent. I spin to see Mangus' horn jamming into my leg, but the air is so cold that there's almost no pain. I kick with my one good leg, but Mangus dodges it and rears back for another thrust... and then he stops, confused, as if he's forgotten why we're fighting.

Then Mangus' eyes roll back, and he goes limp, falling from the sky as he passes out from lack of oxygen.

Yes!

I stop my wings and fall. My lungs are burning, but I don't dare breathe until the air warms. Only then do I grab a deep lungful of searingly cold air. It hurts to breathe, but I do my best to ignore it as I rocket after Beakbreaker. Unlike Mangus, she realized what I was doing, and managed to hold her breath like I did. Rocketing down, I magically grab hold of the sphere she's encased in, and bring it to a stop.

“Beakbreaker!” I shout over the howl of the storm. “Beakbreaker, are you okay?!”

From the looks of things, Beakbreaker can hear me, but she can't understand what I'm saying.

“Don't worry! I'm going to get you down! We'll get back to the-”

The sphere is suddenly yanked from my grasp.

“Beakbreaker!”

Mangus somehow managed to recover from his fall, and he now hovers before me, yanking Beakbreaker in like a fish on a hook. He destroys the sphere, then magically grabs Beakbreaker, hovering her in mid-air. He's exhausted, breathing heavily and struggling to stay aloft. But his anger burns brighter than ever, hatred and rage etched into every pore, every wrinkle on his furious face.

Beakbreaker struggles, trying to kick Mangus.

“You thought you could beat me, Silverspeak?!” Mangus screams. “I'm Mangus Bluehorn! I'm the greatest Unicorn who ever lived! And you?! You're a nobody!

I focus. One blast to Mangus' head is all it should take...

“You should have known your place! You could have had a good life! But no! You ruined everything! This is all your fault!”

I twitch, ready to fire.

“Don't blame me for this, Silverspeak! Blame yourself!”

Mangus rears back... and then smashes his horn into Beakbreaker's chest.

A magical blast tears out through her back.

For an instant, Beakbreaker's face is full of fear and pain... and then she goes limp, blood trickling from her mouth.

NO!

I fire. Mangus tries to doge, but my blast tears his right leg off. He screams, grabbing his bloody stump as Beakbreaker plunges towards Manehattan. I shoot after her.

Beakbreaker!

I force my legs to my sides and tuck my wings in to streamline myself, fighting to reach her as blood splashes into my face.

Come on!

Her hoof's almost in range. I try to grab it, but miss.

COME ON!

I fire my magic and yank Beakbreaker into my grasp. But we're going too fast; the dome over Manehattan is rocketing towards us. I fire blasts at the surface, one after another, finally causing a crack to appear. One more shot shatters it, and we plunge through, falling towards the Manehattan bridge.

I beat my wings, trying to fly away, but we're going too fast! I can't stop us!

“No!” I scream. “NO, NO, NO!”

Only one chance left! I shoot energy towards the bridge, trying to create a bubble of energy for us to fall on. It takes shape, but I can't tell if it's strong enough to support us!

I clutch Beakbreaker as tightly as I can.

We slam into the bubble. IT bends, then bursts, and we fall towards the pave-

Icarus: Part II

View Online

It's dark.

Am I dead? I open my eyes. I... the towers. Those are the towers of the Manehattan Bridge above me.

I try to move, and realize that I'm not dead, because my legs hurt. Everything does. I'm bleeding and I can feel my lungs pressing against my exposed ribs with every agonizing breath. Ponies have gathered around me, terrified, confused, and unsure what to do. They run as I cast a spell to stop the pain. I look down to see if Beakbreaker is-

Beakbreaker's gone.

“Beakbreaker?!” Oh sweet Celestia, did someone take her away? Was she dragged somewhere by well-intended ponies thinking that I was trying to kill-

There! She's lying a few yards away, surrounded by ponies who are trying to help her.

She's not moving.

“Beakbreaker!”

I scramble up and stagger to her. The ponies trying to help see me coming and flee in a panic as I reach Beakbreaker, frantically looking her over. She's lying in a pool of her own blood, her eyes open and unseeing. I press a hoof to her neck.

There's no pulse.

“No... Oh please, no!”

I roll Beakbreaker over, find the jagged hole in her back, and press down as hard as I can. I do the same with the other hole, trying to ignore how much blood has soaked into her fur. But it's not working! Blood still trickles out from beneath my hooves. I close my eyes, concentrating on my magic.

Green energy flows over Beakbreaker, and I feel skin fusing together beneath my hooves. The flow of blood slows to a trickle, then stops. The holes are gone, newly-stretched skin covering them up.

I frantically flip Beakbreaker onto her back and press down on her chest to get her heart pumping. One pump. Two...three...four...five. Pinching Beakbreaker's nostrils shut, I send two of my deepest breaths down her throat, and her chest rises and falls.

Beakbreaker doesn't move.

No!

I pump again, going harder this time. I send even bigger breaths down her lungs.

Nothing.

No...no!

I slam down on Beakbreaker's chest, and I hear bones break, but I keep pumping, trying to make her warm, sweet heart beat once more, to bring life back to her empty eyes.

“Breathe! Come on Beakbreaker, breathe! Breathe!

She doesn't.

“No!” I slap Beakbreaker's face. “Wake up! Please wake up!”

The rain slides down her lifeless cheeks.

My gaze dashes back and forth between those in the crowd. There has to be a medic here, a doctor, anyone! But there aren't; just ordinary ponies who can't do a thing to help me.

Magic... magic is my only chance! It closed her wounds, and it can make her heart beat again! I grab Beakbreaker and look into her eyes as I concentrate, focusing every ounce of magical energy I have. And when my temples pound and sweat pours down my forehead, I let go.

Green energy pours into Beakbreaker's chest, my will guiding it towards her heart until I feel the energy holding it. I squeeze, forcing every ounce of energy I have to restore life to her heart, to send blood and oxygen flowing once more. I squeeze again and again, forcing her heart to beat.

“Work,” I whisper. “Come on. Work...work!”

I stop and wait.

Nothing.

I shake, barely able to hold Beakbreaker up. All the power I've worked so long to get is at my beck and call, I'm using all of it to help the one soul I care for more than anyone else in all of Equestria... and it's not enough!

"Breathe!” I scream. I hit Beakbreaker. “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” I slap her face, and can't stop the tears from falling. “Don't leave me Beakbreaker! Come back! Please!”

Beakbreaker doesn't move.

It can't end here! It can't end like this! It can't! I have too many things I want to say and do. Apologies that have to be given, pleas for forgiveness that need to be said. I want to tell Beakbreaker that I've been such a fool. I want to tell her that she's the first individual who truly accepted me for what I was, and not what I should have been. I want to take her on walks along the beach, to restaurants, to get to know her, the real her, away from work, from the wings, and from the horns. I want to know what she's like as an individual, not a doctor or a scientist.

I want to tell her that I want to spend my life with her... but that chance is gone now, and I can almost hear fate taunting me, whispering into my ear.

You got what you wanted, but lost what you really needed.

Has something, or someone, been guiding me all this time? Is this where it was supposed to lead? Was everything I've gone through some sort of cosmic joke? A sick tragedy merely to teach me a lesson? If it was, then the force that guides me hasn't been a granter of dreams, but a giver of nightmares.

I throw my gaze to the sky. “Is this what you wanted?!” I shout. “You wanted to take away everything I love, don't you?! And for what?! These?!” I spread my wings, and thrust my horn upwards. “Take them back! I...I...” I choke down a sob. “...I don't want them!” I lurch to my hooves, holding Beakbreaker aloft. “I want her!

There's no answer.

“Please!” I scream. “Please!

Beakbreaker's lifeless body lies in my embrace. No magical spark gives her life; no cosmic force descends to restore her. She's gone, and no wish, no desire to give up everything, including my life, will change that.

I shake. I tremble, and then I scream from the deepest depths of my soul, and shock Beakbreaker's heart one final time. Not in despair or desperation, but in an act of defiance, all my grief and anger fueling one final beat-

Beakbreaker lets out a huge gasp, arching up in my embrace as she gulps in deep, ragged lungfuls of air. For a moment her eyes dart back and forth, lost and frightened, trying to figure out what's going on. Then they land on me.

“S...Silverspeak?”

I can't hold it back any longer. I clutch Beakbreaker as tightly as I can, rocking her back and forth, sobbing all the while. And for the first time in my life, I know what relief -true, soul-felt relief -feels like.

“Silverspeak?” Beakbreaker's still confused, unsure what's happening. I stroke her hair, turning on my charm, but not to mislead or intimidate.

“It's all right,” I whisper, my voice shaking. “You're safe. Everything's all right.” I don't know if she believes me, but Beakbreaker closes her eyes and leans against my chest. I let her lie there, holding her close as rain falls on us both. I look up to the sky, and beyond.

In a whisper so quiet that not even Beakbreaker can hear it, I offer two words to whoever, or whatever, was listening.

Thank you.

There's no reply, nor was I expecting one. But as I turn my attention back to Beakbreaker, I catch a glimpse of something moving in the clouds above. I squint, realize that it's coming towards us.

Strange...it's coming awfully fast, and-

Something hits the road and Beakbreaker and I are thrown through the air, sliding on the concrete before coming to a stop. Trying to put Beakbreaker behind me, I watch as the dust clears, and Mangus hobbles towards me, his bloody stump hastily cauterized. His bloodshot eyes tear into me, his face red with rage that overwhelms logic and thought. He doesn't even seem to realize that he's lost a leg as he charges, blasting terrified ponies aside.

“Kill you!” he screams, barely coherent. “Kill yo-”

But I'm not afraid of him or his threats. I'm angry.

I've had enough.

As Mangus leaps at me, I rear back and smash his face with the strongest blow I've ever thrown. His head is almost torn off his shoulders as his lower jaw shatters. Blood flies as Mangus slams into the concrete; he still tries to stand, but I buck his wretched form into the closest pillar. Chunks of stone fly as he collapses to the ground, but even with a broken jaw, Mangus howls as he tries to summon a spell.

My horn glows, readying for one final blast. I'll make sure he never harms-

An explosion blasts my ears. I leap back, throwing my legs up to cover my face. How could Mangus retaliate so quickly?! Wait, it wasn't him; the sound came from all around us.

The dome around Manehattan shudders, then lights up as colored blasts slam into the edge beyond the bridge. The blasts hit again, and the entire dome shatters. Enormous shards rain down on Manehattan, dissolving harmlessly into energy that's blown away by the wind and the rain that lashes the city.

I'm suddenly blasted across the bridge into one of the bridge's massive support towers, shrieking as my ribs scrape against gravel. Mangus hobbles towards me, his horn glowing. I roll as he fires, the beam tearing through the tower. Cables snap as the tower collapses, taking a massive chunk of the bridge with it. Ponies scream, flee, and just barely avoid being dragged into the ocean below.

Leaping up, I run towards Mangus, struggling not to collapse from the pain. Celestia help me, if I have to die to keep him from getting Beakbreaker, then so be it!

A light shines down on both of us, so bright and overpowering it's like the sun itself has come down. Mangus howls as he's momentarily blinded. I am too, but as I squint, I realize that there's someone above us...no, wait, it's not one pony, but several. They...

No... it can't be.

The ponies above us aren't ordinary ponies, the Wonderbolts, or even the Princesses...they're the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony. All six float above the bridge, their necklaces and crowns still smoking from taking down the dome. And for an instant, I forget about Mangus, overcome with awe. In all my life, I've never seen the Bearers, much less expected to ever be in their presence.

And leading them all is Twilight Sparkle herself.

Scarcely able to breathe, I look upon her, the pony who had become an alicorn, and who had inadvertently shown me what I could become.

Mangus roars and leaps at me. My horn lights up, and I ready to fire.

Another roar fills the air, one that eclipses Mangus' own. A great wind rushes down, and I have the sensation of being next to overwhelming power before a barrage of colors slam into Mangus. He screams in rage and defiance, and I feel his magic yanking at my horn, trying to tear it off. He glares at me, as if the power of his hate alone could kill me... and then his face freezes. So does the rest of him, and his dark blue skin turns a dull gray.

As the hold on my horn vanishes, It takes me a moment to realize what's happened; the Bearers have turned Mangus to stone. He's a statue now, an enraged gargoyle yelling in silent fury.

Wait...if the Bearers turned Mangus into stone, then...

Oh no.

I turn, try to call out, but it's too late, as I see the same barrage of color coming for me. It hits me like an unstoppable flood, and I feel power beyond anything I could ever hope to stand against. Numbness hits my hind legs, rising fast. I want to back away, but I can't. I look down, and scream upon realizing why.

My lower body has turned gray, and I can't feel my legs at all. And that gray is spreading upwards. Frantic, I shake my forward legs, try to get it off, but then they freeze, and I can't feel or move them.

Stone! Oh please, Celestia, no! They're turning me to sto-

Consequences

View Online

-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.

...Come Great Things

View Online

‭What's it like to see a dream die? I always thought there would be tears, anger, and the desire to die. But it's not like that at all. Instead of hate, there's numbness. Instead of grief, there is nothingness. It's as if a part of your soul is ripped away, leaving a great emptiness that can never be filled.

It's like you'll never feel happy again.

That emptiness stays with me as the doctors release me from the tube.‭ I'm operating on automatic as I dry myself off, listening to the doctors explain how I need to take it easy for a while,‭ ‬and to keep taking pain medications so my muscles can rest and recover.‭ I especially need to be careful about my head: my brain is still in delicate condition after having the horn removed, and any injury, or even a bump, could have disastrous consequences.

Because the anesthesia is still in my system, I'm taken to Luna's carriage in a wheelchair. She's waiting for me, and suggests that I use the next two or three days to recover and prepare for my journey to Canterlot.‭ Her tact is appreciated,‭ ‬but we both know she's telling me to prepare for my prison stay.

The ride to my old apartment building is uneventful, but my landlord is unnerved to see me escorted inside by two of Luna’s unicorn guards,‭ ‬who assure him that I'll only be here for a few days.‭ We head up to my apartment,‭ ‬where I'm told to stay until the trip to Canterlot.‭ ‬Should I need any food or drink,‭ ‬a courier will be dispatched to pick up supplies.‭ Then the two take up positions in the hall and shut the door,‭ ‬leaving me to myself.

Any other pony would have sat down and wept,‭ ‬overwhelmed by everything that's happened in the past twenty four hours.‭ ‬But not me.‭ I don't feel anything as I take a long,‭ ‬hot shower,‭ ‬and then collapse in bed,‭ ‬letting the remnants of the anesthesia push me into sleep's embrace.‭

Perhaps there I can find rest from a future that's never been more empty‬.

***

When I wake,‭ ‬a glance at the clock reveals that I've been asleep for ten hours. Yet, melancholy still grips me. Perhaps I'll feel different when I'm on my way to Canterlot, but for now I’m now in limbo,‭ ‬unable to go back to my old life,‭ ‬yet not able to go on to what’s next. But while I was spared from spending decades behind bars,‭ ‬I feel no relief.

Two years is a long time.

I crawl from bed and head into the kitchen.‭ I should be making the most of the time I have left,‭ ‬but getting drunk would bring only headaches and hangovers. No book will satisfy me, and and to watch television would only expose me to pleasures and wonders that I’ll be unable to experience. None of those will make me happy.‭ ‬Nothing can.

Well, that’s not true. There is one thing that can lift my spirits.

Beakbreaker.

Taking a blank piece of paper and a quill,‭ ‬I write her a letter. Or rather,‭ ‬I try to,‭ ‬because I'm not sure what to tell her.‭ All my experience in doing speeches and query letters seems like a joke as I ponder what to say.‭ Should I try for something elegant‭? Heartfelt‭? ‬Poetic‭? None of those feel right,‭ ‬not after what we've both gone through.‭ ‬

Perhaps... perhaps being honest would be best.

Putting the quill to the paper,‭ ‬I write that I'd like to see her again before going to Canterlot.‭ Sealing the letter inside an envelope, I attach a stamp that will ‬ensure same-day delivery ‬and send it down the mail chute.‭ ‬Beakbreaker will probably get it by the afternoon,‭ ‬and reply by sundown. Even if the answer is no,‭ ‬she has to reply.

She just has to.

***

The day rolls on.‭ I watch the view beyond the window while keeping an ear turned towards the door.‭ Eventually, I tire of watching towers and ponies flying past them, and seek something more intellectually stimulating. Heading towards my small library in the sitting room,‭ ‬I spot a newspaper near the door. It's the morning edition, probably slipped in by the guards after they had read it over.‭ Unfolding the paper,‭ ‬I find the cover page plastered with photos of devastation throughout Manehattan,‭ ‬the biggest focusing on the Medicomp plaza.‭ It's been a week since the Mangus' rampage,‭ ‬and the final extent of the devastation has only just been tallied: five skyscrapers were destroyed ‬and two hundred ponies have died,‭ ‬with a further five hundred injured ‬and over a hundred missing their horns‭.‭ The Manehattan library has lost a quarter of its collection due to the destroyed wing,‭ ‬and the head librarian still lingers in the hospital,‭ ‬the staff unsure if she will survive her injuries.‭ ‬

By all accounts,‭ ‬Mangus' rampage is the worst catastrophe in Manehattan's history.

It’s to be expected that the death and destruction get top billing,‭ ‬but there’s a sizable article about how Princess Luna was seen leaving the Manehattan prison with me,‭ ‬while Mangus was reportedly taken to the train station,‭ ‬and is en route to locations unknown.‭ Picture after picture show me at my impromptu press conference,‭ ‬as well as me leaving the Medicomp tower via a wheelchair without my horn or wings. The article doesn't hold back on describing how Mangus and I are responsible for the damage.‭

Turning to the opinion page,‭ ‬I'm not surprised to find numerous editorials and letters blasting both Mangus and myself.‭ ‬Some ponies suggest that the two of us be turned into statues and put on display for all to see as both a punishment,‭ ‬and a warning for others not to follow in our footsteps. Others think we should be publicly executed, and others still believe we should be imprisoned in the moon, never to be released.

The world, it seems, won’t forgive or forget this anytime soon.

***

Evening comes and I still keep an ear turned to the door,‭ ‬waiting for something to slip through the mail slot.‭ But the hours pass ‬and nothing comes through.‭

My hope begins to dim.

Why hasn't Beakbreaker written back‭?

***

I wake. Rushing to the door, I... yes! There's a letter waiting for me! I grab the envelope and tear it open, yanking out the letter and... and my hope is crushed.

The letter isn't from Beakbreaker; it's from Luna,‭ ‬informing me that I will be heading to Canterlot tomorrow morning at six AM sharp,‭ ‬and that I should use the day to put all my affairs in order.

I drop the letter,‭ ‬struggling to hold back the sobs threatening to rise up.‭ No. No, I can't let despair overcome me. Perhaps Beakbreaker did get my letter and wrote back,‭ ‬but her reply hasn't reached my apartment yet. Yes... yes, that has to be it.

I spend the next few hours tidying up my apartment ‬and putting my belongings in boxes for storage... not that I know where to send them,‭ ‬or who would take them.‭ Medicomp‭? My former co-workers at the grocery store‭? I suppose I can always mail them to my parents. It can probably all fit into my old room, anyway.

There's not much else to manage‭; ‬my bank account is all that's left,‭ but ‬I'll leave it alone.‭ By the time I get out of Canterlot's dungeons,‭ ‬there will be quite a lot of extra money accumulated from the interest,‭ ‬probably enough to help me get off to a good start in my new life...but it doesn't feel right‭ ‬having it all to myself.‭ Checking yesterday's paper,‭ ‬I find several listings for charities that have sprung up to aid those affected by the disaster.‭ Taking my checkbook,‭ ‬I write out a check to the biggest one,‭ ‬using half the money in my account.‭ It won't undo all the damage Mangus and I caused,‭ ‬but I hope it can help those who need it the most.

Putting the check inside an envelope,‭ ‬I send it down the mail tube.‭ ‬Packing up my checkbook,‭ ‬I put my apartment keys on the table,‭ ‬figuring that I'll turn them in to the landlord tomorrow.‭ And with that,‭ ‬I have the rest of the afternoon to myself.‭ ‬By tomorrow evening,‭ ‬I'll be inside my new home in the Canterlot dungeons.

As noon comes and goes,‭ ‬I stay in the sitting room,‭ ‬waiting for a letter that may or may not come.‭ But as mid-afternoon comes around,‭ ‬a gnawing fear rises in my chest. My letter to Beakbreaker must have reached her by now. Because I haven’t gotten a reply back, there ‬are only two logical explanations:‭ ‬she hasn't sent out a reply yet... or she's ignoring me.

I try to dismiss the thought, but it won't go away.

There's only one individual in the world that I want to be with,‭ ‬and for all I know, she doesn't want to be anywhere near me.

***

My mood remains bleak well into the afternoon.‭ I can't muster the strength or the will to do anything but sit at the table, listening to the ticking of the clock, and the pitter-patter of rain against the window.

I wonder if I can go to the train station and head to Canterlot right now. Perhaps it would be best to get this all over with. It's preferable to just sitting here, waiting for what I can't escap-

There's a knock at the door.

I rush to the door. Is it Beakbreaker?! Oh please, let it be her!

I open the door and... it's not Beakbreaker.

It's my parents.

The three of us stand where we are,‭ ‬unsure what to do.

I don't know what to say. The last time we saw each other, I shot them with a stunning spell. Are they here to slap me? To disown me and say that they never want to see me again?

“Silverspeak," Mom says quietly, "May we come in?”

I don't want a confrontation. I want distance, and time to let everyone's emotional wounds heal. But the two don't seem hostile or looking for a fight.

I step aside. The two enter, and I close the door behind them.

“‬How are you feeling‭?” Mom asks.

I shrug.

She gets close to me.‭ “‬Princess Luna told us everything. She showed us your memories. We... we know why you attacked us. Why you were so angry."

I turn away.

A hoof takes hold of my chin, gently pulling me back. "I know you're angry at us, Silverspeak. We don't blame you. If we were in your position, we would have been angry, too."

Dad nods.

"We know what's going to happen," Mom says, trying to smile. "I'm sure it won't be so bad. The Princesses-”

“‬We weren't going to talk about that,” Dad says.

“Oh. Oh yes,"

It's quiet again for a long moment.

The clock continues to tick.

“I... I know this is hard for you,‏ ‎Silverspeak,‭” ‬Dad says,‭ “‬but your mother's right. It won't be as bad as you think.‭”

“I’m going to prison,‏ ‎Dad,‭” ‬I say.‭ “‬How can it not be bad‭?”

Dad struggles to find an answer. “You could have gone there for life.”‭

‏He’s right, but I’m not in the mood to hear it.

“You won’t be alone in there. We’ll visit you when we can, and when you get out, it'll all be behind you.‏ ‎You'll have a clean start.‭”

‏Despite my attempts at keeping a straight face,‭ ‬my parents have the ability to realize when their child is hiding something.‭

"What's wrong‭?” Mom asks.

Do I tell them the truth‭? ‬That I don't care about public opinion or being cleared of wrongdoing any more‭? That there's only one thing in all the world I really want‭?

“It’s Beakbreaker,‏” ‎I say.‭ “‬I sent her a letter about how I want to see her before I leave,‭ ‬but she hasn't replied.‭”

My parents flinch. They try to disguise it, but even an uneducated simpleton could see they’re hiding something.

“What?” I ask. “What is it?”

Reaching into his bag, Dad takes out the morning paper and opens it to a small article about halfway through. It's an update on Medicomp, including a note that their stocks are starting to inch back up.

“What does that have to do with-‏”

Dad indicates for me to keep reading.‭

I come across a small paragraph near the article's end.‭ It says that Beakbreaker,‭ ‬the inventor of Medicomp's legs and wings,‭ ‬hasn't been seen since the battle on the Manehattan bridge.‭ When asked about her,‭ ‬Coin Counter revealed that she's heading to another Medicomp branch.

‏“We tried to find her,” Mom says. “But by the time we found the hospital she was staying in, she had already been discharged.” She bites down on her lip. “I'm so sorry, Silverspeak.”

I can barely hear her as the paper falls from my hooves, but there are no tears or anguished sobs.

The only thing I wanted more than anything in the world is gone.

I half-sit, half-fall onto the sofa. My parents look at each other,‭ ‬unsure what to do.‭ They've never seen their son so defeated,‭ ‬so empty of life and vitality.‭

‬Eventually,‭ ‬Dad comes over and sits beside me.‭ “‬Silverspeak,‭ ‬I'm sorry about Beakbreaker.‭ ‬But... well,‭ ‬times change.‭ ‬Ponies change-‭”

I turn away. I don’t want to listen to him. I don’t want his lectures.

‭“‬Silverspeak,‭ ‬I know you're not a fan of my stories,‭ ‬but do you remember what I told you when you left home‭? About how we're all seeds meant to become trees‭?”

‏I say nothing.

‏“Well, I didn't tell you what else my father told me, that the seed's journey is never easy. It has to fall in the right spot, get the right support, and obtain plenty of water and sunlight. But it also has to contend with winds, storms, floods, and everything else nature throws at it. It might run into a few snags along the way, but it still keeps growing. And it's often the tree that endures the most, and is battered about the most, that becomes the strongest.” He lets the words sink in before continuing. “You might think there’s nothing for you after all this, but you’re wrong. You’re upset, but that will pass. And one day, you just might look back and see this as the beginning of an even greater stage of your life, one where you don’t need to get wings and a horn to prove yourself. Or to impress us, for that matter.”

“You said I was a disappointment to you both,‏” I say.

Dad hangs his head in shame.‭ “‬Yes... Yes,‭ ‬I did.‭ But your mother and I... We learned that you weren't a disappointment at all.‭ Heaven only knows it took too long,‭ ‬but we learned to see you for what you really were... our son.‭ Our beautiful,‭ ‬precious little boy who we loved more than anything in the world.‭” He breathes deeply.‭ “‬We knew you had it rough in school.‭ All those birthday parties when no one came.‭ But you have no idea how much we loved you.‭”

He puts his hoof under my chin,‭ ‬raises it up.

“Or how much we still do.‏”

I've never heard Dad talk like this before.

I don't know what to say.

“You may think you’re alone, that you'll always be. But you won't.‭ ‬We'll be there. We'll help you get through, and everything else life throws at you, because..."

Dad hesitates, then slowly leans in and puts his legs around me. It’s such an alien gesture that I can’t remember the last time he did something like this.

"Because we love you.”

I feel Mom sitting beside me, and then her legs go around me as well.

It may not be for long, but the darkness in me seems to grow a little smaller.

I close my eyes and put my legs around my parents as we embrace each other.‭

None of us speak.‭

There's no need for words.

***

It’s not long before I notice a change in the apartment. Things don’t seem quite as foreboding as they once were. When I ask my parents if they have somewhere to go, they refuse to go, insisting to stay with me for the rest of the day. They even insist on cooking dinner, making it as extravagant as possible. We take everything I have left in the cupboard and whip up a hodgepodge dinner of noodles, broccoli, oranges, and cheese. It’s amusing to toss everything together and witness the birth of our culinary catastrophe, but it’s even more fun to bite into the finished result and try to see who can create the longest strand of melted cheese.

For a few hours, at least, I forget about everything that's coming.

I’m happy.

Eventually, the sun goes down, and once we calm down and clean up the sticky remains of dinner, we talk about what we’ll do with my things. Mom and Dad agree to take my things and keep them in storage, where I’ll then pay to have them shipped to Canterlot after being released. All that’s left are what I want to take with me; I settle on a few sets of clothes that I won’t wear for another two years, a tie to wear for the trip, a few books, and pack them all in a saddlebag.

With that settled, all my affairs are in order.

All that’s left is to wait for the dawn.

Eventually, the three of us tire. I set up the sofa to act as an impromptu bed for my parents, while simultaneously putting blankets and pillows on the biggest chair. I could sleep in my normal bed tonight, but I don’t want to spend my last night of freedom alone. And as I turn out the lights, Mom decides to do something a little special, remembering a little thing she did when I was little, and we lost power during a storm. After turning off all the lights, she arranges all my candles around the room, casting warm, dancing flickers upon the walls as we settle down.

I relax in my chair, watching the lights dance, and wish that this perfect evening can go on forever, and that dawn will never come. But even as I drift off, I know it's a dream that will never come true.

All things, whether good or bad, must come to an end.

***

I’m woken by a loud knock at the door.

Feeling unusually calm, I glance at the clock. It’s five in the morning, early enough that it’s still dark outside. Trudging to the door, I’m not surprised to find four royal guards waiting outside. Without a word, I nod, put on my tie, and gather my saddlebags. As the guards go through them, I wake my parents. Like me, they’re quickly up and about, and gather their own bags. Once those are inspected as well, we all leave, my parents staying close to me.

It's bitterly cold as we exit the apartment building (leaving my keys at the front desk).‭ Luna’s ‬armored coach is waiting for us,‭ ‬and we quickly get in.‭ I had wondered if the Princess would escort me to the station, and I’m not surprised to see her inside. I can't say the same for my parents, as they're in awe at being able to ride with Luna, and in her own carriage, no less. But that doesn't last long, as my mother launches a barrage of questions, mostly pleas that I be treated well in the Canterlot dungeons.‭ Luna assures her that I will be given the same treatment of any other inmate, and not singled out due to my notoriety.

It isn't long before we reach the train station,‭ ‬where several more royal guards have set up a barricade,‭ ‬ensuring that there are no threats to the Princess as we emerge from the carriage. We’ll be riding on an ordinary commuter train to Canterlot, the last two cars having been commandeered for for Luna and her entourage. As we start towards the train, Luna takes off into the sky, ‭probably heading off to lower the moon.

My parents rush inside,‭ ‬wanting to get out of the cold air, along with numerous other ponies boarding the cars further ahead. I’m the only one who lingers, turning to look back at the city. I don’t have any sentimental attachment to Manehattan, but despite everything that’s happened, this was still my home.

The guards fidget. A few step towards me.

I watch the towers for a moment longer, then step inside the train.

It’s warm inside the car, and the decor is a perfect fit for royalty, with giant sofas, elegant carpeting, crystal chandeliers, and even a fireplace. My parents are surprised to be traveling in such style, and plop down on one of the luxurious sofas. I’m not caught up in the elegance and glamor. This is an elegant train, but I have no delusions about where it’s taking me.

As a grandfather clock signals the top of the hour, the car jerks as it pulls out of the station. I head to the windows and watch as we head down the tracks. It’s only a few minutes before we’re crossing the Manehattan Bridge, which, while half-collapsed, is still safe enough to allow passage.

We roll onto the mainland. And from here, I have an unparalleled view of Manehattan, which still glows in the last fragments of the night. I watch the city as long as I can, musing that when I first arrived, I was a nobody. Now, as I leave, I'm one of it's most notorious residents.

The train continues on, and Equestria’s easternmost city stands tall and proud as it fades into the horizon.

***

It isn't long before Princess Luna flies down and enters the car, her wings folding back as she sits by my parents. Two aides roll a food cart inside, loaded with warm, steaming pastries, cake, and all manner of foodstuffs. At Luna’s invitation, my parents help themselves, taking advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime experience of having breakfast with a Princess.

I don’t join them. It isn’t long before they notice, and Dad asks if I’m hungry. I shake my head, and say that I just want to be by myself for a while. But as I head to the next car, Luna motions for me to wait, and pulls a set of saddlebags from a drawer. I recognize them: they’re the bags I left at the Medicomp tower. Luna seems quite insistent that I take them.

Slinging the packs over my back,‭ ‬I enter the last car. It’s as regal as the one behind me, meant for gatherings and socializing, complete with giant windows that provide panoramic views of our surroundings. We’re currently traveling through the fields between Manehattan and the surrounding communities, giving the impression that I’m riding through a sea of grass. The sun is starting to rise, its rays creeping over the horizon.

I take a seat on the closest sofa and lean back, content to enjoy the peace and quiet for several minutes. I may not have many such moments in the years to come, and I want to enjoy it while I can.

Eventually, my mind wanders to the saddlebags Luna gave me. There isn’t much inside them, just the food and the clothes intended for my solitary journey to Canterlot. There’s no reason to hold onto them. I take the stuff out, but as the last clothing scrap comes out, I stop. Little Celestia... my gosh, I’ve forgotten about her. She looks up at me, her ever-present smile still there. I look her over, hoping that she wasn’t damaged. There’s a small crack in her side, but other than that, she’s none the worse for wear.

Relieved, I pull her out of the bag. I can let go of pretty much everything else, but I want to keep little Celestia. She’s a reminder of why I got into all this in the first place, and that wish is still good. It was just my methods that-

Wait... There’s something between her legs. A... scroll? It’s fancy, the parchment crafted from the finest materials. But most curious of all is the wax seal holding it shut,‭ ‬and the royal insignia pressed upon it.

A chill goes through me.

With shaking hooves, I break the seal and unroll the scroll. And with trembling legs, I begin to read.

Dear Silverspeak:

When my sister and I reviewed your memory,‭ ‬I saw that you wrote me a letter when you were a little colt, which I never received due to circumstances beyond our control. I hope you’ll forgive me for my late reply.

Silverspeak,‭ ‬you may think that you are useless,‭ ‬but everyone in Equestria, whether they’re an earth pony, a unicorn,‭ ‬a pegasus,‭ ‬or even other species,‭ ‬like griffons,‭ ‬dragons,‭ ‬and donkeys, are needed to help make our world such a beautiful and friendly place to live. The only way they can do that is to be true to themselves, and to use the gifts they have. You too, have a wonderful gift, and one that can change the world for the better, if you use it wisely.

You may fear that you will never find your place in Equestria,‭ ‬but I promise that if you follow what you love, you will find your purpose, even if it turns out to be different than what you expected. But don’t forget those who can help you along the way:‭ ‬your parents,‭ ‬family,‭ ‬and friends.‭ Friendship is Equestria's greatest strength, but it is the love we share that truly makes our lives beautiful.

Despite your mistakes, and some of the choices you’ve made, I've seen that you have a good heart,‭ ‬Silverspeak.‭ When the time comes,‭ ‬I look forward to meeting you,‭ ‬and I hope we can become friends.

Sincerely,

Princess Celestia‭

I read the letter again.‭ ‬And then again.‭ And then once more.

Princess Celestia... ‭She wrote me a letter‭.

I can barely keep my composure as I clutch the letter to my chest, never wanting to let it go.

***

I don’t know how long I sit there with the letter, but I don’t care. Princess Celestia herself wrote to me. She took time out of her busy schedule to write a letter specifically for me. Never in a million years did I imagine that the leader of all Equestria would do such a thing.

Eventually, I release the letter for fear of crumpling it too much. I want to hold onto it in the days and months to come, to re-read it whenever I need encouragement and hope to get me through the tough times ahead. It’s more valuable than the shiniest diamond, and to that end I carefully fold, and place it inside my saddlebag.

Just as I finish strapping the buckle down, there’s sound from the next car. I recognize it as the raised voice of Luna’s captain. He’s not happy about something. I could care less, but then I hear Luna’s voice as well. Her voice isn’t raised, but it silences the Captain. Then she says something else, and her tone sounds encouraging. But who’s she talking to? My parents? Someone-

There’s movement at the door. The handle turns, and it swings open.

Beakbreaker stands in the doorway.

For a moment, time goes still.

I can’t breathe.

Beakbreaker looks at me, and her face is like a mask, revealing neither happiness nor sorrow. Without a word, she walks to the sofa and sits beside me.

Thoughts swarm through my mind; how can Beakbreaker be here? I thought she had already departed Manehattan for parts unknown. Or is this her train, and she wants me to apologize before she leaves? Or does she just want to see me on my knees, begging for forgiveness?

Scarcely able to move, I steal a glimpse at Beakbreaker’s face. She looks... conflicted.

I turn away, unable to look at her. She probably doesn’t want to see at me. And why would she? Yes, I saved her life,‭ ‬and she knows that I was willing to sacrifice everything for her,‭ ‬but there's the manipulation,‭ ‬the nudging,‭ and ‬using her for my own purposes.‭ ‬How could she ever forgive that‭?

Wait... I remember reading, once long ago, that Medicomp has a division in Canterlot. Perhaps that’s where she’s transferring to, and this was her train. She wanted to see the observation car, and Luna let her in, but didn’t tell her that I was here.

‏I breathe deeply, my heart pounding. I need to leave. No need to make things worse by-

Something touches my hoof.

Oh great, her saddlebags fell over. I move to push them away... but it wasn’t the bags. It was Beakbreaker.

She’s touching my hoof.

I look up. Beakbreaker’s looking back at me, but through the hurt, the uncertainty, and the weariness, there’s a longing in her face. A wanting...

A need.

For the longest moment, my heart stops. I wait for her to pull away, to turn her gaze from mine.

She doesn’t.

Did... Did Beakbreaker learn that I was going to Canterlot, and asked to be transferred there as well? Did she intentionally wait for this specific train before leaving?

Did she specifically ask Princess Luna if I was back here?

Beakbreaker waits, her hoof on mine.

My lip quivers as I take Beakbreaker’s hoof in my own, and squeeze it ever so gently.

A moment passes.

Beakbreaker squeezes back, a tear sliding down her cheek.

A tear slides down my cheek, too.

Hoof in hoof, Beakbreaker and I sit together, bathed in the light of the rising sun.

Bonus Material: Original story idea and outline with commentary

View Online

When I was originally brainstorming The Monster Below, I only had a very vague idea of the story, namely, “An Earth pony will do anything to become an Alicorn.” I knew that it would be a dark tale, but still have a bittersweet ending. The very first outline I wrote (which I have since lost), went something like this:

“Silverspeak is an Earth pony who wants to become an Alicorn. To achieve this, he spends years becoming a scientist, and then gathers assistants and uses them to experiment new techniques and theories about attaching wings, horns, and magic. However, while he succeeds, his assistants are driven insane, and he comes dangerously close as well, despite already being a mad scientist. Bad stuff happens, and Silverspeak falls over the edge, and is imprisoned in the Canterlot dungeons. Princess Celestia visits him every year to try and snap him out of his madness, but Silverspeak is a wild animal, snapping at her every chance he gets.

Eventually, five hundred years later, Princess Celestia finally breaks through and manages to bring Silverspeak back. When he emerges into the surface world, it’s now a futuristic society, complete with technology and a heavy sci-fi feel. He’s also now an urban legend, a sort of boogeyman (The Monster Below refers to Silverspeak in the Canterlot dungeons, where he lost his mind). But despite the passage of time, Silverspeak’s assistants have survived, and are now rampaging around Equestria as Hulk-like monsters who have magic, and Silverspeak now has to sacrifice himself to stop them, and undo the damage he’s caused.”

This general idea had many of the elements of the final story, but still needed tweaking, and it felt too general. Thus, I wrote the following outline to refine things quite a bit. While the overall story is roughly the same, there were many points where I diverged and sought to try something different, either realizing there was a problem with the story itself, or due to getting an idea that was better than what I originally had.

Looking back on it, the original story is much darker, and has a more downer ending. I’m glad the tone was lightened, and that the real ending, while still bittersweet, is more hopeful.

My commentary on the outline, and notes on why I diverged from it every now and then, are in italics.

***

The story begins as Silverspeak lies on an operating table, having surgery to attach a unicorn horn, and the pain is so excruciating, he feels like he’s about to die. He never believed that your life flashed before your eyes, but it’s happening now.

The beginning. He was born in a remote village called Saddle Lanka along the Unicorn Range that was famed for having birthed the highest percentage of Unicorns in Equestria, and having ones of such great talent and wisdom. Starswirl the bearded was born there. But Silverspeak was the first, and only Earth pony born on record. As a result, he broke a tradition that had been going for centuries.

Silverspeak was quickly a social recluse and a curiosity. His parents were disappointed at him, for they wanted a unicorn child so badly, and even though they still love him, there’s always that little part that nags about what could have been, and although they hide it well, Silverspeak still senses it.

Worse still was the isolation. Though he went to school, he had no friends, for everyone thought he was a freak. He did well enough in classes, and graduated with good grades, but he was always alone. The school and the town’s main sin was pride. They were so proud of themselves for producing the best unicorns equestrian had ever seen that the pride drenched the halls.

When the Unicorns practiced their magic, all Silverspeak could do was watch…and occasionally be a test subject by some of the school’s most talented, yet arrogant and thuggish stallion, Mangus Bluehorn. Arrogant, and fully convinced of his own superiority, Mangus loves to torment Silverspeak, and the adults of Saddle Lanka are no help, for they believe Mangus can be the next Starswirl, and don’t want to jepordize that future with a black mark on his disciplinary record (similar to professors helping bullying football jocks get through school so that they can go onto the championships).

(Though Mangus was not directly based on any one person, he was inspired by football players at my high school who saw themselves as better than anyone else, and were very arrogant as a result. I was also inspired by reports and stories of colleges who would do almost anything to ensure that their football teams and star players can keep playing, including covering up stories of abuse and poor grades, among other things. The Penn State child sex abuse scandal was also a big factor in creating Mangus, and the desire of Saddle Lanka to create the next big Unicorn, no matter the cost.

Mangus’ name literally came to me out of the ether when I was wondering what to call him. I initially had the name, “Bluehorn,” but “Mangus” came out of nowhere. I thought it sounded powerful and threatening, so I kept it. I had never heard of it before, which made it a shock to learn that one of it’s meanings is, “A guy who gets so drunk he likes to sing to cardboard boxes.”)

Despairing of ever becoming important, Silverspeak writes to Princess Celestia, asking her for advice and help. Perhaps she can help him become a unicorn pony, and be important? She never writes back though, and Silverspeak gives up on her.

(While the letter does come into play at the very end of the story, I never thought of Celestia writing back to Silverspeak until I was working on the last chapter, and realized it would be a nice touch to have Silverspeak finally interact with the princess, even if they never meet face to face.)

Still, amongst the quiet despair of a lonely childhood, Silverspeak discovered his special talent more quickly than anyone else. He had the gift of the silver tongue. He could craft speeches that would leave crowds in tears, charm the birds from the trees, and persuade pretty much any normal pony to do what he liked. Bullies, the mean, and the stubborn were harder, but with enough time, he could do it.

Upon coming of age, Silverspeak quickly bid farewell to his home, and fled, crossing Equestria to reach Manehattan and start a new life. Using his skills as a speaker, he wrote speeches for politicians, election campaigners, and anyone who was willing to pay for his services. But despite earning a steady (if somewhat meager) income, he isn’t happy. He’s practically ignored and feels so lonely and unimportant. Even his own studies into possibly being transformed into a unicorn have gone nowhere. He watches Pegasi fly throughout the city, and watches unicorns performing all manner of magic and wonders. They’re so admired and beloved by everyone else. Silverspeak isn’t. He’s a nothing.

(The scene of Silverspeak biting Mangus felt like a nicer sendoff to Mangus, as I wanted to keep his later appearance a surprise, and realized that to have him just vanish without any comeuppance would be a cop-out.

When writing the chapter where Silverspeak starts off in Manehattan, I realized that it was a big step to have him start off by writing speeches for politicians, and that having him start at the very bottom of the social ladder would have a greater effect later on, when he manages to become an Alicorn, and the most infamous pony in the city. That was inspired by real-life tyrants, dictators, and other nefarious types who started out with humble beginnings, only to become monsters later in life. It’s more frightening to realize that anyone, no matter who they are, can go from nobody to nightmare, given enough time.

In retrospect, I don’t think Silverspeak could have afforded an apartment on a grocery store job, but I figure Equestria’s landlords don’t charge such outrageous rates as we do.)

One day, during a three day culture and arts celebration, Silverspeak watches the Pegasai and Unicorns perform. He uses a big chunk of his saved bits, and buys something wonderful…temporary wings. With an experienced guide (Soarin of the Wonderbolts, who mentions Captain Rainbow Dash), he takes his first ever flight. It’s beautiful and breathtaking…but it’s only temporary. And when his hooves touch ground once more, he make his choice.

Unicorn horns may be beyond his reach, but wings aren’t.

(This scene was moved to much later because I realized that Silverspeak should initially go for the whole package of both wings and a horn. That way, when he looses hope, it’s more effective when that hope is re-kindled after his flight.

One of my big desires in writing The Monster Below was to make it a stand-alone story that didn’t depend on constant appearances by the main characters, but neither did I want them to be completely absent as well. Thus, I wanted to sprinkle background and mid-level characters throughout, and thought that Soarin would be a good choice for this scene. If Rainbow Dash had been used, Silverspeak might have fallen into the trap of trying to outdo her, being in awe of her presence and becoming a fanboy, or treating her as an equal...which he obviously isn’t.

While I did plan to have the Mane Six show up very briefly at the climax, I did want to drop references to them every now and then. Having Rainbow Dash be mentioned as the Captain of the Wonderbolts works to suggest that quite some time has passed in Equestria since the events of the show, and that the characters have grown and changed, even if we don’t see them.

For anyone who’s wondering, I imagine that The Monster Below takes place about 50 years after the events of the show, with Twilight and the others now in middle-age.)

For a long time however, Silverspeak isn’t sure how to get his wings. Using what little money he has, he travels to Canterlot, to explore the royal library archives. He hopes to meet the princesses, but they’re out on official duties. Dejected, he spends three days searching through the archives, but all he finds is that while some different aspects of pony magic can be bestowed temporarily, no permanent transformations can be made, except with the bearers of the elements of harmony, which has happened in the past, when great threats faced Equestria.

Silverspeak tries to get into the restricted section, but he’s not allowed, as the information inside is sensitive and highly powerful, and he needs clearance to get in, which would take too long. Dejected, he heads back to Manehattan, tries to figure out what to do next.

(I changed this so that Silverspeak strictly stays in the Manehattan library, as having him constantly coming and going didn’t feel right, and I wanted most of the story to take place in one location. It would have been nice for him to be in Canterlot while the princesses were there, but it was more efficient to make the switch.)

A streak of luck. On his next commission, Silverspeak has to write grant proposals for a scientist, Beakbreaker, who is known for her fridge theories. She just can’t any work anymore, but thanks to Silverspeak’s proposal, she gets a grant, and joins a research group. She can’t offer much money, but says that if Silverspeak ever needs a favor, he just needs to ask.

(Beakbreaker was originally older than Silverspeak, and already established in Manehattan’s scientific community as the crazy gal who nobody takes seriously. I changed her to be the same age as Silverspeak, and to have her be a just-graduated student who is in the same position Silverspeak is in: trying to make a name for herself. That way, both she and Silverspeak could grow together and share many of the same disappointments and triumphs in life. Had Beakbreaker already been an established scientist, having a romance blossom between them would not have worked out nearly as well.

Glasseye was not in the original story, and was added when I realized that Beakbreaker would need to have some evidence pointing out that her ideas on limb growth and replacement could be done. Thus, I realized she would need to have worked on her ideas while still in school, and that she would need to have a professor-type character who had helped her out. I briefly toyed with the idea of Glasseye becoming a rival to both Silverspeak and Beakbreaker, but that would have cluttered the storyline, and he was allowed to leave without any further events, as he had no real place in the story.)

Silverspeak realizes what this means, and decides to play into things. He stays on as Beakbreaker’s writer, doing more and more presentations for Beakbreaker, who gains more prominence, and becomes a scientist/surgeon, all promising Silverspeak more favors. Silverspeak bides his time, because he wants to save up for the biggest thing of all. His dream to be someone, to be accepted and admired.

(Silverspeak’s dream was changed throughout the story before settling on wanting to be greater than who he is, as that was both more noble then just being famous, and makes him more sympathetic, rather then just someone who wants to be admired.

The majority of the Medicomp scenes, such as Greenhorn’s transplants, the press conference, and the public reaction, were written on the fly, as I had no idea how to get to the next story point besides, “Silverspeak writes stuff and Beakbreaker works.” This part of the finished story is a good example of writing by the seat of your pants, seeing what works, and discarding the rest.

The Summer Festival was also not in the original story, but was added to provide a place to move the Soarin test flight, and also gave an opportunity for Silverspeak’s parents to meet Beakbreaker, and begin the minor side-story of them trying to play Cupid and get the two together.)

(The Magic of the Rainbow chapter was not in the outline, but created entirely on the spur of the moment, as I relished the chance to not only do something for April Fools day, but to also act silly with the main cast of the show. While the reaction to the chapter was...unexpected, having Pinkie Pie screaming, “CHOO CHOO MOTHER BUCKER!” is one of my favorite lines in the entire story. The chapter also acted as the foundation for “My Little Sharknado,” as I wanted to try being silly for an entire story.)

Soon, Beakbreaker becomes highly recognized in surgery, and especially in creating and attaching/reattaching severed limbs and prosthetics, along with nerve-growth chemicals and gels. She even manages to create a completely self-sufficient, automatic surgical unit. And one evening at dinner, Silverspeak makes his request. He wants Pegasus wings. Beakbreaker is stunned. It’s accepted in Equestria society that you need to be the best you are. She explains that, but Silverspeak is persistent. He wants to be more then just a speechwriter. He wants to fly. He also wants to cast magic, but stays quiet, knowing that he has to take things one at a time.

(Mangus originally appeared later in the story, but I decided to move his appearance to this point to give him more time to torment both Silverspeak and Beakbreaker, and to also make Medicomp a bit more paranoid.

The dinner scene was expanded to have Beakbreaker get her award, and to include a small cameo by Octavia, one of my favorite background ponies. That also provided a more natural build-up to Silverspeak popping the question about the wings by letting the two build up to it...and also allowing me to include a sex joke. Crude? Perhaps, but I thought it would provide a good laugh, as sex seemed like the logical train of thought for Silverspeak being secretive and talking with Beakbreaker in private.)

Beakbreaker finally agrees to the surgery, but wants that it could have dire consequences. Nopony has ever tried it before, and she has no idea what the societal consequences may be.

(This was expanded to include her being worried about the effects on Silverspeak’s physical and mental health, setting the story up for when she acts on her own to remove Silverspeak’s wings and horn without his consent.)

The surgery takes place, and a pair of artificial, yet highly-realistic wings are grafted to Silverspeak’s back, along with the muscles to make them work. When the anesthetic wears off, and Silverspeak wakes, he’s stunned, yet delighted. Recovery is slow, but he tolerates it. He heads out to Beakbreaker’s remote cabin to practice. He’s bad at first, but at last the day comes when he finally manages to take his first flight all by himself. And it is blissful beyond even what he can describe.

(I realized that doing test flights over solid ground would probably be a bad idea, as falling would cripple, if not outright kill Silverspeak, and to do it over water would be a better idea. Yes, hitting water at breakneck speed would probably do the same, but that’s where the Unicorns and their magical cushions come in. Furthermore, I found the mental image of Silverspeak practicing in the calm, open sea with enormous clouds to be far more interesting than, say, a forest setting.

The idea of Silverspeak using high-altitude lack of air to knock Mangus out was not in the original story idea, but popped into my mind while writing him flying around. I wanted to show the dangers of flying that aren’t touched upon in the show, and when Silverspeak was knocked out, I realized that would be a way of beating an opponent who was superior in terms of strength and skill, but wasn’t necessarily smart. Another example of new ideas coming from the ether, so to speak.)

Upon revealing himself to the world at large, reaction is divisive and mixed. Ponies don’t know what to think of him. Some admire him, but most are repulsed. But Silverspeak doesn’t care. He finally has the affection he’s always wanted from his fans, as most of them are earth ponies like himself who feel like outcasts.

(I had very little idea where to go in the story based on this passage. I knew that I had to show Silverspeak showing off and meeting those who both adored and despised him, but had no idea how. Pretty much everything in “Celestia’s Abomination" was written on the spot, including the idea of going on tour, the heckler, and a stop in Saddle Lanka. Likewise, I initially had no idea what the objections to having wings would be, as they initially sound like a win-win situation. I had to think for a while before being inspired by current day conservative and liberal groups in religion and politics, and that they both feel threatened by changes to their way of life, and will find any reason to try and stop it, no matter how far-fetched it can seem. I tried to show all the conservative, moderate, and liberal points of view had valid points and counterpoints so as to avoid a black and white situation, but in retrospect I probably could have done a bit better at doing so.)

Silverspeak is paid a visit by Mangus Bluehorn, who, having been kicked out from Canterlot’s academy of magic (for being a bully, pretty much), has become the highest ranked investigator in Manehattan, and warns Silverspeak that he’s threading a thin line, and implies that if he has to take him down, Mangus will take delight in doing so, and hints that attempts to try and make himself too big, Mangus can pull strings and bring him down.

(As I noted before, Mangus’ reappearance was moved much further back in the story, because having him re-appear near the end of act two felt like he was coming in too late to do much besides being set up as the main bad guy, and Silverspeak’s nemesis. Having him appear much earlier gave Mangus more time to be set up as such, and also making him Silverspeak’s chief guard set up an interesting situation where he always needed to be near Silverspeak, regardless of their feelings for each other.)

Silverspeak ignores him. As the attention increases, he turns his focus to his dreams of becoming a unicorn. If he can get wings, why not a horn? There are artificial horns available, but the only work by channeling the magic within unicorns. He needs better. He heads out to a forgotten civilization, and breaks into the crypts. Sure enough, he finds the horn of an alicorn, and it’s full of magic. He takes several other horns too, delighted, and with a new idea forming.

(The idea of Silverspeak breaking into an ancient crypt was directly inspired by this picture. Initially, I had few ideas for this sequence, but imagined that it would be fairly short and easy. The difficulty would be in finding the crypt, but once Silverspeak accomplished that, it would be easy to just go inside and take the horn. However, that was too boring, so I figured Silverspeak should encounter some opposition, and that the crypt should be far harder to get. Ergo, Quiverquill was introduced to set up an ancient civilization, and a king who had gone mad with power, hinting to the reader that he’s what Silverspeak could become.

The thing that Silverspeak encounters inside the tunnels was never meant to be directly described, as I wanted to test out the idea that what you don’t see is scarier than what you do see, similar to how in the “Alien” novelization for the Ridley Scott film, the alien itself is never described. Therefore, there are no notes or lost revisions where I describe its appearance. I did imagine that when the king was entombed, those who did the act knew that there were creatures deep inside the mountains that could act as guards, and that the thing is one of those creatures. It’s intelligent, but more on the level of a chimpanzee than a human being.

The initial idea behind taking all the horns was to grind them up and mix them together to create a super-horn. It sound ridiculous in retrospect, but the idea was recycled for Mangus at the climax, and used magic instead of science, as Silverspeak would have done.

Whether or not the king is still alive at the time Silverspeak reaches his crypt is left for the reader to decide.)

Why not take the next logical step? Why not do what nopony has ever tried to do?

Why not become an alicorn?

Silverspeak’s parents come by to see him, and over a meal together, they say he’s messing with things that aren’t meant to be trifled with. They know he wants to be more, but this sort of thing is wrong. His mother tells him that there’s an old saying: within each of us is a monster that’s always ravished with hunger, and seeks to get whatever it wants. It’s a brute, and Silverspeak is feeding it. Silverspeak dismisses their concerns. He’s doing more than they ever could, and achieved more than they ever did.

Angry, he goes for a flight, to show them what he did by himself, without their help. But something goes wrong, and he crashes. There’s extreme pain from his wings, especially the muscles. A medical examination by Beakbreaker reveals that Silverspeak’s body is rejecting the muscles and wings, though Beakbreaker can’t explain why, theorizing that they just aren’t meant to be part of him. Eventually, the wings will be rejected permanently, and Silverspeak will loose them. Desperate, Silverspeak begs her to attach new wings, prosthetics, anything, but she refuses. In desperation, he threatens to quit, and shows her the horns, demanding that she attach them. He’s come this far, and is this close to achieving his lifelong dream, and he won’t stop now.

(I went back and forth on which roles Silverspeak’s mother and father were going to take, as I didn’t want his dad to be the gruff, muscular guy and his mom the sensitive type who cooks and is motherly. In the end, they can do both, but unfortunately, the stereotypes won out.

At this point in the story, I also came across an unexpected problem: I had no idea what Silverspeak’s parents names were, as they had just been called Mom and Dad up to this point, and it would have been awkward to have Beakbreaker talk to them without addressing them by their proper names (which I realized after reading about Tarot’s mom in this hilarious article about “Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose”). I decided to try for a metallic theme when naming the family: Silverspeak, Brassbloom, and Goldplate.)

Beakbreaker decides that enough is enough, and says she won’t help Silverspeak anymore, and that she’ll report all this to the authorities. Panicking, Silverspeak tries to stop her, but she blasts him with her magic, and knocks him out cold.

(A Zebra using magic? Beakbreaker was originally a pony, but shortly before writing her first appearance, I wondered what it would be like to make her a different species, as two different races forming a relationship is far more interesting than two normal ponies doing the same thing.

In the final story, I changed Beakbreaker from acting somewhat aggressively, to acting from the shadows to take Silverspeak’s wings. Having her get firm and report everything to the authorities wouldn’t exactly work, as in the outline, Silverspeak hasn’t done anything illegal. While it would have made him more aggressive and angry at being betrayed, I felt it was a better choice to have Beakbreaker act out of concern for Silverspeak’s health, and making her more sympathetic while she was destroying his dream.)

When Silverspeak awakens, he finds himself inside an oversized test tube, his wings gone. A tube next to him holds the wings, and the alicorn horn, preserving them in nutrient rich fluid, apparently used for experimentation. Furious and realizing that this is his only chance to achieve his dream, Silverspeak manages to break out of his tube, and take the wings and horn, along with the others. Beakbreaker finds him, but Silverspeak manages to momentarily knock her out, and runs into a lab, locking doors behind him as he goes, even as he hears Beakbreaker activating the lab’s emergency lockdown feature, which will summon the police and Mangus.

(This is the first of the biggest changes made to the story from the outline. When writing this, I wanted to have a bigger buildup to Silverspeak seemingly reaching the point of no-return, and to have a bigger push to reach that moment, in the form of Medicomp turning against him, his own parents turning against him, and the public doing likewise. Otherwise, having him get the horn and wings immediately felt like the story was moving too fast. It also gave me the chance to show Silverspeak’s darker, more manipulative side when he goes into the Medicomp tower and takes the wings and horn while using his gift for nefarious means.

Furthermore, I realized that Silverspeak actually knocking out Beakbreaker, while plausible, was going too far, and would be the event that Beakbreaker could not forgive him for, no matter what he did afterwords.)

Reaching the main lab, Silverspeak runs to the automatic surgical unit, and proceeds to undergo surgery…even though there’s no anesthetic. This is the scene from the opening of the story, and he manages to survive, chemicals and drugs pumping through him (including nerve growth, so as to accommodate the wings and horn), changing his body, enlarging it so that he has the full body of an alicorn.

At long last, he’s achieved his dream. He has magic, and now he can fly. All is good.

Beakbraker breaks in, tries to inject Silverspeak with a sedative to remove his attachments, but Silverspeak attacks, stops her with his first blast of magic. Beakbreaker pleads with him, saying that this is too dangerous, and that what he’s doing will only make things worse, as there are no pony is meant to handle being changed like this. The police break in, including Mangus. Not only were they triggered by the alarm, but Beakbreaker warned them about what happened, having realized that Silverspeak is now a danger to himself.

A brief battle breaks out. Silverspeak isn’t interested in fighting. He doesn’t want to fight at all, even with Mangus. He just wants to get away. To that end, he blows a hole open, steals the surgical machine, and flees into Manehattan’s sewers. He’ll protect the machine, along with all the data imprinted on it. He’ll continue to tweak and perfect himself. He’ll become a perfect being, greater than any pony before him.

(Again, having Silverspeak attack Beakbreaker felt like he was crossing a line that I didn’t want him to go over, so that idea was dropped.)

Things turn sour, however. Mangus puts out a bulletin saying that Silverspeak is dangerous, and a huge threat to public safety, planting false photos and incriminating evidence of him killing homeless unicorns to take their horns. Furious, Silverspeak heads out to denounce him. But everywhere he goes, he’s attacked, or pursued by the authorities. He’s now feared; his dreams have become a nightmare.

(Much like “Celestia’s Abomination,” I didn’t know how to have Silverspeak get from escaping Medicomp to getting captured, so this chapter was, again, written on the fly. I also couldn't resist bringing the heckler back, and having Silverspeak managing to get some payback while also facing down a huge crowd. I also felt that having him face a moral choice in choosing whether to kill his parents and the police officers was more interesting then being relentlessly hounded and feared at every turn.

The main difference in this section, and the one before it, is that I changed Silverspeak’s motivation to bettering himself by helping others, instead of just wanting fame and lots of fans. This was done to make him more sympathetic, because I realized there was the real risk of making him seem more like a jerk, rather than a misguided soul with his heart in the right place.)

Eventually, after trying a press conference to explain himself, Mangus and his forces show up, overwhelm Silverspeak and arrest him. But when he wakes up after being knocked out, he finds himself not in a cell, but in the sewers beneath the city. Mangus has the surgical machine, and is transforming his own guards and subordinates into alicorns. He explains that he never wanted to be a mere guard. He wanted to be the most famous Unicorn who ever lived. And now, thanks to this machine, he’ll get that. He’ll absorb all the power he can, and then go forth and overthrow the royal sisters, and become the new leader of Equestria.

Silverspeak tries to stop him, but he’s quickly defeated. Mangus changes, and, overcome with excitement and joy, uses his own magic to drain Silverspeak, and takes off, but not before destroying the machine, so as to ensure no one else can use it.

(The sewers were cut out of the story because they didn’t seem like an interesting place to have a big fight take place, where having them take place in the Medicomp tower during a rainstorm seemed like a better choice.

Mangus’ sadistic choice for Silverspeak was also a spur of the moment thing, as it didn’t feel right to have him take the horns, and then dash off without tormenting Silverspeak once more. Originally, he did exactly that, threatening to come back and deal with both him and Beakbreaker later, but that felt too wimpy, for lack of a better word. He needed to do something crueler, and that sadistic choice seemed like the best choice. It was also the perfect place for him to secretly reveal the ending to the story, where the reader would assume Silverspeak would avoid exactly that.)

Silverspeak finds Beakbreaker among the ruins, badly injured, and on the verge of dying. He tries to heal Beakbreaker, but doesn’t have the strength. She dies.

(The biggest change to the entire story was that, originally, Beakbreaker did die, thanks to Mangus beating her to death to torment Silverspeak. However, as I continued to write the story, I found myself really liking Beakbreaker. And with readers liking her more than I expected, including many hoping to see her and Silverspeak as a couple, I decided to spare her, figuring that to have her die would just be too cruel in an already cruel story. In a way, this is a perfect example of how the opinions of readers can alter a story in progress, sometimes considerably.

This was also going to be a double-death scene: having come up with the CEO character earlier on, I figured that he was going to bleed to death after freeing Silverspeak from his gurney. However, I decided to spare him, as I wanted to have a benevolent, reasonable boss character survive. This was also because at this point, I wanted to show Silverspeak a little mercy, and change the tone of the entire third act from a downer tragedy, to a bittersweet tragedy instead.)

Horrified at everything that’s happened, and knowing that he started it, Silverspeak realizes that it’s up to him to try and stop it. He only wanted to be important and popular, not to hurt or kill anyone. It’s up to him to try and stop what’s happening. He takes every drug he can, every chemical, and manages to get some of his magic back.

Wings beating, he flees the sewers, and emerges into Manehattan during a rainstorm. Mangus, insane with power, has gone berserk, and is attacking the city, along with his men. Silverspeak goes after him, and the two fight. The battle takes place throughout Manehattan’s towers and streets, and ends with them fighting on top of the enormous bridge leading to the mainland. But while Silverspeak manages to defeat Mangus’ guards, he can’t defeat Mangus himself. With his alicorn horn, Silverspeak has more raw power, but Mangus has skill, talent, and practice, and finally beats Silverspeak senseless.

On the verge of defeat, Silverspeak tries once more to defeat Mangus, and only manages to drag him down onto the bridge’s streets. Mangus, injured, but not defeated, almost kills Silverspeak…and just then, Twilight and the other bearers of harmony appear; having seen the destruction wrought by the two, they unleash the elements without question, and turn Mangus and Silverspeak to stone.

(The finished fight mostly played out as I had expected it, with the exception of Silverspeak now trying to not only undo what he had created, but also having to protect Beakbreaker at the same time, which added an extra incentive for Silverspeak to fight harder, and to sometimes use his brains instead of his strength. Mangus was also going to be portrayed as the stronger in the two, due to his experience and skill, and would have killed Silverspeak had it not been for the Mane Six showing up. It felt wrong to have Silverspeak fail at practically everything he does, so it was changed to the two being about equal, all things considered. It also helped to avoid making the Deus-Ex Machina moment more blatantly obvious.

Beakbreaker’s momentary death and resurrection were directly inspired by a similar scene in the James Cameron film, “The Abyss,” but I wanted to have a more supernatural feeling to it, in that if there is an unseen force that’s guiding the events of the story, this is the only time when it directly intervenes, and at the moment where Silverspeak chooses love and family over his dreams...not to imply that dreams aren’t worth following, mind you. Granted, this does have the problem of making Mangus' sadistic choice be redundant, and in hindsight, I probably would have combined both into this later scene.)

Imprisoned within stone, Silverspeak has no sensation of time, only the feeling of being half awake, and half asleep. He senses being examined a few times, and the sensation that someone is watching him, but cannot make sense of what’s going on.

Finally, someone appears, and it is revealed to be Princess Luna, who can enter the dreams of those within statue, and she explains what has happened. His efforts to become an Alicorn have happened before, far in the past, but with disastrous results, which is why the current attitude of, “Don’t f*** with your genetics” is so strong among ponykind. Had it gone on longer, Silverspeak would have gone insane, and gone on a massive killing spree. Thankfully, it was stopped.

Remembering what Mangus did, Silverspeak asks Luna about what’s going to happen to him. Luna realizes what the true question is, assures him that after interrogating Mangus, all the crimes attributed to Silverspeak have been cleared. Turns out Mangus had been following Beakbreaker’s technological developments for some time, and saw Silverspeak as a threat that needed to be eliminated. Mangus himself is still in stone, and due to his crimes of killing ponies, he will remain there for a long time, but both Luna and Celestia hope that, given time, he can be rehabilitated, even if that day is far off.

(I wasn’t sure how to approach the stoning scenes, and whether to go for the perspective that you’re not aware of anything (like when Twilight was turned to stone by the Cockatrice), or aware of everything (Discord). I decided to go for a mix, and cut out the dream idea entirely.

Mangus’ fate was originally a little more lenient, but I decided that after all he had done, and all the ponies he had crippled and murdered, he needed a much harsher penalty, but I decided that the princesses would still want him to find redemption, even if he would never be freed.

Fun fact: I originally wanted to insert a small joke where Silverspeak gets an itch on his nose, and Luna has to scratch it for him, but it ultimately didn't fit in)

Luna tells Silverspeak that he’ll need to have his wings and horns removed, as his soul cannot endure such a radical, unnatural change. Luckily, they’ll be able to undo the surgery, and make him normal again. Silverspeak doesn’t want to go through with it, but upon realizing what will happen if he doesn’t, he decides that Luna’s right, and agrees with Luna.

(When this story was originally written, Twilight Sparkle had yet to become an alicorn on the show. When the book was revised to make it more canon-accurate, Luna's rationale was changed from 'you can't change who you are' to 'change is possible, but it has to be earned, not forced, and everyone who's tried that has failed')

Silverspeak is released from stone, goes to Canterlot, gets a few days by himself as magics, potions, and surgery is prepped. He doesn’t get to see the princesses, however, as they’re busy with diplomatic matters.

(The surgical scene originally took place in Canterlot, but I figured it would be emotionally better if Silverspeak had to deal with preparing to go to prison, due to it being an awful choice that no one should ever have to deal with.

Having survived the encounter with Mangus, the CEO got a chance to come back here, and I then realized that, much like Silverspeak's parents, I had no idea what the CEO's real name is, which was changed in later revisions)

The day of surgery arrives. Before Silverspeak goes in, he get to see his parents, who assure him that, even after everything he’s done, they still love and support him. He has to learn to love himself for who he is, and to focus on improving himself with friendship, not artificial means. And no matter how long it takes, they’ll be there to help him.

Silverspeak goes in for surgery. Before he’s put under anesthesia, he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to find himself, and hopefully uncover the good side of him, rather than the monster. When he wakes up, he’ll have a new chance at finding himself, and a new life.

And so, once again on a hospital table, but this time to begin the healing, he closes his eyes. The gas flows, and everything goes dark.

(The reason this version of the ending is so abrupt is because I wanted to leave Silverspeak’s future after loosing his horn and wings to be uncertain, and open to the reader’s interpretation, and that anything could happen after he woke up. Thankfully, I realized that readers would want to kill me for ending on such a cliffhanger, and a more solid finale came up.

Looking back, it’s strange to think that Silverspeak would face no real consequences for what he’s done. At the time, I believed that Equestria was forgiving enough to realize the reasons for doing what he had done, and that the true tragedy of the story was loosing his dream. But considering some of the illegal actions he had done, I felt that Silverspeak could not get off consequence free. Still, I figured the Equestrian legal system would be far more merciful than ours is, and the story would end with the implication that Silverspeak will rebuild his life, and this time focus on what truly matters in life, and what will make him happy in the long run...family and friends.)