An ancient manuscript written in Middle English, the only surviving artifact from long lost Earth, may hold the true reason for the emergence of Equestria.
An ancient manuscript written in Middle English, the only surviving artifact from long lost Earth, may hold the true reason for the emergence of Equestria, the very existence of the Conversion Bureaus, and the deepest secret of Princess Celestia herself.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
1. The Nagging Attic
"Just let me do it please, you silly stallion." Perspicacity was not about to let her husband hurt his back again. "Yes, you are big, strong, and powerful, and this has nothing to do with your muscles or your willingness to help - or your ego. That contains my very first telescope. My very first one. Please try to understand?"
Wildfire Starshine, once a human man named Noah Marchington, still carried with him some remnants of human culture. One of those was the belief that no injury or loss was too great in the quest to prove himself a man in front of his woman. That Equestrian culture conflicted with this notion on several levels was often a source of frustration for his native Equestrian wife. Over the last decade, she had gradually mapped out her husband's newfoalish quirks, and knew how to defuse them.
"I... I guess I understand. It's just that, well, I want to feel useful to you, and doing the heavy, clumsy stuff is what I'm good at!" Wildfire was a light gray earth pony, with a mane and tail in several shades of blue. He worked as a Firepony with his adopted newfoal son, Rocket. This was their Off Shift from the Fire Hall, and Wildfire tended to get in Perspicacity's muzzle trying to make up for all the time he was absent.
"Dad. Just let mom use her horn. I don't want to be responsible for busting her very first telescope. I like living. Living is very good. There's pies and ice cream in living. Not so much if we piss her off." Rocket had a point. Wildfire did like pie. And being alive.
"Alright, alright." Wild's ears dropped in defeat as he lowered his head. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'll be a good lil' pony and sit this one out."
The silver-white unicorn mare stepped over and kissed Wildfire on his poll. "You can help me with the books, if you want. They need to be hauled up from the basement too. That ought to keep you busy enough." Perspicacity swept her teal-colored tail at him as she turned to lift the wooden chest with her magic. She ran the only telescope shop in Greater Fetlock, and despite how far the town was from anything, orders occasionally came in from all over Equestria. She had come from a long line of telescope makers; once her ancestors had made instruments for the crown itself.
But the glory days of the Starshine clan had passed long, long ago. Now it was a golden day when an order came in merely from large cities like Trottingham or Fillydelphia. Some tiny part of the old status of the name 'Starshine' still carried a positive cache among the astronomically inclined. This was something Perspicacity was very proud of. In her heart, she dearly wished that even just once, an order would come from Canterlot again. This drove her to try to make the very best telescopes she possibly could, masterpieces each one. Perspicacity was driven by the dream of being able to claim, after so many centuries, that once again Starshine was the Official Telescope Maker To The Crown.
For now, though, the contents of the basement needed to be moved to the attic. There was a lot of stuff piled up in that basement. While the store, which was also their home, was fairly young, the basement had accumulated an astonishing amount of relics from Equestria's thousand year history. Somehow Perspicacity's shop had become the place for the other members of her clan to dump unwanted inheritances. They felt certain that the one mare who still clung to the clan's traditional occupation would be only too happy to take everything old and dusty in. And, mostly, they were correct.
Perspicacity just couldn't let precious history be lost because somepony didn't want to store it. This had been fine for a long time, but now Wildfire's wife needed the basement for a workshop, so she could expand the floorspace in the store above. There were a lot of heavy things, and a lot of stairs.
Maybe carrying the books wasn't such a bad job after all. Books were important. Besides, Wildfire could read Equestrian now. Maybe he'd even take a look at some of the old tomes. It might even be interesting.
Wildfire headed back down to the basement, his son, Rocket, trailing after. Rocket Racer Starshine was a good colt. In actuality, he was a full grown stallion now, but Wild still thought of him as a colt even after all these years. Wildfire was proud of his adopted son, but deep down he disliked his name. When they had first arrived in Equestria, mere relocated newfoals sent to learn basic earth pony trade skills in the lesser Fetlock, Rocket had felt compelled to come up with a proper 'pony name'. He was only a young kid at the time, and he picked a name he thought was 'cool'.
'Rocket Racer' was not a cool pony name, and it never would be, Wild thought. But, the colt was stuck with it now. The stallion. Whatever. Maybe it was just his own issue. At least he himself had picked a good name in the end. Wildfire. That was just a great name for a pony. The best.
The basement was almost empty now. They had all been working most of the day, and the day before as well. Off Shift gave both Wild and Rocket a full week free from the Hall every month. Perspicacity needed help, help she would get.
Wildfire was wearing his cloth work saddlebags. They were tough and had big, deep pockets, just right for the working stallion. Perspicacity had got them for him last Hearth's Warming, and he had put them to good use, hauling wood, hauling crops, hauling tools... now he could use them to haul books.
The old bookcase was up against the wall of the basement. It had been carved from what had likely been a single big hunk of tree. There were some utterly enormous trees in Equestria, and it was not uncommon to see furniture simply carved right out of huge chunks of solid wood. With heavy-lifting construction unicorns at the ready, and pegasus sky-hook teams, it was probably easier for ponies to build and move things than it had been for humans long ago. It was a strange and oddly humbling thought to a newfoal stallion who had once been proud of his thumbs.
The books smelled old, but not mildewed nor rotten. Things didn't disintegrate the same way they had on old Earth. Equestria just wasn't a place where stuff got ruined over time easily. Maybe there was less mold and fungus and bacteria, or maybe entropy was different here - frankly all that kind of stuff was pretty much beyond Wildfire. He was a fairly simple stallion, happy being a Firepony and leaving the technical matters to others. But he had once had a human friend, Stephen, who just loved all the sciencey stuff.
Wildfire used to write letters to his friend. Long ago, when Earth still existed. He had continued to write letters even after he knew full well his old friend was long dead. It was his way to cope with the loss of both Stephen and Earth itself. Then the letters became his diary, more or less. Finally, years ago, he had stopped altogether.
The box of letters was in here somewhere. They were pretty much Wildfire's last connection to his old human life. He didn't miss that life, but... it was his past. It was a part of him, however much he tried to live entirely as an Equestrian, however much he wanted to be just an ordinary pony. It was his history, and history never completely vanishes.
Wildfire began pulling books off of the wooden shelf with his strong teeth and set them carefully into his saddlebags. There was a red book, titled with the odd symbols that only unicorns had need of. The language of magic, all little pictograms of stars and horseshoe shapes, spirals and other curious designs. Wild thought of it as being equivalent to Chinese, or maybe Kanji. Or ancient Egyptian. He certainly couldn't read it.
No point really - earth ponies couldn't cast spells.
The brown book was written in ordinary Equestrian script. It used letters and was a phonetic language. Still took a while to learn, Wildfire recalled. He never was that good with languages. Even now he sometimes slipped and used an English word, and he knew he spoke Equestrian with a human accent. Mostly nopony teased him about it. Mostly.
"The Big Brown Book Of Bedtime Tails". Cute. Even Equestrians used stupid puns like that. Tails. Wildfire sighed and pocketed the book.
Two more, rather heavy volumes were also written in unicorn-ese. Wild was able to guess what one of them must be about - it had pictures of lenses in it. It was probably a book on how to cast shaping spells, as well as how lenses worked. Perspicacity probably had studied the book once, to learn her trade. Wildfire liked watching his wife make lenses. It was like a little light show. At night, it was spectacular - molten glass hovering in the air, changing shape, glowing both with heat and magic from Perspicacity's horn!
He had to admit it, sometimes he wished he had been a unicorn. Some of that magic stuff was pretty amazing. Then again, he was strong as iron and twice as tough, and that had let him and his son Rocket save not a few lives. Being an earth pony was not without its pride, that was for sure.
More books followed, one at a time, to fill Wild's saddlebags. Rocket had found a pile of books already conveniently bound up by string. He had simply taken the string in his mouth and headed upstairs. Rocket was lucky like that. It was actually uncanny. His son was the luckiest, clumsiest pony he had ever known. He was the kind of earth pony that could literally fall onto what he was searching for. It was a handy thing for a Firepony. Wildfire sometimes wondered if it wasn't some subtle kind of earth pony magic.
The manuscript slid down the wall behind the shelves. Wildfire remembered that old thing. It was just ancient. It was written in some weird script he had never seen before. Apparently it had been in Perspicacity's family forever, generations and generations. Once he had thought it was written in some old Earth language because the strange letters almost looked familiar to him. But that was not possible, because artifacts from Earth were not allowed into Equestria. They wouldn't survive in any case - matter from earth that hadn't been changed into Equestrian matter always seemed to transform in bizarre and radical ways. Once, on a journey to greet a distant relative recently converted from earth, Wildfire had seen some crazy pony try to drive an electric jeep through the Barrier. Why the fool newfoal wanted a jeep in Equestria was beyond understanding, and it obviously wasn't easy for a pony to drive, but the foal made a brave effort.
The jeep had turned into pudding. Sort of a lemon pudding. The poor newfoal was sitting in a jeep, grinning at his apparent success, and then the material of the vehicle just started changing color. It melted around him, and soon he was squirming in a big yellow pile of pudding. It was pretty tasty, actually. In the end a lot of ponies were laughing and getting overly full. Good times.
That could never happen again: the Earth was ten years gone now, absorbed entirely by the expansion of Equestria. There was no Earth. Just Equestria. Like all newfoals, Wildfire had complicated feelings about that.
This was one of those 'hands' times. Every once in a long while, Wildfire would wish he still had hands instead of hooves. The damn old manuscript was just behind the heavy block of wood that was the shelves, and the space was too small for him to stick his muzzle into and definitely too small for his big 'ol hooves. A hand could've just slipped in there easy as pie.
This was now an official challenge. Wild felt the drive to prove his worth by defeating the terrible threat of the lost manuscript. The horror of the too-small space! It was stallion versus shelving in an all-out battle to the tome! This time, the shelving was going down.
No, it wasn't going down. It was way too heavy. But maybe it could be shifted.
Wildfire looked around the mostly-emptied basement. Something must be here that could be used as a crowbar or a lever. A spyglass! Yeah, who would imagine finding a spyglass in the basement of a telescope shop? Perspicacity would just love him using a spyglass as a crowbar. Oh yes. OK, then, what else?
A ruler. No, too light, too thin. An old croquet mallet. It looked like a croquet mallet. They played a similar game here, in any case. It would break too... but... maybe trying to move the shelves wasn't the solution. Suddenly it hit him. As a mallet hits a ball. Duh.
The pride of human intelligence in pony form sulked back to grab the ruler and returned to the shelves. Holding the ruler out, in his teeth, Wildfire poked around in the gap between the shelving block and the wall. With a combination of pushing through the shelf at the manuscript, and scraping at an angle from the side, the ancient booklet was finally moved to where it could easily be picked up.
Wild sighed, and stuffed the aged thing into his saddlebags. He would let Perspicacity worry about moving the shelves upstairs. He'd conquered them sufficiently; he had nothing else to prove.
Rocket couldn't stay for dinner, he had to get home to his marefriend. They had moved in together only a few months ago, and he didn't like to spend time away from her. It was understandable. Wildfire tried to suggest going and fetching her, but Perspicacity had shut him up. What Rocket really wanted was time alone with his mare, not dinner with his parents whatever the arrangement. Duh, again.
"I got an order from Clydesdale today. It came in the mail. Oh! You got a letter from the Ministry Of Pegasus Affairs - maybe they've finally found your old pegasus friend!" Perspicacity nodded over at the table by the door, an official-looking envelope rested there. Wildfire had been looking for a pegasus called Skysinger for years. They had a kind of falling out long ago, when Skysinger had gotten in trouble because of a mistake on Wild's part. Sky was the first pegasus Wildfire had ever known, he had always wanted to say he was sorry.
Wild didn't hold out much hope. He'd written the Ministry many times before, over the years. Most likely, Skysinger just didn't want anything to do with him anymore. But Wildfire was a determined sort of pony. He'd check the envelope, but later, though. Something else was on his mind.
As Wild and his wife enjoyed their simple dinner, he only barely listened to Perspicacity's story about what she had read in the unicorn paper today. Unicorn newspapers were written in their traditional pictographic writing - three races, three forms of writing - and she enjoyed telling him about the unusual stories there. Unicorn newspapers were filled with stories of the strange, only reasonable for a group obsessed with magic, he supposed. Normally he loved the odd tales.
The oatloaf was particularly good, she had added olives to it and they were a savory touch. Wildfire liked the nights when Perspicacity cooked. She was much better at it that he was, but he did his best on his own nights. It was just more difficult to do anything complicated without a horn and magic. Wild's nights were much simpler fare, soups, stews, and sometimes haycakes and fruit. He was particularly glad it wasn't his night to cook - he was just plain preoccupied.
After cleaning up - that was his job tonight, it was a house rule that whoever cooked did not have to do the dishes - Wildfire began to realize what was nagging at him. When Perspicacity headed to bed, Wild kissed her a sweet goodnight, but did not follow. "I... I want to check something out in the attic. It's been bothering me all day, and... well I just have to attend to it."
"Don't stay up all night, you'll be exhausted in the morning. Have fun, my heroic Firepony." Wild loved it when she said that. Great Celestia, but he loved his Perspicacity.
While Pers was brushing her teeth, Wildfire climbed the narrow steps from the second floor, where their living quarters were, above the showroom below, to the attic. It was mostly full, now. The work today had nearly finished the job of moving the contents of the basement up to it.
Wildfire could see that his wife had done quite a bit of telekinetic tidying on the top floor, probably during the time he was out getting them all ice cream in the late afternoon. He reminded himself he would need to return the light, wooden cone-carrier to the ice cream shop tomorrow. There were all kinds of little adaptations to the needs of the equinoid form that were a part of his life now, and all of them involved levels of trust and self-responsibility that would have been nearly impossible in the human world.
Wild had no doubt that the wooden cone carriers were never, ever stolen or just chucked into the garbage. Native ponies couldn't even imagine such irresponsibility, and newfoals couldn't behave that way even if they could think of such things. It was odd in some ways, having the evil stripped out. Wildfire didn't regret it for a moment, but sometimes he couldn't help but reflect on it.
The big chest hurt his flank, when he bumped into it. Tidy was not the same thing as uncrowded, and the smaller area of the attic meant less room to move amidst all of the stuff stored within it now. Wildfire had whacked himself right on the cutie mark. He had needed to stop and wince a moment - those things were sensitive! Sometimes that was good, as Perspicacity had taught him one particularly memorable night, but other times the marks were a vulnerability.
Wildfire and his son had gotten their marks the same day, during their first real Firehouse run - flames and two drops. Wild's droplets were on the right of the flame, Rocket's on the left. It had made them both very proud - having such similar marks brought them even closer as father and son.
There it was. On the large trunk, near the bookshelves. The shelves! Why that clever little... Pers must have moved the heavy shelves while he was out getting the ice cream. Of course. That was why she insisted on ice cream for her 'hard workers'. Wildfire smiled. She had made sure he wouldn't hurt himself - or the building - trying to move something he was profoundly unequipped to move.
The manuscript. It had bothered Wildfire since he had first seen it, helping Perspicacity sort out her basement, long ago. It had been before they had married, back when he was still courting her. At the time he had thought it was strange, and seeing it again, earlier today, had peaked his curiosity. It was ancient. It was written in something even Perspicacity couldn't decipher, and it had, at the time, reminded him of earthly text.
Wildfire looked more closely at the manuscript, sitting on the chest. It was not thick, but it was fairly wide and tall. The cover was a faded brown. Wild tried to figure out what it was made of. For all the world, it looked like leather. Skin. Flesh. Ponies never made anything from animal skin because they never slaughtered animals or ate their meat. They had many substitutes for leather, because the very idea of using dead flesh as a material in goods was abhorrent to them.
It even smelled, faintly, of leather! This was impossible. Unless...
Hundreds of years ago - many hundreds of years ago - there had been a time of difficulty in Equestria involving the Griffon and Dragon nations. Griffons were omnivores - once, according to some legends, they had even hunted and eaten ponies - and dragons were panivores - they could eat literally anything, though they preferred minerals, especially gems. Both had fairly severe cultures based on almost human-like violence and dominance struggles, and both used animal flesh in the things they made and used. Leather. Perhaps the manuscript was an ancient griffon or dragon tome!
That would be very fascinating. Wildfire had an interest in history. In his human life as Noah Marchington, he had spent countless hours watching holos about ancient days and the history of various cultures. His best friend at the time, Stephen, was more the 'technology, future, and sci-fi' sort of man. The two sometimes happily argued about the relative merits of each.
In Equestria, Wildfire had felt daunted by the sheer weight of the history of an entirely new world - indeed a brand new universe - hanging over his head, and had not pursued his taste for the past. It was just too much to even begin to deal with. But now, settled and confident in his life as a stallion in Greater Fetlock, perhaps he could indulge his curiosity again.
Besides - here was a truly ancient manuscript, a genuine and probably very valuable piece of history sitting on a chest, right in front of him, right now. The desire to look at it further had been distracting him all day. It was clearly more important than sleep. Wildfire leaned forward and lifted the cover with his teeth. It felt like leather in his mouth. It tasted like it too - ugh!
The strange script lay on the pale yellow-white pages. For all the world, the pages looked like vellum. Wildfire gave the page in front of him a tentative exploration with his lips and tongue. That wasn't paper. That absolutely wasn't paper.
Vellum was what was used in the finest ancient manuscripts on old, lost Earth. It was a sheet of skin made from unborn animals, usually cows. The cow would either be slaughtered, or an abortion would be induced, and the fetal tissue was prepared and preserved. The result was the finest, smoothest material for books possible. Bibles were hand written on vellum, as were the most important books of knowledge and philosophy. If these pages weren't vellum, then Wildfire could not imagine what else they could be.
Wild studied the text. There was a large, red illuminated uncial symbol at the top left of the page. That was very Earthlike, but the idea of illuminated text was hardly a purely human notion. It was one of those obvious, decorative things that any species was likely to come up with.
Wait. That was an 'S'. That was not a snake, that was not a dragon, that was not some weird symbol, though it was so elaborate it was initially hard to decipher. But the more Wildfire stared at the ink and paint, the more he was sure. That was the letter 'S'. The English letter 'S', and it began a word.
Wildfire struggled, his heart pounding. Ten years after the dissolution of the planet earth, in Equestria, he was reading human letters written on an impossible leather manuscript. If that was an 'S', then the next letter would be down below, small, near the base of the large, complex uncial. 'H'. It was an 'H', followed by an... some of the ink had flaked off over countless years. 'E'. Space. 'She'. The word was 'she'. It was English. It didn't look like English, but it was, and it was here, and it was impossible and he was reading it right now.
She. She what? Wildfire brought the Glowsprite lamp closer, so that he could try to decipher the next word. The writing was not easy at all to read, and if it was English, it was a strange sort of English. With effort he sounded out the next few words. Wait. Wildfire ran to get something to write on. There had to be something in this attic!
He found the box that contained his old letters to his long gone human friend. There was still a pencil inside! And sheets of paper, just as he had left them, years ago. Wildfire lifted the box with his teeth and brought it over to the low cabinet near the trunk. He could write on the top. He took out a sheet of paper, using his lips and then the pencil. He began to copy down the letters as he worked them out.
she was a fairye
That was a good start. Maybe it was a fantasy story from long ago. Or maybe there really were fairies out there. Equestria was a wild place. Only... this was English, so it must have come from Earth, even though that was impossible! Material terrestrial objects didn't survive in Equestria long. Unless... the manuscript had been created in Equestria itself? Maybe it was made of leather from the dragon or griffon empires? The likely source of such leather made Wildfire feel queasy - he had been turning the pages with his mouth.
she was a fairye hors, white and faire.
Wait a lemon-frosted minute. Wildfire sounded out the words, and re-wrote them, then translated them as best he could.
"She was a magical horse, beautiful and white." That is what it really said. It was English, but it was very, very old English. Middle English. Wildfire remembered. He'd seen several holos on it. Middle English. That put this manuscript back in the 1200's or 1300's of Earth's old calender. Maybe even the 1100's. Somewhen in there. His memory was a little rusty on these matters, and it wasn't like there was any resource he could turn to. He was alone in this. Earth was gone.
Wildfire began to work out the next line. It was even more difficult, but with effort, it revealed its meaning.
she was a fairye hors, white and faire. And she was cleped the princesse Celestea.
The gray and blue stallion slumped down on the wood of the attic floor. His mouth hung open for a moment as the understanding fixed itself in his mind.
"She was a magical horse, beautiful and white. And she was named Princess Celestia."
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
2. The Wayward Minstrel Of Eslaforde
When Celestia's golden sun had long already risen, Mrs. Starshine rolled over to kiss her husband, as she always did during the Off Shift, when he was home and did not have to sleep at the Fire Hall. The other side of the bed was cold, and it was clear that Wildfire had never joined her. This caused her some slight worry; because of Wild's occupation as a firepony, their time was precious and it was not his way to miss their 'mornings' together. Morning was a relative term in the Starshine household. Because of their odd occupations and schedules, the day tended to start at noon, and end late in the night.
Perspicacity rolled back and lifted the comforter off of her with her magic. Rolling out of bed and standing up, she automatically made the bed, her horn glowing as the corners neatly tucked themselves in, while the pillows politely fluffed themselves and settled into place.
Where could that mad stallion be? He was such a caution, sometimes, and needed more than a little looking after. Perspicacity made her way to the kitchen; perhaps he was there. He did tend to get snacky... well pretty much all the time, so it was a reasonable place to start. She noticed her distorted reflection in the elaborate girandole mirror that overlooked the table. Despite the oval, domed reflective surface, she could tell she desperately needed to comb her mane. That would have to wait.
"Wild?" Perspicacity wasn't yet ready to shout. Perhaps there had been a call from the station last night. That had happened before, because had been a huge fire. She desperately hoped there hadn't been such a conflagration; the last one, two years ago, had destroyed an entire farm in lesser Fetlock. "Wildfire?"
She heard some clunking, shifting sounds from above. The attic. The fool stallion must have stayed up there all night. Thank Celestia that she had moved the heaviest things while she had him out getting ice cream. What was with him? Perspicacity wondered if all newfoal stallions were as determined to prove something they didn't need to prove as her Wildfire. He'd probably cleaned out the basement entirely, and spent the rest of the night wearing himself out tidying everything up. Despite the fact she had already done just that.
Her husband was dedicated to her to a fault. Sometimes that fault was... something she put up with as gracefully as possible. How could she not - it was obvious how much he loved her, and she loved him so very much in return.
Still, he was a silly pony sometimes.
Perspicacity made her way to the narrow stairs that led up to the attic. It had been a bear -a big hairy bear- to get the shelves and the two old chests up there by herself. She'd had to turn the shelves all sorts of ways to get them through the stairwell. The weight was such that it had strained her magic almost to the limit - she'd had a headache for most of the afternoon, until dinner.
At the top of the stairs she found Wildfire laying on the floor, scribbling furiously on a sheet of paper. Several sheets of paper, actually, all of them completely covered with lines of text. On the pages, numerous words had been crossed out and others written in, with arrows and circles pointing to hastily scribbled hoofnotes. He'd been a very busy little pony last night.
Beside him on the floor was his old box of letters that he had written to his long lost friend from earth but never sent. "Dearest, what in Equestria are you up to? I was all alone when I woke, with no cuddly stallion to kiss. What has captured you so..."
"Pers! You won't believe this! You have to see it." Wildfire looked up, exhausted but strangely excited. "First, you have to tell me, where did this manuscript come from? How long has it been in your family?" Wild's eyes were wide, like a child with a new toy. It was kind of enchanting, really, Perspicacity thought. Stallions are all just big colts.
She noticed the old booklet in front of Wildfire, and tried to remember anything about it. She hadn't paid it much attention, to tell the truth, it was just another unwanted old thing from one of her relatives. They always sent her their unwanted heirlooms, probably because she was the last telescope maker in their entire clan. The mare keeping the tradition alive. They just assumed she was interested in anything involving the family history.
Hadn't the manuscript come from the Trotsdale Starshines? No... well maybe. There were those cousins in Manehattan, but no... not them. Had she seen the thing in her foalhood? She couldn't remember something like that. It had always just been around. Perspicacity had no idea which part of the family had sent her the old, tired booklet. It might have belonged to her uncle. He had made telescopes. He was the reason she decided to continue the family tradition. Probably him.
If so, she would have ended up with the manuscript when her maternal uncle Star Diagonal had gone with the Pale Mare. Star Diagonal Starshine! She had been his favorite niece. He had shown her all of Luna's wonders, and he had never believed the tales of Nightmare Moon. He couldn't accept that something as beautiful as the night could ever have been made in anger or jealousy. If he had lived, he could have told princess Luna of his steadfast devotion to her true heart, himself. It must have been his. He was the one that had taught her to value the family history, and to imagine one day having the Starshine clan again be Royal Telescope Makers to the Crown.
If anypony in the clan would have kept an ancient manuscript, it was Uncle Star.
"I guess it's always been in the family, Wild. I probably got it when my uncle joined the Great Herd. What is it that's got you so excited, anyway?" Perspicacity carefully stepped over her husband, and peered down at his work.
"Pers, what if I told you I know how to read your uncle's manuscript? It isn't easy, because it's really, really old, but I can, and get this: it's written in human." Despite looking completely exhausted, there was wonder and excitement in Wildfire's eyes.
"Human? Impossible." Perspicacity tried to think of a kind way to put things. "You've been up all night, and when a pony gets very tired, sometimes their mind can wander and..."
"Look, Pers, this is an 'S', see? And this is an 'H' and here's an 'E'. That's an 'A'. These are English letters, just like they used in the Northamerizone." Wildfire stuck his muzzle into his old box of unposted letters. "Wait, look... see, here's a letter I wrote six years ago. Look at the lettering in it. There's an 'A', and an 'S' and see... that's an 'H'. Just like in the manuscript!"
Wildfire waited, expectantly, for realization to dawn. "Just look. Compare for yourself!"
There was no doubt. It was impossible, but... those symbols, those human symbols were the same.
Perspicacity stepped to the side and folded her legs and lay down near her husband. "Alright, then, what does it say?" Her mind spun, she wondered if she was dreaming. Maybe she had only thought she had awakened. She hated dreams like that.
"It's written in something called Middle English, Perspicacity. That's a really old, old form of the language I grew up speaking on Earth. It's a little different, but I can make out what it means, even if some of the words have changed, or were used differently. It's still my old language." Wildfire bent his head and arranged his notes more neatly.
"If you think that's amazing, just wait until you hear what I've found so far. Here's the original, alright?" Wildfire gestured with his pencil held in his teeth.
she was a fairye hors, white and faire. And she was cleped the princesse Celestea. And Anglish she spak ful faire and fetisly Entuned in hir nose ful semely. But for to speken of hir conscience, She was so charitable and so pitous, And al was conscience, and tendre herte.
Perspicacity looked up at Wildfire with puzzlement "I'm not sure what most of that means, dear."
"That's not a problem. I just translated the original Middle English into the equivalent Old Equestrian. You had a book on your shelf there that made it possible: "The Rede Of Hooves" Wildfire craned his neck down to his far side and lifted an old tome up with his teeth. "Thee? Ith's a thook on Olth Ethwestrian!" Her husband laid the book down and made faces. "It tastes terrible, too! But it's been invaluable. What you just read was the exact equivalent, as best I can do, of the Middle English version here."
Wildfire pointed his nose at a sheet written in the human symbols. They made no sense to Perspicacity.
"Now, this is the translation of what I just showed you. I'll read it for you." Wildfire cleared his throat, a little raspy from being up all night without any rest, and began.
"She was a magical horse, beautiful and white. And she was named Princess Celestia. And she spoke English beautifully and correctly. But what I really want to tell you is that she was compassionate, conscientious, and very tender hearted."
Wildfire grinned at his wife as if he had just discovered the lost continent of Gaskinlantis. "Don't you see? These are the words of a human from Earth, written something like seven or eight hundred years ago, in English - well, Middle English - and this man, this human met princess Celestia. Celestia visited Earth before the Emergence of Equestria!"
Perspicacity didn't know what to say, because she didn't know what to think about any of this. "Write down a correspondence between those English symbols and common Equestrian for me. Then I'm putting you to bed. I'll come back and go over your work myself. I want to check this independently."
Wildfire was already writing down a simple correspondences chart, pencil in teeth.
"After you've gotten some sleep, we can talk about this a lot more. I'm concerned for you, up all night, wearing yourself out!" Perspicacity watched Wildfire scribbling away, nearly finished. "If you're hungry at all, we can have something to eat before I put you to bed. Hungry?"
Wild dropped his pencil. "Sweet Luna, yes. I'm starving. I hadn't even noticed until just a moment ago. I am really tired, and I'm really hungry, too. It's just... this is such an amazing thing, Pers. It's just amazing!"
"Come on, my clever stallion. You've done enough for one night, let's get you fed and comfy in bed. Come with me, come on, it's time for num-nums and night-nights." Perspicacity stood up and gave her husband a nuzzle.
After a quick but satisfying meal of hay and eggs - Perspicacity reckoned that Wildfire needed the extra protein after such a long night, and in any case, as her mother had taught her, eggs are always good for keeping the coat shiny - she put her considerably calmed husband to bed.
What a strange thing, to find out that an old family heirloom might just document the first meeting between Human and Equestrian. Even more bizarre was the notion that the meeting was being described from the Human side. How could such a thing even be possible? Then again, she had seen the Human symbols with her own eyes. They certainly matched up with Wildfire's old unposted letters.
After cleaning up the mess of the meal, Perspicacity performed her morning ablutions, combing her mane and tale, and brushing her teeth. Ready for the day, she headed up to the attic. The telescope order from Clydesdale could wait; she herself was curious now at what her husband had discovered.
Settled in the same spot where Wildfire had lain, Perspicacity looked over his notes and translation efforts. She studied the manuscript, and the English To Common Equestrian symbol chart Wild had made for her. She began checking to see if what was in the manuscript truly was composed of human symbols, and checked her husband's conversion of them, as best she could.
She could find no fault. It was absolutely clear that the old manuscript that had been in her family for generations was written in Human. There could be no doubt.
Perspicacity began to examine the ancient book in earnest. She found that Wildfire had skipped some writing on the very first page, what was most likely some kind of title or introductory statement. She suddenly wished she knew Human-speak, because she was curious what the block of text said. All books had authors; this likely contained the name of whoever had written the manuscript. It might indicate clearly whether or not the work had been written by a pony... or by a human.
She would have to wait for her husband to wake up. She had at least convinced herself that her stallion was not deluded. Whatever else, his process was valid, and the manuscript did use the script of the Humans. The thought of this made her feel lightheaded and a little unsure. That it concerned the princess herself was somewhat disturbing. The very idea that Celestia had met with humans long ago was not a part of known Equestrian history. It felt vaguely dangerous, but also thrilling.
Later, after Wildfire had rested, dinner was eaten around stacks of paper, assorted pencils, reference books on Old Equestrian, and of course, the manuscript. The kitchen table was now given over to the project, and Perspicacity and Wildfire worked together to unravel the story of what turned out to be a very human, itinerant performer.
Heere is the book of the tale of Willelmus Learmount, an honeste Minstrel, of whos soule may Goddesse Celestea have mercy.
"This is a very big deal, Pers. You have to understand that in those days - it was England, it just has to be England - you couldn't be anything except 'Christian'. Anything else and... um.... " This was one of those moments when the remarkable change of Conversion was most noticeable for Wildfire - he was unable to clearly think of the horror and awfulness that he was trying to discuss. "... ah... really, really bad, bad, awful things would be done to you. I mean, if you even hinted that you weren't totally, completely part of that religion, they would take you and..." Once again the new configuration of Wildfire's brain found itself unable to go into the darkness of human behavior any longer. "... well, how do I put this? Our author was risking losing his very life, and in the most bad, bad, terrible way possible, by writing that he worshiped Celestia and not the common god of that time. That he'd even do such a thing, dare such a thing, is... it's unthinkable, Pers. Unthinkable."
Perspicacity had wanted very much to find out the name of the author of the manuscript. She had been sure it would turn out to be a pony. She was expecting a pony name, not 'Willelmus Learmount'. She didn't quite get the whole idea that the human's dedication to Celestia was as important as Wildfire had made out. "Alright, love. So... humans would actually have... hurt or even... killed... this man for writing this? It's hard to believe."
"Worse than that. I can't even tell you how much worse. Yes. Humans did that, and more. They were kind of... actually they were really bad. Worse than wild, uncivilized dragons. Worse than Griffons before the Pact." Perspicacity noted how her husband described what had once been his people, as 'they'. She smiled, softly. He had finally, unconsciously accepted himself entirely as the stallion he was. That was probably connected to how he had gradually overcome the nightmares that woke him, shaking, in the middle of the night, and the shame that had made him cringe whenever he had heard the term 'newfoal'. He was fully Equestrian, now, and so much gladder for it. She just wanted him to be happy, to be content.
"But it's more than that, Perspicacity." Wild was contemplating the introduction. "For our Willy here to write about 'Goddess Celestia', and for him to commend his soul to her, that implies something more. Something very curious. I mean, we don't even refer to Celestia that way. Well, mostly. She raises the sun for us, she is the guardian of the world around us, deep down we all know what she really is, but she herself prefers just to be called 'princess'. She doesn't like too much formality. She doesn't want to be worshiped or prayed to... though I guess we all kind of do that sometimes, anyway. I wonder if she minds?"
Wild seemed lost in thought. Perspicacity considered his question. "I've always believed that she doesn't mind as long as we don't rub her muzzle in it. Wouldn't a human just assume she was divine back then? I mean, she is Celestia and all."
Wildfire woke from his reverie. "No, no beloved. A human of that time would see her at best as a creature of faery, a magical being like... like a brownie or an elf or a spirit. Maybe a sidhe or something. But more likely they would consider her an ordinary mare enchanted by witchcraft and possessed by an evil demon or devil. And that would have led to some... very unhappy consequences."
"Demon? Devil?" Perspicacity was learning a lot of new human words lately.
"Human mythology. But humans really believed in them once. Kind of like all the anger in Nightmare Moon mixed with the fury of the Windigos and all the selfishness and cruelty of a Diamond Dog, only as a kind of spirit that could possess things. They were supposed to be rebels against the god that the humans believed in... and they had been cast down to this awful place called 'hell' where anypony that didn't exactly believe in precisely the same thing that..." Wildfire looked a little ill. "It's all very complicated and really mean and cruel, and kind of stupid too. Basically they were evil spirit... things... from a bad place. Like monsters from the Everfree, only worse.
"If Celestia had been thought of as that sort of creature, then... the humans wouldn't have treated her very nicely, would they?" Pers was getting it, little by little, Wildfire thought.
"That's what I am saying. They would have been very, very mean to her. Probably tried to kill her... eventually. So that means that our little human here is an unusual sort of stallion, for a human. He saw Celestia with adoration, and not fear or hate, and he ultimately came to follow her, despite the terrible risk of doing so in his time. He must have learned things from her, and he must have spent quite some time with her to come to such a conclusion. He wrote all of this after the fact. That means that the introduction tells us what he came to believe, in the end." Wildfire turned back to the translation and started scribbling once more.
"If the human wrote this after his time with Celestia, how did the manuscript end up here, in my family's stuff, in our attic?"
"I don't know, Pers. I don't know. Yet." Wild was now checking through Raggedmane's Guide To Early Equestria: After The Founding, Volume One. Perspicacity had spent the afternoon, while her husband slept, visiting the Greater Fetlock library. She had brought Wildfire's oversized saddlebags and loaded up.
"Maybe we will find out, once we have this thing completely worked out. I've still got five days Off Shift before I have to go back to the Fire Hall. I'm going to do everything I can to finish this translation by then... if that's alright with you." The look on Wildfire's face would have melted the hardest heart. Perspicacity hadn't seen anything catch her husband's sense of wonder like this since the time they'd gone all the way to Canterlot to see princess Luna raise the moon.
She remembered how upset he had been at the small turnout, compared to what Celestia got. It was everything she could do to keep him from causing a scene the next day. Wildfire could be such a passionate pony.
Of course, that was one of the reasons she loved him.
From then on, life at Starshine Telescopes And Instruments Of Vision revolved around a gray, blue-maned pony working tirelessly and obsessively at the kitchen table, while his wife managed, somehow, to keep him alive and functional enough to keep going. It was a little like taking care of a child, she soon realized; if she didn't force him to eat, he would just forget and go without. But the manuscript was gradually revealing its secrets, and Perspicacity found herself caught up in what appeared to be a most extraordinary tale.
But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space, Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun To telle yow al of my wonder time With the white hors princesse. Greet Celestea, ful faire of al wit and al goodnesse, Of all of our aventures, so as it appeared to me. and thus will I first begin.
Some hours after dinner, Wildfire looked up from his labor and called to his wife, who had gone to their bedroom to read her unicorn newspaper by a lightsprite lamp. "I think I have enough to read to you! Pers! Perspicacity! Don't you want to hear?" Wildfire bounded into the bedroom, sheaves of paper in his mouth. He clambered onto the bed, and set his sheets down. "Pers?"
"Of course I want to hear, love!" Perspicacity finished setting her paper down on the table by the bed and adjusted the lamp for her husband's benefit. Her horn stopped glowing as she settled in. "Please, read me what you have!"
Wildfire grinned, and leaned over his work on the bed. "I've taken old Willy-colts words and re-written them in a more modern way. I've kept all the meaning, it's just a LOT easier to follow, alright?"
"I have full confidence in your abilities. Please, enough introduction. I've been waiting all day!" Perspicacity gave Wildfire a nuzzle.
"Very well then." Wildfire Starshine cleared his throat, and began.
"My name is Willelmus Learmount, an honest minstrel. I make my living by song and by the telling of stories and poems, traveling the land from one place to another. Occasionally I am retained by a landowner for a time, and do my best to cheer his court. I have heard many strange tales, and told many more, but nothing so strange as what happened to me on my passage through Eslaforde, on the way to the Stow Fair.
It was near Mareham Lane that I chanced to take my leave of the road to do my business in the trees, and at the conclusion of it came the most wondrous encounter of my life. She stood there on the green, the largest mare I have or ever will see, towering above my head. She was purest white and bedecked with jewelry, crown and stones like a queen, and her hooves were shod with fine gold.
Of her mane, I can say only this; it was not a mane as men know of such things, but color pure and bright, and it waved even when there was no breeze nor wind.
To say that I was brave or that I faced this with a stout heart would be false; I fell upon the ground and wept in fear and also at the sight of such beauty. I felt a strange touch upon my head, and my thoughts were filled with such pictures and songs as I could never hope to tell, most beyond my understanding, and I have traveled far and seen much.
I was from this somehow rendered without fear, and sat myself up so that I could look once again at the beauty I had glimpsed. The proud and regal mare then spoke to me, in English as plain and true as that spake by any man, and I was called by my own name, and told to be of comfort and good cheer.
It was then I understood that I faced not a mare, however well shod and groomed, but instead a queen of fairyland, in the form of a white horse, come to visit our land and far from her own.
She told me of things I was ill equipped to comprehend; claiming that there were many worlds and not just the one the Creator made for us, and that occasionally these worlds did drift through the air like clouds and sometimes they grazed each other, and other times they might even mingle, as clouds do in the sky.
She called herself Celestia, and explained to me that her fairy world was now briefly touching my own, and that this was a rare and splendid opportunity to see how the neighbors, as it were, lived and worked and did all things. Curiosity had brought her through a tiny hole which had been born from the rubbing of the two worlds upon one another, and that in the time the hole would last, she might walk upon the Earth and enjoy its splendors.
But, she counseled, she could not travel far from the door of her arrival; for there was that of her own world which streamed forth and sustained her, as warmth from a fire keeps man safe from the cold death of winter, and that without that warmth, she should equally suffer and perish despite being a queen of heaven.
She said of our world that it was like unto a desert, devoid of the very essence of life itself, and that from the moment she first stepped forth into Creation, she feared for any who might live within it. She confided that she had been as surprised to make my acquaintance as I had been to make hers, for the very reason she had just given; and she asked of me how I might walk and think and move upon the earth at all.
To this I had no answer, for the mysteries of the world were unknown to me at that moment, though in time she did relate them to me such that I now regretfully understand her curiosity and even amazement.
I should make mention of why I then agreed to be her guide and companion; for you would surely think me mad to offer such - for it is widely believed that consorting with the fairies is a hazardous prospect at best and a peril to the soul even if all else goes well. Please allow me to explain.
In the presence of Queen Celestia, I felt such kindness and joy as I have never felt before or since, and in her every manner and every action did she present unto me a personage of the utmost compassion and gentleness. There was in her nothing that was not good, and everything that was, and it is my claim that no man of good heart could stand before her and not weep with joy as if standing before the very pleasures of heaven itself.
It was therefore no burden to me to offer my services to her, but rather my greatest pleasure merely to remain in her company, and to be permitted to gaze longer upon her, or to hear her melodious voice. And I tell you that none of this was a fairy enchantment; rather it was all entirely her character and the truth of her self that affected me so. If anything in the world is good, then it is the fairy queen I met here, and if anything in the world is beautiful, then also it is her.
But now I was sore afraid, because I knew that my wondrous patron would be instantly seen for what she was by one and all, and that not every man would be as pleased by her beauty nor as swayed by her delicate kindness, and that there were those who would flee in terror or worse. I expressed my terrors to her majesty, and she did hear them and take council from them, and judged fit to use her fairy ways to clothe herself in common guise.
And so it was that I, Willelmus Learmount, came to travel with a splendid white mare far above my station at my side, my lute in my hand, and her secret in my heart."
At that tyme, for we go forth abouten oure viage In the gyse of an commune mare riche for to see And an this sely gleeman Willelmus Learmount aboven al his name thus; Bothe lute and all her privetee in his herte.
"Goodness!" Perspicacity seemed both impressed and somewhat shocked by what Wildfire had read to her. "Oh... my. This is even more... complicated than I imagined." The silvery white mare thought for a while, relaxing against the pillows. "Wildfire... I think we should keep this entirely to ourselves, at least for now, and possibly... well we'll see. I have never heard of the princess changing her form in all my days. Luna, yes, we have all heard the story of her salvation. But that our princess would walk that... place... transformed to appear as a common animal..."
"I take it that this wouldn't go over well with some ponies?" Wildfire roughly tidied his sheets of paper with his hooves.
"There are some that might see this work as, well, subversive is too strong a word, but... discomfiting." Perspicacity leaned over onto Wildfire and nuzzled him gently. "Shapeshifting was strongly associated with the princess Luna, specifically, and while nopony would doubt that Celestia would be capable of anything that her sister could do and more, it is a delicate issue as to whether..."
"I think I understand, honeycake. I know how to keep my muzzle shut." Wildfire gave the love of his life a soft, slow lick on the cheek. "I may be personally excited about this, but it's our little secret, unless you say otherwise."
"You know," Perspicacity said softly, her lids half open "It's late, and there is more to life than translating ancient manuscripts. In fact..." She ran her foreleg gently down his own. "... a clever stallion might find all sorts of interesting discoveries to be made right here in this bed."
The rest of their evening was not spent deciphering Middle English.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
3. The Feast Of St. Ætheldreda
Perpicacity Starshine, telescope crafter, needed more glass. This could sometimes be a chore, since the type of glass she needed was special. It had to be clear, as perfectly clear as possible, and utterly untinted.
Most common glass in Equestria had a reddish tint to it, and the things made from it ended up more or less pink. Looking around her at the windows of Greater Fetlock, they all appeared pink or various shades of pale red; this was normal. Finding glass useful for the lenses needed for telescopes and microscopes and glasses and magnifiers and such was a little more tricky.
She had brought her own embroidered saddlebags filled with items of trade; some rather fine gems, a bag of the small, unmarked coins called 'bits', and a particularly tasty apple-peach pastry. The pastry wasn't for trade; rather it was there because she thought it would be fun to eat it in the park, on the way home.
In Equestria, gemstones were relatively commonplace. Any unicorn with the right spell, or any diamond dog with a good nose could find a decent selection with just a little effort. Small gemstones, useless for anything other than glitter, were easily seen in the topsoil. But glass was precious. Clear glass, anyway, untainted by rubescence.
Featherhoof Hearthstone ran the Greater Fetlock Blacksmithy, and he made glass, among other things - such as door handles, hinges, and for the old fashioned, horseshoes. Traditional horseshoes were seldom worn by ponies anymore, they didn't allow any movement of the frog, and thus could cause discomfort and even foundering in later life. Whether glued or nailed, they damaged the hoof over time, and so had become unpopular.
That said, there were some traditionalists, hold-outs and youngsters trying to find their own uniqueness that still wore the outdated hoofware. Perspicacity would have none of it. She liked her hooves flexing with every step. She wouldn't give up that extra bounce in her walk for anything. If she needed shoes, she would wear boots. Which she did, at least in winter.
She had left Wildfire busy as always, translating more of the ancient manuscript. She was looking forward to a repeat of last night - beginning with a bedtime story would be alright too. That wasn't really fair, she thought - she truly was interested in the notion that Celestia had met with a human long ago, as absurd as the idea seemed in the light of day.
Mostly, she just wanted her stallion to be happy; translating the old document had really put a sparkle in his eye, and a grin on his muzzle. And that excitement made her happy because it made him happy. And frisky. Frisky and happy. Happy and...
"Back for more glass, I see." Featherhoof waited. "I said, back for more glass? Hello? Glass? Want?"
Perspicacity snapped out of her reverie. "Ah! Yes! Featherhoof, just the pony I wanted to see."
"Yah could'a fooled me. A bit distracted, are we?" Featherhoof grinned at his most regular client. The constant need for glass had made friends of them for many years.
"Sorry. Wildfire has a new... hobby... and, well, you know how he gets." Perspicacity blushed slightly, perhaps it was the warmth of the nearby furnace.
Featherhoof - how had he gotten that name? He'd never been willing to divulge the tale - grinned and went over to his glass box. The big roan stallion had constructed the box years ago to store the glass he made when it became apparent that the demand would be constant. Perspicacity was his only glass client, but she was unflagging in her need for the stuff.
To make clear glass, Featherhoof had to melt the normal pink glass and precipitate out the pigment using a reactive agent. Or, in terms more to his outlook, he used a prepared form of the special mineral-rich soil from the base of Dragon Mountain and mixed it into a batch of glass and then rattled the molten mass until there was enough clear glass on top to harvest. It was pretty time consuming and all the more impressive considering that Featherhoof was a pegasus.
Featherhoof wore a wing-binding tack that kept his primaries out of the fire, and metal hoof and leg covers that he had forged himself. He had a pair of dark, tinted glasses to shield his eyes - they had been made by Perspicacity herself, in trade for even more glass. But the secret of his trade was his tools.
The eccentric pegasus had an astonishing collection of tools, most custom designed and made, to permit him to do the sorts of tasks an ordinary unicorn blacksmith would find trivial. There were clamps and mouth tongs, forehoof tools that clipped onto his leg and hoof guards, and his special hammer with the shock absorbing handle that had spared him many a toothache - or a headache. Just in case, he had a bottle of a tooth-restoration potion in his medicine cabinet. He had only needed it once over the years.
Perspicacity had once asked Featherhoof why he had chosen such an unusual - and difficult - occupation for a pegasus. She hadn't meant to be insulting; it just seemed obvious to her that dealing with molten metal and heavy tools was a job best suited to a working unicorn. It certainly was vastly easier.
Featherhoof had looked upset, causing Perspicacity to apologize for any offense.
"Any pegasus can walk on a cloud, or push a storm together, or kick the sky clean and let the sun shine down. Name me another pegasus that can make ya clear glass or fix your broken gate hinge."
"I... I can't think of one, not anywhere. That's why I asked why you..."
"That's your answer, right there." Featherhoof had brightened then, and Perspicacity decided to drop the question permanently. Besides, despite his obvious handicaps, and the tools he had needed to construct to overcome them, Featherhoof was a darn good blacksmith, and his glass was beyond excellent.
"So what is this new hobby of your husbands, if I might ask?" Featherhoof had already ambled over to his glass bin; he had only recently worked up a batch to add to the small pile already in the wooden box.
The clear glass was in small lumps and drops, scooped from the molten mass with one of the clever pegasus' unique tools. The water-clear blobs of cool glass could later be worked by Perspicacity in her shop, and spun into perfect lenses with her magic and her considerable skill and talent.
"Wild's developed a taste for history. Well, he always did like history, but this is his first real fascination with... Equestrian history." Perspicacity always felt a little hesitant to bring up her husband's background, despite the fact that everypony in town knew he was a newfoal. She wanted his status to be forgotten, because he had seemed troubled by it at times, but occasionally she slipped, and this was one of those moments.
"Ah! I see. Well, that's a good thing, then. It's always good to take an interest in how we got to be where we are." Featherhoof carefully laid out the lumps of glass on a black cloth. He had a touch of the salespony about him, he was well aware that a black backdrop made crystalline things look all the brighter. "I worked up a new batch just last week; I think you'll find this the clearest glass yet."
He always said that. Every batch was somehow clearer than the ones previous. If this were true, and it continued, Perspicacity thought, at some point he'd be showing her air and asking for bits. "Oh yes, these are wonderful, Featherhoof! I need about three weights of glass. I have an order all the way from Clydesdale."
"So they're needing telescopes in Clydesdale, are they? I'm glad to see the rest of Equestria is taking notice of our brilliant crafter of magnificent lenses." Perspicacity had always had the feeling that Featherhoof was a bit sweet on her, then again, it was equally likely he talked this way to all of his clients. It was good for business, she had to admit.
"How much, then, for the glass?" This was always the bothersome part. Featherhoof liked to dicker; bartering was apparently his special fun. "How much do ya think these fine, fine pieces are worth to you?" He asked.
Thus battle was joined.
Perspicacity lost out on that trade rather badly. To be fair, her mind was on other things. In the end she was out not only a fine gem, and not a few bits, but also her apple-peach turnover. On the way home, she looked sadly at the park, thinking of her absent, sweet, fruity friend. Glass was just glass, but a pastry was a good snack.
She briefly thought of going across town to get to the bakery, then returning to the park, but it seemed like such a chore. Besides, she had to get home and make sure her silly stallion remembered to get up and stretch his legs. He was so obsessed with this project. Maybe, she thought, it was because he was a newfoal. Maybe, in translating the manuscript, Wildfire was somehow working out something inside himself. She'd thought he'd completely accepted being Equestrian, but perhaps he still had some unresolved issues.
It couldn't be easy, she reflected, to change one's entire species. She couldn't imagine doing it. In her foalhood, she had wondered what it would have been like to have been born an earth pony or a pegasus, but when it came down to it, she wouldn't trade being a unicorn for anything.
Wildfire had once tried to explain to her what humans had looked like. He had sketched her a picture of what he had once been. Wild was a fairly good artist; it was a skill that he had picked up when he was first learning to write with his teeth.
The creature in his sketch was strange. It reminded her of a baby dragon, only thin to the point of being gaunt. Or perhaps a wingless, beakless, shaved griffon standing on its hind legs, with its forelegs hanging down unnaturally. The head was weirdly shaped, with a tiny nose that protruded past the flat, wide muzzle. The creature possessed tiny, sunken eyes. At first she had thought humans had no ears, until Wildfire had made another sketch, showing them to be miniature disk-like things, hidden under the stringy mane that covered their entire head.
Perspicacity tried to imagine her handsome stallion as one of the coatless, skinny, flat-faced and beady-eyed creatures and it had made her shudder inside. They were horrifically ugly. It had made her feel skittish for days, but she had asked, indeed she had needed to beg Wild to show her. It made her feel ashamed that after he had so reluctantly granted her wish, she had felt so bothered and distant afterwards.
No wonder he suffered from such nightmares for so many years. Being converted must have been an incredible relief to him. It must have been terrible, just terrible, to have been forced to live in such a body. Even diamond dogs were more appealing. At least they had a coat to protect them, and a tail to wag. She had cried for him that night, when she was out of his sight.
If Wildfire needed to work something out about his terrible past, then she would do whatever she could to support him in it. Besides, she wanted to hear what had happened with the little human musician and the princess, long ago. Wildfire was so passionate reading the story to her. And after.
When dinner was finished - they had supped on Manehattan Style Toasted Grains and whipped carrot salad with apple bits - and after Perspicacity had finished the detail work on the main cylinder of the telescope for Clydesdale - thin lines of golden swirls and moons, and tiny white gems placed like stars against a deep blue background - it was finally time for bed. Once again, Wildfire had finished his translation work for the day.
And forth we goon towardes that village Which that called was Eslaforde Wel we weren maad To take our wey. There met we a merchant with forked beard, And girt In motley gown, and high on horse he sat, hav him so greet envye of the mare faste by my syde Putte in his thought that he sholde the mare beye. So that he offren Nobles or pens, Whiche that be goode and trewe, But was ther noon of al that I wolde have For al the world.
"My fairy patron thus bid that we go forth such that she could see the world, particularly she wished to see how men lived and worked. Near to us was the village of Eslaforde, to which I was destined already, and thus to this place we then made out way.
As we approached Eslaforde, we were met by a traveling merchant with a forked beard and clothing both filthy and uncared for, yet he sat on a horse not entirely wretched. The merchant was immediately taken with my fairy companion, in her guise as a common mare, and he desired to purchase her forthwith.
From out of his bags he produced prodigious coins, all far more than his appearance suggested, and offered them to me in exchange for my mare, which he coveted greatly.
Of course of his money I would have nothing whatsoever; the very thought of selling my patron, a fairy queen, into bondage reviled me beyond measure. Thus I sent the wretch on his way, but in his eye I sensed great mischief, a warning I would later come to greatly wish I had heeded.
To her great credit and wisdom, Celestia did not speak once during this meeting, having somehow understood at a glance that the horse under the merchant was not as she within her guise; and was only a common animal and nothing more.
Though afterwards she did query me on whether any creature but Man could speak in the world, and to this I responded that none did, save perhaps those enchanted by fairies or possessed by devils. The fairy queen asked further about these things, and after long explanation, concluded that they could not exist despite my protestations.
In answer to my plain statement of her own existence in the world, she informed me such that she would know if any other fairy or demon lived anywhere at all, and that she was entirely alone in all of creation, and that only by virtue of the fairy wind that came from the door through which she had passed.
I did not want to accept her council on these matters, but who could know of them better than she, herself a true fairy? Still, the thoughts engendered in me from her words troubled me for some time, until I finally pushed them from my mind.
In Eslaforde it was a happy time, for it was the The Feast Of St. Ætheldreda, and all preparations were being made for merriment. It would have been an ideal time for me to ply my trade; feasts and festivals always have need of songs and poetry and tales to be told, but I was beholden to a greater calling, my fairy queen.
Celestia looked out in great astonishment at the village and all the people therein, and quietly begged me tell her if there were other such villages in the world. I explained to her of my travels, and of many villages and towns and cities too, of castles and keeps and countless farms. I related to her that the world was filled from water to water with people and their works, and beyond the water the rest of the world was populated also thus.
Here it was that I saw a most curious thing; a tear formed at the eye of the seeming mare, and she was curiously silent for some great time, even when we were alone and safe from stray ears and eyes. For the rest of our tour of Eslaforde, her head was not carried so high, nor was her carriage as proud. Only later would I learn the terrible reason for her grief.
Of her silence only one thing broke it, and briefly, when she saw what it was that men eat and how. We had entered the marketplace, my thought not only to show my queen the ways of commerce, but also it was my plan to purchase for her some treat such as a horse would likely enjoy, in the hope of cheering her thus.
She suddenly reared and made a noise and turned full away; I thought it wise to leave the marketplace immediately, and so we did, my queen only too glad to be gone from it. I begged her tell me what it was that had offended her so.
She referred to the meat we eat. It was true that there had been pigs being butchered there, and sheep, and also chickens, for it was feast time and such delicacies are good and proper. Instead of cheer, I had brought yet more sadness to her, and this confused me greatly.
Did not the fairies hunt? Were there not tales of great parties of fairy folk, all in fine garb, chasing the hart through the woods in merry fashion? All fortunate souls have gladness at good meat, and fairy folk, it is said, dine on the finest meats with every meal.
At the end of the day, Celestia finally spoke to me once more, and it was there that I learned that all I had known about the fairy folk was wrong. They ate no meat, and drank no blood, nor did they swap their children with our own. Her kind ate fodder, such as a farmer's animals would, and fruits of the field and tree, but did no harm to any other creature.
To see the squalling of the pigs as they were cut open gave her great sorrow, as did the screaming of the sheep. The spill of entrails that for man signal the joy of feasting were abhorrent to her, as was the bright and sweet smell of blood as it covered the ground. To man, these things a joy, but to fairykind, in opposition to all the stories and songs at my command, a blasphemy.
Her kindness and compassion went far beyond men, to even the most meaningless of creatures. This was a matter most strange to me, for had not all the animals been made only for man to make use of? They had no purpose beyond this, and no souls, and their seeming pain was only for entertainment, a pleasure to boy or man.
To this, Celestia responded in anger for the first time to me, and I cowered under such wrath, up to this time convinced that my fairy queen had only one face, a face as pure and exsanguine as the moon and many times more tranquil.
What she did relate to me, once I had explained to her the meaning of my words more clearly, I now hesitate to write upon the page, for fear and also in worry that by so scribing them, they might be made all the more real.
She said that what I called souls was the very stuff of life itself, if she understood my meaning, and it was that which came to her and sustained her in the world as it blew through the hole between her province and my own. The reason she had been thus shocked that men could walk and move and act was that in all creation she could detect none of that of which souls were made. Though I had many a tale and song of fairies and hauntings and witchcraft and miracles too, it was impossible that any of them be real.
That we walked and moved and spoke and thought was what had made her cry for us; and it was the worse that there were so many of us, here, and in countless towns, and across the water, and in endless lands beyond. If we had souls, as I claimed to her, then so also would the pigs in the market she claimed, and the sheep, and the chickens all, and in that place she had sensed none, and this had made the slaughter all the more terrible to her.
She was made of the stuff of life, the stuff of all magic and wonder and of the devils and the angels both; and though we had dreamed well of such it did not truly exist for us, and that in all the world she could sense nothing and less, despite all her formidable powers.
And in this my mind rebelled, for our world is such that without the promise of salvation eternal, what is the sense of living at all? Amidst such pain and sorrow as life, if there were no guiding hand and no hope for heaven beyond, then the world truly would be empty as she claimed, and I could not take this council, nor could I accept her words.
And it was there that I betrayed her, in my horror and my anger I abandoned my fairy queen, running away as fast as traitorous legs could carry me.
And it was in my absence that the shoddily clothed merchant with the split beard did appear, and somehow manage to take Celestia into his bondage and ownership, and force her away, his intention to profit thereby."
And there in myn absence The motley merchant with forked beard Did a sly, and for to stele Celestea And did brynge her to servage For his own commune profit.
"Celestia, princess Celestia, was taken prisoner by a human? How? How is that even possible? She can raise the very sun, and the moon, and the stars in the sky!" Perspicacity was understandably incensed. "You said it yourself, deep down we all know what she truly is, a goddess! There is nothing that she cannot do. How could she ever be captured by a... a skinny, horrid little skin... dragon... thing?"
Wildfire winced slightly at that. He couldn't help it really. All the work he had done so far, the idea that the manuscript had been written by a human, had brought back a lot of disturbing memories for him. As exciting as his project was, it was also unsettling, and reminded him of his unequestrian heritage.
"I don't know yet, Perspicacity. I have some ideas, though. But that is what it says. That's what is written in there." Wildfire nodded towards the kitchen, where the manuscript lay on the table.
"I... I just don't know about that thing anymore." Perspicacity seemed a little calmer now. "Alright, Wild, what are your ideas about how Princess Celestia of Equestria could possibly be captured?" Pers almost spat the words "By a human?"
Wildfire swallowed and lowered his head close to the comforter on the bed. "In ancient stories, fairies could be chained with iron. There was something about the metal that destroyed magic. Maybe Earthly iron actually could do that." Wildfire thought for a moment. "If so, back in the days when the earth still existed, groups like the Human Liberation Front would have done anything to know that little bit of trivia." Wildfire shuddered at the implications, were it the case.
"I can't accept that at all." Perspicacity lay back on the pillows covering the headboard. "Remember that... carriage-thing that turned into pudding? You said it was good pudding. You used to love telling that story. You saw it happen, and those carriages were made of iron, weren't they?"
"Steel, beloved. Mostly iron, a little bit of carbon, some other things I guess. Unless it was a modern one, in which case it was probably carbon fiber. But I get your point." Wildfire thought about it; the humans would have certainly tried iron. Some human would have remembered the old fairy stories and applied anything and everything to try to deal with the problem of thaumatic radiation - magic.
"Perhaps... well, maybe..." Wildfire began, but was unsure.
"Out with it. What? Go on, let's hear your thoughts."
"What if... what if Celestia let herself be caught. In order to truly understand humans." Pers was frowning, but Wildfire carried on. "Think about it; if she was in no danger, if she could not be hurt, if she could escape at any moment, then why not just let herself be caught? She could learn a lot from it, and she could leave whenever she wanted. Will had run away, so... why not just go along with things to see what would happen?"
Perspicacity considered his argument. "I can see that." Suddenly she had a strange look on her face. "Wildfire, last night our little human author wrote that Celestia was being sustained by magic coming through the tiny hole she had entered through, right?" Wildfire nodded. "What if that was more serious than our author mentioned? Why would Celestia even bother to hide herself as an Earth animal if she had all of her powers? Why hide and not speak? What if the hole was very, very small?"
Wildfire suddenly grasped what his wife was suggesting. "What if the hole was, like, the size of a molecule, or an atom, or subatomic? What if the hole between the universes was incredibly tiny? If Luna can change her shape and size, why not Celestia too? What if she came through a hole that was leaking such a small amount of magic that she was just barely being sustained at all? Maybe she was genuinely vulnerable back then!" Wildfire's eyes were wide at this. "Pers, maybe Celestia took more of a risk than our writer could possibly have understood? Even a goddess needs magic to be a goddess. It was completely different when Equestria emerged in the ocean - the 'hole' was HUGE! Hundreds of miles across, thousands, in the end!"
"Celestia, completely vulnerable. It is frightening just to think about. What if we had lost her back then? Princess Luna was still in the moon. There would have been no day or night. The whole of Equestria might have perished!" Perspicacity crawled closer to her husband and laid her head on his back, pressing her body into his.
"Didn't unicorns once have the power to raise the sun and moon? That's what they say in the traditional Hearth's Warming play, right?" Wildfire nuzzled, kissed, and licked his beautiful mare.
"Oh, I wouldn't believe everything you see in a children's holiday play. I'll tell you a not-so-secret. Unicorns sometimes like to claim all kinds of amazing powers and abilities. It makes us seem more impressive." Perspicacity smiled, ever so slightly, as she cuddled Wildfire.
"I don't believe that for a minute. I know my amazing unicorn can do anything she wants to." Wildfire smiled back.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
4. The Fair At Stow Green Hill
Dinner was a tense affair at the Starshine home. After the previous night's revelations, both Wildfire and Perspicacity were well beyond eager to find out what had happened to Celestia, apparently somehow captured by a human merchant, and abandoned by the author of the manuscript, Willelmus Learmount.
For the entire week, Perspicacity had taken over the job of making meals and cleaning up both, so as to allow her husband to concentrate without distraction on his effort to translate the document. Tonight's meal was very simple indeed; fescue and alfalfa with olive-oil and a simple oat pudding. The recipe for oat pudding came from Perspicacity's mother. Wildfire thought it reminded him of something called 'cream-o-wheat', which was silly, since it was clearly made of oats.
Earlier, in the afternoon, Perspicacity had made the trip across town to visit the bakery. There she had picked up a variety of treats, the loss of her apple-peach turnover still weighing surprisingly heavily on her mind. Now the pantry was stocked with six different kind of muffins, two turnovers, and four cupcakes. The silvery-white unicorn was finally feeling fairly square with the world.
While out shopping, Pers had stopped at the park and eaten a replacement apple-peach turnover. She did not like to have unresolved dreams, even small ones, and it was a simple enough thing to address. However, the experience was not entirely what she had hoped. The pegasai had been lazy of late and Greater Fetlock had enjoyed entirely too much sun for too long, and it was starting to show. Even as she sat in the park she could see them moving the clouds into position. There would doubtless be a big storm that night to make up for the long stretch of sun. The trees and flowers needed watering, and how.
Well, she thought with some humor, 'a dark and stormy night' was perhaps only appropriate for whatever curious circumstances might be revealed when her Wildfire finished this days work. Wild had only two more days after tonight to finish the manuscript, before he had to go back to the Fire Hall. When that happened, it would be three weeks before she could have him cuddle with her or read to her again.
Unless she brought the manuscript over to the Hall and stayed with him there. She wondered if that would be allowed. It could be so difficult sometimes, being married to a Firepony. Her life was often filled with worry for her husband, combined with far too many nights alone. But it was worth it, because their love was real, and real love was worth anything.
Besides, there was no doubt of her husband's worth in the community. More than a few of it's citizens owed their life to Wildfire and their colt Rocket. Sometimes Wild could be a bit silly, even bumbling around the house, but as a Firepony, as a hero, he was more than talented. Perspicacity laughed at that; the same pony that could somehow sprain his hock trying to make the bed for her was the same pony that had saved the Rye twins in the big fire three years ago.
Perspicacity just sighed. She sighed a lot, now that her life was shared with Wildfire. They were all good sighs, though, even the ones followed by head shaking.
Wildfire scrambled up on the bed, new sheets of paper in his mouth. That was another thing Perspicacity had purchased today; more paper. And a few pencils, too. She had also gotten Wild a nice little pencil box and a soft rubber eraser as well. It just seemed the nice thing to do. Wild seemed to appreciate it; she hadn't expected him to be so happy about a pencil box. Then again, he was grateful for everything she did. He was just that way.
"I've got it, I've got more, and I can't wait to share it with you, Pers!" Wildfire settled himself down on the bed, and smoothed out the sheets of paper covered with his writing. "Oh... by the way, Perspicacity..." Wildfire shifted so that his face was close to hers. "I really want to thank you for all of your support during my... little obsession here. You've rearranged your entire day around this silly project, and well, I just wanted to say thank you."
The kiss was long and passionate, and Perspicacity felt more than a little tingle. "Well, get on with it! Storytime!"
Wildfire laughed, and turned back to his translation. Perspicacity cuddled up beside her stallion, and lay her head close to his shoulder, just where his foreleg met his barrel. Under there she could smell him, his spicy, warm, stallion scent, and her nostrils flared as she took it in. She loved the way he smelled. It made her feel happy, and calmed her and made her feel safe. It was one of her favorite things to do, just to lie beside him, her nose tucked close to his foreleg and barrel, warm and basking in his scent.
"Ahem! Let's see, last time... um... Willelmus had just run away in terror at learning things that Man, if not pony, was never meant to know, and our beloved princess Celestia had been captured by an unscrupulous trader who dressed like crap."
Perspicacity giggled at that.
"Now we follow old Willy-colt's efforts to track mister crappy pants." Another laugh. "Let's see here..."
I wente then to Hym for to seke And have just vengeaunce for For his foule thefte of the Fairye Queene was now myn purpos, To brynge her out of her adversitee.
"When I had regained my senses, I returned to where I had fled from my queen, and found her absent and more; I was informed of her theft and of the merchant whom I remembered from before. I immediately resolved to seek the miscreant and make my justice upon him, for his foul deed in enslaving my fairy queen. Her suffering must doubtless be great, and so I felt myself frantic to discover her and liberate her as expediently as possible.
With some effort was I able to learn that there was a great horse fair to be held at Stow Green Hill, and this would doubtless be where the scoundrel would take my fair patron, for to sell her further into bondage, for she was in her deceiving guise a mare as goodly and fine as any man could hope to see. Though she no longer appeared in jewels, and her hooves were no longer shod in gold to the eye, nor were there wings upon her back, nor a horn upon her brow, she was still of perfect beauty, and great in size, such was her illusion.
I made my way by the following of her great hooves, their marks upon the ground unmistakable, and found that the wretch had taken her though the very marketplace that had previous caused her such grief, and learned from the sellers there that a great white mare had reared and balked as she was roughly tugged through the streets.
I learned that she had been bound with bridle, bit, and rope, and degraded with blows; at this I was filled with contempt for the merchant, but even more so with unbelieving surprise that the great queen should not have skewered the oaf with her magnificent horn, made invisible by her enchantment but no less real for it. She surely could have gutted the gorbellied jack-a-nape from stem to stern in but an instant, what had stayed her wrath? Her mighty hooves alone could have pulped his mutton-jowled head like so much rotting fruit, yet she had whinnied and submitted to his harshness.
At first it was my thought that her compassion was of such greatness that my great queen could not bring herself to harm even he who had raised hand to her; but another thought stole across my mind soon after - she had been of such adamancy that all her strength and life came from the place where she had first entered creation, and we had become greatly removed from it in our travels, and Stow Green would be further still.
Mayhaps, away from her warm door, my fairy queen was rendered increasingly cold, with joints stiff and body weary. To think my beautiful patron rendered helpless because of my fault was a thing I could not bear, and thus I resolved to free her whatever the price, even be it my own life.
You may wonder, then why I chose thus, and the answer is that the world is filled with trouble and woe, and rare it is that true wonder or greatness comes among we common folk. I had spent my entire life singing and telling stories of wonder and miracles, of heroes and fairy-folk, and these were not my subjects only because they brought me coin. It was my genuine hope that such things be real, and in the fairy Celestia I had finally had my dearest heart's wish gifted me.
And if it were true that in all the world she was the only one of such kind, then what worth my little life compared to one such as hers? To merely serve one such as her was an elevation no simple cantabank could ever expect, and here was I, her weak and disloyal servant, but servant nonetheless. No greater patronage could I ever expect to have in all of life; and I would make amends and account of myself in her service no matter the difficulty."
That gretter was ther noon than the sighte of hire whom that I serve O doon plesaunce in what evere difficultee.
Perspicacity nibbled her husband's mane to catch his attention. It... worked. "Hold on, Wild, we need snacks for this. Well, I need snacks." The teal-maned unicorn rolled off of her stallion, and the bed, and stood on her hooves on the wooden plank floor. "Want me to bring you back something? We've got yummy muffins, turnovers, and cupcakes!"
Wildfire noticed his stomach rumble at the mention of treats. Dinner had been light, and reading made him feel hungry. Actually, everything made him feel hungry, now that he came to properly think about it. Also... he had to pee, too. "Bring 'em all, I'm sure I'll figure out something to do with them." Wildfire got off the bed carefully; he really, really needed to pee. "Um... honeycakes? I'll be back in just a bit, alright?"
"What, my treat?" Perspicacity was already out in the kitchen, arranging the baked goodies on a plate. Presentation was everything, her mother used to say. Ooh! Some tea might be splendid with these, she realized, and began preparation immediately.
Wildfire returned from his relief, and smelled tea steeping; he loved the tea in Equestria. He hadn't actually had real tea on earth, just some kind of nanofabbed tea-substitute. He had guzzled it anyway, because, well, that was what there was. Real tea, though, Camellia Sinensis, was to artificial tea as a dragon was to a crawling worm. Real tea, decent tea, was beautiful. It was the only word he could come up with. The fragrance, the taste, the color... it was just beautiful. He thought he had liked tea. On earth, he had not even the vaguest notion of what tea really was.
The couple worked together to carry the completed snacktime treats over to the bed. Wildfire had raced ahead and moved the little table by the side of the bed and pulled and pushed it into place somewhere near the foot. On this was placed a tray containing the little red teapot they liked to use, all round and crimson shiny, and the little commemorative tea bowls that had the pictures of the princesses at the bottom. So appropriate, Perspicacity thought, as she filled them with warm tea.
Equestrians tended to not serve overly hot foods, so the tea was not scalding at all. This was a practical matter; nopony wanted to burn their gums sipping tea or hot chocolate or whatever they favored. While beverages were often held between the knee joints of the forelegs - the exact same joint as the wrist in a human - Wildfire had soon realized that sometimes a pony just wanted to lift a cup with his teeth and sip. Overly hot drinks were thus a danger, and Equestrians by and large shunned them.
Wildfire took his position on the bed, the little table with the tea not far from him, and Perspicacity crawled close again, giving him loving nips and kisses. Story time had become a positive joy for both of them, and inside her - despite the effort of doing all the housework to keep her stallion at his translation chore - Perspicacity dreaded the day when the project would be over.
"Tea, my love" The delicate unicorn floated a bowl over with her magic, her glow surrounding the offering as it hovered in front of her stallion.
"Ooh, thankee mine beauteous mare!" Perspicacity laughed at Wild's attempt at human-styled courtly speech. Wildfire took the bowl between his foreknees and sipped it happily. It was green tea, with a natural sweetness and the mouth-feel of chocolate. Wildfire loved this tea. She must have made it just to make him happy. "This is wonderful, Pers, just wonderful!" The sweet smile on his wife's muzzle confirmed his suspicion. Things had been so cuddly and close lately. He felt grateful to the manuscript for that.
Perspicacity had bought several of the peach-apple turnovers, she was happy to see Wildfire liked them. "Peach and apple, together, love. I hoped you might like them." She sipped her own tea, held in her thaumatic grip, and nibbled a turnover herself. They really were good, she would have to let Amaranth know that when she next visited the bakery.
The supply of treats vanished at an alarming rate, but this was often the case with ponies. Perspicacity was just happy that Wildfire seemed so glad of them.
When the last muffin had met its fate, and Wildfire had cleared his palate with another cup of tea, he continued the tale.
I then hym seke, by wey and eek by strete Til I cam to that place, and ther I founde The motley merchant with forked beard; With a poke nobles alle untold. Celestea semeth elvyssh and is agon That it had been to late for to rescous hire.
"With great speed did I make my way to Stow and thus to the horse fair held at the celebration of the feast of St. Ætheldreda. On Stow Hill they did make a corral with which to keep horses many, and these they would divide into lots which would be the pleasure of those who could do so to purchase.
In this place did I find my motley merchant with the forked beard, but to my horror I found him with a purse overflowing with gold and no sign of my queen Celestia. I had come too late to rescue her from him thus.
In anger I assailed him and spilled his coin upon the ground, and with my fists bade him to tell me in what manner he had disposed of my mare, for such I called her to him, and he at last in tears told me of his fortune, and how he had obtained it gladly from a visiting lord.
Such woe have I never felt, for now my heavenly queen had been possessed by such that no commoner might confront. It would be my life to challenge this new arrangement, and to my shame for some time fear rendered me helpless in the road.
But knowing that in her was any truth for all my songs and stories, and all the wishes of my heart, I reasserted my pledge and left knowing my fate but no longer caring. Celestia, the queen of heaven must be freed, and there was no one else in all the world that could know to do it.
Of my waiting until my moment came, of hiding and skulking in shadows I will not relate, for the time was long and without event, save the pounding of my heart and the heaving of my breath. Suffice to say that it was not without some effort, however devoid of thrill, that I found myself at last within the encampment of the lord which had purchased my patron, and thus I found myself at her hooves once more in supplication.
She was not as she was; her grace had not been touched but her seeming form had become somehow more false, and when she finally spoke, her words were halting and weary. There was a faintness to her, and it is my oath that when once I was forced to hide, through her I faintly saw a torch shine, such was her state that she had become spectral, as if fading to the absence she claimed of all creation.
I begged her to free herself, and return with me to her entrance, but she spoke again and informed me that she was unable. The path that had brought her here was closing, as her land and my own pulled apart like clouds passing in the sky, and that with the shrinking of the door had come a lessening of that which sustained her, and it was everything to her merely to remain herself, and that not for long.
In my fevered head I formed a plan, not of any great strategy nor of any cleverness, but instead of desperation deep as any well. I begged of her that she might run, if I unbound her, straight as Diana's arrow to her home without let, and spoke my hope that as she approached she might grow stronger with every step, as closer she came to that milk which nurtured her.
To this she agreed to try, though it was sure that this was all but too much to ask, and in secret I unbound and unshackled her, and quietly we stole away in the night until we felt far enough from the encampment that the sound of her flight might not bring swift retribution.
Alas, this simplicity was not to be, for in that very moment were we seen, and calls of thief and enemy rose up, and it was not but a moment that I realized these hard words were directed at me. Thus marked as such, my life was surely forfeit, for they had horses upon which to give chase, and I had but poor leggings of too great a wear.
I bade my queen to flee, she might yet make her home if she were quick and wise; yet this she did not do, such was her loyalty and compassion to my undeserving self. In shock, I was commanded to climb upon her back, that which I would never dare to imagine, and though I protested, her command had become my law, even above that of man or god.
Our way was slow at first, and again and once more did I beg her let me fall to the earth, and leave me that she might run the faster for it. But stern was her answer, and though we were pursued, her cleverness did outwit the chasing riders more than once, despite my burdensome weight.
The further we traveled, the stronger my heavenly queen became, and the faster too, and in that I felt clever indeed in foreseeing this outcome, and gladder of it I could not have been. Soon we had passed Eslaforde and left it behind, and the riders too, though in morning's light they should surely find us.
In the dark still did I recognize Mareham Lane, and then from it we passed, not far, and it was there that great Celestia did stop and bade me dismount, which I did with due reverence, but no less speed.
Breathing in some fairy strength, she shed her guise and stood before me once more, fully revealed. The night shrouded land was made as day by the light from her waving mane, which was as unto a sky itself, the sky of fairyland. Her jewels shimmered in that spectral light, and so also the gold which adorned the hooves at which I knelt, as if in prayer. And in that vision I finally understood all that she had told me, and so it was that weeping overcame me as when first I met her, only now it was not just from her beauty, but also at my full understanding.
I could not help myself. I am no coward yet it is my claim that no man could stand before such beauty and also hope and not weep with despair at its leaving. But more than this, I knew now the true emptiness of creation, for I had touched true wonder, and true magic, and held fast to the beating heart of a genuinely celestial being.
Above me I no longer saw heaven, and below me neither hell, and around me in the shadows no spirits haunted. I would have given my very arms and legs both that even one demon should do me harm, just to know that there was something in the world besides a short life followed only by endless, uncaring night.
So it was that I beseeched my goddess, for that is what she surely, truly must be, with all my heart in great and terrible fright. I petitioned her thus -
Alas, great queen of my very soul, I pray to you Celestia! You have shown me my world, and it is empty and cold like the grave itself, and here I will soon be put to death, alone, without anyone to comfort me, and with nothing to greet me but oblivion. Please take me with you, I beg you abandon me not here, I who have your faithful and true servant been!"
Allas, myn soules queene! allas, Celestea! What is this world? but now a colde grave, Allone, withouten any compaignye. Wol oure lady leve her trewe servant? Have mercy, sweete, or ye wol do me deye. O softe taak me in youre hoofes tweye I desireth my-selven goodly with yow go.
Wildfire had stopped reading, and the silence was more than uncomfortable.
Perspicacity gave him a gentle nudge in the ribs with her forehoof. "Go on, it's cruel to keep me in suspense like that. Read the rest. Whatever happened, I can handle it. What did Celestia do? Did she just leave the little human there, or did she find some way to take him with her?"
Wildfire slumped down, his head resting on the bed, between his forelegs, covering the papers he had been reading from.
"Alright, Wild, this really isn't funny. I need to know. You know I need to know the ends of stories. Out with it, stop teasing me!" Perspicacity, who was a stickler for detail and completeness, was almost verging on the frantic.
Wildfire spoke his next words carefully and slowly, and not a little sadly. "The rest of the manuscript is missing. The pages were clearly torn right out of the thing."
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
5. The Train Of Fairly Terrible Awkwardness
The basement had been searched as thoroughly as could be - like a crime scene, thought Wildfire, remembering crime, from old Earth. He and Perspicacity even tapped the walls to see if any hidden places existed where the missing vellum pages might have been placed.
Perspicacity thought that maybe, just maybe, the manuscript might not have been inherited, but simply existed within the house when she had first moved in, decades ago. The long lifespans of Equestrians had still not entirely been accepted by Wildfire's mind. He knew, intellectually, that Perspicacity was much, much older than he was. But because there was no physical evidence of the fact whatsoever, it was very easy to forget.
With two-hundred and fifty being an average lifespan, and the signs of decrepitude coming rapidly only during the last decade or so, it was strange to think of just how very young all newfoals were compared to the native Equestrians around them. Even the most geriatric man from Earth would instantly enter early adulthood upon his ponification. A new life, indeed.
A further search of the attic had exhausted them both, and revealed nothing more, so it was decided to make another pass at studying the manuscript itself for any clue, however tenuous, as to its origins.
Wildfire showed Perspicacity where the last pages had been torn from the binding. Her assessment was that they had been cut. Being vellum, which is to say unborn animal skin, they were durable and tough, despite their great age. She doubted a pony could rip the material without completely destroying the manuscript's binding.
Wild's original thought was that perhaps human fingers had torn the pages, long ago, but that seemed unlikely for several reasons, not the least of which was how, when, and where. Also there was the matter of the way the edges looked - it did appear as if something sharp had been worked upon them.
Both ponies studied the manuscript together, under the light of day, going from cover to cover, looking for any trace or clue. They found a tiny scribble on the second page, done in pencil - but it was possible that Wildfire had made the mark himself nodding off during his laborious translation effort. He couldn't remember. They found odd scratches on the front and back cover they couldn't explain, in groups of three; almost suggesting claws or nails, but again, it could just as easily be from being mistreated in a number of ways.
On page five they found a lock of mane, small and inconspicuous, tucked deep into the binding. The hairs were a faded topaz color. They could have come from anypony. Or from any other creature with hair... even a human.
They still could not identify where the leathers that made up the manuscript came from, or from what beast. For that they would need the help of a technological species that used leather, and those lived, for the most part, far away. Nopony had seen a griffon or a dragon anywhere near Greater or Lesser Fetlock in, well, ever, so there was no help to be found locally.
Perspicacity had one lead, the one she always had - the thought that most likely the manuscript had come to her from her uncle Star Diagonal. She would not be denied her ending. After lunchtime, Perspicacity stormed out of the house, saying only she would be right back. Within an hour she had returned. Wildfire found that he had been granted a sabbatical from Fire Hall duty. Somehow. He'd never heard of such a thing.
Frankly, he didn't think there was such a thing. Until now.
But the order, hastily written, was authentic, and signed by the current Fire Chief, Bluey Longhose. Apparently they were going on a journey, south, to the desert regions and all the way to Salt Lick City, where Perspicacity's Aunt Starshine still lived. Aspherica Starshine had cared for her uncle Star, during his final days. How her uncle ended up with her uncle's wife was a story in itself, but one Wildfire wasn't overly keen on at the moment.
Once Perspicacity had a bee in her mane, that was it. Abandon all hope ye who canter there. Wildfire shrugged his ears, and began to pack. A part of Wildfire was curious to see the south of Equestria again. It was there, in the wide and open deserts, that the great barrier of Equestria had originated, and where the billions of the Earth had entered. The last time Wildfire had seen a desert environment, it had been a landscape dominated by a huge half-sphere, shimmering like heat over a road, shiny like an old Earthly Christmas tree ornament - only what it reflected was not the desert around it, but the landscape of Earth, distorted in the curvature.
When Wildfire had crossed that threshold, the Barrier, he had done so on newly minted hooves. For several years the crossing was made by boat, for Equestria began its expansion in the middle of the Pacific ocean. As the sphere expanded on the Earth side, it began to cover more and more of the planet. When Wildfire had been converted, the edge of the Barrier covered a significant part of the West Coast of the Northamerizone. There were still ships meeting docks on the other parts of the curvature, but for him, his entrance into Equestria was by hoof, from somewhere near Barstow. From one desert to another, but the change was vast - dull, gray and tan Earth desert covered in ruins and slums, to a pristine, shining desert of bright ruddy hues and golden sands.
He remembered being astonished at how the spherical hole between the two universes could be so immensely vast on one side, and yet only a few hundred feet across in Equestria. Because the great rush was beginning, training camps had been set up all over Equestria to teach newfoals basic skills before they were shipped out to colonize the Exponential lands. Because he had integrated quickly into a very isolated community, and married Perspicacity, he had not been shipped out. Wildfire had remained in the small town of Greater Fetlock. That and... certain other events... had made it more politically expedient for him to be close to where he could be kept an eye on for a while. Wildfire sighed. Apparently he wasn't good at picking human friends.
But for countless billions, the Exponential Lands had become home. Equestria, when it was expanding ever outward, had filled more and more newly created lands with ponies, most of whom had originally come from Earth. There were those that thought the whole thing had been a ploy to utterly quiet any threat from the Dragon and Griffon empires. With Equestria now overwhelmingly pony, their numbers had become insignificant in the grand scheme of things in less than five years.
But the Manuscript had suggested another reason for the importation of newfoals - though who would dare to imagine clever Celestia might not be operating on several levels at once?
Wildfire finally found himself outside of Starshine Telescopes and Instruments Of Vision wearing a simple harness allowing him to properly pull The Luggage. The Luggage was a large and splendid steamer trunk finished in cork fabric. Cork fabric was one of the pony's many alternatives to the usefulness of leather. Although made from cork trees, the material was in all respects, leather. It smelled like cork, though, which was not at all bad - since his conversion, animal products were rather repulsive to Wildfire.
The Luggage was fitted with wheels. Wildfire had seen the thing in the attic and the basement, but had thought it a wardrobe or perhaps a cabinet. It was Luggage, best spelled with a very large 'L'. It was heavy, and for all of Equestria, Wildfire might as well be pulling a carriage.
This feeling was made all the more clear, when, after placing a neatly lettered 'Closed: Gone On Adventure' sign in the window of the showroom, Perspicacity had leapt onto the top of the large, bulky luggage and immediately laid down. She looked very comfortable.
"Giddyup, there husband! Time to work those big, stalliony muscles! To the train!" Perspicacity was grinning, a princess herself in that moment, and dammit, dammit she looked beautiful. Wildfire grinned and strained against his harness. The Luggage and its ever so royal passenger began to roll out.
The station was at the other end of the town, closer to the lesser Fetlock, so as to be the most useful to the farming community there. Wildfire had first arrived on the train for his education on basic work skills for earth ponies. Lesser Fetlock had hosted the newfoals, in exchange they had received a lower tax rate for an entire decade and several other concessions as well. Training newfoals had, for a while, been a coveted thing, with various communities stumbling over themselves to qualify for the program. At that time, newfoals had been seen as a positively valuable commodity, and very desired. Now, in retrospect, Wildfire marveled at the cleverness of Celestia; she had made the converted humans popular with the stroke of a pen. And some tasty bribes.
Perspicacity waved her hooves at ponies on the streets of Greater Fetlock. More than a few times Wildfire had to stop while Pers explained to various ponies what they were doing and where they were going, though, he noted, never the real reason why.
For a while, he had two passengers; Sweetflower Daisy from the Tastee Yum Yum Flowers Stand had joined Perspicacity on the trunk, both giggling and waving as if they were in a Foals Day parade. Fortunately, Wildfire was nothing if not strong; his work as a Firepony had made his earth pony musculature even more powerful. He never felt he was an overly clever pony, nor very talented, but at least he was strong.
Wildfire gave a sheepish grin to his boss, the Fire Chief as they passed the Hall, Blue just shook his head and grinned back. Perhaps someday Wild would find out what Perspicacity had said to gain him a 'sabbatical' from being a Firepony, but then again, maybe he wasn't sure he wanted to know. Hopefully he wasn't in trouble with his boss. More hopefully he wouldn't be teased or pranked in some way when he got back.
Perspicacity had Wildfire stop for a bit outside of Featherhoof's blacksmithy. She came out with a metal box, with a strong lock built into it. As he waited, she opened one of the compartments in the great Luggage, and brought out the manuscript. Into the metal box it went, which was then locked. The metal box was put into the Luggage, and the key, strung on a strong cord, she placed around Wildfire's neck. "There's more to this than we understand, love." She whispered in his ear. "And even if there isn't, it's still safer this way." Pers kissed him, which made him smile, and clambered back onto her Royal Luggage Of Transport.
Wildfire strained again against his harness, and the bizarre parade was once more on its odd little way. Perspicacity was mostly a quiet, professional, dedicated little instrument maker. But when she did something new or unusual, she really did it, with flair and style, and all the way.
As they went around the corner at Fodder and Redflower, Perspicacity seemed to remember something and began scrambling about on the flat top of the rectangular luggage. Wildfire looked back to see her pulling at something with her magic - it was a fold out flag staff, thin and wiry, hinged near the base of the Luggage and featuring the Royal Flag Of Equestria. Now it stood upright, whipping and dancing with every pothole in the road, waving merrily.
"Now it's a Royal Expedition!" Perspicacity shouted to Wildfire, and he could only grin and shake his head. He began to wonder what other secrets the oversized Luggage held, and whether it would turn out to be the Equestrian equivalent of Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, suddenly producing enchanted buttons and controls and growing wings and floats and scanners and such. Wildfire dearly hoped so; Equestria was a very magical place. Frankly an enchanted steamer trunk would be about par for this particular course. Plus it would be beyond awesome.
A stallion could dream.
The rest of the trip to the train station produced no further wonders from the trunk, though it did offer a few more stops as various townsponies inquired after their travels and asked about the wheres and how longs of things. It wasn't until late afternoon that the Luggage was finally secured on the train, and Wildfire and Perspicacity found themselves laying on the comfortable padded benches inside one of the cars. It felt good to lay down after pulling the luggage, Perspicacity, and for a while, one of her friends, across the length of the entire town.
Wildfire tried to imagine the life of one of the stagecoach ponies in places like Appleloosa. Every day, they would do this sort of thing. Every day, all day. He suddenly didn't feel quite as tough, despite being a Firepony. To be fair, a lot of his working Firepony day was sitting and waiting for something to happen. He was probably more out of shape than he realized.
The steam engine began to make the sounds of preparing to leave. That was when Wildfire felt the entire bench shake as a plump little stallion smacked himself down beside Wild. "Oh, man, I hate these benches, don't you? They're too wide to sit up, and too long to feel comfortable laying down - I mean anypony could just sneak up on you, no security, right? Am I right? Hey, want a bon-bon? I got lots of them, here!" The squat, short, fat little earth pony reached into his left saddlebag and pulled out a wrinkled paper sack. Wildfire frowned and shook his head.
"No? Well, let me know if you change your mind." The plump stallion stuck his muzzle into the bag and began chewing, noisily. Removing his head he continued. "Love the cherry ones. Cherry Bon-Bons, just the best, you know? Of course I don't mind a good chocolate-covered raisin, I wouldn't kick one of those out of bed for not being cherry, right, know what I mean, brother? Hey, it's gonna be a hell of a trip for us, it's a good thing we have each other, don't you think? I've never been to Salt Lick City before, how about you?"
Wildfire sat up, forelegs rigid. "I beg your pardon?
Perspicacity seemed nervous. "This train goes to many stops!"
"Yeah," The overfed stallion was a very light brown, with a dark brown mane. His eyes were surprisingly small, and they had a tendency to dart from one place to another in an unsettling manner. "Seaddle, Buckland, Paddock, Ponytello, Geldburg, Brighock City, Twin Farriers, Coltden, Croupson City - hey, I hear they have a great Remuda Inn in Croupson - Oatford, Laminitis - wait, that's not a stop, though it will put a stop to your galloping, right? I had a friend who had Laminitis an..."
"Um... Honeycake, maybe we should go... check on the... on the luggage, just to make sure it's safe and all?" Wildfire waggled his ears; hopefully she would pick up on his clever ploy to find another car in which to sit.
"Oh, without question, beloved. Good day to you, we must be on our way." Perspicacity stood up and started to leave. Wildfire scrambled to follow.
"Great! Let me put my bon-bons in the ol' saddlebag and we can go check the luggage. I like to travel light, myself. Keeps me swift on my hooves, you know. Gotta be swift on the 'ol hooves to keep up with things, know what I mean?" The plump brown pony was right behind Wildfire, and bumped into his flank when he stopped at the door to the next car.
"What? Now listen here... uh..."
"Ralph. Name's Ralph. Ralph Vitoni. Never could think of a good pony name. Most of 'em are pretty silly sounding, really. I mean, I gave it a shot, I came up with several good ones I thought, 'Big Brown Ralphy, Ralphstar Galactica, Magnificent Ralph, Captain Ralph The Super Pony..."
"Those aren't Equestrian-styled names!" Wildfire sputtered. "They all have 'Ralph' in them!"
"Hey, pal, it just hasn't been long enough to figure out this naming stuff, you know what I mea..." Wildfire cut the portly pony off right there.
"It's been almost ten years! Earth is gone! You couldn't think of a name in..." Wildfire caught himself. What the hell was he even discussing this for? "Listen... Ralph. I don't want to be rude, but..."
"I completely agree, there, Wildfire, old pal. We're keeping your wife waiting. She's probably already standing at the luggage, waiting for you, and hey, you don't want to keep a hot filly like Perspicacity waiting, know what I mean, yeah? Hey? I know you do, brother. Lead on, lead on."
Wildfire began to enter the next compartment then suddenly stopped. He turned in fury. "What in cinnamon swirl are you doing? What am I doing?" Wildfire practically yelled his words, his teeth gritted. "And how in Luna's Shining Night do you even know our names?" The last came almost as an afterthought - Wild was too angry to properly order his topics of conversation.
"I'm following you, pal!" The portly pony smiled innocently at Wildfire. "We need to check the luggage, remember?"
Wildfire's muzzle made several opening and closing motions, but nothing came out. He wanted something to come out, but it just wasn't coming out. He had a lot to say, actually, but his Equestrian brain was simply no longer equipped for the precise sort of thing he so dearly wished to tell Ralph to do right now - if it were even physiologically possible for the equine body at all, which it almost certainly was not.
"Wild?" Perspicacity had entered the car from the far door, she had thought her husband was right behind her, only to find he... wasn't. "What's going on?"
Wildfire turned his head to look back at her over his rump. His mouth was making the oddest motions, like he was trying to chew with it open, apparently on something terribly distasteful.
The fat, squat, light-brown stallion with the dirty saddlebags peered around Perspicacity's husband. "Sorry, Pers, can I call you 'Pers'? We just got sidetracked here with smalltalk, you know, guy stuff. Two guys on a train, get to talking shop, you know how it is, all the excitement of travel, the new sights, the new smells. Really sorry there, Pers, we're right behind you." Ralph the pony gave Wildfire a nudge with his nose.
"Come'on pal, don't keep your old lady waitin'." Ralph smiled sweetly "Keep a gal waitin' and you won't get kissed at night" The fat pony looked carefully at Wildfire, his mouth still silently moving. "Hey. You got gum! You never said you had gum! Jeezus, Wild, what - your mom never taught you how to share?"
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
6. The History Quiz Of Horror The reference to the fanfiction 'The Book of Friendship' by BillyColt is done in love and friendship.
The Friendship Express had stopped briefly in Ponytello. The endless desert was scattered with buttes and rises, and of course wide stretches of parched ground. In the distance, dry mountains offered ore and gems for the intrepid seeker, but most of the land was barren and difficult to farm. It was astonishing that ponies lived here at all. If it weren't for the mines, likely nopony would live in Ponytello.
For now, on the train, Wildfire and Perspicacity sat in sullen silence across from their annoying and inescapable shadow, 'Ralph'. Somehow Ralph knew their names, their occupations, and details about their lives that he couldn't and frankly, shouldn't know. The couple had found themselves stymied; they couldn't escape him to talk privately about what he represented, and they did not know whether or not he knew about the manuscript. This tied their tongues, thus the reason for the current silence - the less they said the less they might let something slip.
They both had a great, if unspoken suspicion that 'Ralph' was there only because of the manuscript, but how he could possibly even know of it at all, much less the details of their lives, had deeply disturbed them. It was appearing that somehow they had ended up involved in a very strange situation. But what was actually going on was impossible to decipher, for now at least, and the last thing either of the Starshines wanted to do was lose whatever advantage they might in theory possess.
"Hey, if you don't want to talk, I can respect that. These long train rides can really take their toll, I know." Ralph was being... well, Ralph. He didn't seem to ever stop being Ralph, and that was the single most annoying thing about him. "I travel all over the place, constantly on the move, going from one town to another town, from big city to small hamlet - hey, there's a strange thing, right, 'Hamlet'. Shakespear, right, Earth guy, he has this fellow named after a village, what's up with that? I mean, I'd never name any colt of mine 'City, right? Or 'Berg'. Well, he might be named 'Goldberg' if I was Jewish, hey, but I'm Italian - 'Central Eurozone' for those corporate assholes - so maybe I should name a son 'Villagio', or maybe 'Borgo', Capiche? Hey, what if I was an Italian Jew, right? I could name my colt 'Goldborgo'! How's that? Huh? Huh? Hah! Yeah, Goldborgo, he'd be like 'Hi, my name is Ralph Goldborgo and I eat my spaghetti with matzoh balls, whaddya think? Or maybe if I was..."
"WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP?" Wildfire and Perspicacity looked at themselves in astonishment; they had shouted at Ralph at the same moment, using exactly the same words.
"Marrieds, wow, it's just amazing when that happens, isn't it?" Ralph beamed.
A pair of young, neatly brushed, carefully combed stallions had entered the car while this had been going on, one white as milk, the other a deep blue. They were barely past being colts. The blue one wore glasses - Perspicacity instantly recognized that he must be nearsighted - she knew her lenses at a glance. He was also carrying a book in his mouth, bound in black and with a small red ribbon hanging out. He set the book carefully against one of his hooves.
"There is no need to shout, for within us lies the power to turn anger into friendship!" The white stallion gave a brilliant, shining smile.
"As Celestia said to Princess Luna at their reconciliation, 'Will you accept my friendship?' No truer words were every spoken, right Brother Candle?" The deep blue stallion smiled and nuzzled his compatriot.
"Quite right, Brother Bell!" Candle returned the nuzzle, and the two ponies stared guileless joy at the three uncomfortable travelers.
"Who in Sam Hill are you guys? What are you selling? I can smell snake oil a mile away!" Ralph folded his forehooves over his barrel, or tried to - he was a little too stout for such a stance, and was forced to slump instead.
"We're from the Fraternity of the Joyous Friends of Princess Celestia!" Brother Candle practically sang the words, and his everpresent smile just widened further.
"We're here to tell you about the Book Of Friendship!" Brother Bell nodded at his companion and continued. "One of Our Beloved Princesses students was charged with the study of friendship itself. Her discoveries were communicated to Our Princess in a number of scrolls, which thankfully were secretly copied by one of Our Princesses many guard ponies. After researching the stories behind the scrolls, the Book Of Friendship was created, to bring the magic of friendship to every corner of Equestria!"
Brother Bell picked up the book at his left hoof, and gave it to Ralph. Ralph took the book in his hooves, balancing it as if he were sorting roadapples at a compost heap.
"In every pony, in every moment, is the opportunity for true friendship!" Brother Bell nodded sagely at Brother Candle's words. "Please accept our gift and consider the magic that is friendship!" concluded brother Candle.
"Thank you so very, very much. Why I feel so much more friendly already!" Ralph was smiling as if he had recently been pole-axed. "Don't you two feel more friendly too?" Ralph waggled his ears at Perspicacity and Wildfire.
"Oh... YES! Absolutely. So... very... friendly now. Gosh. We're all the best of buddies now, gosh yes." Wildfire tried to smile at Ralph, but the expression on his muzzle was perhaps closer to a snarl than an actual smile.
"I feel SO much better now!" Perspicacity smiled quite elegantly, actually. "I'm so sorry I yelled at you Ralph... my... friend." Her left eye twitched, but her smile never faltered.
"Oh joy!" Brother Bell positively beamed. Let us move on to the next car, Brother Candle!"
"Oh, yes, lets!" Brother Candle was practically dancing, a little mincing step that was almost cute.
"Oh, yes, I really think they need your help back there..." Ralph assured the two ponies. "...I heard some bickering earlier. Really, I think you should hurry. Seriously." Ralph gave the two a broad smile. Perspicacity and Wildfire joined in, nodding vigorously.
"Yay!" The two ponies said in unison, and trotted happily into the next car. "Hello, we're from..." And then the door closed.
Ralph balanced the book on one hoof, while lifting the window by his seat with the other. Carefully, delicately, he maneuvered the book through the opening he had made, and let it fall with a thunk to the desert outside the stopped train.
The window fell shut as he pulled back his hoof. Ralph then spit on his hooves, and wiped them on his prodigious, hairy belly. "As I was saying, old marrieds do that all the time, filling in words for each other, saying things at the same time, it's uncanny is what it is, just uncanny. Makes me wonder if maybe telepathy or some magic is at work there, not that I would know, of course, I'm not exactly the marrying kind if you know what I..."
"Shut the buck up!" shushed Perspicacity and Wildfire, as softly as they could.
Later, when the train had been filled with water, and passengers and cargo had been exchanged, it began to pull out of the Ponytello station, leaving the two Brothers, waving their hooves and smiling, behind.
It was then that they noticed the neat line of little black books on the ground beside where the train had stopped, one or more for every car.
"Well, we better go pick up the books and start dusting them." Brother Bell sadly ambled in the direction of the long trail of books.
The Friendship Express was picking up speed now, and the desert was whisking past the windows. The new silence between the Starshines and the lone Vitoni grew more profound and unnerving.
As the sun was beginning to set outside, Wildfire could take it no longer and was about to demand answers from the little fat pony when Ralph suddenly spoke, loud and clear in the otherwise empty compartment.
"All was this land fulfild of Fayerye.The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye, Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede."
Wildfire froze, his mouth half open from what he had been about to say. Perspicacity startled, stiff at Wildfire's side.
"That isn't... Pers... that isn't in the manuscript! That isn't any part I translated! That's new, Pers!" Wildfire was staring with new interest at the little brown pony across the aisle.
"Are you certain, Wild? Is it part of the missing pages?" Perspicacity, overwhelmed at the thought that she might finally get to hear the end of her story, had raised her head, her ears straight up in excitement.
"Naw!" Ralph snorted. "That ain't part of the tale. That's just a little human guy named Geoffrey Chaucer. He lived quite a bit after the time of the - 'manuscript' you called it? Classy name. I like it. 'Manuscript'. Oh yeah, much better than 'little leather booklet'. I think I'll call it The Manuscript too, from now on. So, can I see it?" If Ralph had been a cat, instead of a pony, his mouth would be stuffed full with canary.
"No. You certainly can not. Not that we would be foolish enough to carry it with us in the first place." Perspicacity narrowed her eyes at the pony Ralph. "The 'Manuscript' is in a very safe location, I assure you." She thought for a moment. "And it's not in my telescope shop, so don't even bother."
Ralph looked wounded. "Do I really look like the kind of pony that would go riffling through the homes of other ponies? I'm hurt. I'm truly hurt by that, Pers."
"And stop calling me 'Pers'. You don't even know me. Only my husband can call me that!" Perspicacity was not a happy pony.
Ralph settled back and relaxed. "Actually, we have other ponies for jobs like that. Don't worry, they're real professionals; you won't even notice a single thing out of place when you get back. Give you my word on that. They put all your stuff right back, they take measurements and everything. Real precision freaks. I could never do that, I don't have the patience for that kind of..."
"You're talking about my HOME being searched!" Perspicacity looked as if she was ready to jump up and buck Ralph in the head. Wildfire intervened. If 'Ralph' was part of an organization, then things were even more serious - and potentially dangerous - than either of the couple had even begun to imagine.
"Alright... 'Ralph'.... We get the picture." Wildfire had not felt so troubled and disturbed since he had been human. This should NOT be happening in Equestria. Whatever this actually was. "What is your interest in the Manuscript? Why are you following us? What in Luna's name is going on?" Wild found himself breathing hard. It was easy to get mad at Ralph.
The sun had set, now, its golden light having changed to red and then pink as it fell below the plane of Equestria. Luna's cool night was rising, and soon would come her lovely, silvern moon. Ralph the pony shifted on the padded bench and stroked his neck with an idle hoof.
"Wild my boy, back when you were still called 'Noah' and you lived in a techworker hive, you had a pally named Stephen. Now old Stevey isn't with us anymore, he didn't make it to Equestria, well, not as a pony, anyway, but he got to be a hero, and so there's that." Ralph scratched an itch and looked at the underside of his hoof. "Now ol' Stevey there kept a lot of records - real detail nut, that one - and he found a lot of amazing things out, before he went and did the hero thing, of course - and one of those things was that there was a story about a certain princess showing up in Ye Old England."
Wildfire gritted his teeth; his friend had certainly NOT been a 'hero', but he let it pass. Ralph was at least telling them something useful. For a change.
"What you may not know - I don't know everything old Stephen-Fetchit may have shared with you - is that when Equestria started growing like a big mushroom in the big sewer that was the Pacific, the world government went crazy for anything that might help them deal with the problem, and by 'deal', I mean end. They were desperate, since nukes didn't work, and orbital lasers didn't work, and nothing could stop thaumatic radiation - basically nothing worked. So they were willing to entertain even the most out-there notions you can imagine. Hell, at one point they brought in a bunch of neo-pagans who claimed they could do magick - spelled with a 'K' at the end, by the way - and had a room full of cloaked witches trying to chant Equestria away. Anything. They tried everything." Ralph tried to pick his teeth at this point, but only managed to hoof himself solidly in the mouth.
"Ow! Dammit, after ten friggin' years, I'm still doing that. Man I miss fingers, don't you?"
"No! No I don't. I'm damn proud of my hooves." Wildfire glared at the blubbery brown stallion on the bench opposite. Perspicacity gave her husband a nuzzle; the real meaning of what he had just said had not been lost on her.
Pony Ralph looked at Wildfire with an odd expression. "Hey there, Wildfire, pal, I didn't mean anything by that. Two legs bad, four hooves good, right? We still sleep in beds with sheets though... no? Animal Farm. Orwell. Nevermind." Ralph sucked on his bruised lips for a moment. "Anyhoo, as I was sayin', the world government searched high and low for any hint of anything to do with Equestria, and whaddya think they found in an old museum buried under the arcology at Threekingham but an account of a white mare that was stolen from some baron or something. But so what, you're asking yourself, horses get stolen all the time, all Robin Hood, right? Not this time, bucko - this mare was seen changing into a horse dripping with jewelry, and a mane made out of glowing stuff - sound familiar?"
"Yes. We know that Celestia visited that ghastly world long ago. What you are saying is that somepony saw her... leave?" Perspicacity was keen to know more, but was tentative about revealing what she herself knew. Still, as needs must.
"Some ONE, some human saw the princess leave Earth. Pony, pony, pony. Anyway, yeah, that's exactly what happened. And guess what she did when she did leave?" Ralph tried again, unsuccessfully, to lean back and cross his forelegs over his rotundity. "Go on, guess."
"I don't have time for such games, out with it Ralph." Perspicacity stared at him fiercely.
"Jesus, Pers, we're on a train to Salt Lick City. All you've got is time. What? You want to play charades, instead? Maybe canasta, oh - sorry - that requires fingers. At least for us non-unicorn types, right Wildfire? I said guess. You ain't getting anything more, unless you guess." Ralph was adamant.
"Alright FINE." On earth, as a human, Wildfire would have been throttling Ralph right now, or at least he imagined he would. Well, not actually imagining, as such; trying to picture hurting the fat little pony was not entirely possible, and the feeling was incredibly frustrating. Wild could actually feel the faint threads of his violent humanity feebly trying to fight the tolerance and love that made most of him up. It hurt, somehow. "I'll... try to guess."
"Good man, there Wild. Pony. Stallion, I mean. Sorry, you know what I mean. OK, so what do you think Our Beloved Princess did as she whooshed back to Equestria? What was it the butler saw?"
"Butler? There was a butler?" Perspicacity was confused by this.
"It's... an Earth, expression, love." Wildfire pressed his rump into his wife and waggled his tail a little, trying to pet her with it. "Very well, Ralph. I guess that... um... that Celestia took a human being with her through some kind of portal in the sky!" That ought to show the little... roadapple. Maybe it would even surprise him. This is what surely what Celestia would do. She wouldn't leave poor Willy there to perish for horse-thievery.
"Hah! Boy howdy are you the romantic!" Ralph seemed full of mirth. "Hey, Perspicacity, is he all romantic to you, bring you flowers every day, chocolates every Sunday, maybe sing you ballads under your balcony, know what I mean?" The squat stallion waggled his ears at her.
"I certainly don't know what you mean!" Perspicacity half-shouted, but she did know. And, yes, he did, and he was damn good at it, she pridefully thought to herself.
"Yeah, I bet." Ralph gave a completely perplexed Wildfire a wink. "Alright, BZZZZT! Wrong answer, pally. You don't win the ten thousand credits, you don't get the free trip to the corporate pleasure dome. Any more guesses? Anypony? Hey? Any guesses?"
"We give up, Mr. Vitoni." Perspicacity was tired of this, mostly she was tired of Ralph.
"'Mr. Vitoni', I like that, you remembered my name." Ralph seemed genuinely touched. "Wildfire, my boy, you have a classy lady there. Never forget that. You treat her right." The pudgy pony paused for a moment. "Alright, fillies and gentlecolts - well, filly singular and gentlecolt, I am being gracious here - the correct answer is...."
Ralph began drumming with his forehooves on the train car's planking.
"For all the money and a trip to Southamerizone, the correct answer to tonight's history quiz question IS...."
Perspicacity and Wildfire found themselves unconsciously leaning forward, caught up in the spell of the moment.
"Princess Celestia, just before she vanished, KILLED A GUY!"
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
7. The Recalcitrant Relative
"Thank Celestia!" Perspicacity was beyond relieved. The sleeper car room that she had reserved was for one couple alone. She had considered purchasing the significantly cheaper Herd rate, but at the last minute she had decided that - considering what she was putting her husband through with this wild chase to find manuscript pages in the first place - the least she should do is give them a private room. Perhaps she could make things up to him for the disruption in... other ways.
Those other ways were far from both their minds right now. It was enough simply to be alone, and separated from the dreadful Ralph Vitoni, Barely A Pony. That had made both of them laugh, when Wildfire had stated it - but it had also led to an uncomfortable discussion.
"He does seem... strange. Like he's not really... I don't know. Like he's not..." Perspicacity was checking the drawers in their compartment to see what amenities came with a private sleeper room on the Friendship Express.
"Not really a pony. I suppose it's strange for you. Actually, it must be completely alien to you." Wildfire seemed sad, saying this, something his ears and tail confirmed at a glance. "It's because he is alien, Pers. Ralph Vitoni isn't a pony. Not really."
"I'm not sure what you mean, Wild. That would be silly! Of course he's a pony. He's a little plump, but he eats hay like anypony, he stands on four hooves." Perspicacity had found a copy of The Book Of Friendship in the bottom drawer; she shut the drawer and decided to try the thin wardrobe built into the wall. "It's just that, well, when we're around him, I almost feel like I am next to a manticore or something. Or a griffon, from the days when they supposedly ate ponies. It's like he's a predator, almost."
"Pers... Perspicacity..." This was not going to be easy. Wildfire was laying on the narrow bed in the tiny private room, so that his wife would have space to check things out. "...Ralph is a predator. A dangerous one, I think. And I know him. I know him so well."
"What?" Perspicacity seemed surprised and turned her head to stare at her husband. "You know this pony? Why didn't you say something? It didn't seem like you knew each other!"
"No, no, no..." Wildfire shook his head. His blue mane dangled down over his eyes, so he used a hoof to sweep it up and over his poll and crest. "I don't know him as a pony, I know his kind, his sort. I know what he is." Wildfire Starshine sighed deeply.
"Pers, a long time ago, you asked me about what humans were like. You even had me draw you a picture, remember?" Wildfire was staring intently at his own front hooves, on the bed.
"Y-yes. I remember." It was something she regretted in retrospect. It had made Wild so sad.
"Well, that picture showed you what humans looked like. More or less what I used to look like." Wildfire's eyes never left his hooves. "Ralph Vitoni is a human. Inside. In his personality, his behavior, his... soul. Ralph is what humans acted like, how they thought, how they felt and dealt with the world. Some humans, anyway. A lot of humans."
"He's very... talkative." Perspicacity could see that Wildfire was having a hard time, it was the kindest thing she could think of to say.
Wildfire smiled, slightly. "No, I'm not talking about how mouthy Ralph is. That's kind of just... him. What I mean is, that sense of feeling hunted, stalked. Like he's a predator, trying to attack at some level. Like just under the surface is the possibility he could do something bad, that... he can't be trusted completely. That's human. Very human."
"Were..." Perspicacity was afraid to say it, but she had to. "Were you... like that?"
"No!" Wildfire looked up from his hooves; a wounded expression on his face. "Well, I don't think I was." His hooves regained the attention of his stare. "Not like Ralph, anyway." Wildfire's ears lowered. "You have to understand, Pers, that humans didn't have all the... grace... that being a pony provides. Humans weren't made, they evolved - changed over time - in a world where most stuff was dangerous, or poisonous, or trying to eat them. They often had too little, and the way they got smarter over the ages was learning to band together to take what they needed... often from other humans, violently. That created a chase of sorts, between different groups of early humans, a chase where the prize was intelligence."
Perspicacity nuzzled her husband, leaning her neck over the bed to do so.
"Pers... not all humans were bad, at least all the time, and most weren't constantly violent. But all humans had the potential for violence in them, and all humans were just a little bit scary. Human civilization was like... a thin, barely held agreement not to attack each other, and it held, historically, only as long as there was more than enough to go around. Even then, humans would go to... war... at the slightest hint of profit or advantage. Humans would kill each other for even tiny benefits, and we had this thing called 'crime'." Wildfire looked with an eye back at his wife, hovering over him, concerned.
"Crime was where some humans would attack others, randomly, just to get stuff, because they were greedy. Ralph reminds me of that kind of human. I can see him in a dark alley, waiting, just waiting..." Wildfire trailed off.
"Waiting? For what?" Perspicacity was genuinely confused.
Wildfire smiled a sad sort of smile, half longing to be so innocent, and half sad that he could never, ever, hope to be thus. "Waiting as a manticore waits, in the Everfree, for some animal to pass by."
"Ralph Vitoni ate his own kind?" The look on Perspicacity's muzzle was such that Wildfire struggled not to laugh.
"No, no, love. But... to hurt another human, even kill them, for what bits they had on them, yes. Humans really did that. Sometimes not even for bits, sometimes it was just for daring to enter their 'territory' or for looking at them wrong. Not all humans, but some."
Perspicacity did not look entirely well, but she had to understand what they were dealing with, so Wildfire went on. "Even the nicest humans kind of still did that sort of thing, only in subtle ways - they might not kill another human for the coins they had, but they would take their place in a line, or steal their job, or take their savings or find a way to advantage themselves at the expense of another human they did not know. They would excuse that by claiming that they were taking care of their own family, their own small group. Everything was a kind of quiet war, for humans, pretty much all the time."
"You... lived this way?" Perspicacity was looking carefully at her husband now, and the flatness of her ears, and the droop in her tail spoke volumes.
If nothing else, he would be honest with her. "Sometimes, Pers. Sometimes I did live like that, when I was a human, and at the time I thought it was normal. I thought it was the only way to survive and to get some little scrap of what I needed to exist and be happy. And... frankly, Perspicacity, in that world, back then, that really was what one had to do. The whole world was set up like that, like one big fight for everything and anything." Wildfire desperately tried to maintain eye contact with her. "I did what I had to do to make it through, because that is what Earth was like. When I understood what being a pony meant, when I had the chance, I turned my back on the human world, and I got myself converted as soon as I could, and I've never once regretted it."
It was too much. Wildfire buried his head between his forelegs. "Forgive me, Pers, please... forgive me for my past. I gave it up as soon as it was possible. I'm sorry for all the things I did back then. There just wasn't any other way to be - you had to fight for a job, you had to fight for a place to live, for the last box of cereal, for the last ticket to the concert... for everything. It was all competition, all the time. I'm just so, so sorry. I never wanted any of that. Even when I was a child, I couldn't... I didn't want any part of..."
"Shhh.... shhhh..." Perspicacity crawled into the narrow train bed beside Wildfire, pressing her body into his. She could only get half on, because he was in the middle, but that didn't matter. Half on, and half off, she could still touch him, warm him with her self. "I forgive you, I forgive you. I'm sure it was very difficult back then, in that world, and I am sure that you only did what you absolutely had to do to survive, and no more. I can't imagine you ever being like Ralph."
Perspicacity licked Wildfire's eyes and ears, she tasted salt from his eyes. "You're a pony now, completely a pony now. You're my wonderful stallion, and I love you, and I never doubt anything about you. Except maybe letting you haul heavy things up the stairs."
This made Wildfire laugh, and sniff. "I love you so very, very much, Perspicacity Starshine." He kissed his beloved mare, warm, and soft and long.
"I love you too, Wildfire Starshine." Perspicacity struggled a bit; her outside rear leg was going to sleep. "But could you move over a bit? There's not enough... bed resources... and I'm... humaning my share now. Scoot!"
Wildfire laughed out loud at that.
The Friendship Express streamed on through the night; a great metal and wood snake winding around the dark desert bluffs, slithering under Luna's shining moon. They were traveling deeper still into the Southern Desert, passing whistlestops along the way.
They had been snuggling for some time, quietly, listening to the hypnotic clickity-clack of the train on the rails, the distant chugging of the engine far ahead. Outside the window by their narrow bed, the stars shone brightly, each a carefully placed part of the design on princess Luna's vast canvas.
Wildfire had been reflecting on this, between soft kisses and sighs, that above them was a sky not of infinite space, and countless galaxies born of random fluctuations in the state of some ancient rupture in a universal chaos, but instead it was a deliberate sky, created by a being that could be met, and talked to, and... smelled, he supposed. What would a moon goddess smell like? A pony? Perfume? Green cheese? The latter had made him chuckle just a bit.
And what was that sky made of, above them now? A great crystal dome, as the ancient humans once believed of their world? The thought caught in his mind. Their world. Their... world. He really was Equestrian now, a pony through and through. The feeling made him smile, then grin.
"What are you thinking about, Wild?" Perspicacity had noticed his wide smile. "Something good, obviously."
"You. I'm thinking about you." That made Pers smile in return. "And also, I was just feeling glad, really glad... to be your stallion. I am very happy to be that. I am grateful to be a pony, Pers."
"I'm pretty glad of it too, I have to say." Perspicacity snuggled closer into the pit of his foreleg. That was where the best smell of him was. "Wildfire? If that awful Ralph is still a human inside, how can that even be? I thought Conversion was... well complete. Total. That was what Celestia told us it would be. She said we had nothing to fear from the humans because after Conversion, they would be true Equestrians, just like anypony."
"I've been thinking about that. There were things my old... friend... Stephen told me. Rumors, I supposed, but now... there were a lot of groups battling it out on Earth back then. Some were for ponification, and others opposed it. One was called the HLF, the Human Liberation Front. They were... scary, dangerous types that would hurt anypony to stop ponification from existing at all. I guess Stephen was part of them." Wildfire was momentarily sad, but recovered quickly.
"The other big group was the PER, Ponification for Earth's Rebirth. They were newfoals that went against Celestia's edict that ponification should be entirely a matter of free, personal choice and never forced on any human. The PER believed that the end justified the means, and so they forcibly ponified humans at every opportunity. I mean, they'd just burst into a house or a building or a stadium and start hosing humans down with serum."
"Wait." Perspicacity was confused by something. "You're saying newfoals - the converted - disobeyed Celestia and - violently - converted humans against their free will? How? How could they even do that?"
"That's what Stephen explained to me once, before I was converted myself. I didn't believe him at the time - I thought it was just a story, I actually didn't even think the PER were real back then - what he said is that they had been messed with. Genetically altered somehow."
"Why? How?" Perspicacity snuggled closer, breathing in the scent of her stallion for comfort.
"The human government thought they could make pony agents that would still think like humans and remain loyal to the human side of things. According to Stephen, the idea was that at a certain signal, these special agents would assassinate the princesses, take over Equestria, lower the Barrier, and open Equestria to direct exploitation by the humans. It's what they wanted all along."
"But it didn't work. Not the way they expected." Wildfire used his foreleg to give Pers a squeeze. "Apparently, when the genetically altered government agents were ponified, they ended up with only sort-of human minds. They were all the scary things humans were, but they were fanatically devoted to princess Celestia and Equestria, and not the government. It was like only part of the alteration worked, and it was messed up. So they figured they were Celestia's secret agents, and not the human government's agents, and they decided it was their job to ponify the world for Celestia, behind the scenes."
"What happened to these groups, Wildfire? Do any of them still exist?"
Wildfire scratched his flank with his hoof. "I expect there just aren't any more HLF; they'd rather have died than turn pony. As for the PER, well, I suppose Celestia would have caught all of them and... I don't know, maybe fixed them somehow. Gave them back a proper pony mind and pony soul. Made them well again. I mean, I can't know it for sure, but, really, wouldn't that be what you'd expect the princess to do?"
"Listen, Wild, there's... something we unicorns... consider from time to time. Don't talk about it to anypony, alright?" Perspicacity stared at Wildfire briefly. "There's no way that the princesses, goddesses or not, can know everything. It's a big argument I won't go into here but... basically any being that can do anything, can't know everything, and vice versa. One excludes the other. So... that means that even goddesses can be fooled or make mistakes. In theory, at least."
"So, what you're saying is, that maybe Ralph is part of a group of PER agents that... Celestia hasn't managed to find yet. Uncured agents. Still dangerous, still human, and... still loose." Wildfire held Perspicacity close. "The way he acts, the way he talks... it just fits too well, love. I think you're right. Ralph Vitoni must be a genetically altered agent, a pony with a sort-of-human mind."
"Perspicacity?" Wildfire's hold went tighter still.
"We have to be really careful around him, then. He's dangerous, and he probably has friends who are dangerous too."
"So... what do we do, Wildfire?"
"For now, we play along, I suppose. We're way out in the middle of nowhere, far from Canterlot. Unless you know a way to contact Celestia directly and beg her for help, we're kind of on our own." Wildfire thought briefly. "Um... You don't know a way to do that, do you? To contact the crown?"
Perspicacity sighed, sadly. "No. I don't. I'm just a telescope maker, Wild! I'm... I'm not all that magical, for a unicorn, really. I just know stuff that helps me do my work. I'm sorry." She looked so sad.
"You are the most magical unicorn I know, and everything about you is magic to me." Things may be a little scary right now, but Wildfire was glad that if he had to face scary things, at least he was with the love of his life.
* * * * *
The loud shriek of the whistle woke Mr. And Mrs. Starshine. Groggily they set about getting up. The tiny bed was not particularly comfortable, but it had been, in a strange way, romantic, and drifting off to sleep huddled close, watching the moon definitely had a certain charm they had agreed. With stiff muscles, they readied themselves for the day.
Outside of their sleeping car, daylight filled the train from countless windows, and the first thing they noticed was... no Ralph. He didn't join them in the dining car for breakfast. He wasn't all over them the moment they had gotten up. At the end of breakfast, both Wildfire and Perspicacity had a dire thought, and made their way to the baggage car that held their great steamer trunk.
A quick check reassured them. The locked, metal box was still in the Luggage, and a quick peek with the key around Wildfire's neck demonstrated that the manuscript was still inside. Now that Wildfire knew they were dealing with a human mind, the lack of Blackmesh mercenaries and security scanners in Equestria had, for the first time, become a problem. The baggage car wasn't secured because ponies didn't steal. There weren't any guards for the same reason. Normally, everypony could be trusted. That was what being part of the herd meant.
But Ralph wasn't part of the herd. He had a human mind - clever, devious, and with an often faulty moral compass.
They put everything back, not knowing what else to do. Wildfire briefly wished he wore clothing again - he thought of hiding the manuscript on his body, inside an imagined jacket. An Indiana Jones jacket, yeah, with a secret pocket in the back and a whip in his teeth and...
"Dear?" Perspicacity was wondering at the fierce, excited look on her husband's face.
"Uh... ahem. Yes. I was... thinking about... well...." It would take forever to explain Indiana Jones to her, and even then the Nazi's would require a separate explanation, and as for the whole 'Man of Action' genre... "Stuff from Earth. If we're going to deal with Ralph, wherever he's gotten to, it probably behooves me to try to remember something about how such creatures think."
"Oh." Perspicacity looked uncomfortable. "Please don't try TOO hard."
By noon, the train finally pulled into the station at Salt Lick City. There was still no sign of Ralph the Human-Headed Pony, but he was not far from their thoughts. When their Luggage was unloaded, Wildfire resumed his position as draft-pony. Harnessed up once more, he was soon pulling both Luggage and Perspicacity through the streets of the large desert community.
The Great Salt Lick was a vast mountain made of salt, a single gargantuan shining mass of crystal reaching to the sky. It looked like some fairy castle, or perhaps an upside-down chandelier of sparkling edges and blocks. It was the biggest mass of salt that Wildfire had ever seen, or could even imagine, and a city had been built at its base.
Much of the salt for all of Equestria came from that vast chunk of crystal, and the land near it had never known rain. Indeed there was a Royal prohibition on rain within ten miles of the Lick. The city was a tourist destination, and there were tours a pony could take which threaded all the way to the very top of the gleaming translucent-white mountain. The scale of it boggled Wildfire's mind. To a pony who had once been a human, it was an impossibility, a thing of fantasy and wonder.
Just off the train, Wildfire saw a drunken pony stumble and fall down near the station house. He was attended to quickly; ponies naturally took care of each other. Apparently drunkenness was a constant problem in Salt Lick City, owing to one of the more unusual - or so Wildfire thought - aspects of Equestrian biology.
Nothing within the boundaries of Equestria - that which was under Celestia's direct control and will - could be poisonous. Everything was safe to eat, and although some things would not make a pony happy, and might even make them feel ill and throw up. That said not a single thing could kill or cripple if it were eaten. A side effect of this universal gastronomic grace was that some things, when eaten to vast excess, would produce unusual reactions. Unusual from a human - or former human - perspective, at least.
Over-consumption of salt did not cause seizures, stupor, coma and death in ponies, rather it caused a state not unlike drunkenness. Salt bars existed for those ponies that chose to indulge, and salt parties were a 'thing' with the upper classes.
Where on Earth, too much of the wrong thing could kill, in Equestria, if it didn't cause brief, harmless illness, it tended to create harmless psychotropic effects. This was the greatest, most terrible danger presented by food poisoning of any kind in Equestria: indigestion or getting high.
Wildfire had once had a human friend who had died from food poisoning. Under the gleaming reflections cast by the impossibly large mountain of salt, Wildfire could only plod along, wondering silently to himself why he had to have been born human, and later had to convert, instead of just having been Equestrian all along. So many wasted years on such a wretched planet.
Aunt Aspherica's house was somewhere down Nacle Street, but Perspicacity couldn't remember what it looked like. They had stopped briefly and purchased a map of the city. After several false turns and some tricky maneuvering on one crowded market street, the Starshines finally managed to reach the residential area, and somehow found Nacle Street.
The house was wide and sprawling, and looked like a pile of cubes, somewhat in the style of the mountain itself. Salt was, after all, the primary source of commerce in Salt Lick City, and this was reflected in everything from architectural motifs to the cubical lightsprite lamps that lined the streets. Salt is a cubical crystal, and so cubes were big in Salt Lick City.
Perspicacity hadn't seen Aspherica in well over a decade. She hadn't actually written to her either, since the loss of her uncle. Frankly, her own grief had overwhelmed her so much that she had been useless to her aunt. This weighed heavily on her as she rolled off of the Luggage, and began to help Wildfire out of his harness.
On the way to the front door, Perspicacity noticed the neat garden of desert plants; little cacti and strange blooming cones. Yucca, she thought they were called. In the back, Aspherica seemed to have made a little fenced off area to keep pet tumbleweeds in. The tan balls rolled ceaselessly back and forth, instinctively seeking roadways to cross.
The steps to the oddly-shaped house were extra wide and broad, the vast open space of the desert permitted extravagances of design that were comfortable to pony hooves.
At the door, Perspicacity turned to Wildfire. "Wish me luck. I kind of wasn't there for her when uncle joined the Great Herd, and... well." The silver-white unicorn grasped the large golden door knocker with her magic, and gave a few short, loud rapports.
The sound of hooves on tile came from behind the door. A dim 'yes, yes, just a moment' could be heard, followed by 'such a busy morning, goodness.'
The door opened wide, and a rather elderly mare, pale blue with a white mane stared at them through large, square glasses. Her coloration made Wildfire think of her as a cloud; wispy and frail, hanging in the sky.
"Oh, it's you." Aunt Aspherica stared first at Perspicacity, then at her husband Wildfire. Perspicacity hadn't even told her aunt she had gotten married. "Well, you'd better come in, you two. Come on then."
Perspicacity shrugged her ears at Wildfire, and he followed her into the dwelling.
"Not a bad hunk of stallion you caught yourself - a little light in the brainpan though, from the look in his eyes." Wildfire hung his head slightly at Aspherica's words. He didn't think of himself as a clever pony, but he wasn't dim. He was sure he wasn't dim. He had managed to do a lot of translation, after all.
Of a really old document, too!
"You look like roadapples though. You really should stop stayin' up all night with those fool telescopes and take a run in the sunshine. Do ya good." Wildfire saw Perspicacity shrink slightly at this. It was becoming apparent why his wife had lost contact with her relative.
They had passed the kitchen of the rambling house, and now entered a main room, pictures covering the walls, a large grandstallion clock dominating one side, and overstuffed couches filling everything that wasn't knick-knacks and little, decorative collectables.
"Here, Persy-Pants, you deal with your friend, I've had it up to here with 'im. Want some iced tea?" Aunt Aspherica headed back to the kitchen. "Oh, and by the way, you ain't gettin' nothin' more than tea out of me, just so's ya know."
Just as Wildfire was about to ask what 'Persy-Pants' was all about, a familiar voice addressed them from the depths of an overstuffed couch.
"Wild! Persy-Pants! Hey, my favorite couple in Equestria! Come give your ol' cousin Ralphy a big Starshine pony smooch, already!"
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
8. The Preposterous Precipice The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
"You are no relative of mine, you fat little lying... liar! Don't even go there, you... you... human! I don't know what you've been telling my aunt, but there is no way that the proud Starshine family name would ever be sullied by having a filthy human as part of our lineage, you terrible little... Not-Pony!" Tiny flecks of froth had formed at the edges of Perspicacity's muzzle.
Wildfire stood silently, head down, studying every small detail of where his hoof wall met his coronary band. He understood his wife's frustration and anger, but... hooves. He had hooves. They were right there. Hooves. She didn't mean him. He couldn't help how he was born. She'd said he was a pony, completely. She didn't think of him that way at all.
"Oh, don't get your tail in a knot, Persy-Pants, I was on to this scoundrel the moment he came through the door. You always were such a high-strung filly." Aunt Aspherica had just set down a tray with a teapot and bowls and a stack of four-grain sweet buns on it. "Look what you've done to your poor stallion there! The simple little thing is terrified of your fussing and shouting."
That didn't help at all, Wildfire thought.
Perspicacity glanced over at Wildfire and instantly softened. She'd seen that body language on him before, she suddenly realized what she'd been saying. Perspicacity thought quickly and moved over to her husband. "Ralph, if you were even one tenth of the true-hearted, pure Equestrian that my husband Wildfire is, you'd... you'd... just explode from all the lies you tell. Twice. And then you'd explode again!"
OK, now that helped. Plus she sounded really cute. Wildfire lost interest in his hooves and looked up.
"Alright, everypony, let's just all settle down now, like good little colts and fillies and have some nice tea and buns. I think there's been enough yelling and hoof-stomping for one day. Sit, Persy. You too, little tight-flanks."
It took a moment before Wildfire realized that Perspicacity's aunt meant him. Little tight-flanks. That kind of helped too, though it was a little creepy coming from Per's Aunt Aspherica.
"Don't mind if I do, thank you, dear Aunt Apherica!" Ralph took the largest bun, and then another, piling them on a large cloth napkin he had laid out beside him on the couch. Apparently the whole couch was his now.
Perspicacity and Wildfire each took a bun and sat down on the floor. Aunt Aspherica took her preferred place in a large, overstuffed chair, one of two. The other, beside her, was conspicuously absent. It's position indicated that it was likely the chair that Perspicacity's uncle Star had sat in, right beside Aspherica.
"So, auntie, how'd you two lovebirds get together there, anyhoo?" Ralph was being strangely pleasant, disturbingly so. Then again, thought Perspicacity, even his 'nice' seemed vaguely sinister to her.
Aspherica didn't even blink at being called 'auntie' by the overstuffed pony on the overstuffed couch. "Well... it was after my husband Diopter joined the Great Herd... I was all alone, and I felt so very sad, you know." Aspherica took a sip of her tea. "Star was in town, trying to get a place to live. His joints, you know, all the cold up north during the winter season. We never have winter in Salt Lick, thanks to official royal decree. Ta' keep the salt from cracking and condensation and what all. So it's all warm and nice here, really good for the bones."
Ralph had already wolfed down the big bun, and had the second hanging out of his mouth as he chewed. He seemed to be listening intently.
"Well, one thing led to another, and it just seemed reasonable for Star to move in here, with me. At my age, it's good to have somepony around, but one that won't get underfoot. A pony that knows how to enjoy the quiet times. At first, Star and I just shared the house, but as the years passed, well, we found we just plain were really good together."
Aspherica took another sip of tea, and a dainty nibble of her four-grain bun. "Then one day, Star just up and told me that he'd always liked me, he just didn't think it proper to go on about it, me being married to Diopter and all. I told him he was a darn fool, cause Diopter and I were old-fashioned sorts, and would have gladly had him join us in a proper pony family. I've never approved of this dern fool modern-shmodern 'couples' business. Ponies were meant to form group marriages, not this crazy newfangled one-on-one thing that's so popular today. It's the fault of all those sex-crazed shippin' novels, is what, and it's hard on the foals to have only two parents. How can only two parents possibly care for a foal, there ain't enough damn time!"
Perspicacity reflected on her own childhood. She'd grown up in a very traditional pony home, before all the modern changes. She remembered how her three dams and two sires had always had time for her. Any hour of day or night, somepony was there for her. Why that had ever fallen out of favor, she would never understand. Deep down, she agreed with her aunt, at least on that matter.
"So's anyway, Star and I had a few great years before the Pale Mare called him away. Can't compete with the siren call of the Pale Mare, she's just too beautiful, just too beautiful..." The sad look on Aspherica's muzzle made Perspicacity feel ashamed for having ignored her aunt until now. The old mare could be awfully picky and downright rude at times, but it was clear she had a loving heart in there, one that could be broken by loss.
"Mmfff, ummf, That's..." Ralph finished off his second bun "Now that's a touching story there, auntie, isn't that a touching story, kids? Awww... well at least you had those precious years together, aunt Aspherica... ol' Star sounds like a stand-up kind'a pony to me. I really want to thank you for telling us about him, I really mean that. It got me right here." Ralph hit himself vaguely in the blubber that covered his barrel with a hoof, the result made him burp. "Oops! 'Scuse me there, everypony. Good buns, by the way, really tasty."
Perspicacity had taken just about enough of Mr. Ralph Vitoni. "I want you to leave." She stared levelly at the pudgy creature. "You've had your fun, and now it's time to go. This is my aunt, this is my family, and You. Will. Go. Now." The look on his wife's face was tight and angry, the fiercest expression Wildfire had ever seen.
"I admit I'm not the classiest pony around, Mrs. Perspicacity Starshine, but pardon my French here, but this house isn't yours, and you don't have any right to tell me to leave. The lovely and vivacious Aspherica and I still have some business to conclude, and I think you will find, Persy-Pants, that whether I stay or whether I go is up to her, and not you."
Wildfire had seen the look in Ralph's eyes before, but only on Earth, in human eyes. And in holograms of dangerous animals from before the Great Extinction.
Perspicacity looked to her aunt, helplessly.
"Mr. Vitoni and his friends have offered me quite a large number of bits, dear. You shouldn't be surprised - it isn't always easy getting by on savings alone. Plus I have quite a few grandfoals, nieces and nephews that quite enjoy the company of their favorite grandmare or auntie. Unlike some of my relations." Aspherica looked pointedly at Perspicacity with this; she could not help but look down at the floor.
"Listen, listen, everypony - there's no need for any of this. We're just one big happy family here, and we all know why we're here. The end of the manuscript. The legacy of good old Star Diagonal. There's no secrets here." Ralph was smiling broadly, and gesticulating with his forehooves as he sat. "Kids - Perspicacity, Wildfire - there's something you don't know about that manuscript, and everything going on around it, and it's time you understood. I'm willing to share that knowledge with you, heck, I'm willing to show it to you. Yes, me and my... associates... are willing to assure the security of your lovely aunt, but that's for her to decide, don't you think? In the mean time, let me treat you to a local tourist experience that surprisingly enough actually is part of this puzzle. I think, if you just see for yourself, you will have a new understanding, and we might all come to a reasonable compromise."
"What in Equestria are you talking about?" Perspicacity almost looked like she might cry. Still, Wildfire noted, a touch of the earlier fierceness remained.
"I know you don't care for me, Pers, and I can see why, really I can. But this thing is bigger than who likes who, or who can stand who, or who thinks who is a big fat pig. I know what I must seem to be to you, and I understand. Really I do. But, like I say, there's more to this, and I'm willing to show it to you, while we give your kind aunt a chance to consider my offer." Ralph appeared positively disarmed; open and honest for once. "Whadda'ya say? It'll take all of an hour, and finally everything will make sense. I'll even pay: it's a public place, it's open, and the answer, at least part of the answer - not the rest of the manuscript or nothin - is there. Come on, let's give your aunt time to think, huh?"
Perspicacity felt completely lost. She certainly didn't like Mr. Vitoni, but on the other hoof, he'd never actually been anything but annoying. He was a newfoal, that much was obvious - no native pony was like Ralph - but so was her husband, and she adored him. Maybe there was more to this, and maybe if they just gave the frustrating, uncouth little stallion a chance, one chance, they might finally find out what was going on.
One chance, and only one. That was only fair. Besides, her brave firepony husband would be with her the entire time, and he was big and very strong. More than this, it was an open, public place that Ralph wanted to take them, and close by. Ralph had not once actually done anything the least bit as threatening as his demeanor seemed.
"Alright, let's see this... thing you want to show us, and then we'll see what is what. I'm giving you one chance, Mr. Vitoni, to prove to me that you are not... as much of a... troublemaker... as you, frankly, seem to be." Perspicacity gave the fat equine a cold stare.
"Pers, are you sure about this?" Wildfire felt uneasy about going anywhere with the unpleasant Mr. Ralph.
"As long as we're together, and it's an open, public place, I think we can handle ourselves." Perspicacity gave her husband a confident smile. "Let's find out what Mr. Vitoni is all about."
"Alright... love." Wildfire stood up and leaned over the little stallion. "We'll look at what you want to show us, but keep in mind that I won't stand for any trouble when it comes to my wife."
"Hey, hey, there, killer, it's not like that. This is just a friendly public outing, because there is a piece to this puzzle that won't make sense unless you see it for yourself. That big block of salt out there - pretty amazing isn't it? Impossible, you'd say, if you were born on Earth. Nothing like that could exist naturally, right?" Ralph was now up on his hooves, and heading for the door. "That's one big chunk of salt, just stuck there, in the middle of a vast, flat desert, with no ocean anywhere around, and no tidal pools, no nothing, right? Besides, how deep would an ocean have to be to make a crystal of salt the size of a mountain? Unnatural, correct?"
"What do oceans have to do with salt? I don't understand!" Perspicacity had turned to her husband, this was entirely bizarre. Maybe it was some 'newfoal' thing.
"It's... on Earth, salt came from the oceans, Pers." The expression on her face instantly told Wildfire that his explanation had not helped one bit. "I'll explain later."
The trip to the mountain was short, and Ralph paid for a carriage ride there. As they rode, Wildfire struck up a conversation with one of the draft-ponies. His name was Soda and he had been pulling tourists for the last ten years. He had originally been a miner, but ended up with a salt addiction problem. It was just better to pull a carriage than tempt himself working in the mountain itself. He was happier, he'd been salt-free for nine years, and he was proud of the muscles and endurance he'd developed. He'd even been seeing a nice colt, and they'd been making plans to settle down.
At the mountain, after exiting the carriage, and after Wildfire had said goodby to Soda, and thanked him for the ride, the trio entered the queue for the docent trip to the top of the Great Lick. Ralph was... being Ralph, going on about his own aunt Louise, back in Queens, who had lived in the big favela there, underneath the old, abandoned ruins of the Arcology.
As they progressed up the salt mountain with eleven other ponies, their guide explained the history of Salt Lick City. She explained how it had been settled, how the salt trade had begun, and about the old trade disputes with the griffon and dragon empires hundreds of years in the past. She also told the story of how five years ago an entire, lost community of newfoals had mysteriously been discovered living just behind a rise out in the desert - and how amazing it was that they had lived there, so close, imagining that they had been entirely alone the whole time. The tourists marveled and laughed and enjoyed the tour.
Wildfire and Perspicacity were far more concerned with whatever it was that Ralph wanted to show them. They wanted to know how the ancient manuscript, and the story it contained, related to a giant mountain of salt all alone in the desert, near the borders between the Equestrian, Griffon and Dragon empires.
At the very top, which was fenced off to protect against anypony accidentally falling off the gargantuan salt crystal, the wide expanse of the Southern Desert revealed itself. It was the kind of view reserved for pegasai and those that could afford airship rides, and it was very impressive indeed.
In one direction, a pony could see almost to the border of Neighvada, where both iron and jewels were mined. Further to the south was the Dragon lands, the peaks of the Diamond Expanse visible in the far haze. To the east were the Griffon lands, and to the west, somewhere, was the Western Sea, and beyond that, the Great Wilds. Far beyond all those places was the ever-expanding Exponential Lands, the still growing result of the Equestrian universe devouring and absorbing Wildfire's planet of birth. One day the cosmic digestion would end, and the Exponential Lands would just be... lands, only vast beyond all imagining. Out there now, somewhere, were the teeming billions of earth, all ponies now, forming communities and cities and new lives in a bright, new frontier.
Ralph indicated that they should hang back as the group was led by the docent down the other side of the salt mountain. The three huddled behind an outcropping of salt, a titanic, translucent cube that the sunlight filtered through in a whitish-yellow glow. It was cooler at the top of the mountain, thanks to a nice breeze. Down below at the base it had been fairly warm indeed.
When he was sure they were very alone, Ralph walked out and away from their hiding spot, and over to the fence that surrounded the viewpoint at the top. "I know I need to prove myself to you, and I know you don't understand, and... what I'm staying is... you folks stay right where you are, and let ol' Ralphy here find what he's looking for, Capiche?"
The squat, fat pony made a careful inspection of the area, moving slowly from one section of fence to another, clearly looking for something in particular. Wildfire glanced at Perspicacity and waggled his ears; she shrugged back with her own. As they watched, Ralph finally seemed to find the right section of fence.
Ralph turned around and gave the fence an experimental buck. The fence was solid to his hooves, so he bucked harder. It still did not give. He seemed frustrated and started bucking the fence with an astonishing degree of vigor, considering how fat and out-of-shape he looked. The fence began to fail.
"What in Celestia's name are you doing?" Perspicacity stepped forward slightly, unable to believe that any pony would dare to disturb public property in this manner. It was just... unthinkable.
Wildfire ambled over. "What? Have you got something hidden on the other side? Is that it?" Of course that was it; it was the perfect place to hide something that nopony in Equestria would ever find. Ponies never did what Ralph was now doing - anything hidden, say, hanging on a rope over the other side, maybe off a hook just under the salt ledge, would never, ever be discovered. Who in Equestria would ever destroy a fence? Nopony. Nopony but a newfoal with a human mind. The gulf between himself and Ralph seemed even wider now. It felt a little strange, actually. For Wildfire, born a human being, a human mind was now truly... alien.
Who was he now? What was he now? Wildfire's answer came the instant he felt Perspicacity draw near and nuzzle him. He was Wildfire Starshine, a proud stallion of Equestria, just as he should be. His momentary crisis of identity dissolved, he studied Ralph's increasingly weak efforts to break the fence as the portly pony ran out of oats to burn.
The fence was mostly broken. They would have to replace it now in any case. Wildfire went over to help. "Alright, Ralph. Let me give it a shot." In one good, solid buck, Wild sent the section of fence spinning out into the void beyond the sharp, abrupt edge.
"Wow, hotshot, that was pretty impressive, I gotta say." Ralph was panting slightly and his muzzle dripped with sweat. "But hey, you just remember that ol' Ralph here got the job started, right?" Ralph gave Wildfire a weak grin.
Wildfire grinned back and turned around. He crept close to the edge and tried to peer over it. There must be a hook or a spike or something imbedded in the salt - probably flown up and installed by a pegasus, if what Ralph had been saying about having 'associates' was true. From such a hook could hang a bag, maybe one containing some artifact related to the manuscript or to the events within it.
In a single motion Ralph, no longer the least bit tired, bucked Wildfire in the flanks, and then expertly caught his hind legs just as he was about to tumble head-first over the deadly precipice. Ralph stood, back to the exposed cliff edge, his hind legs hooked around Wildfire's hocks, the only thing preventing the larger gray stallion from plummeting to his doom.
Wildfire stood on his front legs, balanced, staring down a thousand foot drop to sharp crystals below. His hindquarters were above his head, his hocks locked by the hind legs of the astonishingly strong little pony Ralph. He was definitely more than he seemed, and Wildfire realized that the fat, lazy appearance he offered belied a carefully masked strength and agility.
All it would take is for Ralph to let go with his hind legs, and there would be nothing Wildfire could do to save himself. He was terrified; his breathing was shallow and his heart raced like a rabbit.
Wildfire briefly considered clutching Ralph's rear legs in return, but the motion might well just result in him falling while Ralph sat laughing. He didn't know what he could do, and it was impossible to see back there. It was all of his effort just to support himself on his forelegs; though they were the stronger pair of legs, they would tire soon.
"Alright campers! It's time for the Talk. I always love the Talk, it's where you shut up and listen, or you die - and you get to become a widow -" Ralph was staring, constantly, at Perspicacity "And best of all, we get things all settled and tied up in a bow."
Perspicacity considered what she could do. She could probably support her husband's weight with her magic, but not both his and Ralph's and if the portly pony decided to cling... and if they both fell... plus, if she lost line of sight over that cliff... no. She pondered yanking her husband back, on top of Ralph, but... Ralph was staring at her. He was waiting for any sign of her horn glowing. It was unthinkable, but so many unthinkable things had already happened - Ralph would kick her husband to his... death... if she tried anything. She could see it in his eyes, in the look, in the constant stare.
They were the most horrible animal eyes she had ever seen. She unconsciously took a single step back, in primal fear.
"I see your lady wife comprehends. She's a good catch, like I told you earlier, pony boy. Do you... comprehend, do you have some additional understanding there, 'ol Wildfire, 'ol pal?"
"Yes. You clearly are in charge right now." Wildfire didn't know what else to say.
"Well, yeah, that is true, pally, no doubt about that. But that wasn't exactly what I was hopin' you'd understand about this turn of events. I want you to take a real, good solid gawk straight down. I want you to take in what you see there, and explain to me what it tells you, with half your body hanging out over a... what is it, something like a thousand foot drop - I still can't convert that into Equestrian kilohoofs or whatever they use. Never really cared to learn, to tell you the truth."
Wildfire was trying very hard not to look down, he wished he felt confident enough to crane his neck so as to see Perspicacity, but he was terrified of making any motion that might shift the precarious balance between himself and the smaller pony that held his very life in his hooves.
"Well, Wildfire, buddy, for the trip to Jamaica and A BRAND NEW CAR, what is the lesson here?"
A small chunk of salt, knocked accidentally by Wildfire's left hoof as he tried, desperately, to remain balanced on the edge, fell over the cliff. It spun in the air, shrinking until Wildfire could no longer see it. Even his exceptional pony ears could not hear it hit anything.
Wildfire needed to come up with an answer that would satisfy the rotund little Ralph, and quickly. His forelegs were tiring, and his back was hurting terribly.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
9. The Tile Of Overly Low Coefficiency The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
"Ralph! Please!" Perspicacity was trying to be as calm as she could under the circumstances. "Let me use my magic - just to strengthen Wild's knees! He can't stand that way all day, on only two legs! I'll only create a field to hold his knees and..."
"Nothin' doin' sister!" Ralph maintained his cold stare, square on Perspicacity's horn, searching for even a hint of glow. "I'm standing on my forelegs and look at me! If your brave-ass Firepony can't keep up with a fat, slovenly little pig like me, then he deserves to take a dive!" Ralph may have looked blubbery, but he was clearly all muscle under that fat, and his mocking tone let Perspicacity know what he thought of her opinions.
"Now, Wild, my best bud, you blew your first answer, you have two chances remaining." Somehow the tiny Ralph was maintaining the awkward position of holding Wildfire by the hocks, just over the edge of the terrifying salt cliff, and the pudgy pony was not even breaking a sweat. Wildfire on the other hand was beginning to shake slightly from the strain of standing on his forelegs with his tail dangling down to his withers. "So, Wildfire, the precious little pony, what am I trying to show you here, what is the special lesson?"
So far, Wildfire had replied that Ralph was clearly in charge. That was the wrong answer, or rather, it was not the answer that Ralph was seeking. There was no doubt that Ralph was in charge; if he let go, Wildfire would join the Great Herd in a rather spectacular splat, far, far below on the jagged edges of gargantuan, broken crystals of salt.
"Well? How about an answer, there, pally?" Wildfire felt like his foreknees could buckle at any moment.
"I'm thinking!" Wildfire gasped.
"I got all day, Wild my boy, but you, I'm thinking, not so much." Ralph sounded smug. Even standing balanced in such a difficult position, he still managed to sound smug.
"You..." It was really hard to stand this way, and the view, straight down, was not helping. "You... are better than me in every way! I should have treated you with more respect! I'm sorry and I sincerely apologize!" Wildfire was trying to think of anything that might appease such a cruel and violent human mind in a pony body. But he realized he was having a hard time trying to figure out what he was supposed to say. He really was a pony now; the way Ralph thought, what he wanted, was just impossible to even guess.
"BZZZT! Wrong again. Man, are you doing badly today." Ralph shifted his weight slightly, to maintain balance. Perspicacity finally saw a bead of sweat run down the plump stallion's muzzle; the strain of standing like that was finally beginning to show. "Listen, because you are my favorite little pony in the whole world, I've decided to give you a hint. So pay attention, alright?"
"Alright." Wildfire grunted the response; his legs were starting to shake slightly, sweat was dripping into his eyes and making them sting.
"Here we are, you hanging over a cliff, me just barely keeping you from falling to your doom. I'm such a nice guy to do that, no need to thank me. But... and this is the big hint to the big lesson here: at any moment I could easily send you tumbling. I wouldn't even lose a night's sleep over it. How about you?" Ralph swallowed, the struggle to keep the larger stallion from falling was definitely getting to him. "Think about what if our positions were reversed - that would never happen, I'm smarter than you. But - if it did happen, which it wouldn't, what is the special lesson for today? Last, chance bucko."
"You can kill me at any time, but I can't kill you!" Wildfire spat the words with what little remained of his strength.
"Hey! Pers!" Ralph shouted at the white unicorn "Little help here?"
Perspicacity did not hesitate. In an instant her horn was glowing, and with the full force of her telekinetic field, Wildfire was pulled away from the edge of the cliff and onto the flat surface of the lookout point. She dragged her husband across the salt surface, all the way to the salt wall behind, before she finally released her thaumatic grip and ran to him.
Wildfire gasped, his breathing ragged and fast. His forelegs hurt more than they ever had in his entire life, his foreknees throbbed as if they were on fire. He couldn't help himself, and began to softly cry. He had dashed through burning, collapsing barns in his work as a Firepony, but he had never been so terrified as he had been just a few seconds ago.
Perspicacity licked and kissed her husbands eyes, and held him tight with her forelegs. He had been so brave, and she was so proud of him, but above all, she was just glad that he was still alive.
"So, kids, quite an adventure today, huh?" Ralph stood over them, as if nothing at all had happened. The only sign that anything had occurred were the beads of sweat on his nose, cheeks and poll.
Perspicacity glared up at him with angry eyes and her horn began to glow fiercely. She wanted to... to... hold Ralph down, to press him into the wall of salt so she could... yell and scream and...
"Ah, ah, ah! I wouldn't do that, Persy-pants." Ralph waved a hoof slowly back and forth. Something in his cold eyes made Perspicacity dim her horn. "That's better. You're the smart one, aren't ya? I have associates, just like me. If anything untoward were to happen, anything I didn't like, you know I'd have to tell them, and I assure you, they are not as nice and friendly as I am."
Ralph sat down on the salt floor. "Your boy got it right, Persy-pants. Unlike you ponies, I and my associates don't have that little governor, that little limiter you freaks have inside your heads. We may look like you barnyard rejects, but inside, I'm all man, baby, and by that, I mean I'm as human as the day I was born, which was on Earth, by the way, a wonderful planet that YOU FUCKERS COMPLETELY DESTROYED!"
Ralph was breathing hard now, and his eyes were no longer cold, but hot, burning with anger. Perspicacity was terrified by what she saw in those alien, predatory, enraged eyes. It took a few moments for Ralph to regain his calm demeanor.
"I told you I would tell you what was what, and ol' Ralphy always keeps his promises. I don't think it should take very much of that pudding inside your pony skull to figure out that I, and those like me, are not exactly on the best of terms with your precious little pony-poop princess. The one that murdered my planet, the little bitch."
Perspicacity shuddered at his words: the very idea of speaking of Celestia that way genuinely shocked her.
"We, meaning me and my associates, need the end of the Eslaforde Manuscript, and nothing, and I do mean no pony, like you, or your husband, or your sweet little auntie, is going to get in our way. Wild's little lesson today should make that really clear to you both. If so, gold stars all around." Ralph rubbed his left foreleg with his right hoof. "Damn, I think I may've strained something back there."
"You can have the manuscript! Just leave us all alone!" Perspicacity helped Wildfire to sit up. "Just leave us all alone!"
Ralph chuckled. "Your little metal box? Already seen the manuscript. It was interesting to see the real thing, all baby dragon skin and hide. Quite a museum piece, there. But we don't need what you got." The doubt on Perspicacity's face made Ralph laugh again. "What? You don't think an eight-hundred year old manuscript wouldn't have been copied a few times over the centuries? How do you think we even know about ol' Willelmus and his unfortunate encounter with that bitch Celestia in the first place? From the report I told you about what was found on Earth? That only told us how she killed the old boy - what we need is in the missing part of the Eslaforde Manuscript, the complete end of the story."
"Princess Celestia would never have killed that man! That's a lie, like everything you say!" Perspicacity was in tears now. The full impact of what had nearly happened to Wildfire was finally hitting her.
"Oh, it's true all right. They found the body of Willelmus Learmount, Pers - and get this, it was buried in a lead coffin, because they found that his remains burned their skin. When they dug the old pony-fucker up, his bones were still dangerous, you know why? I'll tell you why. They were practically burning with thaumatic radiation. Nearly took the skin off the team that found his corpse. Of course, lead doesn't stop magic, nothing does. His grave was considered haunted. That's what made it possible to find it - all the stories of weird things happening around where he was buried." Ralph licked his dry lips and quickly glanced around.
"Here's the deal, now that you know the score." Ralph cocked an ear at the path leading up to the lookout. "You keep out of this from now on, go home and make your little telescopes - not that there's anything up there to see, your bitch Celestia took the entire galaxy away from us too - and live your little, petty lives. And don't even think of going to Celestia herself, because we have Frontsmen right up close in her court, and we'll know, and then you'll get a little visit, and your auntie will get a little visit, and so will everypony either of you know, and in the end, well, there won't be anypony sayin' nothing to nopony else ever again, capiche?"
"All we wanted was to hear the end of the story! Why is it so important?" Perspicacity couldn't help herself; even now the drive to know what had come next nagged at her.
"Jesus!" Ralph was taken aback. "I can't believe you! You got some solid iron eggs in your crack, I have got to say. The end of the story is 'They all lived happily ever after' - except for ol' Willelmus, of course, he got snuffed. And as for why it's so important, I mean, cinnamon swirls and sugar drops, Persy-Pants! What? Like I'd just up and tell you something like that?" Ralph tapped his head with his hoof. "HEL-LO! Human mind here! Not a pony upstairs? Remember? Same reason you can't do shit to me, even though you've got that horn of yours and all your precious little unicorn magic at your disposal. Now just run on home and don't bother me anymore, alright? It ain't worth it, Pers, really it isn't. Live your pony life while you can. I learned ten years ago that you never know when your world can just suddenly end for no damn reason. Go home, and be good little ponies."
Ralph stood up and began to walk away. He stopped and looked back, briefly. "You've been fun, kids, really. Thanks for the laughs. I'll tell Aunt Aspherica that you had to head home because of a big telescope order, OK? You're sweet kids. Take care."
And with that, Ralph Vitoni the definitely-not-a-pony adjusted his stained saddlebags with a shake of his blubbery body, and ambled on down the mountain of salt.
Perspicacity and Wildfire watched Ralph go.
Inside himself, Wildfire wanted to get up and run and tackle Ralph, and hold him down and... and... No! He wanted to run up and buck that fat pile of humanish dung right square in the muzzle and... then, when he was down on the ground, reeling from the soreness, Wild would just... tell him how bucking mean he... was....
Wildfire slumped, and began stomping at the ground in impotent rage. He didn't have it. He just didn't have that old... killer instinct, that apex predator, meat-eating, primal ape viciousness anymore. He could be angry. He could even hate, at least he thought he could hate. If he really tried, he was sure he could hate, couldn't he? He had to be able to hate to be capable of...
But he wasn't. Ralph's lesson was true. Ralph could kill him. Ralph could kill Perspicacity, and aunt Aspherica, and anypony he wanted to. He wouldn't feel bad about it. Ralph... could murder an innocent pony, because it suited his purpose, or for revenge, or for any reason at all.
And neither Wildfire nor Perspicacity, nor any other Equestrian could. Inside himself, Wildfire knew he couldn't even bring himself to permanently cripple Ralph. The very idea made him feel sick.
They were ponies. Kind, gentle, loving ponies, and there were wolves, dressed in pony skin, stalking among them.
"Pers... what do we do? What can we do?" Wildfire couldn't stop the tears running down his frustrated, frightened muzzle. "Oh, sweet Celestia, I am so ashamed, Pers, I am not that, I am not like Ralph, and I never was like Ralph, not even before, but I am absolutely not like that now, oh Pers, Perspicacity..."
"Shhh.... Shhh... it's all right, it's all right. We're safe, and you're safe and..." Perspicacity lifted up Wildfire's head and brought him muzzle to muzzle with her. "I know you, Wildfire. I know who you are. You don't need to ever, ever doubt yourself again. I've seen what a human is like, and you are NOT one of those. I don't think you could EVER have been one of those. So you remember that, alright? Don't ever even imagine you are the least bit... human... ever, ever again." Perspicacity stared with compassion and absolute resolve deep into Wildfire's eyes.
Wildfire sniffed and tried to smile. "Yes, my love. I promise."
"Alright now. Where do we go from here, then?" Perspicacity let the rhetorical question sit for a moment, while she thought. "We need to leave, that's first. There's going to be another docent tour, and I don't think it would be good to be found here, and have a lot of questions asked of us. Agreed?"
"T-That sounds smart to me. Where do we go?" The sounds of an approaching group dimly could be heard, below the lookout point.
"Down, the other way, just like Ralph. We'll decide more as we go." Perspicacity and Wildfire stood up, Wildfire still shaken from his experience, and left as quietly and quickly as their hooves could take them.
On the way down the other side of the Great Salt Lick, Perspicacity scanned for any sign of Ralph. He wasn't visible, but it was a sure bet where he was headed - straight to her aunt's, to complete whatever deal had been on the table down there.
"He's going to head for my aunt Aspherica's house, we know that." Perspicacity wanted to run, but Wildfire was still wobbly in the knees. Thinking about it more clearly, perhaps bolting down a winding path on a gargantuan block of salt crystal was not the smartest idea. "My worry is what will he do if she doesn't agree to whatever deal he's offered her. That... monster... is capable of anything. We need to follow him and try to... do something, anything to protect my aunt."
"I wish there were Merc police, dammit." Wildfire was trying to keep up with his wife.
"Merg Poleese? What are Merg Poleese?" Perspicacity waited for Wild to catch up; she had been hurrying a bit much.
"Merc Police. Mercenary Police. They're... kind of like Celestia's royal guards, only they actually can do stuff besides keeping the looky-loos from bothering her. They solve crimes and arrest... they used to have them all over the Earth. You could pay them to protect you or to enforce the law, if you had the credits. Sometimes they'd even do it anyway, if the order came from the corporate government...." Wildfire was losing her. "They were big and tough and would take care of ponies like Ralph and protect ponies like us!"
"Then I too, wish for 'Merc Police'. But you know there are no such things in Equestria." Perspicacity sidled close to Wild as they descended the mountain. "I wish we could just go straight to the Princesses and tell them all about this. But if Ralph was telling the truth..." Wildfire could see his wife shudder. "Also, let's face it; Ralph exists. If he can run free like that, and do things like he just did, then it must be true that Celestia cannot know everything. That means that she can't find all of the bad ponies like Ralph, and that means that his threat if we tell her is real."
Wildfire swallowed as they walked. "Later, if we tell on Ralph to Celestia, we would get a visit... Pers, you understand what he meant by that, right?"
"I've just seen what he is capable of, love. And I feel scarred by it. I feel injured from just having had to see it. And I am angry about that. Nopony should have to see the stallion they love dangled over a... a..." Perspicacity became silent for a long while. Her eyes shone with wetness.
Wildfire felt terrible sorrow at the knowledge that his wife, his beautiful, wonderful Perspicacity, had been touched by Earthly cruelty. Such a thing... she would never be quite as perfectly innocent again, and that broke his pony heart.
At the base of the vast mountain of salt, Wildfire hailed a carriage. He had no interest in chatting, as he had before, with the draft ponies pulling it. Swiftness was called for now.
As they sat in the back of the carriage, Wildfire thought about what had actually been said, up on the mountain. Ralph had revealed more than he had intended. Wildfire tried to remember what Ralph had said.
"Pers! I think we know a lot more now. I think Ralph let some things slip, that he may not have wanted to."
"Like what, Wildfire? What kind of things?"
"Remember, when he mentioned how he had his 'associates' or whatever in the court of Celestia? What did he call them?" Wildfire had huddled close to Perspicacity, and they were speaking in soft tones with each other.
"Um... let's see... front... men. Frontsmen. That was it. Frontsmen. Or foremen, like foreleg. One of the two. Does that mean anything?" Perspicacity hoped she had recalled the foreign word correctly.
"Frontsmen! That was what the HLF used to call their basic goons, Pers. The Human Liberation Front had a cadre of Frontsmen.... who were the front line against Equestria, see? If Ralph said 'Frontsmen', then that means that..." Wildfire looked stunned. "Pers... Ralph isn't some crazy PER pony. He's a former human from the Human Liberation Front! The HLF! But... how? How could that even be? They were fanatically crazy about staying human, and protecting humanity from ponies and ponification!"
"How fanatical, Wildfire? How crazy?" Perspicacity was quickly adding up everything she had learned so far. "You told me that the PER, the Ponification for Earth's Re... something..."
"Rebirth. Ponification for Earth's Rebirth"
"Yes, that group. You said that they had been altered, so that their brains would stay human, but that this didn't work entirely, right? That they ended up with some twisted notion of serving the princesses with their power of human violence." Perspicacity felt like she was onto something important.
"Yes. Genegineering. They were genetically altered, only the procedure wasn't perfect, apparently."
"What if the other group, the H-L-F, what if they got some of that genii-gen-jeering magic themselves, and reworked the spell. What if they managed to succeed where the PER failed?"
Wildfire considered the notion, while looking around to see how close they were to Nacle street. "No, no, the HLF were totally fanatical about staying human! They'd never willingly be ponified, not even to infiltrate the court and assassinate the princesses. At least, I don't think they would."
"But didn't you tell me that the PER would just enter buildings and hose humans down with ponification serum? What would happen if that had occured to a member of the HLF?"
"Well, Pers, I guess they would just wake up a pony, and realize how silly they had been, and just leave all of that HLF stuff behind. They'd probably try to contact Celestia and tell her everything they knew in order to stop the... oh." Suddenly it made sense. Wildfire could see it clearly now. "Pers! You're a genius! The HLF would want to alter their own agents precisely because they might be forcibly ponified! And they'd want to do it right, so that the same mistake that created the PER wouldn't happen to them!"
"And any human that ended up that way would be bitter and angry, rather than happy and glad about their transformation! They'd end up a..."
Perspicacity and Wildfire smiled at each other as they spoke in unison. "...a pony like Ralph!"
That had to be the answer. Ralph was a former member of the Human Liberation Front, and he wasn't happy about being a pony, and he, and others like him, were waging a war of vengeance for the loss of their entire planet and their entire species.
"Wow... I mean, wow, Perspicacity. This is big. And scary, and dangerous, and not just to us! This could be a problem for the crown itself. Those HLF types, they were not nice at all. Compared to them, the PER were as cuddly as bunnies. Pers, the HLF killed newfoals for sport. They killed native Equestrians on sight." Wildfire shuddered. He just realized that he, a pony, had been assaulted by the most pony-hating type of human there ever was. Here in Equestria.
"Wildfire. We have a duty to the crown. It is more important than our lives, or the lives of those we love. If the monsters you call H-L-F are here in our world, then we must tell the princesses immediately, whatever the risk. We may be the only ponies in all of Equestria to have figured this out." Perspicacity sat rigid, a tear trickled down her cheek, but she was resolute. "My... aunt....Aspherica... tell our draftponies to take us to the train, instead. We need to go to Canterlot, right now."
"Wait, Pers." Wildfire had noticed that they had just turned onto Nacle street. "We're nearly at your aunt's house. We can take her with us. If she's with us, nopony can hurt her, we can protect her. And once we get to Canterlot, maybe we can beg the princesses for protection! That way your aunt will be completely safe. The princesses may not be able to know everything, but they can DO anything. Their protection would be absolute, wouldn't it?"
Perspicacity brightened immediately. She kissed Wildfire with passion. "You're the genius, Wild! You're absolutely right! We'll just take Aspherica with us to Canterlot to meet the princesses! She can even help by telling what she saw and heard about Ralph! And she'll be safer with us, than out here, all alone!"
Wildfire beamed. Perspicacity thought about how, in this way, she might be able to make up for not having shown her aunt any support in the past, especially after Star Diagonal had died. Maybe she hadn't been very good family back then, but in the here and the now, she could show love to her aunt by protecting her from these evil not-ponies.
The carriage rounded the last bend, and pulled up in front of the sprawling house that belonged to Aspherica Starshine. Wildfire asked the draftponies to wait. He explained that they needed to collect another passenger, and then go to the train station. He begged their patience, while this was done. It might be a little while. Finally, he offered them a bonus for waiting. They happily agreed.
The door was closed and everything looked normal. Perspicacity and Wildfire approached the house warily. They knew what Ralph was, now, and they wanted to be prepared. They might not be able to do... what Ralph could do... but they were far from helpless. Not being able to kill was not the same thing as not being able to defend themselves, and since they intended to go straight to the princesses, they weren't worried about long term retribution anymore. The princesses would protect them, of that they had no doubt.
Perspicacity's horn began to glow; she was ready to grab a certain fat pony in her telekinetic grip at a moment's notice.
Wildfire gave his forehooves a quick stomp. He was ready and willing to buck that little son-of-a-human right in the face if he had to, and he felt like he'd be able to sleep peacefully enough even after that. Maybe because of that.
Perspicacity shifted her magical focus to the door, and opened it without knocking. This was not a time for courtesy. This was a time for surprise and action!
The door opened to a quiet house. There was no sign of Ralph so far.
Wildfire entered first, with Perspicacity right behind him, ready to act at any provocation. Her horn glowed with a fierce silvery light.
Nothing in the entrance hall. They moved on to the kitchen. They both startled as the whistle on the teakettle began to shrill. There was one invention common to both the human and pony worlds. Ignoring the kettle, Wildfire signaled with his ears, and face, as best he could, for Perspicacity to stay. She seemed to get the idea, and hung back in a ready stance, her horn glowing brightly.
Wildfire carefully, quietly entered the main room, with its two overstuffed chairs and the big overstuffed couch where Ralph had eaten sweet buns.
The room was quiet, and appeared empty. Wildfire carefully circled the big couch from a distance; Ralph might be anywhere, even hiding down close to the floor.
Wildfire's hoof slid suddenly on the tile floor.
That was when he realized he had slipped on a slick of equine blood.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
10. The Man Who Was Poured Into A Horse The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
Being a Firepony meant sometimes having to see things that were horrible, and would deeply scar any pony. Wildfire understood this, when he and his son Rocket had first applied at the Fire Hall. The hope of doing good, of making a difference, and of saving both life and property outweighed the fact that they would inevitably have to face horror one day.
During his ten years thus far in Equestria, Wildfire had been fortunate to have been spared the most terrible of sights. He and his son had indeed made a difference, and being a Firepony had not been as terrible as they had feared. But that did not preclude the constant possibility that one day... they might not be in time, or something might go terribly, horribly wrong.
In Aunt Aspherica's house, something had gone terribly, horribly wrong, and the last thing Wildfire wanted was his beloved Perspicacity scarred more than she already had been this day.
"Pers! I need you to listen to me, and trust me - not just as your friend and lover, but as a professional, as a Firepony, alright?"
"Wild? What is going on?" Her voice was filled with the kind of fear and worry that suggested she already had more than a clue as to what the problem was. She took a step forward, ready to run to where he was standing, behind the large, overstuffed couch.
"Pers!" Wildfire caught his wife with his eyes, his stare holding her as her own eyes met his. "I need you to stay there. In fact..." Wild remembered his training; keep civilian spectators busy if other forms of crowd control fail. "I need you to keep a close eye on the door. Stay ready: we don't know what might happen next."
"Al...Alright! I'm on it!" Perspicacity turned around and lowered her head, horn glowing softly. All of her fear and worry was momentarily consumed by the basic instinct to protect the ones she loved.
With Perspicacity temporarily stopped from running over into the slick of blood, Wildfire tried his best to be the professional he had just claimed to be. It wasn't easy.
Aspherica Starshine had Joined the Great Herd, and not long ago. Blood had stopped oozing from her skull before they had arrived; but because she had suffered a head wound, the slick was quite large. The basic medical training that Wild had been given had taught him not to assume that a large amount of blood represented any one thing - the scalp was rich with vessels and a minor wound could look far worse than it actually was.
He tried to be as unemotional as possible, as he examined Aspherica. He could find no obvious wound on her. An examination of her head showed that she had cracked it on the tile floor, likely as she fell. As far as Wildfire could tell, she hadn't been hit, or kicked, or punctured. The look on her face was one of anger, if anything.
He bent his foreleg at the fetlock and gently pressed it against Aspherica's flank: still warm, but cooling. It had happened very recently, likely while they were in transit in the carriage. They had spent too long on top of the mountain coping with their own troubles... if only they had headed down sooner.
Then again, maybe it wouldn't have mattered.
Wildfire tried to think. She hadn't been kicked or struck. There was no sign of trauma, just an angry look, frozen on her face. At least it looked angry to Wildfire. Her mouth was open; he imagined her yelling.
She was old. Very old. Probably two-hundred and forty easily, if not older.
The average Equestrian life span was two-fifty. What if...?
Wildfire backed up, unhappy that his hooves left 'U' shaped crimson marks on the tile. Hey! His were the only marks anywhere on the tile... there was no sign that any blood was tracked anywhere else by, say, a certain fat little not-pony.
Aspherica Starshine had probably died yelling at the little monster. She'd probably backed behind the couch because he was scaring her, intimidating her. And in that moment of telling the plump creature off, the Pale Mare had taken her, and her body had fallen and she'd cracked her head. The more he thought about it, the more sense it made. Aspherica had not been killed by Ralph, as much as Wildfire wanted to blame the little crumb for anything and everything right now.
It was most likely that Aspherica had died telling the poor excuse for a pony off, and given her all in the process. The little skunk doubtless quietly left, closing the door behind him. He almost certainly had whatever he had come here for.
Wildfire held Perspicacity close with his long neck, his head over her back, as he quietly told her what the situation was. She tried to go to her aunt, but he stood firm. Seeing her body in that state would not benefit his wife, he reasoned. He wished he hadn't had to see the scene himself. Perspicacity was insistent though. Finally he stood back.
"Do you really need to do this? I'm begging you to think it over. It's not an easy thing to see, and I wish I hadn't seen her like... how she is now. Pers, Pers... please think before you act. If you truly need to see her lying on the floor there, if that will somehow give you closure or something, I won't stop you; I'm your husband and friend, not your keeper." Wildfire looked closely at her, his ears flat against his skull.
"You can't help her, Perspicacity. It's all over now. But you can choose not to have to see something that will give you nightmares - remember how I was, after that house fire about a year ago?" Wildfire had suffered nightmares for months after; there had been dogs trapped in the house and... they hadn't made it.
"You know what has happened. You can't change it. And there is nothing anypony can do. Do you really need to see your aunt like this? Will you be better for it?" Wildfire looked down. He had said his peace, it was up to Perspicacity now.
The silvery-white mare was crying, quietly, involuntarily. She was trying very hard to remain calm and rational, but the tears just sort of trickled down her muzzle while she stood and thought. She gave a sniff and tried to talk. Her first attempt caught in her throat. She cleared it and finally was able to speak.
"I... I remember, Wild. I remember your nightmares. And the ones you used to have about your life on Earth, too. I don't want that." Perspicacity swallowed. "I... I guess I don't really need to see... over there." She lost some of her self control at that, and so Wildfire stepped close again, and proffered his strong back for her to cry upon. Her sobs were deep and for a while wracked her frame. She clung to her husband with her neck and head, tightly.
"Wildfire." The way Perspicacity said his name was odd. Cold and detached. "He didn't get it. Ralph left here empty-hooved."
"What?" Wildfire was a little taken aback by Perspicacity's sudden change of emotion. "What do you mean, how do you...?"
"The instant we first entered, the minute we came through that door, she said to us 'You ain't gettin' nothin' but tea out of me, just so's ya know.'" Perspicacity turned and began gazing around at the room. "When I was a very little filly, for a while Aunt Aspherica lived with my family. Every Hearth's Eve, I would go searching for my presents. I was a real problem, because once I got it into my head to find them, I wouldn't give up. I wouldn't stop until I had satisfaction!"
This sounded like his Perspicacity, no question, Wildfire thought.
"Aspherica had a way of dealing with me. She'd always have some simple, cheap little gift hidden in an obvious place, and always the same place. And she'd tell me that I wasn't getting anything out of her. She said it just like she said it to us, earlier. Just like that." Perspicacity looked towards the kitchen, then the hall to the bedroom. "But I would keep looking anyway, and I'd find the little cheap gift, and I'd be satisfied and stop being so obsessed. I'd 'won' see? I just needed to win, back then. The gift almost didn't matter."
"So... you're saying that your aunt was hinting something to you, that she hid something only you would know to find?" Wildfire began looking around instinctively too; maybe all the answers were still right here, in this house. "Where did she always hide your gift, the one to get you off her withers?"
Perspicacity began to trot to the tack-closet. It was always the tack-closet, in the back, on the right side, behind her sewing kit.
She opened the door with her mouth, reverting briefly in her mind to her foalhood before she could use her magic correctly. Also with her mouth, she found the expected sewing kit - not the one she remembered, but a new one obtained sometime over the long years.
With the kit on the tile flooring that covered the sprawling desert house, Perspicacity studied the corner. There was nothing there. It was just a corner, in a tack-closet. Had she been wrong? Was it just a coincidence that her aunt had said such words the moment they arrived?
Wildfire was standing next to her, blocking the light. Perspicacity humphed at him and nosed at the windows behind and then his shadow. Wild sheepishly backed away and to the side.
And that's when she saw it, because of the shift in the light. There was a seam in the boards at the back, one that shouldn't be there. Somepony had done some magical carpentry on the back of the closet. If Wildfire hadn't butted in, she might never have seen it.
Perspicacity used her magic tentatively on the seam, on the square area in the corner. It was loose. She floated the square of wood out and away, leaving a hole in the back of the tack-closet, about a hoof and a half wide and tall.
Wildfire lay down to look while keeping his bulk out of the light. Perspicacity leaned closer and tried to get a line of sight on anything that might be in the hole. There was something in there, and it looked like a sheet of vellum, the same kind as came from the Manuscript. Carefully, she worked the sheet out with her magic, being sure not to tear it or damage it.
The sheet floated in front of them now, held in Perspicacity's silvern glow. It was clearly ripped on the side, torn from something. It had to be a page from the manuscript; it could be nothing else. There was a large, red uncial letter on the upper left, and the same tiny, Middle English letters down the front and back of it.
"Pers. We should hide that for now, and put everything back the way it was. And we need to deal with your aunt, too. The more ponies here, the less danger from Ralph, if he comes back." Wildfire was making a lot of sense. Perspicacity rolled up the sheet of vellum and held it in front of Wild. He took the tight tube in his mouth.
Perspicacity replaced the square of wood, setting it as invisibly as before, as best she could. She replaced the sewing kit, and closed the tack-closet door.
Wild let her levitate the rolled-up manuscript sheet from his mouth, and he turned to go talk to the draft ponies outside. He would tell them of the tragic natural death of his wife's aunt, and ask them to fetch the local paramedical unicorns who handled such matters.
Perspicacity stood in the silent house, staring at the overstuffed couch. She could see ruddy hoof-prints leading away from behind the couch, the ones that Wildfire had made. Again the urge to see the body of her aunt took her, but she fought it. Wild's reasoning was sound. She would only be troubled with terrible nightmares and awful memories, and it wouldn't change anything.
Perspicacity swatted her own poll with the floating manuscript page. Her own worst enemy had always been her own stubborn need for completion, for closure. That was why her aunt had hidden an easily found gift, just to shut her up. Perspicacity began to tear up again. She must have been such an annoying little unicorn back then.
Wildfire returned. "It's clear out front. Let's stick that thing in the Luggage while we can!"
Perspicacity followed Wild outside, where the Luggage had sat all day in the yard. They opened it after a few furtive glances, and stuffed the page inside the metal box, which Wildfire smoothly opened. He reared his neck, so that the key, hanging from the cord, would fly up; he caught the key in his teeth. Perspicacity was impressed. Wild inserted the key and turned it, unlocking the metal box. He winked at her, he was obviously proud of his little trick.
The page was laid on top of the Eslaforde Manuscript, as Ralph had called it, and the box was quickly locked once more. Wildfire looked up at Perspicacity; the absurdity of locking the box had just hit them both. Ralph had claimed to have studied the manuscript when he was on the train. The lock, and the box, was useless.
The medics were coming, down the street. Perspicacity closed the luggage compartment, and they both turned to greet the arriving paramedic unicorns.
Aunt Aspherica was listed as having died from natural causes at an advanced age, her body discovered by the husband of a family member come to visit. When all the questions had been answered and all the details dealt with, it was late in the evening, and both Perspicacity and Wildfire were starving.
Strapped into his harness once more, Wild pulled his wife and the enormous Luggage down the street. They found a small, all-night diner and supped on flower and alfalfa sandwiches, hay-fries and hibiscus soda. The weren't in the mood for anything fancier.
Together they found a room at a Shetland Inn, under an assumed name - just in case Ralph or his associates might decide to start snooping around. With the door closed and blocked shut by a heavy piece of furniture - there were no locks on the doors, something which still sometimes surprised Wildfire even after a decade in Equestria. With the curtains drawn, and a spritelite lamp near, the couple finally dared to examine the recovered vellum sheet.
There was no doubt it had come from the Eslaforde Manuscript. Perspicacity was able to float the sheet directly beside the place where it had been torn or cut out, and the edges matched perfectly.
Using a complimentary pad of paper and pencil, and with the help of several books that had been stored in the great steamer trunk - Wildfire sat down to once again begin the laborious process of translation.
As ye han served moost trewe an goodly I kan nat stynte yow to greet adversitee Or do ye deye Withoute savacioun In this bareyne world of peyne and wo Thus she seyde in hir sweete voys.
I shal maken and devyse for you A soule for to kepe perpetuelly And in it putte thy minde and owene thought That yow shal come unto my land And thow shalt not be deed But that thou lyve in stede As oon of my kynrede.
"My sweet and compassionate patron then spoke unto me, in a voice kind and gentle, that I had served her truly and faithfully as well I should, and that she could not leave me to the bitter doom that she had laid out as being the fate of all who lived in Creation. She told to me that I would not suffer without hope of salvation in the empty world, but instead that another fate would be mine.
My queen Celestia explained to me that the door though which we must pass could not so much as permit a mouse so small was it, and that she had come to me by fairy virtues that had allowed her to become the stuff of angels wings or the vapors of the spectral, and that my body and head and limbs, which so I treasured, could no more travel to her realm than could a mountain pass through the hole left by a needle.
She told me that she would make for me a real and true soul in which to carry me, and take from my flesh that which was my thoughts and my self, and place these treasures into the soul such that I should then live forever more in her embrace. And that then together we should travel to her eternal realm, and there she would make a new body for me, in which my new soul would be placed well and snug, and in this way would I live in her land as one of her own kind.
I was filled with terrible fear, of this I admit, for what she had proposed to me sounded not unlike the stuff of church and sermon, that I should be lifted up and taken unto her heaven forsaking the world altogether. Still in her I could not distrust, for though my skin burned and my bones ached in her glory, and because of it too, I knew that my life would be better served in her keeping, than left behind labeled as I was, horse thief and criminal.
To her charge I agreed, and she lifted me up with some unworldly light, and thus I hung in the air before her, and she touched her long horn to my head. Of what happened next I cannot say, not because I saw it not, but because for it I have no words, save that something was wound through me and in me, and into this was I become part, and this which was now me was taken forth, and I felt my tired flesh fall below me to the ground.
This was the last I ever knew of my world, of the world of men and meat and scaffold and sword, and through some strange passage did we move, with me seeing without seeing and hearing without hearing.
When next my sensibilities were mine to command, I felt myself poured, as if I were naught but water, into a vessel which thereafter contained me. It had been constructed by her will and her design, and it had been a labor of some time, or so it seemed to me, and not little effort on her part.
Of this vessel I speak of my body, that which now I move and breath and live and dream within, and it is a horse body and nothing like the body of a man. Now and forever am I one of her kin, a fairy horse such as she, but without wing and without horn, and much smaller in size, but still possessed of more grace and comeliness than any horse of earth. I may speak as I will and consider with my mind, but not as I did.
Where once I feared and thought terrible deeds and sought terrible revenges, of these thoughts are none remaining. In some manner I have been left as a small child; innocent and harmless in the world, but I do not take it as an ill. In this new world I find friendly voices which I do not yet understand, beyond their tone, which is melodious and filled with the milk of kindness and gentle concern.
My princess, so thus she has bid me call her, has charged me with learning how to live as her kin live, and to strive to accept and embrace my new state. She has also bid me to write of my story, and my life, to her, so that she may thus benefit from it."
So She may parfit al in.
Wildfire asked Perspicacity to turn the vellum page over for him. By now there was a small stack of papers with his efforts at translation covering them. They were both surrounded by books as well. Wildfire was afraid of dumping everything on the floor if he reached up to flip the sheet with his mouth. Perspicacity gladly obliged with her horn.
"Thank you. Do you want me to continue, or are you tired and want to sleep?" Wildfire was feeling quite weary; it had been a long day, and a scary, troubling day, and he was beginning to feel it.
"Wild! You can't leave me hanging here! Besides, we may not get a better chance. Continue! Get translating, husband!" Perspicacity nibbled his mane playfully, which perked him up quite a bit.
Yawning, Wildfire returned to the task.
And there in myn thankes and desire to please myn princesse
"In my gratitude and desire to please my new princess, I have managed to acquire a tome in which to write, and a pen and two colors of ink, which I bought using the coins which were presented me for my use by her. Of the fairy language I still understand little, but it was sufficient to make purchase of a fine journal, bound in curious leather, with pages as sweet and fine as could be found in the best of bibles.
The seller of this book within which you now read my words, was a creature strange and not of my new horse society; doglike it stood, collared and eager for jewels and trinkets always, its crude demeanor and rough ways made me to laugh and feel strange kinship, for it reminded me of men I had once known. Though my new horse kin are nothing but good and kindly, and though I have learned to walk and eat as they do, and also to think much as they, still I feel apart in some ways, and the dog-creature made me strangely homesick for my unpleasant previous life.
The dog was furtive in his manner, and this pleased me, for I felt as if I were gaining a great bargain at his expense. The seller seemed over-eager to relieve himself of the empty tome, as if it were perhaps stolen or gained through devious means, and this too delighted me, for I knew I could give the book a good home, and free the dog-creature that had so delighted me of further concern with the same purchase.
With my new book and inks and pen stored in saddlebags which I now wear, such as those any horse might carry, I left the strange marketplace to rejoin my princess and the small herd of horses which were to be, somehow, my new family. Of the marketplace I must make additional mention; it had within it horses of my kind, but also the dog-folk too, and griffons such as adorn the coats of arms of many a kingdom, and more than this, one day I did see a dragon, flying over as if on the hunt.
I was sore afraid, but was calmed by a horse-kin who tried, in the horse tongue which I am yet learning, to indicate to me that there was a truce of some kind that all within the market were obliged to follow, and that thus I should not fear even should many strange creatures appear or fly overhead.
Still, I must say that the sight of the great wyrm held my heart in icy grip, and I do pray to my princess that I not see such a one again. In my heart I did fear that the great creature was in truth after me, because of the nature of the tome I had sought fit to make purchase of, made as it was, in the account of the clothed dog, from the youth of its kin.
At night I take forth my new book and write in it, that which you have just read. But all that has come thus far is not the matter of true importance, for I must tell you not only of my great and terrible error, but also of that which Celestia herself has..."
That Celestea herself hath
"Go on! 'Celestia herself has...' what?"
"That's it, Pers. That's all for this page. We've read both sides." Wildfire yawned again, and let his head rest between his forelegs for a bit. "I'd say we've learned quite a bit more - Willy-colt really did become a colt. Think of it Pers - Willelmus here was the very first ponified human. He was ponified eight hundred years before the Conversion Bureaus even existed! Of course, his ponification was kind of... different. Celestia custom-created his body, I guess, and stuck his mind into it. Willelmus was the very first newfoal."
Wildfire raised his head in excitement. "Pers! That's transhumanism! That's basically uploading of consciousness and downloading it into a new body, that's... wow. Transhumanism in the ancient-eth century. Holy... wow. Just wow."
"What's... trans-human-thing, and why is it such a big deal? Is it important to this?" Perspicacity was positively perplexed.
"It's, well..." Wildfire suddenly realized where he was and what he was and regained a sense of perspective. "It's... not important. Sorry. Stupid human stuff from long ago. It was... an attempt by humans to do the same thing as magic, basically. It never happened though. It was too difficult to actually do."
"Oh. Alright then." Perspicacity began clearing the bed with her magic, making room for them to sleep. "I... I got so wrapped up in this that... I forgot entirely about... today." The terrible events of the day were coming back to her, now that the thrill of a new manuscript page was over. Wildfire noticed that her magic was not well controlled, and that emotion and exhaustion were affecting her on multiple levels.
"Wildfire? I'm... I'm not doing so well now." Perspicacity was starting to lose her emotional armor. She'd been very brave and tough ever since the discovery of her aunt, and the distraction of translating the page had also kept her balanced. But now it was sinking in. The cliff, Ralph, her aunt, and now she was crying, really crying, and Wildfire held her close on the bed. For a long time great wracking cries came from Perspicacity, and it was all Wildfire could do to keep hold of her in the throws of her anguish. She had been strong for far too long, and that strength had finally failed.
Seeing his beloved in such a state began to break Wildfire in turn; for a while they both cried together, and then they sobbed, and then at last, they fell asleep.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
11. The Compass Of Flesh The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
They did not wake until late in the day, well past noon. A knock on the door frightened them, but it was the maid, come to change the towels and make the room. They asked her to come back in an hour, for they needed time to gather their things and prepare to leave.
"I figure we can catch the 4:00, if we go now, and eat on the train." Wildfire laid out a few bits for the maid on the pillow; tipping was always a good idea. "We should be in Canterlot by the day after tomorrow."
"Marketplace. Dog-creatures..." Perspicacity seemed lost in thought, half-laying on the bed. "Early Equestrian history. Mrs. Ephemeris always told me I'd need that stuff someday. I wish I'd believed her then. Marketplace.... Marketplace..."
"Pers? Come on, I think we're all packed up, but I need your help to levitate the Luggage out the door. It's kind of big, and, well, while I could buck the thing through there, It would be better for everypony if we had a unicorn's magic here." Wildfire came over to his wife and gave her a kiss on the nose. She started, as if in a dream.
"Wild! Excellent. We need to pack... Oh.." Perspicacity saw the Luggage nicely closed and ready for travel. "Don't just wait there, Wildfire, we need to get the luggage out the door!"
Wildfire shook his head slightly as his wife's horn glowed. The great steamer trunk rotated and slid through the opened door, then righted itself on its wheels on the other side. Wildfire trotted on out of the room and began to harness himself to the over-sized traveling kit.
Perspicacity hopped onto the Luggage, and lay down on it, once again the queen of steamer-trunks. "To the train station, Wildfire, we need to buy tickets to the Southern Border, somewhere near the Diamond Expanse. There's a town there. Tiny town. But once... once.... I'll remember once I see the train route."
This was all news to Wildfire. "Perspicacity! Now hold on a minute! I thought our plan was to high-tail it straight to the princesses and tell them all about the existence of the HLF here in Equestria, and to beg their protection! That's the plan, remember the plan? I do, it was a good plan!"
"Train station, now." Wildfire began plodding without even thinking. Perspicacity had him well trained, for a stallion. And after only ten years, too.
"Pers, I'm serious here. We need to tell the princesses, that's our first priority, our duty to the crown, right? That's what you said!" Wildfire had a strange feeling looking back over his flank at his wife, perched up on the huge Luggage. There was something familiar...
"Wildfire - that page last night gave us the clue we needed. Willelmus talked about having gone to a marketplace, some time after he was remade by Celestia as a pony. There he bought the original blank manuscript from a dog-creature. That could only be a Diamond Dog. You haven't seen one, but they're a bipedal race, for the most part, and they're... well they're a little like Ralph, actually. They covet gemstones, they're greedy, and they don't exactly understand right from wrong. They're also not from Equestria originally. Come to think of it, they ARE Ralph." Perspicacity laughed at her jest.
"What do you mean they're not from Equestria?" This was new. Wildfire didn't know what to make of this.
"Earth hasn't been the only world that has briefly touched Equestria, dear." Perspicacity really did seem like she was feeling superior up on the Luggage like that. "Occasionally other worlds have grazed us, and sometimes we've gotten immigrants who managed to survive. How do you think Celestia even knew to look for your Earth? It's big out there, or so my old magic teacher used to say."
It made sense. It was kind of weird to think that Earth and its universe would have been the only alien cosmos that Equestria ever bumped into. There were probably as many universes as there were stars, maybe more. Wildfire shuddered at the vastness of it all. Poor old Stephen would have loved learning all of this, Wildfire thought, if he hadn't died trying to fight Equestria.
"Pers, what does any of this have to do with..."
"Wild! It's all in that page, from last night! Willelmus must have bought his manuscript from Diamond Dogs. The first sign of the dogs ever existing happened about 900 years ago, during... what was it called... the Rainbow Nights. There was this period where the entire sky had rings in it, multicolored rings. It wasn't Celestia; it was the bruises made by other universes bumping into Equestria. Supposedly, Celestia had her hooves full dealing with it all." Perspicacity struggled to remember the ancient history. It hadn't mattered to her in her fillyhood. Now it was suddenly very important.
"That was when the Diamond Dogs first showed up. The story is that they came from somewhere else, some other world. But their world was normal, like Equestria, so they could live here. Not like Earth's universe. Zero-magic is just unheard of. It wasn't considered even possible. Nothing could live in a zero-magic universe, or so the unicorn mages thought. Life was magic." Perspicacity sighed. "At least, it normally is."
"Anyway, the Diamond Dogs caused a lot of trouble back then, because they weren't... polite. Their customs and notions of right and wrong are just, well, they're not Equestrian. They were known for being disreputable traders and even thieves. They did... the crime you spoke of. And back then, Celestia's guards had to act like your... Merc Police. Eventually the Diamond Dogs were more or less chased away. It's said they still live in little colonies out in desert lands."
Wildfire turned the corner to the main street, which led directly to the train station. They had to go there in any case, whatever their destination. "Fine Pers, Diamond Dogs, whatever. We still need to get to the princesses, remember?"
"There's another page out there! Or two! Maybe even three! It's right there, don't you see!?"
Wildfire stopped in the middle of the street. Perspicacity was almost hysterical. This was not merely new, it was scary. She'd always been obsessive, most times this was not a problem. Sometimes it was even good; her eye for detail and her obsessive nature made sure every telescope or pair of glasses or spyglass or any other thing she created was nothing less than a masterpiece.
And she was exacting in remembering dates and times and things that needed to get done. She was Wildfire's backup memory and day calender. He relied on her because he often couldn't keep track of his own tail, much less whose birthday it was or whether the appointment was at two o'clock or thirteen o'clock.
But this was new. There was a coldness now, a strange, eerie quality to her current obsession. It didn't feel entirely Equestrian to Wildfire. He began to worry about just how much damage her exposure to Ralph's mindset had caused. It wasn't so terrible for him; he had grown up around humans. But Perspicacity... she had no natural defenses born of years of having to deal with a place like Earth.
"Pers." Wildfire tried to be as calm as possible, as gentle as possible. "Don't you think our duty to the crown is more important than whether or not we hear the end of the story?"
"The end of the story IS our duty! We have to find those pages before anypony else does! It's the only way to save Celestia! It's the only way to save Equestria! Don't you understand?" Perspicacity was shouting now. Maybe the loss of her aunt had hurt her even more than Wildfire had imagined.
"Perspicacity.... No! I don't see!" Wildfire began to unbuckle himself from the harness that allowed him to pull the heavy luggage with his wife on top.
"DRAGON SKIN!" Perspicacity's shout made other ponies on the street turn to stare. She slammed her body low to the Luggage and gave out a slight whimper of embarrassment.
Wildfire came around the side of the luggage and rested his head on the top, close to where Perspicacity had laid hers, as if she were trying to melt into it and vanish. "Alright, what am I missing here?"
"Ralph mentioned it, when he talked about having looked at our manuscript, but I didn't believe him. But the new page confirms it. That manuscript is made out of dragon. The binding is dragon hide, with the scales scraped off. The pages are dragon vellum, they're made from unborn dragon, Wild, from dragon still in the egg." Perspicacity looked like she was telling him something beyond horrible.
"I don't understand. I'm sorry, but... I wasn't born in Equestria, and I don't know the stuff you know. What's the deal here?" Wildfire felt stupid, even though he honestly couldn't help not knowing any of what his wife was talking about.
Perspicacity was somehow shocked. "Wild... it's bad enough that the manuscript is made out of... skin. From a formerly living creature. But this manuscript is made out of the skin of a dragon. Dragons are intelligent, Wild, they are... sapient. They have a culture, and traditions and their own magic and arts and even their own government. They're like griffons, Wildfire. They're equals, they're... I don't know how else to explain this to you. They're no different than ponies, except that they have wings and claws." Perspicacity tried to explain the obvious, but... it was too obvious. How could her husband not get this?
"Wildfire; if it is horrible to... kill... an innocent creature just to get some skin to make a book, it's even more horrible to kill a sapient equal. That book might as well have been made of pony skin. Only this is worse, far worse." Perspicacity looked frightened.
"Why is it worse?" Wildfire was feeling a little lost. Hopefully this would all make sense soon.
"Equestria isn't just ponies, Wild. Other nations live here too. Celestia may control the day and Luna the night, they may be the ultimate power in our universe, but that doesn't mean that all creatures instinctively bow to the princesses. The dragon and griffon empires may know they can never lay a claw on the princesses, but they don't have to. She loves us, Wild, she loves her ponies, us, and through us the other nations have a say in the running of the universe." Perspicacity looked around; fortunately Wild had half-parked them near the side of the street.
"The other nations can make demands of living goddesses because they are a potential threat to... us. To the mortal creatures that Celestia and Luna care about. OK, I get that, but why is the manuscript being made out of dragon skin such a big deal? That was 800 years ago!" Surely that long ago was no big deal, Wildfire thought. How could it be? Who'd even remember?
"Wildfire. Dragons are ancient. They can live over a thousand years. It's actually been said that they may have existed during the time of Discord, and maybe even before. There are dragons alive, right now, that probably lost relatives to make the book in our luggage!" Perspicacity was speaking in a controlled whisper. This was not something to say out loud.
"The only thing between peaceful co-existence and all-out war with the other empires is a pact that was made centuries ago. About 800 years, actually, about the time of Willelmus. He lived during the time when the peace we enjoy now was forged. There are stories that griffons - and dragons too - once ate ponies. They are meat-eaters, at least griffons are, and dragons can be if they want. The peace is based on neither side harming the other, ever. And ponies are supposed to be the example for all of this!" Perspicacity was so close to Wild's muzzle now that he could feel the warmth from her nostrils.
"If it were found out that Celestia allowed a pony - even a newfoal pony - to keep a book made out of unborn dragon, and that she permitted this right at the time that the whole peace pact was being created... and there are dragons alive right now who probably watched as their brothers and sisters were carved up to make that same book... do I have to spell it out for you?" Perspicacity's eyes were very frightened.
"I... see." And finally, Wildfire did see. Ralph and his associates were after the manuscript. The whole manuscript. They already felt confident they could get the bulk of it. As far as they were concerned, Pers and he were just a convenient storage system that could be counted on to protect the manuscript for them. They'd just come and collect it whenever it was needed. That's why Ralph had spared them, and why he wanted them to go home. So then the manuscript would be in a convenient location for later retrieval.
All while the HLF went and collected the missing pages. Pages that already damned Celestia in the eyes of the dragon empire. Who knows what other dangers to the peace lay in the remaining pages? That would truly be revenge for the loss of Earth and Humanity - the total destruction of the peace that permitted ponies and dragons and griffons and who knew what else to live together.
The carnage would be unimaginable. World War Equestria. The princesses could never be hurt, they were deities. But their world, their ponies, their Equestria could be drowned in blood, and they would be all but helpless to stop it. doubtless they could kill any problematic being within their universe with nothing more than a thought. Probably they could fold the very mountains over and crush any recalcitrant civilization with but a whim.
But they wouldn't. They couldn't, because the result would be exactly the same: mass slaughter and the destruction of all they held dear.
And if they just took control of the minds of every creature, and erased their anger and their memories and their selves and remade them to fit some goal or plan of peace - how would that be different from just destroying everything and starting from scratch?
It suddenly hit Wildfire that being able to do anything didn't matter if what you had already made, and wanted to keep, was being held for ransom. For the princesses, it must be like playing a simulation game. Sure, they could just exit the current game and restart a new game, but everything they had spent a thousand years making would be forever lost.
On earth, Wild had lost a save for a sim game that he had played for almost a year. The file was unrecoverable. All of his custom buildings, all the lands, all the effort, his favorite sim families, all the modifications to the graphics... all were just... gone. He had actually cried. He had cried at that loss. It was a lot of stuff. That must be what it was like to be a deity, like Celestia.
Ralph and his associates had come up with a truly incredible, truly painful revenge. In a way, Wildfire was almost in a sort of sickened awe; the HLF had found a way to deeply hurt a god! Two gods. Two goddesses.
And they didn't care if the entirety of Equestria was destroyed. Indeed, that was likely the plan. To force Celestia and Luna to lose all of their thousand-year progress and have to start over. From scratch. Or as nearly as possible.
"We have to get those pages, before anypony - or especially dragon, or anything else - finds them first!" Wildfire finally understood completely.
"And..." Her voice was only a whisper as Wildfire harnessed himself up again. "...I have to hear the end of my story."
The main street was not overly crowded. The desert town had a strong tourist industry, but at this time in the afternoon, there was not much traffic. They made good time to the station house, and shortly had tickets for the far Southern Desert.
A look at the map that covered the inside wall of the station allowed Perspicacity to find her destination. At the very border between pony-Equestria and the lands that the dragon empire held, was a small town called Tacksworn. Tacksworn was the result of a very ancient pioneer exploration, to find the very edge of Equestria itself. Back then, the ponies had no idea that Equestria was a paraboloid cosmos curving in a higher space, Equestria set at the vertex, just above the focus. Now, the Exponential Lands extended the paraboloid perhaps to infinity.
It was at Tacksworn that the pioneers had stopped, their equipment wrecked, their teams exhausted, and thus a town was born. It was here that the Marketplace Of The Three Nations had once stood, the very same marketplace described by Willelmus in his manuscript, the market that was the very foundation of the current Equestrian Peace.
For it was there, eventually, that the great pact was signed, and the three nations of dragon, griffon and pony found common cause. The success of the market showed that the three species had more to gain from cooperation than from mastication: ponies might taste good, but the things they could make and build and do, and what they represented in terms of culture and long term survival, were far more important.
800 years later, Tacksworn was a small, insignificant community at the farthest reaches of pony-held Equestria. If there was any monument to what had once happened there, it would likely be some sand-buried plaque, covered by time, and forgotten by most. The original Marketplace did not even remain for long, but moved on as well. Tacksworn was a town forgotten by time, but once the most crucial spot in the history of the Peace Of Equestria.
If the remainder of the manuscript was anywhere, it was almost certainly at the place where the pages had originally been cut out; and considering their content, considering what they almost certainly must say, that place was Tacksworn.
Wildfire tried to imagine what Celestia would have been like, finding out that her prize pony's private journal, which she had asked him to write, had been written on dragon flesh. The little Willelmus-pony couldn't have understood. Yet there, for however long it had taken him to write his book, he was carrying an artifact that could destroy the peace of the world, and she would inevitably be blamed for it.
The damning pages would be removed, and quickly. But why were they not destroyed? Why was not the entire manuscript destroyed? That would have been simpler. Maybe Celestia hadn't found out, or maybe she had relied on somepony that had not carried out her wishes to the letter?
Whatever the case, the situation was politically delicate. The dragons would likely be very, very upset.
And on the way to the station, Perspicacity had said something else to Wildfire: Dragons never forget, and they never forgive.
The dragon-leather pointed them south, so south they went, following the lead the manuscript itself provided. South, to where it all began. South to the very place where Celestia passed through a tiny pinprick in reality and first entered the world of Men, and brought back the soul of one, and gave him a freshly minted body.
As they boarded the train, as they saw to their luggage and went to their seats, Perspicacity and Wildfire searched constantly for any sign of Ralph. It was ridiculous - he would have taken the earlier train, or even the train from the day before. But both of the Starshines were on edge, and it was on a train that they had first met Not-Pony Ralph.
Wildfire settled into his bench, his forelegs hanging over the end of the padding, his hindquarters once again pressed close to Perspicacity. She liked to sit by the window, and look out at the passing scenery. This was fine with Wildfire, because he still felt nervous, and from his position next to the aisle, he could scan both fore and aft of the car they sat in, just in case. Just in case of Ralph.
A freshly minted body. The thought intrigued him. Willelmus Learmount of Eslaforde was the very first ponified human. But he wasn't Converted. There was no nanotech involved, and his own DNA hadn't been rewritten. His mind had been somehow given... magic, Wildfire supposed, given... eternality, for lack of a better word, and taken back to Equestria as a disembodied thing.
Celestia had created a body from scratch, using her supreme powers. But even if she could create pony bodies with her power, Willelmus had indicated that he felt that her efforts had taken time and not been easy. Why? Maybe... maybe there was a fundamental incompatibility between her capture of a human mind and the pony brain. This was before the human genome had been completely mapped and understood. She might have had to do a best-fit to make things work.
Maybe Willelmus had been a little like the HLF ponies, a little more human than he should have been. Maybe that is why he wasn't immediately repelled by the very scent of a book made of dead flesh. That was quite a thought. Maybe Willelmus was a bit human and a bit pony. Not quite right. It was Celestia's first attempt, after all.
A deity can do anything, but she can't know everything. That was what Pers had said the unicorns debated in their hallowed halls of magic. They had both seen it to be true; Ralph and his associates were loose and undiscovered.
"What are you doing, love?" Wildfire had just noticed that Perspicacity was busy with several sheets of paper and a quill pen. They were caught in her magic, and hovered in front of her. The quill scratched rapidly on the paper.
"I'm... giving us a little insurance." Perspicacity paused while she considered the spelling of a word. "I'm writing a letter to the princess, Celestia, specifically. This is her problem, Luna wasn't even around at the time. Don't want to cause trouble between the two by accident or anything." The quill scribbled for a bit then paused again.
"I'm telling Celestia about what we found out, about the HLF being in Equestria, and I'm alluding to the Big Issue at stake. I'm sure she'll know what 'Eslaforde Manuscript' means, and those words probably won't mean anything to anypony beyond her. Or the HLF, I suppose, if the letter is intercepted. I hadn't thought about that possibility. Humph."
Wildfire rubbed his tail across Perspicacity's rump. In the moment, he could not help but to reflect on how fun and nice that was. Having a tail was wonderful. He could caress his wife with his tail. Wildfire loved moments of realization like that, but had a mixed feeling about them overall. On one hoof, feeling joy and awe at simple things was great fun. On the other hoof, the only reason he could feel that way was because he had experienced another life, a non-Equestrian life, to compare things to. His moments of joy also underscored his difference.
But that was alright now. The experience on the cliff, and Perspicacity's words to him had answered once and forever any questions that remained about his identity and existence. He had even promised Pers that he would never doubt himself again. Maybe he had memories of the human world to compare to, but that was fine. It didn't make him any less Equestrian for it. Instead, his moments of simple joy should just be that; simple joy. It was a nice compensation for his lost pony years before Conversion. His recompense was the ability to really, really appreciate things other ponies took for granted, like having a tail.
"Pers, is there any way to make sure that Celestia alone sees that letter, to prevent it from being taken by some HLF Frontsman in her court, disguised as a pony?"
Perspicacity thought for a moment. "I have it!" She began scribbling on the front of the envelope that would carry her letter. "Last Minute Orgy Changes, Celestia's Eyes Only!" Perspicacity laughed then grinned at her husband. "You would NOT believe some of the rumors you can hear at magic school in Canterlot. I don't know if they are true, but even if they are not, this is not something anypony would dare to open. The loss of a letter like this, were it real, would be noticed, and whoever took it would be found. Nopony would even think of messing with it, not even the HLF. It will go straight to Celestia without fail."
Wildfire was stunned, both at the idea of the princess... and of his wife's daring solution. "Do... you think the rumors... are true?" That would certainly be a revelation about Equestria!
"Why, do you think I should include a request for an invitation?" Perspicacity looked at him with a detached, utterly serious air.
"G-guh.... wha?" Wild stammered.
Perspicacity's loud laughter at her husband's reaction filled the train car.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
12. The Fluffy-Feathered Family Flocking Fiasco The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
Tacksworn Population 8624, the sign said. A small desert town, it had a school, a small library, several diners, two inns, and a salt bar. There were the expected stores down the short main street, and homes whose siding was worn by sun and the incessant dryness.
Just outside the town was a patch of farming land. The lone pegasus in charge of local weather for the town was old but he did his best to gather enough cloud to keep the crops from withering away. He used to have a younger helper, but the youthful pegasus couldn't wait to head off to Cloudsdale - small town life just rubbed his feathers the wrong way.
For all of that, Perspicacity and Wildfire found themselves in a surprisingly diverse community, quite unlike anyplace they had been before. As they waited for the baggage ramp to be put in place, they noticed griffons and ponies walking by, chatting with each other. There were a pair of dragons of moderate size carrying their shopping in bags tied to their tails, which they held high. The town was mostly ponies, but the scattered griffons and at least two adult dragons made Tacksworn seem the most exotic place either of the Starshines had ever been.
This was both Starshines' first look at griffons and dragons, and so they could not help but stare. Not once had either species ever visited the two Fetlocks, Greater or Lesser, and they found these new sapient beings mesmerizing simply to look at. At some point they realized they were probably being rude. It wasn't their intent, it was just that they had been caught up in innocent fascination.
"I take it that you've never been to the border before?" The voice was a little raspy, doubtless due to the desert air. Pers and Wild couldn't take their eyes off the tails of the two dragons as they walked around a corner and down a street far to their right.
"No. This is our first time this far from Central Equestria." Wildfire answered without turning. He felt like he had to see the last bit of the dragons going down the street. "Pers, I never imagined that dragons would, well, go shopping. And the griffons - they're beautiful! Those feathers just shine in the sun, and the way they walk is just... I don't know, jaunty, like 'Hey, I'm a griffon, and I know I'm cool, and you know I'm cool, so, like let's not have any pretense about it', you know?"
"Griffons are cool. In fact, they're awesome. They go shopping, too. Did I mention they were awesome?"
"Really?" Wildfire turned around, finally, the dragons having vanished from view entirely. The raspy-sounding pony that had addressed them was...
A surprisingly large, quite heavy griffon with shining, coppery plumage and an astonishingly sharp-looking beak. A loudly laughing griffon, now, holding his side with his talons. "Oh, droppings, the looks on your faces!" The chimeric creature finally finished laughing and held out a claw. "They call me Piotre. Sorry, but seeing you two gawking like you'd never been out of the stable was just too rich. Welcome to Tacksworn, the Jewel of the South Desert!"
Wildfire stuck out a hoof, which Piotre gave a firm shake. "I'm Wildfire. Wildfire Starshine, and this is my wife, Perspicacity."
"The Jewel of the Desert? Really?" There was some doubt on Perspicacity's muzzle. The buildings were a little old and worn, and the streets were nothing but sand. It didn't seem very fancy at first glance.
"No, not one bit. Any jewels here would have been taken by the D-Dogs, long, long ago." Piotre held Perspicacity's hoof more gently in greeting. "But... it's still a pretty cool place to live. We have some interesting stuff go on, from time to time, can't help it with three cultures all having holidays and throwing fairs and generally being weird. And I'm just talking about the ponies!" The griffon laughed again.
The great steamer trunk was ready to be unloaded now, the ramp being in place. Piotre offered to help guide the Luggage down the surprisingly steep ramp, together he and Wildfire got it's wheels finally onto the sand. Where they promptly became stuck.
"Oh... horsefeathers." Wildfire hadn't even considered this possibility. So far they had only been to places that had pavement, cobblestones, packed earth, or the hard, dry desert clay such as back in Salt Lick. This was Wildfire's first experience of soft, shifting, desert sand. This was not a surface built for tiny wheels.
"Hey, Wildfire - if I can give you a piece of advice; you might want to lose the wheels. They're too small for sand. You'd do better just dragging that thing flat. It'll scuff it up pretty bad, but at least it'll move." Piotre scratched the feathers of his neck with his talons. "If ya want, I can help you tilt this thing up, so we can deal with the wheels."
"Actually, I may have a better solution, if I'm strong enough." Perspicacity's horn began to glow as she wrapped the heavy luggage in her telekinetic grip. The huge steamer trunk began to wobble then lift from the sand. It rose, slowly, until it was five or six hooves from the surface. It was clear that the silvery unicorn was struggling; the weight was an issue but even more was the bulkiness of the luggage. It was difficult for her limited abilities to keep every part of the trunk balanced and contained within her field.
One end of the luggage dipped and dug into the sand. Perspicacity pushed harder, her horn glowing even more brightly, as the end rose once more. For a few seconds the entire mass hovered smoothly in the air, but then it began to wobble and the other side dropped to meet the ground. "Swirls! I managed that cabinet right up the stairs at home!" The cabinet had been heavier, and so had the bookshelf, but both had been smaller in overall contour, and easier for her magic to encompass.
Finally Perspicacity, sweating from the effort - and the desert heat - was forced to let the luggage rest again on the desert sands. Her horn dimmed, and the unicorn panted from the strain. She wished she had taken her magic teachers more seriously during Basic Levitation. She was always more interested in Multiple Object Concentration and Fine Control. She was a natural at those, but when it came to heavy, large or bulky objects, Perspicacity had always just blown such matters off. She'd get somepony else to lift the bulky or wide stuff. She'd handle the little things, perfectly, of course.
She hadn't considered that she might marry an earth pony, and be the only unicorn in the family.
"I'm... sorry. I... I thought I could do it." Perspicacity looked down, embarrassed at her lack of telekinetic control.
"Hey, no sweat - I can't lift things with my mind at all!" The plump coppery griffon gave Perspicacity a wink. "Let's see what we can do, what'ya say there, stud?" Wildfire nodded, and together they worked to lift the luggage onto its side, so that the wheels could be unlocked, and slid back into the trunk within the little wheel wells built into it.
One of the wheels refused to go back in. The reason was a plug of sand, but with a little help from Perspicacity's fine control, the sand was swept out and the wheel set into place. When this was done, the luggage was laid flat once more, and Wildfire reached for the harness with his mouth.
In short order the luggage was ready to be dragged across the sand, with Perspicacity helping by lightening the weight of the trunk, and Piotre pushing from behind. "Where you two heading, anyway?" the griffon wanted to know.
"Well," Wildfire scanned the small town. "Can you recommend a decent inn? We need a place to stay for a couple of days, maybe a week."
"We have two inns in the town - one's the 'Starlight Starbright', it's kind of... unique. Built out of wooden wagons - they're kind of like caves on wheels, really - it used to be run by this young pegasus named Rogan, he left town though, kept going on about being the Last Skyflyer or something like that. His mom runs it now." The griffon fluffed his tail feathers and looked towards the other side of the town.
"The other inn is the Sunshine Hotel. It's old but comfortable enough. It used to have ten rooms, but somehow it lost one. Don't ask me how, The desert is a strange place. Just up and left, I guess." Piotre sniffed, thinking. "Or... you could come home with me. We have a double-roost just over there, on that low hill. We only use the one house, the other ended up empty. We rent it out during the dragon and the griffon fairs. The griffon fair is better, but I'm biased. The ponies don't have a fair, they do a rodeo. It's actually a pretty big deal. Not as cool as the griffon fair though."
"How... how much would you charge for..." Perspicacity began.
"Fifteen bits a night, and I'll get Lowess to make dinner for you tonight. She's a good cook, and knows a lot of pony recipes. Recipes FOR ponies. You know what I mean." Piotre grinned a wide, beaky smile.
Fifteen bits a night was less than half what any inn could be expected to cost in a small town, and a fourth of what they had paid in Salt Lick City. "We'd be honored, Mr... um... Piotre. Thank you." Perspicacity nodded to her husband, and together, the three of them pushed, pulled and levitated the heavy luggage to the hill that overlooked the town.
The hill was not large, though beyond it astonishingly tall and stony mountains rose precipitously above the town of Tacksworn.
The griffon's home was one of two on the same lot, both made of stones, with tiled roofs and a low, circular wall of stone surrounding the buildings. In short order, Wildfire and Perspicacity had been welcomed by Piotre's wife Lowess, and made comfortable. The seats in the home were round, stuffed leather constructions that roughly resembled nests, they were actually pretty comfortable, considering that they were not designed for equinoid bodies.
Lowess immediately set about making dinner. It was traditional in griffon homes for the female to provide the food, not unlike those old, extinct giant cats called 'lions', Wildfire thought, remembering old holoprograms from his childhood. While she was busy, Piotre kept the Starshines company, and talk ranged from his job at the rail station dealing with shipping and cargo management, to the surprise that Wildfire felt seeing the two dragons.
According to Piotre, the mountains surrounding the town were where the dragons made their homes. Dragons mostly kept to themselves, and all were very old. Being relatively solitary creatures there were no dragon families, as such, except for the short time that they mated and raised young - which had not happened in hundreds of years as far as any griffon could remember.
By this time, dinner was on the table, which was a low, circular affair, made of stone, set within a chamber whose floor was made of smooth, fine sand. The griffons called it the 'bone room', a somewhat ominous name that Piotre was quick to explain was part of traditional griffon culture, and should not be taken literally, at least anymore.
"Oh, wait - there is one family; 'ol Sharptooth has a son now." Piotre munched on one of a pile of freshly roasted rabbits. For the benefit of the Starshines, his wife had made a very nice hay and cactus casserole. She had said it was simple to make, and a favorite when they had pony friends over for dinner. In a mixed community such as Tacksworn, learning to cook the meals of other species was only natural.
"That's right!" Lowess bit with her beak into her own rabbit and chewed thoughtfully. Apparently, griffons had both beaks and teeth, a reminder of their curious, chimeric biology. "Nice little dragon. A little moody sometimes, or so Stew tells me, but nice enough. You can hear the little hatchling yelling when he flies with his dad, sometimes. Real screamer, or at least he used to be."
The griffons had three children, a hen and two cocks; Megaceryle, Keris and 'Stewmeat'. Stew was the youngest cock, but also the brightest. Perspicacity did not inquire as to the origin of the nickname.
"He's alright. For a dragon." Stewmeat volunteered.
Perspicacity and Wildfire had never tasted cactus before, and were surprised at the flavor. It was very mild, almost sweet, and reminded them of squash mixed with bellpepper somehow. Piotre's wife really was a good multispecies cook.
"He gutted the school bully!" Keris, the older fledgling cock, blurted in excitement. "Sliced him open like a rabbit, guts everywhere, spattering on the.."
"Keris! We have pony guests tonight!" Lowess rapped her sharp talons on the stone table and glared at her less intellectual fledgling.
"Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Starshine. Sorry Mom." Keris went back to munching on his rabbit.
The last member of the griffon family was the most interesting to both Perspicacity and Wildfire. He was a diamond dog, the very sort of creature mentioned by Willelmus in his manuscript. He had been 'adopted' after a fashion, by Piotre, having fallen on hard times. Apparently Piotre was a kind sort of griffon, as Baryon was without doubt the runt of his litter; small, even delicate for a diamond dog, and extremely cultured and well behaved.
Baryon was not as Perspicacity had been led to believe - he did not seem greedy nor vicious, and he did not seem to have a broken moral compass.
"Please, please, can Baryon have another rabbit, yes, we would like this yes?" The little diamond dog wore a leather vest and a collar with a single gemstone in it. He held his plate up and grinned a large canid grin.
"Of course, Baryon, here - none goes hungry at a griffon table, you know that!" Lowess lifted a roasted rabbit from the rapidly diminishing pile and placed it with her claw on the diamond dog's platter.
"Oh, we are thanking you so much, so much for the delicious dinner, Lowess! And grateful we are, yes grateful!" Baryon smiled again and began tucking in to the meat happily, his little tail wagging.
"So, Wildfire, what brings you to our odd little community? Business or do you have a relative here? It's usually one or the other." Piotre was munching on a leg; Wildfire found himself repelled at the sight, which surprised him somewhat. When he had lived on Earth, while real animal flesh was reserved only for the mega-wealthy elite, nanofab replications of things such as chicken and beef were common, if expensive, treats for the working class. As a human, Wildfire had been one of the 2% with a job, and he used to save up to be able to purchase a nanofab turkey leg for Christmas, complete with carbon-fiber simulated bone.
Now, the idea of eating meat was revolting to him, and here he was, at the table with an entire family of carnivores. This was clearly another 'special' moment for Wildfire, only one not so much filled with wonder as disgust.
Only one member of the griffon family was not eating meat, and that was the young hen, Megaceryle. She wore glasses, which was of itself interesting - Wildfire didn't know that any other species used such instruments of vision, but then, he thought, why wouldn't they? - and he had just assumed that all griffons must be carnivores. Apparently they could eat plants, too. Today had been very educational for Wildfire.
"Well..." Wildfire paused. What should he say? He obviously couldn't just blurt out the truth; there was no way to know who might be a part of the incredible scheme to politically destroy Equestria. For all they knew, there might be other factions involved than just the HLF remnants. What if the griffons or the dragons themselves wanted things to fall apart? The possibilities dizzied Wild's imagination.
"We came here to try to find material for the book I'm writing!" Perspicacity broke in suddenly, with confidence in her voice. Wildfire stared at her in surprise, and admiration for her cleverness. "I want to do a book about the Pact, the Peace Of Equestria. This is where it all started, or so my research tells me, and we're here to see if we can find out for ourselves anything about the real history that led to the happy world we live in today."
Wildfire nodded at Perspicacity - she truly lived up to her name. "That's right," Wildfire joined in. "We think - well, my wife thinks - that there may be things of.... some interest.... that have not been... found out... about... uh..."
"About the original signers, and about the times in which they lived." Perspicacity gave Wildfire a quick look, the meaning of which was clearly 'let me handle this'. Wildfire suddenly found total fascination in his plate. Ooh, yum yum, look at that cactus bite, yum.
"You see," Perspicacity now had the griffon's full attention. "It is my thought that the Marketplace that once existed here was integral to the peace process. Well, that's kind of common thinking, I admit, but here's my angle..." Perspicacity thought fast - what would let her get the sort of information she actually wanted? Ah! "... instead of the big, famous personalities we all hear about, what about all the little ponies... um, and griffons and... dragons and... diamond dogs... that ran the Market? If the Marketplace was the key to the current peace, then..." Oh yes, this was perfect. They could use this story all over town. It was the perfect cover story. Perspicacity felt so very clever! "... surely the ordinary folk of that time must have been important too, because they made the Market! Nopony has told their story before. At least, not as well as I think I can!"
Whew. It was the fastest she had ever thought on her hooves. It was brilliant. They would buy that, anypony would.
The griffons looked at each other. They looked at Baryon. Baryon looked at the griffons. Suddenly they all burst out laughing. Baryon started to choke on his rabbit, and they had to help him.
"Looks like we have more silly treasure-hunters after the Learmount Manuscript, father!" Little Stewmeat said with a superior tone.
Lowess glared at her little hatchling. "Hush, Stew. Be nice. After all, they are guests."
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
13. The Magnificent Magimechanical Marvel The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
Perspicacity and Wildfire decided to explore the town of Tacksworn. They thought they might as well, though it seemed doubtful that they should find anything of worth relating to their quest.
Piotre the griffon had finally explained the laughter they had received last night. Apparently a group of ponies had come through town some six months previously and had made a big fuss about some ancient manuscript, written in an indecipherable language. They had offered a thousand bits for any pony, griffon or diamond dog who could find the missing pages to the great historical artifact. They had claimed to be from the Official Canterlot Royal Museum Of Pre-Post-Historicalous Studies, which sounded to Perspicacity like something that Ralph would have thought up.
She had gone to magic school in Canterlot as a filly, and there was no Royal Museum Of Pre-Post-Historicalous Studies, indeed the name was fairly preposterous. That said, the thrill of chasing after a purse of a thousand bits had brought more than a few ponies to Tacksworn over the last few months, until the fervor had finally died down. Over that time, nopony had found anything at all.
This was not surprising, now that they had seen the place. Perspicacity had been expecting something more like a town sitting next to ancient ruins, perhaps even some strange, ancient draconic temple filled with traps and wonders. But no, instead there was only shifting sand and a well worn town of wood and stone and colorful, but ultimately non-mysterious residents.
Any remnant of the eight-hundred year old marketplace of the three nations was likely either already dismantled for other uses, or buried and invisible under the soft desert sands. Treasure seekers had already knocked on every door and asked to search every attic for the missing pages, and the tiny library in town was probably the first stop before the door-to-door search had begun.
They had traveled all this way, to the very land where Willelmus Learmount had been given a soul and pulled through a cosmic pinhole to be remade into a pony, yet nothing could possibly have remained.
The terrifying thought that the missing pages might be sitting unexamined in some dragon's hoard, high in the mountains, had crossed their thoughts. Not only was the thought of asking to search through a draconic hoard itself insane, but if they had found the pages there, the very horror they were trying to stop would inevitably happen, and they would be the cause of it all.
Worse, what if the pages did exist in some dragon's hoard? One day they might yet be examined by the dragon that had hoarded them, and that day would mark the beginning of a nightmare beyond imagination. Perspicacity and Wildfire could only hope that wherever the missing pages were, if they still existed, they were not within the secret and guarded treasure room of some great wyrm.
They walked down the sand-covered streets of Tacksworn, looking at the unusual mix of houses and buildings. A pony house, not unlike something they would see in Greater Fetlock, would be next to a mound of earth with tunnels leading into it - the entrance to a typical, underground, diamond dog dwelling, and that might be next to a small stone tower, a griffon aerie. Sometimes, they would find ponies leaving such a tower, where they clearly lived, and griffons exiting a pony house. Only diamond dogs seemed to live in the earth mounds, though.
They had passed the school, with its large playground, and wandered down the main drag of Tacksworn, Crystite Street.
The day was hot, as expected for a desert, and the couple spotted an ice cream stand. Something cool sounded like a grand notion, moreover they also offered shaved ice, which Wildfire preferred.
The owners of the stand were a filly named Sherbet, a fairly common name, and her sister Lemony. "Hello! Welcome to Lemony Sherbet's, all the flavors that you can stand!" chirped a bright orange earth pony.
"Sherbet! Not like that!" hissed a bright yellow earth pony from the back. "It's 'all the flavors you could want'! Not 'stand'! That sounds... never mind! Just take their order!"
Wildfire pondered the long list of flavors of ice cream and shaved ice. There were certainly the usual favorites, like Strawberry, Vanilla, Orchard Grass and Daisies N' Cream, but the large selection also had... some unusual flavors, such as Conies N' Blood, Rocky Roadrunner and Chocolate Snake Slither. The latter were doubtless for the benefit of the griffons.
The rest of the flavors, though, were...
An incredibly loud roar boomed through the sky, terrifying both Starshines deep into their bones. They instinctively fell to the sand, as flat as possible, and tried to cover their heads with their hooves.
Giggling came from the ice cream stand. Looking up, between his hooves, Wildfire saw both sisters leaning over the counter and looking down at him with great mirth. Then they looked up and began making 'Oooh!' sounds, interspersed with the occasional 'Ahhh!'
Getting sheepishly to their hooves, Wildfire and Perspicacity glanced up to see a streak of tan and amber swoop down, wings flaring at the last moment, to land perfectly only a dozen hooves away. The light sparkled on the shining silvern armor and the rapidly-folding, gleaming brass wings. It was nothing less than a dragon, right there, in front of them! Deep in some instinctual place inside, both Starshines felt a wave of dread and awe.
The whirring brass gears continued to retract and fold the gossamer-membraned ornithopter wings until they clicked, snugly, into the magimechanical saddle-mounted mechanism belted to the tan coated creature's back. Next to the brass shoulder joint machinery for each artificed wing stood a short glass tube, capped at both ends with gold, inside of which rapidly spun a delicately curved construct of some dark metal. This appeared as a rod, with a small cone in the middle, and at each end small, curving hook-like shapes. The dark metal construction was not attached to either end, but floated free, spinning inside the glass tube, glowing as does the horn of a unicorn during telekinesis.
To their great surprise, the Starshines found themselves almost muzzle to muzzle with not a scaly, fire-breathing monstrosity, but a pony. The pony was young, a colt, with a tan coat and an amber mane and tail. Affixed to the tail were various pieces of some kind of silvery armor; a spiked, curving plate that protected the hindquarters, a razor-sharp ring midway around the tail, and something like a bolo, small chained weights, attached to the very end of the tail.
The pony's hooves were shod in bands that featured short, curving blades, and on his head he wore round goggles.
When the wings had neatly packed themselves into the boxy mechanism on the young earth pony's back, he lifted a hoof and pushed his goggles up. His amber mane was windblown and spiky. He made a brief attempt to get it to lay flat, but quickly gave up.
Wildfire and Perspicacity were sure they had seen a dragon, they had felt such a terrifying presence, yet here was a quite ordinary appearing colt, albeit one that seemed to be wearing strange jewelry and a most curious saddle-mounted device.
The colt jauntily stepped forward, and without even meaning to, Perspicacity found herself backing up. She stopped, wondering why she was doing it.
The colt was at the ice cream stand now, the two fillies inside clearly blushing at him. "Hi, Chip!" Lemony pushed her sister Sherbet out of the way. "Can I... help you... with anything?" Lemony gave the colt a rather provocative, half-lidded look. "...At all?"
Suddenly Lemony was yanked back as Sherbet popped to the forefront. "I saw you doing loop-dee-loops. That landing was pretty cool too! Who would you like to have?" Instantly she looked embarrassed. "I mean... What would you like to have? What flavor! And how do you want it? Your flavor, I mean." Sherbet looked like she had suddenly become critically sunburned. "Like, do you want it creamy, or shaved? The Ice cream. Or shaved ice! The ice cream... is creamy... and..."
Lemony popped back while presumably Sherbet died and sank into the sand in the back, never to show her crimson muzzle again. "Hey." The filly said. "Want some?" Suddenly she blushed too. "Ice cream. We have it." There was no place to hide, her sister was taking up the entire floor of the small stand. "We have ice cream here."
Perspicacity had once been that young, and inside herself, some part of her wanted to gallop away and never stop running. She felt like her coat was crawling. Surely, surely she had never been like that, and if she ever had been, she did not want to remember.
'Chip' was apparently unimpressed. If anything, he appeared a little annoyed. "Gimmie a Pyrite and Feldspar cone, with Sapphire sprinkles." The tan pony began to dig at a pouch lashed to the billet strap that helped support his curious rig. He tossed some bits on the counter.
Wildfire and Perspicacity stood off to the side trying not to appear as if they were looking intently at the young earth pony with the goggles.
"Those are Thaumatic Engines, see, the tubes on his back!" Perspicacity whispered to her husband. "But really old ones, like from a hundred years ago. Unicorns enchant the little rotors inside each tube, so that it magically turns things below the gold caps. That's what makes those wings work." Wildfire noted that Pers seemed fascinated by the mechanism, and to be honest, he was too. The fact of it was that the mechanical wing device was both beautiful and amazing.
The fillies were having some trouble getting the colt's order right. They apparently had to do it over again. 'Chip' walked away from the stand a few hooves distance and idly kicked a small rock while he waited. Perspicacity no longer felt the strange dread, and her curiosity was more than she could bear.
"Excuse me, young stallion?" Perspicacity had walked up to the intriguing colt. "I was wondering if those were original Bevelmiter's... in your... wings."
The tan colt looked up, surprised and delighted. "Yes! They are! You're like the first pony I've ever met who even knows about such things!" The colt tried to turn and show off the short tubes, while also looking at them himself. "Those are some of Bevelmiter's first prototypes. He made thirty to begin with, after his initial experiments with enchanting meteor metal. Those are tubes 27 and 22, right there, and they still work as well as the day he made them!"
"I'm Chip, by the way. Chiphoof Irontail Leatherback of the Diamond Expanse Clan!" The colt beamed at Perspicacity and also at Wildfire, who had joined his wife. "Oh, excuse me for a moment... I think my ice cream is finally ready." Chip went over to the stand, and made sure they got his order right this time.
Holding the cone in the usual, small wooden carrier, he returned to the Starshines and sat down on the sand, making quite a clanging rattle as his strange armor pieces settled with his body. Placing the cone holder down, he took a happy lick, then a bite of his unusual flavor combination.
Perspicacity was astonished to see that Chip's order was factual; those were real sapphire bits, and the little pony was chewing them with distressing crunching noises issuing from his muzzle.
"How... how do you...? You're eating... isn't that bad for you?" Perspicacity was unable to comprehend a pony eating real gemstones. She felt sure that the ice cream contained real pyrite and feldspar too. The grainy, speckled dessert could not have been anything else.
Chip looked a little sheepish at her words. "Well... I have been gaining a little weight lately. It's the hot summer days. I just need ice cream after I fly, you know? Summer's just not fun without some ice cream now and then."
Well, she couldn't argue with that. But still... "No, I mean, the gemstones. You're eating a lot of sapphire there." Surely the colt must understand that sharp bits of gem could hurt him terribly!
"I know, I know... I normally get ruby sprinkles, but sapphires just go better with ice cream. Rubies are too spicy for feldspar, feldspar's kind of delicate. But, you're right. Sapphires are more fattening. Gee, you're almost as bad as my dad!"
"I'm sorry, Chip. I didn't mean to be scolding." What more could she say, the world wasn't making sense right now. "I'm Perspicacity Starshine, and this is my husband, Wildfire." Chip nodded and took a big bite of his cone.
"I'm really fascinated by your wings. I've never seen anything like them before. They're really beautiful." Perspicacity nodded at the rig on the colt's back.
"Oh, yes! My dad designed them, and I helped build them. We did it together. They let me fly wherever I want. I used to fly without them, but I couldn't get any lift, so I pretty much could only fly down. These let me have the freedom to fly in every direction, even up. Especially up!" Once again the colt grinned, an endearing happy sort of smile.
Anypony that could design something like these astonishing magimechanical wings must be amazingly educated and knowledgeable. Wildfire and Perspicacity exchanged looks. If anypony in Tacksworn could possibly know anything useful about the manuscript, it might very well be this colt's father.
This was especially clear to Perspicacity. The work of the old unicorn mage Bevelmiter was known only in rarefied circles. It wasn't the sort of thing the average pony, even a unicorn, would be terribly interested in. Perspicacity had an interest because of her love of fine telekinetic control - the same skills that she used to make a precision telescope or microscope would have been the same skills old Bevelmiter would have used to make his tiny thaumatic engines. Glass shaping, fine metalworking and engraviture, as well as mathematically precise curvatures.
Of course, Perspicacity had no talent at enchantment, but that was another discipline altogether. What she had marveled at was the beautiful craftponyship of such devices. The gears and mechanism of the wings also fascinated her.
"I make telescopes, microscopes and pretty much anything involving lenses, Chip. I appreciate fine and detailed work, precision work, because that's what I do for a living. Your wings are probably the most beautiful work I've ever seen in my life." Perspicacity smiled at the colt. "I like your goggles, too. Hey, is there any way we could meet your dad? I'd love to talk with him about how he built your wings, and maybe ask him a few things about the history of the town, too. He sounds really smart."
"My dad IS really smart. He's smarter than any pony, griffon, diamond dog or even dragon I have ever met." Chip was very proud now. "I'm sure he could answer everything you wanted to know, about pretty much anything. But he kind of likes his privacy, I mean, that should be kind of obvious, you know? It's just how we are."
No, it wasn't obvious, but that didn't matter. They really didn't have anywhere else left to turn. "Listen, Chip, My husband and I are on a quest. It's kind of important, actually. We need the help of somepony really smart, and really knowledgeable about history and this town especially. We wouldn't waste your father's time, what we need to know might even matter to the future of Equestria itself." Perspicacity didn't want to say too much, but she also didn't want to lose the colt, either. "It's kind of a secret thing. I figure that anypony that could make your wings just might be the one pony that could truly help us. It might be our only hope, in fact. We've hit a kind of dead end." Perspicacity put on her best sad face. "Please, please Chip, would you let us talk to your dad. Please?"
Chip carefully ate the last of his pyrite and feldspar cone. "Alright!" He smiled again. "Any pony that knows about Bevelmeiter is kind of unusual. Dad likes unusual. Mostly." Chip took his cone holder back to the stand. Perspicacity heard more giggling behind the counter.
"Come on, I'll show you the path up." Wildfire and Perspicacity followed the strange colt. "See that mountain there?" Chip pointed a hoof at a particularly tall and jagged peak. "That's my home. The path spirals up from right over there." Chip pointed lower down, near the base of the huge tooth of rock. "It leads straight to the front door. I'm afraid you'll have to walk, I can't carry passengers. Sorry. At least not two adult ponies."
The couple looked at the intimidating climb. Chip stepped aside, put his goggles back in place, and began to unfold his magnificent mechanical wings. Tiny gears whirred and clicked as the struts spread and locked into place. A strange, gossamer material connected the bat-like radius and metacarpals together, creating the wings flexible surface. The thaumatic engines spun faster and faster as the wings began to flap. "I'll tell my dad you're coming, alright? Nice meeting you!"
The mechanically winged pony leapt into the sky, rising upward towards the jagged peak where apparently, he lived.
"Nice to meet... you!" Perspicacity waved as the flying earth pony shrank in the sky. "Well, I'll be! Amazing. Just amazing."
"I take it that artificial wings aren't commonplace, even for unicorns?" Wildfire had certainly never heard his wife mention such things before, even in her descriptions of her magic school days in Canterlot.
"No, Wildfire. As far as I know, those wings are unique. I mean there has been speculation, and they do use thaumatic engines on airships, but... an earth pony with personal magimechanical wings? That's very clever, and very special, I think."
Wildfire began trotting toward the mountain. "He seemed friendly enough. Although his choice in ice cream is a little... different."
"Actually, I'm amazed he isn't in the hospital. You just can't eat gem fragments, Wildfire. They're sharp, like glass, and they would tear your stomach to shreds. That colt should be dead, if he eats things like that. I just don't get it." Perspicacity shook her head, her curly teal mane sweeping over her back. "This is the oddest place I have ever been, or even imagined, Wild. I don't know what to make of anything anymore."
"Well," Wildfire nodded at the mailbox at the base of the mountain. It said 'LEATHERBACK, D.E.C.' in big letters, but painted underneath, somewhat crudely was 'CHIP'. "This must be the place." The path, carved into the almost vertical spire went off to the right, around the huge spike of rock. Much further along, it could be seen spiraling up higher and higher.
"I hope this turns up something." Perspicacity grumbled. "It's a long, long walk. Maybe his dad is a pegasus. Actually that makes entirely too much sense. What other pony would choose to live all the way up there? It just isn't convenient, without wings."
The pair trudged up the sharp spire of rock for several turns. It was a very tiring climb.
"You know, there is something I really like about this town, Pers." Wildfire was starting to breath hard, the climb was very steep.
"Oh... what?" Perspicacity was starting to feel it too; the heat didn't help, and she suddenly realized that they had been so mesmerized with meeting Chip that they had not actually gotten any refreshing treats at the stand.
"I like how everpony... every creature... in this town... gets... along so well." Wildfire stopped, his barrel heaving. "I hope we can... find... those pages... to keep it that way..." The sweat was beginning to drip off of Wildfire's muzzle. Hey... Pers. I need a little breather, just for a moment, alright?"
"I was just... about to... ask you to wait, myself." Perspicacity looked down at the town. They still had a long way to go. The two rested, until they were breathing a little more normally. "Hey, at least we aren't dragging the luggage, right?"
"You mean, I'm not dragging the luggage." Wildfire grinned at her between gasps. "With you on it, of course!"
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
14. The Frightening Velocity Of History The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
It was late afternoon by the time that Perspicacity and Wildfire finally made it to the top of the rugged spire. Wildfire couldn't help but marvel at how different the physics were in Equestria from those of long-gone Earth. The mountains of this cosmos could be astonishingly steep, mocking the very concept of an angle of repose. It was as if the inverse-square law simply did not apply to the universe of Equestria.
They had entered through a large cave with a lip of stone just perfect, no doubt, for the young stallion to take off from or land upon with his marvelous wings. A dozen hooves distance or so into the mouth of the cave, they found some excellent construction work walling off the entrance to create the front of an inset house, built into the mountain itself. A huge door, big enough for half a dozen ponies to pass through side by side was set into the house wall. Large and sturdy beams braced the front wall, and carved into the great beams were curious images and symbols as decoration.
Windows too interrupted the great entrance-spanning division of the cave's wide mouth; bright, friendly windows with diamond-shaped panels of glass and pleasant woodwork. Inside, a warm, golden glow emanated from some comfortable fireplace; the desert nights could be as cold as the days were hot.
When they had rung the beautiful bell which was hung surprisingly high on the frame of the massive door, they were greeted by Chip, who welcomed them in.
Chip ushered them into the large, curious dwelling. The walls were partly natural stone, and partly carpentered woodwork. The floor began as stone but quickly became pleasant polished planks of wood, covered with scattered rugs. Some of the rugs, the two ponies noted with not a little surprise, were made of fur. Curiously oversized furniture was scattered about, near the fireplace. Some of the couches, chairs and divans looked large enough that an adult pony would think themselves tiny within them.
Beyond a very tall and wide archway came the smell of something cooking. The scent was very strange and almost seemed more like mad chemistry than food; but Chip had assured them that it was just his dad in the kitchen making dinner for the two of them. The Starshine's trip up the mountain had taken longer than Chip had imagined. He apologized for that. He hadn't actually walked the path in years and had simply forgotten how long and difficult the curving road truly was.
The young colt yelled to his father that the couple that wanted to talk with him were here. Chip's father responded in a deep and mellifluous voice and apologized for not coming out right away. He was in a critical juncture in his cooking, and he could not leave because the spices he was using might cause a bit of a problem if he didn't watch the temperatures precisely. He assured the Starshines that he would be out to meet them properly as just soon as he safely could, and in the mean time, he could hear them perfectly well, if they would like to begin.
"Well, first," Wildfire tried to speak loudly so his voice would carry into the kitchen "I want to thank you very much, Mr. Leatherback, for the courtesy of letting us visit you!"
"it's quite alright, Mr. Starshine. Oh, and you don't need to shout, I have exceptional hearing. I assure you that I can hear everything in the living room quite well. Now, I understand you have questions about both my son's wings and the history of the town?" Wildfire thought that it sounded a little like Mr. Leatherback was speaking loudly himself, his voice quite filled the room.
"Um, yes, we do." Wildfire spoke in a normal tone, hoping the pony in the kitchen could hear him as well as he claimed. The rooms in this cave-house were huge. "My wife is particularly interested in the basil...mitten magic motors on the back..."
"Bevelmiter, dear. He was a unicorn from long ago that specialized in enchantments and mechanisms." Perspicacity softly corrected her husband. "I have to say," she said a bit more loudly "I found your son's wings to be an astonishingly beautiful creation. I understand you designed them?"
"Ahh... Bevelmiter. He was quite the character. He made more than engines, you know. He made the most amazing toys for the foals to play with. Not that any of that is remembered, sadly." The sound of flames roaring and something sizzling suddenly came from the kitchen, and a distinct flash of yellow and red light shone through the archway.
"Are you alright?" Visions of seared pony hair troubled Wildfire. That kitchen must have an amazing stove in it.
"Yes, why? Ah! The spices, I understand. Not to fear, Mr. Starshine, I've made this dish thousands of times before."
Goodness, thought Perspicacity, the elder Leatherback does have good ears; she was almost whispering to Wildfire about Bevelmiter.
The voice from the kitchen continued "My son is overly humble; he helped me with the design. He's quite the little genius, though you couldn't tell from his grades."
"DAAAaaaAAAD!" The younger Leatherback, Chip, stomped over to the mantle. He wasn't wearing his armor anymore. The winged backpack was set on the large table by the oversized furniture, presumably so that it could be examined.
Chip reared up as tall as he could and carefully took down a model from the mantle shelf with his teeth, and brought it over to where the Starshines were trying not to be engulfed in a couch apparently built for a family of ten.
Chip set the model down on the table and turned around. "This was the model that was the basis of the final design."
The model didn't suggest the backpack in every respect, but it was clear that the wings of the device had been based upon the tiny model. Perspicacity instantly recognized the diaphanous membranes webbing the long wing-struts.
"That's a pretty cool model, Chip." Wildfire was down off the couch and looking at it more closely as it sat on the table. He was trying to imagine hooves and mouth doing such fine, detailed work. He knew he couldn't even begin to build something like that. Maybe that was another difference between himself and native ponies; growing up as an earth pony had probably forced Chip to develop lifetime skills that Wildfire might never equal. The model could have been built by a unicorn, the way it looked.
The young stallion seemed very happy to have attention directed towards his work. "It took me ages to make it; and dad helped too. But I put the wing struts on, and I came up with the idea for the wing membrane!"
The voice from the kitchen sounded "And a very clever idea it was, too, Chip."
"Thanks Dad!" Chip smiled and carefully replaced the model on the mantle.
"So, what is it that you want to know about our little town down there?" Another burst of light and a strange coppery smell emanated from beyond the arch, in the kitchen.
"Well, Mr. Leatherback, honestly, we're trying to find the missing pages of the Eslaforde Manuscript," Wildfire stated.
"You might know it as the Learmount Manuscript, we've heard it called that by the family we're staying with." Perspicacity added. "But we're not after it for the reward. Actually, we're kind of... against the ponies offering the reward. They're not... nice ponies. In fact, they're pretty mean ponies and we believe they are up to no good."
Strange clinking and grinding sounds came from the kitchen before Chip's father responded. "What kind of trouble do you think those Royal Museum ponies are up to?"
"First off, they are NOT in the least bit royal representatives. That museum they claim to represent does not exist. This may shock you sir," Perspicacity almost bit at the air with her words, "but those ponies are actually the remaining members of a frighteningly dangerous group of rogue newfoals called the HLF, the Human Liberation Front! They look like ponies, Mr. Leatherback, but inside, their minds and hearts are still entirely human. They are capable of violence and lies, and in an encounter with one of their group, my husband was almost killed!"
More flashes of flame and fire illuminated the arch to the kitchen. "Actually, I was aware of their falsehood. I have... certain connections... with Canterlot. They were obvious creatures, with a dissembling air about them. Tell me, if you have met them, what do you think they are actually up to?" Mr. Leatherback seemed to be scooping something into a pan, for all the world it sounded like gravel. This was some dinner, Wildfire thought.
'Connections' with Canterlot. Of course a pony like Mr. Leatherback must have connections there! Perspicacity felt hope - they might have a trustworthy ally out here in the desert. It only made sense; Bevelmiter tubes were not something anypony would expect to even exist out at the very borders of Equestria. The only time Perspicacity had even seen one before was during a field trip to the real Museum in Canterlot. Mr. Leatherback must be quite connected indeed to even have such things.
And then there was the matter of the magimechanical wings themselves. Such wonders could not be the creation of some desert-dwelling kook. Mr. Leatherback must be very wealthy indeed to afford the components and to have the machining done. He would need to have had a very advanced Canterlot education to have been able to design such a device in the first place. Indeed, he would have to be of the very highest...
"Mr. Leatherback, may I ask you a personal question? You said you were connected to Canterlot. From the Bevelmiters and the wings' construction alone, I cannot imagine you have only a minor place in affairs there. Are you a recognized agent of the crown?" Perspicacity held her breath. It was too much to hope for.
Laughter rang out from the kitchen. "I suppose... you could say that." More laughter. His position must be very hush-hush to put it like that, Perspicacity thought. "I am the official Ambassador to the Draconic Empire, if that helps. I have the ear of the princesses." More pans banged for a bit "So, out with it, what is going on with those untoward ponies of which you speak?"
Wildfire and Perspicacity let out a huge sigh of relief. They looked at each other and smiled. This was just the greatest good fortune, at last. They would soon have the protection of the princesses, whatever happened.
"Mr. Leatherback, we believe that the remnants of the HLF are out to do nothing less than destroy the Peace Of Equestria, the original Pact, and drown our lands in bloodshed. My husband began translating the bulk of the Eslaforde Manuscript - it's been in my family for generations, you see - and he was able to do this because he is a newfoal himself. He knows humanese, and that is what the manuscript is written in." Perspicacity felt a weight lift from her back. Finally she was able to tell somepony else about all of this.
"It was written in Middle English, Mr. Leatherback!" Wildfire was excited; he felt proud of his accomplishment. "That's an old Earth language. I translated it and read pages of the manuscript to Pers, at night. It was our little fun. But then things turned out to be pretty startling, once we got into it - get this; it's the story of a human who met Princess Celestia eight hundred years ago! That's right, Eight hundred years! She traveled to Earth and got stuck. A human named Willelmus Learmount saved her life, and she took him back with her. He was the first newfoal in Equestria!"
"And that is not all, Mr. Leatherback." Perspicacity cut in, eager to share the burden she carried inside her. "Willelmus may have been an imperfect pony, much like the HLF ponies, and he may have had a human mind. At the very least he was completely ignorant and unaccustomed to Equestrian culture, because the manuscript is made of leather - can you imagine? He bought himself a blank book made out of flesh! But that is not the worst of it!"
Perspicacity took a breath before she continued. "Mr. Leatherback, what I am about to tell you is of the strictest confidence, because it is the very reason that the HLF might well succeed in bringing the peace of Equestria to an end. Please use the same obvious, rational detachment that it must have taken to make those wonderful wings for your son when you hear this, because it is most disturbing. The personal journal, the very manuscript itself carried by the newfoal protégé of Princess Celestia - which she herself asked him to acquire and write within - was made of nothing less than unborn dragon flesh, scooped straight out of a clutch of eggs, doubtless in some raid. You can only imagine what would happen if any actual dragon ever found out about..."
There was a new sound in the kitchen. At first it sounded like a siren, only low, so low that it was more felt than heard. It built in volume until Perspicacity and Wildfire felt it in their bones, a roaring, unimaginably horrific din that gradually could be perceived as language.
As the Starshines looked back towards the great archway to the kitchen, they found it filled with a mass of shining, green scales and an enormous pair of fierce golden eyes, the pupils of which were thin and catlike. The felinoid eyes were rapidly growing narrower from barely restrained rage. A terrible claw with dagger-like nails carried a great iron skillet, the contents of which dripped and splattered on the floor. The tightly clutching claw raised the pan menacingly as if it were an axe.
"Daaad! That was my dinner!" The young colt watched his supper ooze upon the polished wooden planks.
Those same planks shook as the enormous weight of the ancient, winged dragon rushed forward into the main room, the terrifying creature heedless of any furniture in the way. The skillet was tossed aside almost casually, it embedded itself in the stone wall of the cave like a climber's piton.
Perspicacity and Wildfire, cowed into abject terror, found themselves in the grip of the monstrous, raging wyrm, each held fast in the scaly prison of a large claw. They were lifted up like mere dolls, to find themselves muzzle to sulfurous snout with a creature that their every instinct assured them was death incarnate.
The dragon shook, a war raging between his traditional, draconic heart and his politically savvy, multicultural mind. For a while both ponies could barely breath, the claws slowly squeezing with unconscious anger.
Finally the grip relaxed somewhat, though neither Starshine had yet been let down. The narrow slits of the eyes widened slightly, as a horrifically calm, frighteningly soft version of the deep and warm voice they had heard from the kitchen spoke again to them.
"Did. Celestia. Know."
It took some time for the Starshines to even be able to speak. Fortunately they were granted that time; apparently dragons, with their long lifespans, were not overly concerned with immediacy. With some effort, her mind barely clinging to reason as terror clawed and shrieked within her, Perspicacity managed to squeak out a reply.
"We don't know. Sir. The answer to that is in the missing pages. That's why we are looking for them."
Ambassador Sharptooth Longclaw Leatherback of the Diamond Expanse Dragon Clan did something very un-dragonlike. He weighed his anger against political necessity, understanding against rage. It was the result of a long, long relationship with ponykind, and with Celestia, and with history itself. It was what made him capable of being an Ambassador, and it was his greatest hidden strength among many. He could make the personal become abstract, at least for a while. This power was rare among his kind, and even as it seared his dragon heart in this moment, he well knew its value.
There was more to this. Much more. And he would find out what it was, because knowledge itself was also a treasure to hoard, and a power to wield. This was how he reconciled his dragon nature with pony culture; everything was more power and more treasure, just not always physical treasure. Sharptooth kept a hoard inside his mind, and it was to him every bit as valuable and indicative of status as the one he kept in his halls below.
These two ponies were not the enemy, nor were they responsible for anything. They had brought him new knowledge, new treasure. They had brought tribute to his mental hoard. With these thoughts, The ancient dragon brought himself under his own control, and cooled the inferno that had seized him. Eight hundred years ago. It would have been possible. A gap of a few hundred years was nothing. And the Market would have been the most likely place, the only place really, for the sale of...
...his brothers and sisters.
When the rage had been conquered again, Sharptooth became aware of the dangling, barely conscious ponies in his claws. Ambassadorial professionalism took over in him, as he carefully laid the equines down on the sofa. Sharptooth backed into his own favorite chair, carved out of living rock, cool and hard and comfortable.
"Daaad! What is going on? What about dinner? And what was up with grabbing those ponies like that?" Chiphoof was upset; he had been looking forward to tonight. It was flaming anthracite night, and that only came once a month because it took so long to make. Now it was all over the floor. "Seriously, dad, that was my favorite thing you make..."
"Enough!" His father was seldom sharp with him; it began to dawn on Chip that his father was genuinely upset.
"Dad... I don't understand. Maybe you could tell me what is going on here?" Chiphoof approached his father and sat down in front of him.
"Do you remember the box I showed you, the one that contained the remains of my original clutch, my brothers' and sisters' shell fragments?" Sharptooth watched as the Starshine couple coughed and tried to sit up on the sofa. "Those that raided that clutch were punished, but not before they had sold their vile gains. It was not known exactly what happened to the... bodies of my unborn siblings, but there are certain... uses... that are the most likely."
Sharptooth dug his claws into his stone chair. "One such use is in making spellbooks. Books made of dragon leather and vellum. Remember son, dragons don't perform magic, they are magic, and as such there were those that believed that things made from us would have intrinsic power."
"You're saying that... this manuscript thing they talked about... was made from my uncles and aunts?" Sharptooth could see the rage rising in his son's eyes, as it had in his. His boy might have the shape of a pony, but he was truly a dragon.
"Son! Chip! This is not the time nor the battleground." Sharptooth caught his son's raging eyes. "The wise dragon flies above, for time is his ally, and the sharpest claws belong to he who waits." It was a wise and ancient proverb, but few dragons actually heeded it. His son, however, was different, for he had raised him.
Sharptooth left his son to fume and regain his composure, and turned his attention to the still frightened ponies on his sofa. "You can understand my anger, perhaps. I will not be angry with you; of that be glad. But I will find the answers I seek, and it does not matter if the world itself should be rent asunder should find betrayal within those answers."
Wildfire and Perspicacity pressed close together, shaking.
"You say you have translated the manuscript, that you possess it. You have heard where the flesh that made it came from. In all of history not many clutches of dragon eggs have ever been raided, and all who dared such atrocities have been shown no mercy. The timing of the manuscript means that it cannot be other than my... siblings..." the old dragon paused, filled with some dark mixture of ancient grief and terrible anger, before he continued, "...that manuscript belongs to me, because it is my family. If you still possess it give it now to me, and if you have lost it, tell me where I may find it."
"W-we... we have it. Plus one recovered page." Wildfire blurted nervously.
Perspicacity continued for him. "It's in our luggage, where we're staying. With a griffon family, on the hill." Pers shrank against her husband at the golden, reptilian glare that followed her words. "You can have it. Of course. Of course you can have it. We want you to have it."
The fear in the ponies eyes and the way their bodies shook began to register in the part of Sharptooth that had come to value and appreciate the little equine creatures. Dragons would have likely destroyed themselves without the influence of pony society; it was not ponies that had raided his clutch long ago. The couple on his sofa had nothing to do with this beyond bringing it to his attention.
"Mr. and Mrs. Starshine, I wish to apologize for my earlier behavior. Try to understand how you might feel if some... creatures... had made rugs out of your own brothers and sisters, and you had just found out. You had nothing to do with what happened centuries ago, before you were even born. But I was alive back then, and for me the loss of my siblings is both a matter of personal anger and of ancient and traditional draconic pride. To find out that... my siblings had been made into a journal, one which was casually being handled by... I think you can see what motivated my reaction."
The tone of the great green dragon had changed markedly. By comparison his voice was almost conversational, though both Wildfire and Perspicacity could still sense a tension beneath it. One thing was clear, however; they were no longer in mortal danger, though a glance at the young, still fuming dragon at Ambassador Sharptooth's feet sent a chill through their spines.
That was not a pony, sitting there. Somehow, in some way that they could feel more than see, Chip was a dragon, and there was simply no question about it. His presence, his essence, was identical to that of his father, and the two Starshines could not help but feel intimidated by the anger still in him.
"Mr. Leatherback..." Perspicacity tried to think of the right words. "The HLF wants to get the dragons angry. They want to hurt Celestia any way they can. They seek vengeance for the ponification of the humans." The silvern unicorn considered her next statement even more carefully. "It would be premature to imagine any wrongdoing or betrayal in this matter. We are dealing with those who would make lies of history to have us all at each others throats. They seek to raid... another clutch - that from which our common peace was hatched."
Sharptooth stared at the little silver-white unicorn. The edges of his eyes softened slightly. "You would make a good ambassador, Mrs. Starshine. Your point is taken."
Perspicacity collapsed against her husband, worried that she may have wet the couch a moment ago. Once in a long while she managed to say just the right thing. She was beyond relieved that this moment seemed to be such a fortunate time. Inwardly she fought with herself; even now she was desperate to find some way, any way, to hear the end of the manuscript's story. She knew she had to control that obsession - they were dealing with dragons now, and there was no room for her selfish curiosity here.
Wildfire suddenly realized that their predicament was also an opportunity. This was one of his 'Earth' moments; surviving on that world had demanded finding every little edge one could. This was such a moment.
"We have only one remaining possibility where the rest of the manuscript may be located, Mr. Leatherback. It is unlikely to be in pony hooves, but there is one place it could easily be, one we were afraid to consider. Dragon hoards. Dragons collect things, is that not true?" Wildfire's entire knowledge of dragons came from a digital version of the Eighteenth Edition of the New Reformed Manual of Dungeons and Dragons, which was part of a holonet game he had enjoyed for several years.
Surely, if the two worlds had experienced some connections over the centuries, some useful facts must have filtered through, somehow. "... or am I wrong? Do dragons even have hoards in Equestria? Oh dear. I guess not. Pers seemed to think so but..." Wildfire found himself babbling and made an effort to stop.
Sharptooth studied the gray earth pony. Newfoal. The creature's mare had called it a newfoal. The pony stallion honestly did not know. Dragons were used to plots and schemes; the first thing in Sharptooth's head when Mr. Starshine had broached the subject of hoards was that their arrival here was simply a scheme to raid his halls. No. It was obvious the little pony was utterly without guile, and devoid of real draconic knowledge.
"You suggest, then, that if the remainder of my family exists still, it is as pages lost within the private hoard of one of my own kind?" The idea was scandalous, revolting, and entirely possible. There was not a hoard that existed where every last item was completely studied or documented to the last detail. What dragon would need to know what kind of leather torn pages of indecipherable script were painted upon? It would be enough to possess them.
"Yes, Mr. Leatherback." Perspicacity couldn't help herself. "And if the pages could be found, my husband can translate them. He can reveal what they say, and what was known - and I feel certain that those pages will completely vindicate princess Celestia and confirm the validity of the Pact!"
A bold statement. "Are you certain enough, my little pony, to wager your entire civilization on such a claim? For that is what is at stake here, as you apparently have realized. Right now, this knowledge is confined to only two dragons, and I do not boast to say that we are the most reasonable of our kind."
"I believe what I said with my entire heart and mind!" Perspicacity sat forward, unafraid and utterly confident.
"Let us retrieve your luggage - you will be staying with us, for now, for your own protection - and I shall take back my lost brothers and sisters, and you -" Sharptooth looked directly at Wildfire "can show me your translation, and we shall look into this matter in great detail."
It was not an offer. It was not an order. A dragon had just spoken. It was what would be.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
15. The Game Of Dinner And Dragons The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
That he and his wife would end up searching through the hoard of a dragon family was not something Wildfire had ever imagined happening.
Technically, they were now a bunch of growls and rasps that translated to 'Darkness Beyond Twilight', or Dragon Slaves - a temporary condition imposed on them to permit entry into the hoard. It was a formality, really, the days of dragons taking servants by force having been disestablished centuries ago. Even so, the issue of propriety was of some matter to the elder Leatherback, as he explained, "It is quite improper - culturally - for you to rifle through my belongings otherwise."
So, in addition to spending three days searching through a dragon hoard, Wildfire and Perspicacity were now technically slaves serving a dark and foreboding draconic master.
Currently 'master' was serving chilled cider and some really wonderful cinnamon rolls that he had just finished baking as a treat for his busy hoard searchers - his son included. Chip had taken on the roll of 'Overseer', making sure the slaves did their appointed jobs, but he had been working hardest of all. He seemed both fascinated to explore the astonishing collection and to please his father; the days had been jovial and rather fun overall.
Between seeing incredible marvels, enjoying delicious treats, and hearing the life stories of every... creature... in turn, the draconic enslavement felt more like volunteer work sorting artifacts for the museum in Canterlot, or so Perspicacity had offered.
Over the last three days, Pers and Wild had come to find the dragon father and son to be quite pleasant hosts. The elder Leatherback had been an ambassador to the dragon empire for over 900 years, he and Celestia had enjoyed a very strange relationship. He had spent time in Canterlot, he had attended classes there, and taught others, and he had been a part of the creation of the Pact itself. Sharptooth Leatherback was a very old dragon. He had seen much, done much - not all of it safe to speak about, at least not without a Royal Clearance from Celestia herself - and despite all of that claimed to be more content now than ever before in his life.
This claim became easy to believe when Wild and Pers saw the look on his face as his son approved of his cinnamon buns. "These are AWESOME, dad! Really spicy and sweet!"
In all of his days playing 18th edition Dungeons and Dragons on the hypernet, Wildfire had never imagined seeing such a smile of paternal love on the face of a great green dragon. The Monster Manual was in desperate need of revising; pity it had ceased to exist along with the planet that had spawned it.
There were two reasons for their careful search of Sharptooth's hoard in the halls below the house inside the mountain; one was that it was reasonable to begin with the closest dragon hoard. Mr. Leatherback's was right downstairs.
The other reason was even better though. Sharptooth was one of the few dragons that had ever had a consistent contact with princess Celestia, and arguably the only one to have a truly cordial relationship with her. More than this, his time in Canterlot itself, when he was much younger, reasonably suggested that if the lost pages were to be in any hoard, they would most likely be in his. He was, after all, there at both the right time and place.
"For a young dragon, the collection of a hoard is not what it is for an adult, little slaves," Sharptooth seemed to be enjoying the draconic tradition of enslavement, but he never allowed it to feel onerous or in ill humor. "In that era, I was happy to find anything to add to my meager collection. My hoard in Canterlot was kept in a walk-in closet within my quarters inside the palace. Mostly it consisted of silly illustrated stories and the odd bit of shiny I was given." Sharptooth seemed lost in memories for the moment. "I'd ask for the most bizarre things for my services at the time; a shiny helmet from one of Celestia's guards, a bit of flank armor - once I asked for a hoof bangle. I was young, and bits were easy to come by. I saw my hoard not in terms of wealth but as a work of art, a sculpture, really. Ah, those were such curious days."
Still licking his muzzle - the cinnamon buns truly had been exceptional, Sharptooth was a very talented baker - Wildfire was digging through a stack of books. Any books or documents were considered a prime target of the search; the natural biome of the wild page must surely be the ecology of literature. The hope was that the missing pages could be found crammed inside some old volume, or tucked within an ancient tome.
Sharptooth's hoard held the most bizarre collection of items. There were the usual piles of treasure; traditional and golden-silvery. Gems and cups and necklaces and coins. These were boring, and not merely because there was no hope of finding the manuscript pages within them. Wildfire had to admit, despite his earthly years of looting virtual dungeons, that if you've seen one pile of golden coins, you have absolutely seen them all.
The fascinating items were the oddities; a rubber-like ball, painted with a star at one end and a stripe about the equator. Did Sharptooth once play games with it? It was difficult to imagine the same creature that had lifted both Starshines like dolls having once played with a rubber ball.
There were stacks of ancient board games, unrecognizable to Wildfire, the products of another culture in an alien world. The chest full of dresses for fillies had no explanation; Wildfire decided to not press for an answer, and moved on. A crate filled with strange wooden carvings turned out to be a gift from the Zebrosian Supreme Griot; Sharptooth wasn't sure any longer what he had done to earn it.
In one silk-lined box, Wildfire found what looked like nothing less than Celestia's crown.
"Oh..." Sharptooth chuckled, "that... no, no, I can't tell you the story behind that. But I will say that if Celestia ever should lose her current one, she might be surprised to find out who ended up with the original." The sly smile on the dragon's long snout both delighted, and chilled, Wildfire.
Perspicacity was trying to get at a large crate. She needed help to lift the heavy chunks of metal that crowned it.
Sharptooth ambled over to help, and a look of delight lit his features. "Oh, this is my old armor set. CHIP! Come here, you have to see this!"
Chiphoof Leatherback tromped over excitedly. He seemed to be enjoying the treasure search as much as the Starshines. "These were yours?"
"Yes, son. This..." Sharptooth held up a large piece shaped like a manta-ray with a spike in the back "... was my flank armor. It's like yours, only a bit larger of course. See this?" Chip leaned in to see where his father was pointing; the armor had a deep scratch in it, three deep scratches actually, that carved diagonally across the left side of the metal. "This is where Rubytongue of the Emerald Clan tried to take my flank for a trophy. Good armor is always the best ally, son."
Chip, as well as Wildfire and Perspicacity studied the deep gashes in the hard metal. "That must have been quite a battle, Mr. Leatherback!" Wildfire observed.
"No, not really. Ruby was upset because I wouldn't take her to the... well. Nevermind. All in the past now." Wildfire had never seen a dragon wistful before either. It was clear that the eighteenth edition was wrong about dragons in almost every way.
"Mr. Leatherback?" The Starshines were supposed to call him 'master', but that had quickly fallen by the wayside in the ensuing search; the general camaraderie and good spirits just didn't allow it. "Do all dragons have hoards like this?" Wildfire figured that if there was ever going to be an Equestrian edition of D&D, he would probably have to write it, and there was no better place for research than right here, and right now.
"Not like this one, I think. But all dragons will, eventually, accumulate a hoard. It is a drive, a compulsion, if you will, but it is more than that. It is also a tradition, and a matter of culture... and of the spirit, too."
This was interesting. "Is keeping a hoard... a... um..." There was no Equestrian word for 'religious'. There were no Equestrian religions. The only deities sat in Canterlot; a meeting could be petitioned with three weeks notice, provided the Royal calender was free, of course. Wildfire struggled to find an equivalent term. "...a... philosophical practice, in some way?" That would have to do. It got the idea across.
"Yes! Very astute, Mr. Starshi.... my slave." Sharptooth winked at the gray stallion. "For dragons, a hoard represents more than just a pile of shiny things, or even a collection of valued treasures. For some, the wilder sort, a hoard can be a bed, and of course gemstones can be a larder. But for the cultured dragons of the empire, a hoard is status, and position, and also both a tool and a weapon. What is kept can be brought forth to either elevate or embarrass. But there is more than even that."
Sharptooth thought for a bit, his golden eyes staring off into some unfathomable gulf of time. "A dragon's hoard is, in some way that is difficult to express in the language of ponies, their... soul. Not in the sense that Celestia would use the term, but... rather, a hoard is a true expression of a dragon's nature. Of the sort of dragon they are. One glance at another dragon's hoard can tell everything about them. It is autobiography and personality laid bare. This is why cultured dragons keep their hoards hidden, and unseen, behind locked doors."
Wildfire looked out over the piles and stacks of Sharptooth Leatherback's hoard. It was not the hoard of any dragon he had read about. The gold and gems were clearly secondary to items of sentiment and knowledge, and racks of draconic weaponry played second to shelves of books and curiosities from strange and distant lands.
If this was the dragon soul of Sharptooth, it made him out to be not a ferocious and mindless predator but a gentledragon of refined tastes and endless curiosity. There was fierceness here - the scarred battle armor had shown that clearly enough - but it was tempered with intelligence and not a little heart. Also there was more than a touch of whimsy.
It must be a strange thing, Wildfire thought, to be caught between such two different worlds; the rough and dangerous scheming of dragons and the gentle and trusting world of the ponies. Then it hit him - his own circumstances were in some ways similar, being a newfoal.
He dared not ask, but it seemed reasonable that Sharptooth had probably had some difficulty playing ambassador; and he had probably paid some terrible prices for it. Yet through it all, the elder Leatherback was, if anything, charming. Then again, that would be a basic requirement of his position... but even so, Wildfire did not feel that Sharptooth was in any way ingenuine. Their host - master, if they must - was a terrifyingly congenial creature.
There was always the very fact of Sharptooth, of course, in the back of his pony mind. Dragon. It must be instinctual; Wildfire could find no other explanation for his irrational unease.
It was under the ancient, scarred draconic armor, inside the crate below, that Perspicacity found the pile of papers and scrolls. An hour of sorting had finally revealed what she and Wildfire both sought, and dreaded; the last two pages of Willelmus Learmount's manuscript. There was no doubt - she recognized them instantly. They had been tossed almost casually, between ancient treaty documents and what appeared to be tax forms.
Of course the pages would be here, in Sharptooth's keeping. He uniquely had access to Canterlot, to Celestia, to her life and those within it at the very time that Learmount lived. He was just beginning his hoard, and collected whatever he could get. He was an ambassador, caught between worlds, and desperate to keep the peace however he could.
And above all else, there was never a dragon hoard where every item had been cataloged and documented, for possession was often enough. Sharptooth had said so himself.
It had taken them three days of work, but the last of the Eslaforde Manuscript had been found.
* * * * *
Unbound from the title of being dragon slaves, the Starshines were now guests, and Wildfire was hard at work translating the remaining two pages of the manuscript. There was surprisingly little actual text on the remaining pages; various drawings, crude but heartfelt, covered much of the vellum. Wildfire remembered his own first weeks as a pony. He had been happy to find a new talent for sketching - perhaps old Willelmus had gone through something similar at some point.
While Wildfire worked, Perspicacity found herself in the kitchen, learning how to make Hay Almondine with Butter Sauce and Chives. Mr. Leatherback was an expert chef, and apparently knew how to make recipes for just about every sapient species in Equestria.
"What diamond dogs eat can't properly be called cooking, as such, it's more of a matter of 'savaging with style'. Now Griffons are quite artistic with their presentations, as I am sure you discovered on the hill..."
"Actually, they just kind of ate roasted rabbit. That's all they ate. We were served a very nice dish, involving cactus, which was new for both Wild and me, but the griffons... they surely do like their rabbit, I guess." Perspicacity shrugged with her ears. It was a strange world for her now - talking about devouring animal flesh as if it were a normal, everyday thing.
"Well, I can assure you that among the griffon court, the presentation of a fresh kill, especially a large beast, is a matter of pomp and ceremony - not to mention a great deal of culinary artistry. They hunt sometimes, you may know, in the Everfree, for truly exotic meats. I have seen braised Eye-Tyrant and sweet Gelatinous Cube on the same table, and at the Feast of Razor Feather, nothing less than a Cacodem..."
"Dad! Dad! Dad!" Chip was stomping about the kitchen, excited. "There's some ponies at the door! Here! At OUR door!"
Sharptooth frowned. Visitors were not a common occurrence at Leatherback Peak, and considering the current circumstances, it was unlikely that this was a repeat visit from the Fraternity of the Joyous Friends of Princess Celestia.
"Chip. See that Wildfire knows to remain out of sight. Take Perspicacity to join him, then return. We're just dragons here, understand?"
"Got it, dad." Chip bade Perspicacity to follow him and they headed to his room, where Wildfire was working on the remaining pages.
"COMING!" Sharptooth roared. He made certain to include a little draconic intimidation into his tone.
Grasping the great front door to the cave-home in his claw, he opened it to find a neatly constructed scroll case laying on the stone outside. Beyond the lip of rock, Celestia's sun was setting, the fading light shining on the other peaks that surrounded Tacksworn.
Sharptooth lifted the case with a claw and extended his long neck, searching for the ponies that Chiphoof had mentioned. Within the cave, there was no sign of any equine presence. Sharptooth stepped forward to the wide cave entrance and searched the path and the side of the peak. If the ponies had not been pegasai and simply flown off, they must be around the back of the spire, following the curving path.
The old dragon waited, patiently, for any sign of ponies. He could smell that equines had been at his gate, he seemed to sense at least two distinct individuals, possibly three. The wait continued.
Sniffing, Sharptooth did not smell the particular scent of pegasai. Each of the three breeds of pony had a unique scent. Eearth pony musk was tinged with the spice of soil and sun, of toil, certainly, but also of green growing things and river stones. Unicorns smelled of magic, shampoo, dusty books and freshly cleaned linen. But pegasai smelled of rain and ozone, of damp feathers and hereditary privilege.
Alicorns, reminisced Sharptooth, had no smell. It was as if they weren't even there. It was a fact that Celestia once used to great effect during his days at Canterlot. Nothing can sneak up on a dragon with a working nose, nothing except an alicorn with a surprisingly twisted sense of humor.
"Dad?" Chip was creeping up slowly behind him, aware that his father was on the hunt, and not wishing to alert any potential prey. "It's been an hour."
Had it been that long? Time is almost trivial to a dragon. It passes like thoughts do, like clouds in an endless sky.
No ponies were on the spiraling road that wrapped around the rocky spire. At least on the side Sharptooth could see. He briefly wondered what he would find if he spread his wings and circled his mountain - three overly clever ponies hiding on the far side, aware they were being stalked?
It didn't matter. They would be back. They had left a proposition - they wanted something, possibly the Starshines, but more likely the manuscript. Even if they did not want to be questioned now, they would be back. Long years had taught this to Sharptooth; things always return in time, in one form or another.
"I GUESS THERE'S NOPONY OUT HERE! WE'D BETTER GO BACK INSIDE NOW! IT'S NOT LIKE I INTEND TO SIT HERE ON THE LEDGE, CAREFULLY SEARCHING THE PATH ALL NIGHT LONG AND INTO THE NEXT DAY, AND POSSIBLY THE DAY AFTER. NO. I WOULD NEVER DO THAT." Sharptooth chortled softly, deep in the back of his long, sinuous throat. That ought to give the little scoundrels pause.
And they were clearly scoundrels, these mystery ponies. Sharptooth knew a scoundrel; he had dealt with many. These were the first true miscreants from pony kind he had ever encountered, but as the Starshines had made the point; he was not dealing with true ponies here, but humans in pony guise.
Once again, behind bolted door, Wildfire and Perspicacity and Chip waited for Sharptooth to read the scroll within the case. The scroll case itself was quite nice; a cylinder covered in purple velvet with a fine kelp-leather strap.
TO: The Honorable Ambassador Sharptooth Longclaw Leatherback of the Diamond Expanse Dragon Clan -
It has come to the attention of my associates and I that you must now be aware of the true importance of the manuscript detailing the life and times of Willelmus Learmount, a former native of Earth. We are an organization dedicated to the open and honest revelation of historical fact, opposing the politically expedient censorship of information.
We wish to bring to your attention that the manuscript of Willelmus Learmount was written on nothing less than the massacred corpses of innocent baby dragons, brutally torn from their mother's clutches, and rendered horrifically into objects of commerce, for base, personal gain.
You need to know that princess Celestia - ruler of Equestria and of all ponykind, and through her power all other creatures too, whether they admit it or not - was fully aware of this fact eight hundred years ago, but chose to hide this horror in order to ensure the success of her plans for the domination of both the griffon and dragon empires through her "Pact of Peace".
We know that Celestia valued the scribbles of a mere pony over the nightmarish horror of the pages they were written on, and that for centuries she has not considered the matter worth mentioning to you, ambassador. She has never made an apology, obviously, and it is doubtful that she would be concerned enough to even consider it important.
Her ponies are complicit in this great coverup, because they directly benefit from the concessions she stole from the dragon and griffon empires with her binding, imprisoning Pact - a peace based on deceit and lies, and on personal gain and benefit for her own species at the expense of others.
We also would ask you to look upon anything that might be provided you as 'translation' by the pony called Wildfire Starshine with the deepest suspicion and distrust. He and his companion are secretly agents of the Equestrian Crown, sent specifically to defuse any complications from the discovery of the manuscript, and to obfuscate the true words of Willelmus Learmount, which only we can provide a truly accurate translation of.
You are being made a pawn of Celestia, and your people have become her bitches to use as she sees fit. Bound and gagged not by chains or ropes - though that is not out of the question - but by an arbitrary legal instrument that keeps dragons in their proper place: underneath her hooves.
What you do with this information is, of course, your own business, and we would never wish to influence you in any way. However, may we say that the truth we provide here now would rationally be best served by the widest possible dissemination, in your own, proper, draconic voice, of course, that the cause of dragons be championed against the wheedling interests of Celestia's scheming land of delicious morsels.
The Secret Society For Historical Truth
When he had finished reading the letter out loud, Sharptooth stared at the scroll for some time. Wildfire and Perspicacity glanced at each other nervously, worried that the baseless accusations in the document might engender distrust between the great dragon and themselves. Chip waited on his father's reaction, unsure what to make of the strange letter.
"They're frightened." Sharptooth rolled up the scroll slowly in his great claws. "And frightened creatures can be dangerous."
"Dad?" Chiphoof was uncertain what his father meant. Surely mere ponies were no match for dragons.
"To send me this letter tells me that they know nothing of me, or my connection to the crown. They certainly know that you are here." Sharptooth glanced at Wildfire and Perspicacity. "My concern is what these little troublemakers may decide to place on the doorsteps of other dragons nearby. If they are not simply slain for the impropriety, of course, which is a hopeful possibility." The old dragon smiled at his joke; from their reaction, the Starshine's did not seem to appreciate the half-jest.
"I made an error." Sharptooth placed the scroll inside its case. "I should have flown out and taken those creatures, rather than playing with them. I have not had to deal with their sort in a very long time." Sharptooth looked up from the object he held in his claws. "Chip!"
"Get your wings on, young dragon, we have an evening hunt to share. I will start now, join me when you can. Let us see if we can find these three human-minded ponies before they escape." Sharptooth made his way back to the door. "Oh - Perspicacity - see if you can finish the recipe without me, I think you should be able to handle it on your own."
The great door was opened, and Sharptooth stepped outside. His shining wings began to spread even as he rushed at the stone ledge beyond the entrance to the cave. He was briefly silhouetted against the falling sun, a shadow of wonder and terror, soaring out into the sundown.
"Right behind you, dad!" Chiphoof was already slinging his magimechanical pack onto his withers, and tightening the billet strap. When he was sure the device was properly adjusted and buckled, he sat and used his foreknees to put his goggles on. In a flash he was out the door and extending his shimmering wings.
"I guess I'll close the door then." Wildfire trotted over to the immense wooden portal. He began pressing with his entire weight. Ever so slowly, the huge door began to swing shut. "A little help?"
Perspicacity joined her husband, and together they closed the great door to the house, marveling at just how heavy it was, and how easily the diminutive Chip had moved it. "I guess he really is a dragon." Wildfire was getting used to strange now, and even beginning to enjoy it.
"You know, Wildfire, I've lived my entire life in Equestria, and I've not seen as many new things as I have on this journey with you." Perspicacity nuzzled her husband now that the door was shut. "I guess you've brought adventure into my life, my talented and courageous stallion."
The kiss was warm and gentle. "I should tend to our meal, and you need to get that translation done!" Pers headed out to finish her pony recipe, made in the kitchen of a dragon, inside a home built into the side of a nearly vertical mountain of stone.
Wildfire turned to head up to Chip's room. This was better, he suddenly realized. This was better than Dungeons and Dragons.
16. The Nasty Little Pony Who Went Tumble-Bumble Down The Hill
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
16. The Nasty Little Pony Who Went Tumble-Bumble Down The Hill The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
Additional material provided by Midnight Shadow.
Perspicacity held the milk over the saucepan and carefully poured it in. She did everything with precision, fine control was the pride of her telekinetics after all. The recipe was not difficult, as such, just unfamiliar. She'd never tried a dish with almonds in it before, there just wasn't much call for almonds out in Greater Fetlock, and even less call for them in the Lesser Fetlock.
This wasn't to say that she had not enjoyed fine dining in her life. As a filly she had been noticed for her unicorn talents, and so had warranted time in the Canterlot School Of Magic And Thaumaturgical Studies. She had enjoyed two full years there; her time in Canterlot was one of her happiest memories.
She had lived on campus in the spacious dorms, located in a tower with a dizzying view of the valley and tiny Ponyville below. She had enjoyed the restaurants and shops of Canterlot and visited both museums and galleries. She had seen Celestia raise the sun, and also set it, in order to raise the moon and usher in the night. The latter event was a more intimate affair for those few who attended. Princess Luna's return was before her time in Canterlot.
In all of that time she had not seen a single dragon, though she had read about them, nor a griffon - in the past four days, going on five, she had lived in the homes of both. Now she was cooking Hay Almondine in a dragon's exceptionally well-appointed kitchen. It had been an extraordinary week.
A week. It had been about a week since they had left Salt Lick City. Perspicacity had posted a letter to Celestia, cleverly addressed so as to avoid any interception by members of the HLF hidden amongst her court and staff. As she added a small amount of sugar to the milk, she worked out the timing; it had taken them about two days on the train to get to Tacksworn from Salt Lick, and three days from Fetlock to Salt Lick City. She knew it was a three day train trip to Canterlot from Fetlock, so... about eight days on the train from Tacksworn to Canterlot... actually less, there must be another route than just through Salt Lick City, so... five days, perhaps.
But the Pegasus Express could make that kind of distance in a day, less if they had good and rested mail fliers at each station. Celestia must have gotten her letter several days ago, at the very least. A letter entitled 'Last Minute Orgy Changes' would not be left sitting around. Either it would be read immediately in anger, or read... immediately in... interest... but either way, it would be read.
Celestia should know. She should be informed that both they and the Eslaforde Manuscript were in Tacksworn. It must matter to her; she above all must consider the matter important. Even if she somehow had no idea that the manuscript was made of dragon leather, the sheer oddness of it being taken to the place where it had come from, all described in a hinting letter sealed in such a provocative envelope... why wasn't she here? She should be here, right now, trying to find out what was going on.
Or at the very least, some of her guard or agents should be here, in Tacksworn. They should have been here days ago. It didn't make sense. Unless her letter had been intercepted somehow, even so. If that was the case, then the vipers in Celestia's court were closer to her than Perspicacity dared thinking about.
"Wild? Wildfire?" Perspicacity called up the stairs that led to Chiphoof's room. "WILD?"
The sound of hooves on wood upstairs was followed by her husband's voice. "Perspicacity? Do you need me?"
"Wild, remember that letter I sent Celestia, as insurance?" She had stepped away from the large pan briefly, to call up the stairs more easily.
"Yeah... something come of that?" Wildfire was probably right at the top of the stairs.
"No! That's the point! It's been about a week." Perspicacity went back to the pan, just in time; the mixture needed stirring.
"What was supposed to happen, Pers?" Why couldn't that foal stallion just come down and talk to her? She was in the middle of making dinner, after all!
The almonds were next; they had already been nicely fried and set aside. Perspicacity found herself juggling two things at the same time. Tricky, but just within her abilities. Her split attention kept the pan stirring, while she concentrated on lifting the dish with the almonds. Sometimes she wondered why she had gotten the scholarship to Canterlot; her abilities were not really very special.
"I assumed that Celestia would come rushing here and start searching for us, for the manuscript. I figured she would be concerned about the whole thing!" Pers had needed to put the almonds back down to shout; trying to talk, and levitate two separate things at the same time was pushing it for her. When she made telescopes, she was always quiet and deep in concentration.
"Hang on, I'm coming down!" About muffin time, Perspicacity grumbled. The almonds slid in, carefully she lowered the dish that had held them to the counter and collapsed that telekinetic field. With her concentration focused on just the spoon, she relaxed; the last thing she wanted to do was break any dishes in a dragon's kitchen.
The hay was probably about toasted now. That, apparently, was the secret of the dish. The toasted hay contrasted with the almondine sauce to create a savory delight. Or at least that was how Mr. Leatherback had described it.
"Wild? Could you get the hay out of the stove? There are mouthguards on the wall next to it. I have to keep this stirring." It felt good to just focus on one levitation at a time. It was almost hypnotic.
She heard the sound of the mouthguard being taken, hooves behind her, and the oven being opened. The tray with the fescue and brome mix was slid out, and the smell of toasted hay filled her delighted nostrils. Maybe this was going to turn out to be a special dish.
The tray was slid onto the counter next to her. She nodded and smiled. "Thank you! I love you!"
"I love you too, sweetheart." The voice was raspy and had a strange, humanic accent.
Perspicacity spun around, the wooden spoon falling into the almondine sauce as her telekinetic field abruptly collapsed.
Wildfire was being held down by two large stallions, one had a foreleg crammed into her husband's jaw to render him silent. In front of her, wiping his muzzle was a small, fat, brown-maned stallion with an oven mouthguard at his feet, wearing dirty, stained saddlebags.
"Miss me?" Ralph smiled broadly. "Honeybuns?"
* * * * *
Chiphoof adjusted the tautness of his right dactylopatagium medius; the shimmering span of gossamer membrane flattened and caught the wind allowing him to bank more gracefully. He and his father were soaring around their spire scanning the inset, carved path as it curved down to the desert below. They had circumnavigated Leatherback Peak twice now, and this was their third rotation, Chip was starting to get slightly dizzy.
Chip controlled his wings by a combination of how he moved his center of weight and how he angled his neck. The magimechanical backpack read both and changed its function based on the input. Near where his withers began, a part of the device measured the angle and bend of his neck, implying from that the position of his head. Inside the pack, accelerometers, gyros and balances all interpreted the motions of his body according to a set of rules.
It had taken time for him to become proficient at using his wings, but because of the way they worked with him, when he was flying, the magimechanical appendages almost seemed like a living extension of his body. They worked together, Chip and the device, as one being, flapping and gliding through the evening air.
"Dad!" Chip shouted over the wind. Then he remembered and roared, as a dragon should. "DAD!"
"I'M NOT SEEING ANYTHING. WE SHOULD HAVE FOUND THEM BY NOW." The sun was down now. Luna's moon was rising even as they flew; somewhere in Canterlot a petite crowd was oohing and ahhing at the evening princess's wonders. To those in the know, it was considered the more elegant performance, one that the Canterlot elite preferred to the morning show that brought in the commoners.
Sharptooth offered no answer to his son's question; he just continued searching.
"IF IT WASN'T PEGASAI, THEN WHERE DID THEY GO?" It was a valid question, Chip thought. It wasn't like they could just teleport.
Oh, wait, if they had a unicorn, or if they were all unicorns, and if they were sufficiently skilled, they could teleport. Potentially. It wasn't actually all that commonplace. In fact, it took years of training or natural talent to teleport. Or both. If it were otherwise, who'd need Pegasus Express?
No, it wasn't likely these newfoals would be doing any teleportation even if they were all unicorns. So, once again, where were they, whatever breed they were?
His dad was being very quiet. This wasn't working. Couldn't he see that?
"DAAAAD! THOSE PONIES AREN'T HERE! SO WHERE ARE THEY?" What Chip really wanted to say was that he was hungry and he was bored with flying around in circles and finding nothing. Young dragons had needs. They needed dinner.
"SON! I'VE BEEN A FOOL! BACK TO THE HOUSE, NOW!"
Finally, thought Chiphoof Leatherback. The old dragon remembered dinner. About time!
* * * * *
Wildfire was retching and coughing. The retching was unproductive; nothing was coming up anymore. It was the coughing, though, that worried him. There was blood in it, and that was almost certainly due to something involving the broken ribs on his right side.
Perspicacity wanted to help, but the garrote around her long, beautiful neck made sure that she did not dare to use her horn. Wildfire had been briefly fascinated, in a detached, not-entirely-all-there sort of way, at how simple it was to use a garrote with hooves; the pain had made him internally laugh at the idea that the garrote was the perfect weapon of murder for the equine sociopath.
Only it wasn't as simple as that. Ralph wasn't just a sociopath. He couldn't be dismissed as easily as that, and he was far more dangerous than that. Ralph and his cohorts were desperately angry men, in pony bodies, and they sought vengeance for the loss of an entire world, an entire way of life, and the loss of their own human bodies. They had spent a decade coming up with a reasoned plan for their vengeance, and above all else they believed they were utterly in the right.
"This is all very simple, Pers. It really is. You give us the manuscript, and we let you and Wild live your little pony lives. You didn't go home like I asked you. That wasn't very nice. I let you two go, I didn't injure either of you, and all you had to do was go home. But no, you came here, the one place other than Canterlot that you shouldn't have gone to. Now, I didn't tell you not to go here, and I take some responsibility for that, and I'm sorry. But you didn't go home, and now you have to take responsibility for that, right Jake?" Ralph looked over at the bright pink unicorn that had just kicked Wildfire in his Apples, causing all of the retching and coughing.
"I'd have to agree, Mr. Vitoni. Definitely a failure of personal responsibility." Jake gave Wildfire another Cider-Maker; Perspicacity had never seen her stallion cry like that before, like a little foal.
"Now Persy-Pants - Jesus, I love that name - Persy-Pants, you maybe want to have foals someday, am I right? Well, unless you tell me where the manuscript is, I'm not hearing the clippy-clop of little hooves anytime ever, at least not from Glue-Factory over here, so whaddaya say, huh? Or maybe I need to pull my own hooves together like this..." the garrote made a tiny, calculated necklace of red well up through Perspicacity's throat before it released "...and then what is left of your hubby might be willing to tell us." Ralph's eyes were cold and clear and smart and devoid of any pity at all.
"I told you! We don't have it now! The dragons have it! It belonged to him, it was made from his brothers and sisters! We had to give it to him!" Perspicacity was babbling now, she had already explained this, why wouldn't they accept the truth? "Sharptooth has it! All there is now is the two new pages! You have those! I can't give you what I don't have! I've been telli...."
Ralph rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You're not getting this, shhhh, shhhh, shhhhhhh.... now you know we ain't getting nothing from any dragons. You know that don't you? Dragons, right? So we have to get what we want from you, and there isn't much time, so where did mister dragon put the manuscript he took from you? Just tell us, and we're out of here, poof! Like magic!"
Jake the pink unicorn laughed softly as he watched Wildfire, who was scrabbling in a circle like a crying, pony-shaped crab. "Exactamundo, Mr. Vitoni. Poof."
Bobby, the other unicorn, had been holding Wildfire down, now he didn't need to. He was the quiet sort, and just stood watching. He was large and strong, and had not said a word since the three had somehow appeared inside the home.
"He... he has... nghh ahh ngahh hahhhh a vault. A hoard. Aaaa... hng hng hng... hng hnggg..." Wildfire was whimpering now, but at least he had stopped coughing, and that was something. The wood floor was speckled with tiny red splots and vomit.
"See? Now we're getting somewhere." Ralph smiled sweetly at the sobbing Wildfire. "I'm certain that it took a lot of courage for you to tell me that, what with the alternative to Jake and Bobby being a dragon and all. I think we're all agreed that dragons are pretty scary, I don't mind admitting that, do you Jake?"
"No sir, Mr. Vitoni. The dragon is a veritable symbol of awe and terror in many cultures." The shocking pink unicorn sniffed slightly. "I don't think any intelligent man would fail to be impressed by one."
"Jake here is a bit of a student of anthropology, Mr. and Mrs. Starshine. I think you should know that, being that there isn't much call for a degree in such matters any longer, which is WHY HE HASN'T ANY PROBLEM WITH JUST KILLING YOU HERE AND NOW." Ralph had not raised his voice until this moment.
"I would strongly encourage you to listen to Mr. Vitoni, it truly would be the most perspicacious thing for you to do." Jake considered giving Wildfire another Applesauce Delight, but after a practice swing with a hoof, decided to wait for now.
"I will take you!" Perspicacity was beyond fear now, she just wanted to save her husband. She would offer herself to Sharptooth for the betrayal - even if he ate her, at least Wildfire might go free. "Please... Mr. Vitoni, let me show you his hoard. I may even... know how to open it." She was beyond sobbing now. She just felt nothing inside, nothing except the wish to protect Wildfire.
"Finally. Thank you very much Mrs. Starshine." Ralph glanced up at the two unicorn stallions, one pink, one yellow "Jake, Bobby, look after Mr. Starshine here; keep him quiet, but try to ease his suffering if you can - see if the dragon has ice or something in there, or get him a bowl of water or whatever. We've made our point, there's no reason not to be nice now."
"Yes sir, Mr. Vitoni." Bobby hovered over the shaking, sobbing stallion on the floor, while Jake went to the kitchen to look for anything that might help the poor creature.
"Alright, Mrs. Starshine, if you would be so kind... but be careful; just because I'm letting you out of my... embrace... doesn't mean it would be smart to try anything with that horn of yours. I have two unicorns to your one, and they have your husband, capiche?" Ralph let Perspicacity out of the wire necklace; already the light blood had dried on her coat.
"I understand." It was all she could say, and it was hard enough to mouth even those words.
The steps down to the halls that held Sharptooth's hoard were not built for ponies, it took some careful hoofwork to use the oversized staircase. The stairs led down beyond the great metal-clad door - she had no idea where they went, other than deep into shadow.
Perspicacity nodded at the large entrance, and stepped forward to attempt to manipulate the locks. She did not have the requisite keys, but it was her thought that perhaps she could use her telekinesis to pick them. Fine control was her one specialty, and even if her efforts were hopeless, it bought more time for the two dragons to return from their flight.
She lowered her head to attempt the first lock when Ralph interrupted her. "Ah-ah-ah! Now there wouldn't be any traps or anything here, any alarms, any secret magical things? Just a reminder that your husband is upstairs getting the best medical comfort and care my men can provide; that could change to surgery at a moment's notice."
"I am trying to open the lock. Nothing more." Her words were flat. Perspicacity's neck hurt where the garrote had cut her, and her jaw still ached from when she had been bucked into the stove. The bleeding had stopped on her torn cheek, but it still stung agonizingly.
A sudden urge rose in her, the desire to turn and hurt Ralph. She no longer saw him as another pony, he was not one of the herd, he was a beast, a creature, like something from the Everfree. In her heart she knew she could hurt him. She knew she could kill him. He was not an Equestrian, and she could tell that there was nothing stopping any action she might choose to take.
Except fear for her husband's life. She might get Ralph, but she wouldn't even know how to deal with two unicorns. And if they could teleport - something far beyond her meager abilities - as had been hinted, then the situation was hopeless. Even if she could convince herself that they, too, were not ponies, she could not hope to win against them, and beyond that, they had the life of her Wildfire in their hooves.
Perspicacity lowered her head and began to focus her thaumatic field into the lowest lock. She began probing the interior with her magic, trying to sense the shape and contours of whatever was in there. Her field shifted and squirmed blindly in the introitus; this was one of the most difficult things to do for a unicorn. While there was feedback from the thaumatic field, most unicorns simply learned to use theirs by sight. Encompass a spoon, for instance, or wrap the field around a cup.
To reach blindly with the field however was an entire realm of magical study unto itself; Thaumatic Projective Sensing, and it was another expertise that Perspicacity entirely lacked. But she had to try. She had to try for Wildfire.
The tingle; it was like a vibration, but also a little like being poked by the thorn of a rose. She had backed into a rose bush once, as a filly, and remembered getting a small wound in her flank. Her mother had licked it and made it feel better. There was something in the lock like that, only it wasn't material.
There was some kind of enchantment here. It made too much sense; this was a dragon with connections to Canterlot, and wealth to spend on experts in thaumatic locksmithing. While the average pony had no more use for a lock than a fish could use a plow, the court had secrets, and secrets needed locks. It was said that under the palace of Canterlot, in the depths of the halls of the Royal Corps Of Unicorns, were secret, locked rooms, filled with mysteries and hazards from the Discordian Era, and even some whispered, before.
It had to be something like that. This was a problem. "Mr. Vitoni... I think there... are traps. Alarms or even something dangerous, I don't know. But I can sense something..."
Ralph was now breathing down her neck, right on her wounds, close to her. "I am not a fan of delays, Mrs. Starshine. Or deception." The words were so very quiet, so very restrained.
"I... I am telling you Celestia's own truth here. I feel something... dangerous... inside the lock. I don't know what it is or anything about it, but it's magic, and it can't be good." Perspicacity found herself breathing in little gulps, she was afraid of Ralph, and she had faced too much tonight already.
"Out of the way." Ralph pushed her aside and examined the lock carefully himself. He lowered his head and closed in, his eye just fractions of a hoof from the aperture.
"The idiot. The scaly bastard is an idiot. I can see through the hole. Line of frikkin sight teleport." Ralph stepped back and turned to Perspicacity. "Run upstairs and tell my associates to join me. You can stay up there with your husband; my use for you both is over for now. Go. Go on." Ralph waved a hoof.
Perspicacity needed no further encouragement. Up the stairs she went, as fast as she dared, until she reached the top.
She explained to the surprised unicorns everything that Ralph had told her, then she went directly to Wildfire.
He was on his side, with something made of cloth between his legs. He was no longer weeping or shaking, but the look in his eyes bespoke great pain and grief. As she approached, she saw a tear trickle down his cheek and land on the wooden floor, next to a tiny brown spatter.
"Oh, Wildfire, my precious stallion, oh Celestia... I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry for what they did to you." She gently began licking at his tears, which rapidly increased in number. His eyes squeezed shut with emotion.
"Pers, oh... my... Pers. Pers.." Wildfire just kept repeating her name, between ragged breaths, wincing in pain.
Perspicacity wished she had taken her studies as a filly more seriously. She'd actually had a basic thaumatic medicine course, and she couldn't remember a lick of it. It had been taught by a professional medical unicorn, one of the medics from the clinic in Canterlot, and she hadn't paid attention. She wanted to make telescopes, even then. To carry on the family tradition, because of her uncle Star Diagonal. Learning to heal wounds and set bones - she couldn't imagine that being relevant to her life at the time.
Now her husband had broken ribs and who knew what else wrong, and there was nothing she could do. She couldn't recall even the most basic healing cantrip.
"I'm sorry, Wild... I'm a terrible mare, and an awful unicorn - I should know how to help you, how to heal you, something, even a little, but I don't and I'm sorry. I'm just so sorry." Perspicacity was crying now too, because she just couldn't be brave anymore, seeing her Wildfire looking like that.
"Pers... Perspicacity..." Wild grimaced every time he took a breath. "I love you. I... I love you Perspicacity. Just stay with me. Just be here. I'm... I'm afraid you won't... you won't..."
"What, Wildfire, what are you afraid of?" Perspicacity kissed him on the muzzle, on the nose, on his eyes.
"I don't know how bad they hurt me... down there. I may not be... much use to you..." Wildfire began crying again.
"Oh, you silly, silly pony. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter one bit. You are who I love. You just let all of that nonsense go. You're my pony, the one that I love, and you just let that foalishness go." Her words were backed up with the most tender kiss her damaged jaw and cheek would allow.
Just then the front door burst open, slamming against the wall with such force that Pers and Wild felt it through the wooden floor.
A glance from draconic eyes told Sharptooth and Chip everything they needed to know. "WHERE?" demanded a blood curdling roar.
"They... your hoard! Hurry!" Perspicacity pointed with her hoof.
A twin scaled wind of fury swept past the two ponies as the two dragons, father and son, rocketed down the stairs. Their passing was the chariot of the Pale Mare Herself, their roaring like lightning splitting the air.
Perspicacity huddled close to her husband, cradling him as best she could without moving him, kissing and licking whatever she could reach to comfort him, as the very mountain began to shake and howls and shrieks of horror and pain tore holes in the background of constant terrifying roars.
* * * * *
Ralph Vitoni, barely a pony, had chosen a particularly poor night, and a particularly poor location, for burglary - and was only now discovering, much to his regret, that he was merely a foal when it came to the study and practice of vengeance.
The fat pony was scrambling, literally tumbling down the stairs, down those terrible draconic stone steps, into the bowels of the mountain, fleeing the crimson horror that had filled his eyes and his mind. The darkness surrounded him, even as his pony eyes struggled to adjust.
As he tumbled over the sharp cliff of yet another step, he felt something swish past him in the shadows, most likely it was Jake or possibly Bobby, fleeing for their lives as he, himself was.
Finally, Ralph found the bottom, a wide chamber whose walls were lost in black nightmares and dimly felt fear. Ralph panted, his terror overcoming him. In the dim light he saw a familiar shape, a shape that was comforting to him in his moment of fear; a pony, just a simple pony. The dragon must have a servant or something down here, some slave or worker...
It was just an earth pony. Ralph could but barely make out a tan coat and what looked to be, in the gloom, an amber mane.
“Oh... man, am I glad to see you,” Ralph gasped between ragged breaths. “There’s an insane bastard of a dragon up there! You gotta help me! Together we can escape, we can...”
Ralph was breathing hard, sweat dripping from his flanks. Earth ponies, all ponies, were stupid. He was home free, with this simpleton's help he'd get away with his hide intact.
"It's not the dragon up there you need to worry about," said the pony.
Ralph, still huffing and puffing, grit his teeth, "Right now, sonny, if I ain't gotta worry about that fat bastard of a dragon up there, then you'd better worry about this pony down here."
"That 'fat bastard' of a dragon is my father," said the pony, taking a single step forward. As the tan pony drew closer, Ralph saw the barding, the spikes, and the expression. Ralph knew, deep in his gut, when a deal was going bad. Right now, something was really wrong with this one. Something told him this was no Equestrian, to be cowed by a meagre show of force, this was... something else.
"My name is Chiphoof Irontail Leatherback of the Diamond Expanse Dragon Clan, and you are not welcome in my home."
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
17. The Lost Heritage Of Willelmus Learmount The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
Ralph Vitoni wasn't dead yet. He was close, of that there could be no doubt, and the reasons behind that lack of doubt were best not looked at too long, at least for ponies, if not dragons.
There is a strange honor among dragons regarding their kills, and it shows itself most when the kill is sapient.
Ralph wanted to speak to the Starshines. His request was not something either Wildfire or Perspicacity wanted to honor; indeed, the last thing they wanted to do was to listen to anything the creature had to say. They did not have a choice, they were guests in a dragon home, and the strange honor of their hosts applied to them now.
His remains had been carried to the hoard, he was a trophy now, or nearly so, and the two unicorns Bobby and Jake were there, where they had fallen. Ralph was also an honored combatant. Though he had landed no blows on the dragons, and had made no account of himself in battle other than to fall, he and his cohorts had breached the hoard. This was a matter of draconic tradition; an enemy that breaches the hoard automatically becomes an honored combatant.
So it was that Ralph had a last right in life, and so it was that Wildfire and Perspicacity found themselves unwillingly trying to only look at what was left of Ralph's face, and nowhere else in the room.
Both were able to stand and move with ease, thanks to medical assistance from Chip and his father. They had an assortment of curious potions and strange poultices that had numbed the Starshine's pains, for the time at least, and stabilized their conditions in general. They would both need more extensive treatment, but for now they felt almost normal, and certainly better than they looked.
There was no question they were in infinitely better shape than Ralph.
"Hello..." Ralph made gurgling sounds as he tried to speak, and there was a wet gurgling whistle coming with every breath. His voice was weak and thin. "...kids. Good to see you again..." He grimaced for a bit, and tried not to cough. "My favorite couple. Really sweet together."
"Say what you have to say, Ralph!" Perspicacity had her eyes shut tight, her head down. She had not been told she had to watch, just listen.
"I want you to understand something," Ralph began to choke a bit, but recovered with effort. "... Celestia... you don't understand..." He seemed to drift off for a moment. "...our guys, back on Earth, we figured her out. Conversion, it takes away all the mean stuff, the strong stuff in a man. Replaces it with sunshine and rainbows, but..." His wracking, gurgling coughing was terrible to hear. "...there's a reason."
"A reason?" Wildfire found himself curious. This was something he had often wondered about.
"She's god now, the bitch. And her sister. They really are gods. Old Testament stuff. But they're crazy." Ralph spat out blood for a while. "Listen... they were made... by that Discord fellow they teach you about in 'pony history'" The way he said 'pony history' dripped with disgust and venom. "She'd never admit it, but they never got over that. All this rainbow cutesy shit? It's the back ward, kids. Equestri..." wracking coughs interrupted the panting pony "...Equestria is a loony bin for damaged gods. Your smiles make Her feel safe. Your little pony lives make Her feel like the world makes sense."
Ralph was speaking easily now, as if he was suddenly well, which he was not. Wildfire suspected that he was beyond pain at this point, and nearly beyond life. "I never meant to hurt you kids. I liked you, I really did, but She stole our world, Wild." Ralph couldn't turn his head, but he had shifted his gaze to stare at the gray pony. "She did it deliberately. It wasn't the 'cosmic accident' she made it out to be. She stole our future and our species. I fought a war for Mankind, and I regret nothing. You understand me? She stole our...." There was silence. Ralph wasn't talking anymore. Ralph's eyes were still staring at Wildfire, but they no longer saw him, or anything else.
Mr. Leatherback - Sharptooth of the Diamond Expanse Dragon Clan - growled and rasped something that sounded almost like a song. Chiphoof joined in, the eerie and frightening sounds echoing off of the stone walls and ceiling of the hoard vault.
Wildfire had no idea what the two dragons had just sung, but he had a good idea why they had sung it, and what the song was. There were so many differences between Equestria and lost Earth, but so many similarities, too.
Perspicacity and Wildfire were led back to the main room above, their draconic duties completed. They had heard the last words of Ralph Vitoni, the only raider to have ever penetrated Sharptooth's hoard - other than an innocent castle servant at Canterlot, centuries ago, who had come to clean a certain walk-in closet. But that was a forgivable offense at the time because... it had to be.
The Starshines had finally gotten to sleep. Their dinner was simple; Sharptooth made something, it was filling and it did the job. Wildfire and Perspicacity had felt strangely numb, doubtless due to the powerful and magical medications applied to them. Sleep came easily, for they were exhausted and injured, but it was devoid of dreams.
They woke in some discomfort, Sharptooth and Chip treated their wounds yet again, and tended to them with more of the powerful, arcane medicines.
That was the problem with adventures, thought Wildfire the next morning; they were exciting to hear about, but misery to actually live through.
Breakfast was eggs and haycakes, something meat for the dragons; lithovoric tastes had been replaced by carnivorous ones, as apparently was the case after battle, for the draconic. Neither Starshine dared to think about where the meat had come from, both chose to convince themselves that it was not... from the vault.
It was after breakfast that the elder dragon finally set the plan for the day. It was time to hear the final truth of the manuscript, and in doing so decide the fate of Equestria. Wildfire had finished translating the last two pages before Ralph and his boys had arrived, he had been looking at the amazing model work in Chip's room when Perspicacity had called up to him at dinner the previous day.
In the large living space they all gathered, Sharptooth on his great stone chair, Chip near the hearth, and the Starshines on the oversized sofa once more. Though the Starshines were injured, the draconic medicines had left them feeling well even if they were not, and they could not leave until the fundamental and dire matter of the manuscript itself had been finally resolved.
For a-nyght I take forth myn fine book to write That whiche you have read with sorwe, thou most my tale shul ye heere And yet in wronge is myn werkes That Celestea herself hath been filled with wrothe For that book whiche I have boghte.
At night I take forth my new book and write in it, that which you have just read. But all that has come thus far is not the matter of true importance, for I must tell you not only of my great and terrible error, but also of that which Celestia herself has committed in my creation.
Of the book I must say this, even against her command, that she knew not of its nature for many years, kept it I so close to me that she never did gaze upon it until its near completion; more than this her efforts were so consumed by matters of her royal concern that she did forget entirely about her charge that I should write of my life and experiences.
When discovering my work, and above all my choice in purchase, much was brought to light that had previously been unseen. In the book was found a blasphemy that I could not comprehend; the book so fine and goodly having been made of a forbidden leather, more than this all leather is forbidden, at least among the fairy kin to which I am now part.
In my old world and life, my purchase would have been both frugal and displaying of taste and refinement, in this new world all is turned upon its head, such that I have inadvertently made an insult to one of those tribes within her dominion.
To this I can only say that I am grievously sorry and ashamed; my ignorance is complete for this is a world beyond my understanding or imagination, and there is little that does not confuse me or bring me to astonishment. That a mere book could cause such calamity as has been described to me is unthinkable, yet I accept it as the truth of my princess, and thus the truth of my very life.
I made to immediately apologize to those I had offended, thus to spare my princess any shame, but in this she has bade me stay; to do so would only destroy what agreements she has thus far forged, and cause only harm to both her kind and the great and terrible wyrms with which she parlays. The wyrms are wont to destroy themselves, and only in this peace can their kind be preserved, and the warring between them ended. My silence is as much for their lives as for my own - my princess assures me that any apology on my part would be met not with forgiveness but with death.
So it is that I keep her secrets, and as such she has made of me an agent of her crown, and though it be but a title without weight or station, it still binds my tongue in deference to such honor. I have broken with her will only in that I have continued to keep and to finish this book; it is all I have of my life and my own world, the words upon these fine pages, even if their substance be accursed, the writing itself is my only solace in this new life.
In this book I renew myself, and find my self, for I fear becoming all fairy horse and losing the last of what it is to be a man. I cannot rid myself of it, as I have been bade. And so I must excuse my princess here, that she not be blamed for my selfish disobedience.
It is in that which is still of man about me that the other matter of error has been found; my princess Celestia has admitted to me that my new flesh is not without fault, and that in the creation of my new fairy body my princess was brought to some difficulty, my kind being unknown to her, and there being no trace of it to work with once our passage was complete.
In some manner of guesswork did she house my new soul within my new flesh, but within my temperament does still exist a measure of my world. It is this that permitted me to make choice of a leathern book, and it is this which even now compels me to keep that book against her command. I am of her kind yet not of her kind, however hard I try to be as she desires me to be.
She keeps her enemies closer than her friends, as all wise rulers do, and in that I must accord myself somewhat her enemy as well as her servant, for she keeps me now close and in her court, where before I spent years with my new family and my wife. Of my wife and foals I can no longer speak. They have taken their leave of me and rightly so; my rages and jealousies having made monster of me to them. She has divorced me and returned to her Starshine clan.
It has been my princesses kindness to the family that once kept me as theirs that they should be granted royal recognition, appointed as instrument crafters to the crown, thus I can be quieted in my fears that my foals should be left without wealth or support in the world.
To keep me close, so as to watch me now, and prevent any further cruelty or wrongdoing on my part, I have been given a new name and situation. My princess has been forced to adopt me and bring me into her own keeping, claiming me as a relative, which is not without foundation; in the entirety of my creation, she has argued that I am in some philosophical manner the product of her loins. I am her offspring as much as I was a man - she made me from nothing, as God made Adam, and being her creation I am of her family now.
So it is that I am now called not Starshine, for that life is past, and am now Blueblood, an invented relative of the crown. A chambermaid is already with my foal as is another; my princess has ordered something done to prevent further generations from the inheritance of my temperament. I do as yet not know what her order entails, yet still I fear it.
I do not see what is so wrong with my moods; I am always of a polite guise, and I am haughty as befits my new station in life. To the best of my understanding I act in accordance with all I know of royalty and courtly life. That generations hence my seed should follow this should surely be a matter of praise not censure, still I must defer to she who is my princess, my queen, and my goddess.
They come for me this afternoon, and one fear I do possess is that I should get the axe for my transgressions. To that fear I have sought a means to assure my remembrance; I have made arrangement that my precious journal, which you have been the fortunate attendant, should be taken and kept by those beyond the reach of my princess, to be preserved for all time.
Perhaps one day I may be known again to men, to that hope I pray.
But there is one last thing which I must relate to you, my good and faithful reader, and that is the promise which my beloved princess did make me, a promise to all men of the earth, to all the children of Adam and of the world to which I once belonged.
When I made my plea to she who saved me, and begged her to preserve me from the spiritless void and dissolution of my world, my princess did save me as you now know. But when I had gained my wits upon the other side, in her land, I felt ashamed for my survival while burning within me was the knowledge that all other men should perish while I alone lived forever.
Thus I begged the great queen, my Celestia, that she help all men as she had helped me, so great was my sorrow. But she could not, for the door between our worlds was now closed and would not open again for such time as I could not hope to see, nor any of what offspring I might have, nor even of theirs and theirs beyond.
But she also wept inside for my wretched and lost kind, and in her endless compassion and kindness she made me a promise to comfort me and to still my weeping. This promise I relate now to you, as best I remember it, for it was many years ago indeed.
My princess spoke unto me in complete truth and faithfulness that the doom suffered by all of humankind, that their lack of eternal souls and meaningless lives did trouble her heart greatly.
It was said among the alchemists that the soul is gold, the very goal of their philosophical search, and I conveyed this hope to her that perhaps man would make such gold for themselves one day. To this she replied that such gold would be as iron, and ultimately come to ruin, that without the essence of life there was no hope even with our human cleverness.
But as this made me cry the harder, she made promise thus; that one day, without fail, she would return to the earth once more, and on that glorious day, make her stand to end all human woe and sorrow, and to save my kind and rescue them from oblivion forever.
This she promised me in good and true faith, and in this promise I have made my peace with my new life.
They are coming. I will sign this document then:
Willelmus Learmount Starshine Blueblood, nephew to her majesty the princess Celestia, father of many, and Royal Agent of the Crown, this day in Eques
Sownynge in moral vertu was her speche, Was verraily felicitee parfit, the peril of my soule, and of my lyf, And this lyf she added eek therto, That if gold ruste, what shal iren do? In swich delit o day wol I yow withouten faille turne to erthe ageyn, The whiche thynges troublen al this erthe, Ther is thee shapen of thy wo an ende.
"Eques?" Sharptooth did not understand the last word.
"He just stopped writing there. I think he didn't have time to finish. It was meant to be 'Equestria', I suspect, probably to be followed by the date, which would have been common in human writing in that time period." Wildfire thought for a moment, "I wonder what they did to him?"
"Probably gelded him. Celestia had quite a eugenics program going at that time; she was desperate to breed her little ponies so that they could survive. You have to remember that this was only just over a hundred years or so after she had created them in the first place; they weren't perfect either. There were still places touched by the chaos of Discord - she was struggling to stabilize the very world itself." Sharptooth paused, lost in memory "And I can't say we dragons were actually helping things. The manuscript is accurate to that point - the dragons were on the road to destruction, and without the Pact, we would not have had much time in the world..."
"I am NOT haughty, nor am I prone to rages!" Perspicacity suddenly interrupted, stomping her hoof. "I'm a little prone to obsessiveness, I admit that. And I don't have time for fools, but that is just reasonable! I show not the least resemblance to this... this... creature from another world! He was no Starshine - that filthy flesh-book lies!"
"Pers, what has gotten into you?" Wildfire hadn't seen her like this since the day he had accidentally broken her grandmare's dishes trying to get her something from the basement. He hadn't meant to knock over the crate, he didn't even know what was in it until the big crash.
Perspicacity glared at him. "Maybe my aunt Aspherica, now she was a total bitch, I admit - and so was her mother and maybe even my uncle sometimes - but not me! I refuse to believe that I am in the least part related to this little shaved diamond dog from a dead planet! I am not ambitious, selfish or... humanic." His wife kicked the couch, turned, and refused to look at anyone.
A dead silence filled the room.
"Prince Blueblood. Blueblood. What do you think of that, Chip?" The old dragon chuckled. "It explains a lot, if you ask me."
"I don't understand, Mr. Leatherback." Wildfire knew better than to disturb his wife when she was having a sulk of such a magnitude, so he decided to try to follow the current topic of conversation.
"Celestia has... a nephew. She has all kinds of 'family' but there isn't a pony in her court that believes for a moment that there is any actual relation going on there. There has always been speculation around her various nieces and nephews in name; why she would bother, who they really are, where the lineage really came from." Sharptooth chuckled again. "It was around that time... or maybe a century later... that I was first introduced to one of her 'relations'. It was obvious from the first moment she had no actual connection to them. They had a smell. Celestia has no smell. None at all. It's like she isn't even there. Part of being what she is, I expect."
"So there's some royal... relatives in Canterlot, who aren't actually related to her... except kind of? I mean, she did create Willelmus' body." Wildfire pondered the very notion of that.
"Celestia created all pony bodies. Where do you think ponies came from?" Mr. Leatherback shifted his weight in his stone chair. "Discord had the entire universe in chaos. Celestia had to make sense of that, along with her sister Luna. The two of them had to make sense of what life even was, what earth and sky and everything in between was and wasn't. Discord made them alicorns - whatever they may have been originally - so it only made sense to make life in the shape of ponies. Aspects of their own form. It's really fairly unimaginative. But then, to be fair, after Discord... I think Mr. Ralph may have spoken truth there at the end."
"So, dad, what about the manuscript itself?" Chiphoof leaned forward, "Is this a matter of draconic honor or what?"
"Now that's no longer an issue, son." Sharptooth tapped his long snout with his claw, in careful consideration. "The manuscript was purchased by Willelmus without Celestia's oversight, and she had no idea of what it was until years after the Pact. Now, she did hide the fact when she discovered it, and she failed to give us her little creature as she should have, but..."
Sharptooth lowered his head, filled with mixed emotions.
"If she had revealed all of this back then, it would have led to bloodshed, and likely returned the dragons to the clan war that was going on at the time. Arguably, her deception is the only reason there are any dragons - or ponies - around right now." Sharptooth clearly didn't like this line of reasoning, but there was no denying it either. "If she had been open and honest, this would be the cosmos of 'Griffonia' right now. Or more likely, just a dead universe with a statue of Discord biding his time."
"So what do we do?" Chiphoof stared at his father, waiting for an answer.
"What do you think we should do, Chip? You're a bright young dragon, part of the generation that will live on in the future of Equestria, long after me. What kind of world do you want?" Sharptooth smiled, eager to hear what he knew must be said.
"We... we do nothing. We keep this a secret. And we help Celestia find any more of these HLF types, and we make sure they can't cause any more trouble." Chiphoof was being very serious, the way only a very young dragon shaped like a pony can be, when charged with deciding the fate of an entire world. "I like Equestria, dad. I like the ponies and the griffons and the trees and the animals and... well... everything. I like all of it. War would spoil all of that."
Chiphoof looked at his father with eyes grown wiser. "Honor doesn't mean anything if everything is dead."
"Well said, my clever son." Sharptooth nodded in satisfaction at his child. "And now, we also have something over on Celestia, should we ever need it. We have new trophies for the hoard, we even got the thing properly sorted and cataloged in traditional draconic style, thanks to genuine slave labor; what dragon in these peaks can say the same?"
"My good Mr. and Mrs. Starshine..." Perspicacity had almost finished her sulking; it was clear she had been intently listening to what the others were talking about. "It was an interesting time. I don't think I need to tell you that it would be in your best interests to keep all of this closely to yourselves. Consider yourself under a draconic geas not to speak of these matters to others. It also serves your safety; we do not know how many of these humanified ponies exist loose out there. Also, there is the matter of the potential end of the world as you know it." Sharptooth pointed at his nose, to underscore his point.
"We understand perfectly, Mr. Leatherback." Perspicacity was back to her usual self, at least for now - the tainting blood of Willelmus Learmount the pony was no longer forefront in her mind. "That said, are we safe? What if Ralph and his partners had a larger organization behind them and..."
"That is not an issue, in this case, I believe." Mr. Leatherback relaxed in his stone chair. "In the end... at the end... I was convinced that this particular plot began and ended with just those three ponies. They had worked hard and prepared well, but they were brought down by the very thing they sought to seek vengeance for. They failed, ironically, because of their retained humanity. They made mistakes, ones driven by their own passions, by human passions. Even so, I can understand their fight; as a dragon, I would have done the same if I believed that something had been taken from me."
Sharptooth looked very thoughtful."Only much better, of course."
This brought a light laugh from the Starshines, to which both Sharptooth and Chip turned their attention now.
"I think we should be getting these two to the Tacksworn unicorn clinic. They need more help than we can provide here." Sharptooth raised himself from the stone chair. "The medicines which I have given you have allowed us this time, but I have taken more advantage of you, and them, than perhaps I should have. I forget that ponies are not as... robust... as dragons. We are far more used to injury than your kind."
"Getting my wings on!" Chip was busy with his billet strap.
"I will carry you down, Mr. and Mrs. Starshine. I think it best."
Wildfire and Perspicacity did also; the magic medicines were beginning to wear off, and the pain was slowly returning. They had simply forgotten how damaged they were.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
18. The Unappetizing Biscuit Of Apprehension The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
The Tacksworn Medical Clinic was small. It was staffed by Dr. Foalsneigh, the only registered medical unicorn in town. Her assistant, Nurse Slowcode was also a unicorn, but was not overly trained in the arts of healing. Nevertheless, he was a caring nurturer and most of the ponies in town liked him.
Perspicacity had suffered trauma to her jaw, molars, and cheek. This was easily dealt with using basic regenerative cantrips and a standard dental restoration potion. Wildfire was another matter; his three broken ribs required more than cantrips for a complete repair. Dr. Foalsneigh did what she could to knit the bones in place, but it was insufficient. Bandaging, to limit movement, was used. Wildfire was told that in three weeks, he should be fine. Of course more advanced treatment was available in a larger city if he wished to go that route.
The real problem was Wildfire's Apples. A certain pink unicorn had done quite a number on him. One was salvageable if gruesomely bruised. The other, though, was beyond help and was likely already becoming necrotic. It had to be removed.
Full or half-gelding was a minor, outpatient procedure with a rapid recovery time. Basic cantrips allowed a stallion to walk out of the clinic within two hours with no scaring. Perspicacity and Wildfire had a fairly long and emotional discussion about the matter. In the end Pers managed to reassure her husband that one apple was sufficient for any orchard they might want to grow, and that he was in no way diminished in her eyes, or in her heart... or in her lusts.
Their adventure had cost them both. They had suffered physically and psychologically, but at last it seemed to be over. They had heard the end of the story, they had discovered the reason that Celestia had invaded Earth - that it had been an invasion, deliberate and calculated, based on an ancient promise to the first ponified human.
They had also discovered why some ponies in Equestria did not act as peacefully or as compassionately as others - a touch of humanity had spread through the species for centuries, the result of Celestia's best-guess attempt to match a human mind with a pony body.
Chiphoof and his father saw the Starshines to the train station. Sharptooth made a jest about how there was always a position available as hoard sorting slaves, should they ever need a job. Chip gave them a carefully boxed and padded model of his wings as a gift to remember their time among the dragons.
Sharptooth thanked them for returning the remains of his siblings to him. This mattered to him greatly. He gave them a box of chocolate and candied-cactus brownies for the trip - he had spent the morning baking them, a special treat that had within it a taste of the desert found nowhere else. Inside the box was the recipe for Hay Almondine, as well; the dish that Perspicacity had been so interested in, but had never gotten to finish.
Both dragons helped load the Starshine's heavy steamer trunk onto the train. Wildfire was simply not up to it, and they just plain wanted to be nice.
Perspicacity waved to the Leatherbacks, father and son, as the train left the Tacksworn station. Wildfire wanted to wave, but he couldn't turn far enough because of his ribs and the bandages holding him. Pers assured him that it was alright; the dragons would absolutely understand.
For many miles the couple sat in silence. They had been through so much, and they both were unsure how they felt about a lot of things. They had taken an express to Greater Fetlock; this had been a matter of some argument between them.
The funeral of Aunt Aspherica was something that Wildfire had expected his wife to wish to attend. He had offered that it made a lot of sense to go back to Salt Lick City for it, but Perspicacity would have none of that. Since the clinic, she had been very doting on Wild, somewhat overly so, but unwilling to go anywhere but home.
Wild had argued that Salt Lick was a large city, that he could get additional treatment there. She had countered that they would be passing through Hoofington, and that city held the Starswirl Institute of Amniomorphic Magicine - potentially they could even regenerate Wildfire's lost Apple, magical medical research being their specialty.
Something was bothering Perspicacity, that Wildfire couldn't get her to talk about, though it was clear it had to do with her family and her lineage.
Dinner on the train was a quiet affair. The food was good but the smalltalk, what little there was of it, was not. Perspicacity wanted to retire early. Wildfire agreed, even with the healing philtres provided by the clinic in Tacksworn, he felt tired and worn, and not a little emotionally fragile.
Perspicacity made a bed for herself on the floor of the compartment, there was no question of cuddling up with Wildfire in such a small bed with his broken ribs. They lay in silence, unable to sleep.
"Pers... I know something is bothering you. Swirls Pers... I've known it all day, ever since we left the clinic." Wildfire tried to adjust how he was laying, on his good side, but the movement hurt. "Please, talk to me. Let me in. What bothers you... bothers me."
Perspicacity was quiet a long time. For a while, Wild was unsure she would even answer him.
"I'm sorry, Wild. I'm sorry you had to go and... end up with the very thing you tried to escape." Was that... a sob at the end? Was she crying? Wildfire couldn't be sure and he couldn't easily move to find out.
"Pers... I don't have a clue what the cinnamon buns you are talking about." Wildfire was at a loss. She didn't sound like herself and he was too banged-up to crawl down to her and try to comfort her.
"Let's face it Wildfire. I'm last millennium's model of imitation pony. Nearly. I am obsessive. Ambitious. I'm ambitious as... hell." Perspicacity rolled the humanic word around in her mouth as she said it. Wildfire wasn't sure she even could fully understand what it actually meant. "I'm a hell bad not-pony, filled with hell-human hell... ness."
"Sweet chocolate horseshoes, Pers... you are not a... a.. not-pony!" So that was it. The genetic legacy of Willelmus. Her unpleasant aunt. She had admired her uncle, even wanted to carry on the family tradition because of him, but she always complained about his personality. And all the time he'd known her, she had been driven by the desire to have Starshine Telescopes be the Royal Instrument Maker to the Crown once again. Now she must have guessed why that had been so; because Celestia kept her enemies close to her, to watch them.
"Perspicacity! I can prove you are a true-pony and not a... not-pony. I don't have the right terms, I'm not sure there are any, but you know what I mean. You aren't somehow unequine, you aren't somehow human, and I can prove it." He had to help somehow, and this seemed like a valid angle.
"Celestia long ago stopped having your family kept close to her, right? Starshine is no longer the Royal telescope making family, right? Celestia must have come to the conclusion that whatever dangerous or unstable qualities your lineage had was no longer an issue. 'She keeps her enemies close', right? Like Prince Blueblood! His family tree probably didn't branch that much, so he's probably an... an..." Wildfire wanted to say 'asshole', but the word just wouldn't come. He could feel it's shape in his mind, he could remember there was a word, but there was a blind spot where the most vicious things used to be inside him. "...he is probably not a very nice pony. Probably none of the Bluebloods are. But you are nice, Pers. You're the nicest pony I know. You're my favorite pony. You're my best friend, and you're the pony I love the most."
He knew he hadn't said it well. But he had meant every word of it.
Pers was giggling, though with a sad catch in her voice. "I bet Blueblood's family tree is a stick. A pole." She giggled even more. "When I was in Canterlot... nopony had anything good to say about the Bluebloods. Well, when not in public anyway."
"I need you to tell me the truth. Am I... Am I like a human?"
Wildfire thought carefully. "Well, I guess in little ways you are, but just in little ways. And, to tell you the truth, I actually like those ways. They are familiar to me. They are something I know and feel comfortable with, and that I feel safe around. It may seem strange to you, but... sometimes the... over-sweetness... of some ponies kind of grates with me. It kind of makes me feel like an... like I don't completely belong here."
He wished he could turn to face her, but those muffin ribs were just... "Pers, I always feel comfortable with you. I feel like I belong when I'm with you, and whenever I doubt myself, you are the one pony who can make me feel better. If that is because there is a little something 'humanish' in you, then I'm not just OK with that, I'm grateful for it. One of my biggest fears all along, was that I wouldn't be Equestrian enough for you, that I might slip up and be... like Ralph, somehow, I guess. You've shown me that I'm not like that. You've given me confidence in myself."
Wildfire stared out the window of the train, trying to focus his thoughts. He wanted to tell her so much, to get her to see...
"Pers... Perspicacity... I'm a newfoal. I can't help that, and I guess I'll always be a little different from a native-born Equestrian whatever I do. I experienced a different world, I lived as another creature. Those experiences make me a little different, whether I like that fact or not. But... for me, at least, finding out that we have something... human... in common, however distant, however faint and small it might be... it just brings me even closer to you, and makes me feel even more grateful that I get to spend my life with you."
She had started crying well before he finished, but softly so she could hear every word. Now the torrent poured forth, and she was by the side of the bed, off the floor and pressing her head oh-so-carefully against his cheek, her tears running down his face.
"I love you Wildfire. I... I just plain love you."
"I love you too. I just love you so much, Pers."
The train ran on silvery rails through Luna's beautiful night, the stars glinting off of the polished, colorful cars. Inside their sleeper car, Wildfire and Perspicacity reminisced about how they had met, how silly Wildfire had looked, laying on his back, trying to save the telescopes that Rocket had knocked over. How Perspicacity had sat and watched Wildfire writing his letters to his lost human friend, and how she had admired his loyalty, even long after that friend had proven false.
They talked of their life together, of how nervous Wildfire had been when he had asked Perspicacity to marry him, how sad they had been when Rocket had wanted to move out to get his own place, about the loving way Wild would just sit and watch Pers making her lenses, and how much that fascinated him, and how impressed he was with her ability.
And they laughed at Wildfire's disastrous first attempt to make a romantic dinner for her, and how she had struggled so hard to not let on how bad it really was, or the time that she had brought a picnic-dinner to eat with Wildfire at the Fire Hall, because she missed him so much, and how the rest of the fireponies had turned the lights down and sung for them, and how Rocket had pretended to be a waiter so they could feel like they had enjoyed a romantic night out.
And finally they fell asleep, as close as they could get to each other, Pers on the floor, and her injured husband on the bed, holding hooves, until Pers' hoof fell to the floor as sleep took her.
Two days later, Wildfire and Perspicacity found themselves in Hoofington. Both were feeling better, though Wildfire's ribs were still very tender. The trip to the Starswirl Institute proved to be less than useful; their focus was entirely prenatal and pediatric in nature, something Perspicacity had not known. Their services allowed for mixed species couples to have hybrid offspring impossible to them otherwise.
Perspicacity apologized profusely to Wildfire. She had felt so sure that they could help him, and now she felt terrible about the matter. Perspicacity fussed that they should have gone to Salt Lick just as Wild had wanted to, and how she was a simply awful wife and friend. She began to go on and on about how travelling to Hoofington might somehow risk any hope of a truly complete recovery - or risk some unknown harm to Wild's remaining Apple, but he would have none of it.
"The one I have left is a survivor, Perspicacity! He's been tested in battle, and proven to be a warrior of strength and nobility in the face of adversity. I'm sure he can handle any mission you care to send him on... just later, after I have more time to recuperate, alright?" This made Perspicacity laugh. In time, Pers calmed down, and in the end the couple enjoyed a lovely dinner in the big city, under candlelight, with live music.
The room they rented for the evening was spacious, and allowed both of them to take much needed showers. There was also a nice large bed, which allowed Wild and Pers to try to cuddle as close as they could dare. This made them both happy, and aside from one attempt to turn over that resulted in some pain, they had a very restful sleep, off of the train.
In the morning the Starshines decided to just head home to Fetlock; they just plain wanted to be home again. They were both weary of travel, and done with adventure, for now at least, and the comfort of their own bed had become the most desirable treasure they could imagine in all of Equestria.
The remaining train ride was increasingly filled with high spirits. They were on their way back to where they felt happy and safe, they were even more in love than ever before, and they were just plain glad the whole thing was over and done with.
"The next time you find an old manuscript in the attic?" Perspicacity spoke with the utmost seriousness "Let's just hand it over to a museum!"
When the train pulled into Greater Fetlock, Wildfire and Perspicacity felt almost giddy. Somehow their little town had never looked more delightful or more lovely. Wild couldn't pull the luggage, so Perspicacity arranged a wagon to carry both the luggage and themselves the rest of the way home. On the way they found delight in pointing out and waving to all the little shops and stores they loved, and the ponies they knew.
There was Featherhoof's Blacksmithy, though no sign of Featherhoof himself, and Amaranth's Bakery, which had those lovely peach and apple turnovers. They waved at Sweetflower Daisy from the Tastee Yum Yum Flowers Stand. Pers noted that it had been moved to a new location. Sweetflower had mentioned that she thought she might get better business that way.
Rocket galloped out of the Fire Hall to greet them as they passed by; he had noticed them on the wagon. He wanted to hear all about their sabbatical adventures. There would be time for that later - come by on the weekend, we'll have a big dinner, bring your girlfriend this time, right now we just want to get home and rest, no, Wildfire will be alright, We'll tell you the whole story (as much as would be prudent, anyway) later, yes, we're glad to see you too, yes, later.
The Telescope shop had never looked so good. The draft ponies pulling the wagon carried the luggage inside for Wild and Pers, and she gave them a generous tip. At last, the couple gratefully closed the door and walked past the telescopes, and went upstairs to the actual house, to their home, to... sanctuary.
Wildfire stood, staring at the kitchen table. There was the pencil he had used to translate the manuscript, and there were the sheets of paper and partial translations, right where they had left them. Perspicacity put some water on to boil, tea seemed like a very nice idea right now. She unsuccessfully searched the pantry for anything to have with tea. They would need to go out for dinner, because there wasn't any food in the house, and they would need to go shopping too.
After more searching, she found a tin of biscuits in a drawer near the sink, a gift from last Hearth's Warming. Biscuits and tea, not a bad choice at all. Hopefully they were still good, they hadn't been opened.
Wildfire felt terribly tired. He sat at the table, carefully, and found himself closing his eyes. He must have drifted off, because the next thing he knew there was a bowl of tea in front of him and Perspicacity was shaking out biscuits from the tin onto a plate. The bright red teapot was there as well, and soon Pers was sitting beside him, her own cup in front of her.
The two exhausted ponies just sat there, at the table, the sweet smell of fine tea filling their noses; they were too tired to sip it yet, and for a moment they both closed their eyes, hoof in hoof, just sitting together, enjoying the blessed fact that they were home, home, finally, finally home.
Wild heard tea being poured into a cup; Perspicacity must have downed hers quickly. She did love her tea.
"Mmmm.... not bad. The biscuits are rather stale though."
The voice was not Perspicacity, though it was absolutely familiar. Perspicacity and Wild both opened their startled eyes.
Across the table sat Princess Celestia, absolute monarch of all Equestria, goddess of the sun and divine immortal ruler of the entire universe, sipping tea and frowning at her biscuit.
A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe By Chatoyance ________________________________ ₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪₪ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
19. The Slyest Of The Sly The use of locations from The Ambassador's Son by Midnight Shadow is done with permission.
"Wildfire. I thought you were going to try to stay out of trouble?" The most powerful being in the entire cosmos took another dainty sip of her tea. "Tsk, Tsk."
Perspicacity and Wildfire raised their heads from where they had instantly bowed, as best they could while sitting at the table.
"We didn't mean to... it was all my fault, princess Celestia! Entirely my fault, Perspicacity is blameless! I am a silly, stupid newfoal and I forced her - against her will - to go on a foolish journey that endangered her life! She tried to stop me but..."
"Ah, love. We both know that isn't the truth, Wildfire," Celestia lowered her tea with her field. "Tell me, Wildfire Starshine, what did you think about Ralph Vitoni's last words? A bit overdramatic I thought, but then, it was his final speech. I suppose a little drama is appropriate in such a case. Don't you?"
Wildfire's mind whirled, his thoughts became a storm inside his head. How did she know about that? Wait - she wasn't supposed to be able to know everything, Pers had explained that... but if she knew about everything then why did she allow bad things to happen and...
"Princess Celestia..." Perspicacity had regained her composure surprisingly quickly, or so Wildfire thought. "...do you... watch us all of the time? Do you truly know everything in this world?" Wildfire suspected that Pers was wondering the very same things that he had been wondering, only she had the clarity to dare to ask.
"Goodness, no, my little pony. I wouldn't wish to even if I could." Celestia sipped her tea with a wicked gleam in her eye. The implication that omniscience would not be very entertaining had not been lost on Perspicacity. "A certain dragon holds something of mine for me..." again the gleam "...my crown I believe. He may not know that it is... a part of my person," Celestia smiled.
"I mean that, by the way. He may not know. So don't tell him." The princess of the sun winked at the Starshines. The gesture was cute, but there was no question that it was also a command.
"Of course, princess." The reality that some aspect of the princess lay in a dragon's hoard began to slowly sink into Perspicacity's thoughts, followed by the realization that the crown had been in her mouth for several moments. Celestia must be aware of everything that transpired because a part of her, in some magical way, was in the dragon's home the whole time.
"Why didn't you help us!" Perspicacity was suddenly angry. "I was beaten and Wildfire lost... he got hurt really badly! If you were listening, why didn't you help us?"
Wildfire looked over to see his wife leaning forward, anger on her muzzle, staring with rage at the supreme power in the entire cosmos. "Um... Pers... it's okay. Pers? I think that... maybe..." Wildfire felt a sense of dread.
"It's alright, Wildfire Starshine," Princess Celestia gave the still-bandaged stallion a reassuring look. "Your question is valid, Perspicacity, but I would ask you to think for a moment about that situation. The fate of both ponies and dragons were in the balance, Griffons too, I should think, and the scheme behind it all had not yet been revealed. There was no way at that moment to know just how far the corruption led, or what additional plans existed."
Celestia looked both Starshines over carefully. "Sometimes official Agents Of The Crown may face danger when doing their duties for the preservation of Equestria. We thank thee for thy service, as my sister might put it. If I had popped in at that moment, how would we know what was truly going on?"
Agents Of The Crown. "Are we... enemies? I don't want to be your enemy! I'm a loyal pony! So is Perspicacity! Please believe me, princess, we..." Wildfire was nearly in tears, he'd already caused trouble for Her Majesty once before, being named an 'Agent Of The Crown' was just too much.
Celestia laughed, not mockingly, but gently, comfortingly. "My little ponies, being recognized as an Agent does not always mean that I do not trust somepony. Sometimes it simply means that I am grateful for true service to Equestria. And also for the keeping of state secrets entrusted to such a valued Agent."
So they weren't enemies, thought Wildfire, that was good. But they were on notice. That was clear.
"This is a debriefing, isn't it princess?" Wildfire had watched many exciting holoshows about espionage in his human days.
"Something like that, if I understand the meaning," Celestia sipped her tea again. "This really is good tea, Perspicacity. I do enjoy tea, you know." Celestia paused, briefly. "I feel confident that what you have learned about the past will stay there, where it belongs, but I am curious as to how you feel about what you have learned. A native equestrian and a newfoal, each with their own issues. Please indulge me. Perspicacity, you first."
Perspicacity had slumped back, now she was startled and unsure. "I... well, your majesty..."
"Celestia will do. We're all friends here at this table. Good tea makes friends of everypony," Celestia smiled sweetly.
"Well," Perspicacity needed a sip of tea herself, her throat had become dry. "I was a little upset... at first... to find that I was, well, part human-ish, I suppose. But Wild helped me with that. I feel good that you kept your promise to Willelmus and rescued the humans. Actually, I'm very glad that you did because if you hadn't, I wouldn't have my Wildfire." Perspicacity held out her hoof to her husband who cradled it in his own. They smiled at each other.
"And you, Wildfire. How do you feel about everything, now that you know the expansion of Equestria into your world was not an accident, but a deliberate action on my part?" Celestia studied Wildfire, her tea held close to her muzzle, making her expression unreadable.
"I like being a pony. I love being a pony... Celestia. Even if the Earth had not been... doomed... I would have chosen Conversion. Sometimes I worry that I don't always fit in, and sometimes I feel bad about all the... pain, and loss... that happened during the end of the Earth, but... now that I understand your reasons, now that I see what it is you actually gave us... them, the humans I mean, and when I think about how humans would have reacted if you had tried to tell them the truth..." Wildfire felt unsure how to say what he meant. "Humans wouldn't have accepted the truth, because they wouldn't have believed it. A few, like me, would have Converted just because they wanted to be ponies and live here, but... I think most would have just called you a liar and made endless generations pay the price for it. Humans would never have accepted that not having magic meant not having souls, and... "
Wildfire finally knew what he really wanted to say.
"Celestia, humans had been waiting for thousands of years for the gods they invented to appear and rescue them. Generations came and went, each believing that theirs would be the age where whatever deity they believed in would return, or show up, or appear and save the world. Save them from all the evil and the horror and the bad stuff. Only it never, ever happened. And now I know why." Wildfire looked into the eyes of the living deity of Equestria, and trembled. "You actually are real. You're here. I'm having tea with you. When I was a colt..." Wildfire laughed a nervous, short sound. "When I was... a boy... I prayed to a human god. And he never answered, and no...one... appeared, or sat down and had tea with me. I quickly realized there was no...one... there. But you are there. Here, I mean. In the flesh... or whatever you're made of... you are actually, really here. You came for us. Humans always yearned to be rescued, they just couldn't imagine it would be by... you."
"I'm grateful for what you did. That's all I know. Thank you, princess Celestia." Wildfire looked down, studying his cooling cup of tea. He wished he was a better speaker, that he could have said that better, but... that would have to do.
"You're welcome!" Princess Celestia, solar goddess nibbled another biscuit. "These really are awful. I'll make sure somepony sends you a case of decent biscuits. Just in case we ever need to have another chat someday."
"Princess," Perspicacity seemed troubled.
"What happens when we die? If we have souls, because there is magic, what does that mean? And... if there is something more, after... here... why do we live... here... at all?" Perspicacity knew she had probably overstepped her bounds, that she once again was pressing things, obsessing over things, but... she had an actual deity, right here, right now.
Celestia froze, her expression undecipherable. For a moment, Perspicacity worried that she had indeed gone too far.
"Ralph Vitoni was not entirely wrong, Persy-Pants." The use of that name almost made Perspicacity laugh. "I and my sister need you, our little ponies, we need you very much. We try to make that service as painless and enjoyable as possible for you, but it is not your only reason for being, nor your only existence. I don't know that the little pony called 'Perspicacity Starshine' can understand any more than that about such things, but just know that you all do a very good job and that my sister and I are grateful to you all, that we care about you very much, and that one day you will understand far more than you can hope to imagine right now."
Princess Celestia rose from her seat at the table and took a few steps. "Your ribs are fine now, by the way, Wildfire, but I will leave your Apples alone. Scars help a pony remember the cost and weight of their adventures. Please try to avoid being of further assistance to the crown if you can help it, you've done enough for just one pony."
Wildfire leaned over in the wrong direction, and found his ribs were completely healed, as if they had never been broken.
"Oh! Perspicacity Starshine... It's been a long time, but I think it might be good to have an 'Official Telescope Maker To The Crown' once more. I know it would please my sister greatly. I will have the arrangements made. Expect a lot of orders in the near future. The nobles tend to jump on anything they imagine is currently trendy."
Perspicacity's mouth slowly, unconsciously dropped open. She didn't understand why Celestia giggled slightly at the way she looked.
"Do try to stay out of trouble, you two." The burst of light made Pers and Wild squint. By the time they had begun to adjust, the light was gone and so was the princess.
"It must be pretty wonderful to travel like that," Perspicacity said quietly, "I'm almost tempted to go back to magic school."
"What?" Wildfire wasn't sure if she meant it.
"Hee hee... don't worry, Wild. I haven't the talent it takes for teleportation. I really don't. I know it. Besides, I apparently have a lot of telescope orders to fill. Or will have." Perspicacity thought for a moment. "Wasn't there an order just before we left? From Clydesdale or someplace? They're not going to be happy. Oh, I've got so much work ahead of me." Pers seemed both glad of this, and also frightened by it.
"Yes, beloved?" Perspicacity poured them both some fresh, hot tea.
"How much of what we went through... do you think was actually just... stuff happening? Random stuff, I mean. Do you think that...?" Wildfire had a baffled look, filled with both curiosity and concern.
"Could an all-powerful living goddess somehow have arranged things in such a way that the single biggest threat to her peace might be discovered and ended through using a pair of silly, overly obsessed ponies as pawns? Is that what you are asking?" Perspicacity sipped her tea and ate one of the stale biscuits. They weren't that stale!
"When you put it that way..."
"A being that can do anything can't know everything," Pers sipped her tea. "But... she can try to make use of whatever eyes and ears... and hooves... she has available to her. I don't think we will ever know for sure, Wild, and I think that is probably for the best, all things considered. We know too much as it is, and state secrets are a heavy burden."
"She's magic, so why didn't she just zap our memories or wipe our minds or whatever?" Wildfire decided to try a biscuit, they couldn't be all that bad, both Pers and Celestia had been eating them.
"Because Ralph was right. She needs us, just as she said. Why send us a crate of biscuits? I suspect that sometimes, the princess may enjoy having somepony to talk to who knows what is really going on. A non-dragon somepony. And I suspect that may someday be us. Or it may not be. But the option is there, now. We're here, if she needs us. I suspect that's also why she made us Official Telescope Makers too." Pers tried dipping her biscuit in the tea, to see if that was better. "It's not so much a reward, as it is keeping a connection. She may never visit us again. She probably won't. But the option is there for her."
"Think about it Wildfire. Imagine how lonely she must be, even with her sister back. Even with all of us ponies prancing about and laughing our lives away. How terribly, terribly lonely, to be the only ones of their kind, to be what they are, looking out for the entire world but never truly being a part of it." Perspicacity looked very sad for a moment, then ate her tea-soaked biscuit.
* * * * *
When Wildfire finally returned to the Fire Hall, he found that he had been granted a citation from the Crown for Special Services To Her Majesty, and that this reflected well on the Greater Fetlock Fire Department and all of its staff. This made of him a bit of a local hero, at least with the other Fireponies, and especially with the Fire Chief, Bluey.
The fact that he dared not speak of anything that he had done on his sabbatical only made him seem all the more fascinating and mysterious, and his injury, far from being a matter of teasing or ridicule, became a matter of fairly embarrassing respect and awe. More than once, Wildfire found ponies trying to catch a peek under his tail, to see the truth of a stallion so fierce and brave that he nearly gave his all for the sake of Equestria and the princess herself.
It became difficult to avoid the mares that suddenly developed an interest in him. Worse, Perspicacity, being from an old-fashioned pony family, teased him only half-jokingly about who he wanted to share their bed.
Perspicacity, for her part, soon found herself overloaded with orders from Canterlot and other cities too, this necessitated an eventual move to a larger building and the hiring of a small staff of capable unicorns to help construct the telescopes, microscopes, magnifiers and other optical instruments that were demanded of her. While she was proud of achieving her uncle's - and her own - dream of making 'Starshine' THE name for telescopes once more, she did admit more than once to Wildfire, in private, that perhaps success was a kind of trap as well.
Some years later, the townsponies of Greater Fetlock were astonished when two dragons arrived for the first time in the history of either Fetlock. None were surprised when it turned out to be visitors for the Starshines. Fear turned to fascination as all found that the dragons were actually quite nice, though many commented on the odd, pony-like shape of the younger one.
Both Wildfire and Perspicacity lived happy and long lives, along with their other co-spouses Featherhoof, Amaranth and Sweetflower, and had many foals who grew up happy and content in a very traditional and old-fashioned pony family.
And I can assure you of these events because - as I finish this manuscript, written not on leather, but on nice cork-vellum from the Southern Coast - I have lived them. To be precise, I have lived with those who experienced them, and I would not for a moment doubt the veracity of my beloved grandstallion and grandmare, whose story I have presented to you here exactly as they have conveyed it to me.
Ours may be a strange family to some; old fashioned in our arrangements, yet made of newfoals, descendents of the lineage of the first human brought to Equestria, and bound in secrets by the princess herself, but I would hold any Starshine up as an example of a true and proper pony in the world.
Someday, it is my hope that their story may be known, and it is for that reason I have set down their adventures, as they have told them to me, in honor both of them, and of my namesake, who lived so long ago.
I leave you then, future reader, whatever pony you may be, with the understanding that our lives shine across the ages, and that there is greatness in even the most humble of ponies.
I therefore sign this manuscript Willelmus Telescopy Starshine of the Royal Canterlot Empyrean Society, in memory of my grandponies, with all of my love and gratitude. May Celestia herself guide you to whatever lies after, and may someday your great works be known. Foalsday, Trotober the thirty-fourth, 2163 After Discord.