Wizards of Everfree Valley

by Dafaddah

First published

A geeky young Pegasus decides that magic should be for everypony, and sets out to make his dream a reality.

Firefly the pegasus foal loved magic. He loved spells, enchantments, magical objects and the way magic could be used to transform and animate objects, to make them more useful to ponies and to let ponies do what would otherwise be hard or even impossible. The only problem was that like most ponies Firefly could not cast a spell, and he never would, and that was just the way things were. When he grew up, Firefly moved to Ponyville and he decided that just because it had never been done didn't mean that it never could! The result changed Equestria forever.

This story is a compendium of my entries in Obsolescence's OC Slamjam contest of early 2015, in which I was runner up (my series are listed under "Firefly's Author"). Here are the links to the OC Slamjam contest and the OC profiles if you and interested, but these are not needed to read the story.

NOT A SPOILER: this story is very loosely based on the microcomputer revolution in the late seventies and early eighties, in which I was intimately involved (yes, this means I'm in my fifties). I hope this story will give the reader a bit of the feeling of what those heady days were like when the incredible power of computing escaped from an elite few into into the hands of even the most modest person, and of the very special people who had it in them to think different and make it happen.

Prologue - And this too shall pass

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Twilight Sparkle

The nurse on duty rose from behind her desk and bowed as I entered Ponyville General’s palliative care ward. Her expression was somber. Her teal coloured mane was done up in a tight bun upon which she had set the little hat that was symbol of her office. She even had on a spotless white uniform, as if the greenish scrubs worn by most of the hospital’s other staff failed to convey sufficient respect for her charges and their families in this... dismal place. Her name tag read “Head Nurse Summer Meadow”. It took a special kind of courage to do this job, something which I appreciated far more since my ascension.

“Good evening, Princess Twilight.”

Nurse Meadow sat back down. It was one of those new ergonomic chairs, with knobs and levers sticking out from behind the seat and backrest. They were for ponies who spent a lot of time sitting in from of PC monitors while typing into keyboards. Hospitals were embracing Personal Casters ever since it became possible to link them into a common information network. The Cobbler Inc logo glowed on the monitor's backside, reminding me why I was here.

“Is he awake?” I asked Nurse Meadow with the warmest smile I could manage, given the circumstances.

“Yes, your majesty,” she nodded as she spoke. “The others are already gathered in his room. He is awake, but... it won’t be very long now. His wellspring is fully depleted, and his body has already begun shutting down.”

“I...” I lowered my gaze to the tidy desk between us. “Thank you,” I finished lamely, turned on my hooves and walked away.

My hoof steps echoed down the immaculate hall all the way to his room. Behind me I heard Nurse Meadow typing as she logged my visit to the ward.

I dreaded this meeting, and was ashamed that I should feel that way. It brought a flash of heat to my face. Many ponies believed that when I was made a Princess Royal of Equestria I became immortal, and that, somehow, I was now in on the secrets of the afterlife! If only that were true! All during my apprenticeship, Celestia had categorically refused to answer any of my questions about the existence of an afterlife, or even about her own immortality. She merely advised me to observe others carefully and come to my own conclusions.

Sigh.

I'm proud to be a child of science. Most of my life I have endeavoured to be a rational being, and have truly believed only in those things I could experience with my own senses, measure and test. Until my own ascension, that is. There was the moment, when I was struck with lightning, that I swear I felt my body die. I was... somewhere with Princess Celestia, and it wasn't Equestria! Everything felt different. I felt different! Then before I could figure anything out, I was whole again and graced with an added pair of wings. Was what I felt in that place real? Has anything that’s happened since been real? The thought makes me shudder.

Ever since, death has left me uneasy. Facing terminally ill ponies even more so. They could so easily ask me questions that I cannot answer. Questions that Firefly might want to ask – might need to ask – as he lay on his deathbed. I took a deep breath and entered his room.

He lay covered in white sheets up to his chin, with a whole row of noisy monitoring devices lined up behind his bed, beeping, clicking and hissing. The little of his orange coat visible looked washed out, a pale shadow of its former deep orange. Most of his fire-red mane had fallen out, leaving him looking looking like pony four times his age. Four times my age. He was smiling that crooked, annoying, infuriating... sad little smile of his.

Six ponies stood in vigil around his bed. Applejack was there, so were Dash, Big Mac, Mild Manners, Whirligig, and Falcata. They nodded in greeting as they made room for me to join them in the circle.

“Your majesty, you came to see me off,” said Firefly. His voice was a raspy whisper, barely audible above all the machinery keeping him alive.

I tried to smile. “We eggheads need to stick together when the going gets tough, right?”

He chuckled. “I suspect this is tougher on all of you than on me.” His eyes twinkled. “But this, time I’m not going to prolong the show by saying ‘and just one more thing’.”

Some of the ponies next to me chuckled, others sniffed back tears. Some did both.

Firefly’s eyes closed momentarily. When they opened again they seemed to have sunk further into his face. His lips moved. I leaned in closer to hear.

“Thank you...,” he whispered.

“You don’t have to thank me for friendship,” I tried to smile through trembling lips. “Friendship is what this kingdom is all about!”

“Yes,” he breathed. “And I’m grateful to all of you for your friendship... but that’s not all you gave me...”

I wasn't sure what he meant. Confused, I wiped a fetlock across my eyes and looked at the other faces, equally perplexed. “What else did we give you?”

His cough barely moved his sunken chest beneath the starched sheets.

“The magic...” he wheezed. “The magic that an egghead pegasus like me... couldn’t have found elsewhere.” He closed his eyes again. It was so long before he opened them again.

“I was so empty... so sad... when I came to this town.” His eyes widened. “Here I made magic... I did... what... I was meant to do.” He coughed again. “Now I’m... satisfied... no regrets...” The corners of his lips tugged upwards. “None that matter, anyway...”

She placed a hoof on his foreleg. She could feel through the sheets how thin and frail he had become.

“Good-bye... my friends,” he whispered, and slowly closed his eyes. The beeping slowed, stopped and was replaced by loud buzzing sound. Nurse Meadow trotted quietly in. She must had been waiting by the door. She pressed a button on the device, plunging the room into a sepulchral quiet.

We all looked at each other. Four mares and two stallions, whom neither blood nor clan had brought together, but rather an odd, scrawny pegasus whose love of magic few others could rival, a love that had turned a sleepy farming town, and its neighbours in the shadow of Canterlot, into the heart of innovation in Equestria – the fabled Everfree Valley.

Instinctively we moved closer together, some of us hugging, others just needing the living warmth of other ponies against their bodies, for truly, there is comfort in the herd.

Chapter One: Fismits

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The Wake: Rainbow Dash

I’m really not the type of pony who goes to wakes, even those put on by a best friend who happens to live in a crystal castle shaped like huge tree. However, I do make some exceptions, that being one of a hoof-full of lessons Fluttershy's taught me over the years. Okay, maybe it’s more than a hoof-full. So who’s counting?

Anyways, when I was a foal I always thought why bother? It’s not like the dead care! But ‘Shy says wakes are for the living, because being faced with death is hard for most ponies, and having a get-together is a way to show everypony that life goes on. I kinda get it, I guess. A lot of ponies felt some need, whatever it was, ‘cause they came from all over Equestria for Firefly’s funeral, and most of them were here at the wake!

Applejack was a bit miffed that none of his family had shown up. I explained to her that he was an only foal, that both his parents had passed away, and that pegasi weren’t into the whole extended clan business like a lot of earth ponies were. So the reception line for new arrivals was four ponies: me – his former boss in the Ponyville weather brigade, Firefly’s business partner – a cream coated unicorn stallion called Mild Manners wearing a prissy looking tie and tweed jacket, Firefly’s BFF Falcata – a golden-yellow coated pegasus and member of Twilight’s Royal Guard, and Twilight herself.

“You know,” I say to break the silence, “I didn't expect much from him when he was assigned here by the Weather Bureau. He wasn’t exactly Wonderbolts material, if you catch my driftl! Less than seven years later, and he dies a gagillionnaire, or whatever he’s worth.” I glance back at the heavily gilded coffin in the corner. “Was worth. He sure surprised me.”

“Flying isn’t the only way to excel, Dash,” said Twilight. “What Firefly and Mild Manners have done –” she nodded to the unicorn “– has changed the face of Equestria!”

I nodded. “Yeah, I have to admit, you can hardly go anywhere without seeing ponies using one of those spell casters.”

A rough looking yellowish earth pony mare came up. She was short and stocky, and her mane and tail were cut short, showing faded green waves and several scars which she hadn’t bothered to cover up. Pale yellow eyes looked uneasily past me to Falcata.

“Hiya, Fal,” she rasped.

“Miss Melon Rind,” replied Falcata. She waved her wooden left foreleg in Twilight's direction. “Her majesty Princess Twilight Sparkle.” The mare sketched a bow. “And this is Rainbow Dash. Firefly was part of her brigade when he first came to Ponyville.”

The mare’s eyes dropped to the ground. “Yeah. Everypony knows who they are.”

I tried not to smirk when Falcata’s smile faltered. To her credit she recovered almost instantly. “Lem... er, Melon Rind is a superlative metalsmith and one of the main armourers for Her Majesty’s Guard.”

“Hey!” I said. “That explains all the scars on your coat!”

Twilight shot me a look. “So Miss Rind... you knew Firefly?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“How so?”

Melon Rind looked away for a moment. “I went out on two dates with him. A few years ago.” She pointed at the casket. “Look, I was in the castle for some deliveries, and I’d like to pay my respects, if you don’t mind!”

I was winding up to let her know where she could put the ‘tude when Twilight grabbed hold of my withers, giving me another look. I zipped my lip and watched as the yellow mare stalked away.

Twilight sighed. “Firefly told me about her once. He was so nervous with mares. A mutual acquaintance set them up on a blind date...”


Fismits

Firefly and Melon Rind

Firefly sighed. Plate Pauldron was late, as usual.

He swirled the ice in his tumbler, reflections from his bright orange hoof provided the only colour left in the glass. The gesture exposed scars that scored his coat on the inside of his leg. He absentmindedly placed his hoof frog-side down on the table, reducing the visibility of the marks.

Feeling self conscious, he glanced over his shoulder to see if his wings were presentable. They were, minimally so. A few secondaries didn’t lie quite flat. Still, he didn’t want to be caught preening in public when Paulie and his friends arrived. He hated the whole cooler than thou attitude some pegasi wore like second skin. He would rather look like a shabby vagrant than be mistaken for that kind of stallion. He also noticed bright wisps of his fire-red mane as he moved his head.

At least you could've looked in the mirror before trotting out the door! he thought to himself. Another stellar start to a blind date on a Friday night. Good going, Casaneighva!

The bar itself was barely occupied. It was early yet, but Firefly had an early shift in the morning. An unforeseen low front was coming in off the Everfree. The thought of spending the morning alone with the weather brigade boss, Rainbow Dash, soured his stomach.

A commotion at the entrance caught his attention. He stood as Paulie finally trotted up to his table, followed at a slower pace by a short, heavyset earth pony mare. She looked like what he imagined a pony left in a dungeon way too long would look like: her coat a faded dirty yellow, a washed out green mane, and tail that looked as if they had been hacked short with a machete. To cap it all off, she sported an expression on her muzzle that clearly showed both foreboding and disappointment in equal measures.

“You didn’t say he was a pegasus,” she commented in a low voice full of gravel.

“I didn’t?” said Paulie as if surprised that he hadn’t. “Don’t worry.” He smiled greasily. “He’s kind of low key for a pegasus stallion.” He winked at her. “That’s kind of why I thought I’d introduce the two of you.”

Resentful yellow eyes probed into Firefly’s golden irises.

“Lemon... uh, I mean Melon Rind here, is the sister of a friend of mine. She’s visiting from Canterlot, here to do some custom work for Princess Twilight’s new guard detachment. She’s a blacksmith. Isn’t that fascinating?”

Firefly was at a loss as to how to respond. He had no interest in smithing, other than the aspects of it related to alchemy. The silence stretched on a bit too long.

The mare sighed. “Let’s get this over with,” she rasped. Without another word she sat down in the booth as far as she could from the pegasus.

Firefly finally found his voice. “Where’s Tour deForce?”

“Couldn’t make it.” Paulie grinned sheepishly. “Come to think of it, I’ve got a few things I need to take care of myself. I’m sure you two won’t mind if I just leave you to get to know each other!”

He took the utter silence from the booth as assent, and moved back a step. “Great!” He waved a hoof. “Tootles!” Spinning on his rear hooves he hightailed it for the exit.

Firefly’s quick glance across the table showed that Paulie’s abrupt exit hadn’t improved the mare’s mood, either. There was no mistaking the look of pure hatred she gave the departing stallion. Once Plate Pauldron was out the door, she turned a lidded gaze onto Firefly.

Yeah, thought Firefly. This is just great!

The two ponies stared at each other.


Melon gritted her teeth. Why do you keep letting yourself get talked into these disasters? Better cut him off at the pass, before he ends up wasting any more of my wonderful life droning on about those stupid stunt flyers. She leaned forward.

“I have no interest in the...” she began.

“... Wonderbolts!” he finished for her. The interruption left her feeling more than a little annoyed. However the stallion’s tone had been more amused than abrasive.

His fiddled with his empty drink glass. “You’re not the first earth pony mare Paulie’s introduced to me who started the conversation that way.” He blew air through his lips while keeping his eyes on his empty glass. “This is mostly an earth pony town after all.”

Embarrassment took some of the edge off of her anger. She crossed her forelegs. “So I hear.”

“If it’s any consolation,” he said with a tentative grin, “I don’t much care for them either.” His eyes widened. “The Wonderbolts, I mean! Not earth pony mares!”

Her eyebrows rose. Well. This is new!

The stallion leaned forward.

“Look, Paulie means well,” he said, “even if he hasn’t quite mastered the art of introducing ponies to each other.” He held out a hoof. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Rind.”

She glanced down at the orange limb. Noticing the jagged scars on his pelt, she hesitated a moment before proffering her own.

His ears drooped as he pulled the limb slowly back. “They’re scars,” he said softly. “I’m not contagious.”

Melon felt her face grew hot. “I wasn’t repelled, really!” she blurted out. “It’s just that I know scars when I see them!” She raised her own right forelimb to the light, showing multiple angry red lines and bald patches in her yellow coat.

She shook his hoof in greeting. “Pleasure’s mine.”

She bared her teeth in what she hoped was a grin. “So, how in the world does a pegasus get scars like that?”

The stallions’ eyebrows rose. She again felt the heat of embarrassment. “I mean, you rarely see a pegasus blacksmith!” she added breathlessly. “They just typically don’t have the upper body strength needed.” She winced internally. This guy’s gonna think I’m some sort of racist!

“I got these scars practicing magic,” he said laconically.

“As if a pegasus can do magic!” Melon heard her voice speak and was already cringing by the time her brain finally caught up with her treasonous mouth. Her ears drooped as she sighed and waited for the stallion’s reaction. I fully deserve whatever he dishes out! She was too embarrassed to look him in the eye.

A dry chuckle caused her to look up. “I’ve had that reaction before, too! But even pegasi can do magic, given the right tools,” he lifted his other foreleg showing similar scars on its pelt, “although there can be... complications.”

She raised her own left foreleg showing more of her own scars. “Complications? We smiths just call them artistic license.”

“Really?” His smile widened. “So, tell me about your art.

Melon straightened up, her mood improving for the first time that evening. She launched into a description of metalworking while taking a closer look at the stallion. He’s definitely different! she thought. And earnest. And he doesn’t look like some self-centered egotist with a stick up his plot!


Firefly wasn’t sure whether to be amused or appalled. The mare was disarmingly honest and straightforward in her opinions. She seemed like a different pony as soon as she started talking him about her trade, her discourse punctuated with shy little grins that made her look sweet. He grinned inwardly. A disarming armourer! The thought made him snort.

Melon’s smiled faded. “Did I say something amusing?” She leaned back from the table, her ears drooping.

“No!” his own grin disappeared. He shook his head. “I mean, yes! Er, I mean I what you said made me think of something funny.”

Her eyes narrowed over compressed lips.

You blew it, idiot! His withers slumped. “I meant that in a good way... and yes, I was paying attention.” She did not appear convinced. “It’s just, sometimes, I get these thoughts out of the blue.”

Her expression softened. “What do you know, I do that too.” She grinned ruefully. “I love smithing partly because it doesn’t involve much talking. Sometimes I’m working a piece in front of a customer, and I realize I’ve been thinking out loud the entire time! It’s gotten me into trouble before, especially on jobs like these.”

“Jobs like what?”

“Doing custom armour plate fittings in the field.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad!”

“Granted. But at least you don’t have to spend your whole workday pandering to a bunch of hot-shot flyers, each one jabbering away about how they're Celestia’s gift to ponydom!”

Firefly flapped a wing lightly, making Melon’s eyes widen.

“No offense meant!”

The shock on her face made him laugh out loud.

“None taken! I work for the weather brigade. Trust me, I know exactly what you mean!” She blushed brightly, making him laugh again.

Time to change subjects! He called to a passing waiter. “Another, please, and a hard Apple cider for the lady.”

“Why do you think a lady like me would like hard cider?

“You’re a blacksmith, and an earth pony.” He winked. “I figure you can handle it!”

She stuck out her tongue, and pointed at his empty glass. “So what are you drinking? Lemonade?”

He nodded mock seriously. “I learned my lesson at the welcome party Pinkie Pie threw me when I moved here.” He suddenly scanned the room. “You weren’t approached by a rather hyper pink earth mare with a frizzy pink mane, were you?”

Her gaze turned inwards. “Not that I recall.”

He sighed in relief. “Oh, good. If you’re in Ponyville for more than a day or two she’ll find you. Just remember, you’ve been warned.”

Her laugh was unexpectedly musical. “I’ll watch my step!”

They paused as the waiter delivered their drinks. She examined the amber contents of hers.

“I’ve heard so much about the Apples’ famous cider. I’m distantly related. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could just go to a local bar and give a try.” She raised her glass in a silent toast. He clinked his to hers, and they both took a sip.

Her eyes shot wide open. “Hoooo-wee!”

Firefly chuckled. “Ayyyup! My boss goes gaga over the stuff! I’ve heard her friends make sure she never gets her hooves on too much of it.”

Melon’s smile faltered. “So, your boss is Rainbow Dash. The element bearer.”

“Yes, she sure is.” He put his glass down, expression neutral.

She raised an eyebrow. “Something tells me you aren’t exactly overjoyed about it.”

He flicked an ear. What the hay! She’s just visiting anyway. He looked her in the eye. “Dash is pretty competitive, even for a pegasus. She pushes everypony hard, including herself. But, despite having another grounder as a best friend, she seems incapable of understanding that not all pegasi aspire to become ace flyers.”

“Grounder?”

“A pegasus that prefers living on the ground instead of in the clouds. One of the other element bearers, Fluttershy, is like me. She lives in a house near Ponyville. I have an apartment down the street I share with two unicorn stallions.”

“Oh? Why unicorns?”

He sighed. In for a bit...

“I’ve always been interested in magic since I was a foal. In Cloudsdale I saw unicorns do large scale industrial magic in the factories, so I decided that I wanted to do magic myself. In school, I found out how enchanted objects and alchemy let anypony do magic, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do since.”

Anypony?”

“Uh-huh, anypony! Or do you think some unicorn hiding in the closet casts a spell every time somepony flicks on a light or uses a kitchen appliance?”

“Everypony uses magical appliances every day. I guess I hadn’t put much thought to how they worked.”

He grinned. “Well, I do. I just work with more powerful spell substrates and control objects. The only thing I can’t do is generate a mana field like a unicorn does.”

She nodded, but he wasn’t sure if it was just out of politeness.

“So how come you ended up in Ponyville’s weather brigade?”

He scratched the back of his head. “Well, my parents weren’t too hot on the whole magic thing. They wanted me to join the family sleet business. So I went to weather school and got pretty good grades, until finally I graduated and came here to join the brigade.”

“Were you peeved to have been sent to such a small town?”

“Not at all! I like it here. I'm free to learn about magic, and have access to a whole bunch of magic practitioners.” He grinned wolfishly. “But the only one amongst them even mildly interested in teaching magic is Princess Twilight.”

Melon’s expression became neutral again. “You’ve met the Princess?!”

He nodded. “I see her in the castle library all the time. She’s real eager to discuss magic.” He grinned sheepishly. “But then she’s so far ahead of me that her explanations often go straight over my head. Still, she tries.”

“She’d help some random pegasus just like that? You’re not pulling my leg?”

He shook his head. “Hey, I’m not name dropping, I swear! This is a small kingdom! Live here for a while and you’re likely to meet pretty much everypony!”

She nodded, deep in thought.

“What about you?” he asked. “Didn’t you say you were related to the Apples?”

“Distantly. Our families split a few hundred years ago. Our branch is small, not like the Apples. We’re a pretty quiet bunch, comparatively. It doesn’t matter, really because I’ve kinda left all that behind. Never had much of a hoof for farming. I left home to apprentice with a blacksmith. Since then I’ve made my own way and haven’t looked back.” Their gazes locked. “Sound familiar?”

A noise caused them both to look towards the entrance. Plate Pauldron approached, looking pleased and a bit sheepish. “I just knew you two would hit it off!” He squeezed-in next to Melon Rind. “So how was your evening?”

“It was...” began Firefly raising an eyebrow.

“... pleasantly quiet,” finished Melon with a sardonic grin.

Paulie heaved a sigh of relief. “Well, it’s been two hours and nopony needs a paramedic, so I guess I’ll put this one in the exceeded expectations box.”

Firefly looked at the clock in surprise. “Past ten already? I’ve got to get up before dawn tomorrow.” He turned to the mare. “Hey, it was a blast meeting you, Melon.”

“Really?!" Her eyes widened. "I mean, the pleasure was mine!” she corrected with a cough.

“Really!” he said. Her shy smile returned. That smile, more than anything else, gave him the courage to speak up. He licked his lips. “Are... are you free tomorrow night?”

She nodded. “I suppose I am,” she said, sounding very serious.

They stared at each other.

“Then let’s meet here again same time tomorrow!” On impulse, he rose and bowed exaggeratedly. “Good night, shield maiden!”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t push your luck, wizard wannabe!” Then she smiled, just to let him know she’d be there.

He was whistling when he left the bar.


The Wake: Melon Rind

I stared at the coffin.

“I wanted to let you know I’m over whatever it was that riled me up on our second date,” I told him. “Truth is, I can’t rightly recollect what it was, even though I’m usually pretty good at holding grudges!”

I chewed my lip.

“Not that it matters, now, anyways.”

I stared at the casket some more. Talking to the dead ain’t any easier than talking to the living!

The oak coffin had a lot of gold trim on it. I took a closer look and whistled.

“Nice gold-work on your casket by the way, and I should know!” I laughed. “It’s a shame to bury something so pretty, although I guess you’d be pissed if they didn’t, or at least without you in it.”

I reached into my saddle-bag and pulled out the small pendant I had forged the previous day. I traced the outline of a scarab in a circle with my hoof.

“I made this for you to take with you on to the summerlands. It’s your cutie-mark. I...”

Standing there in front of him, I couldn’t think of anything anymore to say.

So I pinned the pendant to his coffin, mumbled a prayer I hadn’t even thought about since I was a filly, turned and left.

Chapter Two: Economics 101

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The wake: Applejack

I came up to the reception line just as Twilight finished her story. “So what happened on the second date?” I asked.

She turned to face me, then smiled fondly at the coffin. “I guess he wouldn’t mind my telling the whole story. He and Melon Rind had a falling out. She threw her drink in his face and stormed out of the bar,” she added with a chuckle.

I laughed out loud. “Now that you mention it, I remember gossip in the town market about those two.”

To my surprise, Rainbow Dash leaned-in lookin’ all-serious like.

“Hey! Ix-nay on the affs-lay! This is a wake, not a comedy club!”

I scratched the back of my head. “What’re y’all talkin’ about, Dash? Wakes are to celebrate a pony’s entire life, an’ that’s bound to include both some tears and some real knee slappers. Y’all are doin’ a disservice to the dear departed if you only talk about the sad parts!”

“But–”

“Applejack’s right, Dash,” interrupted Twilight.

I noticed some of the media types trotting around and taking pictures of some of the more famous ponies at the wake. I gestured towards them with my muzzle. “Or to let them tabloid varmints say bad things about Firefly jes’ cause he done made good.”

“But–”

“Looky thar!” I waved to a portly gray coated earth pony stallion and young pale-yellow mare across the hall. “That’s Gross Product and his daughter Ripple. They’re real close friends o’ the Apple family, so I call him Uncle Gap. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell y’all a really neat story about Firefly.”

Uncle Gap and Ripple joined us at the reception line. “Hello, Applejack!” said and bowed to Twilight. “Your majesty. And this must be Rainbow Dash, Dr. Mild Manners, and Sergeant Falcata.” He beamed with pride. “And this is my daughter Ripple. She just started her studies at Canterlot University, my alma matter. It’s a pleasure to meet the two of you, though I wish it were under happier circumstances.”

“Well, Uncle Gap, Ah was just tellin’ Dash here that a wake don’t hafta be all gloom an’ doom! How about y’all tell us the story of when you met Firefly fer the first time, ifen ya don’t mind?”

Gross Product looked at his daughter. She blushed, but nodded. He thought for a moment. “Let’s see, this must have been at most a year after Princess Twilight’s ascension. I had come to Ponyville at her invitation to do a seminar on the economics of magic...”


Economics 101

Gross Product and Firefly

Usually Firefly sat in the front row. Tonight however, Princess Twilight’s weekly lecture on magic had attracted a rather large and intimidating crowd, so he sat at the back of the lecture room, close to where the coffee and pastries were laid out on a table.

Though the sheer number of attendees was unusual, its makeup was even more so: there were many earth ponies and pegasi present. Firefly was used to being the only pegasus in the audience. Even stranger, most of the usual unicorns weren’t in attendance. He chewed the tip of his hoof absentmindedly, wondering if maybe they knew something he didn’t. It had been a busy weekend in the weather brigade, and he hadn't been home except to sleep and eat for four days straight.

The only other resident of the back row was a young pale-yellow earth filly sitting three chairs down from him. Her posture broadcasted seething resentment as she stared fixedly at the chair-back before her. He felt a pang of sympathy, but chose to respect her clearly communicated desire to be left alone.

A commotion at the front drew his attention. The first few rows of chairs were full. To the left of the central aisle sat Filthy Rich and his family. Immediately to their right were the residents of Sweet Apple Acres and Spike.

Why would merchants and farmers come to a seminar about magic? he thought. You should have checked the evening's topic days ago, idiot! He snorted. And do what instead, egghead? These magic seminars are the highlight of your entire week!

With a sigh, he crossed his forelegs. Well, let’s trust in the princess to make this worthwhile.

The hubbub died down as Princess Twilight approached the podium accompanied by a mature, bookish looking earth pony stallion with a gray coat, white mane and, curiously, a cutie mark of a pile of gold coins.

She smiled broadly. “Welcome to the Golden Oaks Memorial Library's series of lectures on magic. Wow! We have a good crowd tonight!” She indicated the stallion. “This is Dr. Gross Product, who teaches economics at the University of Canterlot. He’s a former resident of Ponyville and tonight, as our special guest, he will give a talk on the role of magic in the Equestrian economy.”

Economics! Firefly’s heart and ears sank. Is there possibly a worse way to blow a Tuesday night?!


Gap took Princess Twilight’s place at the lectern. This was a good crowd for a small town, even if half were members of the Apple and Rich clans, friends from when he lived here in Ponyville.

His smile faltered when his gaze fell on the back row. Ripple sat there next to some dubious looking orange pegasus colt of college age. His daughter didn’t look up, brooding beneath the raincloud she’d been under since leaving Canterlot that morning. The last few weeks had been hell at home. He’d hoped the trip to Ponyville would draw her out of her funk. Guess not, he thought. He took a deep breath.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” he began, pasting a smile on his face. “Library, huh? Hey, I know a library joke. What did the librarian say when a book fell on her head?” He paused and smiled crookedly. “Nothing. She only had her shelf to blame!”

The audience groaned as one, except for the dragon Spike who guffawed loudly. “Hey, Twi!” he gasped out, “we resemble that remark!”

The princess chuckled dryly. “Yeah... that was quite funny, Dr. Product.”

Hmmpf. A fizzle. I guess she must have heard it before!

The young pegasus in the back row got up to leave. Called it! The kid’s a slacker!

“Hey you there!” he said.

The pegasus looked up, touching a hoof to his chest. “Me?”

“No, I mean the other young know-it-all getting up to leave my lecture.”

Every head in the room turned to stare.

“Yes, you!” he said. “Do you already know how Equestria’s magic-based economy works? How its forces motivate magic providers and consumers to supply, convert, transport, use magic resources, and to dispose of residual magic? Can you describe thaumic markets and regulatory structures, and their distributional and environmental characteristics?”

“Er, no, not really,” he replied.

Gap put on his best smile. “Then, son, don’t you think you should do yourself a favor, sit down, and learn a bit?”

Twenty ponies’ gazes focused the kid, including Princess Twilight. His orange cheeks turned bright pink. Shuffling to the next chair over, he sat down. “Well, of course I do,” said the kid. “Uh, I just needed to, uh, switch chairs.”

Yeah. Right.

Even Ripple wasn’t buying the excuse. She glared at the pegasus in disgust, then went back to staring at chair-backs.

“Splendid!” said Gap. He leaned onto the lectern. “I always like to start these talks with the basics.” He directed his gaze towards the Apples.

“Now, Apple Bloom, being a big professor at university sounds like an important job, right?”

The filly nodded happily. “Sure is, Uncle Gap!” The other ponies chuckled. Gap distinctly heard a ‘Hmmf Uncle!’ from Ripple. What’s gotten into that girl?!

“Well, it’s real sweet of you to say that, so I’m going to tell you a story.”

“A pony walking along a road in the countryside comes across a shepherd and a huge flock of sheep. Tells the shepherd, I’ll bet you 100 bits against one of your sheep that I can tell you the exact number in this flock. The shepherd thinks it over; it's a big flock so he takes the bet.

973, says the pony.

The shepherd is astonished, because that’s exactly right. He says Sir, I'm a stallion of my word, go ahead and take one. The pony picks up one of the furry critters and begins to walk away.

Wait, cries the shepherd, Let me have a chance to get even. Double or nothing says I can guess your exact occupation. The pony looks smug and says Sure. The shepherd looks him up and down. You teach economics at the university, says the shepherd. Amazing! responds the pony, You are exactly right! But tell me, how did you know?

Well, says the shepherd, put down my dog and I’ll tell you!”

The was a moment of silence. A mare’s lilting laugh rang out, followed by the sound of most of the ponies present laughing. Filthy’s daughter, Diamond Tiara, whispered into the ear of a friend she had brought to the seminar, who began her own belated high-pitched titter, which set the audience laughing again. Except for Ripple, he noted with concern, who covered her face with her hooves.

“This joke introduces the fundamental idea of economics: that things only have value based on how much ponies want them compared with how easy or hard they are to obtain. This is called supply and demand.”

He pointed to Diamond Tiara, “Now, why does the shepherd raise sheep?"

“To grow wool!” she said wrinkling her nose. “Why else would anypony keep the smelly things!” This raised a few laughs, but it wasn’t the answer he was seeking.

He pointed to the Diamond’s friend. “And why does that shepherd want to grow wool?”

“To make scarves!” The filly said emphatically.

His grin faltered. “And why do ponies make scarves?” He looked towards the back. “Ripple, can you tell us?” She knows this. Let’s see if I can draw her out.

She lowered her hooves from her face. There was no mistaking the anger in her face nor in the timbre of her voice. “Because, they’re too cold-hearted to stay home with their families!” she growled. Knocking down her chair, she turned and bolted from the room.

Gap was too shocked to react. What? He swallowed. “It’s time for a break. Ten minutes, everypony. Ripple!” he called, and dashed out in pursuit of his daughter.

He caught up with her on the other side of the library. She glared at him. “I hate you!” she said. “I never want to speak with you again!” She turned her back on him and stomped into the garden beyond the library.


Everypony was gathered around the snack table. Firefly munched happily on an absolutely amazing apple fritter.

“The pastries are better than usual tonight, Firefly,” said a familiar voice.

He turned and sketched a little bow. “Yes, they are, Your Majesty,” he said, licking the crumbs from his lips.

“It’s Twilight when I’m in the library, Firefly. You know that.” A tentative smile lit her face.

“Yeah, Prin... uh, Twilight.” He’d often chatted with her about magic at these lectures, and sometimes when they’d crossed paths in town. She’d always proven both accommodating and cheerful, but tonight he could tell she was upset. “Do you have any idea what that was all about?”

She shook her head. “Not entirely. I know that was his daughter sitting at the back next to you. And she didn’t look like a happy pony.”

“Woah, his daughter?! That’s rough!”

“Ayup!” said a deep male voice from behind him. He turned and stared way up into the huge muzzle of Big Macintosh. His sister Applejack stood next to him. Members of the Apple clan sold produce at their stand every market day, so he had on occasion chatted briefly with them both.

“Ripple an’ her pa are going through a rough spell is all,” said Applejack. “Happens sometimes when foals hit that age.”

He nodded. “Reminds me of my own teenage years,” he smiled ruefully. “My parents weren’t pleased when I didn’t want to go into the family business in Cloudsdale. It got pretty rough.”

“How did it work out?” asked Applejack.

“It took a few years, but the situation is fine, now.” As fine as it could be, he thought ruefully.

Just then, the professor reentered the room looking flustered. Ponies began shuffling back to their seats. Twilight and Applejack exchanged concerned glances.

Applejack fixed Firefly with a speculative stare. “Twi?” She asked. “How well do you know this feller?”

The princess’s eyebrows rose. “We’ve had a number of conversations, mostly about magic and alchemy.” She nodded and smiled. “But we’ve talked enough for me to be able to say that he’s a good pony, Applejack. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“I suppose so,” she said. The mare continued to lock gazes with him. “Son, amongst the adults present you’re the closest to Ripple's age, and it appears you may have some experiences in common. Wouldja mind talkin’ with her?”

“Me?! Counselling a rebellious ‘tween?!” He felt ice in the pit of his stomach. “What about you talking with her? You obviously know her way better than I do!”

Embarrassment tinged the mare’s freckled face. “Ah wish ah could, but she’s been pretty hostile to every Apple since she an’ her daddy got here. I suspect ah’m the last pony she’ll talk with, and she gave Twilight the cold wither when her daddy introduced them.” She sighed and stared into Firefly’s eyes. “So, we’re kinda short on options. Are ya willin’ to help?”

Her gaze was merciless. In town the mare had a reputation for epic stubbornness. She’ll never let me off the hook! he thought. I am so thoroughly bucked!

He put down the remains of the fritter. “Sure, why not?” he said resignedly and turned to go. An iron-hard hoof jerked him to a halt. He turned his head back to look into Applejack’s half-lidded eyes.

“We all understand that she’s still a youngster and should be treated gently, now, don’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am!” he said.

Her hoof let go. “Ya’ll make sure you keep that in mind!”

He nodded, then trotted out of the room.

Idiot! he berated himself. This can only end in trouble!


Firefly found Ripple sitting on a long stone bench in the garden on the opposite side of the library from the seminar room.

“That was quite an exit!” he said in greeting.

The filly didn’t look up at him. “Better get back in before he embarrasses you in front of everypony, again,” she said. “He’s very good at that.”

Firefly sat down on the far end of the bench. “Of us two, I suspect he’s the one feeling most embarrassed right now.”

Her grin wasn’t pretty. “Yeah? Well he deserves it!”

“Does he now?” Quit stalling! In for a bit, in for a bunch! “Why’s that?”

She glared at him suspiciously. “Why should I tell you anything?” She turned her head away. “You're just some loser at one of his lectures!”

Feeling stung, Firefly almost got up to walk away. Almost. He took a deep breath.

“Call me whatever names you want, but I'm somepony who knows what it's like not getting along with his parents.”

He took her silence as an invitation to continue.

“So why did you blow up at your dad?”

She took a moment before answering. “Because he’s a liar! And a fraud! And they are the family he really wanted!” The filly hid her face as tears began to flow. “Not us! My mom isn't the wife he wanted! I'm not the daughter he wanted! Those farmers, they're the family he wants!” She shuddered as she wept. “How do you think that makes me feel?”

Firefly’s own breath caught in his throat. You're not the son he wants! The words echoed in his head. “How... how do you know?”

The filly sniffled and ran a fetlock over her nose. “He kept a diary. I found it in the attic. He was in love with her. Not my mom.”

“Sorry to ask, but in love with whom? Applejack?”

“No.” She said miserably. “It was her mother, Honeycrisp.”

Firefly was confused a moment. He had never met a mare named Honeycrisp at the Apple stand. He then recalled how one of his roommates had told him that Applejack and Big Mac were siblings, as was Apple Bloom, all of them having lost their parents in a terrible accident.

“Wait?” he replied. “Didn’t she and her husband pass away over ten years ago?”

She nodded. “That was before I was born. My parents were already married by then, but he still wrote about her in his diary, and after she died about helping her kids and how they were just like family to him!”

“That's a long time ago. It doesn't mean that he still feels the same way now.”

“Then how come all he talks about is going away?” she snarled. “First he wanted to go sailing around the world. Now he says he'd like to move here and start a farm.” She turned her head to face him, her eyes deep pools of despair. “Why does he want to leave us behind?”

Firefly’s ears fell flat against the sides of his head. “Did you talk with him about this?”

“I don't have to.”

He placed a hoof on the bench and leaned towards her. “Yes. You do.”

Ripple shook her head.

“Trust me! You do!” Tear-filled eyes looked into the filly's. “Before it's too late!” he whispered.

Her eyes widened as she regarded him a long moment. “What do you mean, too late?”

Firefly slumped on the bench. “I haven’t told this to anypony since I moved to Ponyville. I left Cloudsdale because my dad and I had a terrible argument.” He stared at his forehooves. “I said... some things that a foal should never say to a parent. I left, and then...” He turned his face away and shuddered twice. “Then he died.”

Ripple was very quiet.

“Talking to my mom later, I found out how badly I had misunderstood him.” He smiled through his tears. “Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t an angel, but neither was he the only one to blame for our problems. My biggest regret is that I never apologized to him, and now I never will.”

Ripple sat as still as stone. He wondered if his emotional outburst had frightened the filly, and if he should just head on home, when she batted an ear.

“Okay... I’ll do it.”


Gap's heart was in his throat. His daughter was talking to that young pegasus, of all ponies! At least she's talking to somepony.

He spoke up in his gravelly voice. “Is there room for another pony on this bench?”

Ripple and the pegasus turned to face him. He stood there, hoping that, somehow, the colt’s words had bridged the gap between him and his daughter. She glanced briefly at him and then, looking down, nodded.

The pegasus got to his hooves as he approached. They exchanged glances.

“Thank you, son. It took guts to admit what you said to my daughter.” The kid nodded.

Ripple drew in a breath. “How long were you there, listening?”

“Long enough,” he replied. “Long enough to know I’ve been a complete idiot. Long enough to know you have questions you need answered.”

He sat down next to his daughter. The pegasus quietly backed out of the garden, leaving them to conduct their talk in private.


When Firefly got back to the lecture room Princess Twilight was closing the seminar. She glanced in his direction. His nod and quick smile seemed to reassure her. She nodded back.

“Thanks for coming, everypony. Next week we return to our regular series on magic theory and practice with a workshop entitled Teleportation, the do’s and dont’s!”

Firefly looked on as the ponies in the audience filed out. Applejack and Princess Twilight were amongst the last to leave.

“Are all these seminars so lively?” asked Applejack.

“Thank Celestia, no!” he replied.

Princess Twilight’s grin faded. “What? Do you find my lectures boring?!” she asked, looking concerned.

His eyes widened and he shook his head. “No! Er, Your Highness! Absolutely not!”

“Oh good!” she replied, seemingly mollified. “See you next week, Firefly?”

He nodded emphatically. “See you next week, Your Maj.... er, Twilight.”

The mares left him standing in the library. He glanced around. It was getting late.

Guess that wasn’t such a bad Tuesday night after all! He whistled as he walked home.

Chapter three: The Artifact

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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!”

Chapter four: Convalescence

View Online

The wake: Falcata

Whirligig tittered in the way these modern pegasi mares did so often: with carefree abandon. It is not that I disapprove of such attitudes, but the less frivolous pegasi of my day had born the burden of the fight for unity that modern Equestrians enjoy without a second thought. Something in my demeanour must have caught her eye, for she looked askance in my direction.

“Hey,” said Whirligig, “weren’t you hurt fighting those same manticores that nearly put me and Firefly in the cemetery?” She grinned, and to my embarrassment carried on. “I remember being told you ended up sharing a hospital room with Firefly. Is that true?”

I coughed into my good hoof. “Er, yes, actually, that is how Firefly and I met.”

"That was my doing," said Princess Twilight. “I figured I’d be visiting them both, so to keep the stress on the hospital staff at a minimum I asked that they share the same room. I had no idea that they’d become such good friends as a consequence.”

“Yeah!” said Rainbow Dash, “he had such a hard time fitting-in with the other members of the weather brigade, and then he ends up palling around with our time-displaced pegasus warrior? Who woulda thunk it?”

“Ahem,” I sketched a discrete bow to the Princess, “I nevertheless am most grateful that you did, your majesty! Firefly was most sympathetic to my feelings of displacement at the time, and his support a blessing of which I was most needful.”

“Still,” persisted Rainbow Dash, “an egghead like him and a jar-head like you make for a pretty odd couple!”

I sighed at the old jibe. “We were certainly the closest of mates, but never in that sense, Rainbow Dash. Perhaps it's because neither of us knew the pleasure of having siblings when we were foals. Though we differed greatly as individuals, we most certainly shared much in circumstance. His is the face I see when I hear uttered the word brother, and it shall evermore be so.”

Sad eyes sought out Firefly's coffin. Feeling that the situation was becoming altogether too maudlin, I chuckled.

“But I do admit, our first days together in that hospital room would not have led anypony to even suspect this possible outcome...”


Convalescence
Falcata and Firefly

Falcata tucked in her left wing and flared her right wing just so. Her neck was inches away from the manticore’s razor-sharp fangs when she snap-rolled and flew a perfect corkscrew path around the beast, poising her a hoof's span above its back.

Whither thy prey, foul beast!?

The deadly creature’s eyes widened in confusion and then alarm as it perceived the sudden reversal in their positions. Falcata’s blood sang as her heart beat furiously, wings spread wide, sword in her good right hoof, lips pulled back in a feral grin.

Now I am the hunter!

The manticore dove to evade her. She matched its maneuvers easily, more nimble in flight than the lumbering beast.

I am Pegasus!

The manticore canted his wings, decelerating dangerously fast. She did not change position by so much as a hair’s breadth.

And I. Rule. The Skies!

Falcata roared.

Hers again was the fury of valour in the fight against the implacable foe. Hers again was the hoof of justice thwarting those who would prey on the innocent. For the first time in over a thousand years Falcata felt truly and completely alive. Her ears ached to hear the sound of the monster’s body hitting the ground with a most satisfying thump.

She raised her sword and began the swing that would sever the manticore’s head from its body. There was a massive crunch and...



... she awoke.

Elder gods! she moaned. The pain was everywhere, yet somehow felt very remote.

Whither the sky? Above her was a closed, white surface.

Turning her head brought a bed into view.

A hospice!

The bed was occupied by an orange pegasus stallion with a red mane looking at her with concern.

His countenance be familiar! It took a few heartbeats for her addled wits to deliver a name.

Firefly. The pegasus who would fain be a mage! How ironic!

Falcata shared a sick-room with the very pony whose attack by Everfree manticores had prompted her embarrassingly ill-executed hunt.

She groaned in shame.


“Miss Falcata!” Firefly could hardly see her cream coloured coat through all the bandages and splints. Even her wings were immobilized. Her only unbound limb was the short stump of her left foreleg, the prosthetic she always wore having been removed.

He had seen her on visits to Princess Twilight, when Falcata was on duty as ceremonial guard. There had been plenty of gossip in town when she first arrived, hired by the princess despite having only three legs. Firefly himself thought it was no big deal. Pegasi could compensate for the loss reasonably well with their wings.

Far more fascinating was how, before she had been turned to stone and lost for over a millennium, Falcata had known Clover the Clever personally. He had been itching to talk with her ever since the nurse wheeled her gurney into his room.

Firefly smiled. “You gave us quite a scare!” he said brightly.

His ears drooped when Falcata turned her face away from him and towards the window. She gazed out onto the violet tinged cerulean of sunset. It was a minute before she spoke.

“Twas the second manticore that felled me, Mister Firefly?” she asked in a gravelly voice.

“So I hear.” He was surprised that she remembered his name. “Princess Twilight saw you being struck. She said the second manticore rammed into you at full speed from a dive.” He grinned. “You’re one tough old bird, Miss Falcata! The manticore didn’t survive the collision! It’s unfortunate that its mate got away, but then the princess had her hooves full rescuing you!”

In the dying light he saw her eyes grow wide and her jaw drop.

Firefly’s smile faded. “Miss Falcata, are you okay?”

The mare’s only response was a tear.

“Falcata?”

“Silence, knave!” she snapped, causing him to start and clutch his blanket tighter. She turned a face full of rage and tears towards him. “Is my shame so sweet to thine eyes that thou must needs bait me!?” She laid her head back, shaking in her restraints and breathing hard. It took a few minutes for her emotions to abate.

“Prithee, sir,” she said in a cold voice, “stay thy tongue and let me be.”

Firefly swallowed. Feeling both helpless and a bit guilty, he turned over on his side and gave the troubled mare some privacy as the room grew dark with the end of day.


Falcata pushed into the undergrowth of the Everfree forest, slashing a path through the brambles and thorns with her eponymous sword. She bled from several deep scratches to both forelegs. Behind her, Clover held her shield with his magic, preventing the remaining branches from scratching him in turn.

“Keep thee well behind me, mage!” she said with a grin. “Piking that witch’s head shall be the Legion’s work, and mine shall be the hoof to deliver the very stroke of justice!” She wiped the sweat from her brow with a fetlock, and laughed. “Thy pretty new cloak will be safe from harm, and thy dainty self to boot!”

The unicorn’s expression remained grim. “Thou shouldst be wary, Falcata! This witch hath dispatched more than one Legionnaire. She be right subtle, and quick to anger. Do not underestimate her!”

She stopped and took a few well earned breaths. “How strange these times in which we live, that after the accord of the Three Tribes, a unicorn and a pegasus would make common cause to hunt a unicorn exile!” She glanced behind to catch his reply.

He'd opened his mouth to respond when his eyes grew wide in alarm. She snapped her head forward and saw the witch a mere ponylength in front of her. With a shout she raised her falcata and stepped forward to strike the witch down. Her sword swished and passed right through the evil sorceress.

An illusion!

There was a loud detonation behind her. Falcata looked back in a panic. Clover stood cowering behind her shield, smoke rising from his right flank, his pea-green coat smeared with soot and blood. A movement caught her eye. The real Witch of the Everfree stood three paces to her left, along a path that had not been visible moments before.

Without hesitation she launched herself forward, falcata held high to cut the witch down before she could cast another spell. There was a blinding flash, the smell of hot metal, and blood. Taking a step back, Falcata stumbled. Looking down she saw a ragged stump, all that remained of her left forelimb. Blood fountained from it with her every heartbeat.

She heard Clover’s scream, or maybe it was her own, and darkness took her.


Falcata awoke in the dark, trembling, the echo of the scream long past still on her lips. Her trussed up limbs throbbed as her heart fought to burst its way out of her bandaged ribcage.

“Falcata?” said a male voice. “Are you okay?”

Firefly. Not him. Not Clover.

The ache in her heart was still there. Even after a thousand years.

Falcata forced a steady breath. “Worry not, sir,” she replied. “Twas but a nightmare, and a very old one at that.”

The stallion moved on his bed.

“Miss Falcata, I...” he began, “I wish to apologize for what I said earlier. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Her thoughts and recollections were still somewhat hazy.

“I’m sorry! Really!” he went on. “I shouldn’t have called you a tough old bird.”

Falcata snorted. And then she chuckled.

“To such as I, being styl’d a tough old bird is consider’d high praise indeed!”

The stallion continued. “And it was my fault you went on this hunt to start with. If I had been more alert those manticores would never have had been able to hurt anypony in the first place.”

“Pish-posh, sir,” answered Falcata. “Tis my duty to defend...”

Her voice faltered when, finally, the memory of their short exchange of the previous evening returned. She felt the heat of shame and bitter disappointment upon her features.

And I failed. The world felt suddenly grey and unforgiving.

Honour demands this much at least. What little of it I have left.

“Tis not I who should take offense, but rather thee.” Falcata’s ears drooped low. “No, Mister Firefly, twas I who struck out in my shame, and for that I do cry your pardon. My wrath at thee was a craven thing.” She turned her face to the window.

“You see, after my release from the cockatrice’s curse, and my wanderings in this strange, passionless echo of my Equestria, I thought I had finally made me a place for myself, here in Ponyville. I was mistaken.”

“Mistaken how? Aren’t you in Princess Twilight’s guard?”

“I am. But I will resign my commission and depart this town as soon as I be granted leave of this hospice.”

“Really? Whyever would you do that?”

“Because,” she replied hotly, “I am a guardpony. It is my duty to protect Her Majesty, not to be rescued by Her like some hapless foal!”

“Well,” replied Firefly, “why should it matter who saved whom? You’re both safe!”

Falcata shook her head. “Do none of the ponies of this age understand honour!?”

“Honestly,” the stallion persisted, “would you have preferred that Princess Twilight left you to die and chased after the other manticore?”

“Aye!” she hissed. “Aye! A thousand times over, aye! Rather than be thus disgraced!”

“That’s crazy! You’ve got so much to live for!”

Falcata’s eyes narrowed. “Thou callow youngling! What knowest thee of life?” Her laugh was half a sob. “I have lived for over a thousand years! I have seen battles where pony fought pony and took pride in the killing. I have lost a piece of myself, been diminished and rendered useless to those I would love, and loathsome to those who would love me. I have seen life and death aplenty, and know their faces far more intimately than thou couldst imagine!”

Suddenly bone tired, Falcata lay her head down. Outside, Luna’s brilliant night called out to her, adding the pang of longing to the constant pain of her injuries.

“You see, Mister Firefly, there are no constant stars in my firmament. There is no home for me, other than in memories that fade with every passing hour. More the fool I to have hoped otherwise.” She took a deep, trembling breath.

“Miss Falcata, I’m sure that if you spoke with the princess she would tell you that she feels otherwise.”

“It is my honour that is at stake here, Mister Firefly!” she said hotly. “Not Her Majesty’s! I will not be a sham! I will not be a –” her breath caught in her throat “– a broken relic, more pitied than useful!”

Silence stretched. She closed her eyes.

“I tire, sir, and would fain cease these bitter ruminations. Let us sleep now, please.”


Falcata awoke to the enticing smell of breakfast. Firefly was awake and eating. She looked away, hoping to discourage idle prattle.

A nurse entered the room. “And how do we feel this morning, Miss Falcata?” she said cheerily.

Her stomach answered with a loud rumble.

We hunger, nurse,” said Falcata archly. “But we also find ourselves fettered and impotent.”

Still smiling, the nurse was pushing the breakfast cart closer to Falcata’s bed when a gong sounded and a voice announced: “Code blue in room 228. Repeat. Code blue in room 228.”

The nurse jerked to a halt and turned towards Firefly. “This might take a while. Mister Firefly, you’re no longer restricted to bed, would you please assist Miss Falcata with her meal?”

Firefly nodded. “Sure.” He pushed aside his own breakfast.

Satisfied that things were in-hoof, the nurse rushed from the room.

With his muzzle, Firefly pushed the breakfast cart closer to Falcata’s bed. Rising on his hind legs, he wiped his forehooves with a cloth.

“So what do you want first, Miss Falcata, the OJ, toast, or some oatmeal?”

She looked away. “Thou need not do this.”

He laughed. “You heard the nurse! I know an order when I hear one!”

She couldn’t prevent a guffaw of her own. Nor the look of pain on her face that followed the
brief convulsion of her barrel.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded. “Aye. A drink of juice would be right welcome.”

He held up a folded paper box with a paper straw protruding from its end. She extended her head forward and emptied the box in two strong sips, immediately feeling better as the sweet concoction hit her stomach. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!” He picked up the bowl of oatmeal in one hoof and a spoon in the other.

She stared at the spoon balefully. “I... do not share this modern affectation for shoving metal implements into my mouth. I find the taste displeasing. Just place the bowl within my reach.” He did so and she pushed her muzzle into the bowl, making short work of the oatmeal.

The breakfast was meager by her normal standards, yet she felt incapable of swallowing another bite. She burped loudly, before remembering that such was considered rude nowadays. “That will suffice, Mister Firefly. I thank thee for thy kindness and good office, sir.”

He nodded. “You’re most welcome.”

She lay back her head as he pushed the cart away. Climbing back into his own bed, he resumed eating his own meal. She noticed him glancing thoughtfully in her direction often as he chewed.

“Out with it, Mister Firefly,” she stated. “Ruin not thy digestion by holding in that which wishes to come out.”

He gazed into her eyes. “Might I ask you a question of a personal nature?”

She nodded.

“Could you tell me about Clover the Clever? Were you really his friend?”

Falcata’s ears drooped. Thinking of Clover made evident a gaping void in her life.

“He was so... unexpected.” Her gaze drew inward. “Thou must needs understand, in those days, relations between ponies of different tribes were rare exceeding, and of necessity quite... circumspect.” She blushed. “But, aye, I knew him well. If not for him I would be dead, though sometimes” – her expression was suddenly fierce – ”I would gladly barter this life of confusion for the sweet comfort of having died in his embrace.”

Firefly’s eyes widened. “You loved him!”

“Aye, I did.” She replied. Her expression softened. “He was such a timid lad, afraid of the smallest insect, yet, so fearless in defense of Harmony. He changed forever my ideas of what it meant to be a good pony.”

Firefly smiled. “How did you meet?”

She chuckled.

“I were a junior pony in Commander Hurricane’s guard, on sentry duty at the entrance of the cave wherein the tribal leaders did hold meetings, when this little green unicorn colt bedecked within an ugly brown cloak, hardly older than m’self, comes up insisting that he was Princess Platinum’s factotum!” She raised an eyebrow.

“So what did then transpire? I did turn him ’round and kick his flank back down the path whence he had come!” She laughed heartily. “I made me quite a face when he return’d with the princess and her retinue! He did approach me forthwith and asked of me my name.”

Her expression softened again. “I gave it, expecting the worst, and he introduced himself again, as if nothing awkward had ever happened twixt us.” She sighed. “Twas the first time in my life I had e’er felt friendship from a non-pegasus. From thence forward, he did make a point to come speak with me whenever we did meet.”

Firefly chuckled.

Falcata’s eyes lit up. “Aye, and there were the one time he thought some miscreant had absconded with his cloak, and he galloped hither and thither in a panic, until finally I discovered that it had naught but blown away whilst drying in the sun!”

The rest of the morning went by in a blur as Falcata fondly recounted her many adventures with Clover the Clever.


Firefly watched as the same nurse that had brought them breakfast wheeled in their lunches. Before leaving, she gave Firefly a pointed look and made a feeding gesture with a hoof. Getting the message, he nodded, and the nurse trotted out happily.

If this continues they’ll have to add my name to the staff list, he thought.

He ate his own lunch as quietly as possible, keeping an eye on his sleeping roommate. Falcata had talked for over two hours before she finally tired and drifted off. After her stories, Firefly would never read Clover’s writings the same way again.

It didn’t take long for the enticing smells to call Falcata from slumber. Her nose twitched as her muzzle turned towards the scent of food.

Firefly slid off of his bed and pushed Falcata’s meal closer. When her eyes opened she smiled. “Mister Firefly!” Her eyes widened as she noticed that he no longer wore his hospital gown. “Art thou discharged from this cheerful demesne?”

He offered her a juice box. “Please, just call me Firefly. I can leave as soon as the doctor gives me a final examination.” Falcata again downed the juice without hesitation. He lifted a daisy sandwich to her lips. “But I will be back to visit later, Miss Falcata.”

“Falcata will do,” she said, and then decimated the sandwich in four huge bites.

“You certainly have no restraint with food!”

The mare blushed. “Aye. I’ve been told it is not considered very comely to eat thus.”

“Oh, I don’t think you’re the only one who can scarf down food in this little town. Not that it’s a problem here, this isn’t Canterlot after all! And the ponies of Ponyville are amongst the most accommodating I’ve ever met.”

She turned an ear in his direction. “How so?”

He held a buttered scone up to her mouth and she took a huge bite.

“I wasn’t born here. I arrived at a very low point in my life, when I thought there was no place anywhere where I could simply be me, and not just a tool for other ponies’ plans.” He smiled sheepishly. “That, and the freedom to pursue my passion. You see, nothing has interested me more than magic since I was a foal. Admittedly, it’s an odd avocation for a pegasus. My parents were devastated. They had named me Firefly after the pegasus general.”

Falcata swallowed, then snorted. “I knew him. He was surly, miserly and vile tempered, but he flew like the wind itself.” She smacked her lips. “I’d much rather your company than his, truth be told!”

Firefly laughed and bowed. “The way to a mare’s heart is through her stomach, so I’ve heard.” He held up an apple for her to bite. “As I was saying, Ponyville is a special place. Different. The townsfolk made room for me. I finally found... myself here.” He laughed, embarrassed.

Falcata swallowed the last of the apple, including the core. “Princess Twilight is most certainly a different sort,” she said. “And hers is the light that guides this place.”

Firefly shook his head. “I thought so too when I first arrived, but not anymore.” He help a cup of tea to Falcata’s lips. He chose his words as she sipped. “Now I think that it’s not Princess Twilight that made Ponyville, but rather that Ponyville made Princess Twilight.”

“What!?” Falcata sputtered as some tea went down the wrong way. Firefly wiped her chin with a napkin.

“If you think about it, she was just an ordinary unicorn when she was sent here by Princess Celestia. Rumour has it she used to prefer being by herself. Now she’s the Princess of Friendship! This place changed her, she’s told me so herself. Also, do you think it a coincidence that all six Bearers of the Elements of Harmony live in proximity to this town?”

He offered her a drink of water, which she gulped down hurriedly. “Thou hast the right of it.” She nodded. “It beggars belief that all these wonders have come to this sleepy hamlet without some guiding agency.”

Firefly smiled. “Then Falcata, is it any harder to believe that Harmony, or fate, or whatever you want to call it, brought us here for a purpose as well? That Ponyville might just have a place for a pegasus who wants to do magic, and a warrior lost in time?”

Falcata gazed at the ceiling, lips pressed tight.

I mustn’t push her too hard, he thought. He pulled her tray away and noticed the doctor standing in the doorway, staring at him with a very wide grin on her face.

“You look perfectly fine to me, Mister Firefly,” she said. “You’re discharged from the hospital. Try not to come back so soon next time.” She turned on her hooves and left.

Firefly turned his head back to the mare on the bed. “I’ll be by to see you later, M... Falcata.”

She nodded, but didn’t seek his eye. “Fare thee well, Firefly.”

He left hoping his words had gotten through to the mare, and not just made her situation more difficult.


Mid-morning painted the walls of Falcata’s room so bright looking at them hurt her eyes. She shifted carefully onto her side. Earlier the nurses had removed the bindings on her wings, leaving her some freedom to move around in her bed. Her barrel was still bound tight due to several cracked ribs, and the limbs of her right side were still in splints.

There was a knock at the door.

“Enter,” she called.

Her former roommate came in, carrying a tall frosted glass tied with a bow.

“Firefly,” she said, “I wish you a pleasant morn!”

“Morning, Falcata!” He smiled broadly. “It must be a relief to have your wings free!”

“Aye... I mean, yes, it is.” Falcata winced internally. Will I ever get a proper grasp of modern speech?

The stallion approached her bed. “I have a little gift for you.” He held out the glass.

A huge grin split her muzzle. “Do mine eyes deceive me? Be this a Rainbow Blitzer?”

Firefly’s smile matched her own. “Direct from Minnie Milk’s Café! She says Hi, by the way, and wants you to know she’ll come by later.” He tilted his head to one side. “You know, maybe you’ve got more friends in Ponyville than you think!”

Falcata’s smile faded as she took the still frosty milkshake from him using her wingtips. “Must we again chew over that topic?”

Firefly sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like a broken record. I just wanted one last chance to change your mind before Princess Twilight comes to visit at lunchtime.”

Falcata regarded him severely. “As I did most clearly state to thee yestereve, Mister Firefly, I consider this a matter of mine own honour. I should hope you will understand and respect my feelings in this regards.”

He nodded, eyes on his own forehooves. “I understand.” He glanced up sadly. “I hope we can still be friends, though.”

“Of that I have no question!” She took a huge, long slurp of the milkshake, followed with an enormous burp. “Ah, but that’s good!” she said, putting the drink down on an elevated tray next to her bed.

Her expression serious, she looked into Firefly’s face. “I have one more favour to ask of thee, one which I fear is of a somewhat delicate nature.”

“Sure,” he replied, eyes downcast. “I’ll do anything I can to help.”

She pointed at the room’s closet with a wing. “Couldst thee fetch me and help me don my uniform? I shan’t be seen by Her Majesty wearing this infernal gown! She wouldst most assuredly boot me from without my post!”

It took a whole glorious three seconds for Firefly to work out the implications of her words. She only winced a few times when the stallion lunged forward and wrapped her in an enthusiastic hug. Looking out over his shoulder through the window, the tiny hamlet of Ponyville called to her. Whether it was Harmony or fate, or something else entirely, there was no mistaking the words the spirit of the town whispered into her heart.

Welcome home.

Chapter five: The Homebrew Enchanters’ Club

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The wake: Spike the Dragon

I got to the wake a bit late because I had to deal a few issues with the florists/caterers. Turns out they’d sent the edible arrangements for the buffet to the funeral home and the commemorative arrangements to the castle! It’s a good thing the main reception hall of the castle has a lot of extra space, and that the castle kitchens – and Sugarcube Corner – were up to putting together an impromptu spread for two hundred ponies, dozens of other equines, gryphons, diamond dogs, minotaurs, various overdressed celebrities of indeterminate specie, and one hungry dragon! I don’t think any guests noticed anything amiss, but I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d see carrot, celery and spinach based flower arrangements (with zesty flavoured dipping sauces) at the funeral the day after!

I had to bend over slightly as Twilight, Applejack and Dash each gave me a hug. Falcata saluted – this being a public occasion. Manny bumped my offered fist with his hoof, as did Whirligig, Dr. Product and the young mare with him, which I presume was his daughter Ripple.

“Mister Prime Minister!” She curtsied, and hesitated before offering her hoof. I ignored the delay and gently tapped it with the knuckles of my closed claw, as it’s not unusual for ponies to be intimidated when meeting me for the first time. After my most recent growth spurt the only ponies left that can look me straight in the eye are Big Mac and the Canterlot princesses...
... or maybe it was the whole dragon thing.

Twilight pointed to the screen I had erected next to the coffin. It showed a continuous series of photos from Firefly’s life, some of the them with captions that Falcata, Manny and I had spent days putting together.

“A lot of ponies are watching the show you three put together, some of them looking at it more than once! That was a really good idea of yours, Spike!”

I blushed. “Yeah, well Manny provided one of the newest multimedia spell caster units, and Falcata was able to get photos and stuff from ponies in town and even some of his relatives. We learned a lot we didn’t know about Firefly doing it. I’m glad others will get the chance to do the same.”

Every pony grew quiet as pictures of Firefly as a foal flew by on the screen.

“Spike did the incanting for this,” said Manny into the silence. “This is running on a prototype cantrip package from a little spellware startup based in Caballo Alto, and it’s still quite buggy. Spike has been one of the real pioneers developing these types of applications.” He glanced at the filly. “Did you know, Miss Ripple, that Spike wrote some of the first major spells for the original spell caster platform?”

“Uh-huh!” said Ripple nodding, to my surprise. She smiled at me shyly. “DragonSoft designs the best enchantment compilers and spell interpreters on the market, as well as some of the best games. Mr. Spike is a real celebrity in the field of Information and Enchantment Science.”

Dash flew up just high enough to put her muzzle near my ear. “Hey, Spike. You have a fan!” she whispered, sotto voce, then dropped back to the floor, laughing.

“Certainly not as many as you do, Dash,” I said to cover my embarrassment.

“But you were there!” Ripple gazed up into my face, eyes wide.

“Uh, where?” I answered lamely.

“At the first meeting of the Homebrew Enchanter’s Club! Where the whole personal spell caster revolution started! I saw a picture they took with you in it!”

“Oh, there.” I nodded. “That was a few years ago. Yes, I was there.”

“Squeeee!” She hip-hopped in place and smiled up at me. “Can you tell us about it? I mean, what really happened!”

I looked towards the screen next to Firefly’s casket, and as coincidence would have it, it was showing a photo taken at that very meeting. There were Firefly and Manny with one of the first spell caster units as I stood at the front of the group, less than half my current height, almost lost in all those ponies’ legs.

“Sure,” I said. “Of course nopony knew how important that meeting would be for the future of spell casters. It was just a bunch of magic aficionados, with funny ideas of what to do with Manny and Firefly’s invention...”


Chapter five: The Homebrew Enchanters’ Club

The note visible on the top of the stack read:

AMATEUR MAGIC USERS GROUP

HOMEBREW ENCHANTERS’ CLUB . . . you name it.

Are you building your own spell matrix? Magic mirror? Animated spellbook?

Enchanted device? or some other arcane black-magic box?

Or are buying time from a mage-for-hire?

If so, you might like to come to a gathering of ponies with like-minded interests.

Exchange information, swap ideas, talk shop, help work on a project, whatever . . .

We are getting together Wednesday nite, March 5th, 7 pm at the home of Gordon Prench

614 18th Ave., Canterlot (near Marsh Road) .

If you can’t make it this time, drop us a card for the next meeting.

See ya there,

At the bottom, in hoof-script was an added note:

Hope you can come. (signed) Fern Moor

There will be other enchanters there.


Spike’s eyebrows rose as he read the text.

“Wow! Isn’t Fern Moor the head of the Equalist culture movement? That dude makes waves wherever he goes. So why’s he so interested in spell casting platforms?”

Spike, Firefly and Mild Manners sat around the small kitchen table in Manny’s apartment. The unicorn floated one of the invitations from the stack in the middle of the table closer to his muzzle and examined it. “We’ve met him a few times on campus. He saw us doing some basic spell testing on the hoofball field and came over to check us out. He was real excited about the spell caster and saw it as a way of countering the power of big corporations that monopolize access to high-powered unicorns, and as a way to reduce the influence of the nobility, who are disproportionately unicorns.”

“Wow, but isn’t he like a unicorn noble himself?”

Firefly grinned. “Yes he is. So is Mr. Prench, the other co-founder of the club. But we all think everypony can benefit from personal spell casters, unicorns included. Princess Twilight seems to think so too.” His eyes lit up. “Do you think that’s why she agreed that you could help us with this event?”

Spike looked at the invitee list, took an invitation, and tossing it into the air made it vanish in a puff of green fire. He then checked off the first name on the list. “She was pretty supportive of my volunteering, not least because she knows about my mad organizational capabilities, and my draconic mail forwarding skills.”

Both stallions’ jaws had dropped open. Manny was the first to recover. “That will save us a lot of bits on postage,” he managed, while still looking awed. “So, Spike, we’re grateful, but why did you volunteer?”

Spike laughed. “Being the Element of Magic’s number-one assistant, I have a lot of interest in magic and a better education in the subject that most unicorns! Not to mention that Firefly promised me an all-I-can-eat visit to Pony Joe’s for donuts, so don’t count those bits just yet!”


Mild Manners straightened his tie and brushed off his tweed jacket. “There must be a hundred ponies here tonight!”

Firefly smiled. “Don’t be so nervous, Manny! I count maybe fifty or so.”

“Even so, who would have thought so many ponies would be interested in spell casting artifacts? I mean, these ponies are going to ask questions - tough ones!”

“I’m sure they are. But we’re ready for them, Manny!” He raise a hoof. After a moment Manny bumped it with his own. “Don’t worry! None of them can get deeper into arcane systems and subsystems than you can, Manny. Trust me, we’ll be fine.” He gestured to the front of the room where Spike stood up on a chair. There was a large easel on a tripod behind him on which Manny had drawn a series of diagrams, although the page in view at the moment was blank.

Spike coughed to draw attention. “Members of the Homebrew Enchanters’ Club,” he enunciated in a showpony’s voice. “It is my great pleasure to introduce two ponies dedicated to the dream of making truly complex magic both accessible and usable by any pony, no matter their tribe, education or economic situation, and in the comfort of their own home. These ponies are Firefly and Mild Manners, and tonight they are introducing their new spell casting platform.”

There was polite applause as Spike hopped of his chair and Firefly and Manny replaced him in front of the group.

“Uh...” started Mild Manners, “We, that is Firefly at first, noticed the problem with mana storage. Uh, and then I had an idea for a design, and then he showed me a larger system that had a spell matrix, and, uh...” he swallowed, and turned to the easel, flipping it open.

There were murmurs from the audience.

“Um, wait, that’s the leyline interpreter...” He flipped back a page. “And that’s... “ He paused and scratched his head.

The noise from the ponies grew louder. Manny shuffled through the pages until Firefly laid a hoof on his withers.

“Maybe,” Firefly spoke up, “before we go into details, we can just explain our intentions with this device.”

He faced the audience squarely.

“Since recorded history spell magic was the province of the few. Not only because some ponies possessed a horn with which to focus magic, but also because magic was poorly understood. The magical arts, spells that could do wonderful things, were secrets to be hoarded, not shared. Magic became a tool used to compete with or dominate others, instead of making the lives of all ponies better.”

The murmuring died down.

“With the arrival of the scientific method, Starswirl the Bearded and Clover the Clever helped take magic from those dark ages and turn it into a science, where every generation could build upon the achievements of the last, and the Hearthwarming Accord made it possible for unicorn mages to spread the benefits of magic to all the tribes. The result is Equestria’s current society, a truly great achievement.”

Heads began to nod.

“But the game isn’t over yet! What if it were possible to give all ponies not only access to mages, but the ability to do magic themselves? What if any pony could create spells and do magic whether unicorn or pegasus or earth pony? What if any average unicorn could cast any spell of they could conceive, not just the few spells they struggle from foalhood to master?”

Eyebrows rose. Firefly felt he now had their undivided attention.

“What we propose is a unified personal spell caster that is so easy to use that any pony could use it, not just high level mages. With the personal spell caster, the entirety of Equestrian society can benefit from the power of magic to do mundane things like run a small business, teach foals in school, keep track of recipes and music collections... the list is endless!”

Firefly paused for a moment. There were a few whispered comments and even a few laughs as members mentioned their own favorite applications of magic.

“I’m sure I won’t get many arguments about it from the members of this club. We are the ponies who are already trying to deliver this vision of personal spell casting. However, there’s a problem. There’s two groups of ponies in this room: those who are experts in magical artifacts and can hoof together spell matrices, linking them up to mana stores and leyline controls in order to build functional arcane hardware, and those ponies who can design enchantments, spells and cantrips, the spellware that make the hardware do fun and useful things. For every hardware pony out there, there are dozens if not hundreds of spellware ponies. The plain truth is that most ponies who could use a spell caster could never build one themselves!”

An earth pony stallion whispered loudly to a blue-coated unicorn mare: “Or that have access to arcane components from work that they can liberate!”

That got widespread laughter.

“Well, that’s where Manny and I thought we could make a difference. What we’ve built is a fully pre-integrated personal caster. The enchanter doesn’t need to add anything - they just start to enchant it themselves! No alchemists’ micro-forge, mana conduits, or leyline probes needed! That is our vision, and that is what we have built in the Cobbler One!”

“Cobbler?” called out a pony. “Why would you name a sophisticated arcanological tool after a pastry?!”

“Sir,” said Firefly, “I assume you know exactly how to use a cobbler, don’t you.”

“You mean the pastry?” The pony raised a single eyebrow. “The type that goes into one end of a pony and comes out the other in a... less ordered state?” Several ponies laughed.

“Yes!” replied Firefly. “I mean that type of cobbler.”

The pony grinned and called out. “Make that a big ayyyuup!”

“Well, then,” Firefly crossed his forelegs, “You should be able to use one of our spell casters!”

The room erupted in applause and whistles. With a smile Firefly turned back to Mild Manners. “So Manny, let’s go through the design, subsystem by subsystem, starting of course with the central spell execution matrix.”

Manny flipped the easel to the correct page. “Well, this is one of the most interesting aspect of the design! Instead of having separate storage for incantations and data we have the same storage system, simplifying the overall matrix design tremendously...”


An hour later, they had gone over the entire design and the audience was running out of questions.

“So that’s the Cobbler One. What do think?”

The ovation was both loud and raucous.

“This is more than enough innovation for a single evening, right?” Ponies turned their faces towards Firefly, whose smile became just a bit pinched. “Well, before we go, just one more thing...”

The ponies quieted down immediately.

“Now, after building a spell platform anypony can use out of the box is great, right? But how are ordinary ponies going to write spells and incantations? Unicorns go to school for years to learn the complex languages grammars of arcane spellcasting specialties. The large magic conglomerates like Illuminated Business Mages have their own schools teaching custom spell languages and arcane symbology systems. That doesn’t sound like the scale of effort a typical pony would put up with, does it?”

The blue-coated unicorn mare nodded vigorously. “That is truly a truly vexing problem!”

“Well, I’m happy to announce that every Cobbler One personal caster comes equipped with a BASIC spell interpreter! Our Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Incantation Code interpreter makes it foal’s play to create and edit spell, cast them in a controlled fashion, and save them for later use, or to share with others. With BASIC, anypony can become a mage, and share with others how they do things. It’s our belief that the Cobbler One will finally deliver the vision of magic for the masses.”

The applause was thunderous. When it had finally died down a pony called out. “Where do I get me one?”

Mild Manners grinned from ear-to-ear. “You can place your orders at any Bargain Barn in Equestria at the low price of six hundred and sixty-six bits only!” He and Firefly held up stacks of papers. “Or you can sign an order here tonight!” Ponies converged on the pair.

It was a long time before they were able to leave. As promised, they took Spike out to Pony Joe's’, where he ate half a dozen doughnuts before declaring their contract delivered in full. He was fast asleep on Firefly’s back before they even got back to Manny’s apartment.


Back at Manny’s kitchen table, Firefly counted out orders for Cobbler Ones they had received while Spike snored peacefully in the basket Princess Twilight had packed in his luggage for the short trip.

Firefly’s gaze locked with Manny’s. “Dude!” he said. “Looks like we’re in business!” His grin faltered when Manny’s expression failed to match his own. “Manny, is there a problem?”

The unicorn swallowed nervously. “Yeah. Where are we going to find the money to buy the components to make all these units?”

Firefly scratched his head. “I guess I’ll have to sell some of the more valuable enchanted objects and magic books in my collection,” he replied.

Manny scanned his apartment. “And I might be able to sell some of my furniture. Do you think it will be enough?”

Firefly took the stack or orders in hoof. “With this, I’m sure I can get a loan for the rest!” His grin returned. “Waddaya say, partner?”

Manny’s worried face finally relaxed. “I say it looks like we’re in business!” He offered Firefly a brohoof. “So how many of these do you think we’ll actually sell?”

Firefly shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe a few dozen. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll have sold hundreds even! Wouldn’t that be truly amazing?”


The wake: Spike the Dragon - Part 2

Spike laughed at the disbelieving expression on the filly’s face. “Yeah! That’s what he told me on the trip back to Ponyville, hundreds!” He turned to Firefly’s partner, who grinned sheepishly.

“I assure you,” said Manny, “that’s exactly what happened. At the outset we never imagined it would amount to more than that.”

“I can’t believe it!” said Ripple. “I...” Ripple’s eyes grew wide as she stared at the vestibule of the reception hall. “Is that... ?”

Spike turned around and caught sight of a pale blue unicorn in a very expensive business suit.

“Well,” he said acerbically. “It was kind of inevitable ‘she’ would show up!”

“Spike!” said Twilight. “I’m glad she’s come.”

“Really?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Really!” replied the princess firmly.

Together they waited as Trixie approached.


Chapter six: The Magic of Distribution

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The wake: Trixie

When Trixie arrived at the wake she had expected to be confronted with a hostile line of ponies. She was pleasantly surprised when she was received in a fashion befitting the leading publisher of operating spellware and enchantment packages for all serious personal casters, and this despite Trixie’s few and quite inevitable disagreements with Cobbler Corp over the years.

Of course, Trixie did not become one of the richest mares in Equestria without first being a superlative businesspony! So she bowed to that princess, lest her armoured henchpony, also present, take exception and prevent Trixie from paying her respects to her honoured competitor. Greetings were politely exchanged, except with a young earth pony mare who stared at Trixie with a slack jaw. Trixie ignored the obviously star-struck filly, and focused her attention on the living pony she most wanted to speak with at this get-together.

His smile was warm, and it did Trixie’s heart good to see it. “Thank you for coming, Trixie” said Manny. “It means a lot to me that you came.”

Trixie could tell his thanks were sincere. It had been years, but Trixie admits having many fond memories of those early days of personal spell casting, many of which involved the quiet scholar, so unlike his brash partner.

"Of course Trixie came! We were all part of the wild movement that has improved the lives of ponies all over Equestria. Yes, we have had our differences, but what we have achieved together is undeniable.”

Trixie could not help but again notice the young mare who stood between Spike and her father. Her prior immobility had resolved itself and produced a loud squee, which had attracted my attention. Her smiling countenance then captured it altogether.

“You’re Trixie Lulamoon, the CEO of Microspell!” She squeed again, which, if unnecessary, was nevertheless totally charming under the circumstances!

“Indeed I am, miss...”

Twilight Sparkle chose that moment to enter the conversation. “Ripple’s dad teaches at Canterlot University, and Ripple is entering her freshmare year at C.U.”

Trixie studiously maintained her gaze on the youngster.

“And what shall you be studying, Miss Ripple?”

She positively beamed at being addressed by Trixie. “Mathematics and Enchantment Science. I’m particularly interested in operating spellware. It’s such an honour to meet you!”

Such a perceptive young mare! “Well, the honour is Trixie’s.”

However pleasant was this discourse, Trixie was nevertheless here for a purpose, and so she turned back to Mild Manners. “Tell Trixie true, Manny. Have you and Filthy mended fences?”

The poor stallion’s ears drooped. “No. Not really. He hasn’t shown up here yet, and he hasn’t replied any of the notices I sent regarding the wake and funeral either.”

Trixie was shocked! She placed a hoof on Manny’s shoulder. “It is such a pity that we did, all of us, go our separate ways after that frantic first year. Sadly, it was perhaps destined to be so, when all that success came so quickly to we who were so unprepared for it.”

Young Ripple’s eyes grew wide. “You mean you had no clue either how successful the PC business would be?”

Trixie laughed. “None of us did, young Miss Ripple! How could we? Most of us were barely older than you are now! What we did was totally unprecedented, and through the entire adventure we... what’s the pegasi expression, Rainbow Dash?” – Trixie frowned in concentration – “Oh yes. Trixie recalls it now. We were flying by the seat of our pants!”

The look of sheer wonder on the filly’s face made Trixie feel both proud and more than a little nostalgic. As if the events of the last weeks had not already led Trixie to recall and reflect deeply about about that time in her life! That look, and the little blue showmare that was still the beating heart of Trixie, convinced this older and wiser Trixie to make an offer to the filly.

“Would you like to hear more of those early days, Miss Ripple, when a few ponies who believed in magic set out to change the world?”

Ripple and her father both nodded vigorously, and so, generous to a fault, Trixie felt obliged to comply.

“Well, it all began shortly after the very first West Canterlot Enchanters’ Fair...”


Chapter Six: The Magic Of Distribution

Filthy Rich, Firefly, Mild Manners, Trixie

Filthy Rich slicked back his long wavy mane and adjusted his tie. He didn’t need to look in the mirror to know that everything was in its proper place. A quick glance around assured him the same was true for the neatly laid out wares of Rich’s Bargain Barn.

Mr. Greenleaf, owner of the local Hay Burger fast food outlet, approached in a huff. “Hello Mr. Rich,” he said. “Have those Cobbler Two PCs come in yet?”

“PCs?”

Green leaf smirked. “Nopony says personal caster anymore, Mr. Rich! I have a friend who runs a donut shop in Canterlot. He got a PC on advice from Spike, who’s been a customer of his since way before he and Princess Twilight moved out here. Joe says he’s using it to manage his inventory. Given the mind-numbing number of flavorings and types of sprinkles he uses, keeping stock has been a major drain on his time over the years. He says it now takes him less than half an hour to update his inventory every week, and that includes producing new orders!”

Filthy adjusted his tie. “I know just how he feels! I've been using a Cobbler One to keep inventory for the Bargain Barn for several months now!” He smiled and raised an eyebrow. “I figured most businesses would have some use for one, so I negotiated an agreement to be the exclusive reseller of Cobbler Corp products in Ponyville!”

Greenleaf gave him a sly look. “Ha! You’ve always had the eye for finding the next big thing, haven’t you, Filthy?”

“He certainly has!” agreed a filly’s voice. Greenleaf turned around to see Filthy’s daughter, Diamond Tiara, saunter up while sporting a smug grin. “And I’m going to get one of the first units!” she asserted.

Greenleaf pursed his lips. “And why would a foal need a PC? You don’t have an inventory to manage!”

Her smile died and her eyes became slits. “My dad is the richest pony in Ponyville” she replied through gritted teeth. “So if I want a PC, I WILL GET A PC!” Her smile returned preternaturally fast. “Isn’t that right, daddy?” she asked sweetly.

“Yes, sugarlump,” said her father. “You’ll get the very first one!” He winked at Greenleaf. “Now, Diamond, don’t you have some homework to do?” The phrase was a longstanding code between he and his daughter that meant he was engaged in business and that she should leave him to it. She nodded, the very picture of sweet innocence, and trotted out the door.

As he watched her leave one of his ears drooped. It was odd how, of late, Diamond always came into the store when she had something she wanted from him. He flicked his ear until it straightened up of its own accord. Naw. It’s just a coincidence.


“What do you mean, you’ve only made five?!”

Filthy Rich’s normally wavy dark-gray mane was suddenly a study in frazzles. “I’ve orders for fifty-eight, which I’ve promised customers would arrive at the store on Monday!”

“We’ll have more by then, Mr. Rich,” replied Firefly.

“It took you three weeks to make five!” The shopkeeper started pulling alarmingly on his mane. “So you can make another fifty-three in three days?”

“No.” Firefly shook his head. “We can make three more.”

“WHAT!”

“Look, we said we’d try to get fifty units done by the end of the month, but most of the injection molded cases we’ve received aren’t usable! We’ve changed supplier, but they’re producing cases by hoof until they can get production up to speed.”

All the while he spoke, Filthy nervously nibbled his tie. “And when will that be?” he asked.

“They’re telling us two months.”

“WHAT!!!”

“But I took down payments!” The merchant cradled his head in his hooves. His tie, its tip wet, dripped as it dangled like a soggy pendulum. “I’ll have to give... refunds!”

“Mr. Rich, I’m sure if you just explain to them –”

“– explain what?! Do you think customers care about cruddy cases?! NO! they’ll just cancel their orders and go elsewhere! Aaaargh!!” he wailed.

“Daddy!” said a filly’s voice.

“WHAT SUGARLUMP!” he replied.

The grayish foal looked up at Filthy with narrowed eyes. “I get mine first. Don’t forget, you promised.”

“AAAAARR–” The merchant stopped mid-wail. He swallowed and shook,fighting to regain his composure. A moment later he stood stock still, and with a lick of his fetlocks resumed slicking his mane back into shape.

“Yes, sugarlump, you’ll get yours first. It just arrived. Mr. Firefly will set it set up in your room and teach you how to turn it on,”– his eyes narrowed –“won’t you, Mr. Firefly?”

Firefly was taken by surprise, but at least the merchant wasn’t shouting at him anymore. “Er, of course, no problem,” he said.

Filthy nodded. “Good!” He looked down at his chest, and turned to face his daughter.

“Sugarlump, let’s go get daddy another tie.”

The filly smiled sweetly. “Yes, daddy!”

Firefly’s stomach felt queasy as he watched them go.


Mild Manners turned a whiter shade of cream. “If Filthy Rich cancels any part of his order we’re cooked! We don’t have the cash to pay him back! We don’t even have enough to pay for the new cases!” Hitched up tandem, they pulled the rented delivery wagon back to the Ponyville stock yards.

“I know!” said Firefly, looking miserable. He stopped, forcing Manny to stumble to a halt.

“But what else could I do, Manny? If I didn’t tell him then he’d just explode twice as much later! We’re lucky he still wants those units, otherwise our retail sales venture and Cobbler Corp are over before we even started!”

He sighed. “I’ll call a meeting with our investors. They funded us to get the first fifty units made, maybe they’ll be willing to give us a loan.”

“And why–” Manny sounded angry “–would they do that, when we haven’t yet been able to deliver those fifty?”

Firefly snorted in annoyance. “Filthy said he has paid commitments for fifty-eight units! Fifty-eight! We have at least that much in verbal commitments from the CasterLand and the Bit Store!”

“Yes, but those aren’t purchase orders, they’re just words!” Manny grumbled.

The trip back to the yards was a quiet one.


They sat in the sitting room, in the private quarters of the Carousel Boutique.

“It’s a common mistake for a business just starting up to sink too much capital into inventory, Darling.”

Rarity was unhappy, though she was doing her best to hide it. She glanced at Fluttershy stroking Angel Bunny’s white fur and sighed in resignation. For some strange reason Opalescence always made herself scarce whenever Angel was around.

“But,” objected Fluttershy in a soft voice, “they couldn’t know the case supplier would be so bad!”

“Still, we must ask ourselves the question, are we perhaps throwing good money after bad?”

“It’s not that bad!” insisted Fluttershy. “I’m sure they’ll get some money back for the first case supplier.”

“That could take months, Darling! And, trust me, running a business is all about cash flow!”

“But –” interjected Firefly, “we have those first fifty units sold already, Mr. Rich said so. That’s cash in the bank the moment we can deliver! And we’ll never get to the next fifty if we can’t deliver the first set!”

Rarity sighed. “True enough. But this is asking us to take quite a risk, and it appears Fluttershy and I are at loggerheads on the matter. We’ll simply have to consult our senior partner in this venture.”

Firefly raised an eyebrow. “There another partner I haven’t met?”

Fluttershy laughed. “Oh, you’ve met him. He just tends to be a generally silent partner.”

Rarity smiled. “Indeed, we go to him for sound business advice. He’s the real angel investor of our venture.”

Firefly’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“We would never dream of doing something so gauche, Mr. Firefly!” said Rarity in a serious voice, although the corners of her lips did curl up slightly.

Fluttershy stroked her bunny. “So Angel, what do you think? Do we extend Cobbler Corp a short-term loan?”

The little white rabbit looked first at Fluttershy, then at Rarity, and finally turned his beady little eyes on Firefly, who swallowed under the intimidating gaze. The bunny wrinkled his little pink nose, and then nodded twice.

Fluttershy clapped her forehooves together and breathed out a semi audible “Yay!”

Rarity got up and came over to shake hooves. “Congratulations Mr. Firefly! Angel is one of the toughest investors I know. But Celestia knows he’s done a marvelous job managing Fluttershy’s finances since even before her modeling career!”

The yellow pegasus held up the bunny in her forelegs and nuzzled him, to his obvious embarrassment. “I don’t know what I would do without him!” She cooed.

It took Firefly a moment to find his voice.

“Neither do I!”


A week later Firefly had four additional Cobbler II units ready. Added to the eight already delivered, that tallied up to an even dozen. By scraping and then repainting they were able to repair some of the defective cases, so they were hoping to deliver perhaps another ten units before having to wait for the production from the new case manufacturer.

After loading them onto the Bargain Barn’s dock, he entered the store to go see if Filthy Rich had more orders. He was halfway through the store when a flashing display caught his eye. He read it and froze in his tracks. In flashing red neon, it announced:

Be amongst the first in Ponyville to own
The Brand New Vega Victor ™ Personal Caster
Powered by Microspell™

Firefly rush up to the display. It hung above a table on which reposed several metallic boxes looking like nothing so much as toasters with wings. At the back of the table were two more signs. The leftmost read:

Vega Victor in stock now!

And the second:

Cobbler Two available for order only.

Filthy Rich stood proudly next to the table, demonstrating one of the toaster shaped units.

Firefly seethed, but kept silent until Filthy finished his demonstration and the prospective customer walked away.

“We signed an exclusivity agreement!” Firefly hissed, trying not to shout.

“Yes, which states that I have exclusive rights to sell Cobbler Corp products in Ponyville.” His smile was predatory. “But it says nothing about the Bargain not selling other brands of PCs. I have a copy in my office if you want to have a look.”

“We’ll sue!” said Firefly in a trembling voice.

“I truly doubt that, Mr. Firefly,” retorted the merchant. “There is the question of your late delivery on my purchases. Recall that you yourself told me that I wouldn’t get any more units for at least two months. I merely did what I needed to do in order to meet commitments to my customers: I have secured an alternate source of supply.”

Firefly’s mouth dried up. He had no reasonable counter to the stallion’s arguments.

“And besides,” added Filthy Rich, “despite transferring many of our customers over to the Vega unit, we’ve still been receiving additional requests for the Cobbler II. I might even purchase more when you finally have your production issues worked out.” He tilted his head. “Unless of course, you wish to cancel our contract, which you can do with three month’s notice...”

FIrefly ground his teeth, and didn’t trust that he’d be able to shut his mouth once he opened it, so he turned on his rear hooves and left the Bargain Barn. He was halfway back to his apartment when he remembered the rented wagon he’d left at the back of the Bargain Barn. With a growl he pivoted on his hooves and tromped back in order to return it before his rental was up.


Firefly was crossing the entrance of the Bargain Barn to get to the loading dock when a mare called out his name.

Mr. Firefly! Oh Mr. Firefly!”

He turned and spotted a pale blue unicorn mare with an even paler blue mane, wearing a smart-looking business suit. Something about her was familiar.

“Er, yes, that’s me.” He tilted his head. “I recognize you. We’ve met before.”

Her smile brightened. “Yes indeed! It was at the Homebrew Enchanters’ Club almost a year ago. You gave quite an impressive presentation! Trixie should know, as she herself is an acknowledged expert in putting on a show.”

Firefly blush at the compliment, but one of his ears drooped in confusion. “Thank you, and, uh, who is Trixie?”

The mare’s eyes widened and her smile faded. “Why, I am Trixie! Didn’t you just say you recognized me?!”

“Well, yeah,” he blushed a deeper red and scratched the back of his head, “of course I did... er... miss Trixie... that is.”

Her smile returned. “Well, then, Trixie wishes to thank you. Your presentation was truly a revelation to Trixie. Trixie agrees wholeheartedly that the formal magical establishment is far too stuffy and looks down upon the more creative uses of magic. The personal caster is going to change that forever, as you so aptly put it those many months ago! Since then Trixie has realigned her priorities and devoted herself to personal casting, more specifically in writing operating spellware and a BASIC spell interpreter optimized to different spell casting platforms!”

“Oh, really!” Firefly blushed again the moment the words left his mouth. “Wow! It’s just so awesome to meet up with ponies who feel the same way I do about spell casters. So, has anypony shown interest in using your spellware?”

“Certainly! Why just last month, Trixie closed a licensing deal with Vega Systems for use of my spellware on their new Victor spell caster! The local retailer in Ponyville is the Bargain Barn, and the name of my company is Microspell.”

“Micro...” Firefly felt his stomach drop. “The Vega...”

“Yes! Trixie normally avoids Ponyville. But today is local launch of the Victor spell caster, and so Trixie made an exception.” She looked somewhat nervously towards the castle. “And Trixie should be getting inside and away from... prying eyes.” She gesture to the Bargain Barn’s entrance. “Would you like to come-in and get a personal demonstration of Microspell’s superior spellware?”

Firefly chuckled uneasily. “Ha, well, ah... I have a rental cart I need to return before the hour’s up. Maybe I’ll come by later.”

Trixie’s smile wavered, but returned a moment later. Firefly thought it might have been tinged with a bit of regret.

“Oh. Of... of course.” she said. “Trixie is sure a successful entrepreneur such as yourself must be a very busy pony.”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I am.”

“Well then, good luck with Cobbler Corp!”

“And good luck with your launch, Trixie.”

“Thank you, Mr. Firefly. It means a lot to Trixie to have your encouragement. Perhaps you can come by later?”

“Perhaps,” he answered. “Goodbye, Trixie.” He waved a hoof, and trotted around the corner to the loading dock. A last glimpse of the blue mare showed her waving back.


“You told her WHAT?!” Firefly’s ears were flat against his neck. It had been a week since he’d met the mare at the bargain Barn, and only now, sitting in Manny’s apartment in Canterlot with partially-built Cobbler Two units all over the room, did his partner tell him about having had discussions with Trixie before.

“I told her how to build a simple BASIC interpreter,” said Mild Manners. “She was one of the few mares who attended that meeting, and she was kind of pretty, despite that quirk of referring to herself in the third person. But, Firefly, she was really interested in how it worked! She’d had enough formal magic education to really understand what my spellware did, even though she dropped out of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Talking about stuff like this is why we attend these meetings! Half of the design elements for the Cobbler One and Two I picked up chatting with ponies at meetings of the Club.”

Firefly sighed. “Yes, and now she’s turned into a major competitor! If you hadn’t given her all that information then Vega could never have gotten the Victor out so early, and Filthy Rich wouldn’t be selling competing products to our customers!”

Manny facehoofed. “You know what, Firefly?”

“What?” He sat dejectedly on his haunches.

The doorbell rang. Manny spoke over his shoulder as he went to investigate. “If she hadn’t, and Filthy Rich didn’t have the Vega Victor sales to fall back on, what do you think he would have done?”

Firefly thought back to his shouting match with the merchant. “He would have sued our sorry flanks to get his down payment back.”

“And where would that have left us?” asked Manny as he opened the door. The postmare hoofed over a stack of letters, most of them identifiably bills. Manny looked Firefly in the eye as he trotted back into the living-room/assembly-area. “I’ll tell you where it would have left us: bankrupt!” He began sorting through the pile. “Face it! The only reason Cobbler Corp still exists is that Rich didn’t end up losing money. And that’s only because he was able to transfer a lot of our sales to units he could actually deliver!” Manny took one letter from the pile and sighed.

“So where does that leave us now?” asked Firefly. “It’ll still be almost six weeks before we can ship anything. Will we even have customers for those units?”

Manny opened the envelope. “You yourself said Filthy told you that he was still getting some orders in for our units.” He pulled out a sheet of paper, and frowned.

Firefly felt the pit of his stomach go cold. “What is it? A letter from the Bargain Barn?”

Manny nodded. “I don’t think we’ll have any worries with inventory.”

Firefly hung his head. “Wow. I guess it was good while it lasted.”

“Nuh-uh,” said Manny. He grinned rakishly. “Take a look. He’s ordered another two hundred units!” He held out the purchase order on Bargain Barn stationery.

Firefly charged up to the unicorn and pulled the paper against his own face. He read a moment, and smiled.

“Manny?”

“Yes, Firefly.”

“We’re in business!” he shouted.

Holding hooves they jumped around Manny’s living room, shouting like a pair of colts on a sugar high!


The wake: Trixie part two

“So at that time you didn’t view Cobbler Corp as a rival?” asked Ripple.

“No,” replied Trixie. “ It wasn’t big business like it is now. We were all just starting out. Sometimes we competed for customers, sometimes we cooperated on projects, and sometimes we did both at the same time! We were exploring uncharted waters. There were no rules, and we were the Wizards of Everfree Valley!”

“But Microspell and Cobbler famously butted heads, more than once!”

Trixie looked down at her forehooves. “We all... made mistakes along the way. A good measure of it was inexperience, but not all. Some of it was just healthy competition.” She looked up and grinned. “And some of it, more than most ponies would imagine, was all for show, a way to get attention from the fickle press!” Her expression softened. “But It doesn’t mean we didn’t have a high degree of regard, or even affection, for each other.”

“Still,” said Ripple, “even the recent press said you and Firefly weren’t on speaking terms.”

“Sadly, we weren’t,” said Trixie, looking back down at her hooves. “But a few weeks ago, Firefly sent Trixie a letter. It explained his situation, and his... true feelings. There was also an invitation to meet before... before.” She raised her gaze, and sniffed. “Trixie went to see him. I’m... I’m so glad I did.”

She smiled through her tears. “Trixie has... one more conversation to have with Firefly,” she said softly and waved in the direction of the coffin. “If you all would excuse me...”

Several heads nodded. Manny placed a hoof on Trixie’s. Taking a deep breath, Trixie went to visit Firefly one final time.

Chapter seven: Due North

View Online

The wake: Evergreen

I had never been to Ponyville before, although I had long wanted to visit the Everfree Forest, so often the backdrop in the history, myths and legends of Equestria. Falcata’s letter and telegram, combined with months of accumulated unused vacation time, convinced me to go. I wore my parade uniform, the fiery Red Serge and a brand new campaign hat I’d bought in Whinnypeg, from where I took the train down to Canterlot and then Ponyville. The trip had provided ample time to shine my buttons, insignia, and spurs, polish my boots and all the straps, and make sure my uniform was perfect. I even had time to preen and shine my feathers to a glowing emerald green.

Eyes turned when I entered the castle. Of course the uniform is highly recognisable. Its fame is a both a matter of pride for us Mounties, and a heavy responsibility. But I must admit, it also gives me great comfort, especially on somber occasions such as this. As I approached the reception line I saw Falcata for the first time in her full Sergeant of the Royal Guard uniform. It was patterned after those of Princess Celestia's Solar Pegasus Guard, substituting royal purple barding for the Solar Guard's gold. She stood next to Princess Twilight Sparkle. I marched forward and saluted.

“Your majesty,” said Falcata. “Please allow me to present Sergeant Evergreen of the Royal Equestrian Rangers. She has been a good friend to Firefly and myself. She’s come all the way from the Northwest Territories to attend the funeral.”

The Princess nodded. “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Sergeant Evergreen.” She glanced to her right. “But maybe not as great a pleasure as it is for Rainbow Dash!” I turned my eyes to the lithe blue pegasus next to the princess, who was none other than that famous pegasus. I held my breath, trying hard not to issue a huge squeal at seeing the captain of the Wonderbolts, when my own ears were assaulted by a shout from the mare in question.

“Ohmigoshohmigoshohmigosh! A real, honest to Celestia Mountie! I never thought I’d meet one!” Rainbow Dash offered her hoof, which I took in mine and got one of the highest velocity hoof shakes I’ve ever had.

Falcata laughed heartily. “Sergeant Evergreen’s as real as they get, Captain Dash! She alone patrols an area fifteen times the size of the Everfree Forest!”

The famous mare's expression grew serious and she raised one eyebrow. “Say,” she rasped, “how did a low-key guy like Firefly get mixed up with a Mountie? Or are you another one of those PC gleek types?”

I was a bit taken aback, but I could tell from Falcata’s expression that she didn’t mean any disrespect.

“Assuming you meant geek, Rainbow Dash, then I admit to being somewhat interested in personal spell casters, but in truth it's mostly out of boredom, given the remoteness of my posting, eh!?” I looked to her left at a tweed jacketed unicorn that I recognized from a magazine photo. “And this must be Mr. Mild Manners.” I shook hooves with Firefly’s business partner.

“And these ponies,” Falcata pointed to a heavyset earth pony stallion accompanied by a much younger mare, “are Dr. Gross Product and his daughter Ripple, friends of Mr. Firefly as well.”

I shook hooves with the two ponies. “Good day!” I said.

Rainbow Dash chortled. “She even has the accent! Tell us ah-boot your boots, Sergeant!” she asked.

I looked down in chagrin. “What about my boots?”

Rainbow Dash grabbed her sides, laughing. “She said it! She said it!”

I raised an eyebrow. Falcata seemed to be taking in stride the rather indecorous proceedings, so I did as well. When in Ponyville...

“Now that the introductions are complete, maybe I can answer your question, Captain Dash,” I offered.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, yeah! So how did you and Firefly actually meet? What did he do? Jay-walk over the frozen tundra?”

Seven pairs of eyes focused all their attention on me.

“Nothing quite that trivial.” I said. “You see, he nearly died...”


Chapter Seven: Due North

Firefly, Falcata and Evergreen

– Firefly –

I lay on my belly in the dust, bleeding.

In the light of Luna’s full moon, the bloody splotches on my coat and bandages looked midnight black, as if chunks had been gouged from my body.

I snorted in amusement. I look like a changeling! Laughing hurt.

Evergreen and Falcata crouched protectively to either side of me as the timberwolves circled us in a slowly shrinking ring of dripping fangs and glowing eyes.

I wonder if they'll find enough left of us to bury.

The remote mountain lakeside had seemed like the ideal site for a few days’ rest.

I smiled. We’ll be resting all right. In pieces! And to think the day had started off so well...


– Firefly –

The lake was just as breathtaking as the brochure promised. Framed by the Caneighdian Rockies, its limpid surface flawlessly mirrored the pure cerulean sky and the thin wispy clouds of a perfect summer day.

“Ah, the air doth be full sweet in these northern climes!” said Falcata, stretching her golden-yellow wings.

My own orange wings were practically falling off after the long flight from Vanhoover. She looked askance as I knelt before a pile of twigs, and vigorously rubbed together two branches.

“Firefly! What in the name of Oatin’s fuzzy beard be thy purpose?”

“Starting a fire. Just like they taught us in Pegasus Scouts!”

She smirked and began unpacking. “Thou cans't ignite tinder so.”

“Well, I forgot the matches, there are no lightning clouds nearby, and you forbade me to use my Personal Spell Caster on vacation, so I’m stuck with doing this the old-fashioned way!”

She knelt beside me. “I ken a few old fashions m’self. E’en a thousand years afore, only a halfwit would fain quicken a fire by forced mating of two green boughs!”

Oh. Yeah.

I sighed and raised an eyebrow. “Then pray tell, how did the fullwits do it, milady?”

“A lady knows naught of such things!” She winked saucily, extracting a flint and steel out of her saddlebag. It took two strikes to produce a spark setting the tinder alight. She leered at me as smoke wafted up from the flame. “Lucky us, for I be no lady!”

Falcata always gets a laugh out of making me blush.

Ignoring my discomfort, she began assembling the tents. By far the stronger flyer, she had carried both shelters in the over-sized duffel she called a campaign kit. From it she produced an impressive quantity of goods while I emptied my much smaller bag.

She was extracting some paperback books from her kit when she abruptly turned her head towards the northern sky.

A winged shape approached above the treetops. Moments later, a green pegasus mare wearing a red uniform and a brown hat, landed close by.

She saluted, then held out her hoof. “Good day! I’m Sergeant Evergreen of the Royal Equestrian Rangers. Welcome to Saddleback Range National Park!”

Falcata looked down at the proffered limb, then back up into the mare’s face. “Sergeant Falcata of her Royal Highness Princess Twilight’s Palace Guard.” She grasped the hoof firmly. The ranger’s eyes widened slightly. Muscles corded along both mares’ forelegs. Neither broke eye contact.

Before things became awkward, I raised my own hoof. “Hi! I'm Firefly. We’ve received permission to camp here from the Park Authority.”

Evergreen looked at me. Reluctantly disengaging Falcata’s hoof, she shook mine perfunctorily. “So, what does a nice couple such as yourselves have planned for the week?”

Falcata snorted. “The lad an’ I be comrades, but no special someponies we, as ye modern lot call it. And our plans need concern nopony save our own selves!”

Evergreen raised an eyebrow. “My apologies for intruding. The note I received from the Park Authority was somewhat short on details.”

I stepped between the mares and smiled. “We have nothing specific planned. We just want to relax, go swimming, hiking, sunbath on nice fluffy clouds, you know, healthy stuff like that!”

“Aye,” added Falcata over my shoulder sarcastically. “It be a layabout’s dream here, far from worldly concerns. I do envy thee thy carefree posting in this isolated pasture, Sergeant!”

Road Apples!

Evergreen’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I wouldn’t call it carefree,” she said in a businesslike monotone. “I came here as soon as I spotted the smoke from your fire. A pack of timberwolves was seen in the area. I urge you to exercise caution. Always stay together, and above all take to the air the moment you spot anything unusual.”

Falcata’s frown deepened. “Sergeant Evergreen, these woods pose no threat to such a seasoned veteran as m’self.”

The ranger pursed her lips. “Of course, Sergeant. Well then, good day to you both.” Evergreen saluted and took off.

I waited until she was out of earshot. “Celestia, but that was awkward! Falcata, what’s gotten into you?”

She harrumphed. “Didst thou espy the fresh-pressed seams of that spotless uniform? That parade-ground poser had better keep her muzzle out of my business!” She trotted off towards the woods.

“Where are you going?” I called out. “The ranger said to stay together!”

“If there be timberwolves hereabouts, I needs must know the lay of the land. I will survey the area and return afore our mid-day meal.”

I felt uneasy as she flew off.


– Evergreen –

I was fuming when I landed on the balcony of my treetop cabin. Words came to mind, words I refuse to ever say when I’m wearing the uniform.

I placed my hat on its peg next to the door. Hanging my red serge next to it, I picked a few specks of dust off the symbol of my duty and authority. Only then did I allow myself to vent.

“Layabout!? Pasture!? Of all the arrogant, holier-than-thou, keep-your-muzzle-out-of-my-business, I-can-handle-myself-in-your-quaint-little-woods, military jar-heads!”

I stamped a hoof. And then another.

Catharsis achieved. Keep calm and carry-on!

Whenever I get frustrated I clean house. It clears my head.

I looked around my cabin for a target on which to focus my energies. My magazines were starting to pile up, so I decided to sort through them and go over the mail. I also went to the icebox, took out a sandwich I had prepared earlier, and made tea.

I finally relaxed as I sipped from the steaming cup. The letters and magazines lay fanned out on the table in front of me.

The mail was the RER Service Newsletter and a postcard from my uncle. I turned to the periodicals. One of my favorites – to my perpetual embarrassment – was Herd Weekly, trashy celebrity gossip at its insipid finest. I enjoyed the glossy pictures of celebrities and news of the endless juicy scandals in which the Canterlot elite engaged. Often, the magazine’s photos were the only pony faces I saw all week.

I was selecting back issues to trash when I spied the words Ponyville Confidential! in lurid pink. The issue was three months old. I didn’t recall reading it. At the time I had been investigating a group of crazy cultists in the woods. The magazine had several articles on the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom. When I finished reading my half-empty tea cup sat cold on the table.

Wow! Falcata isn’t some hoser, she’s a living relic! A photo showed Firefly and a cream coloured unicorn in a tweed jacket accepting an award from Princess Celestia. Firefly is one of the co-inventors of the Personal Spell Caster! The widely popular devices let anypony do spell magic.

Wow! That guy is filthy rich!

Another photo showed Firefly next to a despondent looking light brown earth pony in a starched collar and tie.

Heh! He’s richer than Filthy Rich!

I sighed.

We finally have some actual celebs in the Park! Too bad one of them is so... uncool.

I finished tidying up and prepared for my afternoon patrol. My route would take me over the visitors’ campsite, so I could check in on them again. I understood their need for privacy, but I hadn’t been kidding about the timberwolves. Donning my uniform, I opened the door, spread my wings, and vaulted the balcony.


– Firefly –

I got nervous when, two hours past noon, Falcata still hadn’t returned. An hour later I decided to fly off in search of her. Just as I was about to take off, the ranger reappeared above the treeline. She landed, touching the brim of her hat in greeting.

“Hello, Mister Firefly.” Her smile faded the moment she saw my face. “Is there a problem?”

I nodded. “Falcata left to check out the area just before noon and she hasn’t returned since.”

The ranger’s eyes widened. “I believe I recommended that you stay together at all times.”

My ears folded back. “You did, it’s just that... Falcata’s kind of set in her ways.”

Evergreen hesitated a moment. “She’s the Pegasus Legionnaire that was turned stone by a cockatrice a thousand years ago, isn’t she?”

“You know about that?”

“We’re not as isolated here as you might think.” For some reason the ranger blushed. “But right now we need to focus on priorities, like finding Sergeant Falcata. Do you recall in which direction she went?”

I pondered a moment, then pointed towards some low hills. “I’m pretty sure it was that way.”

“Good. Give me an hour. If I’m not back by then I recommend you fly north by north-east. After about five miles out you’ll see a lone pine taller than all the others with a cabin near its summit. Go there and wait for rescue.”

I pawed the ground. “The only reason Falcata came here is because I asked her to. Am I supposed to just sit here on my flank when she could be hurt?”

The Sergeant flashed me a reassuring smile. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather not have two lost campers to locate before nightfall! Please just stay here until my return within an hour and, failing that, fly straight to my cabin. In the meantime you could collect nearby wood and feed your fire. If Sergeant Falcata’s gotten lost the smoke column might guide her back to the campsite. Do you understand my instructions, Mister Firefly?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Good! I’ll be back soon with Sergeant Falcata. Don’t you worry!”

I waved as she took off in the direction in which Falcata had disappeared.

“It seems like all I can do is worry,” I complained to nopony.




She was back within thirty minutes, alone. My stomach was churning as she landed.

“So? Where is she?” I demanded.

“Mister Firefly, I’m afraid there’s been trouble.” She opened her saddlebag and extracted a bunch of golden-yellow pegasus flight feathers. The blood drained from my face.

“There were timberwolf tracks all over the area where I found these, but no blood. I doubt Sergeant Falcata could have flown with such wing damage. There were pony tracks leading away from the scene, but I lost the trail when it went into a stream. My guess is that your friend made it to the water and then followed the stream to throw the wolves off of her scent. She’s a smart mare, Mister Firefly.”

Evergreen hesitated. “Her tracks - her left foreleg is a prosthesis if I’m not mistaken.”

I swallowed. “Yes it is. Even with only three good legs, she’s still more dangerous than a manticore when she’s angry, but her attitude will only carry her so far against a pack of timberwolves. We have to find her before it’s too late!”

“We?” said Evergreen.

I nodded. “We already know she’s hurt. Can you fight off timberwolves while dragging around a wounded pony? You’ll need help.”

Evergreen chewed her lip.

“Okay.” She placed a hoof on my chest. “You can come along if you swear on your honour to obey without hesitation every single instruction I give you!” Our gazes locked.

“I do,” I said, swallowing.

She smiled crookedly. “Then welcome to the Royal Equestrian Rangers auxiliary, deputy Firefly!”

I looked at her, nonplussed. “Do I have to salute?”

“No. Just obey. You’ve got one minute to get ready. Then we go find your friend before the wolves do.”

“Yes, Sergeant Evergreen!” I saluted anyway, and galloped off to get my saddlebag.


– Evergreen –

I eyed the civilian I had reluctantly deputized.

He was right, I really didn’t have a choice. Nevertheless, the added responsibility left me feeling uneasy.

We flew a course that followed the stream. After a few minutes I swooped down to the water’s edge. “This is where she entered the stream. I’ve followed its course down to the lake already. Now we go upstream.”

Firefly touched ground. “Why aren’t we following the stream from the air?”

“The canopy thickens considerably upstream and I don’t want to risk missing the signs of Sergeant Falcata’s exit from the water. So we’re going to slog up the stream on hoof, at least for a while.”

I entered the water and moved forward at a steady pace, carefully scanning the banks to each side.

Firefly splashed close behind. “You know, something’s been bothering me. Why would Falcata go upstream? She should know going downstream would lead her back to the lake and to the campsite.”

I plodded onwards.

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“She would if she was trying to lead the pack away from your campsite.”

Firefly stumbled and caught himself. “Yeah,” he said shakily. “That sounds like something she would do.”

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“So tell me, Mister Firefly, do you have any idea why Sergeant Falcata reacted so negatively towards me earlier?”

“Oh. Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “She kind-of considers modern guardponies to be pushovers.”

I had no response to that. It explained things, but I still felt a bit miffed.

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“Sergeant. Why did you take this post? I mean, these woods are really very pretty, but it certainly is remote here.”

I chuckled. “The beauty is part of it, certainly, but it’s not the only reason. And the remoteness doesn’t bother me in the least!”

“Why not? You’re as much a creature of the herd as the rest of us.”

Have you been talking to my mother? I sighed. “Sometimes I do miss having other ponies around. But on most days...” I wondered if he would understand.

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“On most days what?”

“On most days I’m not alone, I’m living North.”

North? Sounds like a direction, not a lifestyle.”

I laughed. “Trust me. It’s not about which way a compass needle points.”

“Then what is it?”

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

I chewed my lip. “North is... waking up with the sun. North is walking through the woods and hearing every leaf that falls, and every blade of grass that whispers in the breeze. Knowing every bird, and squirrel, and beaver and bear. Living a whole day without having said a word but having had a thousand conversations. North is getting to know the silence and what it has to tell you.”

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“What about you, Mister Firefly? Why did you and Sergeant Falcata come here?”

“I can’t rightly speak for Falcata. She never told me why she agreed to come. Maybe she thought an egghead like me wouldn’t last ten minutes in the wilderness without her.” He chuckled. “As to me...”

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“I came to escape, I guess.”

“And what’s chasing a wealthy, eminently eligible bachelor such as yourself?”

He sighed loudly. “All of it! I used to be just an odd pegasus with strange notions about magical devices. Now I'm the co-inventor of the Personal Spell Caster and everypony and her sister wants a chunk of my time, a portion of my fortune, or a piece of my hide.” He snorted. “Everything and everypony has changed, and it seems like all my silent moments have moved out of town!”

“Still, you’ve invented a device that’s changing the face of Equestria, though I admit I don’t use one - no local unicorn around to recharge it!”

Splish, splosh, splish, splosh.

“Hmm. Falcata isn’t interested either. Although she admits to using my PC once in a while.”

Falcata uses a PC? That stiff... Ahem. In uniform.

“She does? What for?”

“She says she uses it to remotely cut up onions and then fry them in a skillet. She gets really embarrassed if anypony thinks she’s been crying!”

Splish...

I froze. Behind me, Firefly splashed to a stop.

I pointed out claw marks on a stump fallen next to the stream and raised a hoof to my lips.

“Timberwolves!” I whispered.


– Firefly –

Evergreen motioned for me to follow her out of the stream-bed, moving through the underbrush along the bank quiet as a shadow. I tried my best to match her step for step, but still ended up making as much noise as a marching band. We had progressed like this for half an hour when she crouched down and motioned for me to do the same. Peering through the bushes, we saw that we had reached the lee of the forest, where it gave way to gently rolling fields. Multiple trails of bent grass showed where several individuals had emerged.

We took to the air and flew several ponylengths above the fields, covering ground much more quickly. I appreciated the faster progress. Every minute we hadn’t found Falcata added to my dread. We finally saw figures ahead, just before the scrub gave way to trees again. A lone yellow-coloured speck stood surrounded by three menacing forms.

“FALCATA!” I shouted, surging forward.

“Stay in the air!” ordered the ranger as she dove to assist Falcata. I hesitated, and then began circling the scene.

A great weight lift from my heart. Falcata was alive!


– Evergreen –

It took me a moment to make out her words. Her angry expression made her feelings abundantly clear.

“Fie and fie again! Thou unmuzzled, addle-pated jolt-head! Wherefore didst thou bring the scholar hither?”

She balanced on her forelegs and bucked back an attacking timberwolf behind her.

“Halfwit! Fumblehoof!”

She spun to repel another wolf who had lunged at her.

“Flee!” she shouted. “Arise! Get thee hence, whilst thee still can!”

Even a ranger has limits to her patience. I glided in to snatch the ungrateful mare from behind and lift her away.

“Get ready for a pick up, Sergeant!” I shouted.

“Neigh, you foal!” I saw her anger turn to fear just as I glided in. There was the smell of wolf, then both my wings were engulfed in blazing agony. I fell, somehow managing to end up on all fours.

Turning my head over my back I saw huge gaps in my wing feathers.

I suppose any pegasus in that situation has a right to scream her loss and feel no shame in doing so. Instead, a feeling of calm and crystal clarity descended upon me. There would be time to be a pegasus, later. But now? Now, I had a duty. Now, I was in uniform. Now, there was justice to be done. And justice would not be denied. Not on my watch!

I turned to face opposite Falcata. Folding back my wings was torture, but necessary to make full use of ground fighting techniques.

“Sergeant Falcata, it appears we’re going to have to fight our way out of this mess,” I said.

Falcata pawed the ground. “Aye. Sergeant, thou hast more spleen that I had account'd in thee, if even less wit!”

Touché!

“I’ve never heard of timberwolves attacking pegasi’ wings before,” I remarked. “However, that does not excuse my ignoring your sound advice. My apologies, Sergeant.”

Falcata glanced in my direction, first looking surprised then barking a laugh. “I blithely preceded thee into the trap! I would be a knave to besmirch thee overmuch for doing the same!” Her expression relaxed. “I have much experience with timberwolves. Usually one dispatches the alpha and the pack disperses. However, this pack be more than passing strange, for I have yet to spy its alpha.”

A strange voice called from the lee of the forest. “Hello little ponies. Gordo is alpha now.”

A dark shape rose on two legs and approached through the grasses. Ragged ears, ragged clothing, and ragged tail. A diamond dog!

“Old timberwolf die and Gordo take his place. Gordo teach timberwolf new trick. Gordo has many tricks!” He smiled and raised a loaded crossbow, pointing the business end at Falcata.

“Pony can also tell pony in the sky come down, or pony on ground become pincushion. Yes?”


– Firefly –

As I circled I saw the diamond dog emerge from the woods, followed by some twenty timberwolves.

“Flee, Firefly! We two will teach this flea-bitten cur some manners!” shouted Falcata.

“She’s right, Firefly,” called Evergreen. “Go to my cabin!”

The dog growled. “Gordo count to three. If pony in sky not on ground before finished, pony on ground finished!” He laughed as if this was a particularly clever joke.

“One!”

“Heed me, Firefly! Or I shall bat thy ears bloody when I catch thee!” Falcata took one step towards the dog.

“Gordo not like pony attitude. Pack eats this one first for supper... Two!”

Belatedly, I let myself drop towards the ground. Too high! You won’t make it in time to save her!

“Three!” called the diamond dog.

Everything happened in slow motion.

Falcata rushed the diamond dog, with Evergreen close behind.

I hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of my lungs, legs and wings splayed wide.

Falcata raised her prosthetic left foreleg just as the crossbow bucked in the dog’s arms. The bolt skewered her leg, with half of its shaft protruding on either side.

Evergreen reached the diamond dog as he was reloading. Rearing, she dealt the crossbow a massive strike with both forehooves. Pieces of the weapon flew in every direction.

Falcata tripped as the mechanism in her prosthetic leg seized. Looking up, she screamed my name.

I felt both my wings and part of my soul rip as timberwolves tore at my feathers with tooth and claw. When they bit down on my other limbs I screamed.


– Evergreen –

Seeing Falcata struggling to rise, I abandoned the dog, rushing to defend Firefly.

I caught one of the timberwolves by surprise, bucking wildly. It would take it a while to reassemble itself. Another backed into Falcata, who similarly dispatched it. The third was nowhere to be seen, along with all the others. Falcata and I exchanged glances.

“Help Firefly. I’ll keep watch.” She sank to her haunches and began extricating the crossbow bolt from her leg.

The setting sun cast long shadows all around us.

“Firefly, can you hear me?”

He nodded.

I got out the first aid kits from both our saddlebags. “I’ll patch you up as well as I can.”

“I… I really screwed up, didn’t I?” he asked.

“Actually, you may have saved our lives! Your distraction enabled us to disarm the diamond dog. If he hadn’t been concerned about getting you to land he could just have shot us both from a safe distance.”

“Listen to the sergeant,” said Falcata as she trotted up, her prosthetic functioning. “This sly melting away of the pack disturbs me greatly. What thinkest thou be their intent?”

Good question. “They followed the alpha. And I don’t think that diamond dog will risk returning without his crossbow.”

Firefly snorted. “Let’s hope he had just the one!”

“Indeed!” agreed Falcata.

As the sun was setting, the third of our attackers reemerged from the woods, the pack slinking behind him. It was easy to read what had happened in his swagger, an alpha’s swagger. The blood on his muzzle confirmed it.

Poor Gordo ran out of tricks!

As the moon rose, the wolves formed a circle around us. Teeth and claws flashed silver in the pale moonlight.

Falcata and I assumed guard positions around Firefly, and waited for the attack.


– Firefly –

We’ll be resting all right. In pieces. And to think the day had started off so well...

The pack closed in on us with huffing breaths and clacking jaws. The mares had been incredible, but they were on their last legs. It was just a matter of time now.

Tremors ran up and down my spine as I pulled open my saddlebag with bleeding lips. I extracted the large medallion that was my Personal Spell Caster. Even this small effort nearly made me black out.

The alpha timberwolf pushed through the ring.

I activated the PC, hoping it had enough charge. I only had it in me to try this once. Focusing on the amulet, I envisioned the spell that would turn my will into reality, an act of spellcasting that I, though a pegasus born, believed was my destiny.

Light poured from my eyes. The alpha timberwolf’s muzzle lit up... and then flared out, leaving it with a beard of smoking embers.

Oh, yeah. Green boughs don’t burn easily.

That’s when Evergreen moved. In a blur of motion, she stepped up to the timberwolf while pulling a bottle from her saddlebag. She splashed its contents onto the still smouldering beast. It howled in indignation, and then burst into bright blue flame.

Alcohol!

The alpha collapsed into a burning pile of tinder. The remaining timberwolves pulled back in confusion. Leaderless, they fled howling into the woods.

At that point, I passed out.


– Evergreen –

Falcata and I did a lot of talking on the walk home, sharing the burden of carrying Firefly. The walk up those stairs to my cabin had never felt so long before. Probably because I always just flew up.

Falcata was turning into a real friend. She even liked the extra-hard local cider.

Firefly awoke the next evening. His first words were: “I guess it worked. Good thinking!”

Falcata snorted. “Aye! Else we’d be stinking piles of timberwolf dung ‘ere now!”

“Uh, you two getting along?”

Our gazes locked.

“As thick as thieves, begging your pardon, Sergeant!” replied Falcata, nodding in my direction.

I smiled. “Mister Firefly, would you like a sip of cider?”

He nodded.

“Careful though, it’s a bit stronger than what you’re used to down south.”

Falcata’s eye twinkled. “Indeed. This Caneighdian cider be akin to that quaffed by ponies in mine own younger days.” She chuckled. “Compared to it, the standard Equestrian brew be like... fighting in a canoe.”

“Really? How so?” asked Firefly.

“Because,” I replied smoothly, “it’s bucking close to water!”

Falcata was right. Making Firefly blush was fun!

Chapter eight: A contest of wills

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The wake: Mango Leaf

I made the wake, but just barely. The wedding preparations with Gillette were in the short strokes, but I felt obliged to come, after all, it was Firefly’s situation that forced me to face how I’d been avoiding settling down, and wasting time that I could have spent with Gillette. When I told her why she just nodded a held me tight. “Give him my thanks,” she told me. I would.

When I arrived Princess Twilight herself was receiving the guests, along with Rainbow Dash, a Royal Pegasus Guard-pony, and a unicorn wearing a tie and jacket.

“Your Majesty!” I said as I bowed to the princess. Next to her, Rainbow Dash did a double-take.

“Hey!” the pegasus exclaimed. “You’re the Froyo dude, Mango Leaf, right? I love that stuff! Where’s your cart? I didn’t see it in town!”

Princess Twilight hid her smile behind a hoof. I rose from my bow. “Miss Dash, it’s good to see you again! Although it looks like I might to have to disappoint the mare who’s the very definition of a loyal customer. I did't bring it, this time”.

The princess laughed out loud. “Poor Dash! Your froyo is practically all she talks about whenever you’re in town.” She tilted her head. “I take it you knew Firefly, then, Mr. Leaf.”

“Yes, I met him, your majesty, but only just once, a few weeks ago.”

“Oh yeah!” said Rainbow Dash. “You were in town for only two days instead of the usual week or two! What gives?”

“What gives, Miss Dash, is that I met Mr. Firefly in the park.”

“So he liked Froyo too?” Dash looked at the other ponies. “I mean, who doesn’t!”

I laughed. “Actually, he didn’t!”

If I hadn’t been at a wake I would have bust a gut from the look of disbelief on her face!

“So then, what did you guys do, if he didn’t eat the Froyo?” asked Dash.

I paused to think. It was a good question. It reminded me of why I had felt so compelled to come here. “We talked, Miss Dash. We talked about fate, and happiness, but mostly we talked about time...”


Chapter Eight: A contest of wills
Mango Leaf, Firefly

Mango Leaf trotted into Stinking Rich Memorial Park, pushing his cart ahead of him with magic. He paused and chuckled. Every time he passed under the commemorative gate, the same thought came to mind: Anypony who names their kid Stinking needs to have their head examined!

He had arrived just yesterday in the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom – another moniker for the ages! – and immediately experienced great satisfaction selling Fro-yo in the very same park. As in previous visits to Ponyville – a thoroughly sensible name for a hamlet full of ponies – he had parked his wagon near where the library tree used to be, before the scuffle with Tirek had destroyed it. This time, however, he had expanded his sales options: he had purchased a new magically insulated push cart that allowed him to sell Fro-yo where his wagon couldn’t go, such as within the confines of many parks and even indoors. It had turned out to be a great investment, demonstrated by the day’s excellent sales!

This afternoon, he wandered in a different direction than on the previous day, looking for new souls to bless with his frozen good humor. A turn around some tall hedges brought him to a small lake lined with willow trees. They provided welcome shade for several stone benches from which ponies could observe as ducks, geese, and swans engaged in their own culinary pursuits.

At the shallow edge of the lake, two small foals played with toy boats under the kindly supervision of a frizzy red-maned filly in her early teens. A lone orange-coated pegasus with a fiery-red mane sat on the middle bench, head down, as if completely oblivious to the picture-postcard prettiness around him.

Ah-hah! A pony in dire need of Fro-yo if I ever saw one!

Mango approached, already smiling in anticipation of that wonderful moment when the stallion’s eyes would light up with that first magical taste.

“Hello sir!” he called out, “You look like a pony in need of an epicurean epiphany!”

The stallion looked up at him in confusion then concern. “What? Cure? An epipen?” He rose up from the bench and stood teetering on his hind legs, his right hoof touching a large amulet hung from a silver cord around his neck, his left clutching a rolled-up scroll. “Are you having an allergic reaction?”

“No! No! Certainly not!” Mango laughed and waved a hoof in a pacifying gesture. “I meant, you look like you could stand some Fro-yo felicity!”

The stallion looked at him as if he was from another planet.

“Fro-yo!” Mango repeated. “It’s a dessert made from –”

“– frozen yoghurt. I know.” The pegasus slowly sat down. His cutie mark seemed to be some insect with a glowing posterior. A firefly. “No thanks,” said the pony. His head dropped down as he resumed the same introspective posture as when Mango had first arrived.

Mango's lips compressed. Oh-ho! A challenge! His smile came back even wider.

“Fro-yo is not just frozen yogurt! It’s a delightful concoction that can also include fruit, chocolate, candies, special essences, spices, even certain vegetables. Why, the possibilities are endless! Now, I’m sure I could prepare a Fro-yo cup that would simply change your life for the better. I guarantee it!”

The pegasus flicked an ear. “No, thanks.”

“Sir? Have you ever tried Fro-yo before?”

The pegasus chewed his lip for a moment.

“Nope! And I don't intend to.”

Mango felt one of his ears fold back. “As I take your reticence for a challenge, I offer you, sir, your very first Fro-yo cup absolutely free!”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Really, I insist!”

“Really, you shouldn’t.”

“And why shouldn’t I?”

“Because I still won’t eat it, even if it’s free!”

Both of Mango’s ears fell flat against the back of his neck. Despite his words, the stallion’s expression had hardly changed during the entire exchange. Mango prided himself on being able to handle even the most skeptical of Fro-yo deniers, but the fact that the orange pony couldn’t care enough to even look annoyed was beginning to annoy him tremendously.

Time for a change of tack.

Mango took a deep breath to calm himself.

“Look, maybe we started on the wrong hoof. My name is–”

“–Mango Leaf and you pass through Ponyville selling frozen yoghurt once or twice per year. I’ve heard your name from the other townsponies, and my former boss won’t shut up about you and your Fro-yo whenever you’re in town!” He finally looked up again, sighed, and extended a hoof. “The name’s Firefly.”

Mango Leaf’s eyes widened. Firefly – the inventor of that personal magic thingy! His smile restored, Mango shook his hoof.

“I’d be honoured to serve my signature dish gratis to such a distinguished pony!”

Firefly sat back and crossed his forelegs over his chest. “Like I said, no thanks.”

Mango stared at him, nonplussed. “And why in Celestia’s name not!?”

The pegasus glared up at him. “Because, I hate eating anything frozen!”

Mango stood, dumfounded. His ears twitched, his fur itched, and all four legs trembled as the bitter words echoed through the farthest recesses of his mind: ... hates eating anything frozen... It was impossible to unhear what the stallion had said. It took him several heartbeats to recover his customary aplomb.

“Hate is such a strong word, Mister Firefly. How did a respectable stallion such as yourself come into possession of such a calamitous culinary handicap?”

“Handicap?” Firefly’s ears rose up. “I’ve never seen it that way!” He shook his head. Then his eyes narrowed and his wings sprung partly open. “Wait a minute! I’m an adult, and I’m free to like or dislike whatever foods I choose, especially the ones that give me brain freeze!” As if only now noticing his outburst, the pegasus blushed. Looking sheepish, he folded his wings back into place.

“Brain freeze,” remarked Mango. “You know that only happens if you eat frozen foods too quickly.”

Firefly’s blush deepened. “Well, for me it happens every time!” The pegasus seemed to shrink-in on himself.

Mango felt his heart melt. The poor pony looked so miserable!

“Besides...” said Firefly in a small voice.

“Besides what, my good pony?” ask Mango leaning closer.

Firefly smiled shyly up at him. “Besides, everything tastes better warmed up, anyway!”

Mango felt his heartbeat stop. Or at least he thought it stopped. How could it go on beating after hearing such heresy? He slammed a hoof against his chest to make sure the poor thing awoke from its stupor. He was relieved to hear its beat resume, although the episode left the taste of bile in his mouth.

On a sudden inspiration, he floated a frozen strawberry from his cart. “I am going to prove scientifically the error in your assertions! See if you can resist this fabulous frosty fruit!”

Firefly rubbed his amulet. The unicorn-head shaped gem at its center glowed and a gold-coloured magic field retrieved the fruit from his own. Mango had seen many ponies wearing such amulets recently.

“Wow! So that’s how those Personal Spell Casters work! You know, I’d never thought to check them out –” he tapped the tip of his horn with a hoof “– seeing as I’m a natural spell caster myself.”

The strawberry spun in the air as Firefly examined it from all sides. “You’d be surprised how many unicorns use PCs these days. They’re very convenient for storing long spells, or bundling a bunch of smaller ones together into a magical toolbox for doing more complex incantations. Some ponies have even begun selling packaged spells to automate tasks.” He nibbled the berry delicately, and after a moment made a face. “Frozen strawberries are really very bland.” He rubbed his amulet again. The fruit’s colour deepened as he flash-defrosted it, then popped it into his mouth. He chewed contentedly for a moment. “Told you, warmer is much better!”

“But, but...” Mango stuttered. He toasted my frozen strawberry!

Mango engaged in a breathing exercise he’d learned from a wise old stallion during his travels in the Haymalayas. All the while, Firefly licked his lips appreciatively.

Time to up the ante! Mango’s horn glowed once more. This time he selected some nuts and chocolate bits. “This is one of my most popular garnishes for Fro-yo! Nopony who’s ever tasted it has walked away dissatisfied!

Again, Firefly took the chilly treats from Mango and floated them over to his mouth. He nibbled some chocolate, and then crunched a nut in his mouth pensively. “Better, but...”

This time Mango noticed that Firefly’s eyes glowed as he rubbed the PC amulet. The nuts and chocolate began to swirl around each-other. Soon they were moving so fast all he could see was a blur. There was a flash and the movement slowed to a stop. A slightly elongated lumpy brown mass levitated in front of Firefly. He took a bite and chewed contentedly.

“Mmm–mmm! Not as good as one of Bon-Bon’s chocolate-nut bars, but I don’t exactly have a kitchen here!” He winked at Mango Leaf. “Want some?”

The unicorn repressed a shudder as Firefly took another bite and chewed. His muzzle sported a big smile flecked with bits of melted chocolate.

Mango glared at him and flipped open the cart’s cover. A quick scan inside provoked a feral grin. Perfect! He floated out a frozen pineapple spear. “This is one of my greatest discoveries from my wonderful years in Haywaii. Let’s see what you think of frozen pineapple!”

Again, Firefly took the piece in his own magic field. He gnawed one end carefully. “Definitely better. Not bad, even! Say is that cinnamon, and this salt?” Two small shakers rose from Mango’s cart.

He nodded. Firefly floated them over and dusted the pineapple spear liberally with both. His magic field then flared white hot, wrapping the spear in an intense flame that lasted several seconds. The fruit had been seared golden-brown. He took a bite, and raising one eyebrow offered it to Mango.

The unicorn tasted it. Memories of Luaus came back in a rush. Faces of friends, cousins, aunties and uncles played in his mind’s eye, his first sight of Gillette, astonishingly beautiful as she hovered over the beach in Hoofalulu. The images brought a sudden longing for that happy time in Haywaii. It was a moment before he noticed that he’d eaten the entire spear.

“Told you,” Firefly said with a smile.

Mango wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “I’m willing to concede that you may have a point with the pineapple.” He looked again at the smirking pegasus and his magical amulet. His melancholy hardened into resolve.

No more foaling around! It’s time to call out the A-team!

“Hey, kids!” he shouted out loud. “Anypony want some free frozen yogurt?”

Three heads locked onto his faster than he could have thought possible. Then the two foals turned towards the filly, as if waiting for a signal. She trotted at a dignified pace to the center bench.

“Mithter Firefly,” she lisped, “do you know that thtallion?”

“Yeah, Twist. He’s Mango Leaf, the Fro-yo guy. I’ve only heard nice things about him.”

She leaned closer and whispered into Firefly’s ear. “Tho it’th okay to thay yeth?”

He smiled. “Sure. Go ahead. Tell your parents and Mister and Missus Cake I said so, if they ask.”

“Gee! Thankth!” She turned to the lake where the two foals waited still as statues in the inch-deep water. “Pound and Pumpkin, you want thome ithe-cream?”

The youngsters barreled out of the water and screeched to a halt next to the filly. They nodded vigorously as they shook the water off of their fetlocks one leg at a time.

What a sweet bunch! If this sight doesn’t get him to try Fro-yo, nothing will! thought Mango with glee.

“Pound’ll have the lemon-mango-orange with thprinkleth, and Pumpkin the blueberry-cranberry-banana with thocolate,” said the filly.

Mango raised an eyebrow. He scooped ingredients with a bar of Fro-yo into a mixing press. He extruded the result into a cup and hoofed it over to the little orange-maned foal.

“You certainly know your charges very well, Miss Twist!” She blushed under the praise as he started making the second foal’s cup.

“Mith Pie ith teaching me how to babythit. Thee knowth everything about everypony! It’th a lot to remember!”

The moment he gave the little colt his Fro-yo he dug in with gusto.

“I’m sure it is. And what about you, miss? What flavor of Fro-yo do you want?”

The filly pulled some peppermint sticks from a small purse she kept around her waist. “Can you make one with thith?”

He examined the candy carefully. “Sure!” He put one of the sticks aside, and with his horn field snapped the others into pieces, which he then put into a mixing press. Finally, he extruded all but a spoonful into a cup which he gave the filly. He then squirted the last spoonful into his own mouth. His taste buds exploded with the spicy dual zing of peppermint and cinnamon.

“Wow! This is really good!” he said. “Is that cinnamon with the peppermint?”

“Un-huhn! It’th my own thecret rethipe!” said the filly, smacking her lips. She gave him a brilliant smile. “Thankth, Mithter Leaf!” she turned to Firefly. “And you too, Mithter Firefly!”

With squeals of excitement the kids retreated excitedly back to one of the other benches, laughing as they ate and sampled each-others’ Fro-yo.

Mango sighed. “Isn’t that a sight!”

Firefly looked on the happy trio with affection. “They’ll remember this for a long time, Mister Leaf. It’s memories like these that lift a pony up when life throws them a real zinger.”

Mango felt that something was off. He took another look at the stallion sitting on the bench. His posture didn’t match his words... There’s more than Fro-yo aversion going-on here! he thought. His instincts bade him to sit down next to pegasus.

The only sounds were the day’s light breeze wafting through the willows, and the contented sounds of the children eating and whispering secrets to each other. Mango let the summer’s gentle serenade of sunshine and crickets sing sweetly to them for a while before he spoke.

“You can call me Mango. Tell me, are life’s zingers why you’re navel gazing on a park bench on a beautiful day like today?” he asked.

Firefly’s eyebrows flicked upwards briefly before coming back down slowly. He took a slow breath. The corners of his lips curled up. “There are zingers, Mango, and then there are zingers.”

He nodded, letting the pony take the conversation where he would.

Firefly looked at him sideways. “Do you know what cutie marks really represent?” he asked gently.

Mango raised a single eyebrow. The question surprised him, but having an unshakable faith in his own cutie mark, Mango didn’t hesitate to answer. “They represent a pony’s special talent, the thing they can do better than anything else. Sometimes the meaning of the cutie mark isn’t that obvious to others, but to the ponies themselves there isn’t any doubt!”

Firefly gazed out over the lake. “I guess that’s true for most ponies, but somehow, not for me.” He crossed his forelegs again, the scroll crumpling slightly where it was crushed against his chest. “I’ve always known I wanted to do magic, but unlike all my friends, I never could connect what my heart told me with my cutie mark. It’s been a major point of argument between me and my parents my entire life. Even after I started the whole Personal Spell Caster thing, I still couldn’t figure it out.”

Mango scratched his head. “Come to think of it, I don’t see what a firefly has to do with spell casting, either.” He shrugged. “But then frozen food’s my specialty, not metaphysics.”

Firefly chuckled. “It isn’t mine either, so I decided to consult an authority: I asked Princess Twilight about it. At first she was surprised I would ask and then she told me pretty much the same thing you just did. When I continued pestering her she admitted that she’d never really given it much thought! She got this funny look on her face and then spent nearly a week obsessively trying to find the rationale behind it.” He laughed. “That’s when her assistant Spike forced her to send a letter to Princess Celestia asking for her advice on the matter.”

“Wow. Your question made it all the way to the biggest kahuna of them all! So did our Lady of the Sun shed any light on the issue?”

Firefly nodded. “Yes, but it didn’t make much sense to me at the time.”

Mango waited. The pegasus looked at him out of the corners of his eyes.

“She said that cutie marks are in actuality a reflection of a pony’s destiny. That’s why in the majority of cases it naturally reflects their talent, but sometimes a pony’s particular talent isn’t the defining aspect of their life.”

“I can buy that,” said Mango. “But it sure doesn’t help me figure out the meaning of your cutie mark. How about you?”

“Oh, it didn’t help me either. And that’s the way things stood until yesterday.”

Mango felt uneasy. The stallion had left the door open for him, so probably he wanted him to ask the question, so he did.

“What happened yesterday?”

He smiled. “I found out that I’m a firefly.”

Mango leaned back. His gaze fell on Firefly’s amulet and he pointed to it with a hoof. “Well, you certainly glow when you use that thing!” he laughed. “But I don’t think that’s what you meant!”

Firefly laughed with him. “No, unfortunately for me it isn’t.” He took a deep breath.

Mango scratched an ear. “Okay. Let’s see. What else are fireflies known for...” he gulped as the realization hit him. Their gazes met, and the pegasus nodded.

Mango felt his chest constrict.

“How... how long?” he asked in a low voice.

“Two weeks. Maybe three.” replied Firefly.

“There’s nothing that can be done? The hospital? The Princesses?”

“Nothing... but wait for my destiny to be fulfilled.”

They sat in silence for a while. Mango was dumbstruck. The whole idea made him feel a bit angry, and helpless at the same time. “But you don’t look like somepony who’s... you know! How is this possible?”

Firefly shrugged. “I’ve had a few close calls already, mostly of my own doing.” He touched his amulet. “There were a few bumps along the road getting to this, and I’ve accumulated a lot of damage along the way.” He grinned. “Run-ins with manticores and timberwolves didn’t help. So the doctors tell me my body has run out of resources and things are... coming to a head just now.”

Mango’s throat felt swollen. He swallowed, but it didn’t make him feel any better.

“So why aren’t you travelling? If I were in your horseshoes I’d be... I dunno, trying to fill out my bucket list, see everything I can, before... well.”

Firefly held up the scroll. “Busted!” His hoof dropped down to the bench. “Or at least, I tried to write a list, but when it came right down to it, the few years I’ve spent here in Ponyville have been by far the happiest of my life. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.”

“What about your family, your friends? Do they know?”

Firefly lifted a hoof to his lips, and flicked his gaze briefly towards the foals. “I’m being very discreet about this. Other than the doctors and Princess Twilight you’re the first pony who’s heard about it, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anypony else.”

Mango’s anger deepened a bit. “That’s a pretty selfish point-of-view! Don’t you think they deserve to know?”

Firefly’s eyes widened. “Well, when you put that way... but, I guess I just don’t want them making a big fuss about it and moping around for weeks on my account.”

“Firefly!” Mango started loudly, but then glancing at the youngsters, he moderated his tone. “Tell me, which do you think will be worse for your friends, a few weeks of sharing the end, or a lifetime of regret at not having spent some of those precious last days together? Sure, this is a crappy thing to have happen, but you’ve got what most other ponies will never have: a chance to tie up loose ends and make proper goodbyes.”

Firefly hid his face in his hooves. It was a while before he lowered them again. Turning moist eyes away from the foals, he wiped the fur on his face with a hoof and rose.

“Thanks, Mango. You’re right. They’ll feel even worse later if I don’t tell them, and I don’t want to do that to them.” He looked towards Ponyville. “I think now I can scrape up the courage to let a few special ponies know. I owe it to them.” He rose from the bench. “Well, there’s no time like the present. Besides, it’s too beautiful a day to waste feeling sorry for myself, don’t you think?”

Mango glanced around. The brightly shining lake. The breeze in the willows. The laughing children. “Yeah. On that count you’ll get no argument from me!”

Mango stood up and Firefly offered his hoof again. They shook and with a nod Firefly turned towards the direction from which Mango had arrived. He’d barely taken a step when tiny Pumpkin Cake galloped up, her little horn sparking as she floated her Fro-yo cup over her head. She screeched to a halt in front of the pegasus and a spoonful of Fro-yo rose out of the cup. It was an amazing feat of levitation for such a young unicorn. The spoon wobbled precariously as it floated in front of Firefly’s muzzle.

“Try?” she said in a sweet pre-schooler’s voice.

Uh-oh! Thought Mango. He moved to intervene, when without objection Firefly opened his mouth and floated in the spoonful. He made a big deal of chewing and then smacked his lips loudly.

“Do ya like it?” asked Pumpkin.

He knelt down and gave the filly a hug. “I sure did! Thank you, Pumpkin! That was the best Fro-yo I’ve ever had!” With a final pat on the filly’s head and a wink to Mango, he rose to all fours and waved goodbye to the youngsters. Then he made his way along the curving path between the willows until he was lost from sight.

Mango sat down on the bench. He rubbed a fetlock across his eyes.

Time.

He’d always thought of time as an infinite resource, that the days stretched before him without end, and if today didn’t fulfill his ambitions, well then, there was always tomorrow. It’s strange how something that’s infinite has no value!

But then, for Firefly tomorrow wasn’t infinite at all. Tomorrow had, through scarcity, assumed almost limitless value. The thought made him shiver!

Mango considered all the ponies he loved and who loved him, ponies he had left behind in his wanderings through Equestria. The sweet face of Gillette swam to the fore in his mind’s eye. The way she looked and how she’d hid her tears when, again, the urge to travel had led him to leave Canterlot. A mare like that wouldn’t wait forever.

And she shouldn’t have to!

Again, resolve firmed within his breast.

Firefly’s right. The day is too beautiful to waste! All the days are too beautiful to waste!

He stood up and grabbed hold of his cart. It was time he got back to Canterlot and gave Gillette the answer she had been patiently waiting for all this time.

It was, finally, time to go home.


The wake: Twilight Sparkle

Everypony has left the wake. As usual Pinkie is the last mare standing. Me and the rest of the girls are reclining on some cushions, doing last minute planning for the funeral tomorrow. No too long ago, Spike showed Mild Manners to his guest room at the castle and hasn’t been back. I assume he did the smart thing and just went straight to bed. He’s got a big day tomorrow as master of ceremonies for the funeral. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the very first dragon ever appointed Prime Minister of a pony kingdom, even a rather tiny kingdom like mine!

I look into the corner and see the coffin, surrounded by flowers and wreaths. Celestia still won’t tell me if since my ascension my lifespan will be different from other ponies, although she looks a bit sad when she says it. I think it’s because she knows that I’ll outlive all the ponies I love, which is something I haven’t the faintest idea how I’m to bear. Dragons live a long time as well. Maybe that’s why she had me hatch Spike’s egg. At least he’s one friend who might stay with me when all the others have turned to ashes. Now that's a morbid thought!

I get up and walk slowly over to the casket. I feel the need to say something. I know the dead don’t hear, but still, even in dying, Firefly is challenging me to think about things that I ordinarily wouldn't!

“Goodbye, Firefly,” I whisper.

A shiver runs down my spine.

“I look at your casket, and I tremble. You know, I can’t decide which I fear most, death, or my own potential immortality!”

I smile ruefully.

“You know that sounds really selfish, even to me! Here I am, jealous of a stallion who saw barely thirty summers! Still, you lived your dream and saw it through. I’m glad! What you and your friends did was nothing short of liberating magic! Starswirl transformed magic from a bunch of superstitions into a science. But what you did put it into the hooves of every Equestrian, and nopony’s benefited more from it than unicorns. Celestia has told me that in just a few years, PCs have done more to integrate unicorns with the other tribes than a thousand years of careful cultural engineering. Ponies of any tribe can live and work in Cloudsdale, or grow crops on solid ground. The last barriers between unicorn, pegasus and earth pony are falling fast. Cadence says even the Crystal Ponies are warming up to magic, though many of them still harbour memories of Sombra’s tyranny.”

I wince.

“Sorry for having gone into lecture mode again! You were a good pony, a good friend, you lived a good life, and you’ll be missed. All the rest is not very important, like you said on your deathbed. Having seen all the ponies who came to pay their respects, and having heard the stories of your friends today, that’s amply clear.”

I sigh.

“I really don’t know if there is an afterlife, but I do know that a lot of what you were will live on for years after most other ponies’ lives are forgotten. That’s a form of immortality maybe even Princess Celestia would agree to acknowledge! Your light burned brightly, but for such a short time, Firefly. Still, I’ll remember you. Who knows, maybe for a thousand years or even longer! I can’t make promises I’ll live that long, but for however many years I do live, I will remember you. Maybe remembering ponies is the most important job we princesses have.”

I suddenly am feeling better about so many things! I bow to the pony in the coffin, turn and leave the room.

Epilogue - Strawberry Fields

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Epilogue: Strawberry Fields

Peppermint Twist, Pound Cake, Pumpkin Cake

Peppermint Twist rushed into Sugarcane Corners just as the long needle on the wall clock over the counter reached two muffins.

“Hello Mithter and Mithus Cake. I’m here to pick up the twinth.”

“Just in time, Peppermint!” Mr. Cake winked to let her know he wasn’t upset. Behind him she heard the twins rush down the stairs in a clatter of hooves and giggles. They screeched to a halt in front of Peppermint.

“Hiya, Miss Twist!” they said in perfect unison, and then squealed in laughter as she rolled her eyes.

Mr. Cake chuckled in turn. “So what do you have planned for the afternoon, Peppermint?”

She pulled out a list from her hip-purse. “Oh, the uthual. Firtht, we’ll go play in the park, and then thereth a puppet-thow at the cathle. And after that we’ll be taking flying lethonth from Thcootaloo.”

Mrs. Cake arrived wearing her shopping saddlebags. “Flying lessons?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeth, maam. Pumpkin and I will be wearing training wingth approved by Rainbow Dash herthelf. It’th all very thafe!”

“Hmm,” said Mr. Cake. “The stuff they’re doing with spell casters these days... At least the kids will be doing stuff together.” He shrugged on his own saddlebags. “Ready to go, sweetums?”

Mrs. Cake nodded. “Ayup! Come along, dear.” They left the store.

Pinkie Pie came in from the kitchen with several trays of pastries balanced on her back. “Goin’ flying?” she touched a task-caster stone and the pastries flew off in multiple directions, restocking the display shelves.

“Uh-huh!” replied Peppermint. “All the kidth are doing it now! Well, that and go-karting. But I like flying better.”

“What a coincidence, so do Rarity and I!” Pinkie winked. “We’ll have to go together sometime! Have fun now!”

“We will! Bye!” Peppermint gave chase as the laughing foals fled outside. It was going to be a great afternoon!