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; basically 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 around the tail, and something like a bolo, small chained weights, attached to the very end of his 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 in 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 Chips 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 anyway 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 anything 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 up 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.
"No... 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!"
Perspicacity grinned back. "Of course!"