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, the inverse-square law made an empty mockery of, or rather simply not being applicable at all.
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 door, its chain dangling down the right side, they had been greeted by Chip, who welcomed them in.
Chip ushered them into the large, curious dwelling. The walls were partly natural stone, and partly carpentered dividing walls, the floor began as stone but quickly became pleasant polished planks of wood, covered with scattered rugs; some of them, the two ponies noted with not a little surprise, were made of fur. Curiously oversized furniture was scattered about, around the fireplace; some looked large enough that an adult pony would think themselves a foal again in 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 just forgotten how long and difficult the curving road really was.
The young colt yelled to his father that the couple that wanted to talk with him were here, and his father had responded in a deep and mellifluous voice as he apologized deeply for not coming out right away, but that he was in a critical juncture in his cooking, and that 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. That said, 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; his voice quite filled the room, but, he would do as he was bade.
"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, but 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 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; growing up only 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; and 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 great 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 herself - 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, and 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 as it was raised slowly as if it were instead 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 the 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 grip 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 waging 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 a 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 the 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 was 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, I was looking forward to this all..."
"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... the 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 if I 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 the Eighteenth Edition of the New Reformed Manual of Dungeons and Dragons, which was part of the 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 hoarding 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.