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 scattered with buttes and rises, and of course wide stretches of parched ground. In the distance, dry mountains offered ore and jems for the intrepid seeker, but most of the land was barren, difficult to farm, and 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 some strange situation; but what it was 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.
"It happened again!" Brother Candle's ears flattened low.
"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 rest?" 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 her 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. Actually, thought Wildfire as he studied the blubbery pony, if a canary had actually been available...
"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.
"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 everything 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 Wildfire would expect Celestia to 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 hind hooves 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!"
It was not at all the answer they had expected.