Embers Fall

by CrimsonWave

19 - ???

Back in Reino, Sun Beamer and Blast Furnace spent the day doing some errands in preparation for tomorrow's expedition. Among other things, they finally got to have some lunch at the Final Furlong ("It was worth waiting 14 hours just to get a table. 5/5, would eat here again"), and then spent the early afternoon doing photo shoots to fill Blast Furnace's auto-post queue on Ponygram. They spent the rest of the day lounging around in their hotel room (one with beds that didn't fall apart the moment you got on them, mind you), but Sun Beamer still had one more errand of his own to attend to.

Via text messages, Diamond Diablo had given Sun Beamer her username on a messaging app called Haybale, and instructed him to add her there.

"Have you ever heard of Haybale before?" Sun Beamer asked.

"Actually, yes. They launched a beta about a month ago, and it was made by some ponies who are Gathering regulars." responded Blast Furnace.

"Does it do anything special?" replied Sun Beamer, who was becoming intrigued by it.

"It supports something called 'mesh networking'; if there's no internet connection, it activates a mode that routes messages via everyone else's phones." explained Blast Furnace. "They said it would be very useful at the Gathering, given that there's very little cell or internet service out in the Neighvada Desert."

Sun Beamer could see why the Diablo would want him to use a messaging service that theoretically worked anywhere (well, anywhere there was a high concentration of fellow Haybale users, that is).

Friend request accepted

ddiablo#50920 connected to ddiablo#50920 via internet relay server west.haybale.pony

"Greetings, yellow one who is also a chaotic one I guess." read Sun Beamer, "Well, that is the screen name I use for a lot of things, though I think I'm more of a gold-orange than yellow."

He awaited a response from the Diablo; "Welcome to Haybale; this is a messenger that was developed by one of my friends. It actually works anywhere."

"What's she talking about?" Blast Furnace asked.

"She's just bringing up the things about Haybale you were talking about earlier." clarified Sun Beamer. "Except for the fact that she's a friend of one of the developers, so I guess that's why she's pushing it too."

"Fair enough; it's a small world." noted Blast Furnace.

Diamond Diablo had asked Sun Beamer to provide some additional information about his previous encounters with Obscurus Noctis&emdash;especially those which concerned the illusion spell she had been using.

"You told me this happened a few minutes after Swedish Horse Mafia's set at the Solstice Fortress stage, right?" asked Blast Furnace.

"Yeah. You never leave before 'Save the World'. Especially if you're the one who flicks the switch for the pyro." noted Sun Beamer. "Not that I was the one specifically doing it. My shift was already over by then. Plus a lot of it is computerized too."

"I did see you a few times, especially on Saturday and Sunday night." recalled Blast Furnace. " I think I may have actually seen you under the influence of that spell; to get from QTrot to the Moonbase, you had to pass by the main stage, and I do recall seeing a unicorn chasing somepony towards Solstice Fortress just past midnight."

"I didn't actually think it was you, though." clarified Blast Furnace. "This pony was 'dancing' erratically; when I saw you up close, you had some very smooth moves!"

Sun Beamer blushed and chuckled a bit. "Why thank you..."

After a few more minutes of exposition to their new ally, it soon became apparent that she was onto something.

"Gold-orange one, I think I know what was going on here." Diablo had begun to type.

"Blast Furnace, I think you may want to see this!" announced Sun Beamer. "It turns out that there were a few seemingly insignificant details in my story that are actually quite important."

The pegasus immediately flew above him to get a good view of the phone screen. "Oh? This is gonna be good." declared Blast Furnace as a few blocks of text appeared in the chat..

"Okay; apparently there were a few quirks in Obscurus's behavior that night which tipped Diablo off on the kind of magic she was using." explained Sun Beamer. "She is skilled in a class of illusionary spells called a 'mind broadcast'."

"I'm guessing that's the 'virtual reality spell' we've occasionally discussed, right?" queried Blast Furnace.

"Yeah. But the rabbit hole gets deeper..." continued Sun Beamer. "Diablo was doing research this morning; certain variations of this spell have a different 'magical signature' - i.e. how your horn glows or pulses when you use it, than others. The version she used had a ripple-like wave, which has some unique characteristics."

"And that means?" anticipated Blast Furnace.

"Now, here's the funky part; I mentioned the fact that she put on headphones before casting the spell, and that by the time the visions were flickering, I was at the Solstice Fortress, and some unicorn raving with a large pair of glowsticks was bumping the aforementioned headphones off Obscurus's head." recalled Sun Beamer "And then the visions stopped."

"It turns out that the version of the mind broadcast Obscurus knows is actually quite weak on its own, and requires the use of something called 'binaural amplification'." continued Sun Beamer. "You have to be listening to something containing specific tones that do something in your mind or something like that. She isn't quite sure how it works either, or how we can easily nullify it without engaging her directly."

"You were also talking about radio waves?" asked Blast Furnace.

"I was on to something there; this particular mind broadcast spell propagates through a type of radio frequency known to cause interference with CB and FM radio." explained Sun Beamer. "That explains what was going on with those truckers."

"Wow." said a shocked Blast Furnace.

"Oh, one more thing. Diablo has also warned me that this version of the spell can also replace or augment someone's vision. Most versions only replace." concluded Sun Beamer.

"So, how are we going to deal with it if Obscurus does do something shady during the Gathering?" inquired Blast Furnace.

"We don't know. Diablo said that we should all keep in touch via Haybale during the Gathering." advised Sun Beamer. "She's kind of befriended Obscurus's posse, so she should be able to keep tabs on-"

"Wait, she has a posse?" interrupted Blast Furnace.

"Yeah, I don't know if this posse is new or if I just didn't know about it." noted Sun Beamer. "I think she mentioned their names at one point, but they seemed quite benign. Probably just all on the same label or something."

"I see what you mean. But like I said earlier, don't let this overwhelm your first-ever Gathering." advised Blast Furnace. " It's just one potentially-troublesome needle in a haystack of 50,000 on average!"

"Yeah." agreed Sun Beamer. "Given what Diablo told me when we first met, I'm betting you that she's saving whatever she's going to do for the night that they burn the wooden pony thing."

"Colloquially known as the Blazicorn." corrected Blast Furnace. "Yeah, catchy nickname, huh?" She winked and smiled.