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 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 a hundred and forty easily, if not older.
The average Equestrian life span was one-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 doubtless 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 in that state would not help anything he thought; 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 can'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, them 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 in in front of Wild. He took the tight tube in his mouth and held it gently.
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 - and with the door closed and blocked shut with a heavy piece of furniture - there were no locks on the doors 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, 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 - so that's why it was so heavy! - Wildfire sat down to once again begin the laborious process of translation.
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."
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.
"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..."
"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.