• Published 20th May 2017
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Brightly Lit - Penalt



The village of Brightly, British Columbia is a small, isolated place where everyone knows everyone, with a strong sense of community. A community that starts to include colourful little ponies.

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Chapter 1: Diggy Diggy Hole

Saturday morning. Two words that have thrilled school children for decades with the promise of 48 hours of fun and gleeful chaos, before being dragged back to the dungeon of the classroom. A tradition shared and experienced by generations of children across North America, and no exception was the village of Brightly, on the central coast of British Columbia.

“Coming,” called the woman, to the knock on her door. She smiled as walked the few steps needed to cross her kitchen. It was a Saturday and just after breakfast time in the neighborhood, so she had a pretty good idea who was knocking on her door. Opening the door, she saw, as she expected, a young boy of about eleven with dirty blond hair. Billy Kye was eleven, perpetually dirty and something of an apprentice of hers when it came to finding anything edible that could be had from nature.

“Hello, Billy,” said the woman, looking down at Billy’s smiling face. “What can I do for you this Blessed morning?”

“G’morning, Ms. Pedersen,” said the boy, smiling up at her. “Would Romy and Rowey be able to come out and play?”

“I think they might,” said Ms. Pedersen with a smile. “Let me just cast my spell of ‘Daughter Summoning’ and get them down here.”

“You’re going to cast an actual spell?” asked Billy, in wide eyed amazement. “Cool!”

Jean Pedersen was Brightly’s sole acknowledged and practicing witch. Widely accepted as a local authority on local flora and their uses, she was a common sight in the local woods as she gathered items for various preparations. Long raven hair flowed down a strong back and she was attractive enough that many gossips had linked her and Billy’s father. Who, to the gossips disappointment, remained nothing more than a good friend and neighbor.

“Billy,” began Pedersen, with very gentle reproof in her tone and a smile to lessen even that, “I’ve told you before. Not everything pagans do involve spells, herbs, or prayers to the Goddess.”

“Aww,” said the boy, eyes downcast.

“Besides, this is only going to seem like magic,” she said, still smiling. She turned, deeply inhaled, and bellowed out, “ROWEY! ROMY! Billy’s here!” As the echoes of that stentorian shout faded, the thunder of feet came from the stairs leading to the upper floor, and within seconds her two daughters appeared before her.

Rowan, at twelve, was her oldest. Slim bodied with brown hair as straight as a ruler, she was just beginning to blossom into her potential as a woman and a witch, like her mother. Also, like her mother, Rowan’s brown eyes were very good at spotting details and she could be a bit of a nag when she chose to be.

Romy, eighteen months younger, almost defined “different”. Romy had heterochromia, the colour of her irises vertically split with green on the left and brown on the right. Those arresting eyes were framed by brown curly hair covering a perpetually smiling face. Which was a good thing as the speech impediment caused by a fall at age two had never entirely left her, despite surgery and speech therapy.

“Hi Billy,” said the girls, in unison, to their friend.

“Mom,” asked the older of the two, “can we go out with Billy?”

“Yes, Rowan,” said their mother, noting that both Billy and her daughters were dressed in sturdy jeans and shirts. “Are you three planning on going out hunting?” she asked Billy.

“Yup,” said the boy. “The museum is still paying for dug up bottles from the old burnt-out town-site. We just have to go get Zak and Kya, borrow some shovels and we can head out.”

“Alright, be back by four, girls,” said Pedersen, nodding. “Billy, let your father know that the two of you are invited for dinner. We’re having cabbage rolls and sausage at five.”

“Okay, Ms. Pedersen, thanks!” said Billy, as he headed out with the girls hot on his heels. The trio scampered out of the Pedersen yard and across the small street to another house. A sign on that fence proclaimed the house as “The Harding’s.” Another door knock and a conversation later, and the Harding adults were more than happy to have their youngsters out from underfoot for the day, having given their blessing as well to a day spent out and about.

“So, what’s the plan?” asked Zak Harding, his shy sister Kylara, following him like a shadow. “We are going bottle hunting, right?”

Zak Harding was often found in Billy’s company. He was eleven as well, with wavy dark hair and laughing brown eyes. Solidly built, he was a contrast to Billy’s sparse leanness and the two made a good team for just about any sort of fun. Zak had a bit of a reputation as a joker and a talker, which often got him into trouble in school.

Zak’s sister, Kylara, was a very different person from her brother. Small and slight, with a red hair that blazed like fire, she was quiet where he was loud, shy where he was outgoing, and where Zak loved to plunge into things, Kylara preferred to hang back and see what happened. She avoided being the center of attention where possible and far preferred her nickname of “Kya” because it was shorter and smaller.

“Billy said tho,” said Romy, chirped happily, even as her impediment butchered the “s” sound. “I need thome more money. My allowance ran out.” The rest of the group chuckled and giggled at that, as they were all similarly broke. They were so used to Romy’s impediment by now that it no longer even registered to them.

“We just need to swing back past my place and pick up some shovels,” said Billy, as they reached his house. The sound of a powerful machine grinding metal could be heard from the garage behind the house, the others waited, anxious to be on their way, as Billy went into a small tool shed by the garage. As he came out of the shed with shovels and a long handled probe, the loud noise from the garage sputtered to a halt. A few moments later a heavy set blond man, his arms black to the elbows with engine grease and dirt, looked out of the garage door.

“Hey kids,” said the grimy man to the group in his yard. “Billy, you planning on heading out to find some more stuff for the museum?”

“Sure am, Dad,” said Billy. “Just borrowing some shovels. See ya!” The boy turned to go but was interrupted by one of the girls.

“Billy,” said Rowey, in a severe tone that sounded weirdly like her mother’s. “What did my Mom tell you, to tell your Dad?”

“Oh right,” said Billy. He was used to Rowey’s nagging reminders by now. “Ms. Pedersen says we’re invited for dinner at five o’clock tonight. Cabbage rolls.”

“Thank you very much, Rowan,” said Mr. Kye. Billy’s father was always careful to say everyone’s proper names, instead of their nicknames. “Tell your mother that cabbage rolls sound great and we'll be happy to accept her invitation. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to introduce a cranky engine block to a large hammer.” With a wave he closed the garage door behind him, and a few moments later the sound of metal striking metal in a steady beat could be heard.

“Can we go now?” came Kya’s quiet voice, just barely audible over the hammering.

“Ya,” said Zak. “Kya figured out a great new place for us to dig at.”

“Really,” asked Rowan, as they left Billy’s yard. “Where?” The group began the walk that would take them across the village, each of them carrying a shovel except for red haired Kya who was carrying a slim ground probe. Kya tried to hide behind her brother instead of answering the question.

“I pulled out a couple of books from my Dad’s library last night,” said Zak, getting the hint that as usual, his sister wasn’t comfortable tooting her own horn. “One of them had a really good map of the old Chinatown area, and Kya noticed one showed a map, that Old Man Leung had a storage building for his store way off to one side of that part of town. She went and asked Dad about it, and he said that area was bulldozed as a fire break during the big fire that wiped out the Chinatown, back about a hundred years ago.” Various gasps sounds of surprise and astonishment came from the other kids.

“Are you telling me, that there’s a totally untouched area for digging up stuff?” asked Rowan. “And we’re gonna be the first ones at it?”

“Yup!” said Kya, before hiding behind her brother again.

“We’re gonna be rich!” exclaimed Billy, doing a little dance. “We’re gonna find tons of stuff to sell to the museum.”

“Keep it down,” said Rowey, with a hiss. “You want everyone to find out what we are up to and beat us there?”

“Oh crap,” Billy said in a whisper. “Right.” With that, the group suddenly tried to look at nonchalant as possible, walking with their shovels and gear held behind their backs. Brightly is a quiet place and few noticed the group walking along. Those that did thought nothing of a group of kids headed toward the old part of town, or behaving a little strangely. It was a Saturday morning, after all, and the bright morning sunshine was beginning to bring a real warmth to the day as in the distance the growl of a lawnmower or two could be heard.

After several minutes of walking, the group left the paved streets and crossed into the area of high brush and low trees, that marked the beginning of where “Brightly Chinatown” had been. The ground was lumpy even after a hundred years, as the remains of long burnt out and collapsed buildings slumbered beneath a foot or more of earth and overgrowth.

“Which way?” asked Romy, leaning against her shovel.

“Over there,” said Kya, pointing to the right, as she consulted the map she had printed out the previous evening. The group went in the indicated direction, until they began to leave the main area and get into the forest proper. Romy and Rowey began to get a little nervous. Digging in the old townsite was normal for them, but the woods were not their usual territory and despite the warmth of the late spring morning there was a chill under the evergreens.

“Are we going much farther?” asked Rowey. “We told our mom we were going to be in the usual area. I don’t want to get into trouble.” Kya just pointed to the center of the forest glade they had entered. They were close enough to the main area that they could still see it through the trees but far enough in that no one would see them from there either.

“I don’t thee nothin’,” said Romy. The sun filtered down through the trees onto the lush green of the clearing and small birds flitted to and fro, filling the air with their chirping. A few brave robins lit on the mossy ground, among the ferns and bushes, searching for worms or other good things to eat. But, she could see no sign that a building was, or ever had been here.

“Ya, I don’t see anything...” said Billy, his voice trailing off as he focused on the middle of the clearing. “Wait—yah, I do see something. Look!” Waving his hand between two points on the ground several yards away.

“Wait, I see it too,” said Zak. “Look at the ground. See how it’s kinda lumped up, all in a straight line?” Now that it had been pointed out, the straight lines of the foundation of the long ago building were obvious to all of them. The lines combined to form a rough rectangle, some ten feet wide by about thirty long.

“Are we the first ones here?” asked Rowey.

“No dirt piles,” said Kya, referring to the piles of dirt left behind when diggers searched an area for old bottles and other artifacts.

“I think you’re right, sis,” said Zak. “You’re the best with the probe, where do you want to start?” Without a word Kya carried the tool into one of the corners of the rectangle and began to sink it into the rich, fragrant soil. As she pushed deeper Kya closed her eyes and concentrated on her sense of touch, as it was extended through the metal of the thin shaft. About two feet down, she sensed the distinctive “tap” of the tip coming into contact with something, and Kya stopped advancing the probe instantly.

“Here,” she said, looking up and smiling at her friends, who promptly attacked the ground with their shovels.

Three hours later, several holes had been dug and the five friends were sitting on a fallen log drinking some water while munching on some shoots and early berries that Billy had scrounged up from the surrounding forest. A few of their attempts had resulted in broken bottles or ended at rocks, but several holes had resulted in intact bottles.

“How many do we have?” Romy asked, looking at the assembled pile of dirty glassware.

“Eight bottles of ‘Burdocks Blood Bitters’, four bottles of ‘Coal Tar Ointment’ and,” said Zak, making a dramatic pause, “one ‘Tiger Whiskey’ jar. The bitters and ointment bottles are pretty common and the museum only pays a couple of dollars each for them.”

“But the jar is rare?” asked Billy.

“It sure is,” said Zack, nodding, and pulling out a sheet of paper with a list of items and prices. “In fact, it’s on their top twenty list. They’re offering a hundred and fifty bucks for just one!” The whole group erupted in cheers at that, even shy Kya, as they all did the math and came up with similar results.

“We can go for one or two more,” said Rowey. “We’ve got lots of time.”

“Okay,” said Zack, getting up and brushing himself off. “Can you find us a good one, sis?” His quiet sister smiled, set down her water bottle, and picked up the probe she had used to good effect all morning. Everyone shushed themselves so that Kya could concentrate on finding a good spot. Back and forth she walked, tracing and retracing the area, finally settling on a spot just outside the rectangle the group had been working in.

“That’s outthide,” said Romy, in protest seeing the probe beginning to sink into the ground.

“Trust me,” said Kya, out from under her hair. Down the narrow shaft of the probe went, slowly and carefully, with the skill of a natural talent. About a foot down she stopped, as if she had contacted something, but then she twisted the probe a bit and kept pushing deeper. She had nearly pushed the shaft to its full three foot length, when she stopped and delicately tapped the probe with a finger.

“I’ve hit metal,” she said, looking up at the others. “At least that’s what it feels like.” The rest of group began to dig down into the earth. Halfway to their target their shovels revealed the charred, rotting timber that had made Kya pause during her probing. The digging went on, and at two feet down they had to stop for a break. What they were doing would have been significant work for an adult, never mind a group of children their age.

But enthusiasm and the timeless lure of buried treasure drove them on, and at last, they reached the end of the probe, its tip just touching a piece of metal. Careful clearing of the hundred years of dirt and debris revealed the metal to be part of a flat brass box, about a foot square and a few inches deep.

“Lemme see, lemme see,” chanted Billy, as Rowey reached down into the hole and brought the box up. It was made of brass and engraved with figures of horses and serpentine Chinese dragons.

“It’s heavy,” Rowey said, as she felt the weight of the box in her hands, “and it feels solid. Not rotten.”

“Open it,” said Romy, crowding in for her own look. “I wanna see what’s inside.”

“Hang on a sec,” Zack said, turning toward their pile of things. “Let me see if the museum is looking for this.” He pulled a thick sheaf of printouts from his backpack and started going through them, the others crowding around him trying to spot a match to the box they had found. Rowey however, could not take her eyes off the box. The carvings held her eye and she couldn’t help but notice the latches that held the box closed and one at a time she began to flip them open, as the others poured over the printouts.

“Nope, nothing about a box,” said Zack, his attention on the papers and not noticing what Rowey was doing. “Just a note at the end saying they will pay lots for really rare stuff. I think this counts as—hey, what are you doing?” Rowey undid the last latch, and as it came undone, the lid popped off revealing the contents.

Inside the box was a bundle that had been well wrapped in several layers of waxed papers, and Rowey carefully lifted it out. The inside of the box was clean and shiny, showing it had remained sealed over the past hundred years and Romy slid the box out of the way. The older sister slowly unwrapped the bundle revealing a large, brown book, bound in thick leather. The book’s spine was reinforced with a golden metal and the cover was embossed with the profile of a golden unicorn’s head with a blue eye. Rowey opened the book as her friends clustered around her to have a look..

“Oh pretty,” said Romy, as the opening pages were revealed. The pages were covered mainly in large images, the colours amazingly rich and vibrant. Two large winged unicorns were on one page, one dark and one light. Another showed small horses of different kinds playing in a large field. There seemed to be a story progression in the pictures describing a fight between the two large unicorns with the darker one losing. There was writing of a sort at the bottom of each page, but the letters weren’t any sort of alphabet they knew. Rowey turned back to the opening page where a column of the strange text stood.

“Can you figure out what it says?” Zak asked, leaning over Rowey’s shoulder.

“How should I know?” Rowey said, with a little exasperation, until she saw the hopeful look on his face. “Fine, I’ll see if I can figure it out. Why don’t you guys see if there is anything else down in that hole, okay?”

“Okay,” said Kya and Zak together, as the others began to expand the hole they had dug looking for more artifacts.

As they did that, Rowey looked back at the page with its strange symbols. The odd letters made no sense to her, but at the same time they looked like they were supposed to be words. That they were meant to be spoken, and she just needed to know the sounds they were supposed to make, to sound them out. She thought back on what her mother had told her about strange and confusing situations.

“When something doesn’t seem to make sense, take a moment, breath, find your focus and let the Goddess work through you,” Mom had said. So, taking her mother’s advice, she paused, took a breath and wrapped her hand around the amethyst point she wore on a leather thong. She looked down at the script on the page and began to breath in the steady, meditative rhythm her mother had taught her. She let the words fill her vision and mind, and as she did the sounds began to come to her.

“In...nom..in..eh sole,” she began. “In nomin eh, loo na.” The syllables slowly tumbled out of her, the sounds and the words felt right, but something was off. She tuned out the sounds of her friends, the noises of the woods around her, letting the words and their sounds become all that she heard and saw. She repeated the sounds she given the strange lettering, but this time in a rhythm that seemed to fit them. As she did, the crystal in her hand flared to light, but Rowey took no notice of that, so deep was her concentration. Nor did she notice her friends turn in surprise at the sudden lavender light, as their friend began to chant:

In nomine Sol
In nomine Luna
In nomine Equus
Orbis Terrarum Equorum
Mannulus Terrae
Mannulus Caelo
Mannulus Magi
Facti Sunt Nobis

There was a sudden, brilliant flash of light that blinded everyone and it shattered Rowey’s concentration. All of them tried to clear the spots from their vision, and as Rowey blinked to clear hers, she could see that she had dropped the book and it lay on the mossy ground in front of her. She looked up from where the book lay and blinked again in surprise, as four small horses looked back at her. They were small and cute and seemed to be wearing her friend’s shirts. She reached out a hoof to touch one and...she had a hoof, not a hand.

“Uh oh”

Author's Note:

Welcome to my new project, Brightly Lit, a tale of a group of young friends who find themselves changed into colourful ponies and how they, their friends, and their families deal with these sudden changes. This commissioned story of fun adventure and exploration, is brought to you by my patron, and as such will be updated at least once per month for as long as my patron remains committed to the project.



This chapter is brought to you through the assistance of my current patrons:

Damaged
and
Canary in the Coal Mine

Please support me on atreon Supporting me helps me concentrate on writing and keeps me in coffee and keyboards and if I can make my first goal I can start commission art for my stories to give back to my fellow creators who have done so much to inspire me.

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