Chapter Six: Tears
saddlebags weighed heavy on her back as she and Petal Confetti
trotted down the endless dirt road. The deep wagon and cart ruts they
had been following were gone, running off and away to the east,
towards far Fillydelphia. The two had considered going to
Fillydelphia, for there surely must be many bookstores in such a
large city, but had reasoned that more possibilities existed if they
kept to their original plan, Manehattan by way of Ponyville.
Fillydelphia was relatively isolated, and there were several
possibilities to find what they were seeking, one after another, on
the road to Manehattan.
seemed to be enjoying the trip, and often hummed or sang little
songs. Teacup enjoyed these musical moments, because she didn't know
any songs, and in any case she definitely couldn't sing. While she
had never actually tried to sing anything in her new pony
body, she had always assumed that her lack of ability in the human
world would naturally carry over, so she had never bothered to even
try. A part of her wished she could join in with Petal, but it was
enough to be cheered by Petal's lovely voice.
Petal would become distracted by something as they traveled, slowing
progress a bit. There always seemed to be a new, tastier flower just
around a bend, or a party-colored swarm of butterflies to admire, or,
even a shining lake or pond that reflected the vast, blue sky.
Equestria was truly beautiful, and Teacup had come to think of her
land as ever more like a storybook than she had previously considered.
been hanging back for awhile, darting from flower to flower, sniffing
them and commenting on which ones were spicy or which were sweet. She
had been on Teacup's right, now she was on her left, trotting up
beside her. She seemed to be studying Teacup's saddlebags as she
passed her flank and came up even with her.
interesting. Teacup, I just noticed that you don't have a
cutie mark. I've never seen that in a fully grown pony before. I
didn't know it was possible, actually. I don't want to make you feel
uncomfortable or anything, but I can't help being curious about this.
If you don't mind me asking, how?, why?, what?... I'm kind of
not much to tell, Petal. It just never happened for me. I love my
work on the farm, I love the farm, I thought I was pretty good at it
- the Provender's seemed to think so too - it's just that no Mark
ever showed up for me. Missus Provender always figured that it was
just because I was a newfoal, and that I shouldn't worry about it.
But, after meeting you..." Teacup trailed off, a little unsure
of what to say next.
see: I'm a newfoal, just like you, but I have a cutie mark. I guess
you haven't had much contact with other newfoals until I arrived? I
understand. It is all very strange and mysterious, these
things -" Petal nodded her head at her own Mark, just barely
visible underneath the edge of her own saddlebags "how they just
appear, and why, and how they somehow 'know' to represent something
about a pony's life. It's like magic has a mind of it's own that can
make decisions about such things... or maybe somehow we ourselves
magic the Marks into whatever they become." Petal shook her pink
mane "I ain't got a clue!" she said the words with a
lilt in her voice, and smiled.
How did you get your Mark, Petal?" Teacup asked, a little hesitantly.
began Petal "My situation was a little odd. I was with friends,
and we were running from the HLF, you know, that old 'Human
Liberation' thing that thought they could fight Equestria? We were
flying over the ocean, trying to get to the Barrier, being shot at
the whole way by a helicopter. It was kind of scary."
I had no idea, Petal! Wow, I'm really sorry - that must have been
was ten years ago, and...obviously I survived! Anyway, we made
the barrier, but the copter couldn't stop, so it plowed right
through. It broke up because..." Petal looked uncomfortable for
a moment "...there was something in it that couldn't get past
the barrier, and that tore the machine apart." It took a few
moments for Teacup to grasp the implication, and then, briefly, her
eyes widened, and it was clear she was disturbed by the thought.
Petal gave Teacup a little nudge "as the copter parts fell, the
magic of Equestria took over, and they changed. They just... changed.
Into flower petals. They fell down like a colorful rain. It was just
beautiful. I had been so frightened, so terrified, I was sure I
wasn't going to make it, and suddenly, I was safe, I was in
Equestria, and the thing that had been trying to kill me had become
colorful confetti in the air! I was soooo relieved. I just started
laughing. I laughed all the way to the ground. The relief... I can't
even describe how much I felt, it was overwhelming."
imagine it was! What a scary thing! I'd be hysterical by that point,
kind of was, actually. They had to calm me down. When I finally got
around to being able to help my friends again, I noticed I had gotten
this -" Petal tried to shift her walk so that her cutie mark, a
pink streamer surrounded by confetti, could be seen, but all that
happened was that her haunches swayed dangerously, and she almost
tripped "- I guess the relief made me so happy, that
it kind of changed me. I used to be so serious all of the time. Not
just some of the time, like now, but, I mean, every moment."
kind of decided to become a party pony at that point" Petal
smiled "I just wanted to keep feeling as happy as I could after
all of that, and to let others feel happy too. Also, I kind of wanted
to honor someone who had helped me, once. When I was settled in
Clydesdale, I threw my first party, and I chose my name. Petal
Confetti, because that is what that copter looked like, after it had
changed. Like flower petals falling like confetti. My salvation,
thanks to the magic of Equestria."
I mean, just... wow." Teacup was speechless. She had
experienced many narrow escapes in her human life, and a few failures
to escape as well, but never anything properly adventurous like what
Petal described. For Teacup, even a successful escape had meant
returning to the usual nightmare, and never a true happy ending.
except for her last minute escape from Earth itself, she thought.
That turned out alright. Better than alright. Suddenly Teacup missed
the farm and Missus Provender again.
know that look." Petal leaned in "Tush, tush, you'll see
Missus Provender again. And the farm. And Mister Provender. You'll be
back there in no time."
how did you know? That I was thinking that, I mean?"
your ears droop suddenly, it's a pretty good guess as to what you're
feeling, Teacup." Petal looked into the distance ahead "If
I had a Missus Provender and a Farm, I'd probably feel the same way."
you have a home in Clydesdale?" Teacup asked.
have a room, and I have ponies I know, and I am sure they like me.
But I don't have a home. Not exactly." Petal fell silent
after that, so Teacup let things be. The two continued down the road,
impossibly steep mountains on the right, and an increasing number of
trees on the left.
walked on that way for a long time.
late afternoon, before they spoke again. They had fallen into a kind
of silent trudge that anyone on a long journey eventually settles
into, where the act of walking becomes almost hypnotic. But something
stopped. She sniffed the air. She sniffed it again. "Petal?"
stopped and turned around "Teacup? What is it?"
It's going to rain." With that Teacup looked up from the dusty
road, and Petal joined her, to look at the sky.
two walking ponies, flying pegasai could be seen soaring back and
forth, stacking fluffy clouds as though they were building a pillow
fort in the sky. A number of the winged ponies could be seen working
together to push and prod a gigantic, dark raincloud into position,
tucking it into the smaller, fluffy clouds, gradually blotting out
Hello!" Teacup called up to them, but either they were too high
up to hear, or too intent on what they were doing to answer. She
turned to Petal "See the big, dark clouds they are bringing in?
They do that when they are behind schedule. This is going to be a big
one, maybe even a storm. I'll bet that they forgot a regularly
scheduled rain in these parts, and they're having to make up for it.
Happens a lot more than they like to admit, you know."
you sure know a lot about the weather!" Petal seemed impressed.
with living on a farm. 'Course there, we negotiated directly with
the pegasai for the weather we needed. Every month a pegasus
representative visited the farms, and worked out the schedule. We had
a few commotions over it all, too -sometimes one group of farms
wanted more rain, and others didn't and that sort of thing. Of
course, if you paid extra, you could get personal attention, rain on
just your farm or whatever. But nobody much wanted to pay extra, so..."
Sounds almost like Earth there. So how bad did the arguments get?"
terribly bad or anything. Things were pretty much resolved with
various deals involving pies and offers of help and such. We called
it 'weather barter'. Four pies could get Old Farmer Roan to agree to
less rain so the wheat wouldn't get soaked, that sort of thing. It
was more like fun than actual trouble. Though there was that one time
with the Epona brothers...I thought Missus Provender was going to
buck one of them right in the flank." Teacup smiled at the memory.
what do you think we should do about this situation? I don't think we
can get their attention," Petal nodded up towards the Pegasai
far above "and even if we could, I'm not sure we have anything
to offer them to hold off on the rain."
need to find some shelter. This is going to be a doozy, I think.
They're really bringing in the big clouds. I've never seen such big
ones before. Maybe it's because we're between towns, so they figure
they can let loose and make up for lost rain." Teacup scanned
their surroundings "I'm not sure where to go. We're kind of in
the middle of nowhere."
true. The dirt road stretched on behind and in front of them, to
their right were tall peaks, and to their left dense forest. The
forest did not look pleasant, for it was an extension of the
Everfree, and the world just didn't work correctly in there.
Teacup tried shouting again, in unison, attempting to signal the
remaining pegasai above. The fliers had almost finished packing the
sky with dark, ominous clouds, and almost no trace of blue was left
in the sky, except over the forest. There was no point in trying to
manage the weather of the Everfree, so the pegasai just didn't bother.
bad could a storm like this get, Teacup?" Petal sounded a little concerned.
heard stories over the years. The pegasai like throwing big storms,
they even have a competition, or so I've been told. Pretty bad, I expect."
Petal nervously shuffled her hooves on the road "There's no
storm over the Everfree. Maybe if we are very careful, and stay
really aware, we can take shelter in the forest just until the storm
is over. What if we go in, only a little ways, and just be
really, really unobtrusive. We don't touch anything, we don't eat
anything except from our bags, and we generally do not interact with
the forest at all. What do you think?"
agreed. "I can't think of a better solution at the moment, so,
let's do that."
mares gingerly approached the edge of the nearby spur of Everfree,
and tried to find a way in that did not involve plowing through
unknown underbrush or some strange plant.
the first drops of rain wet their flanks, Teacup and Petal managed to
find a small path into the eerie forest. The instant Teacup stepped
across the threshold between Equestria and the border of the
Everfree, the feeling of the air changed. The already dim light
seemed darker, and the smells of the world changed instantly. One
moment the pleasant air of Equestria, the next her nose was filled
with a steamy jungle of strange scents and curious odors.
It was a
different world inside the Everfree, and it did not feel like home.
Carefully, the ponies picked their way into the forest, careful to
avoid anything that looked even vaguely odd. They had heard many
stories over the years about the Everfree, and pretty much none of
them were happy stories. In time, they felt themselves beyond the
possibility of lightning or being soaked, and what they could see of
the sky through the canopy of leaves was blue. But they still heard
the loud rumble of thunder, and occasionally a particularly bright
flash of lightning from beyond the forest would illuminate the trunks
of the trees. It was a strange experience: warm, blue sky forest
around them, yet a raging storm only a few hundred feet away, just outside.
found a small clearing, where the forest floor was mostly empty of
plants -at least strange plants- and the trees formed a sort
of circle around them. They decided to lay down near the edge of the
clearing where they had entered, and wait out the storm, while
keeping an eye on everything around them. Strange beasts, monsters
even, were said to live in the forest, and neither pony wanted to
become dinner for some fantastic creature.
stayed that way for some time, breathing quietly, ears scanning the
forest for any sign of approach. Teacup and Petal glanced furtively
about, looking for any movement through the trees. But nothing
happened, and in time they began to relax. Maybe the Everfree forest
was not quite as dangerous as it had been made out to be.
decided that the time waiting could be put to good use, and she
turned her neck and rooted about in her left saddlebag with her
muzzle. She brought out the little red book she had bought at
Coriander's, and set it in front of her. She studied the tome for a
bit, silently mouthing the name on the cover 'Appropriate Thaumaturgy'.
"Keep watch, Teacup, I'm going to check out this book, and see
what I can learn about the rules of magic while we wait, OK?"
sighed, then closed her eyes briefly. Her horn began to glow with a
faint, soft light. Though Teacup was watching the forest carefully,
her eyes couldn't help but drift to watch, for this was the first
time she had ever seen Petal use her unicorn magic.
red book began to glow with the same soft light as Petal's horn. The
book lifted off the untidy leaves littering the forest ground, and
hovered inches above them. Then it suddenly rotated so that the spine
faced the ground. Finally, the covers parted, like a bird opening its
wings for flight.
flipped making little whipping sounds until the frontispiece and
title showed. The image illustrated by the frontispiece was of
Princess Celestia smiling at the reader, surrounded by curled banners
and decorative flourishes. The banners were covered in the
pictographs that made up the Equestrian written language: horseshoe
shapes, star shapes, horse-like marks, glyphs that resembled stylized
lightning bolts, unicorn horns, crescents, spirals and other simple
shapes. Teacup had grasped that Equestrian writing was more likely an
ideographic script rather than a phonetic one, her earthly background
in programming had let her see that much. But trying to learn such a
written language at her age seemed daunting to her.
apparently not been too daunting for Petal, however, and though Petal
was the younger pony, she was still well past the language window for
humans. Then again, they were no longer human. This encouraged Teacup
somewhat. Maybe learning to read an ideographic script might be
easier her, as an Equestrian, if she gave it a try.
suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be keeping watch while
Petal examined the book. She whipped her head upright from where it
had gradually crept closer to the little red tome. Teacup scanned the
trees around them, looking for any movement, and swiveled her ears
back and forth to catch any approaching sound.
this book was once part of the university library. I wonder... how
it ended up all the way out in South Withers?" mumbled Petal, as
she flipped a page with her horn "Let's see, basic magical
froze. Her breathing stopped as her heart skipped a beat. The shape,
dark and curious, moved against the dim light that shone from breaks
in the forest canopy. The round silhouette almost bobbed, like a cork
in water, only very slowly, like a balloon drifting on the breeze. It
was huge, surely as big as the largest bull, and there seemed to be
some kind of projections coming up from the top of it. There was no
sound, but the air had changed, somehow, and in her bones Teacup felt
an inexplicable, sudden dread.
Petal. Shhh. Petal!" she squeaked, nudging her friend
with her head. Petal looked up "Huh? What is it?"
Petal spoke in a frightened whisper "Something..." she
motioned with her nose "There!"
horn went out. The book dropped to the leaves, making a soft, quiet
thump. Her eyes focused on the dim shape. After a moment she spoke,
soft and low: "It...it can't be. It better not be. No. No-no-no-no..."
is it, Petal?" Teacup barely breathed.
very still, be very quiet. But if I say run, run as fast as you can,
and don't look back. Understand? Just run."
won't leave you." Teacup was adamant.
and you won't argue. If anything happens, you just run, promise me."
Petal had a look in her eyes that only a creature that had known the
terrors of Earth could possess, the look of one who knows hopelessness.
said nothing. The two huddled close to the ground, wishing they were
physically closer, just for the comfort, but not daring to move lest
they make some noise. Their breathing was shallow, and Teacup felt
her blood had turned to ice water.
distance, the storm raged on, beyond the boundaries of the forest.
The sound of it, dulled by the thick trees, was a welcome cover, one
that would hopefully help to hide any sounds from them. But the fact
was that they were both in an open clearing, and as much as the sound
of the storm might blot out their ragged breathing, they were not
hidden from view.
stopped, bobbing slowly in place. Teacup could now see that it was
indeed round, like a ball, and she could not see any legs. Did it...
float somehow? She briefly imagined some cute, whimsical balloon
creature, friendly and party-colored like a pony. But this thing did
not seem colorful, rather it was shadow and grey, and the way she
felt inside, it was not easy to imagine that it was friendly. Indeed,
it felt like her memories of life in the favela on earth, and she
flashed briefly back to the night she lost her human ear.
gutteral hissing came from the shape. It almost sounded like some
kind of language, but if it was, it was the most awful speech Teacup
had ever heard. The shadow approached the clearing, spotlights of sun
from the canopy sliding over a scaled, spherical form. Teacup could
see the thing now, at the far edge of the little clearing, and for a
moment her breath stopped entirely.
perhaps eight feet in diameter, and hung in the air, low to the
ground. A sphere covered in scales, with one vast, soulless eye
filling the front. Below the great eye was a ragged gash of mouth,
opening and closing as if tasting the air. Inside the mouth were rows
upon rows of dagger-sharp teeth.
spherical creature had no arms or legs, but above, on top, almost
like a crown, it had ten thin stalks, each of which blossomed into a
small eye. Each of the ten tiny eyes swiveled and moved upon their
scaly stalks. Teacup had never seen anything like it, and had never
imagined anything so terrible, even in her worst nightmares.
eyes of the strange beast gradually converged on one point, which to
the horror of the two Equestrians was clearly them.
The word was flat, almost mechanical as Petal said it "Get
ready to run." It was not a friendly suggestion, it was an
spherical abomination slowly floated towards the two ponies.
you for having been my friend. Now... RUN!!!" Petal
Confetti suddenly sprang up, more like a jungle cat than a pony, and
ran straight at the monstrous horror. "RUUUNNNN!!!" she
shouted as her battle cry. And to her shame, Teacup could not help
but follow Petal's command, her terrified legs acting of their own
volition, utterly ignoring what she wanted to do. Her body disobeyed
her will and she found herself crashing through the brush and
undergrowth, as fast as her hooves could carry her, toward the edge
of the forest, and the storm.
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