Chapter Five: Road To Nowhen
Leaving Provender Farm was the most difficult thing Teacup had ever had to deal with since becoming an Equestrian. The farm was more than just her work, it was her home, her family. Mister and Missus Provender were like loving parents in her mind, and Teacup cried and cried as she ambled away with Petal.
Missus Provender had both hoped for, and dreaded, this day. She had expected it to come, from the first time she had seen the quivering, half-aware mare unloaded from the Bureau cart, and carried into her kitchen. They always leave, she sighed, because that's how it must be. Still, this was another daughter leaving the farm.
Cornflower Provender shuffled her hooves, and flicked her tail nervously back and forth as she watched Teacup and Petal slowly disappear down the road to South Withers. Teacup had said she was coming back, that this was just a trip to find a cure for her sadness. That she wanted to return, and would as soon as she could. With luck, it would not even be that long a time.
But Cornflower had already raised three fillies in her life, and once they leave the farm, really leave the farm, they don't come back, save for the occasional, rare, visit.
Mister Provender nuzzled his wife. "Ya did a mighty fine job with that one, Cornflower. Mighty fine." Missus Provender turned and buried her muzzle in his graying mane. She wasn't about to let the old stallion see her weep.
Petal and Teacup stopped briefly in South Withers, once they had reached the town, to stock up on supplies for their journey. They had reasoned that the erasure of memories would almost certainly be a fairly exotic magic, and one not likely to be found in a rural setting. In all the their ten years in Equestria, neither had ever heard of such a thing, and they had seen and heard of many different forms of magic. Magic was commonplace in Equestria -every unicorn naturally expressed it- more than this there were magical plants, magical creatures and magical artifacts either within its borders, or outside them. If in a decade they had never heard of memory magic, then surely it was unusual at least, if not actually hidden away somewhere.
If, of course, such magic even existed. But, Teacup's argument that engulfing an entire planet was magnitudes greater than merely erasing a few memories carried weight. It was unlikely that if power such as that existed, that erasing memories would somehow be too hard to do.
The two ponies had decided to head first to Hoofington, which was known to have both large bookstores, and a significant library. If they could find nothing there, they could continue on to Manehattan, by way of Ponyville if need be. There was also the possibility of going the other direction, and traveling directly from Ponyville to nearby Canterlot. That destination both intrigued and frightened them.
On one hoof, if any magic such as they desired existed, Canterlot would almost certainly have it. Canterlot was the capital of Equestria, and the home of the twin princess-goddesses that ruled over the realm. Anything even vaguely important would surely be found there.
But, on the other hoof, the fact that memory erasure had not been made a part of Conversion, nor ever offered to any newfoal, sat heavily with both Petal and Teacup. It was such an obvious boon, yet it was never mentioned even as a possibility. This suggested strongly to them that such magic might even be forbidden in some way.
Neither Petal, nor Teacup wanted to do anything against the wishes of their sovereigns, nor the laws of Equestria, but their pain was great, and in the end, the only ponies that could possibly be hurt if something went wrong were they, themselves. It seemed cruel to them, if memory magic was somehow forbidden, to deny it when it could do such obvious good. They had both known what it was to live in a world where it was common to be denied basic necessities for arbitrary, even downright mean reasons. Thus they both knew what it was to find ways around rules, merely to survive. This was no different in their minds.
Thus trotting into the very heart of rule in the land and poking about for what very well might be a forbidden magic did not appeal to them as a wise thing to do. Perhaps, along the way, they could find out whether or not such magic was allowed without raising suspicion. Then they could decide which direction to ultimately take, Manehattan, or the other way, to Canterlot.
They had briefly considered daring to ask the princesses directly for help. But that, that was just crazy. Asking a living goddess to help them with their personal problems seemed frighteningly selfish and ridiculous. Worse if they were denied, or told that such magic was disallowed, then that would be the end of all their hope, forever.
South Withers was a moderately sized community, much larger than the town of Clydesdale that Petal knew. The old fairgrounds were unused now, but the many shops and stores that had grown up around the fair, before it had been moved, still thrived. South Withers had become a hub of commerce for all the farming villages nearby, and a distribution point for the things they grew.
Teacup led Petal through the town. She knew it well, having come here many times with Mister Provender over the years. She took Petal to the Toffee Tower, her favorite candy store. It wasn't really much of a tower, though it had been constructed to vaguely look like one. It would be nice to have some sweet treats on the trip.
The Toffee twins were there, as usual, Almond and Cashew. Almond was up front, at the counter, Cashew pushing a cart filled with sweets out from the back. "Teacup! How nice! Are you here with Mister Provender doing shopping today?"
Almond noticed the pony with Teacup "Oh, Hello, I remember you from the party! You're the unicorn Missus Provender sent for aren't you? The one that made the funny face!"
"Yes, that's me, I'm Petal. Howdy do!" Petal did her funny face again at Almond, which made both twins laugh.
"We're here to pick up some sweets to take with us. We're going on a journey together." Teacup sniffed at a display filled with candied flowers.
"Oooh! Where are you going?" Cashew wanted to know.
"Um... we are kind of heading to Manehattan, I think." Teacup went and collected a small basket with a handle, and began choosing sweets to put into it "We figure they might have some good bookstores there. And a big library."
"You're after books? We do have a bookstore in Withers, you know that, right?" Almond was proud of his town.
"We're after some special books." Petal had found some gummy apple drops and signaled to Teacup that she wanted some added to the basket. "Books about the mysteries of magic, thaumaturgical studies, that sort of thing."
"Hmmm... you know..." said Cashew thoughtfully "You might try the library in Ponyville. It's a small town, but it's right next to Canterlot, and Celestia herself sponsors the librarian there, or so they say. You have to go through there to get to Manehattan. Bet you could find some rare books there!"
Teacup and Petal exchanged glances. If Celestia herself was involved with the town, maybe they should avoid it. They still didn't know if what they were trying to learn was even allowed. "We'll certainly give that a try, thanks a lot!" Petal said, as cheerfully as possible.
"You still might check out Coriander's Books" Almond grumbled. "You just might be surprised."
"Well, then," Petal gave a wink to Teacup "We'll definitely have to give them a try before we leave town!" This caused Almond to brighten considerably.
Leaving the candy shop, Teacup's saddlebags bulged with the addition of not a few treats. Teacup was proud to carry the saddlebags on her back. They were a traveling gift from Missus Provender, and bore the mark of Provender Farms: a cornucopia filled with hay. As they ambled down the street, Teacup caught Petal watching her admiring the bags.
"Saddlebags are just the best, aren't they?" Petal smiled "I adore mine. I can carry so much in them, and they feel like old friends, now,"
"Missus Provender gave these to me, before I left. They used to be hers." Teacup was silent for a long while "I miss her. I miss the farm."
"We could turn back, Teacup. We don't have to do this."
"And then what? Nothing would change. We'd still feel different and alone. I, at least, would probably grow bitter as the years went on. I don't want that. No. We go on." Teacup was resolute.
"Ok, ok! Just checking. Hey, should we check the local bookstore, just in case?"
"Um... maybe." Teacup looked thoughtful for a moment "I have an idea. Coriander is a unicorn as I recall. There aren't many in these parts, you've probably noticed, being a farming community. But... we might try asking about the magic we're looking for. We might at least get some idea about how magic like that is viewed. I don't think we'll find any useful books, but we might at least learn something."
"Hmmm... I guess it wouldn't do any harm." Petal agreed "Let's go see this Super Impressive Coriander the Amazing Bookstore Unicorn then!" Petal giggled at her overly grandiose pronouncement, and Teacup just had to laugh too.
Coriander was indeed a unicorn, and he sat at the back of his astonishingly packed bookstore. It really was filled with books. On shelves. In piles behind the door. In piles on top of other piles. It was a bit of a struggle just to navigate all the way to the back without knocking over something. Teacup stepped carefully, bending this way and that so her saddlebags wouldn't topple one of the tall, barely balanced stacks.
The unicorn was old, very old, and his mane had turned the color of snow, along with much of his once blue coat. He was busy reading a large, heavy book, the glow from his horn intermittently turning pages. Coriander's gruff voice was loud in the small store "Ah, customers? I haven't had customers in a long while. You are customers, right? You're not here for directions, or to sell me something are you?"
"No. Yes! I mean, we are most definitely customers. Potential customers, to be precise. We would like to be customers, provided that you have what we are looking for, which by no means are we absolutely sure of." Petal seemed oddly flustered. Perhaps Coriander had startled her, somehow.
"Well, well! This is quite the positive development then!" Coriander turned from his book to face them, still sitting on a small, padded hoofstool. "Usually I get salesponies, or the occasional colt using my shop for hide-and-seek. I am indeed honored to have real customers! How can I help you grand mares today?" The ancient stallion grinned widely at them, his teeth yellowed but intact.
"My friend here, she's called Petal, by the way, - and I'm Teacup, howdy do - is interested in learning magic. I mean, she already is magic, she's a unicorn, she does magic of course, but..." Teacup had been surprised by Coriander, and was still unsure of how to put things "... what I mean is that she wants to learn more magic, being a unicorn and all, and well... um.. you wouldn't happen to have any books on that would you? Um, magic, I mean."
Coriander looked at Teacup for a while, as though he was sorting her out in his mind "Not really much call for magic in these parts, to tell you the truth. Now farming, I have books on that. When to plant, what to plant, what not to plant and where you shouldn't plant what you shouldn't be planting when you shouldn't be planting at all. I've got stacks of books up to here - " Coriander nodded at a particularly tall pile of books "all about farming. Mostly because what we have in this region is, unsurprisingly, farmers."
Teacup just stared, Petal however giggled happily at this strange outburst.
"In retrospect, filling my shop with books about farming may have been a mistake. Being that everyone for miles around is a farmer, and the descendant of farmers that have been farming for as far back as anyone can remember..." Coriander nodded at a huge, multiple, entwined, triple stack of books that ran all the way to the ceiling "... it should have been obvious that the last thing any of them would actually need to read would be a book about what they were already expert in." The aged unicorn sighed loudly "A bit foolish on my part, really."
"How do you stay in business, then?" Teacup felt very sorry for the poor old unicorn.
"Mostly, I farm." Petal laughed out loud at that. Coriander gave her a wink "I run an orchard just outside of Withers. I'm too old for labor anymore, so I sit here, and have hired hooves buck my peaches for me. I wouldn't have known how to do any of that except..."
"Except for all the books here!" Petal finished the bookseller's words for him.
"Yup." With that, Coriander smiled the biggest smile yet.
Coriander actually did have a small selection of books about magic, and in retrieving them for the mares to see, Teacup saw how it was that the massive stacks had been made. Watching the ancient stallion use his glowing horn to lift entire piles of books, hold them steady in mid-air, separate them, pluck individual tomes from out of the resultant cloud, then reshuffle and restack the books neatly was thrilling for her. Teacup began to wish her new friend enjoyed magic more, because it was wonderful to see. In all of her ten years on the farm, she had seen pegasai, of course -weather being quite important to the business of farming- but not many unicorns at all. She'd certainly never seen magic used on this scale.
When the show of shifting books was over, Teacup was a little disappointed. Books flying around like birds was really quite entertaining.
"Hmmm..." Petal was checking out Coriander's small selection of books on the topic of magic "'My First Book Of Basic Spells', 'How To Care For Your Horn', 'Horn Health And You', Ah!..." Her own horn glowed as she hovered a very old, small red book in front of her "'Appropriate Thaumaturgy: A Practical Guide To The Proper Use Of Magic', second edition... hmmm... University Of Canterlot. How much for this one, Mr. Coriander?"
"Let's see..." Coriander floated the book away from Petal's glowing grasp, and turned it, hovering in the air, so that he could see the inside back cover "I always write a little note inside so that I can..." The bookseller squinted for a while "Um, Teacup, was it? Can you see how much this is?" The book now floated in front of Teacup's eyes.
Teacup suddenly looked shocked. Her eyes went wide, and her pupils narrowed. "Um.... I... no... I can't..." She turned her head away, and looked down at her own flank, her ears drooping. "I can't... tell."
Petal stared at Teacup for a moment, then jumped in "How about I make you an offer, Mr. Coriander? You see, we're going on a long trip, so I can't give you a lot, but.." she brushed in front of Teacup, filling Mr. Coriander's attention entirely "...maybe you'd consider, oh, say..." Teacup realized that she was no longer on the spot, and looked up. She quietly backed up through the piles of books until she was at the front door again. Then she softly opened the door, and went outside.
Teacup sat down on the wooden sidewalk in front of the bookstore. She hung her head, and waited.
After some time, Petal stepped outside and closed the door behind her. In her mouth was the little red book. She looked at Teacup, then carefully put the book into her own saddlebags. She sat down next to Teacup.
They sat there for a little while, in silence. "The Equestrian written language is kind of difficult." Petal gave Teacup a little nudge "And there sure isn't a lot of call for it on a working farm."
"I know a few words, from experience." Teacup was studying the sidewalk intently "Flour, Apples, and I can spell 'Provender Farm' too. I memorized that from the sign at the front. There was just so much to do, and... needing to read things never really came up, it just... didn't."
"It's OK, Teacup. This isn't Earth, remember? You were taught what you needed to know for the life you were leading." Petal pondered for a moment "You know, maybe Missus Provender doesn't know how to read either. I'm sure she would have taught you, if she could have. She really cares for you, you know."
"I know she does. It's just that, before...here... only the worst... most hopeless... reading was the only way to hope to get the degrees necessary to even have a job and..." Teacup faltered.
"Like I said, this isn't Earth. Here, farming is valued. It's vital. Knowing how to grow things is important here... and whatever it was you knew as a human really doesn't matter anymore. Well, probably doesn't. What did you do?"
"Nanofabrication science. I was a Nanofabricator for Eastcorp. Programming and... hopper maintenance." Teacup played with her front hooves, making little clopping sounds on the sidewalk "I studied for four years, all while living on the street to get that job. I pulled myself out of the favela. Just for a little respect, just for... I studied so hard..."
"Teacup, you are a fine mare, and you are not a human. You are a pony, a farm pony, and I am proud to be friends with such a highly respected farmer from such an amazing place as Provender Farms!"
Teacup looked up, finally, and found Petal's eyes utterly serious, and utterly without guile. She meant every word, and it shone from her like sunshine.
"We're really friends?"
Petal giggled loudly, and the whole world brightened. She nuzzled Teacup "Of course, you silly goose. I liked you from the moment I met you. Now, let's get going!"
"I'm a pony, not a goose." Teacup had raised her head, and her ears had lifted up high again.
"But if you were a goose, I just know you'd be good at that, too."
In that moment, Teacup suddenly decided that she very much liked having Petal Confetti for a traveling companion.