Chapter Eight: Working For Change
Teacup made another batch of biscuits. Mr. Nibbles -everyone in the restaurant just called him 'Tasty'- trotted over and watched the violet-maned mare as she stirred with a spoon in her teeth. "Just wanted to say that our business has gone up ever since you arrived. Good job Teacup!"
Teacup grinned around the long, wooden spoon. She enjoyed working at 'Nibbles', and the bits she was earning were just what she and Petal needed.
Somewhere, across town, Petal was out doing courier work for Speed Pony Delivery. Although she was not a fast, flying pegasus like the image on their logo, she had background enough, and skills enough, to be hired. Together they brought in sixty bits a week. They had a three-day work week, like most Hoofingtonians, overlapping their jobs with others who shared their positions. The bits were piling up, even with rent and the occasional feast. This was more money than either had ever made in their lives out in the country.
Both had quickly realized, after their first day in Hoofington, that travel was going to be much more expensive than they had imagined, and if they were going to see their quest through, they would need the bits to do it. Working for a while in the city was an excellent way to make the bits they needed quickly, and so they had gone out and found employment.
For Petal, it was fairly easy; her background in delivery fit well with the need for couriers at Speed Pony. But Teacup had only ever worked on a farm, and for the first week, she was at a loss. Petal assured her that she needn't worry so much, that her Speed Pony job was sufficient to support them, and it was just that it might take a little longer to save up for travel.
Teacup didn't like feeling useless, though, so as she wandered the streets each day, she struggled to find something she could do in the big city.
She turned a corner and smelled something that filled her with happy memories; the same sort of oat smoothie that Missus Provender had made for her long ago. Following that smell had led her to 'Nibble's Country Kitchen'. The help wanted sign encouraged her, and a quick demonstration of Missus Provender's Prize Winning Biscuits sealed the deal with the owner, Tastee Nibbles.
She had been working at the restaurant for six weeks now, and had proven herself to be an excellent employee. It was already clear that Mr. Nibbles wanted her to stay indefinitely, further, she was enjoying her new life in Hoofington so much that it was all too easy to forget entirely about her original plan.
Hoofington held many fascinations for Teacup and her friend Petal. There were shows to see, plays and musicals and strange avant-garde performance pieces the like of which neither had ever imagined. There was certainly no shortage of interesting and delicious foods from all over Equestria, and the temptation to 'eat fancy' every night was great. It became harder and harder to save up to continue their journey when the excitement of the city called out to them.
One night, at a cafe they had come to frequent, Petal broached this issue.
"Hoofington has been pretty darn good to us. What do you think, Teacup?"
Teacup bit into a crunchy roll and then sipped her water thoughtfully "It really has been good. I can't remember having this much fun. I hate to say it, but I find myself forgetting about the farm. I mean, the musical last night - that was just great!"
Petal giggled "It was pretty funny, too. Remember the part where the magical chicken sang?" it hadn't been a real chicken, of course, but the costume worn by the performing pony had been particularly whimsical.
"Gosh, yes! That was awesome!" Teacup giggled with Petal at the memory. "These past weeks have just been great!"
"I've been thinking... in all of that time, have you once had any troubling memories?" Petal had a strange look on her face.
"Huh? I don't know what you mean."
"About Earth. About before." Petal said the words quietly, as if afraid another table might hear.
"Oh!" Teacup was slightly startled "That. Funny... I really haven't. Not once. It's like all of that just went away for me. I haven't thought about any of that since I started working at 'Nibbles'. It's kind of strange. I guess there's just so much else to think about here."
"You know, we don't strictly have to continue the plan. We're making decent money, if we wanted to, we could even move to a bigger place. We could stay in Hoofington... for a while." The way Petal had said 'a while' somehow suggested a very indefinite period of time indeed.
Teacup fell quiet for a moment. "Is... is that what you think we should do? What if we start feeling sad again? It isn't like our pasts have gone away." She looked uncomfortable now "Besides... I worry about Cornflower and Durum, back on the farm. I feel a little guilty having all this fun, while they're stuck without any help. Harvest will be coming up in a month or two..." Teacup's voice trailed off and her ears drooped a little.
"It was just a thought, Teacup. Just a thought." Their main course had been brought by a unicorn waiter, who floated their plates down to the table. "This looks tasty! One thing is for sure - we eat pretty well here." The unicorn smiled at Petal's comment and turned to another table.
"I did think of one thing, though." Teacup sounded strange and serious now.
"What?" mumbled Petal through a mouthful of pasta.
"Back when... when we were in the forest. When you were turned... when you were in trouble." Teacup hadn't touched her pasta yet "I was really afraid, and I couldn't turn back from the road."
"But you did! You were brilliant, Teacup! You kicked that creatures' ass! You totally rocked that thing! You saved us both!"
"I never could have done that, I really would have just run away, except..." Teacup's face contorted with strong, mixed emotions.
"Except... for what, Teacup?" Petal had stopped eating to pay more attention to her friend.
"I remembered my life on Earth. I remembered my days in the favela, in the slums. I remembered what it meant to be human. I felt like...." Teacup's head sank "...Like the biggest monster in that forest. Like I was the real monster, and when I felt that, I felt like I could kill that thing."
Petal broke the silence that followed Teacup's words "Then I am grateful to your days in those slums. You saved my life, Teacup. If that part of your past gave you the courage to fight, then I am grateful for it, as I am grateful to you." Petal paused for a moment "'Eat me too! I can't live without her!' - that was just the cleverest trick ever!"
"It wasn't entirely just a trick." Teacup stared at her pasta "I wasn't... I couldn't just leave you like that. I couldn't have lived with myself if I had."
Petal looked at Teacup for a bit "Then I guess that makes you my Bestest Friend Ever, Teacup!"
When Teacup looked up, she was greeted by a soft smile that somehow shone brighter in her heart than the biggest grin. "Best friends?" she asked.
"The very best." Petal was definite.
Several weeks passed after that, with work and the delights of the city consuming the pair. They discovered the park, and enjoyed strolling its beautifully cultivated gardens. They found that Hoofington had a concert hall, and found the charms of the symphony. They spent a very silly afternoon in a toy store, imagining an Equestrian childhood they had never known.
Then one day, they chanced across the bookstore.
Unicorn Books was an entire store dedicated to books about magic. Thaumaturgy was their specialty, and their stock. Row after row of tomes, thick and thin, inexpensive pamphlets as well as incredibly costly tomes filled the tidy shelves. New books, rare books, even a section in the back devoted to ancient scrolls, carefully preserved inside a glass case, greeted their astonished eyes.
The two newfoals wandered in silence. They had never seen a bookstore like this. It seemed somehow sacrilegious to speak above a whisper. This feeling did not extend to the sharply dressed, monocled unicorn that approached them "May I be of assistance today?" he boomed, in a voice that made Teacup jump a little.
"We...I am interested in..." Petal apparently felt the same way as Teacup did "Ahem. Let me start again." Teacup could tell that Petal was putting on a false persona. "I and my assistant here are intrigued by the relationship between thaumatic practice and mnemotechnics."
Teacup was always impressed when Petal pulled out the part of her that had, as she had once explained, 'been sort of a unicorn' even back when she had been human. Petal clearly had a head full of all sorts of knowledge and thoughts that she tended to keep hidden behind her light-hearted personality, and Teacup found it fascinating when that side of her friend showed itself.
"I have a theory - more of a hypothesis, really - that thaumatic forces underlie the functions of the mind, specifically the domain of memory itself. Are we magical beings merely inhabiting flesh, as one would clothing, and can it be proven? I think it can, and the answer must lie in the way that memories are retained, for memory is existence itself -without memory there would be no knowledge of idenity, do you see?" Petal, in that moment, seemed like the most distinguished of researchers. It also helped that she had left her aging saddlebags at home.
Canter Star, the proprietor, was intrigued by Petal's concept "I see, I see... a most interesting premise. I think we may be able to be of some assistance. This way. I assume you are with the college of magic? Of course you are, this way, this way."
Petal did not feel inclined to disabuse the well-appointed unicorn of his assumptions, thus she and Teacup followed after him silently.
An entire row had been given to spells that affected consciousness and the mind, and it was clear that this was a section not appropriate for general use, but instead reserved for those involved in higher research, likely with some kind of clearance. Mr. Star left them there; thankfully another pony had entered the store, eliminating the need for further interaction, which might have accidentally revealed their true backgrounds.
Teacup kept watch on the bookstore proprietor, while Petal scanned tomes as fast as she could. When Teacup looked down briefly, she saw Petal using her horn to levitate multiple volumes, while simultaneously flipping through their pages at a rapid pace. Raising her head again, she saw Mr. Star busy with a new pair of unicorns that had just entered. They were dressed as if they had just come from a very fancy party in the wealthiest part of town.
Teacup heard a book slam shut behind her, an almost palpable 'thwap'. As she turned her head, she saw books slamming back into the shelf. "Ok, let's go." Petal motioned with her nose in the direction of the door. Teacup knew to follow Petal's lead, and they made their way to the exit. Mr. Star was occupied, so Petal used her horn to stifle the bell above the door until they were outside, and the door closed behind them.
They were some blocks away before Teacup spoke "So? What did you learn? What happened?"
Petal's ears flicked as if she had been awakened from some deep reverie. "Magic that affects the mind and the memory is surprisingly easy to learn. You can even figure out how to do it on your own, apparently, if you just know some simple basics. But..."
Petal stopped at the corner and turned to Teacup "There's a catch. All of that sort of thing is considered dangerous magic, because it can potentially violate the free will of others, and that is a big no-no in Equestria. There are some surprisingly serious punishments for playing with any of it, and the suggestion exists that..." Petal looked left and right as if worried about being overheard "There is apparently a garden near the palace in Canterlot, a garden with a hedge maze. Outside that garden are statues. Some are creatures, but most are ponies, just like us. They date back centuries."
Teacup wasn't sure what Petal meant. "Statues, Ok, so...?"
"There is some speculation that those statues used to be living ponies. Ponies that may have used magic... incorrectly."
"Wait a minute. Capital punishment? In Equestria? I don't believe that!" Teacup felt like her world had just turned upside down.
"Think about it. What would you do, if you were Celestia, or Luna, and somepony started, say, raising an army of mind-controlled citizens, or started using mind magic for some terrible scheme?"
"But...but nopony would do that! These aren't humans here, Petal! They have no guile, no evil in them! They don't even know what war is, they don't even have police, because they don't have crime!" Teacup was not happy at any of this.
"Celestia has royal guards. Why would the Goddess of the Sun have guards. Armored guards?"
Teacup was feeling upset with Petal. "Griffins! Monsters from the Everfree like we fought! Dragons! There are all kinds of creatures that could suddenly show up! It doesn't mean she needs guards to protect her from evil ponies!"
"Not evil." Petal stared at her "Just misguided. They probably thought they were trying to help some cause or some purpose that might benefit everypony. Doesn't make them any less dangerous, though, if they were to refuse to stop."
"That's even worse! I won't accept that!" This was the first unpleasant conversation Teacup had ever had with Petal. It was bordering on an argument. "Celestia would never do such a thing! Ponies would never do... well... even misguided they wouldn't refuse... and if they did, Celestia definitely wouldn't do what you suggest. She wouldn't!"
The two mares crossed the street, and walked towards their room at the Coronet in silence.
When they had finished their preparations for bed, Petal brought the topic up again.
"You saved me because you remembered your hard life on Earth. You crippled or outright killed that monster, even though you are a pony, just like anypony else. Equestrians may be innately kinder than humans, I won't argue that point, in fact I agree. I am certain that the Equestrian brain is wired for compassion, cooperation, and simple kindness in ways the old human brain never was." Teacup really didn't want to deal with this, but Petal needed to talk.
"Pony or not, you still had the capacity to take extreme action when you needed to. When you felt it was justified." Petal gave Teacup a little half-smile, trying to defuse the tension "All I'm saying is that even a gentle creature can become potentially dangerous, if a convincing justification is there. And magic is vastly more dangerous than any gun. Teacup, I saw relatively simple spells in those books that, if misused, could turn an entire city against itself. Trivial spells."
Teacup's mind could not help but race ahead where the implication led; if trivial spells could do that, then a serious spell could... do almost anything? How could a pony with that kind of power be controlled, if they were certain they were in the right?
It was a very long, and very troubling night, and neither pony got as much sleep as they wished.