The Dresden Fillies: False Masks

by psychicscubadiver

Chapter Five

The Dresden Fillies: False Masks

Written by: psychicscubadiver
Edited by: frieD195 and Silentcarto
Story Image by: wyrmlover
Beta-reader: SA

Disclaimer: I don’t own The Dresden Files or My Little Pony, that is Jim Butcher and Hasbro, respectively. This is a fanfiction only. This story takes place before Discord’s return in MLP and between books six and seven in the Dresden Files.

Chapter Five

In my life, an apology is about as common as a white crow. Not the standard mass-produced ‘sorry’ you get with customer service, or when somebody bumps you in a crowded street. I’m talking about a sincere attempt to make up for something done wrong. I never get those because I’ve either already mouthed off to the person who owes me one, or because they’re too busy trying to kill me to bother with manners. On special days, it’s all of the above.

So with a background like that, you might understand when I say that I never thought there would come a day when I didn’t want an apology.

“But really, it was so thoughtless of me. I am really, truly, deeply sorry that I reacted like that, Blackstone.” Twilight’s face wasn’t beet-red anymore, but a light flush still colored it as she repeated herself for the sixth or seventh time.

I rolled my eyes as I dug into my fourth fried egg sandwich. Spike had picked up on my explanation of how to make them quickly enough, and between the two of us we had a towering stack dripping with real cheese and toasted to golden brown perfection in short order. It might have been a vegetarian breakfast, but there was more than enough cholesterol to coat my new arteries just as thickly as my old ones.

“It’s fine,” I mumbled through a mouthful of food. I swallowed and continued in a clearer tone of voice. “You thought I was taking advantage of your friend. I can understand why you’d be angry.” Not to mention, I had the feeling that even if ponies in general weren’t puritanical about sex, Twilight would be. She had ‘Victorian sensibilities’ written all over her. The fact that the very thought of me doing that with one of her friends in her house almost made her hulk out didn’t surprise me in the slightest.

I’m just glad she listened to Pinkie long enough to realize I was innocent. As utterly bizarre as the pink pony’s methods were, I couldn’t complain about the results.

“It isn’t fine. I should never have made an assumption like that, much less acted on it. Especially without any proof,” she said nervously, inspecting the sandwich in front of her. I wasn’t sure if she was too upset to eat it or just a lot more health-conscious than me.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes again. “Twilight, I went on a demon-possessed rampage, used your True Name against you, and nearly killed somepony. And you forgave me. I think you’ve earned a little credit.” She looked ready to protest, but I cut her off. “The same thing you told me that morning in the palace still applies here. Forgiving is what friends do. Don’t make me hoist you by your own petard.”

She regarded me curiously, academic interest overriding social anxiety. “What’s a ‘petard’?”

“No idea,” I shrugged. “Point is, don’t make me use your own logic against you. If you really want to make it up to me, try the sandwich.” The look on her face told me she’d rather keep apologizing, and Mouse gave a few huffing little barks. I had sneaking suspicion that was his version of laughter.

Still, Twilight was game enough to try it, at least. She took a bite, and it would be generous to call her face ‘thoughtful’. I finished mine and reached for another with an orange-red aura. “Don’t like it?” I asked.

She shook her head somewhat hesitantly. “Not really. It’s not bad, but it’s so fatty that I can feel my heart slowing down already. I don’t even want to know how many calories were in that bite alone.” She put her plate on the floor and Mouse hurried over. He’d managed to polish off a pair of sandwiches himself, but he was a growing boy.

I grinned at Twilight. “What if I told you this was what I have for breakfast every day?”

She smiled in response. “I’d call you a liar. If you really ate five of these every day you’d be round as a ball.”

I raised both eyebrows and regarded her in my best faux haughty manner. “And when did you become an expert on human biology? We eat at least a third of our body weight in food every day.”

“What?!” she asked, completely buying into it. “I know shrews and some other small mammals are hyper-metabolic, but a creature your size shouldn’t have enough surface area for your volume to lose heat that fast. Of course, the massive expenditure could be by other means -- you never did display your maximum speed or strength -- but that should only be a high cost investment, not constant upkeep. Though, your scars would indicate a moderately impressive regenerative ability, so that…” Her physiological rant slowed to a crawl, and only then did she realize I was smirking at her.

Twilight glared at me. “And you were just messing with me again, weren’t you?”

I chuckled, and took another bite. “You got it, pumpkin.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed further, but her reply was cut off by a furious voice from upstairs.

That is quite literally impossible!” A full minute of cursing followed, and I tried to pick out the language Bob was using this time. My eyebrows rose nearly to my hairline when I realized it was Babylonian. His skull had almost been destroyed by an exploding potion the last time he used that. All of which, incidentally, wasn’t my fault no matter what he tells you.

Suffice to say, Bob was not a happy camper. I couldn’t help laughing at his anger, and Twilight chuckled along with me.

I finished off the last of the last of my sandwich and sighed. “I suppose he’s been punished enough.” Twilight gave me a doubtful look, but Spike seemed grateful. I suppose hearing a ‘ghost’ screaming ancient and terrible curses in a dead language could make it difficult to enjoy your breakfast.

I managed to get up the stairs before he went off again. I opened the door and stared at the pile of paper surrounding the two players. Bob was floating several inches off the ground wreathed in orange light. He was staring at the hastily scribbled group of lines with such intensity I couldn’t believe the paper hadn’t caught fire. Pinkie was concentrating just as hard, her brow beaded with sweat and her tongue sticking out of one corner of her mouth

They suddenly leapt into action, Bob opening with X’s while Pinkie defended with O’s. In a second it was over.

“Cat game!” Pinkie announced, tossing the used piece of paper to join the rest of its fallen kin.

Again,” Bob demanded, his voice empty of emotion. Pinkie nodded and began drawing a new square.

Obviously both of them were giving it their all, but for all their similarities there was an undercurrent of satisfaction and genuine happiness to Pinkie’s expression, while Bob seemed only a couple of games from losing it. Neither one of them had noticed my entrance so I coughed meaningfully, and knocked on the door.

After that failed, I grabbed Bob with my telekinesis and gave him a rough shake. I was given a refresher course in ancient Greek. Not the kind you’d say in front of ancient Greek children, but at least I had his attention.

“I know you two are having a fantastic time, but I want to get some new clothing from Rarity. And I don’t trust you enough to let you out of my sight, Bob.” I had expected resistance, arguments, and maybe some demands for ‘just one more game’. Bob managed to surprise me, though.

The orange magic surrounding him rushed back into his skull, which incidentally made holding him a lot easier. He seemed to deflate and the lights in his eyes dimmed to a soft glow. “Fine,” he said with a smoldering attitude. “But mark my words, this isn’t over.”

Pinkie beamed, oblivious to his vengeful tone. “Sure thing, Bob! Playing with you is a ton of fun! Nopony else is even a challenge.” I held back from laughing somehow, but Bob still fumed silently. Pinkie bounced out of the room, leaving the sea of used pages to scatter about on the floor.

I waited until Pinkie was out of earshot to needle him. “So Bob,” I asked in most falsely innocent tone I could manage, “what was the win-loss ratio?”

I had expected an incoherent response, something close to utter loathing, but Bob responded in a flat, dissatisfied tone. “Seventy-four draws and fifteen wins for Pinkie.”

Honestly, I was impressed. Bob had held her to a very narrow margin of victory… for Pinkie, at least. I couldn’t let him know that, though. “And how many wins did you get?”

He twisted his skull around to face me, somehow without disturbing the telekinetic field I was using to hold him. He glared at me, the orange lights in his eyes swirling angrily. “We played eighty-nine games. Do the math.”

I grinned like the Cheshire cat. “She’s darn good at that game. I could have warned you, but I thought you had it coming. A slice of humble pie never hurt anypony.”

Bob shook his skull slowly back and forth. “You can’t describe what she just did as ‘good’, sahib. Tac-Tic-Toe is one of the simplest strategy games in existence. It makes checkers look like three dimensional chess.” I stared at him in disbelief. Was there really even such a thing as 3D chess? Bob, though, didn’t pause.

“There are only a few dozen moves even possible; you can force a draw no matter what the other player does. At first, I even thought that’s what you were planning.” He sighed. “When I said what she was doing was impossible I wasn’t just being a sore loser. I have no idea how she won. In hindsight it was obvious every time, but as her moves progressed, it was impossible to see.”

I nodded sagely and pretended that I hadn’t lost every game I had played against her. “So what does that mean about your promise?”

The lights in his eyes swirled like miniature maelstroms and his tone turned petulant. “You suck. You suck many things. I’d give you a comprehensive list of just what you suck, but I’m afraid that would violate my promise to behave.” I chuckled, and he grumbled. Trust Bob to follow the letter of an agreement and ignore the spirit completely.

I set him down on my dresser and examined my possessions. The staff, my strongest focus and the traditional symbol of a wizard’s power, would be even more conspicuous here than Chicago. At least back home it was to scale with me instead of towering overhead. I’d only lost about two feet in height, but when you’re used to seeing the world from close to seven feet the adjustment isn’t easy. Shrinking down to Murphy’s height made me feel like a munchkin.

Regretfully, I decided to leave it behind; ditto for my sword cane. That would be even more difficult to explain in a world of quadrupeds. My familiar leather duster would be left behind also. It wasn’t anywhere close to being the right shape for my new body. Thankfully, I could still wear my shield bracelet, though it was further up my arm – foreleg now – than it had been. I debated on whether or not to take my rings and in the end decided to bring them.

I slid them onto my horn again, which made Bob snicker when I had difficulty lining them up with the tip. I hadn’t seen any other ponies wearing jewelry like that, but I didn’t want to go completely unarmed. My silver pentacle I hadn’t taken off. Outside of the shower, or using it to kill a rampaging wolf demon, I never did.

What I really needed were pockets. Chalk, crystals, a tuning fork and several other odds and ends I couldn’t wear made up most of my magical arsenal. I needed a belt, too, if my new belt buckle was going to be of any use. Hopefully, Rarity could rectify that for me.

A small movement caught my attention, and I realized that the window was swinging in the slight breeze. I shut with my telekinesis and frowned. There was something important about this window. Something I should remember, but the fog of sleep and events of this morning had driven it out of my mind. I shrugged, if it was really that important I’d remember it eventually.

I went back downstairs with Bob in tow and paused a moment before entering the kitchen. “I’m coming back in, and I’ve got Bob with me.” There was a brief scramble and a door slammed as Spike left the room. Bob snickered again. I walked in and found not just Twilight, but Pinkie as well.

The pink party pony as sucking down the remaining sandwiches at a rate that said she was even less worried about cardiac arrest than me. Twilight, on the other hand, had fixed herself some cereal in my absence. It was probably multigrain or some other ‘healthy’ concoction.

“Do you have anything I could stuff Bob into, Twilight? I don’t trust him to his own devices, but I think putting him on display would make a low profile hard to keep.” I gestured with the skull, which made Twilight flinch a little, but it certainly made my point.

Twilight nodded. “I’ve got a spare set of saddlebags. They’re mine, but if I let out the belt a little, they should fit across your flanks. At least, I think so -- I’m just eyeballing it, of course.” Bob burst into a full laugh at that, which of course made Twilight blush and stammer out yet another apology.

Those two needed to be separated; she definitely was not made to deal with Bob’s lechery. Twilight came back with a pair of saddlebags, and I crammed Bob into one of them. He fit, but just barely, which caused another round of complaints. Twilight and I ignored him, but Pinkie looked concerned.

“Are you sure he’ll be okay in there, Blackstone?” Pinkie pouted, worried over the fate of her newest playmate. “What if he runs out of air?!” I almost laughed at the suggestion, but one look at her expression and my flippant response died. I’d sooner have drop-kicked a puppy than laughed at the face she was making.

“He’ll be fine,” I assured her. “I promise.”

Pinkie studied me carefully, then brightened. “Okie dokie lokie!” she chirped before she returned to demolishing the last of the sandwiches.

I glanced around, suddenly aware that food was being eaten, but there was no puppy begging for the scraps. “Mouse?” I called. “Mouse? C’mere, boy!” An answering whine emerged from beneath the table.

Twilight and I leaned down together to peer at the little rascal as he lay motionless under the table. The way his stomach bulged told me Pinkie wasn’t the only one responsible for finishing off the rest of breakfast.

“How are you feeling, boy?” I nudged Mouse gently with one hoof, and he whimpered. “Great. I hope Fluttershy has something for indigestion, you little glutton.”

Twilight nodded. “She does. I’d take you there myself, but I’ve got that dental appointment this morning.”

Pinkie swallowed the rest of her sandwich without chewing, disturbingly like a snake eating its prey, and piped up. “Oooh! Can I do it? I know how to get to Rarity’s and Fluttershy’s!”

Twilight looked doubtful about the whole idea, but I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”


“You’re certainly taking this in stride,” I said to Pinkie as we left the smoldering wreckage of her mysterious ‘welcome wagon’ behind us.

Pinkie’s smile faded, and for a moment I saw a glimpse of real sadness behind her usual cheery antics. Then it was gone again, as quickly as it had appeared. She brightened up and giggled. “It’s just a wagon, Blackstone. I can always build another one. I’m just glad you weren’t hurt.

I don’t know if it was my usual effect on technology, or she just had a screw loose (whether literally or metaphorically), but the thing had exploded into fiery shrapnel about five seconds into the song. If I hadn’t been holding my shield ready, I’d probably be dead. I doubt the explosion had been the ‘surprise’ that Pinkie had promised me, but I hadn’t expected anything benign. Pinkie’s next words did nothing to disprove that particular thought.

“It must have been the fireworks; they weren’t supposed to go off that early. I wonder if I mixed the gunpowder wrong.”

“Gunpowder?!” I asked, my voice definitely not going high pitched and panicky at the thought of Pinkie having access to explosives. No, I pushed the thought away, it can’t be that bad. The town’s still standing isn’t it?

Pinkie giggled again. “Yeppers! I made some myself! Y’know, chemistry isn’t all that different from baking, all you have to do is get the right ingredients, mix them the right way, and you’ve got super colorful fireworks! Or jelly doughnuts! Awww, and there were jelly doughnuts in the wagon, too. Strawberry flavored ones! I thought you’d be a strawberry jelly kinda guy. Maybe grape, I gave some thought to that, but I knew it wasn’t going to something like peach or apple, and definitely not marmalade. I mean marmalade, really? I’ve never seen a pony who looks less like a marmalade pony than you. Well, maybe one pony but he wasn’t really a pony, he was a dragon and he was kind of asleep so I don’t really know him that well other than that he doesn’t have a very good sense of humor, I can tell you that at least−”

By the second or third run-on sentence I started tuning her out. It’s not that I didn’t like Pinkie, but trying to keep up with the sugary dynamo was too much to ask of anyone, man or pony. Unfortunately the dulled senses made paying attention more than a little difficult. At some point along the way I ran right into some poor guy headed in the opposite direction at an impressive clip.

I hadn’t seen him until he plowed into me, but I knew he must have been moving fast because of how deeply he managed to burrow his hoof into my ribs. I held back a string of curses that probably would have burned the ears of any pony nearby. The chestnut-colored stallion opposite of me, however, had plenty to say.

“Oh, ouch. Who put you in my way?” The speaker was a normal pony wearing a small vest with several pockets, and a small pair of goggles perched on top of his head. For some reason he spoke with a British accent. “My, they certainly grow them big where you’re from. Hmm, never seen a pony with your coloration before. Almost grim. The white mane sets it off a little but the effect certainly isn’t helped by all the scars. You’ve seen some trouble haven’t you? Ah, but who hasn’t had an eventful life here in Equestria? Fascinating place isn’t it? ” He wasn’t quite as bad as Pinkie, but it was still difficult to get a word in edgewise.

“Hi, Doctor!” Pinkie chirped, giving him a quick hug. “How’s business?”

“Hello, Pinkie. Same as ever, running here, there and everywhere.” He said giving her a boyish grin. Then with a gasp he seemed to remember whatever had put him in such a hurry. “So sorry about the collision, but I’ve got to run. Pleasure meeting you, Mister…?” He stuck out a hoof.

I shook it clumsily, still not used to doing so without hands. “Blackstone.”

“Really?” he asked. “This world’s a funny old place, then. I’d better leave before −” A silvery cylinder sticking out of one of his pockets burst into sparks and gave a shrill whine that made me grit my teeth in pain. I don’t know what it was, but I hoped it wasn’t expensive. The stallion yelped and trotted off nosing the pocket worriedly. “Don’t you dare break on me, again. I don’t have the parts to fix you this time if you do.”

I watched him curiously as he ran off. I don’t know what it was about him, but something set off all of my instincts. He didn’t seem dangerous, but somehow I knew in bold-faced type that he was trouble. I nudged Pinkie and nodded to the retreating figure. “Who was that?”

“That’s the Doctor.”

I frowned. He didn’t seem like a doctor to me, but maybe she didn’t mean the medical type. “Doctor who?”

She grinned. “Hooves, actually.”


“What’s on second,” she replied, waggling her eyebrows. It took me a second to catch on.

“So who’s on first?” I asked, matching her smile.

“Exactly,” she said, and we both started laughing. I couldn’t help it. The whole situation was just too weird not to. I don’t know what caught my attention in the middle of all that hilarity, maybe a slight sound of whistling, the shadow that suddenly fell over me, or the way Pinkie yelled ‘Twitchy tail!’ but I looked upward just in time to see something plummeting towards us.

I reacted instinctively. There wasn’t time for a spell or a shield, but I was prepared for just such an occasion. I triggered one of the force rings on my horn and smashed the dark piece of metal with some serious power.

I didn’t change its trajectory by much but it was enough to keep it from smashing into my skull at several dozen miles per hour. The anvil hit the ground not three feet in front of me, cratering the ground with its landing.

I’m not kidding, an actual freaking anvil. Like something you’d see in a cartoon. But unlike Daffy Duck, I wouldn’t have walked away from that impact with a ridiculous bump on my head. It was only a small anvil, but it had to weigh at least a hundred pounds. My head would have been crushed like a grape.

I looked up, half expecting to see a safe or a grand piano falling next, but instead it was a hovering moving truck. Well, a large cart being pulled by pegasi that looked a lot like a moving truck. Down to the stencil on the side that said ‘Cloudsdale Moving Co.’.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” A burly brown pegasus in a baseball cap was yelling at the team of hovering pegasi around it. “You lazy idiots don’t even have Derpy around to blame this time!”

“Sorry, boss.” All of the free-flying pegasi chimed, looking ashamed.

The foreman dove down quickly to street level and doffed his hat. “Sorry about that. Nopony got hurt, did they?”

I took a deep breath and counted to ten, trying not to lose my temper. We were fine, no thanks to him or his crew, and it was struggle not to let the post-adrenaline anger out. I wasn’t sure what I would have said to him, probably something unkind, but of course Pinkie beat me to it.

“Yeah, we’re all right! I was all like, ‘Twitchy tail!’ and Blackstone was like, ‘Falling anvil? I don’t think so!’ and bam! It didn’t stand a chance!”

The mover looked just as confused as I felt. “Well, okay,” he said. “I'm glad nopony got hit on the noggin.” Though his expression said he thought that Pinkie might have already taken a few too many. He flew off and the dangerous air truck followed after a trio of pegasi returned the anvil to its perilous position.

We started walking again, but this time I kept a careful eye on the skies. The way the foreman had said, ‘this time’ didn’t fill me with confidence. “Either they have some amazing liability insurance, or their lawyer is a real shark in court.”

“Lawyer? Insurance?” Pinkie echoed. “What’re those?”

I stared at her. No lawyers or insurance companies? Equestria really is a paradise. I shrugged. “Don’t worry about. Just a couple of things from home.” And I hadn’t even said ‘my world’. Damn, I’m good at this low-profile thing.

We turned the corner and I saw the building that could have been Rarity’s boutique. The last time I had seen it we were busy sneaking out of town in the middle of the night on our way to rescue Spike. Still, even if the shape hadn’t been unmistakable, that was the only place that could have suited her sense of … style. In the light of day I could see all of the ornamentations, colorations, decorations and a whole bunch more ‘-ations’.

It was very … fancy. That’s a nice way to say unbelievably gaudy, right? I’m not trying to be a jerk, but come on. The whole thing looked like it had been designed to appeal to the aesthetic sense of a five-year-old girl. I wasn’t planning to say anything, but I don’t think I could have managed a decent poker face if anyone asked me for my opinion.

The bell tinkled as we walked in and a cultured voice from the other side of the shop trilled, “Welcome to Carousel Boutique. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” Rarity was busy as ever, working on an ornate dress hugging the curves of pony-shaped manikin.

The white unicorn drove a couple of pins into the dress to hold it in place, then turned to greet us. Her eyes lit up when she saw Pinkie, though I only rated a polite smile. “Pinkie! What a lovely surprise. And who’s your handsome friend?”

“Heya, Rarity! It’s our friend Blackstone, silly.”

“Blackstone?” Rarity seemed taken aback for an instant, but then something visibly clicked and her smile shifted from polite to sincere. “Oh, of course! My dear friend Mister Blackstone. How have you been, my fine sir?”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes; going through the bother of courtly manners had always exasperated me, but at least they made Rarity happy. “Quite well, fair lady. But right now I’m in need of your help.”

“I should say so,” Rarity said, looking me over with a critical eye. Normally I’m not self-conscious, I wear things for comfort or function not fashion. But that penetrating gaze reminded me that despite my new coat of fur, I was still completely naked. She circled me a few times getting a good look from every angle. I’m aware it was probably just to get a rough idea for clothing sizes, but there was far too much of a predator’s stalking grace in her movements to let me relax.

Rarity mumbled to herself, obviously considering and discarding ideas. Pinkie wandered off while the seamstress was busy sizing me up, abandoning me to my fate without so much as a backwards glance. Nothing to do then but make the best of my current situation. I cleared my throat and said, “I was hoping you could−”

“Hush, darling.” Rarity interjected mildly. “I’m ‘in the zone’ at the moment, and I can’t abide interruptions.”

I heard a muffled chuckle from my saddlebags and fought back a snarky reply. I’d come here to ask her for a favor. I could hardly complain when she did it. Besides, I had the feeling that just bringing Bob into her shop would be more than enough payback for whatever indignities I was about to suffer under her care.

“Yes, definitely,” she said more to herself than to anyone else. “I apologize for the once-over, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to work with a stallion of your caliber.”

“Uh, thanks. I guess,” I mumbled. There was another muffled laugh from the saddlebags, and I resisted the urge to throw them across the room.

Rarity gave me another glance, far more appreciative than analytical this time. I swallowed nervously. “And I must say, either Twilight is very skilled in transformation, or you simply look marvelous as a pony. Whichever is true, the result is nothing short of fantastic.”

“That’s … great.” I managed before I remembered what I had originally come there for. “But I was hoping you could make me a coat, or some kind of outfit.” I glanced at my unclothed body and flushed slightly. “Preferably something that covered most of me and came with a lot of pockets.” Then thinking of the pastel colors adorning her house and dresses I winced. “And nothing really bright.”

Rarity sniffed delicately. “Not with a coat like yours. That would be garish, and I simply cannot stand anything garish.” I pulled off an Oscar-worthy poker face in response.

“Now,” Rarity said, levitating a tape measure and giving me a grin. “I’ll be needing some more precise measurements. Hold still please.”

I did my best to keep from twitching as she encircled me with the tape measure. Rarity went to work talking to me as she did so. “May I ask about your … accessories? The necklace is fine, but the bracelet looks somewhat damaged.”

I nodded. “Yeah, that happened back home. I ran into something that really tested my shield. I haven’t gotten around to completely fixing it yet. Still works, though, and that’s what counts.”

The tape measure moved from my back to one of my forelegs as Rarity murmured something to herself. She spoke without taking her eyes off her work. “And that’s what happened to your hoof?”

I grimaced. “Yeah, it was pretty well toasted.” The extremity throbbed in response to the attention, but it was nothing compared to the pain I was used to feeling from my damaged hand.

“Sounds ghastly,” she replied. “I do have another question, though. I know I’m not exactly privy to your personal life, but isn’t five wedding bands a bit much?”

Wedding bands? I thought before the odd notion clicked. “You mean my force rings?” The real implication of that sunk in, and I had to stop myself from shouting. “You mean you thought I was married?!”

“Well, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other ponies thought so. Traditionally, that’s the only jewelry a stallion wears on his horn. I’m surprised that nopony thought to say anything.” She gave me a sympathetic glance before turning back to measuring.

I sighed. “Twilight knows I’m not married, Spike’s a kid, and who knows what Pinkie thought of it.” Was that why ponies on the street had been giving me odd looks? I’d attributed it to my scars and height, but that was a possibility.

“Well if you insist on wearing them we could do something else with them. Maybe another bracelet to match the first? That would certainly fit what I’m planning, and offset the waistcoat nicely. Are you sure you want a lot of coverage in this outfit? It would be a shame not to display some of your fantastic physique.”

I harrumphed and coughed to hide a slight blush. Fortunately my dark coat aided me. “Thanks, but you can lay off the flattery.”

Rarity blinked and stared at me in surprise. “Whatever for?”

I shrugged. “I’m not used to compliments on my looks. I’m not hideous, but I fall pretty far short of the ‘handsome’ mark.”

Rarity looked positively mortified. “I never would have guessed. I don’t know what the girls from your home value, but you certainly look good now. Lean, strong and with a just a hint of danger about you.” She brightened and alarm bells started ringing in the back of my mind. “Why, when I’m done with you there won’t be a mare in Ponyville who isn’t glancing sideways at you.”

My life flashed before my eyes, but Rarity seemed to take my silence in stride. She beamed as her tape measure continued its work. Bob started up again and this time the muffled laughter from the saddlebags was finally loud enough to attract Rarity’s attention.

“Blackstone? Forgive me for mentioning, but your bag appears to be … laughing.” She gave me a worried expression, expecting an explanation.

I had hoped we could have gone through all this without introducing her to Bob, but of course, I wasn’t so lucky. “That’s my research assistant, Bob.”

Rarity cocked one eyebrow in a way that unmistakably said sure, tell me another one.

Sighing mentally, I reached for the saddlebag and lifted Bob out by telekinesis. “He’s a spirit that lives inside this skull.” Rarity’s face twisted with revulsion as she saw Bob, and she winced ever so slightly as his eyes lit up. “And he is going to be on his very best behavior, or I will make his pitiful little life hell.”

Rarity was the most prim and proper pony I knew, and I had no doubt that she would have zero tolerance for any of Bob’s usual antics. Hopefully I had headed that off, but there was really no way of telling with him. They stared at each other for a moment, one in lustful silence and the other in frozen horror. I’ll let you guess which was which.

“Hello, gorgeous,” Bob said. If he had lips I swear he’d have been licking them.

“It talks.” Rarity whispered, disgust growing on her face. But give her credit, once she had processed what he had said she regained her composure. “Yes. Hello.” She hesitated. “Nice to meet you, Bob.”

Bob chuckled. “Boy, I’ll say. You, my fair mare, are the single most attractive equiform I have ever seen. And I’ll have you know that includes several centuries of extensive experience. In fact, if I hadn’t promised the boss to be polite then I would’ve already made at least three indecent proposals involving you, me and your bedroom.”

“Aaaand playtime’s over. Back in the bag for you.” I said, stuffing Bob into the saddlebag before he managed to say anything worse. Bob protested the treatment with a few curses but I ignored them. You’d think an entity as smart as he claims to be could realize when discretion is the better part of not getting your ass kicked.

Rarity’s glare by all rights should have set the bag on fire, and I think we were lucky the only item she was holding was her tape measure. Her tone was icy cold as she spoke. “Please inform your assistant to keep his dirty thoughts, or even the suggestion of such, to himself next time. If there even is a next time.” Her voice lost its edge, and she regarded me with a baffled air. “Honestly, how can you associate with such a creature, Blackstone?”

A muffled voice from the saddlebags began to speak, “You know, I can hear−” but a quick, telekinetic jab restored silence from that particular corner.

“Yeah, Bob’s a pervert, but he’s also got several libraries worth of knowledge in that twisted skull of his. It’s a matter of function over form, for the most part.” I gave her a shrug. “And to be fair, you were the one who asked to see him.”

Rarity gave me a sharp look and the tape measure suddenly became much less gentle in its work. Before it had been smooth as silk, but now it was more than a little rough. I thought she had measured just about every inch of me, but now it wrapped around my neck none too gently.

I ignored it. “So what, exactly, were you thinking about making?”

Rarity gave me another look, clearly torn between wanting to stay mad and excited over my interest. Excitement won out, and she began to detail my ‘new look’. “We’ll start with a burgundy silk waistcoat. That will contrast nicely with your coat, and bring out the brightness of your eyes without clashing with your mane or your jewelry.”

I almost told her it wasn’t jewelry, but I’d just gotten back on her good side. Pointing that out didn’t seem like the wisest of moves. She continued uninterrupted. “It will cover most of your scars and provide a couple of pockets, but the main piece will be a black wool overcoat. It will be thin and leave most of your legs exposed, otherwise you’d simply roast in the sun. It actually will mostly cover your back and some of your sides, with a pair of tails of course, but there still will be more than enough room for pockets. I’m thinking a small collar with only a clasp to hold it closed. That will display the necklace and keep the front open to show off the waistcoat.” She paused and stared pensively at my hair. “How do you feel about hats?”

I snorted. “I never wear hats. They just look ridiculous on somebody my height.”

Rarity pursed her lips and shook her head delicately. “I’d disagree with you on that last statement but it’s just as well. I’ve got some plans for your mane that are just to die for!” I stared at her with the same feeling that drowning victim might have when he realizes that the rope he just threw away was his only lifeline. A nervous swallow was almost cut off by the pressure still encircling my throat.

I glanced downward in surprise. The tape measure was still wrapped firmly around my neck, and I hadn’t even realized it. I glanced at Rarity and almost asked her to cut it out, but the words died in my mouth.

Her horn wasn’t glowing.

I wasn’t completely familiar with unicorn magic, or really any kind of magic here in Equestria, but I had noticed one common thread: anytime somepony used magic, their horn glowed. I only had a small sample to work with, but I felt safe making the assumption that the former caused the latter. All of which lead to the conclusion that Rarity wasn’t using magic at the moment.

So who was winding the cord around my throat?

The pressure it was exerting was so slight that it was almost unnoticeable, especially when I was holding still. It dawned on me that whoever – or whatever – wasn’t trying to choke me to death. They were putting me in one of the most subtle sleeper holds I had ever imagined. Already I could feel a vague tiredness at the back of my mind, and given another minute, I would be out cold. All without knowing I had ever been under attack.

The adrenaline surge that came with realization banished the creeping exhaustion, and I tore the tape measure away from my throat with a panicked burst of telekinesis. It flew across the room, one end clattering against the floor. There had been no resistance when my magic grabbed it, and I couldn’t feel the touch of anyone else’s power on it. It was almost enough to make me wonder if I had overreacted.

No. That’s just what they want me to think. I didn’t know the motive just yet, but somepony wanted me out of the picture. The accident with the welcome wagon could have been happenstance. The falling anvil, the second accident, might have been a coincidence, but three times was a conspiracy.

My mind flew as I tried to puzzle out just what was going on. Was Trixie back for revenge? Did some xenophobic pony figure out what I really was? Was some other entity I didn’t even know about responsible?

I rushed to the window, but when I looked out, everything seemed normal -- for this world’s value of normal, anyway. A few ponies were chatting across the street, a couple was coming out of a merchant’s tent a few yards away, and a few were simply walking by. One blonde pegasus with crossed eyes even waved to me as I watched her. There were no skulking ponies in overly-large trench coats or suspicious unicorns twirling thin, black moustaches.

I growled and extended my more arcane senses, but I couldn’t feel anything dark or malicious anywhere nearby. One minute and a short sigh later I closed the window. My behavior hadn’t gone unnoticed by Rarity.

“Are you … all right, Blackstone?” Her expression was worried and somewhat gentle. Like she was afraid of somehow afraid of setting me off again. I briefly debated telling her the full story, but somehow ‘I was being slowly choked into unconsciousness in your boutique by some unknown pony who shouldn’t even know who I am’ sounded more than a little crazy.

I shook my head and gave her a disgruntled shrug. “I thought I felt something. Something more from my end of town than yours, but I can’t tell now.”

Rarity studied me and nodded. “Well, I’m glad it was nothing. After the excitement during your last visit, I would hope things are calmer this time around.”

I sighed. “Me too.” But I had the feeling that they wouldn’t be.

Something or someone wanted me dead, and it was subtle enough that I hadn’t even realized until its third attempt. I snorted, a smoldering anger growing behind my eyes. Not even here. Not even in Equestria could I get a break from all the deadly games people liked to play with my life.

I glared at the peaceful village outside the window. The subtle scent of brimstone tickled the edge of my nose, but I hardly noticed it. I was willing to be patient, willing to wait for their next move, but they had better make it a good one. Because the moment I knew what was going on, the moment I knew who was doing this, I was coming after them.

And hell itself wouldn’t be able to stop me.

Author’s Note: Well, I know my tagline is ‘I make no promises’, but here’s one I will make. None of the following chapters will take as long. Sorry to leave y’all hanging for so long, but on the plus side I did very well on all my tests. Also, to anyone confused that Dresden doesn’t recognize the Doctor after the reference in Strange Friends. I was the one making the reference not Dresden.