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 one-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 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 worked upon them.
Both ponies studied the manuscript together, under the light of day, going from cover to cover, looking for any trace or any 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.
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 grandstallion 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 document, 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 grampa Star, during his final days. How her grampa 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 foot; 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 on foot, 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 so quickly into such an 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, filled more and more lands with ponies, most of which 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 the world 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, and 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 both 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 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?"