Wizards of Everfree Valley

by Dafaddah

Chapter three: The Artifact

The wake: Mild Manners

“If it wasn’t for Mr. Firefly, I don’t know if my dad and I could ever have reconciled,” admitted Ripple, giving her father a quick hug.

I adjusted my tie. “You know, Firefly never told me about this story. It must have happened before we met I guess,” I said.

Dr. Gross Product turned his face to me. “If I’m not mistaken, you’re talking about the fabled day that brought together the two great minds that created the personal spell caster! I’m sure you’re aware, Mr. Manners, that there’s no shortage of wild stories reported in the press of how that happened. As a scholar, I would love to hear the real story, straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak.”

I felt my throat constrict. “Well, er, Firefly was the one who did all the presentations. Of the two of us, he was the true showpony.” The memory brought with it a smile. “You know, the first time we met was the day he sold me on the whole idea of the personal spell caster!”

“Really? Was it at the Grand Galloping Gala, like they portrayed in the movie?” asked Ripple, eyes wide.

I sighed. That horrendous movie!

“No," I replied, flicking an ear. "Not much in that Pinewood production bore any resemblance whatsoever to reality. It completely messed up the whole development process of the original personal spell caster designs. I’m amazed they even got our names right!”

Everypony laughed at that. I looked over to the corner where his coffin lay. “Firefly really loathed that movie. I think he would appreciate me rectifying at least some of the misconceptions it spread.” I took a deep breath. “He had come to Canterlot U. to do some research on mana storage systems...”

The Artifact - Part 1
Firefly and Mild Manners

Firefly stood in the Canterlot University library, in a section strictly reserved for ponies authorized to study advanced thaumaturgy. He had two documents in-hoof, both from Princess Twilight: a royal decree granting him access to the section and a map showing where to find certain books. In his saddlebag were additional documents she had given him: a list of Canterlot attractions; guided tour brochures; a request for two dozen donuts from a place called Pony Joe’s; and a detailed itinerary that let him do all of the above with entire minutes to spare before the departure time of the last train back to Ponyville.

Following the map, he discovering an imposing shelf of dusty tomes. A cream-coated unicorn stallion approached, wearing a tie and tweed jacket. They traded glances uncertainly. In his experience, many unicorns found it odd for a pegasus to be so interested in magic. He nodded and turned his attention back to the books.

He reached out to grab the one the princess had recommended: Dynamics and Applications of Mana Storage Systems. Pulling it from the shelf, he pivoted and went to find a reading table. Hooves clip-clopped behind him as the unicorn followed close behind.

Uh, oh! Bogie on my six! Firefly winced but continued at his usual pace. Trying to run away usually only made things worse.

“I say, sir!” called the unicorn.

Firefly stopped short and turned slowly. Unexpectedly, the stallion was smiling.

“My own specialty is power dynamics for enchantments and spell amplification,” he said enthusiastically. “Perhaps I could be of assistance.”

A volunteer! Creepy, but still, a volunteer! Firefly nodded. “Perhaps you could at that, mister...” He offered a hoof in greeting.

“Oh! Forgive me! I so rarely find anypony else interested in mana storage that I forgot to introduce myself! My name is Mild Manners, but do call me Manny. I’m a graduate student at the university. It is indeed a pleasure to meet you!” Blushing, he grasped Firefly’s hoof with his own.

“Name’s Firefly. I’m part of Ponyville's weather brigade. I'm doing personal research on autonomous magical devices.” He glanced down at the book. “Er, Princess Twilight Sparkle recommended I read this.”

The unicorn did a double-take. “I suspect there’s a story behind all this!” He gestured to some doors lining the wall. “Shall we take one of the study rooms?”

During the next two hours Mild Manners taught Firefly more about mana storage than he had learned in months of self-study. It certainly helped having somepony to answer questions. Finally out of things to say, the scholar sat down primly opposite the pegasus.

Firefly grinned. “You know, Manny, this reminds me of when I was in college.”

The unicorn’s eyebrows rose. “You’re the same age as I am, and your math skills are way above those of most ponies, certainly beyond what one would expect is needed for weather duty. Why didn’t you continue your studies?”

Firefly’s ears drooped. “I had... family issues, so I left Cloudsdale... and college.”

Manny’s own ears dipped in sympathy. “I understand about family problems. I’m the third – and quite superfluous – foal of a rather well connected family.” His hoof swept the library. “This is my refuge, and academia my destiny. Here perhaps, I can do something worthwhile to improve the lot of my fellow ponies.” He blushed and laughed as if caught boasting.

“Your ambition does you credit, Manny.” Making a sudden decision, he flipped open his saddlebag. “I have something I want to show you.” He pulled out a notebook. “I have a few ideas on making a more general purpose magical enablement device.”

Mild Manners paged through the notebook. His eyes grew bigger and his heart beat faster with every page. “A command interpretation matrix! With a self-reconfiguring thaumatic sequencer! A massive mana store! This...” words failed him.

“I call it the Thaumatical Engine,” said Firefly. “If we can build it...” he started.

“... anypony could cast spells...” continued Manny.

“... as if they were unicorns!” finished Firefly.

The unicorn stared down at the final diagram in the notebook. Awe and desire charged his academic soul.

“Count me in!”

Mild Manners shook with excitement. He spread the blueprint onto the table in his trendy, yet modestly furnished, flat as Firefly looked over his shoulder. “The design is brilliant! Where did you get the idea to use the pattern interpreter loop from a weaving spell as a way to sequence magical commands? And using binary logic for decision making?”

“Oh, the weaving spell was from a seminar Princess Twilight gave on applied enchantments in industry. The logic gates came from looking at how the glow-bulb switches in my apartment work.” Firefly grinned. “None of this is new, I just put together a bunch of things that aren’t usually combined into a single spell matrix.”

The unicorn looked the pegasus in the eye. “You know, a classically trained mage would have never thought of doing things this way. Most unicorns don't see beyond the more mundane applications of magic.”

Firefly nodded. “Maybe that’s why Princess Twilight is the only pony in Ponyville who shows any enthusiasm for discussing my ideas.”

Manny raised an eyebrow. “Were it otherwise, you might never have come to the university library, and I wouldn’t have been able to propose these few modest improvements to your design!”

“Improvements!?” Firefly bent over the document. “What's that small tubular shape attached to the mana core?”

“That's a Bevelmeiter tube. It will allow the core to tap directly into any pony’s ley lines!”

Firefly’s jaw dropped. “You mean, with this tube I could power spells...”

“... using your own pegasus mana field, yes! Goodbye bulky mana stores!” the unicorn smiled.

Firefly focused his thoughts, and mentally reached for the Bevelmeiter tube. Inside the pendant that housed it, he felt the device engage his ley lines. There was a buzzing in his bones that extended into his wings and all the way to the tips of his feathers. He touched the apparatus to activate it and visualized the spell.

Mild Manners had made major improvements to the design, now small enough to fit into a large amulet. He had been working furiously day and night for much of the past week to complete it. His apartment was a mess, and his normally impeccable starched collar was stained and bent out of shape. He grinned as the amulet came to life on Firefly’s chest.

It flashed golden. A feather Firefly had plucked from his own wing levitated into the air in front of him and hung suspended in a golden halo of magic.

“Hurrah! It works! You did it!” Manny pounded Firefly on the back.

The pegasus stopped focusing on the spell, feeling it dissipate as the connection to his mana field cut. The feather wafted down to the tabletop. He smiled. “Yeah. It does.” He wiped a fetlock across his eyes, his vision blurred. “We did it,” he added with a sniff.

Manny looked at him. “You know this could change everything.”

Firefly nodded, suddenly feeling exhausted. “Uh-hunh.” He’d barely whispered the words when the world started to spin and he blacked out.

Mild Manners had placed Firefly in his own bed when he had fainted. Five hours later, he was still mentally going over what could have gone wrong. It's all my fault! His thoughts looped for the umpteenth time, his gut clenched painfully. A sound drew his attention.

“I have... the most horrible migraine,” whispered Firefly. His eyes opened a sliver. “Where am I?”

“My bedroom. You passed out.” There was a knock at the door. Manny felt his gut slightly unclench. There was only one pony expected. “Please come in, Your Majesty.”

Princess Twilight entered, concern showing on her face. “I left Ponyville as soon as your messenger arrived. It's good to see you awake, Firefly.”

“Thank You, Your Majesty.” When the pegasus tried to rise to bow she put a hoof on his chest. “You'd better just stay in bed. Consider that a Royal Decree!”

Firefly lay back down. “Okay. So, does anypony have an idea what happened to me?”

The princess nodded. “I've had the flight here to think about it, and I have a theory. It has to do with brain plasticity and how unicorn foals grow into their magic abilities. It usually takes them many years to master the use of their mana fields. The Bevelmeiter tube connects your pegasus mana field directly to a part of your brain never before exposed to such power. It's likely your brain will develop the neural pathways to control this, but just like with a unicorn foal, it might take a while, years even. Would you allow me to scan you?”

“Certainly!” Firefly agreed.

She closed her eyes and her horn field reached out to encompass Firefly's head, then his entire body. It lasted just a moment. Then the princess opened her eyes and smiled.

“It appears there’s no permanent damage.” Her expression grew serious. “However, there are signs of weakness in certain ley lines, as well as a slight swelling in your brain's corpus arcanum. I suggest you lay off the amulet for a few days, then start small, only progressively increasing the complexity and energy requirements of your spells, so your brain can adjust naturally.”

Mild Manners felt a major weight lift from his withers. Still, the dread he'd felt in the last few hours lingered. “What would happen if he overdid it, Your Majesty?”

Princess Twilight frowned. “He could irreparably disrupt his ley lines, and maybe damage his corpus arcanum. If that happened he could be rendered totally magicless. That includes permanently losing his pegasus abilities!”

Mild Manners locked gazes with his friend lying on the bed. “From now on, you only use the amulet under supervision, just in case. Agreed?”

Firefly nodded hesitantly. “Okay, for now.”

The unicorn smiled, but the knot in his belly wasn't entirely gone. He'd have to keep a close eye on his friend.

The wake: Whirligig

I was really sad when I went to the wake. Of course, Rainbow Dash had invited the entire staff of the weather brigade, since Firefly had worked with us before becoming rich and famous, and even she said he was really smart, though he wasn't exactly a hotshot flyer, but then I figured he wasn't too bad 'cause she set that bar pretty high, because, you know, Rainbow Dash!

When I got to the hall I saw Dashie and the princess at the entrance in a line, talking with an old stallion and a young mare about half his age. Dashie waved a hoof. “Hey, Whirligig, come and introduce yourself!”

I bowed to the princess 'cause my mom in Cloudsdale would be horrified to learn that I hadn’t, even if Princess Twilight preferred to keep things casual whenever she visited the weather brigade offices, or gave us a pep talk, which was pretty often given that she and Dashie are pals, so I took a big mental breath and said: “Hi!”

The Rainbow Dash introduced the others. Something about the younger professor, the one wearing a tie and tweed jacket, rang a bell. I recalled an article I’d seen in Herd magazine last year.

“Say, you’re Firefly’s business partner aren’t you? The one who thinks up the hard part stuff for the spell casters!” He nodded.

I folded an ear so I could show them my pCast mini, which I keep clipped behind it. “I use it to play music and do light shows when I fly. It’s the snazziest thing!”

The older professor, the one accompanied by his daughter nodded to me. “So you were one of Firefly’s fellow weather ponies?”

“Uh-huh,” I said, “but I owe Firefly a lot more than just professional courtesy. In fact, he saved my life.”

Princess Twilight’s eyes lit up. “Oh yes, the manticore incident!”

I laughed. “Got it in one, your majesty, even though that was a long time ago!”

“How long ago was it?” asked the young mare.

I thought for a moment. “Jeepers! It must be at least three or four years ago.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “It was six!” she said.

I giggled. “Oh, my! Time really flies when you’re having fun.” A thought struck me. "And so do I!" Every pony laughed. They were really a nice bunch of ponies!

I looked at the mare. “You want me to tell you the story?”

She nodded enthusiastically.

“Great! It all started when I joined the weather brigade, and Dashie assigned Firefly to be my teacher for my first weeks in Ponyville. I could tell he really enjoyed teaching me stuff...”

The Artifact - Part 2

Whirligig was the very emponiment of her name: a blue-coated pegasus filly with a red-and-white striped mane, unwilling – perhaps unable – to be still. She was making it very hard for Firefly to teach her anything. His ears and limbs hung limply as he hovered in the sky, waiting to get a word in between Whirligig's aerobatics. Why me?! He sighed.

He’d asked Rainbow Dash that very question when informed that she had selected him to tutor the newest addition to Ponyville’s weather brigade. He'd flicked an ear. “You do recall complaining about how lame my flight skills are, don't you?”

“Aw, don’t be that way, Fly!” she'd replied. The dreaded nickname made him wince.

She draped a foreleg over his slender orange withers. “Besides, the kid’s already a top-notch flyer.” She gave him her best Trust me, I know what I’m doing look. “No, what she needs is to learn the local topology, its affect on weather handling, the prevailing winds and precipitation corridors, danger areas, and hazardous wildlife. You know, that kind of stuff. In that department, you’re second only to yours truly!”

He’d been too stunned at the offhoof compliment to do anything other than stutter incoherently.

And so here I am, trying to pin down the shortest attention span in Equestria! He sighed again as Whirligig maneuvered three clouds into a huge fluffy sandwich.

At the end of his patience, Firefly rubbed the pendant on his chest. The engraved unicorn head glowed golden. So did Whirligig, all six limbs flailing as she was suddenly immobilized mid-flight, hanging upside down.

Firefly approached with a few gentle flaps.

“Are you going to stay still for a minute, or do I have to keep the brakes on?”

Whirligig glared at him. “How did you do that?! You’re not a unicorn!”

“Oh, hey, you are paying attention,” he deadpanned. He pushed a cloud under the filly, landed on it, and released the spell. She fell gracefully next to him and eyed his neck-piece suspiciously.

“That thing glowed, and then I was like, furniture or something!” She stared in awe at the amulet. “Say! You’re the flying magician! The others told me about you!”

“Is that all they said?”

She laughed. “They said a bunch of other things! But I only remember the magic part.” She chewed her lip. “Oh, and that it was really naïve for your parents to name you Firefly.”

He rolled his eyes. “Well maybe they had good reason!”

She bent close to the pendant. “So this thing lets you do magic. Where’d you get it?” She sat on her haunches, looking up expectantly.

By the hair on Celestia's chin! She’s sitting still!

Careful to avoid any sudden motions, he sat down. “A friend at Canterlot University made it for me.” He smiled as he recalled meeting the quiet, brilliant unicorn in the tweed jacket. “I’ll tell you all about him some other time. Now we need to get you up to snuff on the local area.

Firefly was still describing Ponyville’s topology an hour later, with Whirligig miraculously still paying attention, when a shadow passed over them. With the speed of reflex he bucked the filly off the cloud, propulsing himself in the opposite direction.

“Hey! Whadidja do that for?” she spat, ears back and head low as she hovered a short distance away.

“Manticore!” shouted Firefly. “Sometimes they leave the Everfree Forest to hunt, and they'll happily munch on a lone pony. Keep your eyes peeled!”

“A manticore?” The filly's muzzle split into a grin. “I've seen them at the zoo, but I'd love to see one up close!”

“Trust me, you don't want to!” replied Firefly. “The protocol is to stick with your wingpony, back-to-back. They won't attack groups.” He turned and scanned the many clouds dotting the skies. Too many places for a predator to hide! By the time he turned his head back for a glance, Whirligig was gone.

Firefly panicked. There was a manticore about and Whirligig was missing. He flew straight up to gain altitude and perspective. Unfortunately, the many clouds in the area obscured his line of sight in almost every direction.

Ten minutes of futile scanning later, he had calmed sufficiently for his brain to re-engage. If she had fallen you would have seen it, he told himself. And Dash did say she was an ace flyer, so she probably would be safe if she kept her distance.

His pulse began to accelerate again. But she said she wanted to see a manticore up close!

Absentmindedly, his hoof brushed his pendant. That's it! He looked down at the amulet. Locator spell! Focus on what you want to find. Whirligig and the manticore. He closed his eyes and concentrated as he rubbed the pendant. When he opened his eyes three bright sparks flashed in the distance below him. One was smaller and two much larger. There's more than one manticore! His pulse raced as he dropped into a power dive.

Whirligig spun incredibly intricate patterns, always just out of reach of the two manticores. Firefly might even have called it beautiful, if his stomach hadn't been trying to escape his body via his throat.

He only noticed how tightly packed the clouds had become when he was in the thick of them. You have to separate the manticores before they manage to corner her.

“Over here!” he shouted, waved his forehooves, and flew in loops. The predators ignored him.

Then the inevitable happened. One of the beasts clipped Whirligig with a massive wing. The filly dropped onto a cloud in a tiny heap. One manticore descended to deliver the coup-de-grace. The other turned around to face Firefly.

He fought the overpowering urge to flee. You've no alternatives, and no more time!

He focused his thoughts, and rubbed the amulet. It glowed golden. He cast the compression spell.

The wings of the manticore facing him were crushed flat against its sides. It began to plummet. Firefly watched it until it fell out of sight, breathing hard. The edges of his sight had started showing veins of black. He relaxed his magical focus, shook his head, and flew towards the filly and the remaining beast.

The compression spell wasn’t so useful on the cloud's surface. The manticore was way too physically powerful, and managed to waddle on his legs over the cloud’s surface. Inexorably, he drew closer to Whirligig. Firefly staggered, trying to keep the spell going. He made it past the monster and slumped down next to the filly. Unconscious, she bled heavily from a slash across her side and flank. A wing hung at an awkward angle.

There was a sour taste in his mouth as Firefly realized he wouldn't be able to carry her and fight off the manticore at the same time. The beast huffed as it laboriously approached.

Desperate, he looked around to see if anypony had noticed their predicament. He felt a stab of hope as a winged shape banked in from behind a nearby cloud. His heart dropped. Too big! The other manticore is back!

The realization hit. We're not both coming out of this alive. He looked down at the young mare. My responsibility.

He dropped the magic field constraining the first manticore, and placed a hoof on Whirligig's back. This will kill me, he had time to think, before brushing the amulet on his chest with his other hoof and focusing his thoughts on the spell.

Warily, the manticores approached.

Firefly pushed.

The filly disappeared beneath his hoof. He had time to smile before the universe spun and he dropped into dark oblivion.

Flowers... disinfectant...

Firefly’s awareness slowly expanded, one sense at a time. His entire body felt numb. A loud buzzing filled his ears. As it slowly faded, thoughts came in to fill the void.

The... hospital? How did I get...

Memories returned. Mantincores! There was a fight! And a last frantic effort to save...

The filly!

The image of Whirligig bleeding out on that cloud pushed all other thoughts away. Tears pooled then leaked from his eyes, laying damp tracks down the sides of his head. He fought to open his eyes. Finally, he succeeded.

Mild Manners stared down at him, haggard and concerned.

“Firefly? Firefly! Can you hear me!?”

Firefly’s nod sent waves of pain through his head. “The filly,” he croaked.

Manny swallowed. “It’s been three days, Firefly. The doctors are still working on her. She’ll live, but she was grievously hurt. There were internal injuries, and she might not fly again.” He sighed. “But, if you hadn’t teleported her straight to the hospital she’d be filling a grave.”

More tears traced their slow way down his cheeks.

A vision of teeth and claws flashed through his mind. “How am I still alive?” he whispered. “I thought I was manticore lunch for sure.”

The unicorn cracked a crooked smile. “Rainbow Dash caught you plummeting to earth. To hear her account, you were out like a light and weighed half a ton!”

“I... don’t understand. I passed out practically in their clutches.”

“I can explain that part,” said a familiar voice. Princess Twilight walked into the room looking somber. “I’m so glad to see you’re finally awake, Firefly!” She tried her best to look fierce. “If anypony in this room tries to bow they'll get latrine duty at the castle for a month!”

The corners of Firefly’s lips turned up ever so slightly.

“When you teleported Whirligig you burnt out the amulet and completely drained your mana field from the bottom of your hooves to the tips of your wings. You had nothing left.”

“I’m not following...?”

“What happens when a non-pegasus pony tries to stand on a cloud?”

“He sinks right through it.” Manny answered for him.

“That’s why Rainbow Dash found you dropping like a stone underneath the clouds,” added the princess. “It was as if you weren’t a pegasus anymore. Thank goodness she was looking for you!”

Not a pegasus anymore? A cold feeling spreading through Firefly's chest.

“Yeah. I owe her big time.” Not a pegasus...

“Firefly,” said Princess Twilight gravely, “you can never use a Bevelmeiter device again. Doing so will likely result in irreversible brain damage.”

Her expression softened. “But I can see that your ley lines are already healing. You should soon regain your pegasus abilities.”

The cold knot in his chest melted. I can still fly! He was amazed to realize how important that was. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

The princess nodded to them both. “I have duties to attend to. I’ll check with you later.” With that, she turned and left the room.

“I'm sorry to have put you through all of that,” Firefly said to Manny. “I’ve been selfish.”

“No you haven’t. Firefly, we did this together! And you have been a good friend. Nothing changes that.”

Firefly smiled sadly. “We did have fun building it.” He sighed. “Too bad it's over.”

The unicorn arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean, over?” His horn glowed and a large square device with straps dangling from its corners floated out of a saddlebag propped against the wall. “Meet the Cobbler One Personal Spell Caster. This thing is going to revolutionize magic for all ponies.” He grinned. “It doesn't use Bevelmeiter tubes, and it could use an experienced beta-tester.”

Firefly’s vision blurred. It took him a moment to compose himself. Finally, his face lit up and he grinned ear-to-ear.

“Count me in!”